Sunday, April 13, 2014

Return of the King-Reflection on Mathew 21:1-11

This post is a reflection I shared in chapel at the continuing care facility I work in for Palm Sunday.

       I’m sure that most of us have watched or can remember watching a military parade. Some may remember the victory parades after WW2. I can remember the parades after the First Gulf War. The returning army marching in all their glory. The Commanders, with their glistening medals and badges proudly leading the parades. 
I remember that when I was in high school, I fell in love with American history; specifically Civil War history after watching the movie Gettysburg and then visiting the battlefield. I think I have been there at least 5 times, not that I was counting. But what drew me in was the regalia of military pomp and circumstance. The drama of the victory, and defeat. I mean who doesn't like a good story about a victorious warrior marching into his city to the cheer, and adoration of the people. It can be very moving. (more so maybe if you are on the winning side. )
I can’t help to think that perhaps the disciples on Palm Sunday were feeling like me when I watched Civil War reenactments or military parades-their chests puffed out with honor, their cloaks placed at the feet of Jesus. This was the great victory march of their King into the capital city.  They were expecting a great warrior king.
But Jesus enters Jerusalem not in full regalia. He rides on a borrowed donkey. Does a warrior ride a donkey? I don’t remember U.S. Grant or Robert E. Lee riding a donkey. There is not pomp and circumstance. There is great joy and jubilation from the group. They lay down palms, a symbol of victory. It is a very spontaneous parade. They throw down their clothes before him. I think I could probably get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Wouldn’t you?
Here are the disciples and people of Jerusalem, full of pride at the return of their “king,” about to enter the feast of Passover. The very celebration of their people’s liberation from Egypt. Jesus has come to liberate them from the oppression of Rome, or so some of them thought. There is great Joy on this day. 
But we know that just a few days later their bubble will be burst . Their joy will be replace with fear, uncertainty, betrayal, and even death.  Christ came into the city and marks his kingdom. A kingdom that is meek and humble. A kingdom that doesn't meet our (or their) expectations. 
On that Sunday as Christ entered Jerusalem, the people shouted Hosanna. Hosanna comes from the Hebrew; it literally means to save or to rescue. It can literally mean “Save, I pray!” but is not a specific request for personal salvation. Here it was used as a shout of jubilation. Five days later that same crowd would yell crucify him!
Today is Palm Sunday! We should be filled with joy, for our king has come. We should, and we will, shout Hosanna. Our king has come, not to fill our expectations, but to call us to live to his. We should be filled with joy and pride for this. But we also are called to be deflated, defeated, and ashamed as we walk through Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, and eventually Easter Sunday. 
When I was here last weekend for a memorial service, a great point was made. And I think it applies to Holy week, and Jesus’ passion. Even though we walk through the valley of death, we walk. We keep walking. Death does not stop us. Christ’s death on Friday does not stop us. 

We MUST keep walking. We must get to the glorious empty tomb on Sunday. And Christ has gone before us, he will come again, but he is walking with us. Neither life nor death, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Hosanna! The Lord saves us and has urged us too keep walking.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bread of Life. A reflection on John 6:35-40

        I love this middle part of John’s Gospel. From chapter 5 through 12, John’s Gospel deals with unbelief. Well, persecution and unbelief, but today I want to focus on the unbelief. John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Love, a spiritual manifest of who Jesus declares, repeatedly, who he is. And we don't we believe him.
I think it would be safe to assume, that a lot of us go through periods of belief and unbelief. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I did. It was only for about two years, but who’s keeping track. I know many folks in ministry, maybe more so in my field of chaplaincy, that struggle continuously with unbelief. But it doesn't make you a bad person, and especially not a bad Christian. 
I recently read a quote by Timothy Keller. He’s a well known Presbyterian Pastor and has written about experiencing God during periods of doubt and struggle. He says: “The basic premise of religion-that if you live a good life, things will go well for you-is wrong. Jesus was the most morally upright person who ever lived, yet He had a life filled with the experience of poverty, rejection, injustice, and even torture.”Found here
We have all experienced our own trials and periods of unbelief or doubt. For me; my 2 years of doubt was caused by divorce and feelings of unworthiness. Yours may be similar or completely different. 
But thats the beauty of todays passage from John, Jesus is always reminding us of who he is and why that matters. Having faith in Jesus requires that we have an active faith. A faith that hears Jesus’ voice, and then feels the spirit move that faith into action. John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus’ “I am” statements. I am the vine… I am the Way…I am the bread of life…We then should be a people of “We are…” We are followers of Christ. We are redeemed. We are alive. Jesus himself tells us later in John 16 that in this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome this world. 
This last summer I had the privilege of taking a group of about 34 teenagers from across the presbytery to our denominations triennial (3 year) youth event. And those 34 young people, who still didn't know who they were, found great comfort that it didn't matter, because Jesus declares I Am.
I am the bread of Life is the “I” statement of our passage. Jesus declares that he is the thing that gives sustenance.  I love the beauty of this chapter in that in begins with feeding of the 5000. I am sure most are familiar with the story; that while on the shores of the Sea of Galilee a great crowd comes to hear Jesus, and they are hungry. Physically hungry, and all that they have to eat is what is brought by a young boy. 5 loaves and 2 fish.  When this story was shared at the youth event last summer the importance that it was a young person who prompted the miracle encouraged many people there.
As humans, we need to eat. We need food to survive. Out of curiosity I “googled," I looked up on the internet how long a person could survive without food.  A few different answers came up. One article, pointing to hunger strikes, like that which Ghandi did in India, showed that a person could go 3 weeks to a month without food. But the factor that aided in this was these people usually still drank water. 1
A second article that I found showed, that with patients in hospitals who were taken off artificial sustenance, food and water, that the human body could survive for about 10 days.2 Pretty grim stuff, I admit, but it shows that we as living breathing carbon based “things” we need fuel to keep us going. It is important for us to live and have a life, we need bread. And Jesus knew that. He came to feed us, physically in this chapter.  And if you look at the scope of scripture, thats a pretty big deal for Jesus right? 
That he, or the people who claim to follow him, provide for the very physical need of the people around us. If I remember right, throughout the old and new testaments, there are at least several hundred references for the people of God to feed the poor or provide for the needy. In God’s eyes it is a matter of Justice. Jesus wanted people to have physical life!
The great thing about scripture, I believe, is that it is open to be read and interpreted and understood to each person as he or she reads it. And of the four Gospels, John is the great spiritual Gospel. John’s focus was not to defend Jesus’ Jewishness, or his scientific authority or his lineage. The keynote of John’s Gospel is Love, and God so loved the world that he gave his son. His son Jesus to be the bearer of light in the darkness. 
But what is life? Is it merely physical or is it spiritual?I, we, think it is both, and Jesus cared for both. For Jesus, you couldn't have one without the other. If you were fed physically great! But he wanted you to be fed spiritually too.  Real life is relationship with God. A relationship of trust and obedience and love and that relationship is made possible through Christ. Without Jesus there may be existence but not life.  Therefore if people need food to live, Jesus is the bread of life. The hunger and restlessness of the human soul in search for God are fed and satisfied in Jesus.
The theme of the of that conference this summer was "I Am." This is based on several scriptures, including Exodus where, at the burning bush, Moses asks God’s name. Gods reply is “I am who I am.” This was emphasized through out the week with the Gospel references of Christ’s declarations of “I Am.” I am the bread of life, I am the shepherd, and ultimately I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15). 
So through out the week, as the worship and small groups and sermons progressed, the message remained for our youth. And I think it remains for us grown up youths too, because Christ is the I am, we are. As Desmund Tutu has said, “I am because we are.” We are a community, based in and rooted in the great I am.

So; If Jesus is the bread of life how should we be nourished?

The great thing about this passage is that it describes  the stages of Christian life.  ( I found this analysis in William Barclay’s commentary): It can be the foundation of our journey and our growth as followers of Jesus. It is an outline for a spiritual life.
  1. We see Jesus (church, face to face, bible)
  2. Having seen, we come to him. (he’s accessible)
  3. We believe (accept his authority, we submit)
  4. This gives us life (loving relationship with God)
  5. This is free and universal offer to all people. the bread is ours for the taking
  6. New relationship with God is only through Jesus. 
  7. God is behind this. He moves toward the human heart
With Jesus as bread of life, we enter a life of new satisfaction. Our human heart finds what it is searching for and life moves past merely existing and becomes a thing of thrilling joy and peace. 
We are then safe; God, in Jesus, will be with us for all eternity. When we eat of the bread of life (Jesus) absolutely nothing can separate us from the Love of God.  There are times of unbelief, but that is ok, because nothing separates us from God when commit to  a Christian life.
Jesus came to give us all Life. Full life; physical, emotional and spiritual life. Jesus cared for the whole being. He is active. He is present, and in him we can find sustenance.  Truly, nothing, nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ. When we can swallow that for ourselves and make it our own, we begin to live. 

I asked my youth this question this summer. This morning as we prepare our hearts to be feed in communion feast; I the same question.You can answer this silently or aloud, now or later, contemplate it as we celebrate communion. Finish this statement: I am.... Here, I will give you an example. I am…those I fight for. I am…Redeemed, renewed and refreshed. I am…feed.