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Valencia, California
Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Alive!

How many of you came to church ready to celebrate?!  (raise hand) All of us! Right?  That’s why Easter is such an awesome day to worship…it’s all good news! for us…but what about originally?  This day didn’t start out bright and shiny.  It was dark and scary and sorrowful.  The disciples were hulled up in the upper room, scarred for their lives, full of sadness that Jesus was gone, bitterness and resentment that he didn’t do what they thought he would, and remorse and guilt that they hadn’t been better to him at the end.  It started out as an awful day…another day in the haze of grief where it still hardly feels real.  That’s where the disciples started, so that’s where we will start our story today.  

It was still dark when Mary left for Jesus’ tomb. We don’t know exactly why she was up in the darkness of night before the sun was even peaking over the horizon—maybe unable to sleep, maybe fighting nightmares reliving her friend’s murder, maybe sick to her stomach over all of it, or exhausted from tears but unable to find enough calm to sleep.  Maybe instead of tossing and turning any longer, she goes to the tomb to spend a little time with Jesus in the quiet.  Sure, he wouldn’t really be there…but she could touch his body…hold his hand, find some solace that she was near him in some kind of way.  Mary is like a lot of us, she can’t move on or hurry through her grief, she has to sit in it.  It may be hard or uncomfortable, but something is better than nothing. Memories are better than not having known him at all.  Touching his cold hand would be better than grasping at the air or relieving that awful nightmare of watching him suffer and die. 

Only, when she gets to the tomb, and sees the stone rolled away. The story doesn’t tell us she got close enough to look inside—only that she saw that stone had been moved and, of course, she knew what had happened. She didn’t have to see the empty tomb to know he wasn’t there.  The guards were gone. The stone was moved—someone had stolen Jesus.  She’d have to figure out where they took him.

Mary was heartbroken, devastated that her friend was gone. She went to say goodbye again—to be near him in some way—yearning for just a few moments—maybe she wanted to share her heart, or rail against the cowards that did this to him, or just be together. Only he wasn’t there.  How any of it could be real, and now, as if could get any worse, his body was gone. Who would do that? Couldn’t they offer any kind of mercy?  But why would they? They ordered the death of an innocent man, beat him nearly to death, mocked him, scorned him, and then hung him on a cross to die. There was no mercy in life—why on earth would she expect there to be mercy in death? Wretched cowards have stolen his body—but why?  and more importantly, where?!  Where did they take him? And how could she get him back?  There’s no way she could carry him alone.  

So she got the others.  No sooner had she said the words, “he’s missing and I don’t know here they took him.” that Simon Peter and the beloved took off running.  She knew they could help so she followed them back.  The beloved had been at the cross until the end—he took with Jesus’ mother, Mary magdalene and the other Mary and then watched as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea laid him in the tomb.  The beloved knew where Jesus would be—at least where he should be—where they laid him, and so he led the way to the tomb.  

Only when they got there, he couldn't go in. He could see the burial clothes in a heap, but he couldn’t quite face the rest.  But Peter had to go in—he hadn’t seen it yet—he hadn’t had to face Jesus’ limp body lying there in the tomb—so he went in—he had to see for himself. But Jesus wasn't there—-only the heap of burial clothes and then the face shroud—all neat and tidy.  Had Jesus even been there? Was this the right tomb?  They were sure he’d died, right?  They said they saw him take his final breath—that they’d helped get him to Joseph’s tomb.  It was real, so where was Jesus now?  Mary must have been right—they moved him. But where?  How would the disciples even find him?  Who could help them? They’d have to go back to the others—-they’d need their help.  They’d have to spread out and ask for help. But how would he convince them to get out. They’d all been so scared—unsure if they’d be the next one crucified.  They hadn’t left the upper room since it happened—not until Mary said Jesus’ body was missing. But they’d have to risk it. They couldn’t just let him lie….wherever….they’d need to find him and soon…but how?  

Mary saw the men leave the tomb. She heard them say they’d need the others, but she wasn’t ready to go with them.  She hadn’t slept in nearly two days and she just needed a minute to be where he was. So she walked over to the tomb, expecting to just go and sit and probably cry some more. Only it wasn’t what she expected.  There were 2 angels there, right where they’d lain Jesus/  Maybe they would know something—-they asked her why she was crying—because Jesus was here and now he’s not and she didn’t know where they had taken him.  Or how the others would find him. And before they could answer a man appeared—maybe he knew—maybe he’d seen something or someone and he asked the same question…why are you crying?  Do you know? Did you see something? Please tell me. I just need to find him. I won’t bother you further if you just tell me where he is.  


Rabboni!!!  It was him. Really him!  How did she not recognize him?  But it’s him—he’s here! Thank God!! and he’s alive.  He’s alive?!  You’re alive! He’s alive!!  That’s why you weren’t here, you’re alive!! But how  When?  What happened?  How is it even possible?!

Jesus is alive!!!

That’s the good news we celebrate today. That in the midst of our grief, our fear, and our confusion, Jesus lives.  We may be convinced of all the awful things—that darkness wins, that liars, murderers and power players rule the land…but Jesus says no…he wins. He lives. 

He’s greater than sin and death and murder and betrayal.  He’s greater than fear and doubt and all the worst things we do to one another.  He lives.  We’re doubters. We’re skeptics. We struggle to believe. But he’s there to prove us wrong.  He is alive!!  He is risen from the dead and he’s alive.  Hallelujah!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Believe in the Life Everlasting

     It’s a little early to be talking about the resurrection….at least in terms of Lent and Palm Sunday and Easter.  And yet, I don’t think any of us need a spoiler alert…We know Jesus rises from the dead.  That’s why we can handle the betrayal of Maundy Thursday and the suffering of Good Friday…because we know that’s not the end of the story. There’s Easter. There’s always Easter. There is always the hope and the promise that good things have the final say, not the bad things.  

Some of us try to rush through the stories of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We don’t want to be stuck in the darkness of death and suffering…we want the joy and light and celebration of Easter.  So we are quick to highlight that death isn’t the end of the story.  

And in many ways, that’s the essence of our faith in general…there is hope. There is life. There is light. There is joy. There is cause for celebration.  There is Easter…there is resurrection.  We know that darkness, betrayal, death and suffering happen. As much as we wish they didn’t, they still happen.  And, because of Christ, we also know that light, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and hope are possible.  And not just possible, but plausible.  And that almost makes the suffering tolerable. 
Off and on over the last 17 years, I have struggled with depression. It comes and goes depending on what life is handing me. Some bouts have been worse than others.  And in one particularly bad season a few years ago, my best friend called every day.  I’d ask if it would get better…would the depression stop and she would say, “Yes. I don’t know when but yes, it gets better.”  And she has always been right.  She could never give me a specific day and time to look to, but she knew it would get better.  Why? Because the darkness and melancholy don’t win. Light and life stand victorious.  How? Through Christ.  He’s the victor. He’s the one who suffered it all and died and then on the 3rd day he rose again.  And he didn’t just do that for himself. He did that for us. And he promises us that through him death and sin do not prevail.  
I’m afraid I can’t make it all make sense, any more than I can make sense of God pre-existing all else and creating everything out of nothing…I won’t be able to rationally explain either, but I can say I’ve experienced life and hope out of the darkest and bleakest situations.  I have found reconciliation and forgiveness possible when there was no reason they should prevail.  And I have found, every time, that my depression wanes.  It’s not scientific or methodical.  It’s mysterious and heavenly.  It’s beyond reason. Just like the resurrection.

Jesus dying on a cross and resurrecting 3 days later makes no sense.  Let’s just own that.  It makes no sense. It’s not plausible, but it was possible and it did happen.  And we aren’t the only skeptics….even the disciples doubted. Luke 24 tells us, “They were terrified and afraid.”  The women were afraid. The men were afraid. The disciples were afraid. The pharisees were afraid.  It wasn’t something they expected. And it didn't make sense.  And yet, in the midst of their fear they also found joy….if it was Jesus they saw, if it was Jesus they could touch, who sat down to break bread with them…then life after death was possible. The impossible could actually happen, and that was marvelous.  
So, with the disciples and others, we come to see and believe in a risen Christ. We believe in the resurrection.  We believe in the resurrection of the body because so many have seen and attested to Jesus’ resurrection.  Now, when we claim his resurrection, we also claim that through him we can be resurrected. 
I want to stop there for a moment. I can’t tell you exactly what resurrection of the body looks like…some of us get hung up there…we imagine a resuscitation of our earthly bodies that looks something like the Zombie apocalypse.  That’s not it. I may not know all the details, but I know that resurrection is not the same as resuscitation. And I know that we are restored to glory…not gory….gLory…the way we were created in perfect relationship with God, where our bodies weren’t sick, frail or broken.  If we look to Jesus for insight, we will see that he was resurrection, not resuscitated…that’s why the 3 days matter. It means he was dead dead. Not just kind of dead. So when he was restored to life, it wasn’t because he’d had CPR. It was because God resurrected him.  And as a resurrected man, he somehow looked different. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him, she thought he was the gardener. The men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him for 2 days.  The disciples were terrified and afraid…they didn’t recognize him…something was different. Something where he could be known, but somehow looked different. So, we can infer for ourselves that something might also be different.  We don’t know what age we might be restored to.  We don’t know what shape our bodies will be in…but we know we will be healthy and whole.  
The Apostle Paul tells us this in his letter to the Corinthians: 
A rotting body is put into the ground, but what is raised won’t ever decay. It’s degraded when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in glory. It’s weak when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in power. It’s a physical body when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised as a spiritual body…And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen: ‘Death has been swallowed up by a victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 54)
We can imagine what we might look like. We can imagine what heaven might be like.  But realistically, we don’t know for certain. We have the promises of scripture and we have our imaginations.  Beyond that we have to look with hope for what will someday be.  We don’t reside in the future. We live here. And here, in this moment, is the only moment we are guaranteed to live. So, let us live with hope. Let us live with light and life, and let us share that with those around us.  We may be chained with sorrow, a reality this Holy Week is meant to acknowledge and embrace.  Sometimes we face the hardest and darkest things, abandoned and betrayed.  But that difficulty will not have the final word…for Sunday is coming. In that, there is always hope.  


Sunday, April 2, 2017

I Believe in Forgiveness

Lord God, I need you to fill me with your Spirit.  Guide my thoughts. Give me the Words to share with your people. Help us to know your truth and be convicted.  Shine a light of hope and forgiveness upon each of us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.  

On Wednesday night, our friend, Andrew, was struck head-on by a drunk driver.  His car was obliterated and he is in the ICU in critical condition.  The drunk driver was reportedly fine.  I’d be lying if I told you I hadn't had a few thoughts about what should have happened to the driver or how long he should go to jail….or even wished, at least just a little, that he might have some kind of pain, or be absolutely devastated by what he’s done to our friend.  I’ve thought a good bit about justice.  I want something in the cosmos to shift, even if just a little, so that it’s not just Andrew who is suffering.  That only seems fair.  

But then this annoying voice breaks in…one that says, “Do you really want someone else to suffer?  Is that really showing God’s love? 

And then I roll my eyes and think ….”No….”  Sigh.  I just want something to make it right for Andrew. I wish the accident never happened. I wish we could take it all away somehow. And somehow it seems that justice might be able to do that….to take some of the sting away. Maybe it wouldn’t be so awful if someone paid the proper price for his broken body.  

And then that voice starts to break in all over again..this time with more clarity…he says, you want something to make it right, to heal things…and you think vengeance will do that?  It can’t. It doesn’t have the capacity.  Justice may balance the scales. But it can’t bring redemption or true healing, only God can do that. So, how about, instead of seeking justice in this, you seek God…and then God can help set things right…bringing light, hope, healing, and mercy to a terrible, heartbreaking situation.  

That voice makes it sound so reasonable…so simple and straightforward…like I should have thought of mercy and compassion and grace first.  But justice really does seem like a decent answer.  

Think about it. The logic and the standards of the Old Testament were about justice and they make good sense.  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You hurt me. I hurt you.  You cut my hand, I cut yours. You steal two loaves of bread, I want two back.  You break my heart, I break yours.  This is good logic. One for one.  This is right and this is fair.  It’s reasonable.  It’s manageable. It’s consistent.  And it’s obvious. One for one, two for two, ten for ten.  Anyone should be able to follow that kind of rule.  Right?  

Of course.  But when Jesus steps in and pushes on these arguments, he sort of says I’m not really worried about the laws you know, I’m here to teach you something different.  You see a man who slaps you on the face, so you’re ready to slap him back.  He slapped you, you slap him.  Not anymore.  If you want to do it my way, you turn the other cheek. Don’t settle the score. Don’t be consumed by so-called fairness.  Jesus takes the historical, and biblical teachings and turns them on their head.  

Why? Well, I don’t think it’s that Jesus is opposed to justice. I really don’t.  This isn’t about letting all evil doers run free.  I just think that he sees the bigger picture and knows that justice won’t heal our hearts.  He knows it’s not simply about one for one or 100 for 100.  Righting the world, or shifting the cosmos, or, really, simply helping our heart to heal when we’ve been lied to, betrayed, or hurt takes a whole lot more than justice.  It takes mercy and grace.  Jesus knew that.  So he taught his people to live by grace, to extend the standard beyond the rules of justice and into the realm of God.  

One of the most powerful stories of grace and mercy was shared by Bishop Meadors years ago when I was in seminary. He was preaching and shared about a civil war in Africa where a woman had watched a soldier kill both her husband and her son, leaving her alone.  Eventually, he was charged with war crimes and she sat through his trial and then his sentencing hearing.  During sentencing, the judge asked if she had anything to say.  She said she wanted part of his sentence to be to come and have dinner with her once a week because she had a lot of love left to give and, now, no one to share it with.  And so that became part of his sentence, to share dinner with the woman whose family he had stolen, and allow her to love him and offer kindness.  

This woman took Jesus’ teaching seriously.  Probably more seriously than many of us are prepared for.  But you can’t deny that she got it.  She saw beyond justice and into the realm of God.  She knew that nothing and no one could bring her husband and son back.  No form of justice could ever do that.  But what she really wanted, was someone to love and share life with. Someone to talk about the day or the week. Someone to cook for.  Someone to love.  And so she showed God’s agape love to a murderer…one who, by all accounts, should have been counted as her enemy.  

Living Christ’s teaching is not easy, especially here.  But, if we can muster the courage, it is worth it.  It will look different for different people and different situations. 
 But, if it feels antithetical, unreasonable, or unwarranted…it’s probably the kind of forgiveness Jesus would like.  Jesus isn’t really into the easy pass with those who are likeable. He pushes the limits with those who are impossible, hate-able, and infuriating.  Jesus doesn’t want us to ignore the law.  Instead, he wants us to live by the rules of God’s kingdom.  Rules that require compassion, forgiveness, and grace.  Rules that are immeasurably harder to maintain than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.   

Years ago, I was talking about something with my sister.  I don’t remember the specifics, only that I exclaimed, “It’s not fair.” In her infinite wisdom my sister said, “In the end we don’t want justice, we want mercy.”  And immediately, begrudgingly, I knew she was right.  In the end we do want mercy.  We want forgiveness. We want redemption. We want something to make it better and that something has to be God, for only God can do more than we know or understand. 

Let us pray.  


Sunday, March 26, 2017

I believe in the Church

     We are working our way through the Apostle’s Creed and today we are focusing on the line that says, “I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.”  

In essence, that whole phrase is what it means to be the church together.  Let’s start with where most people get hung up: the word catholic. Lots of people read that and say, “I’m not pledging allegiance to the Catholic church.”  Let me clarify, the fact that “catholic” is not capitalized means we’re talking about the universal global church, not the Roman Catholic Church.  This isn’t a statement for one group of Christians and not the other, this phrase basically says, “If we follow Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are the church, regardless of denomination.”  Said another way, I believe in a church that is bigger than my church or your church…the CHURCH, the Big C church includes all of us who follow Christ, regardless of where we live, what language we speak, what kind of music we use, or how long we stay in worship.  We are part of the church, we aren’t THE church, but belong to the catholic…universal….global Church.  

We believe that church is Holy….not in the sense of holier than thou, or divine in and of ourselves. When we say Holy…we mean set apart for God.  Holy as in belonging to God.  The holiness of the church doesn’t come from us, it comes from God claiming us.  We are holy because God chooses us and comes to dwell among us.  The church….the people of God who follow Christ gathered together become  a holy place—a dwelling place for God.  And in being holy, we are reminded that the church is not ours.  It is God’s.  Our agenda and vision should not be dictated by our will, but by God’s will.  

Now this global gathering of the people of God is defined by something else….we are defined by Christ.  Inherent to our identity as the Church is Christ’s Lordship over us.  We’re not just any people getting together.  And we’re not just people who love God.  We are people who have come to know and love Christ as Lord and Savior and are learning to grow in that together.  Now, others can come and visit, everyone is invited; we certainly want them to hear who Christ was and what he does for each of us, that message is not exclusive. But our identity as the Church is inextricably linked to Jesus. We are loved by him, led by him, and saved by him. And we are to seek to follow him with who we are and what we do.  

Together, we share in the Communion of Saints.  Now, in the Bible, saints aren’t those who have been made whole in death, instead saints are those who claim and follow Christ.  And they aren’t just the most holy or most righteous. Saints are all those who follow Christ.  So, you are a saint, and I am a saint, and he is a saint, and she is a saint. We are all saints and together we share in communion…not just the Holy Meal of bread and juice, but the sharing of life…the ups and the downs, the good and the bad….we become a community together.  That may seem like a no-brainer…something that could go unstated…but it’s incredibly important to know that community is inherent to being a follow of Christ…we don’t do faith and church on our own.  
Being the community of faith….the gathering of saints means being there for one another. It takes on many forms. It looks like: 
    • visiting someone in the hospital
    • calling someone who is grieving
    • taking someone fighting depression out to a meal
    • it might mean taking someone to an AA meeting so they don’t have to go alone
    • or making a meal for a family trying to get back on their feet
    • it means welcoming the stranger and taking time to get to now them
    • it might mean working on a home for Habitat for humanity
    • or showing up to do some dishes or laundry for a new mom
    • it might mean sharing a meal with the homeless man on the off ramp
    • picking up some groceries for someone sick at home
    • sitting and listening
    • sharing of yourself
Being the church means working on relationships with each other. It means giving of ourselves, AND receiving the kindness offered to us. It means paying attention, being aware, noticing what’s going on, sharing love, joy and kindness.  I think we know those things. And we live them in lots of ways….I’m not saying we are failing as a church.  But I am saying we need reminders.  We need to be encouraged to look around, to see who is here, and take the time to find out how they are….how they really are…because we can’t be the church if we don’t know the truth of their lives. Maybe things are going great and we can celebrate that with them. Or maybe things are falling apart and they need to know they aren’t alone. How are you being the church?  How is God leading us to be the church together?  Sometimes we talk about it as “being Christ” it means showing love, grace, and acceptance. How have you been Christ today? How will you be Christ this week?  
Some of us have enough on our plate, we’re not sure we want more.  If I’m barely holding on for me, I’m not sure what I might do for you.  But, being the church also means receiving help, and sharing that we have a need so that someone knows to reach out in the first place. None of us are mind readers. We have to share what’s going on for people to be receptive.  We can’t just get grumpy that nobody cared when we never let anyone know we were struggling.  It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to not have it all together.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean getting it all right and having it all together. It means being an imperfect human together with other imperfect humans, some of whom will fail us.  Maybe our question is not “How will I be Christ today?” But instead, “How will I let someone else be Christ for me today?” 

Christianity is not a private religion, it’s not individualistic…it is based in relationship and being together, sometimes despite ourselves.  We can certainly do acts of faith on our own. We can pray on our own. We can fast on our own. We can even worship on our own. But we aren’t meant for that…we are meant for relationships and community.  The church is dependent upon each of us.  Without each of us, the church is not the same.  The church, God’s dwelling place, needs our gifts, our calling, our talents, our knowledge, our heart, and our care for others in order to be healthy, vital, and fruitful.  

Hezekiah Walker has a song called “I Need You to Survive.” It says: 
I need you
You need me
We're all a part of God's body
Stand with me
Agree with me
We're all a part of God's body

It is his will that every need be supplied
You are important to me
I need you to survive [x2]

When we say, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, and the communion of Saints” we confess that we love and need Jesus AND that we need each other and are ready and willing to learn to love each other….to need one another, to care for one another, and do this life together…not because have to, but because God intends for us to be a gift to one another. 

Let us pray.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I believe in Jesus

Phil 2:5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but 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.

I believe in Jesus…

Today we are taking a look at the second main portion of the Apostle’s creed and it is thick with significance.  Last week’s single sentence about God: I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth was short and sweet and still had at least 5 levels of significance.  This week’s statement is much longer and even richer in meaning.  

I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, suffered and died
descended into hell.
on the third day he rose again.
he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father
and will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

There’s the story of the gospel summarized into 9 simple statements. And I’ll be frank, there is NO way we could adequately break it down in a single sermon. There’s just too much.  The chapter of the book is great, and even still there are entire books that have been written about just one or two of these lines.  To take all this on in one sermon is sort of like eating a protein bar….it’s nutrient dense, may not appeal to everyone, and isn’t really a meal you savor…but it’s good for you and worth having.  

Now, for some of the statements, we’ll be focusing on what it underscores about who Jesus really is. For other statements, they’re more about who Jesus is not. They all make a specific and essential claim about his identity. And in doing that, they’ll also refute some amalgamation of the truth that was starting to spread in the first and second century churches. Now, remember I said last week, us studying the creed does not mean it’s a test for who’s a real believer and who isn’t.  Everyone in this sanctuary will struggle with at least one part of this statement.  That’s normal. It’s ok to wrestle. And even though the Creed serves as a counter voice to the heresies that doesn’t mean you’re a heretic if you struggle to be on board with all of it.  It’s ok to question. it’s ok to doubt. Pushing on what it means and doesn’t mean, hopefully allows us to grow in our faith together and individually. 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, Our Lord.
When we say Jesus = Yeshua = God saves, we believe he is the one God uses to save us.  
Christ = Messiah = God’s anointed, he’s the one god has chosen and blessed to be our leader. 
God’s ONLY Son = establishes part of the Trinity, there’s not another Divine Son, ONLY Jesus. 
Our Lord = establishes Lordship over us

Was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Christians claim Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine—we consider that true from conception…didn’t happen later, like at his Baptism, as some suggest. It’s true from birth.  God brought about His life through the Spirit. God didn’t bestow holiness upon Jesus later.  

A lot of people struggle with this one. It doesn’t make sense that an invisible Spirit could impregnate a young woman.  We’re in the 21st century and we understand biology. They may have missed it 2000 years ago, but you can’t put one over on us.  I get it, I’ve been in that camp before.  But as a counter voice…think about last week and our discussion of God as creator (even giving credence to the fact that maybe God used the scientific processes like evolution to create…) God still created ex nihlio = out of nothing…if God could do all that…isn’t it at least somewhat conceivable that God did this too?  

Born of the Virgin Mary
In a similar way that it’s important to say Jesus is both fully human and fully divine and that the divine part is true all along.  Over the years, Christians have found it necessary to claim Jesus’ humanity as true from birth.  It’s not just that God walked on earth…but that God did so in human form…as a human.  God didn’t just appear to be human….God was human and that humanness comes from Mary. 

Suffered under Pontius Pilate
Jesus lived and died in a particular time. He was a real man.  And his real-life death took place under Pontius Pilate.  He wasn’t mythological and made up.  The importance of his story is not just the idea that God became flesh and lived among us, but that God actually did that.  And we know his story because of those who talked and wrote about him and they place him in this historical time.  Now, you might think it was just the gospels and the Christians that wrote about Jesus and if it’s only those that followed him that believe in him then maybe there’s an issue.  And, theoretically, you might be right, but there’s also this big piece of how the gospel stories match and moved across time and the stories held true…it wasn’t like playing telephone, people stuck to the script, and that’s significant. But there were also others, outside of the Christian movement, who wrote about Jesus and told of his death under Pontius Pilate. Jesus was a real man and he was prosecuted by Pontius Pilate in the first century. 

Was crucified, died and was buried
And his suffering resulted in his death.  He hung on a cross on the hill of Golgatha and he died.  This matters, both for what’s to come in the story and the creed, but also because many have argued that God could not die, so Jesus did not die, or maybe Jesus the man did die but God left Jesus’ body while he suffered and died.  How could God be God and also die on a cross? The Creed pushes back and says, he was fully human, and fully divine….from birth….to death….both a man and God….the whole time. If Jesus died, then the part of God that was within him also died.  God experienced all of life….birth and death….nothing is excluded.  Which also becomes the counter argument to those who say God the Father is a sadistic jerk who somehow needed to make his son suffer so we could be forgiven.  No, God is God who lived in Jesus who suffered as God, sacrificing and offering everything so we could be redeemed.  God didn’t hurt someone else so we could be saved, God gave of God’s self so we could be saved.  And that happens, in part, through his death on the cross.  

He descended into Hell
Over and over again, the creed points to the pieces of Jesus’ story that resonate with ours.  Early Christians wanted to be very careful not to intimate that Jesus was somehow exempt from what we experience.  That includes that he died and experienced death like we do, and he overcame death…telling us death doesn’t have the final word, God, does. 

On the Third Day he rose again
Jesus resurrected from the dead.  That’s a pretty key piece to his story.  Some might say that, too, is mythology.  Yet he was seen by his disciples, and over 500 others.  They saw him, they heard him speak, they touched him, and they ate with him. He wasn’t just a spirit moving among them…a ghost of one who had died.  He was resurrected….raised from the dead….not resuscitated, but given life after 3 days of death.  He overcame death, and all the darkness that comes with it.  And he walked among us, in the flesh, on the third day.  

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father
After he rose from the dead, he spent 40 days with his disciples and others, and then he ascended into heaven…he didn’t die again.  His resurrected earthly body went to heaven, where he lives eternally with God the Father…two people…one nature…one God, together forever.  

He will come again to judge the living and the dead
We believe Jesus’ work isn’t done.  He will come back to finish the restoration of humanity with and to God. And it will be by him and through him that we are judged, which isn’t something to fear, but something to embrace since Jesus always treats us with grace.  

transition to communion: 
Jesus was  and is an incredible expression of God among us.  The things we’ve talked about today aren’t “church light”….they are thoughtful and powerful examples of what Jesus can mean to us.  I hope you don't leave the ideas here. I hope you take them home, mull them over, check them out, push on them a bit to see what your own thoughts are….Who was Jesus? What did he do? And what difference does it make in your life?  
I believe that he who was matters, even now.  And I believe that it should change who we are, how we live, and how we love.  I believe it affects what we will do next as we share in holy communion. As Christians, we believe communion is a means of grace…..a way God conveys grace to us. That doesn’t happen because we eat bread or drink juice, but because of who Jesus was and what he did for us.  The bread and the juice simply become a symbol for what he did.  In a way, when we come to the table, we are saying:  
  • If I eat this,  I'm eating more than bread
  • If I drink this I can experience forgiveness because Jesus was more than a man
  • If I do this it's about more than hunger
  • If I do this God might do something special in my life
  • That something special is possible because of Jesus and all that he was and is and will be

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Believe in God the Creator

Children’s time: cake ingredients to make cake from scratch
What are these for? (baking)  
what might we make with these? (brownies, cookies, cake)
Do we need anything else? (a pan, a spoon) 
Can these ingredients make themselves into a cake?  (no)
What else do we need? (a baker)
That’s right! Even with all the right supplies, we still need a maker…a baker…someone to create the cake and make it come out right.  In a way, God is the great baker…or creator. God is the one who took all the separate ingredients and make the land and the oceans and lakes. God make the plants and the animals and then God made people.  God had to put it all together in just the right way so that we could be here on earth like we are.  
Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

History of the Creeds
  • We will be taking the next few weeks to study the Apostles’ creed and talk about what we believe as Christians.  (Creed Slide)
creed: noun \’kred\ 
a statement of the basic beliefs of a religion; an idea or set of beliefs that guides the actions for a person or group
(Not “Apollo Creed”—slide of Apollo)—back to Creed Slide

  • I understand that some may struggle with certain parts of the creed. That’s ok. This isn’t a litmus test. You don’t have to say you believe each line before you can be a United Methodist or a Christian. But it is important to know our common core and to push on it a little bit. Why do we believe it? What are the alternatives?  And how might our beliefs affect our daily lives and actions.  (Black slide)
  • In studying the creed, it’s important to understand why it was written in the first place.  The Christian movement was spreading all over the mediterranean and into Africa and as word spread, so did a variety of nuances about the Christian message. Some of the leadership felt like some groups/churches were getting too far afield and so they had to find a way to bring them back to a common center.  They had the Gospels, and some of the epistles, but they were free to interpret them however they wanted.  So, the church leaders began holding council meetings to try and decide on Creeds. The Creeds served as a keel…a center…a core of beliefs to which each church should be held accountable.  
  • The councils deciding the creeds were a big deal.  They were contentious and people died.  Heretics were not tolerated.  These statements weren’t decided on easily.  The process was arduous and people staked their lives on the statements we will study.  So, we should take the time to study them and learn the centerpiece of our heritage. The most common creeds spoken in the church around the world are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed and for most of us, they are so common, it hardly seems like an issue. Even if we don’t fully agree with every statement…we understand, to some degree, why it says what it says. 
  • In the coming weeks, we’re going to dig deeper and connect with the most respected beliefs in our faith. 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth (statement slide)

This is the first statement in the Apostles’ Creed.  I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.  In it, there are multiple truths that we maintain as Christians. 
  1. We believe in God (slide)
  2. We believe God is Father (slide)
  3. We believe God is Almighty (slide)
  4. We believe God is Creator (slide)
  5. We believe in heaven and earth.  (slide)

We believe in God.  (Slide)  That’s our starting point.  We believe in God.  We’re here because we believe in God…we may not all know what exactly we believe, or if what we believe is right…but God is a given in Christianity.  But God isn’t necessarily a given for everyone, right? There are plenty of people who don’t believe in God.  I don’t want to try to prove that there’s a God.  We could debate around that all day, probably all week, if not longer.  But we do need to identify that the things we look at may be seen or interpreted differently by other people.  Some of us look at the stars in the sky and stand in awe.  (stars slide) We see the hand of God stretched across the sky.  Others see the grandeur of the mountains and can only imagine there is someone greater even beyond the size of the mountains.  (mountains slide)  Others look at the tiny details and wonder how even the minutia could matter so much.  (flower slides) But there is beauty and intricacy, not just once, but over (flower slide 2) and over (flower slide 3) again.  We, as Christians, believe there is a God and that we can see God at work in a myriad of ways.  

Maybe we inherited that belief from our parents or grandparents, or maybe we’ve had experiences that confirm the existence of God for us.  But this much is true. We believe in God.  

God is Father.  God is in relationship to us. God is personable. God is knowable. God is relatable.  And while we’re all inclined to lay the identity of our own father over top our view of God the father, it’s important to know that God as father had a particular connotation in the biblical times, which may or may not line up with our notion of father.  God as father meant:
  • provider
  • protector
  • authority
  • the father passed on his trade, so he was also:
    • teacher
    • mentor
    • role model
  • As a son, you learned your father’s trade and worked with him until you could continue that work on your own to provide for your own family and in turn, teach your own son.  
God as Father means God is one we know, love, and spend time with. God as Father means provider and teacher.  God as father means One we mold our lives after—in all the best ways. God is not distant and removed—beyond us or our experience. God is family—known and loved—within our reach.  And if God is father, then we are children—all of us—we are the Father’s beloved children and that becomes a defining factor in our relationship.  

God is Almighty. God is powerful.  If we look in the scriptures we see God has the strength to move mountains.  God can calm the storms of the sea. (slide of storm) God can count the hairs on your head.  God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones.  (black slide) God is not weak, incompetent or impotent.  In the face of the world, our problems, and our failures, God is infinitely able.  God is powerful and able to intervene and act on our behalf.  Obviously, we haven’t mastered how to invoke that power, but the truth we fall back on is that God is capable of action—not limited in the ways we are.  

God is creator. Now, we get to the most contentious piece of today’s statement. God is creator.  That’s a judeo-Christian belief.  It comes right out of the chapter from Genesis that _________ read this morning.  God is creator.  Well, ok…but if we claim that…if we believe that…do we have to believe that God did that creating in the time frame described in Genesis?  Were they 24 hour days?  If so, is the world really younger than 10,000 years?  Or did God do God’s creative work over billions of years using the means described by science?  
United Methodists, as a denomination, lean toward the latter.  We claim God is creator and that the sequence of the creation story falls in line with the order outlined in science.  And while we hold to the scripture view of God as Creator…that’s not to refute science but to highlight that if God is creator, then we are created—intentionally designed and made by God.  And that, too, defines our relationship with God and with each other.  We are created beings connected to all of creation and responsible for its care.  

We believe in Heaven and Earth.  We believe there is a dwelling place for God called Heaven and a dwelling place for us called Earth.  (Heaven Slide) And we believe that Heaven is the place we go after death…that there is hope for the future. But beyond that, Heaven is the place that is the fulfillment of all that God desires. Heaven is peaceful, it is just, it is joyful, loving and grace-filled.  Heaven is the standard to which we aspire for our life on earth.  (earth slide) And Earth is the place God gifted us, where we are invited to grow in grace and fulfill all that God has dreamed for us.  (black slide)