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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Keeping it Reel: Shawshank Redemption

We are starting  fun new series called Keeping it Reel. Its about living what we believeliving like Christ. As we move through this series were going to be talking about the different tenants of a life in Christforgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice, inclusion, and justice.  And well see parts of different movies that help us see what that looks like in real terms.  Today we are starting with something basicif we are going to live like Jesus, we have to put our old sinful ways behind us, and be loving, kind and forgivingand that starts with one another in the church. 

Our first movie is Shawshank Redemptionwhich is probably not the movie that would first come to mind for many of usits about Shawshank prison and a couple of the inmates there.  Its not a Christian community. They arent committed to following Jesus or living differently. But there is one inmate Andy Dufraine, who lives in such a way that he stands out among the others.  He lives with kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, even under the worst circumstances-false imprisonment dealing with all of the atrocities one might experience in prison. 

In a lot of ways, the thrust of this passage is pretty straight forward. It seems like it might hardly be worth our timeI mean, its not like theres a hidden secret meaning or something. Its directbe good to each other and leave any of your bad habits or sinful ways in the past. 

            We can all be on board with that, right?  So then why is it worth our time?  Well, for these simple reasons:
1)       People are peopleno matter the country or the century. 
2)       Living the life of Christ doesnt come naturally.

            What I mean is this: the book of Ephesians was written as a letter to the church in Ephesus in the first century.  And even nearly 2000 years later, we in the church still struggle with the same kind of issues.  People are people. We are sinful and broken and even when we want to be like Jesus it can be hard.  And we need to remember to love, be kind, and forgive. 

            And yes, even Christians need those reminders.  We arent here because we are perfect. Were here because we know we need help getting it right.  And it matters that we get it right together.  Our relationships serve as our witness.  Other people hear the words of Christ, the rules we are supposed to live by, and they look to us to see if we do it, to see if it matters, to see if it changes anything to follow this Jesus guy. And if what they see is hypocrisy, judgment, anger, and sin, then theyre probably going to doubt Jesus and his power to do something good in our world.

            It matters how we live our lives.  We have to live what we believe.  And if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and if we believe that we are called to be like him, then we have to practice that in our daily living.  Now, we arent perfect. Weve said that.  We know that.  We are going to fall short. We are going to get it wrong. We will have our days when we dont look a whole lot like Jesus.  BUT, that doesnt mean we should give up on trying.  Living our faith matters.  

            If we think about the movie, we think about the guys at Shawshank prison, and what might we expect?each man for himself. Weve heard about the violence, the corruption, the insider rings that happen in prisons, and certainly when you watch the movie, youll see theres a healthy dose of that.  And yet, we also see something distinctively different in Andy Dufraine. Andy wants good things for the other guys in the prison. He spent 6 years writing letters to get money to fund a library. He helped 6 guys pass their high school equivalency test.  He helped the guards do their taxes and set up trusts for their kids.  His heart could have been hardened by prison or the abuses he endured, and yet generosity and kindness won out in Andys heart.  So, it hardly came as a surprise when Tommy Williams came and Andy offered to help him change from a life of crime, to something better.  Andy took the time to not just help Tommy pass his tests, but to teach him to reach starting with learning his letters.  He taught him to read. And he taught him his high school basics.  Tommy passed the test with a C+ average.  Hed been in and out of prison since he was 13, probably because he was illiterate and couldt hang with a school crowd, but Andy gave him the opportunity to change that, to have something different, to live a life worthy of his family, of something more. 
            In them, I see our callingto be like Christ and care about other people, to help them through hard circumstances, to be just and fair in our actions, to care and help them, even when we dont have to, and to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.  It matters how we live, not just for our sake, not just because we are supposed to, but because our actions have the potential to change the world, one person at a time.  
            I have another scene for us to watch, its Andy with his friend Red. Theyve been together at Shawshank for 10 years and learned to be there for each other.  Red had played the harmonica as a kid, but gave it up and certainly wasnt playing at Shawshank.  When Andy pressed him and asked why, Red said it wasnt worth it.  Andy contradicted him and said this is when its worth it the mostbecause it tells the prison that it cant have all of you, that there is a life beyond those wallsit gives you hope. 
            Lets watch. 
            These two men learned to share hope and life with each other.  They marked lifes momentseven if it was yet another rejection from the parole board, or a full decade of life in prison, but even if those arent milestones you might want, they were part of life inside and they learned to roll with it. 
            Andy Dufraine lived what he believed and in some ways it rubbed off on the other guys.  Now, he wasnt under the best of circumstances, things werent exactly going his wayhis wife cheated on him and was then murdered and he was convicted for it.he could have been consumed with anger and bitterness, but he chose not to be.  He chose something different.  That may not be our story, in fact its probably not, but we all have stuff that could harden and poison our hearts.  We have things that happen that spoil what we strive for and what we think we should have and we would be justified to be bitter about it, or we could leave the bitterness and keep focusing on who Jesus invites us to be.  We could be hope and life in our world, with each other. 
            It matters what we believe, but even more than that, it matters that we live what we believe.  If we believe in hope, we have to live hope. If we believe in forgiveness, we have to forgive. If we believe in second chances, we have to offer them, not just expect them for ourselves.  If we believe that following Jesus matters, then we have to act like it, we have to follow him and do what he asks, not just when its easy, not just when life is going our way, but as wholly and fully and often as we can. 

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.