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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Triumphant Entry

A lot of people came when they heard that Jesus was there.  They also wanted to see Lazarus, because Jesus had raised him from the dead.  The next day a large crowd was in Jerusalem for Passover  When they heard that Jesus was coming for the festival, they took palm branches and went out to greet him.  They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  God bless the king of Israel.”
The news of Lazarus being raised from the dead was pretty incredible and people were intrigued to get a look, both at the man who once was dead, and at the man who made it happen. 
            Can you imagine meeting a man, who was walking around and eating with his friends, after being dead for 4 days?  Even his sisters were worried he was going to stink...can you imagine the curiosities of strangers?  What would he look like? What would he smell like?  Would he be healthy or sick? Look like life or look like death warmed over?  I'm pretty sure folks would have been lining up to see him.  And there was Jesus too....he'd be pretty cool to meet...after all he could bring people back from the dead.  
                As folks gathered for the Passover, I’m sure this story about Lazaruswas then mixed and shared with the other stories…the ones of the other miracles…miracles of food, of healing, and of forgiveness. And it seems that people started to take hold of the hope and possibility of Jesus.  They wanted to believe. They wanted him to be something special and if others were behind
him, maybe they should be too.  
So they ran to the streets, they picked up their palm branches, and they welcomed Jesus into the city. They celebrated him as a king. Theyshouted the ancient words of scripture: “Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Holy is the one who is like David, who comes from his line, so that we might be led and saved from the Romans.  Hosanna! Save us Jesus!”  The people were excited and they were ready.  
Now, when we hear the story of the people on Palm Sunday, we often focus on them…what they did, and then how their tune changed later in the week. But today I want us to look at Jesus.  What was he experiencing that day?  Do you wonder if Jesus thought that maybe his story wouldn’t have to be what he believed would come to pass—that maybe the people did get it?  After all they were in the streets shouting Hosanna! And blessed be the one who comes in theme of the Lord.  Maybe they did see him for who he was—for what he’d come to do among them—for what God was doing.  I would think with celebration and acclamation Jesus probably enjoyed the moment—hopeful and joyful for the way people were responding to God’s work among them.  
But we know things didn’t stay so exuberant—not everyone was so joyful.  At the end of the day, the celebration of the palms was more hype and mob mentality than it was faithfulness and trust in God. 
            That’s the bitter truth about people—we can be so flippant. We do what sounds good, what feels good, what’s popular. But we don’t always invest ourselves first. the crowds weren’t dedicated to Jesus.  Maybe they’d heard a story or two or maybe they came to use him—to see what he could do for them—but those were just surface things.  They didn’t know him. They didn’t get his work, his life, his ministry.   The people did want God to do something....they wanted God to do what God had done before...to send a victor, a king, a conquerer who could take the Romans head on and kick them out of the promised land.  They wanted someone to restore what was, to bring back the past. 
But God doesn't go back to fix the past, God redeems it in the present and breathes new life into the future.  If we want to encounter God, we have to let go of what was, maybe with celebration or maybe with lament, but release our grip on the past so that we can move freely into the future God has designed.  
               But the people weren't ready to let go.  They knew what they wanted from the past.  They knew what God had done before and so they looked for that.  Maybe Jesus could be like the former prophets...maybe he would restore Israel.  But Jesus wasn't there for the past, he was there for the present and the future.  He was focused on redeeming the present to free people to move into the future.  He was God at work among the people...just not like they anticipated, not like they remembered.  And so it was a challenge to see Jesus for who he really was, for what his ministry was for.  And the people didn't know him, they were committed and 
 so they were easily turned against him.

But Jesus  didn’t turn with them.  That’s the part that’s divine—even though the people were selfish, myopic, and uncommitted—Jesus wasn’t.  Jesus was loyal, invested, and dedicated to the bitter end—not for his sake but for theirs. He really did want the story to be different. He wanted people to invest in God, to see God at work among them, and to have hope when the world was against them.  And so he continued on…he pressed forward into the worst days of his life so he could change the worst days of our lives with hope, joy, and mercy.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jesus is the Way

5 Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father, too. But now you do know him, and you have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”
9 Jesus answered, “I have been with you a long time now. Do you still not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you don’t come from me, but the Father lives in me and does his own work.

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to reclaim and explain scripture.  
o   Too often it’s defined in black and white terms…but it’s not always so simple
·         I think we’ve heard this instead: You should be very troubled, because if you believe in God, but not me, you will be shut out of my Father’s house in heaven, where there are a few small rooms for the few who get it right.... Then Thomas said to him, “Lord, what about people who have never even heard of you? Will they go to heaven after they die?” Jesus said to him, “I am the only way to heaven, and the truth about me is the only truth that will get you to life after death. Not one person will go to heaven unless they personally understand and believe a clearly-defined message about me and personally and consciously ask me to come into their heart.”

·         That’s not the scripture.  That’s not what the Bible says. But that’s how people have interpreted it. So for a lot of us, when we hear this passage, we push back and say, I’m not going to read that scripture, or that isn’t the Bible that I read….
·         But much like most of the scriptures we’ve learned to skip over…this one deserves another look…
If you’ve been reading along with our 40 day study, you know that our author and many others struggle with this passage.  For a lot of years, by a lot of people, it’s been taken as a claim of truth and exclusivity in Christ that trumps all others. Meaning that if you don’t profess Christ with your lips…if you don’t claim him as your Lord and Savior, there is no heaven in your future.
A good number of us have heard, or had this passage interpreted in this way:
Now, that’s not what Bruce or ______ read, and it’s not what the Bible says, but it is what a lot of us have heard.  We’ve heard that Jesus is ruling people out, excluding them from the embrace of heaven unless they do x, y and z.  The challenge is, that that really isn’t what this passage is about.  This passage is answering a question, but the question isn’t “What about people of other religions?”  The question is “How do we follow you if we don’t know where you are going?”  Those are two very different questions.  To really understand, and trust, what Jesus says here, it’s important that we learn the crux of the passage.

Just like last week, Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples.  They are sharing a meal and Jesus is emphasizing the most important lessons of their time together before his betrayal and crucifixion.  This conversation is another part of that dialogue.  In the first part of this chapter Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them and that they know the way.

But Thomas, always thinking in real concrete terms says, “No  we don’t! We don’t even know where you are doing…how on earth could we know how to get there!?”

And, in essence, Jesus answers…you don’t need a map. You don’t need the name of a city. For “there” is not a place….it is a relationship….it is co-existence with God and the way to “there” is not by a process, or 12 steps, or 10 rules, but through the one who already has the relationship.  If they want to get “there”, then they need to look to Jesus and follow him.

To which Thomas would ask, “Follow him where?!  Where are we going?”  And Jesus would say, “Not follow me where but follow me how.”  It’s no longer about going from Galilee to Tiberias or from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  It’s about following Jesus as an example and as a model. What matters is not where they walk, but how they live.  To follow Jesus as the way is to live and love like he did.
In their conversation Jesus tells the disciples they have had the opportunity to know the
Father and Phillip asks if they can just see God.  (Now, if you know anything about the scriptures, you know that’s not really something you want to ask for….anyone who ever sees God face to face dies.  Don’t ask to see God. God is too big, too magnificent, too much beyond our comprehension that it’s too much for us to handle.  We can’t bear to be face to face with God directly.  Don’t ask.)  Except, that Jesus says, you have seen God…you have seen God translated into human form. You have walked with him. You have shared meals with him. You have seen him heal the sick, and forgive the sinners. You have seen God, for you have seen me.  Jesus is God in the flesh….in a form we can see, and touch, and comprehend.  If we want to see the Father, if we want to understand God in who God is and how God acts, we need only look to Christ.  He is the embodiment of God.
That means if we want to see God, if we want to know God, if we want something tangible to hold onto about God…then we look to Jesus.  Seeing God face to face would still be too much for any of us.  BUT, Jesus is the revelation of God that makes it so that if we see him and understand him, then we can see and understand God.  And if we want to get close to God, then we need to get close to Jesus. And the way we do that is to live like Christ.

“Just trust me. Everything you need is in me. I will bring you to my Father’s house [whether that means heaven after death or the kingdom of God on earth]. ‘The way’ or ‘the truth’ or ‘the life’ aren’t things separate from me. I am these things, so you’ll find them in me! Whether or not you know what I’ve been talking about, if you know me, you know the Father, you know the way, you know the truth, you know the life.”

“The way is the truth, and the truth is the life, and the life is the truth, and the life is the way ... and all of these are found in me.”

“Guys,” he’s saying, “it’s not about knowing information, techniques, direc- tions, or instructions: it’s about knowing me, trusting me! Stay in relationship with me, abide in me, and I’ll get you to the place where you belong – the kingdom of God, knowing God, living in dynamic interactive relationship with God – the place that I’ve been telling you about from the begin- ning!” In this way, “I am the way ... there’s no other way apart from

me” is a restatement of reassurance: “Trust in God, trust also in me. Don’t let your hearts be troubled – trust me!”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jesus is...the true vine

How many of you have sent your kids off to college?  Do you remember that day where you unloaded all their things, maybe went to lunch, and spent a little time together before you got back on the road?  I dont know that its universal, but for a lot of parents, theres this pressure to make sure you reiterate all the most important lessons youve ever taught your child over the years.  Youve spent years trying to teach them and raise them in the proper way.  You want them to be a good human being with kindness and compassion for others.  You want them to be intelligent, studious and successful and do well in school, especially if youre footing the bill.  You want them to have fun and enjoy life, though hopefully not too much as theyre on their own for the first time.  And youre scared to death that everything youve ever taught them will fly out of their brain the moment you walk out the door.  You wont be there to caution them.  You wont be there to help them out in a jam. You wont be there to teach them and mold them.  Of course theres cell phones and internet but we all know its not the same. Its no where near the same as when theyre living in your house, supposedly following your rules.  So as you spend your last meal together before you go, you run through all the wisdom you have in your head.  You give tips and pointers for every possible scenario, at least all those you can cram into an hour of time.  You talk about eating well, getting good rest, going to class, being a good student, making friends, being a friend to those who are loners, being kind, being honest, helping someone who is having trouble, working hard. When in doubt, dont do it.  Just remember where you came from and who you are. Be who you are.  Remember that and youll be fine.  As many topics as you might cover, it always feels like youre missing something.  But you do you best to remind them of all the most important things theyll need to know to be successful out on their own. 
          Now, if we look at our scripture for today, in essence, Jesus is giving his last minute pep talk to the disciples.  I dont mean to trivialize it, but Jesus is talking to his disciples just hours before the crucifixion and he wants them to remember all that they have learned together.  They have already shared in the foot washing at the Passover meal and he has been reminding them of various lessons and emphasizing the things he wants them to know.  His death is imminent and his need to share what really matters is growing stronger.  Jesus and the 12 disciples have been together for 3 years. They have worked together, laughed together. Im sure they've vented and even cried together.  They have built a strong repor of trust and Jesus knows he wont be there with them forever.  He anticipates the resurrection, but even still his days are numbered and he wants them to have all they needto be ready for the next thing. 
          So he tells them he is the vine, he is the source of who they have become and if they want to be strong, if they want to stay steadfast in Gods ways and the things Jesus has taught them, then they need to stay close to his teaching. They need to remain close to all that he has taught them.  If they do that, then they will be fruitful.  If they do that God will be glorified.  They just need to stay true to what Jesus has taught them.  Simple enoughremain in me and I will remain in you. 
          Now this teaching isnt universal, its not a message to the masses, its a message to his disciples, to those who have chosen to follow him and be in ministry with him.  So when we look at what it means to us today we cant apply it universally, its not a message for the anonymous bystanders, its a message for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus and be in ministry with him.  But for us, for disciplesthose who choose to follow Christ, the same truth remainsfor us to stay close to Jesus and be fruitful, for us to glorify God, we have to stay connected to his teachings.  We have to do what he has taught us.  We have to live the lessons of faith that we gather on Sunday mornings and in our small groups. 
          Now thats easy to say, but tough to do.  Jesus says, remain in mestay close and steadfasthe doesnt say, come back occasionally, but STAY with me.  To become like Christ, to be fruitful and to really glorify God, its not a once in a while, as needed, kind of thing.  Its a round-the-clock all the time commitment. 
          We have to choose to do the things Christ has taught us:
     to love our neighbor as ourself
     to pray for those who persecute us
     to include the marginalized and the outcast
     to give selflessly
     to be generous
     to be compassionate
     to extend grace
     to be humble
     to be faithful to Gods teaching
     to follow the 10 commandments
          And we have to do them over and over again.  That means biting our tongue when we are angry, it means caring for the homeless man we pass on the street. It means offering help to strangers, even when it may inconvenience us. It means being forgiving even when weve been hurt by a friend or family member.  It means all kinds of things in our daily life where we choose to embody the love of Christ in who we are and what we do. 
          And, to really live this lesson, theres one more thingwe have to allow that which doesnt bear the fruit of the Spiritthe fruits of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.to be pruned.  If it isnt making us more like Christ, if it isnt glorifying God, then it needs to be pruned.  Following Christ and living his teachings isnt just about what we add inits also very much about what we cut out.  We have to submit to pruning that which is
     mean spirited
     hard hearted
          If we really want to be like Christ, those things have got to go.  Now, itd be nice if we could just make a cut and be done. But more often than not, our bad habits run deep and we have to cut them often, and repeatedly.  We have to continuously give ourselves over to Jesus as we learn to be more like him.  We have to practice his actions until they become natural and engrained in us.  And when we notice the ugly stuffthe fruitless habits that dont give God glory starting to take root in us, we start pruning all over again.