Holy Week Blog, Monday: Power that corrupts.

John 12:1-12 NRSV:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.


I think one of the important things happening in the Gospel of John is the power dynamic at play. Time and again the Jewish religious leaders try to assert their power over Jesus. It’s a power they’re used to wielding. If they decided to put someone out of the synagogue, they were out. If they wanted someone stoned to death, it usually happened. In this passage, they conspire to murder Lazarus because Lazarus as a living, breathing miracle of Jesus was eroding their power base.  If the Jews’ religious power disintegrated because of Jesus, they are left with nothing. They are the big kids on the block, and when their power is threatened, they seem unwilling to stop short of anything– even premeditated murder– to eliminate the threat.

I guess my response to this is something like a warning to leaders in the church to be aware and very careful how we use power. Power really does tend to corrupt, and religious power is pretty potent stuff among religious people. So be careful. Be careful not to hold too tightly to the little kingdoms we build. Be careful, lest we do the wrong thing when the Real Kingdom comes and threatens our power… because it will threaten our power. In those moments, remember it’s not about you. (Nor is it about me, either.) If the Kingdom of Jesus means I lose my position as the big cheese (and make no bones about it— that’s precisely what it means.) then so be it. Come, Lord Jesus

Blessings,

Mark

EasterBlog 2014! He Is Going Ahead of You…

If you’re reading this and haven’t heard it proclaimed yet: Christ has risen! Happy Easter!

I woke up this morning with two quotes in my head, both words of angels/messengers from the resurrection narratives in the Gospels.

The first from Luke 24:5:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

And the second from Matthew 28:7

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee…”

 

Those words are sticking with me today. From the first announcement of the resurrection (in Matthew) Jesus reminds his disciples he’s going ahead of them, in their case, into upGalilee. He is risen. And he’s going ahead of you. Get up and get going. Following Jesus means you can’t hang out in the graveyard anymore or hide behind a locked door for fear of the bad guys. (Apologies, sort of, for synthesizing the Gospel accounts here!) Following jJesus also means he’s out ahead of us. Having blazed the trail through sin and death, he continues trail-blazing. He’s calling us toward the future. Toward his mission. Toward folks who haven’t met him yet. Towards the poor. Towards the powerless. Towards those who desperately need to encounter the Good News. Towards our enemies. And he’s not calling us to go anywhere he hasn’t already been. He is risen, and he’s going ahead of you.

Why would you hang around the cemetery among the dead when Jesus is on the move? Get going! Easter means he’s alive! And Jesus’ life and mission aren’t separable… Jesus is always on a mission. Follow him. Get out of the graveyard and get going. He’s already in Galilee doing stuff. What are you waiting for?

LentBlog ’14: Day 38: I’m Longing for Resurrection.

2 Corinthians 4:13-18

This is a highly edited post. Maybe someday I’ll publish what I wrote here first, but for now, I’ll let Paul do the talking. He says it better than I did anyway. For all those reading this (all like 2 of you),  if you’re in the ministry and might have had a really tough road to walk in part of your journey of the ministry life, hear the Word of the Lord:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.     NRSV

 

We feel a Resurrection coming. We’ve been waiting for it. Longing for it. Begging God for it. Trying our best to live towards it. Searching for it. Imagining what it will be like while trying not to miss the God-filled life moments we’re living in the present. Always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus so that his LIFE might be shown in our bodies, too. I’m ready for that second part. Maybe you are too.

 

Know this: Easter is coming.

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

 

 

 Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles 
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

EasterBog!! He is Risen!

He is risen indeed.

I gotta say it– Lent was good for me! Honed some disciplines, thought deep thoughts, dreamed new dreams, and my journey through Romans was awesome… Maybe Exodus next?

 

And now, to move forward, trusting that the power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise us, too.

Really thankful, particularly today on Easter, for God’s call on my life. Easter is kind-of the SuperBowl for preachers, and each Easter it’s  an honor and privilege to stand in front of folks and share the Good News.

Happy Easter,

Mark

LentBlog Day 42: Waiting.

Not much to say tonight… I read Romans 16, which is mainly personal greetings and a really neat benediction. Paul again makes it pretty clear the Gospel is available to everyone, for which I am thankful. He names Pheobe as a leader in the church, which is another place that would perhaps silence the “women can’t preach” camp if they actually read it.

But while there are some things I could write about from Romans 16, on this Easter-Eve I’m feeling pretty subdued. Mostly I’m waiting. Waiting on tomorrow to come. waitingWaiting for Resurrection on a couple of different levels. Waiting for newness of life. Waiting for the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead to cut loose in our lives once again and raise us, too. Waiting for the purple and sack-cloth of Lent to give way to WHITE!

And most of the time I don’t do to well waiting.

Veni, veni, Emmanuel. Captivum solve Israel.

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

LentBlog Day 24: Our Hope Is Built On Nothing Less… (AKA: It’s Incarnation, folks)

Romans 8:31-35.

As I read this again this evening, the old hymn goes through my head: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I find myself really, really glad that the hope we have as followers of Jesus is not something made by human hands. Lots of folks are finding lots of reasons not to believe. Lots of folks are convinced Easter is a trumped-up myth that humans used to create a religion. Sometimes the church has given them reason to think that way, for sure, but in the end, I respectfully disagree. I really am convinced the best stuff comes from outside of us, and hope is some of the best stuff. JesusIcon

“He who did not withhold his own son…” The incarnation is the source of our hope. The life, death, and resurrection of the Christ is the only thing, I think, that really gives us much hope. It is there that God shows God’s power over death. It is there we are transformed as well. I guess I really do have the audacity to believe that Jesus was really raised from the dead. If he wasn’t, then Christianity really is no different than the other religions that say some good things and call us to a better moral and community ethic of sorts, but are after all is said and done merely human-made systems. But I believe. I believe in Christ, God has suffered and died, and was raised. I believe our intercessor (v. 34) has been there and done that. He lived, breathed, ate, slept, died and was raised in our place– where we are.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus, because if it’s built on something or someone else, it’s really no hope at all.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 23: In all things… (AKA: God did not take your child.)

Romans 8:28-30

Can I just say right off the bat it really bugs me to see this particular passage misinterpreted? Everywhere from mainstream Christian media to the local church, so many people try to flippantly explain away really tough stuff… and this is one of their favorite passages. Everything from God caused the Haitian earthquake to punish sinners to “God needed your child in heaven more than we needed her here.” It makes me want to bash my balding head against the wall. The logic is: all things work for good, which must mean God causes all things, which means God killed your baby, and you’ve just got to accept that… after all, “his ways are not our ways.” God is in charge. God calls the shots. EVERYTHING happens for a reason, so essentially,  get over it.

Not sure that’s what this text, or the whole of Scripture says. Now, some Christians, and some in other religions, believe in various forms of predestination… If it’s written in Allah’s book etc… but my tribe doesn’t subscribe to that notion, and I’m glad.suffer

One of the ways to translate this passage is, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” I am deeply indebted to Professor Al Truesdale for his treatment of the problem of evil. Essentially he says this: God may not ever answer the “why” question. We might not ever know why a tornado wipes out one house and leaves another intact. We may not ever know why children get cancer and die before their time. But what we do know is that God gives an answer when people suffer: God gives his own self in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s answer to suffering is incarnation. It’s suffering with us. Living and dying as one of us. And being raised, so we too can have newness of life in Him. (Sounds like Romans, eh?)  In everything God works. Revealing God’s self. Offering hope. Walking with. Transforming death into life.

And remember this: God working in all things is not the same as God causing all things.  Remember the “sighs too deep for words” from yesterday’s passage? The Spirit utters them because he is the paraclete… the one who comes alongside us when and where we suffer.

Blessings,

Mark

 

LentBlog Day 13: Life After Death…

Romans 6:1-4.eunich baptism

SO much happening in Romans 6. I could post a lot of stuff here, but what’s really on my mind as I read the first few verses is this: Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus means a lot more than surface-level “christian” religion. (I really want to go on about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism here, but I won’t. Much.)

Church hoppers. Church shoppers. Mile-Wide-Inch-Deep. Church growth. Meeting felt needs. It’s growing so God must be blessing us, therefore what we’re doing to make it grow must be God’s desire for the church. It’s NOT growing so God must be displeased and I must be a failure as a pastor. “I come here to be uplifted.” The 245th version of “Jesus is my teddy bear and wants me to feel good.” Generations of young people (and not-so-young people) leaving the church because most of the previously mentioned are inauthentic.

This passage has something to say to all that. I think it’s something like: Do not forget that while all the blessings of the Christian life are real, they come only through death. And the death is yours (and mine), following Christ. Baptism reminds us again that to be raised with Jesus we must die first.

And death-to-self doesn’t sell. You don’t see “Come and Die!” on too many church marquis signs. One person said to me, “You can’t say that to a new person… they might not come back!” And it’s true. They might not. The scandal of the cross really is a scandal… it’s foolishness to those who are perishing. If we proclaimed the actual Gospel of the Crucified Lord to people, right out there in front of everyone, and then lived as those who have been crucified with Christ, whose only hope is the Resurrection… they might leave. Because in light of that, all the “Me Church” stuff becomes totally irrelevant and insignificant.

So, I’m thinking and prayerfully dreaming tonight. Dreaming of the congregation Stefanie and I are working toward. My prayer and hope is we would be a people who are very much alive because we have been raised to newness of life… after death.

Blessings.

LentBlog Day 6: “Buts” Are A Good Thing.

Romans 3.Turn

Human languages each contain certain words that are more powerful than others. Love. Hate. Hope. Lie. Innocence. Go. Am/Is/Are/Was/Were… Colts… Drums… you know, words that carry more weight than others.

I’m beginning to think maybe other than “love,” the word “but” might be one of the most powerful words.

Think about it… If I said to my wife, “Wow, honey. You look amazing this morning, but…” every person reading this would say something like, “Noooo! Do not go in there!!”

The word “but” changes the entire course of a thought, rhetorical argument, or sentence. With that one word, everything that comes before is suddenly cast in a much less significant light, if not negated entirely. Your employer could give you a whole slew of positives, but the second she or he pulls out the word “but…” you know it’s going to be one of those conversations.

The cool thing is the word works the same in the other direction. I could say, “Honey, I know we’ve had a really rough morning and we’re both at our wits end, but…” and the whole conversation can turn just that quick. And the dime it turns on is the word “but.”

I guess that’s why I really like what happens in Romans 3. Paul has spent nearly 2 chapters making the case for how fried everyone is. Jew, Greek, following the law, not following the law, it doesn’t matter. By the middle of Romans 3, everyone finds themselves as objects of God’s wrath and judgment:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.” (3:10b-12 NRSV)

Paul makes it very clear we’re headed for disaster. All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are totally hosed.

But.

(Did your mindset just change? Mine did writing it just now.)

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe…  (vv. 21-22a)

Wait a second. Insert screeching car breaks noise here. We are all totally condemned… but now God’s righteousness has been revealed for all who believe.

I think that’s why it’s one of the more important words in language. That one word becomes the hinge between darkness and light, death and life, Good Friday and Easter, the grave and… resurrection.

I think sometimes I lose track of the “but.” Sometimes I become so accustomed to the dark times we’ve experienced that I forget God has the final Word, and his Word to all of us includes a life-changing, all-encompassing, thunderous explosion of life and love that goes something like this: We are dead to the world… but alive in Christ.

Blessings.