Thoughts from our Pastor

Voices from the Cross

Malcus, slave of chief priest

John 18:1-12

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.

      My name is Malchus.  Don‘t be surprised if that name doesn’t sound familiar.  Although my story is told in all of the gospels, I am only named in one of them.  I must admit, I was not a very important person.  In fact, there are many who would call me a non-person.  I was a slave.  I was property, to be bought and sold at the slave market.  I had a number of owners, but several years ago I was purchased as a gift to the chief priest of Jerusalem and I must tell you that although no slavery is easy, this has been the most pleasant.

      As you may have guessed, I was in the company of my master, the chief priest, on the night Jesus was arrested.  I was the unfortunate one whose ear was cut off.  But I don’t want to start there.

      Let me tell you about learning of Jesus.  Being one of the chief priest’s personal slaves, I was often nearby when the priests of the various synagogues and communities came to visit, and after reporting what they knew about Jesus, they would often stay and discuss Him. 

It was always the same.  Someone would come with word that Jesus was teaching or healing or performing a miracle, and that the people were eager to hear Him, touch Him, or be near Him.  Predictably, the other priests would get angry.  Verbal threats would be tossed about and finally there would be conversations regarding the best way to rid themselves and the country of this agitator.  So I heard all the stories, or at least most of them.

      I heard about the water being changed to wine, Jesus saving the adulterous woman, the healings of lepers, blinds, lame, demoniacs, and I heard about how Jesus spent His time with all the “wrong” people.  I heard about when Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water, when He fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, and how He raised the brother of Mary and Martha from the dead.  I also heard how people paved His way on the streets of the Holy City with palms and garments.  That last one got a great response from the priests, they got the Pharisees involved and they all made a tizzy!

      Often the argument was, if Jesus is of God, why does He not come and spend time with those who have been called to do God’s work?  As the months grew into years, more and more frequently I heard that it was important for the well-being of the priests that the intruder – Jesus, be silenced.  More and more insistently, the issue for the priests became how and when to get rid of Jesus, not if they should get rid of Jesus. 

      Sometimes at night I would lie on my pallet and dream what it would be like the meet this Jesus, just once.  I knew that He would not do anything to help me, but if only I could see Him.  So, when the plot was laid for the chief priests with Judas help to kidnap Jesus, and I was told that I would be there, I got excited!

      Of course, Caiaphas thought it would be easy to arrest Jesus and leave.  Caiaphas was used to people listening to him, taking his orders.  But no one expected what we met.  One of Jesus’ followers actually drew his sword, struck me, and cut off my ear!  I was so surprised and stunned that I barely realized I was bleeding.  Almost in one motion, Jesus told His disciple to put away his sword, stepped forward, retrieved my ear, and placed it against my head, spoke quickly and my ear was healed! 

      Let me tell you, I was amazed!  Never in my memory had my personal well-being been taken into consideration.  I was a slave.  I had been taught for years that I occupied the bottom rung of the ladder, if not the ground upon which the ladder rested.  And this man, this Jesus, whom I was helping to arrest, who was a horrible rabble-rouser, thought enough of my physical comfort to attend to my personal need.  While you may feel uncomfortable to call my experience instant conversion, I was immediately and unquestionably, a believer.

      Can you imagine my confusion during the next hours and days?  I had known all along that my master and Jesus stood on opposite sides of many questions, but I only had heard about Jesus from my master!  Now, not only had I met Him, but during the crisis of His arrest, Jesus took time to be sensitive to my pain, my need.  His actions showed His belief that I, even though a slave, was important!  And yet I still lived as the slave of Caiaphas, the one who wanted Jesus dead!

      Luckily, I had been owned by Caiaphas for a long time.  I had gained the right to go where I wanted, and that last week I went to all things pertaining to Jesus.  I was at the hearings of Jesus before the religious leaders and the Romans.  I was there when Jesus stood before Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again.  In every instance, Jesus was superior to His antagonists.  Even when He was beaten and mocked, Jesus looked on His adversaries with pity.  Jesus suffered greatly, yet still He stayed in control.

      I also listened as I watched the turmoil.  I heard Jesus’ followers talking about Jesus being the Son of God.  I heard the loss, the fear, I heard that people did not know what to do.  And I found myself in the same position.  During the days between my ear being cut off and Jesus being put on the cross, I was confronted by God.  That confrontation came in the form of a man who was going to die a horrible death.

      My life was the same but very different after Jesus’ death.  I stayed a slave.  I stayed with Caiaphas.  Then when he died, I stayed on to help the other priests.  Some think that I should have walked away, and taken the opportunity to become my own person, my own boss. 

I could have left, but I didn’t have to.  Because, Jesus noticed me.  Jesus healed my ear, and made a difference in my life, a profound difference.  Jesus’ love and compassion confronted me, and converted me. Jesus’ compassion allowed me to realize that I too was a child of God. I was not beholden to anyone by God, and God’s Son, Jesus.

This is true for all of us.  All one has to do is believe. I know this because, for most of my life I was seen as nothing.  Now, after Jesus, I know that I am loved.

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Voices from the Cross

Deborah

John 8:3-11

        You do not know me by name, in fact, my story is only a postscript in the Bible, and even then I am never named. So first, I want you to know that my name is Deborah.  That is most important, because who I am is more important than what is written about me. I am not what is written about me anymore, Jesus changed my whole life. I am not what I was before I met Jesus, I am a person who has tasted the living water, who has been received into the fellowship of God’s kingdom. I am a new person since I met Jesus, and you can be too. The only thing you must do is believe. So listen close, and hear my story… maybe it will help you believe.

I am the woman caught in adultery. I am the woman whom the scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone to death. I am the woman who was brought before Jesus to test Him because the Pharisees were looking for a way to bring Jesus up on charges. 

No one asked me, but really I was not the guilty party. It was the man who was the adulterer. The man I was with was married, I was just hanging out with him. But that is how it went in my time. Women were always the ones who got in trouble, even though it was usually a man’s fault.

Anyway… I am not that person anymore, and I came here tonight to tell you why. Jesus is the reason why. And so hear this about Jesus. I remember Jesus really well because He saved my life. And He saved me not only once but two times. First He saved me physically, and then He saved me spiritually. It was Jesus who stood between the crowd and me. And the leaders asked Jesus what should be done about me, a woman caught in adultery? Jesus was bent over the whole while the religious leaders were talking.

I remember He was writing something on the ground. What ever it was, it must have been some great thing. The men who brought me, the men who wanted to stone me heard Jesus’ answer about those without sin throwing the first stone, and then they looked at what he was drawing and started walking away. I can’t read, so I can’t tell you what Jesus wrote… but it had to be important to make all those men change their mind.  That was the first time Jesus saved my life. The second time was when Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” From that precise moment, I followed Him faithfully to because no one else had ever tried to help me.

        The disciples, on the other hand, really didn’t get Jesus.  They were more worried about me following Jesus and hurting His reputation that they were about learning His ways. It was hard for the disciples to believe that my life could have ben so abruptly changed. But it was. And it was Jesus that changed it in just five words. He said, “I do not condemn you.” The disciples still condemned me, but I wasn’t following them. I think it was because Jesus wouldn’t condemn me, and other people like me, that He was killed.

My thoughts about the killing of Jesus are that this was the biggest mistake ever made. I listened to Jesus. He taught peace and love. He taught getting along with each other. He healed people – He even healed me!  And He cared for people, even people that no one else cared for. None of that warranted crucifixion!

I think the cross is a cruel way to die. And I think that Jesus didn’t deserve it! To see Jesus hanging there, in pain, waiting for death, when some of us knew who He was and lots of people were beginning to understand what He taught – it was as if our very lives were being torn out of us. I think Jesus’ cross should be left standing there, for ages, so all people can see it and remember what happened that day! 

But really, even if Jesus was killed in a different way like stoning, or flogging, Jesus still would have died. And I know the reason Jesus died. Jesus started stepping on some of the religious leaders’ toes. The Sadducees and the Pharisees and the chief priests, even some of the elders, were getting annoyed with Jesus. It was like Jesus had something that the other leaders didn’t. Jesus knew something, and even though He was trying to share, the other leaders were angry that He had it and they didn’t. 

  Jesus was teaching things about love and grace, about God’s mercy and favor that no one else had thought about for a long time. Jesus was giving people a reason to treat each other with respect instead of being mean. Jesus was telling everyone that God loved all people, not just those who could pay for the best sacrifices, or those who had time to spend their whole lives at prayer. 

I know that it was the Romans who crucified Jesus. But really, the religious leaders made it so that Romans had to kill Him. Jesus and His talk about love and grace, were going to reduce the importance of the religious leaders – and they couldn’t have that happening! They just couldn’t stand the idea that there was more to God’s message than the law and sacrifice – things they were comfortable with. Things they could hurt others with.

So, I may not have been an adulteress, but yes, I knew that what I did made other people adulterers. But I changed. And I changed because Jesus taught me how to live better. I also changed because I heard about a God who loved me, even though I sinned, and continue to sin.

Jesus died. That was wrong. Before Jesus died, I heard a lot of people say He was the Son of God, the Messiah who had come to save us all. I know that Jesus gave me entrance into God’s kingdom, and it does make sense that the person giving that was God’s Son. So I’ll bet Jesus was the Messiah. That would make sense, since I heard that Jesus rose from the dead.  Maybe He did come back. 

In any case, Jesus saved me not once but twice. And I know He can save you too. If you get the chance to meet Him, say hi for me, and then believe all that Jesus tells you, because it is true, no matter what any one says! 

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Voices from the Cross

Mary Magdalene

Luke 8:1-3  

8Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 24:1-10

24But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

      I have come this evening to talk with you about a friend. My name is Miriamme, but that is not how I am referred to in Your Bible. You will recognize me easier if I use the name Mary Magdalene. I am from a town called Magdala, about 7 or 8 days walk north of Jerusalem.  My name is actually Miriamme Bat-Shaool, or Mary, daughter of Saul. But because Magdala is far away from Jesus’ usual area, I was known as Mary Magdalene.   I am so excited to talk with you, and in such a way, over the internet… I just can’t even imagine how far Jesus’ message would have spread if we had the internet when we were together! Youi must be wonderful people to have use of this all the time. I imagine you have no disease, you can find all the information you want, and you are always talking to each other through this, right?

      Ok, getting back to my sharing. I was sick when I first met the Jesus you came to hear about. I was so sick most people had given up on me. My family was well to do, so I had visited every doctor we could find. But not one doctor had been able to help. My mind was full of confusion all the time. I was uncertain of my surroundings, even when I was at home. I was scared of every dark corner; I could not even clean the house or cook for my family because I would all of a sudden be at a loss and not remember what I was doing. When I went to service at my synagogue, I would get lost in the liturgy, I would cry out at the wrong times, and cause commotion. The church leaders had asked my father to keep me home, to not allow me to come to synagogue anymore because I was scary to other worshippers. I was at a loss about what to do. I was of use to no one, and even the church had shut its doors to me. I could not do anything on my own, and I was looking at a life of dependence on my father.

      Then Jesus came to Magdala. We, even in far away Magdala, had heard of this new prophet, this man who was possibly the Messiah. I, being a woman, could not go to see Him alone, so I got my brother to take time to escort me. What a time we had! People had come from all over, even from the country, as far as a 3 day walk to see Jesus!  There He was, healing, blessing, interpreting the scripture, and giving strength to those who were in need. At first, I was not sure that He would take time for me, a woman, a wealthy woman who was so much like a child. But when I got near Him, Jesus was willing to talk with me. He found out about what I was feeling, He listened to my fears!  It was like He cared about me.

      Jesus was willing to listen like no one else had. Because of that, Jesus figured out that I was not sick in the physical way. There was nothing wrong with my skin or my belly. Instead, Jesus found seven demons who had attached themselves to me. I was possessed by demons that confused and scared me; that took all my memories and feelings of joy. All of a sudden Jesus said to those demons, “Get out of her! God the Father and Creator of all goodness and light commands you all to leave!”

And I fell down on my knees. I looked up, and I could remember every part of my life! I knew things that had forgotten for a very long time! I was not scared anymore! And I felt happy for the first time in what seemed like forever!

      I felt alive and joyous to be alive. I was not scared anymore! What a gift this Jesus gave me. That is when I knew that God cared about me too. Those in the church cared more about themselves and keeping things comfortable, but God wanted me to be well. Jesus proved that by being willing to help me, even though it looked useless to me.

      That is how my first meeting with Jesus Christ went. That is when I found out for myself that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. He was no prophet like Isaiah, or Amos, or Hosea. Jesus was what God had promised us, our King, our Savior, our Lord. That day, I started being a disciple of Jesus.  I was part of the group who listened and learned; we were close followers who were important to Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus traveled from town to town, preaching God’s love, mercy, and grace. Following Jesus were the apostles, the 12 men He called, and a whole group of women of which I was one.  We women provided assistance to the group through food and lodging so God’s love could be shared with more people.  The women made the ministry possible.

Because we were always around, we saw many of Jesus’ healings. We were there when Bartimaeus received his sight, and when the men lowered the cripple through the roof, I saw that same man leave under his own power. I saw Jarius’ daughter, I thought she was dead, and that boy who thrashed around, I saw them all healed because of Jesus. Every moment I spent with Jesus, as I was listening and learning, I was getting more than I ever imagined. I was finding out what it meant to be accepted and loved in a new and different way – God’s way.

Many of the disciples learned this from our time with Jesus.  That is one of the reasons many of the women stayed with Jesus right to the bitter end. Simon Peter didn’t stay. Andrew, James, Thomas, and Matthew didn’t stay. They were nowhere to be found on that bitter, horrifying Friday. They deserted Jesus at His only true time of need. It was only Mary, Jesus’ mother, Cleopas’s wife, and me at the cross when Jesus was close to death.  We heard Jesus’ last words, “It is finished,” before He bowed His head and died. We watched as the sword pierced His side. We were the only ones there to weep and moan at this man’s life taken in such an appalling way. It was said that you could hear our death wail all the way to the center of Jerusalem. We were that offended at our dear Savoir Jesus’ death.

We saw Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take the body to the grave. We watched as Nicodemus and Joseph prepared the body, and the stone was rolled into place. Pilate had his guards seal the tomb, and post a guard so none of us would steal the body.

But we knew the guard was useless. Not one of us would steal Jesus’ body. We were too depressed. We had watched Jesus die. All our hopes were gone. None of us had anything to live for anymore. We were all alone in the world again. Many of us women had received so much from Jesus. Remember my story? I think I might have received the most. Before I met Jesus, I was lost, scared and useless. And then, my whole reason for living had died at the hands of an angry crowd who were lost, scared, and useless. Pretty ironic, huh?

      If that crowd had listened and accepted what Jesus was offering from God, they would have gained abundant life. Jesus took away my demons; He could have taken theirs too.  Instead, their fear stopped them from receiving love, grace, and mercy that would have given them a true direction. Humanity lost everything because they were scared of losing what they had which was nothing!

      For a while that was all we could think about. What a loss. What a waste. Why were people so scared? Why were people so frightened of love? But it wasn’t just people who didn’t know Jesus. Even the apostles were scared right after Jesus’ crucifixion. They thought we were all going to be killed.  So they hid.  But us women, we had to tend Jesus’ body.

      When we went to the grave, and Jesus wasn’t there, we thought the world had broken again. I was heartbroken, but then those men told us to stop looking for the living among the dead. They reminded us of Jesus’ words that He would rise on the third day. And my whole world yet again turned inside out and upside down! I would again be in the company of the One who had healed me! 

      Remember, before I met Jesus, my mind was confused. I was scared all the time. Then I visited with Jesus and He loved me as I was.  Jesus didn’t tell me I was bad; Jesus didn’t hide me because I was different. Jesus didn’t tell me I had to change or leave.  No, instead, Jesus looked into my heart, and healed me. Jesus brought me out of a dark, lonely life, into a life full of reasons to be joyful, a life of service to and love of God.  Jesus brought me into community and gave me a reason to live.

      This is what Jesus can do for anyone, if they let Him. My prayer for everyone is that we all let Jesus into our lives; that we all let Jesus know our pains, our confusions, our feelings of uselessness; because Jesus can change those things.

Jesus turned the world upside down for me, in more ways than one. Jesus can do that for anyone. Jesus is alive, surrounding us, and waiting for people to let Him come into their hearts. Be joyous in this knowledge, and open your heart to Jesus; allow Jesus can make your life as meaningful as Jesus made mine.

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Voices from the Cross

Micah

Mark 15:6-15

6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”13They shouted back, “Crucify him!”14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

My name is Micah. You don’t remember me? I am not surprised. You might recognize me if I use my full name; Micah Bar-Abbas. That’s right, Micah, son of Abbas. I see you remember at least part of my name; Bar-Abbas. I am the convicted criminal; some are convinced the murderer, who was released instead of Jesus.

You think it s strange that I am here among you to el my feelings on the event of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth? It won’t surprise you to know that I didn’t know much about Jesus when He was alive. Seeing how it all worked out, with me going free and Him dying, I am probably not very popular with His disciples. I wish I was more sure about Jesus and what, or who He was. Anyway, who else can say, “There but for the Son of God, go I.” That’s right.  If Jesus hadn’t died on that cross, I would have. That crowd back there in the square in Jerusalem was ugly; somebody’s blood was going to be shed, and it was either Jesus or me. So that is why I am here tonight. I have some thoughts about Jesus’ death that you might like to hear.

How do I feel about the death of this man some called the Messiah? Do I feel any twinge of guilt because it should have been me? Let me tell you. I have mixed emotions. I am glad I wasn’t crucified. The sentence had already been pronounced. If Jesus had not come along when He did, I would be long gone.

The tradition of releasing someone during Passover was certainly an opportune event for me, but it would never have happened if there hadn’t been a substitute. So there’s a part of me that is relieved. Sure, I’m grateful, I’d already had my last meal, I was next in line for death! And now?! Now I am free.

But should Jesus have died in my place? That is a tough question. They really didn’t have enough on Him to send Him to the cross; and although I’m not a religious man at all, everything I have heard about Jesus has been good.

      I grew up with that fellow whose friends carried him to see Jesus because he couldn’t walk. I remember how excited all his family and neighbors were when he came home under his own power. I was in the area of Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine, and although we didn’t move in the same circles, everybody who really knew Jesus says good things about Him.

I know the stories that have come about since His death. It was God’s will, and that Jesus has come back from the dead; this is the beginning of something new. But really, I am not a very religious man. I hardly ever go to synagogue and only occasionally to temple, so I am probably a poor one to ask. But if you do ask me, I will tell you… there was something eerie, almost awesome about the death of Jesus.

I know cause I was there! I thought it was the least I could do for the man who saved my life. So, I saw the whole thing. The way He behaved when the crowd wanted H crucified; it was almost as f He felt sorry, but it wasn’t for Himself, it was for them. Then when that soldier stuck the spear into Jesus to see if He was dead, the sky got all dark and it began to storm a huge storm, and the ground began to shake, and all sorts of strange things happened.

It was almost as if God was angry. I’ve heard people tell that graves were opened and that a big curtain in the temple got torn. It was a creepy terrifying time. Was Jesus someone special? If you had asked me when they set me free instead of Him, I’d have said He was the most unlucky Jew I knew. But now, when I think about it, I’m almost sure He was someone special. He was either someone very special or it was the darndest set of coincidences that ever happened up on that hill.

Did Jesus deserve to die? I am sure that He did not. He was a sacrificial lamb. For my money, the chief priests and the Pharisees, those sticky-fingered religious leaders, just couldn’t stand for anybody else to get any of the attention. So they set Him up. What I have heard has me believing that Jesus was more than just someone who was a fly in the religious ointment though.

All those things that Jesus did when He was alive, put together with Jesus’ attitude on the cross, and the story, the open graves, and the curtain; I might be right, Jesus could actually be the sacrificial lamb. Remember what I said earlier? There but for the Son of God, go I.

Jesus died so I could live. And some are saying that Jesus died so we all can live! Isn’t that amazing?!? That is the greatest thing that anyone has ever done for me! Now I know it’s true, I have not lived a great life. No one wants their children to grow up and be me. But if Jesus died so I can live, maybe I will change.

Jesus changed other people when He was alive with His healing. Those people have new lives, so why can’t I be changed by Jesus too?  Jesus died so I wouldn’t have to, what a great thing!  And remember, there are people who say it wasn’t only that I could live, but that Jesus died that everyone could live. We have all been given a second chance at everything – we have been given a do-over.

Now I want to pray with you, but remember, I am not very religious, so I don’t pray real good but with this second chance, I am going to make sure Jesus’ death makes a difference at least in my life.

Dear Jesus, some say You are God’s son, the Messiah, the Savoir. Well, You are my Savior. You have made a difference in my life. You went to the cross for me, You died for me, You rose for me. Jesus help me, help me to live that others might see the difference You have made in my life. Help me to live and love and You did. Help me to reach out, to continue to live, and be courageously truthful and loving as You were.  Be with me and give me strength to face all things in my path, knowing that You have saved me once, You are able to save me again. I pray in Your name, amen.

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Voices from the Cross

Salome

Mark 16:1-8

     My name is Salome.  Zebedee and I are the parents of James and John, one of the pairs of brothers who followed Jesus.  I was with Mary Magdalene and Alpheus’ wife Mary when we went to the tomb to put incense on the body of Jesus.  I was one of the women who went to the tomb early the day after the Sabbath. 

I was there for that awful event.  I saw the man my sons chose to follow, the man whose teachings I attempted to follow, the man whom I eventually came to worship die.  I was aware, as were most of us, that this was the first crucifixion of many that were to come.  We knew that this would not only include Jesus, but possibly also my sons, and many others.

I felt that my duty was to help prepare His body for final burial because I had a closeness with Jesus.  Mary, His mother was my sister after all.  And I got to know so much about Jesus from my sons, and from when I was able to hear Him in person.  So, us going to the tomb became our final expression of love and family concern.

So, you probably want to know what I thought about Jesus, and how I felt about His death. Well, I knew Jesus His whole life.  I remember Him as a toddler, and a young boy.  Mary being my sister, I knew more about Him than most people.  Don’t you follow the lives of your nieces and nephews?  I thought He was special, but after He got left behind at Jerusalem that Passover when He was 12, I was sure He was a little different.  Mary and Joseph were scared to death.  But Jesus took it in stride, told them that of course they should have looked for Him in His father’s house.

So you see, when I stood on that hill called Golgotha, the execution was more to me than it was to a lot of the other followers.  This was family.  This was my sister’s son, and my boy’s cousin.  Yes, I knew He was special, but He was also family.  I stood there and watched my sister as she saw them nail her own son, her flesh and blood, to the cross, and I was deeply involved.

My sons tell me that Jesus told them this was necessary, that it had to be, but try to put yourself in my shoes.  How would you feel to see a member of your own family executed?  Cut down in the prime of life?  And it wasn’t even that He was a bad person!

Jesus was a good boy, and He was a good man.  He preached love and forgiveness and He performed all those acts of healing.  It wasn’t fair!  I stood there and watched His mother’s heart break as they drove the nails into His body!  It wasn’t fair!  John, my son, is now taking care of Mary.  She collapsed after they took Jesus’ body down from the cross. 

Well, to continue the story, remember I said I was with Mary Magdalene and Mary Alpheas’ wife at the tomb?  Boy, were we surprised when we got to the tomb, and it was empty.  We had been wondering how we were going to roll the stone away.  Then when we got there, the stone had already been rolled away.  The Romans had put a guard on that tomb, so I knew it wasn’t grave robbers.  But the Marys and I were still confused.

The pain and grief of the crucifixion was too fresh.  We didn’t know what to take of the young man who said Jesus of Nazareth was raised.  We were supposed to tell the disciples, but we were really afraid, and confused.  We didn’t tell anyone. I really am glad the tomb was empty.   Part of me wants to rejoice – Jesus has come back!  Jesus is not dead!  But I can’t forget that horrid afternoon outside of Jerusalem.  Those soldiers taunting Him, casting lots for His clothes.  Just like Jesus was a common criminal!  What it did to Mary, I am not sure I can ever forget that…

Every day I am more convinced that the man I knew, the boy I watched grow to manhood was the Son of God.  And if Jesus was the Son of God, and the Son of God had to die so that God could send us a special kind of love, I guess that I have to accept it. 

But even a special love from God does not make the tragedy of the crucifixion any easier.  I don’t think anybody can understand my feelings unless they saw what I saw.  My nephew on a cross, my sister falling apart, my sons losing the best friend they had ever known… it was horrible.

James and John have often told me that they are sure that God is in control of all of this.  That everything will ultimately be alright.  Part of me wants to believe them, but somehow, even their sureness doesn’t take away the pain of that Friday.

If I am truthful, I know that Jesus is alive, and that our God is a loving God.  I was at the empty tomb, and I talked to that young man.  That man told us that Jesus was not there but had been raised.  He was very nice, even when he knew we were scared, he didn’t tell us to leave or that we shouldn’t be there.  He treated us well, I wonder if he was part of God’s plan too. I know in my heart that future people will celebrate the empty tomb with all that it means, if they believe!

My hope is that we didn’t go through all this for nothing!  My hope is that someone does believe, and does understand all the things that Jesus taught.  Jesus was an amazing teacher, and He taught about a love that surrounds a person, that we can only get from God.  Jesus taught that the law was not the most important thing, but to love our God was the most important thing! If we truly love our God, that love will show in all our actions and words. 

This is what I really want, for this horrible thing to have made a difference!  Because I can’t see the difference yet!  I have problems with the dreams that come at night, with the fear of losing my own sons, and with the memory of how Mary just fell apart. I hate these things, but it would be worse if I had these horrible memories and Jesus death hadn’t made a difference.

That is what I know about Jesus, and that is what I feel about His death.  It was horrible. The only thing worse3 would be if it turned out to be for nothing! So remember to tell people the story. Remember to be changed by God’s love. Remember the sacrifices that have been made for you!

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Sermons

April 5, 2020

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Today, we are doing things a little differently than we would if we were attending worship in our sanctuary. Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday is a tricky Sunday for pastors. Do we tell the whole story, do we explore one and not the other? I have found that if the church will be doing Holy Week services, I do not include the Passion readings on Palm Sunday, as that gives too much of the story. So today, we will have no passion readings; just celebration with a hint of what is to come later in the week with the hymn, “Were You There?” 

The power of celebration during Holy Week has been underestimated. This year, we especially need the waving palms, the “hosanna” shouts, and the joyful crowd to revive our spirits after this strange time of seclusion. As we sit at home, experiencing a new kind of Holy week, as we see all the happenings from a new perspective, today we must celebrate! We have to sing and dance and praise with all our might. We have to do this because of the reality of life, your life, my life, everybody’s life.

The reality of life is the tragic beauty of life. All who experience life we will undergo plenty of grief. Often we experience small griefs daily. We miss a loved one’s touch or voice, we encounter injustice at our workplace or in our daily travels, we suffer at our own hands as we degrade ourselves for minor infractions. These past few weeks, we have been living through the grief of isolation, of not being able to share or interact as easily as in the past.

Today, we are readying ourselves for the grief we will experience as we read and become involved in the most blessed story throughout this week; Monday through Wednesday with our evening reflections, Thursday with the ambiguous Last Supper and the surprising betrayal, Friday with the violent cross, and the barely perceptible yet response eliciting uncertainty of Holy Saturday – before we experience the joyful Resurrection of Jesus and ourselves.

To help ready ourselves, we need to build up our joy quotient. This quotient might be low because of the strange circumstance that we are enduring through our trying lent. So let’s turn to the Psalm for the day, Psalm 118. Joy and exuberance burst forth with elation from this Psalm, take a moment and feel it in your own hearts!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Let’s sing, let’s dance, let’s celebrate. God’s love endures forever. God gives us light and invites us to a festival of praise. With threat on the horizon, we can still dance, make music, and celebrate the Spirit that gives life.

We can celebrate because of God’s universal and intimate love.  We can have the mind of Christ, but the Christ we celebrate is different from the rulers of the earth. Jesus is no ruthless and domineering Caesar but a loving companion. Jesus rules from among us, embracing our mortality, feeling our pain, and rejoicing in our success. The self-emptying Christ is the celebrating Christ, living through every season of life.  Every knee bows – yes, every knee! – in universal praise today!

        That brings us to the Philippians passage, listen to Paul’s writing, If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul’s readers would have contrasted the power of Caesar and the power of Christ. We bow to Caesar out of fear and threat of punishment: we bow to Christ out of love. Even those who turned away from Christ’s message are brought into the assembly, praising God for God’s amazing embodied love in Jesus the Christ. God’s power in Christ is the tender care that nothing is lost that can be saved and the poetry that transforms our mourning into dancing and a cross into creative transformation.

This Palm Sunday reading reflects the triumph of another kind of power. No Roman legion, but a humble teacher on a donkey, symbol of peace and reconciliation. Caught up in the moment, the crowd can’t fully understand the countercultural spectacle they are witnessing. They witness a God who has no enemies, makes no threats, destroys no cities, and damns no unbelievers. Such an amazing approach to life – and to understanding God – is too much for them to imagine – indeed, it is impossible – and sadly they turn from adulation to abandonment, letting fear rather than love rule their hearts.

But, what would have happened if love had won the day?  What would have happened if the people rose up in love rather than fear? If the leaders embraced wonder rather than worry, and embraced a new spiritual vision. This is a different kind of resurrection that restores us with every breath and every action, energizing us to be born anew each moment of the day.

Still, Palm Sunday is the prelude: it anticipates another kind of celebration, the resurrection of the Crucified One and an Empty Tomb and an Open Future. Today, let’s celebrate that open future, a time when we will embrace, a time when we will congregate to sing praises, to dance,  to find our joy born anew. So today, take time to shout “hosanna.” Dance in your living room, jump and sing in your yard. Jesus Christ is alive and invites us to sing songs of praise within the tragic beauty of our own lives. Amen

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3-29-20

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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