John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Luke 6:45
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

This morning’s message is not deeply theological. It is not political. It is not revolutionary or overly complicated. It is instead a simple thought straight from Jesus – what we are passionate about spills over into what we do and say. Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I was not living with my parents so I called them from time to time. I started out that summer dating a particular boy, but by the end of the summer I had become engaged to Tom (my current husband for those of you keeping track at home). When I called my parents to give them the news, my mom said she was not terribly surprised. Since my decision to marry Tom had sort of been a surprise to me, I asked her why…and she said, the last three times you called you stopped mentioning the other boy at all while everything was Tom this and Tom that…I hadn’t even realized that had happened.
See, he had become the most important thing in my life, without me even knowing it. My heart overflowed and my mouth spoke. Once we start following Jesus, the same thing should happen in relation to us as Christians – we simply start to be so in love with Christ that we don’t even realize when we speak about him. But Jesus offers a bigger admonition here, too, in that He points out that we have to be intentionally focused on what we bring into our hearts – the good man has stored good things there, the evil man, evil. These don’t just pop in – they’ve been stored there, put away for later pulling out and examining and pouring out all over the people around us.
We have all encountered someone who is extremely passionate about some area that is incomprehensible to us. It is sometimes inconceivable that someone could be so completely taken with, say, 17th century English Literature to the point that they can quote extensively from multiple works by Francis Bacon or describe the interplay between Genesis and classical myth in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Sometimes knowing that someone is that deeply buried in a topic means that we avoid them, not because we do not like the person, but because we are not so ready to spend 45 minutes receiving a lecture about the importance of their topic. There are people who are deeply into a particular television show or a particular sport or team, political stance/agenda and it is not long before you can identify the people in your life by the particular passions they pursue, talk about, and live vigorously from day to day. That kind of passion is not accidental – it is the kind of thing that has to be sought out and kept and held on to. It requires effort.
If you have ever been involved in sports, you will recognize this phrase – muscle memory. It is when you practice something so often that you no longer have to think about how you react in a certain situation, your body simply moves that way and does what it is supposed to do. As a former bowler and bowling coach, I can tell you that this how you become a consistent bowler – you repeat your best approach over and over until it is simply a matter of allowing your body to do what it knows how to do…it is automatic that you will take the same steps, swinging your arm in the right rhythm, and release the ball exactly where you are supposed to – because you have done the work to make sure your muscles know how to do it. Malcolm Gladwell has said that it requires 10,000 hours of practice at any one thing to be world class at it. At that point your mind is no longer working on the fundamentals anymore, but stretching your physical abilities to a point where they are able to do more than the next competitor. It is like going from being able to frost a cake to being able to design an intricate wedding cake with multiple layers and colors. They both involve the same concept – covering a cake with sugar – but on one hand is the simple use of a spatula and the other requires icing bags and tips and all manner of other things that create roses and floral arrays and whatever else makes a cake magazine picture worthy. Devoting yourself to these tasks are what make you good at them, what makes the simpler parts automatic and what begins to fill your heart beyond the minimum to the point of overflowing.
So it is with following Jesus. The more time we spend with him, the more often we pray, the more often we worship, the deeper we get in our relationship with him, the more likely it is that the words we speak about him will be automatic, that our ability to rely on him will become more and more reflex and less and less effort. That is when we get beyond simply frosting the cake and become adept at really making an impact. This leads me to my second point about this simple verse – the reason we do the work.
There is a very real and concerted effort to take faith out of the public square, to try to make everything about our religious lives individual. What’s right for you may not be right for me, so keep it to yourself. The awesome thing about what Jesus says in this passage is that not only is our faith deeply personal – we must accumulate the good things that come from good hearts – but it is widely interpersonal – we speak it, not just to ourselves, but to those we come in contact with everyday. I recently read a book called Clear Winter Nights about a young man who is questioning his faith. He is having conversations with his older grandfather and he says that evangelism bothers him, it makes him uncomfortable to do it. The grandfather, a former pastor, replies “People rarely fail to evangelize because of their intellectual questions. Failure to evangelize is almost always a worship problem. It’s not that we don’t know what we ought to be doing. We do. We’re just not doing it. That’s a sign that we’re not overflowing with worship. Whenever you are completely taken with something or someone, you can’t help but talk about it. Love can’t stop talking about the beloved.”
Love can’t stop talking about the beloved. Hold onto that for a few minutes.
I can think of several saints whom I love to spend time with, primarily because when I am with them I am almost always encouraged. These are people, young and old, whose hearts have become so enraptured with Jesus that they speak often and lovingly about him, sometimes without even realizing that they are doing so…it is so natural to them to live in such a state of worship and passion that without even realizing it they have poured out their hearts, and their hearts are full of Jesus. You know people like this, people other people love to be around, even though they may not be able to point exactly to why. These are people who are so in love with Jesus that they can’t help but talk about him, even when they aren’t even saying his name. Their voices, their actions, their very beings resonate with the light and life of Christ –they are the saltiest salt and the brightest lights. The great news is that it does not have to be “them,” every Christian carries within them the potential to be that enamored with the Redeemer. The more time we spend with him, the more often we will see him in the moments that matter in our lives. Prayer, worship, reading the Word – these are all intentional things we can do to strengthen our relationship with Him. The great news is that it doesn’t have to be the same kind of work that practicing a bowling approach is – primarily because the Holy Spirit works in us to transform our thinking so that our love for him is greater and bolder than we could ever accomplish on our own, and simply by resting in him, seizing the opportunities to trust him, to rely on his work, He begins to fill our hearts to overflowing with His fruit, with His presence, with Him – so that we indeed can say “love can’t stop talking about the beloved”.
One more time, I would remind you in the week to come to think about how deeply personal your faith is and yet how widely interpersonal it is as well. Our hearts overflow so that our speech can impact another – we communicate with each other most often and most thoroughly about the ideas and people that mean the most to us. We give away something more than just a shared passion when we speak about Jesus because we can’t help it. We offer a glimpse into the promise of redemption and the sweet hope of an eternal future. Love can’t stop talking about the beloved because there is nothing better to say.
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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Mark 2:1-12
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Imagine you are paralyzed in a day when medicine can barely treat most illnesses, where people commonly die from infections that we heal as a matter of course today. You can’t move some muscles, but you may still be in pain. You may have muscle spasms that contort and torture you. You may have had a fishing accident or eaten some bad fish or any number of things that could cause paralysis even today. Then you hear about a guy who was healed from leprosy. You might have a full-time helper, so you send him out to get your old friends, because you have to go see if this healer can help you.
Your friends show up. Maybe they take turns carrying you on their backs for the journey, maybe they lay you across the back of a donkey. Even if you only live a few miles from Capernaum, this is a difficult journey, and it is likely the furthest you have been from home in all the time you have been disabled. Your friends are probably getting more and more hopeful for you the closer they get – the buzz is all around, everyone is getting excited – this Jesus guy has been casting out demons, preaching, and stuff, and there is a certain air of expectation.
Then, you all arrive at the home where Jesus is teaching. There is such a crowd you can only really see the roof line amid a mass of humanity. Your friends try to push through to the door, but that’s not happening. They try to get you close to a window, ditto. Finally, one says “Hey, I bet we can get through from above” and they start executing a plan to get you to the healer.
Meanwhile, in the house, Jesus is teaching. He might have been grinning on the inside, knowing that you and your friends are about to interrupt. He keeps going, even while your friends are mere feet above him, digging through the roof. The roof couldn’t have been very high up, so imagine, too that Jesus is getting dust in his hair, the others around him are being disturbed by the commotion, and then finally, you are presented, your friends having successfully been persistent enough.
And Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Wait. Just. A. Minute. You went through all that, and your most obvious desire here is to be able to walk, and Jesus says something so completely unexpected…so off target from what you think SHOULD happen. Although, you are probably not even close to as offended as the teachers of the law. They know that throughout history ONLY GOD can forgive sins. In fact, to assign yourself an attribute only God has is to do the most egregious thing you can – blaspheme. This is scandalous! God is God, and this filthy Galilean (with dust in his hair) cannot possibly mean what he says here.
This miracle sets up everything that follows. This is what Jesus came to do – demonstrate his authority over sin. In fact, without this component, he is just a great teacher or cool prophet. What truly sets him apart is the fact that he is God and he is human, both fully. Since he is God – he has authority over sin. Since he is man – he is completely relatable to us.
Knowing that the teachers of the law (and probably you) are offended, Jesus turns his attention back to you. He looks you full in the face, and demonstrates that his authority over sin is equal to his authority over the natural and supernatural world. He tells you to get up, and just like that you are completely healed. Do you forget that Jesus forgave your sins, first? Maybe, but I doubt it, because that is a compelling part of the story. You may have been surprised and a little disturbed by that turn of events, but you knew deep in your heart that the first response was the only one that mattered. Ok, you can stop being the paralyzed/forgiven/un-paralyzed man now. This last part is for us right now.
We all sin. We cannot do otherwise since the fall. It is the gap between where we need to be (perfect before a holy God) and where we wind up (desperate, shameful, broken people who are deserving of punishment). Jesus came to earth to close the gap. To bring us back into relationship with God. He demonstrates in this miracle his authority to do so, and through his perfect life and ultimate sacrifice, he does what must be done. The crucifixion, the resurrection, and Jesus’ life are less impactful if we don’t recognize that Jesus had the authority over sin. We don’t have to live broken, desperate, shameful lives. Jesus can forgive our sins. You ARE the paralytic. When you come to Jesus, he looks you full in the face, right where you are, and he says your sins are forgiven you. That is a healing that changes everything.
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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Matthew 5:1-12
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Welcome to Matthew! As we enter the New Testament portion of the love letter, it seems important to remember that although this is the first time that we are hearing Jesus speak to us directly, it is not as though he has arrived with no notice. God has been pointing us to him all through the Old Testament stories and instructions and prophesies. And Matthew, as the first Gospel in the New Testament is written in such a way as to point out all of the places where the road signs from Israel’s history are now found fully identified and beautifully arrived in the person of Jesus.
Reading Matthew can be a little challenging for us, who sit in a modern context and have no frame of reference for some of the things that he writes. Matthew was an apostle – formerly a tax collector, he followed Jesus and because he could write, he did. His book was not the first Gospel written – Mark’s was first, but Matthew’s is first in the canon because what he does really well is say “ok, now that you’ve read what God has promised, let me tell you how that promise looks on two legs”. Even the structure of the book reflects similarity to the first 5 books of the Old Testament: there’s a genealogy, an origin story, a rescue, a wandering, and then, today, we hear Jesus’s words from a mountain.
And for those of us who have been following the Epic of Eden Bible study, we recognize right away that the language Jesus uses is covenant language – he gives blessings first and then later, what we didn’t read, are some curses. For those who haven’t been in the Bible study, covenants have blessings and curses as rewards and punishments for those who are signing off on the covenant terms – it is very similar to our contracts today, if you sign a contract you are agreeing to give something to get something and if you break your part or the other person breaks theirs, there are consequences. In this case, the blessings and the cursings are based on what happens when you sign on to being a member of the Kingdom of God. These blessings are the covenant promises to the people of God – the ones who follow Jesus and obey his command (to love God and love their neighbor).
But notice something – these promises are not contingent on being most successful, most charismatic, most studious. These promises are not made to those who read their Bible the most, who pray the hardest, or who don’t swear.
Instead these promises, these blessings are made to those who are the least. Those who are in the places where we live and breathe and move every day: the poor in spirit: the ones who have something in them that is perhaps depressed or despairing. Those who mourn: those who have lost someone or something precious that has caused them to grieve. The meek: those who have poured out all they have for the sake of someone else. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the ones who love mercy, the ones who are pure in heart, living their lives for God’s desires, the peacemakers – the ones who look for ways to bring order to chaos where ever they are.
If any of you watched Game of Thrones (and I have not, although I did read some of the books) then you know that the struggle over a throne that rules seven kingdoms is the center of the story. At various times and in various circumstances different people occupy or long to occupy the throne. Along the way in the kingdoms, people who further the cause of the king or queen are rewarded for their loyalty and fierceness and willingness to fight with positions of authority or riches or land.
But in God’s kingdom, the promises Jesus makes are all around living out kindness and goodness to others and allowing ourselves space to be broken and imperfect. This kingdom is backwards and upside down in its assertion that the ones who are pitiful and sad are the ones who are blessed and the ones who give are the ones who are richest and the ones who humble themselves to live as Christ followers are the ones who win the biggest rewards: primarily in the form and presence of Christ himself! Jesus doesn’t tell us to forget about being sad – he tells the mourning they will be comforted. Jesus doesn’t tell us to cheer up or stop thinking about hard things – he says the poor in spirit will have the kingdom. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, not that they will become warriors.
As we begin the journey through the New Testament, it is this series of promises that remind us what God is doing through Jesus: building a kingdom of Christ followers who surrender their sorrow, their pride, their hunger, their very lives to live differently, to live completely in tune with the very heart of God – to remember Eden and the relationship that was lost when we cost ourselves the garden. The God who walked in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve reminds us that Jesus walked among us 2000 years ago, and has sent the Holy Spirit to walk with us all the time. We are blessed in that our lives can be characterized by the fullness of God’s constant presence. We can and are and should be blessed by the hope of a God who cares enough to bring himself to us when we could no longer get to him.
Yesterday, a popular author, Rachel Held Evans was buried. Her funeral was shared online with many who had only known her through her books and her blogs. She was raised in church and when she became an adult, she found that some of the things, if not many of the things she had believed became harder to understand and believe. She was a woman of faith who wrestled with her faith and yet lived it so beautifully that thousands of people who never actually met her were moved by her death and mourned. She was able, sometimes, to put into words the tension some people feel between what they want to believe and what they actually believe and how hard it is to recapture what feels lost forever. The benediction to her service was a recast of these kingdom blessings to remind us that this kingdom is different, this kingdom is not about the most or best, but it is about the less and least. It was written by her friend Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber:
Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Malachi 2:17-3:18

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Annoying God

A year ago, I started planning this series, wondering what it would look like to talk about God all through scripture – through the story-telling histories and prophecies and law and poetry. This journey through the Old Testament, through the 39 books that comprise the law and the prophets that Jesus and his companions and rivals discuss in depth throughout the New Testament, has been helpful for me, anyway, and I hope that as we have encountered people and places, you have seen the reality of a God whose love is not new or built on something fragile or something that we have to earn or find for ourselves, but it is instead the whole reason of human existence and the answer, in the long run, to all that troubles and haunts and breaks us and the world around us.

That is not to say that we find the fix to the problem of the broken relationship here, although it is known that only God can fix it, the resolution to the challenges of humankind is not found by solely reading these 39 sacred texts: the sacrifices, the rules, the temple itself – none of these are finally effective in righting the relationship the people need and God wants.

 In fact, here at the end of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi, we find the people who have returned from exile, living in Judah. The temple has finally been rebuilt, they have resumed priestly duties and sacrifices and regular worship, but there is a problem: the hearts of the people are not yet right.

Malachi presents this problem to the people in a series of complaints that God has against them: God is annoyed.

God is annoyed because they are complaining about God’s justice but are not willing to be just themselves.

God is annoyed because they tithe, but what they bring in are the last and worst of what they have

God is annoyed because they see following God as a useless endeavor – since the people who aren’t following God are prospering.

Primarily – these are heart problems. The actions of the people make it seem as though they are faithful: they go to church, they throw a buck in the offering, they pray.

But in their hearts, they would rather be anywhere else. They would rather do something else, they would rather not give.

There is a series of Stephen King novels called the Dark Tower series. Stephen King is often a little profane in his works, but one of the things he usually extrapolates is the idea of good vs. evil. In the Dark Tower series, there is a country of very chivalrous people who have knights whose responsibility it is to protect all the people. Of course, knights are still human, so frequently they screw it up, and when they do they wind up in trouble. Because family lineage and pride is a big component of their world, they have a mantra they use when they are about to go into battle: “Remember the face of your father” and then when they have been in trouble, they will be told “You have forgotten the face of your father”. It’s mainly a turn of phrase meant to induce pride and confidence in those who are doing the right things and fighting against evil, and conversely, producing shame and guilt in those who have not lived up to their training. It fits very well with what has happened in Israel that Malachi is addressing – they have forgotten the face of their Father – the God who has given them much, who has provided for them, who has created, and loved, and protected them – who rescued them from Egypt and brought them into their own land, who warned them for hundreds of years before exiling them and then promised to bring them home – that God whose love for them has been evidenced over and over in the covenant providing for their redemption – this God they have forgotten. This God they have turned away from. This God they have continued to worship in name only, but they are not committed, they are not faithful.

So God is annoyed. And he basically says to them “you have forgotten the face of your father” and lists how this is true. They have forgotten justice in pursuit of gain. They have forgotten to give their best in pursuit of keeping what they have. They have forgotten to serve for God’s sake.

God also tells them that Redemption is coming. That the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for, will come.

And the people in this case, at least some of them, respond by writing what Malachi calls “a scroll of remembrance”  - a list of the things they needed to pay attention to, things that would keep their hearts in the right place.

God calls the people to faithfully do worship but only if they are intentional and thoughtful about it, and when they do, God promises blessing. When they seek justice, God will bring justice. When they tithe, God promises an abundance. When they serve, God promises they will be a treasured possession. In all these things, God says turn your heart to me and I will reward your faithfulness with mine.

And for 400 years, they do all the right things – they follow the law faithfully as a people, they become very different than they were at the outset, making sure to do all the things – 613 mitzvot or ‘good things to do’ commandments, as they are called. Most of the Jewish people still follow these today. Keeping kosher, following rules about promises, business, criminal laws, etc. And Jesus comes in the midst of them following the rules to the tiniest degree – and some have their hearts right and some do not.

These rules are not bad things, in and of themselves. But Jesus tells the Jewish leaders in his day that while they should absolutely keep following those rules, they need to remember that they do them for the sake of LOVING GOD, not for the sake of being seen doing them. Luke 11:42 says Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

And so we see that Jesus gives us the admonition that when we follow rules, whether set for ourselves or set by God, the priority has to be that our heart is right first. If we are going to church or giving or praying for the sake of doing the right thing but we don’t love God and love others, we miss the mark. We should do all those things, we should worship and give, but we should do it as a way of loving God.

God’s promise is always that loving God is rewarded. I encourage you as you think about how you love God to think about how you could do the things that God has asked better or more fully. How can you show God your love this week?

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Zechariah 9:9-10
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

King of Peace
Zechariah is a book of prophecy. The people of Judah are trying to figure out how to do right things now that some have returned from exile. They have made progress in re-building the temple, they have made progress in re-building their community. But they are not sure what all of this will mean for them – will the promised Messiah come now? Will the King that God has been promising be anointed now? Zechariah never answers the timing question for them – but he gives them this admonition – if you are people who are faithful, God will be faithful.
And then he gives them promises of what it will look like when the Messiah finally does come.
And one of the promises he makes is that the kingdom will be at peace.
So today, let’s look at what that peace looks like – because we know the Messiah has come and is coming again. We can look at this as already having started – we have the ability to live a peace that passes understanding and to dwell in the peace of Christ’s reign according to what Paul has written to us as Christians. But there is more to this promise that hasn’t happened yet for us, too. So with the remnant who has returned from exile, we might ask how long. The answer will be – the answer always is – be faithful and God will be faithful. So we live into what we already know.
Here is how God’s promise to them of peace is important for us, both in living a kingdom life now and in anticipating Christ’s return and everlasting peace that is to come:
1. We can be at peace with one another. That means that when we have conflict, we yearn for peace and we do all we can to create peace. Again, Paul gives us this admonition: as far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone. This means sometimes, like Jesus did, sacrificing something we want or need in order to create peace. If you have never been on Facebook or Twitter, you might think that this is an easy thing to do – but those of us who have ever found someone to disagree with on social media (and by the way, if you are on social media and you agree with everyone that might not be a good thing either) over guns or migrant rights or abortion or the president, then you know that sometimes it is far easier to create disorder and outrage and wreak havoc than it is to create peace. I have needed this reminder from time to time: internet arguments rarely change minds, they just change relationships. So if we are going to create peace, sometimes that means staying away from some people or sacrificing our need to be “right” about something in order to move forward
2. We can be at peace in our circumstances. This is a tough one, and in this crazy world of go, go, go, it can feel like there is no way to experience peace in the midst of chaos. I recently had a moment when I was completely overwhelmed – a visitor was coming unexpectedly and I was not prepared. I began to be anxious about it in an unhealthy way – I had a lot going on, a lot happening and a lot I could not control. But in that moment, I prayed for both the circumstance and my anxiety over it. And ultimately, that prayer was answered positively in both areas. There are moments, too, where someone else is overwhelmed or anxious and you have the ability to bring peace to the situation. Sometimes that is simply by being present in the moment. Sometimes there are words you can say to help (hint: calm down probably doesn’t work!) Sometimes all you can do is pray. But one thing you can find over and over is that when you carry the peace of Christ with you and in you, you are able to find peace in your circumstances and bring peace to other people in the midst of their circumstances as well. You can probably think of times when your life has been crazy and chaotic. You probably know that those times will happen again. In those circumstances, you don’t need to wish away what is happening or pretend it isn’t happening. But you can ask Jesus to help you find peace in the middle of it – and he will. When we read Zechariah’s words to the people “He will proclaim peace to the nations” we can understand that to mean that the kingdom of God is a peace loving and peace making place.
3. We can have peace with God. This is how we become Christians – by agreeing to follow the King of Peace where ever he leads. And the first place he leads is to repentance and forgiveness. And this is reconciliation with God, giving us peace with God. As we live in community with one another, as we lean into what God has for us more and more, as we grow in our faith, we find more and more things that we need to surrender to Christ, that we need to make peace with God over – things that have derailed us and kept us bound to sin and darkness. God will never forcefully take what is not offered in your life. So if you have some sin that is haunting you and taking you captive, God will let you keep that until the time is right for you to give it over. Maybe for you that is a sin of gossip, or maybe it is a sin of greed, or maybe it is the sin of racism or sexism. In all these things, God says I have a better way. I have a way that promotes peace. I have a way that gives YOU peace and makes you have peace with me. And if you are faithful to me, I will be faithful to you and work with you and build the relationship between us to a place where you are at peace with me and with everyone around you and in every circumstance. There are days, still, as a pastor, even, where I find new things that I need to reconcile to God. God is ever patient and ever kind and ever revealing the places that I need more God and less Jennifer in. God wants to do that for you, too. God wants you to know and live and rest and find God in the places where you wouldn’t expect to find God. And as you do that – as you are given greater peace with God, you will find that you are in a place where you are both able to find peace with others and your circumstances more easily, but where you also yearn for the day when God’s peace will overwhelm all that is and Christ’s return will usher in an eternal peace for all the nations, a peace that is not just personal and communal, but a peace that lasts, because the King of Peace is reigning over us all.
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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Haggai 2:1-9

1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”--

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

There is a parable that goes like this: A mother had a son who had an extremely bad temper. He would often do or say some extremely hurtful things, after which he seemed truly repentant. No matter what the mother did, she could not get the child to think before he reacted.

One day while washing dishes, she had a great idea. She called her son into the room with her and handed him a plate. “Throw that plate on the ground” she instructed the young man. After some encouragement, the young man did as he was told. As expected, the plate broke into several pieces.

 “Now let’s glue this plate back together” the mother said, so they worked together for quite some time and had the plate looking pretty close to its original state, although a few cracks and chips were still visible. “Now say you’re sorry to this plate,” the mother said. The child looked confused but saw that his mother was serious. So he said his apology. “Now is the plate good as new?” the mother asked. The child shook his head no, because although it was back together, it would never look the same.

The mother went on to explain that is what we do to the hearts of our loved ones when we are angry. Although the pain can be mended and apologies can be given, the relationship will never be able to be put back together the same again.

 

This parable is true enough – what has been destroyed can’t be put back together again perfectly.

Indeed, the Israelites, that is the remnant in Judah after returning from Babylon to rebuild in Jerusalem, are feeling that right now.

They want to rebuild the temple as they remember it long ago.

But they can’t.

  • God restores relationships
  • God restores us to God
  • God will restore everything

Notice God’s instruction for restoration:

  1. Be strong
  2. Work
  3. Do not fear

God’s restoration may not make our relationships look exactly as they once did – the temple didn’t. But! God will restore.

 

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

We read in Zephaniah that God sings over us. What does that mean for us?

John 20:1-8
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Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

This week it was my privilege to welcome my great nephew Orion Lee into the world. My poor niece was in labor for around 30 hours, most of that spent waiting. Yesterday she was just a girl in labor; today she is a single mom with a beautiful baby boy. Yesterday she had only herself to worry about and care for. Today she will never spend another moment of her life where she does not worry about her precious son and what he’s doing and where he is and all the million other things that plague parents as long as they have breath.
This is also what happened with the resurrection:
Saturday the disciples and all who followed Jesus were bereft, overcome with grief. The messiah had died. He was in the ground. He was gone.
But then
Sunday morning happened
AND EVERYTHING CHANGED
Forever
The resurrection changes everything about everything!
If you follow Jesus and you don’t know that or haven’t heard that or can’t see that – let me tell you some ways in which the resurrection changes everything for you:
First, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, you wouldn’t be here. Not in this space, not a Christ follower at all: why follow someone whose basic claims seem crazy and ridiculous at face value? We probably wouldn’t ever have even heard of him – why learn about yet another rebel in ancient Rome who didn’t even have the ability to pull together an interesting insurrection? Jesus becomes just another criminal, shamefully crucified by an empire that specialized in squashing insurrection.
But THANKS BE TO GOD! He is risen (wait for it)
And because he is risen indeed, we know of him.
And we know he is really and truly risen for a number of reasons. Because of what he has done in us for sure – but also because the idea of the resurrection as a lie doesn’t work. The disciples truly had nothing to gain – they may be famous now, but they certainly had no following at the beginning. The resurrection is only known to us because it is true. Listen,
Chuck Colson, who was famously part of the Nixon Watergate scandal, became a Christian in prison for the reason that he had just been part of a conspiracy that fell apart and he said:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Second, because of the resurrection who we are is different: we follow a King whose whole purpose was to show us a kingdom that is different – a kingdom of servants whose sole purpose is to love and proclaim and forgive.
Not sure about this one? Not only did Jesus preach it, he lived it.
On the cross, among his last words: Forgive them, Father.
To those who put him on a cross, both the religious leaders and the politically complicit
To the one who betrayed him – he offers the bread and wine and washed his feet
To the one who denied him – he offers the hand of friendship and kindness
Jesus coming back from the dead is what redefines Lordship and Kingship to resemble humility, servanthood, selfless love. No one who lives today witnessed the resurrection or personally saw the Christ after: but oh, that they would see Jesus in you and I! Oh that our following the Christ who died and yet lives would result in the transformation that pours out and overwhelms with love and joy and peace and hope and self-control!
Jesus tells us before he dies that the way people will recognize us for who we are is because of our love for one another – we are transformed by following and if we are not – are we really following?

Third, and this follows closely on the second – the marginalized, the other, these are to be treated differently because of the resurrection, too. You can see this immediately in who knows of the resurrection first: it is the women – the first preachers were women ordained by the living Christ on Resurrection Sunday – women who cannot testify in court, who are protected only under the auspices of men in that day, who are essentially considered the property of these men, who are set aside if they cannot bear children or aren’t married. The resurrection says that women and men are equally redeemed, equally transformed, equally valued, fully loved. We cannot see it so clearly because of our cultural lens that sees all of that somewhat differently (although in many ways we have not moved too far) but the fact that Jesus gave his message of resurrection to the women was a move to transforming how his followers should see and value the marginalized and oppressed of the world. We are not at liberty as Christ followers to devalue anyone – Jesus has proclaimed loudly as the stone rolled from an empty tomb that the worth of a person is not in their gender or what society says, but in the blood that dripped from a cross and the unwrapped linens from an undead body. The marginalized are welcome at the table, welcome in the company of all followers, welcome every where in every situation – skin color, gender, race, national identity – all of these no longer are to be used to oppress another, instead as our differences are celebrated, our beauty as ONE body of Christ under the banner of the resurrection to be delighted in!

Finally, and this is the whole point – the resurrection redeems the garden. We no longer look to Eden as the garden of our origin, but instead to Gethsemane and the burial garden. Jesus cried out “It is finished!” as he breathed his last, and we know that this means that the victory of the cross is the burial only of our sin. But the victory of the empty tomb is bigger – it is the victory of life over death, of hope over despair, of love over her enemies. Death where is your victory? Death where is your sting? Paul asks and we answer: defeated under the heel of the risen Christ – we have no fear, we do not dread the end of our earthly life – because praise the Risen King – we believe in the resurrection of the dead, and because of the resurrection, we too, will be raised. In fact, our first resurrection comes as we begin the journey of following Christ: we are raised from the death of a sinful life to the life of abundance that is only found in Jesus and the hope he brings us all.
John says at the end of his gospel that all the things that Jesus did are too numerous to tell. If we were to describe all the ways the resurrection changes things, we would be here for a long time. Brandon called sermons this morning stories, and yes this resurrection story is the best story and one that never gets old, because we cannot tell it all: what of hopelessness becoming hope or miracles becoming routine or joy in the face of suffering or more and more and more…
Every sermon in every church on every Sunday is a recap of the resurrection promise: the Christ who died now lives and that changes everything for everyone for all time.
May you follow the Christ of the cross so completely that you, too, are changed by his life, death, and resurrection!

For:

He has risen!
He has risen indeed!

April 14, 2019

King Jesus

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Luke 19:28-40

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Last year, Shelby and I went to Scotland and London with a group from Olivet. It was an incredible experience and a beautiful trip. Neither of us had ever been big royal family fans, but we enjoyed learning about the history of the kings in England and Scotland. And in London, as we toured the Tower of London, we got to watch a clip from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the longest reigning monarch in British history. When I got home, I watched more of the coronation ceremony, intrigued by the religious and secular aspects of it and how they are intertwined in the ceremony.

The pageantry and beauty and ritual in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation were spectacular and gorgeous. And for royalty, it is expected that things will be perfectly ordered and precise, because the king or queen command the highest honor and receive only the best. They will have significant authority and responsibility, they are leaders of the highest order who will serve for a lifetime and their children and grandchildren and so on will continue the lineage of monarchial rule.

And today we read of the coronation, of sorts, of King Jesus. It is at least the first recognition, aside from the angels at his birth, that he is indeed a king. We won’t do a point by point comparison of the Queen’s coronation to Jesus’s, but suffice it to say Queen Elizabeth did not process to her coronation on a borrowed donkey colt covered in other people’s coats. In fact, we could compare Jesus’s coronation even to ones of his day: Caesars who were crowned emperor in Rome most assuredly had all the pomp and circumstance that was possible in that time and day. It is almost as if Jesus is making a point about what his kingdom will look like…

It is still startling to the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they hear the people shout about Jesus being King:

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.

Those are dangerous words.

Israel is not her own nation. Israel is not free to have her own king that is not appointed by Caesar.

We don’t live in a monarchy, so it’s a little odd for us to think of the consequences of this little parade in a Podunk town (even as a capital city in the empire) as being more than a blip on the radar for the emperor of Rome, but the local leaders were trained to squash minor insurrections quickly and efficiently because what was small one day could become a full scale rebellion and Rome was Rome because she did not allow any rebelliousness to foment out in the open.

This is about power.

Who has it. Who keeps it. And what happens when you live in an oppressive regime and you express the possibility that you might have some, too.

The pharisees have a small amount of power and they are not liking the way this Jesus fellow keeps calling them out for it. They know, too, that the best way for them to remain in that position of power is to continue fighting against those who would undermine or diminish it. They do this by aligning closely with the empire: garnering favor with those who have more power so they can keep theirs.

Contrast this with Jesus.

As king, his first responsibility is to die.

That isn’t powerful at all.

In fact, it looks as though everyone BUT Jesus and his followers is getting what they want: fake peace with Rome (and continuation of the status quo). Later, Christ followers would avoid all appearances of bowing to Caesar – because they did not follow him, they followed a different King.

Meanwhile, Jesus keeps moving toward his responsibility. Keeps doing what must be done to save us. Keeps going forward knowing that what follows the worship of today is desertion, defeat, agony, and death.

He rides the colt today, but he will be betrayed.

He is praised today, but he will be mocked.

He is hailed as King, but those who shout Hosanna today will shout Crucify Him on Friday.

He still goes.

Philippians 2:5-11, which Amy read this morning, tells us that Jesus is king, but not the kind of king we are used to: he gives up his royal status on our account. He lays all of himself on the line for us in a way we could never expect him to. He gives over all of who he is to serve us – and he does it even though he has all the rights in the world to be called king of kings.

Jesus calls us to the same level of pouring ourselves out: the first part of that passage says “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” and then it tells us what that mindset is. This King doesn’t want his subjects to seek power. This King doesn’t want us to be pointing out an us vs. them, like the pharisees did, like we still do when we talk about sins we are passionate about: do we talk about abortion as though the women who might have one are evil, as though those choices are not difficult and painful? Do we demonize gay people or Muslim people or others who are different than us? Do we talk about our political enemies as though they are not people? “All democrats lie” or “all republicans are haters”? Do we believe that following Jesus gives us the ability to denounce others while we proclaim Christ as though we were Jesus ourselves?

Jesus comes not to hold power the way the world understands having power. It is not ruthless and vindictive, this kingdom. Rather it is the upside down politics of loving others, of giving first, of serving before being served. It is always the kingdom where the King himself gave EVERYTHING for the subjects he would embrace and he asks us for nothing but delights when in return, our love moves us to do the same.

Luke’s account of Jesus’s coronation as King is one that should give us pause. His followers were all there that day, walking behind him, waving palm branches, shouting Hosanna.

On Thursday, they would all leave him alone.

Peter would deny him.

Judas would betray him.

And the wonder of it is that Jesus dies for them.

As you sing Hosanna this morning, as you think about what following Jesus looks like, what it looks like to claim him as your King, I ask you to consider the wonder of a King who looks like Jesus. The wonder of a King who forgives his enemies, who dies to make us live.

And consider with me the places and times where your life may not look like it is part of that Kingdom. Where you have denied him. Or betrayed him.

This week we remember the suffering of Jesus. The heartbreak and sorrow and pain. The death. We have the benefit of looking ahead and knowing that Easter is coming. But we would do well to remember that Easter does not come without Good Friday and that Good Friday was hard. Palm Sunday was joyful, but the rest of that week was a series of disappointments for the disciples.

Whatever it is that may put you in the category of Kingdom outsider, I pray that today you will examine your heart and as we move to receive our commemoration of that suffering, commit to Jesus once again your very self. Ask forgiveness for where you have missed. Ask guidance and strength to live out your faith. And remember that no matter what you have done, Jesus gave everything he has and is to be your King and he wants you in the kingdom.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Habakkuk 1:2-5, 3:17-19
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Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Scripture is unflinching in its descriptions and tellings of people:
People have questioned, yelled at God, misunderstood God and disobeyed God and all of those things are laid out…for us to know that they happen, that God is not afraid of our questions or fist-shaking – but instead stands ready to remind us that we are not forsaken. Some of these have abandoned God completely. God tells those stories, reminding us that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” really knows God’s love, but also showing time and time again that hearts whose intention is to turn to God are able to do so, because God stands ready and willing with forgiveness and welcome. I think of Peter
Habakkuk’s prophetic book is a good one because there are several things happening in here that show us what a relationship with God looks like:
First, Habakkuk is lamenting the lack of justice in Judah (where he lives). Judah’s leaders have wandered far from God and things are not right. He stands up and looks around and sees people being mistreated and abused and he hates it. He has a complaint. It is not about him, specifically, but it is about what is happening in the world around him. And we know about this complaint because Habakkuk takes it right to the very throne of God and says: Hey – What the heck God? How long are you going to let this keep happening? Why aren’t you listening? What exactly ARE you doing? Habakkuk lays out his complaint before God. And he does not hold back anymore than he would if he was making this complaint to his neighbor or his friends.
Second, God answers him. It’s not an entirely satisfactory answer – but God doesn’t hesitate to give him some information about how the wicked will be brought to justice – again, by virtue of other wicked peoples (in this case the Babylonians). Judah will be overrun by the Babylonians, and this will end the current oppression. Remember that God always hears and God is big enough to handle any of our doubts, our fears, our challenges. God doesn’t berate Habakkuk for asking – instead God provides an answer that says the evil hasn’t gone unnoticed and that God is working.
Third, Habakkuk doesn’t stop there. He continues his complaining. We didn’t read it this morning as part of our text, but he basically asks why God will let the Babylonians prosper – they are wicked, too! Habakkuk says he’s heard lots of great things about who God is and about what God has done, but he cannot figure out why God is not just fixing ALL the evil right now and right away in a way that will end it once and for all.
It’s a difficult problem. It’s one that everyone who thinks very long about faith in God wrestles with and the reality is that understanding who God IS helps us understand what God DOES – when we know that God operates from a place of perfect love and gives us the opportunity to choose that love over evil, then we know that the evil that happens in the world is permitted only to the extent that God allows each person to make their own choices – and those who choose other than love and kindness or selfishness over selflessness – those choices will ALWAYS look like evil. But God has FINALLY abolished evil and death (which is usually the end result of all evil acts) in the person of Jesus and in the act of the resurrection.
God has moved to act against evil. God has poured out the Spirit and made it possible for those who follow Jesus to do differently, to live differently, to love completely – but even as we live in the time where we can make peace and live graciously, we, too, struggle with what we see and what we hear and what we know about what is happening around us.
And that’s where our final connection to Habakkuk can come in – he has heard God tell him to wait it out, that the new thing he is going to do is going to be amazing and miraculous, and that even the Babylonians will not finally be permanent – in fact, evil does not ever prevail forever. And Habakkuk, even in his questions, proclaims that he will never stop praising God – no matter what happens, because God has proven faithful. Listen again to Habakkuk’s words in chapter 3: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, thought there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength,”
Habakkuk recognizes that God has not left them alone. That even if starvation seems imminent, even if it looks as though all is lost, God is trustworthy and faithful and he can be joyful, resting in God’s strength, even as his own is failing.
By the way, please note that Habakkuk does not anticipate that God will fix his problem – rather, because God has answered him and promised ultimately that the evil around him will be addressed, Habakkuk knows that God is paying attention and sees what is happening. God is working, Habakkuk just can’t always see it and in the meantime, he can know that God’s hand will prevail.
We, too, live in a place where we can’t always see God’s action in the ways and times we would like. Still – we can rest in God’s faithfulness. We know that God is at work and that God is paying attention.
We know that death has been overcome. We know that Jesus is alive. We know that Jesus is the person whose life and death proclaim over and over that sin and evil and bad are not going to win. Jesus taught us that WE are part of the fight against them – when we live lives that reflect what Christ taught – when we love our neighbor, when we treat others kindly, when we give instead of take, when we do not seek revenge, when we pray, when we feed, when we clothe, when we ACT – we are agents of good who are far more effective than any DC or Marvel superhero ever concocted by a comic book writer. We have the power, in Christ, to actually impact the people around us for the good. That’s the new thing that God has done, part of what God promised Habakkuk, part of what Habakkuk and all of the Old Testament witnesses were waiting for: the promise of the living Christ working and moving in each of us to love the world and conquer evil where ever we find it in our world today.
Did you know you were a superhero in cognito? Well, you are. Love your neighbor today and use your power.
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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

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