Post-Easter Pondering

Post-Easter Pondering

For the second year, I’ve written daily blog posts for Lent.

I don’t presume to believe I have that much to say, worth sharing publicly.  I could have just journaled daily for Lent.  But, there’s something about the discipline of writing a complete thought, that others might read, and the accountability of public posting, that’s particularly helpful to me.

Like I said, I haven’t presumed anyone would read anything I write.  But, for those who do, I am grateful.  I hope it’s been worth your time and attention.

On this Monday after Easter, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what this Lent has meant to me; specifically, what I’ve learned from the discipline of daily blogging.

Reflection 1:  The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting

When I wrote my first post, Two Essential Elements, on Ash Wednesday, I never could have imagined how the events of that day would unfold.  By nightfall, seventeen were dead, seventeen were injured, Nikolas Cruz was in custody, and our entire community was in a state of shock.

We scrambled to change our evening Ash Wednesday service, to provide comfort, care, and prayer in the immediate aftermath, as we have with much of our ministry every since.

Personally, I had no idea how this tragedy would affect me emotionally, spiritually, and theologically, leading to some significant wrestling with God and a difficult search for Truth.  It’s been a difficult journey, as has been evident in some of my blogs.  Though I still have questions, and am still uncomfortable with some of the answers, I’ve been forced to dig deeper than I would have otherwise.

Reflection 2:  Closer Observation and Deeper Reflection

Daily blogging requires a fresh idea, worth putting into words, daily.  Knowing I needed something to write required me to be more observant, and more reflective.  I had to pay closer attention to the details of life, of conversations, of what I was thinking and feeling, and what I was reading and learning.

I can’t help but wonder how much of life I normally miss, simply because I’m not paying attention.

Reflection 3:  A Complete Thought

Reflecting is often open-ended, as were many of my blogs.  But, offering a blog for public viewing requires a higher degree of “completion.”  A particular blog may have started with a question, or a partial thought, or an observation.  But, before I could hit “publish,” I was compelled to complete my thoughts, to the best of my ability.  Though I often end posts with questions, I tried to never leave a reader wondering what I was attempting to say.

Reflection 4:  Everything is Spiritual

Yes, I’m a pastor.  Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about God.  Yes, I spend a lot of time reading spiritual material.  But, beyond that, looking for daily inspiration for blog posts has opened my eyes to spiritual truths in unexpected places.

God is everywhere, in everything.  All we have to do is look.

Reflection 4:  Views, Likes, Comments, and Shares

I’ll confess, I’m a bit obsessed with how people react to my writing.  I’m always curious about what posts attract readers’ attention, and which ones don’t.  I wonder what will create controversy.  I wonder what will be helpful.  I wonder about how much of my self to reveal.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I check my stats a lot.

Vanity.

Some days are more humbling than others.  My least viewed post, Remember Your Baptism?, was only read 29 times.  But, that anyone – even 29 anyones – chooses to ready these posts honors me.

On the other hand, What Broke Him, was read over 3600 times, and shared on Facebook 961 times!

I also realize blogging daily may be overkill.  I don’t read the same writers everyday.  Why would anyone else?  I can’t help but wonder if less is more.

Reflection 5:  Am I Passive Aggressive?

As I’ve been learning about the enneagram (I’m a 9 and The Journey toward greater health and wholeness), I’m learning that 9s (my type), have a tendency towards passive aggression.  The last thing I want to be is passive aggressive.  But, I do, admittedly, avoid conflict, often swallowing and suppressing my hurt and anger.  Perhaps that anger slips out in unconscious ways.

Undeniably, I’ve felt the freedom to be “snarky” in a number of my posts.  Would I be as open and honest in public, or face-to-face?  Honestly, probably not.  Have I use my blogs to be passive aggressive?  Maybe.

This is, very likely, one of my growth areas.

Reflection 6:  TV and Social Media

For several years, I’ve given up TV and Social Media for Lent.  Though my blogs automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been “logged out” since Ash Wednesday.  Normally, I give up TV and Social Media, simply to create more space for quiet, reflection, reading, and writing.  And, after Lent, I’m never in a hurry to turn the TV back on, and I’m usually slow to reengage on Social Media.

But, this year, with all of the negative news, especially surrounding the Parkland Tragedy, I was glad to be shielded.  I suspect, in my own inner-turmoil, watching the news or reading ugly posts would not have been good for me.

Reflection 7:  Post-Easter 2018

My personal belief is, whatever we do, or stop doing, for Lent, ought to have some impact on your life when Lent is over.

For example, in 1992, I gave up meat for Lent.  I’m still a vegetarian, 26 years later.

What about this year?

Some have asked if I will continue blogging.  I certainly won’t be blogging daily!  Last year, I blogged sporadically; mostly after major events, or if something was on my mind.  This year, I am going to attempt to write a weekly post, every Monday, and then when I feel led to write anything else.

I also have a stack of books to read – as always.  But, these were books I planned to read for Lent.  The Parkland tragedy, and my inner-turmoil, forced me into some books I hadn’t planned to read.  So, my Lent stack is still mostly unread, now becoming my Easter reading, instead.

Reflection 8:  Grateful and Curious

If you are reading this, or any of my previous posts, “thank you.”  I’m honored and grateful you take the time to read what I write.  I’m grateful when you respond.  I’m grateful when you share my writings with others.

And, I’m curious.  Is there anything you would like for me to write about in the future?  Any topic?  Any issue?  Any ideas?

I’m very open to your input, questions, suggestions and requests.

Thank you again for reading my posts.  Have a blessed 50 days of Easter!

 

Hypocrisy and mourning

Hypocrisy and mourning

The Bible doesn’t say much about the Saturday between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Luke 23:56 says, “But (Jesus’ followers) rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

John and Mark don’t mention anything about Saturday, at all.

But, Matthew 27:62-66 says, The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  ‘Sir,’ they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.  ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’  So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

Notice the difference?

On the Sabbath day, between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the followers of Jesus rested – as is the intent of the Sabbath – while the priests and Pharisees were hard at work, sealing the tomb of a dead man.

Work on the Sabbath, violates the Fourth Commandment.

Obviously, Jesus’ followers were exhausted, brokenhearted, mourning, and possibly afraid to be seen in public.  Their Sabbath, wasn’t a joyful one.  But, the contrast between the two groups is stark.  In spite of successfully defeating Jesus (or, so they thought), the priests and Pharisees were still “working” against him on the Sabbath.

“But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.'” (Isaiah 57:20-21)

Which makes me wonder.  When Jesus and the disciples observed the Passover, the night before the crucifixion, did the priests and Pharisees?  Or, were they too busy for the Passover, plotting, planning and preparing for Jesus’ arrest?  Even if they took the time to eat the Passover meal, were they paying attention to the story?  Or, did they gobble it down in haste, mumbling the prayers, and then on to carrying out their evil mission?

Not observing the Passover, violates one of Israel’s most holy days.

No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites.

The literal definition of a hypocrite is someone who lives behind a mask.  They present an appearance that does not match the true intention.  Thus Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed” tombs – clean on the outside, but full of death.

The experts in the Law, broke the Law.  But, the ones considered law breakers, by following Jesus, were actually much closer to the heart and spirit of the Law, even in their grief.

Then, on Easter morning, when the tomb was miraculously opened, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”  (Matthew 28:12-15)

Lies, and more lies.  Isn’t there a commandment about that, too?

But, in spite of their lying, and bribing, and scheming; in spite of their very best efforts to supress the Truth; in spite of having an innocent man put to death; even sacrificing their own Laws and customs as they did it; there was nothing the priests and Pharisees could do to thwart Jesus’ mission.

They killed him.  That was Jesus’ plan.

They violated the Passover.  Jesus was the Passover.

They lied.  Jesus is the Truth.

They tried to seal a dead body in a tomb.  The grave couldn’t hold him down.

They worked on the Sabbath.  So did God, defeating death and raising the son.

They thought they’d won.  The victory belongs to Jesus.

And, while all of this was happening – the Pharisees scurrying and Jesus’ followers mourning – Jesus lay in his grave.  Dead.  Wrapped in strips of linen, laid on a cold, hard slab of rock.  Hidden, in the dark, behind a large stone.  Even in his death, the Pharisees felt threatened.

Imagine – just imagine – if any of them knew what was about to happen.

 

Darkness covered the land… (A Good Friday Sermon)

Darkness covered the land… (A Good Friday Sermon)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”   When he had said this, he breathed his last.  The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”  When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.  But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.  (Luke 23:44-49)

Jesus died in the dark.  In the middle of day, when the sun was supposed to shine, from noon to three, a deep darkness shrouded the whole land.  The sun wouldn’t shine.

Just as, “In the beginning,” when the earth was a dark, formless, chaotic mass, before God said, “Let there be light,” as Jesus hung on the cross, the earth was plunged, once again, into chaotic darkness.  Which is strange, because Jesus came to be a light in the darkness.  At Christmas, we read…

  • The people walking in darknesshave seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
  • The light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome” (John 1:5)

Yet, that Friday, it seemed darkness had overcome the light, overwhelmed the light, snuffed out the light.  The light of the world – the innocent, sinless, Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world – was crucified by evil men.

They’d conspired.  They’d told lies.  They’d taken advantage of the weakness and greed of one of Jesus’ own trusted inner circle.  And, now, the miracle worker and so called, “King of the Jews,” was defeated.  Darkness won, or so it appeared.

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.

            We often, rightly, associate darkness with evil.  Evil deeds are done under the cover of darkness.  But the darkness on Good Friday was NOT the darkness of evil.  Though dark deeds were done, this darkness was something else.

What was this darkness?  This was the darkness of the Father’s grief, watching his beloved son suffer and die.  This was the darkness piercing the heart of God, as the Holy Trinity experienced the separation and death of the Son.  This was creation reacting to the evil done to its creator.  The sun, itself, refused to shine on this dark day.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.

            Lent, and especially Holy Week, is a darker season of the Christian year.  During Lent, reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross, and his sacrificial death for our sins.  Lent is for repentance, confession, self-denial, and self-examination.   Compared to Christmas and Easter, Lent is meant to be darker.

But, this particular Lent, here in Coral Springs and Parkland, has been much, much darker than usual.  Some have referred to the February 14 tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School as the “Valentine’s Day” tragedy.  It was also Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent.  Some will always associate the Stoneman Douglas tragedy with future Valentine’s Days.  Not me.  I’ll always remember it on Ash Wednesdays.  For me, Ash Wednesdays will never be the same.

That Ash Wednesday night, as we gathered in the immediate aftermath, we marked our foreheads with ashes, in the form of a cross, as a reminder of our sin, mortality, and absolute dependence on God.  “From ashes you have come.  To ashes you will return.”  But, that night, as the dead were still lying where they’d fallen, as the injured were being treated, and many parents were still separated from their children, and as the names of some of the dead had not yet been announced, the cross-shaped ashes we wore also represented our terrible grief and lament.

For the families and friends of the seventeen who died, for the families and friends of the seventeen who were injured, and for our whole community, these forty days of Lent have been undeniably dark.  Darkness has covered the land, here, too.

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining… Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”   When he had said this, he breathed his last.

            As Jesus hung on the cross, in the darkness, he was bearing on his shoulders the darkness of sin, and the brokenness and evil of the entire history of this world.  In some way, defying comprehension, Jesus’ death, even includes the darkness of our own recent and the dark and difficult days that have followed, here, for us.

If Scripture teaches us anything, it’s that God is with us when darkness crashes over us.

Martin Luther King preached, “We must also remember that God does not forget his children who are victims of evil forces…  When the lamp of hope flickers and candle of faith runs low, he restoreth our souls, giving us renewed vigor to carry on.  He is with us not only in the noontime of fulfillment but also in the midnight of despair.”

And, in his final moments Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”   When he had said this, he breathed his last. 

            At last, at about 3:00 in the afternoon, his ordeal was over.  The Son of God was dead.  For the moment, darkness defeated the light.

There is a phrase used at many funeral and memorial services, that says something like, “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant…” adopted from the final words on Jesus’ lips.  I didn’t attend the funerals of the seventeen who died, but I’m certain some version of that phrase was said – pastors, priests, and rabbis committing the souls of the innocent to our heavenly Father, just as Jesus offered his.

            “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Undeniably, Jesus’ ordeal was horrific.  Starting with an arrest; then a long, sleepless night– full of hate, ugliness, condemnation and abuse; dragged to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and then back to Pilate; the abuse and mockery of cruel Roman soldiers; rejection from the crowds shouting, “crucify him!”; a severe beating, nearly killing him; a crown of thorns shoved down on his head; a long walk to Golgotha, carrying his own cross on shoulders already flayed by the soldier’s whip.  All before he was nailed to the cross.

When he came to Golgotha, long nails were driven through his hands and feet, affixing him to the cross.  And, then his cross was raised, leaving Jesus dangling from just three nails, driven through his flesh.  For six, long, excruciating hours, he suffered unspeakable agony, as life slowly drained from his body.  Few deaths are as gruesome or humiliating as crucifixion.

And, while he hung on his cross, his disciples abandoned him and the leaders of his own religion mocked him.

As darkness covered the land, he may have wondered if God abandoned him too.

But, as Jesus’ final moments came, Jesus appeared to be at peace.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  (Luke 23:26)

            As Jesus died, he was in control.  The casualty of terrible human cruelty, yet Jesus was no victim.  Dying in the darkness, yet nothing could extinguish his light.  Dying because he chose to give his life for us, sacrificially.  Satisfied, that he accomplished what he came to do.

John Stott writes, No-one took his life from him, he insisted; he was going to lay it down of his own accord.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

            And, Jesus said these words in a “loud voice” – not an embarrassed whisper, or pathetic whimper, or mumbled in weakness.  He wasn’t a scared child, calling out in the dark.  In his strongest voice, Jesus proclaimed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”; spoken in strength and confidence in the one who would receive his Spirit.  Even as his physical strength faded, his faith in God was unwavering. As he was betrayed, abused, abandoned and killed by everyone else, HE KNEW he could entrust his spirit, in that vulnerable moment, into the faithful hands of his Heavenly Father.  He surrendered his spirit to God, and he breathed his last.

Most images of Jesus on the cross, depict him with head lowered, and eyes closed.  In other words, most crucifixes portray a dead Jesus.  But, for the majority of the time Jesus hung on the cross, he was alive.  I’m sure he was in agony.  I’m sure he was too weak to hold up his head.  I’m sure his eye-lids drooped after that long sleepless night, and as weakness overcame him, as he hung in the darkness.

But, Jesus faced his destiny with eyes wide open.

Jesus faced his accusers with eyes wide open.

Jesus faced his cross with eyes wide open.

In the darkness of Good Friday, his eyes were focused and clear.

And, in his final moments, Jesus embraced his death, with eyes wide open.

Moments, later, he would open his eyes again, and behold the face of his Father.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

            I wonder when the sun shined again.  Did the sun return that day, after Jesus was taken down from his cross, or did the darkness remain, as afternoon passed into the night?  Was it dark, when they laid Jesus in his tomb?  Did the sun rise with the dawn on Saturday morning, or did dark clouds linger that day too?  Whether the sun literally shined, or not, until the empty tomb was discovered on Easter morning, while Jesus lay dead in his grave, the world was dark a place.

But, Easter morning, the darkness lifted.

Dr. Martin Luther King also said, “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a Great Power in the universe whose name is God, and he is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

For a dark moment in history, darkness appeared to win.  And, undeniably, for some, the darkness of this year’s Ash Wednesday will never pass, not in this life.  The darkness of grief will always be with them, in this life.  And, that is tragic.  This life, this world, as we know, can be filled with terrible darkness.

But, light has overcome the dark.  Death was confronted in the darkness, and was defeated.  We may endure too many dark Good Fridays, in this life.  But, the dawn of Easter is coming.

 

Offended by Jesus…

Offended by Jesus…

Today, in most Christian traditions, is “Maundy Thursday.”  Many Christians will gather today, to remember the Lord’s “Last Supper” before his death, and to celebrate the Eucharist.

In my morning devotions, I was reminded of a very strange saying of Jesus, in the Gospel of John.  Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

Talking about eating Jesus’ body and drinking Jesus’ blood has lost its shock for most Christians.  Whether we’re Roman Catholics, who literally believe the bread and wine of communion becomes Jesus’ literal flesh and blood, or Baptists, who believe the communion elements are merely symbolic, or Methodists, who believe the point is the “spiritual/sacramental” presence of Christ in the entire ritual, we all use the language of eating Jesus’ flesh and blood.

But, those who heard those words first, were shocked, and some were offended.  Eat a man’s flesh?  Drink a man’s blood?  It was more than most could “stomach.”

“At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” (John 6:66)

Who can blame them?  I probably would have left too!

Though Jesus was clearly speaking metaphorically, there are numerous examples in the Gospel of John where Jesus meant something spiritually, but was understood literally.

Was Jesus talking about literal blindness, or spiritual blindness?

Was Jesus talking about physical water, from a well, or spiritual water?

Was Jesus talking about a second physical birth, or a spiritual rebirth?

Was Jesus actually offering his body as food, or as a sacrifice?

Those who heard him more literally – who were the majority – were apparently offended by the idea of eating flesh and blood, and turned away.  The only ones remaining, after the crowds dispersed in disgust, were the twelve.

Jesus asked them, “Are you also going to leave?” (John 6:67)

On behalf of the twelve, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

I love that response!  Peter doesn’t say, “We’re staying!  We love eating flesh and drinking blood!  Great idea!  We’re all in!”  Instead, I think Peter was saying something like, We’re grossed-out too.  This is disgusting, and ‘hard to swallow.’ We don’t like the sound of eating flesh and drinking blood, either.  But, we know who you are.  Where else can we go?  We don’t have any other options!”

Thomas H. Green, S.J., observes, in his book, When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings, “Peter finds the demands of Jesus as difficult as any of those who walked with him no longer.  He stays with Jesus not because he has found his words reasonable, but because he has found God in him.”

Peter and the disciples could be just as thick-headed and literal as the masses.  They knew how “unreasonable” Jesus could be, better than anyone!  They didn’t find the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh any more appealing than the rest.  How relieved they must have been, at the Last Supper, when Jesus handed them bread and wine instead!

But, despite their ignorance, they knew who Jesus was (and is!) – “The Holy One of God.”

Let’s be honest, Jesus doesn’t make following him easy.  If we think otherwise, we really aren’t paying very close attention to his requirements…

  • Forgive, 70 x 7 times…
  • Give all you have to the poor…
  • Be glad when you are persecuted…
  • Cut off your hand, if it causes you to sin…
  • Love your enemy…
  • Wash each other’s feet…
  • Take up your cross, and follow me…
  • Be perfect…
  • Have faith…
  • Eat my flesh, drink my blood…

If we follow Jesus because it’s logical, or reasonable, or easy, we aren’t really following Jesus.  If we aren’t offended by Jesus, even as we follow him, then we might not be paying attention to what he has said.

But, if we turn away, like most do, where else shall we go to find eternal life?

“Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

Hosanna Hats

Hosanna Hats

In many churches, today is known as “Palm Sunday.”  It marks the Sunday prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

According to Matthew 21:8-10, as Jesus was entering Jerusalem…

 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

“Hosanna” is one of those words that most people don’t use every day.  In fact, outside of Palm Sunday, I can’t think of any other time Christians say it.  I can’t think of any time, ever, a non-Christian would use it.  Hosanna means something like, “save us!”  On Palm Sunday, the crowds recognized Jesus has the one who had come to save Israel (and the world).

I offer this explanation simply as a prelude to a funny story…

As I said, very few people outside of the Church have ever heard or used the word, “hosanna.”  When I was a campus minister at Florida State University, many of the students attending our ministry hadn’t grown up attending church.  One in particular, a gullible young man, asked some of his churched-friends what “hosanna” means.  Seeing an opportunity to have some fun at their friend’s expense, they told him a “hosanna” was a special kind of hat worn in worship, just for special occasions, and that he needed to get one.  If you knew this particular student, you’d understand this better.

He actually believed their explanation of “hosanna,” for some time, and was frequently asked whether or not he had acquired a hosanna hat yet, or not.

I still chuckle every Palm Sunday when I hear “hosanna” in worship.  And, I did, again, today.

I’m not sure what a “hosanna hat” might look like.  A turbin?  A yarmulke?  A beanie?  A miter?  A skull cap?  A fedora?  A bonnet?  A baseball cap?  A bandana?  A top hat?  A sombrero?  A bowler?  A helmet?  A chapeau?

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of “hosanna hats.”  This world is such a mess – I’m generally such a mess! – a hat that somehow communicates “save us!” doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, after all.  Maybe they should be massed produced and distributed, ASAP!

What would your “hosanna hat” look like?

Have a blessed Palm Sunday.  “Hosanna in the highest!”

Preparing for Easter

Preparing for Easter

Though I’d already chosen the text and title for my Easter 2018 sermon, I really started working on the content of the message earlier today.

If you don’t preach, you might be surprised to learn that writing sermons for Easter and Christmas Eve are very difficult.  Why?  Everybody already knows the stories.  Even if you’ve never walked into a church before, Easter and Christmas are still likely to be stories you have some degree of familiarity with.  And, for many, attending an Easter service is little more than a holiday tradition.

Undeniably, it’s a great story!  In fact, it’s the greatest story we have to tell!  But, it’s so familiar.

I’ve preached at least 20 different Easter messages, and never the same one twice.  Each time, I’ve tried to find a new way to tell the same story of Jesus beating death, or to find a new meaning or a new application.  I’ve often looked for a new and novel angle – some years more successfully than others.

But, this Easter is different.  No novelty needed this year.  This Easter follows a Lent that began with a horrific Ash Wednesday tragedy – the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Though I sense all of us, in this community, are finding ways to return to “normal,” the tragedy is still in the daily news, and in some conversation, everyday.  You see “MSD Strong” t-shirts everywhere.  This Saturday, March 24th, many will be marching in this community and others, seeking change in our gun laws.  My point?  The tragedy is still on our minds, and the shadow of this tragedy still looms large over this community, and beyond.

As I am preparing this Easter sermon, I’m wondering…

  • What does this very old story have to say to this very current event?
  • What does the resurrection of Christ mean, not just theologically, but pastorally and practically, for those still struggling?
  • In the face of so much death and suffering, how do I speak of Christ defeating death?
  • How do we balance the sorrow we still feel, with the joyful celebration of Easter?
  • How do we find Easter hope, when it still feels like Good Friday?
  • What does it mean for Christians, who live in Coral Springs and Parkland, to be Easter people?
  • What do I have to say about Christ’s resurrection, to these people, at this moment, that I KNOW is true.

In last year’s Easter sermon, Pope Francis said, “The Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity.”  Undoubtedly, many who hear my Easter message will have “buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity,” because of this specific tragedy, not to mention all of the other challenges and difficulties we all face every day.

I’m not quite sure how I will say it, yet.  But, Pope Francis’ statement captures the message I want to convey.  Yes, our hopes and dreams may feel buried right now.  In some cases, literally.  For many, it may feel like Good Friday for a long time.  But, Easter always follows Good Friday, and it always will.

Easter always has the final word.  There’s hope in that.

Now, back to sermon writing.

Restored – A message preached on Easter Sunday, 2017, at First Church of Coral Springs, to conclude a Lent series called “Restoration.”

Restored – A message preached on Easter Sunday, 2017, at First Church of Coral Springs, to conclude a Lent series called “Restoration.”

During the season of Lent, our theme has been “Restoration,” as in when someone takes something that is old and broken-down – an old house, an old car, an old piece of furniture – and takes the time to restore it into something new.  Similarly, we have said that is what Jesus did for us on the cross – taking the broken junk from each of our lives to the cross, where he restored us into something brand new.

            The Apostle Paul wrote,Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

When humanity was completely ruined by sin, Jesus took all of the worthless junk to the cross.

As Isaiah says, “By his wounds, we are healed.”

            It takes someone with artistic vision and skill to do good restoration work, and today I am going to tell you about the greatest artist of all time.  He is the one responsible for everything that exists.  The Bible says that it took God seven days of artistic creativity to create the heavens and the Earth; the mountains and the valleys, the oceans and the streams, the stars and the planets, and all living things.  God made a fantastically beautiful creation.  But, the crowning achievement of God’s artistic project was humanity.  If you have ever been moved looking at a mountain, or a sunset, or the ocean, you should take a look at yourself!  You are God’s greatest work!

Genesis 1:26&27 says that when God created humans, he created us in his own image and likeness.  That means that there is inherent beauty in each of us, because we were made to be a reflection of God.

To take that a step further, God also created a special place for us to live – with him – for all of eternity, called Eden.  He created us by love, to be loved, and to love.  He intended to provide everything we need – eternal joy, comfort, belonging, acceptance, purpose and peace – for eternity.  In Eden, we would have perfect relationships with each other, with creation, with ourselves, and especially with God.

This was God’s intent for his creation.  But something went terribly, terribly wrong.

Since God created the first humans, we have always been hell-bent on NOT being the creation God intended.  Every generation has drifted further from away God.  The world has become an increasingly broken and damaged place.  We do not live in the creation God intended for us.

If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news any night.

Lisa Sharon Harper writes, “Humanity’s broken relationship with God is the cause of all other brokenness.”

            The Message version of Ephesians 2 says, “ It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.”

Listen to that again – “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.”

God didn’t.  God didn’t just “do away” with us.  God didn’t give up.  If he had, that would mean that sin is greater than grace.  If he did, that would mean our power to destroy is greater than his power to create and restore.  If God intended creation – including us – to be a certain way, then you can be sure that God will have the final word.  God always has the final word – on everything!

In Ephesians 2, in The Message, Paul continues, “Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.”

            Just listen to those words!

  • Immense in mercy,
  • With incredible love,
  • He embrace us.,
  • He made us alive in Christ,
  • He picked us up and set us down in the highest heaven in company with Jesus.

Here’s the image I want you to picture.  Imagine all of your sin and brokenness is the piles of old, broken junk, we leave at the curb for the garbage men.  It stinks.  It’s worthless.  It’s unrepairable – at least that’s what we think.  It’s embarrassing to look at.  But, before the garbage truck arrives, the Great Junk-Collector comes rolling down the street, gathering up all of our junk, seeing possibility and potential.  He throws in the back of his truck, and hauls it all to the foot of the cross.  That’s what Golgotha was – a great big garbage heap – metaphorically speaking.  He left it there in the dark of Good Friday, and the darkness of Holy Saturday, but when the sun come up on Easter morning, on the third day, instead of garbage, there’s a new creation! 

When God intends beauty, God will not be denied!

Makoto Fujimura writes, “Despite our fallen nature, God desires to reflect goodness, beauty, and truth in us.  God desires to refract his perfect light via the broken, prismatic shards of our lives.”  Makoto Fujimura

Listen to Ephesians 2 again, this time in the NLT version, “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus… For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:4-10

            “You are God’s Masterpiece!”

The NIV version says that we are God’s “handiwork.”  The ESV version says that we are God’s “workmanship.”  I like “masterpiece” the best!

Think about a masterpiece.  Think of great works of visual art, like the works of Michelangelo.  Think about great, classic literature, like the writings of Shakespeare.  Think of great works of architecture – like the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall of China.  Think of great epic films like the Ten Commandments, or The Lord of the Rings, or the Star Wars saga. Think of classic works of music, like those sung by Bob Marley! (I’m a big Bob Marley fan!)

All masterpieces, by master artists!  And, the Bible says that you are God’s masterpiece too!

Even when we, were mired in that old stagnant life of sin… He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.”  And, we are, “his masterpiece.”

Peter Kreeft writes, “The block of marble is not the sculptor, and doesn’t see that he’s about to become a masterpiece… We’re the block of marble and God is the sculptor, and the chisel is…. everything.”

In preparation for today, I investigated the origin of the word “Masterpiece.”  It turns out that it comes from the middle ages.  Back then, when you wanted to learn a profession, you couldn’t go to a trade school or university.  You attached yourself to master of that particular profession as his or her apprentice.  Eventually, as your learned and mastered the skills necessary, you could present a sample of your best work to the local guild of masters.  What you presented was called a “master” piece.  It would be your best work, and would demonstrate that you had the knowledge, skills, and ability to be considered a master.

God is the original master artist.  And, he has demonstrated his mastery in you.  “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I think that’s the message of Easter.  No matter how broken your life has become, God has never given up on you.  Jesus carried all of our junk to the cross, and he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6

Think about the verse …

When children bring us their artwork, we display it on the refrigerator, for everyone to see.  For some reason, some people take pictures of great meals, and post them on Facebook, or Instagram.  If we have valuable art in our homes, we put in a place of honor – on a mantle, a pedestal, or on the wall under a special light.  We display our masterpieces.  We show them off.  We share them with others.

God does the same.  Did you know that you are on display in heaven?  For we are God’s masterpiece… and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus… So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us.”  Did you hear that?  You are currently seated in heaven.  God points you out as his masterpiece.

When the saints, and angels, and archangels, drop by for a visit, he shows you off.  When people die, and go to heaven, and get their tour, the tour guides point to us as God’s personal collection of masterpieces.  You are his masterpiece, on display beside his thrown for all to see!

            Now you might be thinking…

  • I don’t feel like a masterpiece,
  • I don’t look like a masterpiece.
  • I just came to church because it’s Easter.
  • I’m only here because somebody made me come.
  • If that pastor knew me, he wouldn’t say that I am a masterpiece.

I don’t know why you’re here today.  I don’t know how you got here.  And, frankly, I don’t care.  I’m just glad you’re here.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what has been done to you; while you, YOU, were still stuck in sin, Christ died for you.  Maybe some of you are still stuck in sin right now.

Please listen to me!  When Jesus arose on Easter morning, he made it possible for you to rise with him.  You might feel like junk – you might be junk – but you are God’s junk!  He made you.  And, he’s not done with you.

He made you.  He made you in his own image.  No matter what you have done to mess that up, God isn’t done with you yet.  God sees your potential. He sees the work of art you can be.

Max Lucado writes, God sees in you a masterpiece about to happen.

            While I was researching the word “masterpiece,” I discovered something else.  There are numerous theories and philosophies about what is required for something to be considered a “masterpiece,” depending on the “expert” and depending upon whether it is art, or literature, or music.  But, I noticed a common theme in my research.  I kept finding the phrase, “you just know a masterpiece when you see it.”

            I know you are a masterpiece, just by looking at you this Easter morning.  I know you are a masterpiece, because God’s Word says so.