Monday, March 14, 2016

Easter Is Coming!

It won’t be long now. Just a few more days, and it’s the most holy time of the Christian year – the week of Jesus’s passion. We remember his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ponder over his final public teachings, share in a holy meal. We’ll betray him, deny we even knew him, abandon him when he is arrested, but we can’t stay away. We’ll witness his trial, follow him to Calvary, watch as the nails are driven in. We’ll mourn as the stone is rolled over the entrance of the tomb we laid him in. And we’ll huddle confused, broken, afraid as we wait for Easter. 

For Easter IS coming!

We do this every year, this journey into death and the grave. We do this because we know Easter is coming. Easter Is Coming! Every day, resurrection happens. Every day, new life bursts forth from death. Every day God says “No” to sin, “No” to death, “NO” to the power of evil in this world! Easter is coming!

I’m reminded of the House Stark motto in the book “Game of Thrones” –Winter is coming! In their world, winter isn’t just a season of the year, it’s a period of years when cold winds howl, deep snow covers the ground, life perishes. The Starks are always prepared for the worst: Winter is coming!  It seems like the world around us has adopted this motto – “Winter is coming” – terrible things are happening and it won’t get better, so better prepare for the worst.

In contrast, the House Christian proclaims “Easter Is Coming!” Yes, the forces of evil still rage. Completely defeated by the cross and the empty tomb, they haven’t given up. But it’s a losing battle. It’s a lost battle. Christ is risen! Christ reigns! God’s kingdom has come! We testify to both the brokenness in the world and to God’s presence in those broken places. Easter is Coming! Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again! And again, and again – to each of us, to the world, coming in love, in mercy, in grace. Coming to those places where the shadow of the cross looms large, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death - never abandoning, denying or betraying us. Shedding light on our confusion, calming our fears, making us whole again. Easter is Coming!

It won’t be long now. A few days and we’ll shout “Hosanna”, “Crucify”, “He is Risen!” A few days and we will once again marvel at God’s amazing love and grace poured out through Christ for us. Easter is Coming!  

I can't say "Easter is coming!" without linking you to this great video by WorkingPreacher

Monday, March 7, 2016

The End of the World as We Know It? Early thoughts on Mark chapter 13

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed”… (Mark 13:7a). It’s easy to look around at the world and think we are living in the end times. Wars, famine, pestilence, natural disaster – how much more can we take? Surely we are living in the end times!

When Jesus said this to his disciples, they were standing outside of the Temple (Mark chapter 13). He had just predicted its destruction. And as he predicted, in 70AD the Romans destroyed the Temple, killed most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and took the remaining Jews (and Christians living there) into captivity. I’m sure it seemed like the end of the world to them! It was certianly the end of the world as they knew it!

In the face of this upcoming destruction what does Jesus counsel? Does he tell the disciples to run and hide? To let their fear close in on them? To give in to hate and anger? NO!

Jesus says “Do not be alarmed (13:7). Do not be led astray (13:5). Don’t believe it when people get all excited and say “Messiah is here” or “He is here” (13:21). Be alert (13:23). Stay awake and keep alert (13:33, 34-37).”

Then he tells the parable of a man who goes on a journey and leaves his servants to care for his estate. They are expected to be about the master’s business while he is away, doing their jobs faithfully. They don’t know when he will return, but they sure don’t want to be caught goofing off when he gets back!

Wars and rumors of wars. Maybe we are living in the end times. And then again maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure. I have a pastor/friend who tells his confirmation students that Jesus may come tomorrow – or you may be hit by a bus! Either way, for you, Jesus has come. It’s a bit dramatic - and gruesome! – but it gets to the point: we don’t know, we can’t know. Even Jesus says he does not know – only the Father knows (13:32). Sure, there have been many who in their pride has tried to predict the date. But I believe that Jesus was cautioning the disciples against doing exactly that. Only the Master knows when the journey ends. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Instead, the best way to be prepared it so do the job set before you – to be about the Master’s business.

There’s a Jewish saying: if you have a sapling in your hand, and you hear that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling, then go and greet the Messiah. Along those same lines, Martin Luther has been said to have said “If I knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Both sayings demonstrate confidence in the future that comes from trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

When the kingdom of Judah was under siege from Babylon and the Exile was almost upon them, God instructed the prophet Jeremiah to demonstrate that kind of confidence and trust: by purchasing a field (Jeremiah chapter 32). A strange command – to buy a field just as you are about to be captured and carried off. Jeremiah bought that field and announced to the soon-to-be-exiles that doing so was acting out God’s promise to one day bring them back from exile. God kept that promise. God always keeps God’s promises.

Wars and rumors of wars. Famine, pestilence, natural disaster. The election of the “wrong” candidate, passing of “wrong” laws. Job loss, serious illness, loss of a loved one - anything that threatens the life we know. Each of these can seem like the end of the world. And truly, each of these can be the end of the world as we know it.

In the face of this end, Jesus reminds us to not be afraid. To stay awake, not watching for disaster, but faithfully carrying on with the Father’s business: Loving God, loving the neighbor as ourselves. Serving those whom Christ came to serve. Caring for the least, and the vulnerable – knowing that as we do so, we are caring for Jesus. Praying for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” And always trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.