“Mountains of Books” – a Second Good Friday Sermon, Preached on April 14th, 2017, in the Evening at First Church of Coral Springs

“Mountains of Books” – a Second Good Friday Sermon, Preached on April 14th, 2017, in the Evening at First Church of Coral Springs

Revelation 20 says that there are books in heaven that contain the records of everything that every human has ever said or done.  Imagine that.  A book that contains every sin you have ever committed.  Every evil thought.  Every unkind word.  Every selfishness.  Every disobedience.  Every unfaithfulness.  Every missed opportunity to serve and share in Jesus name.  Every prideful moment.  Every sin in our lives, recorded in detail.

How many books would it take it to record the sinfulness of a single life?  Your life?  My life?

How many books would it take to record the misdeeds of every human who has ever lived?

How many volumes would be required to record the endless list of human atrocities throughout the centuries?

Page upon page, chapter upon chapter, book upon book, stacks upon stacks upon stacks upon stacks – written records of my sins and yours, alongside the sins of humanity’s best and worse – all of the Hitlers and all of the Mother Theresas.  All have sinned.

“All have sinned and fall short of the God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23)

            “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”  (I John 1:8-10)

Scriptures say that Jesus was crucified on top of a skull-shaped hill called Golgotha.  Imagine Golgotha as a giant mountain, but instead of stones, it is was an enormous pile of the books recording the sins of the world – books stacked upon books stacked upon books – with a cross on the top, and crucified savior hanging there, dying for the sins of the world, recorded at his feet.

Imagine your book, containing the record of your sin, laying at the foot of the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14 says, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”

            Of course, no one was thinking any of that the day Jesus died.  All they could see was a man dying…

  • To some, a heretic.
  • To some, a criminal.
  • To some, an enemy of the state.
  • To some, a pathetic joke.
  • To some, a friend, rabbi, and leader.
  • To some, lost hope.
  • To one, a son.

For centuries, God’s people had believed, and hoped, and prayed, and waited and waited and waited for God to send a Messiah, who would deliver them from all of their troubles.  Of course, they, like us, had mostly a worldly perspective.  This is where their problems were.  This is where they needed a savior – so, they thought – to deal with these material, worldly problems, here.

Many believed that Jesus was that man.  Some – the disciples, and others – had left home, and career, and family to follow him.  They trusted him.  They had put all of their hope in him.  They believed God was going to do something big through him.  God was, of course.  They just didn’t know what it was.  The scope of their hopes in this Jesus were just too small.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, all of their hopes and dreams seemed to be confirmed.  Jesus publically announced that he was the Messiah, the King of the Jews.  The crowds welcomed him as their new king.  Everything was coming together, just as they had hoped and believed it would.

Imagine their confusion in the upper room as Jesus talked about his death.  Imagine their dismay as Jesus was arrested.  Imagine their devastation as Jesus was condemned and crucified.  Imagine their fear as they hid in the shadows.  Imagine their grief when they heard Jesus was dead – not just grief for the death of their friend and leader.  Imagine the grief for the loss of all of their hopes and dreams – for themselves, and for their nation. Now, seemingly lost forever.

What would they do now?

If the Messiah could be defeated, now what?

Or, if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, who was he?

Jesus, of course had always been clear that his life would come to a violent, sacrificial end.  But, the disciples never seemed to understand…

As Jesus began his ministry, his cousin John pointed to him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  Lambs, we know, are sacrificed.

            From the beginning Jesus defined discipleship, saying, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  No one understood crosses symbolically, or metaphorically.  Everyone had seen crosses lining the highways, with corpses of condemned criminals hanging from them.  Why didn’t they understand that Jesus was speaking literally?

            Almost as soon as the disciples figured out that Jesus was the Messiah, he told them, “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”   

The disciples never seemed to grasp any of it.  When Jesus died, it seems like it was the last thing they could have possibly expected.  They had no idea that he was accomplishing something far greater than anything they could image, hope, or dream.  This was bigger than a single moment in history, or a single nation.  Jesus was carrying upon his shoulders the weight of the sin and brokenness of the entire history of the world – every single act of hatred, selfishness, apathy, pride, prejudice, violence, greed, etc. – since Adam and Eve, to this very moment.

All they could see, on that first Good Friday was a defeated man – and the end of their hopes.

Makoto Fujimura writes, “If we care to know how deep the suffering of Christ goes – and how vast and even violent is the restoration process through Christ’s suffering – then we had better start with knowing the dark, cruel reality of the fallen world.  If we care to embrace hope despite what encompasses us, the impossibility of life and the inevitability of death, then we must embrace a vision that will endure beyond our failures…  The stench of death all around us will remind us that it is despite ourselves that grace and restoration can take place.” 

Undeniably, Jesus died a cruel death at the hands of evil people.  But, look closer.  There, at the cross, was the world’s greatest horrors – all of the wars, all of the acts of terror, all of the crimes, all of the famines, all of the disasters, all of the diseases, all of the genocides, all of the betrayals, all of the brokenness, all of the senseless and meaningless suffering and deaths, all of the greed and corruption, all of the loss of innocence, all of the victimization and subjugation and enslavement of peoples, all of prejudices and injustices, all of the displacement of innocent peoples, all of the addiction, all of the ruthless dictators and corrupt governments – ISIS, Heroshima and Nagasaki, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Ponsey schemes, the porn industry, the Cambodian Killing Fields, Chernobyl, 9/11, organized crime, the Holocaust, the Crusades, Allepo – all of it.

There, at the base of the cross, imagine mounds of swords and spears no one has ever bothered to beat into plowshares; tanker trucks filled with toxic waste; stockpiles of banned chemical weapons; the cargo of druglords; the Mother of All Bombs; crates of last year’s fashions, that are “so last year”; truckloads of porn; tonnage of the chains and shackles of the enslaved; stacks and stacks of false testimonies; piles of cash wasted on frivolities that could have been used to help the poor.  Picture the mount of Golgotha surrounded by billboards displaying for the world your deepest and darkest secrets and fantasies.

And, all of your sin and brokenness.  And, all of mine.

Makoto Fujimura writes, “Our own acts of terrorism toward God drove Jesus to the cross.  Jesus’ slain body absorbed our anger and defiance, but more important, it absorbed God’s just anger toward us.  In that moment, all that was fair and beautiful in Christ became the hideous stench of a dying beast.  Beauty was literally pulverized, destroyed, and the Eternal experienced the decay of death.”

As horrific as the scene must have been for those watching it, it was far worse than anyone could have imagined.  Jesus wasn’t only dying an unfair, excruciating form of death.  He was bearing horrors too great to imagine.  And…  And…  In his very own flesh a work of restoration for the very worst of humanity – including yours and mine – had begun.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

            Romans 5:17-19 says, “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.  Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.”

Calvary was not just a place of crucifixion – it was the birth place of your transformation and mine.  Calvary is the fertile soil where God planted a seed of transformation.  Jesus said, Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (John 12:24)

            Long before I knew what Good Friday meant, I worked, during my High School years, at a farm supply, feed and seed store.  According to the old Farmer’s Almanac, Good Friday is the best day to plant your Spring garden.  Holy Week was our busiest week of the year.  Long before I knew anything about Jesus and the cross, I knew that Good Friday is a day for planting seeds, and waiting for something new to be produced.

Yes, there is a record of your sin.  It laid there among the rubble of Calvary, keeping Jesus’ cross firmly in place.  But, it has been completely covered in the precious blood of Christ, as it flowed down from his cross, fertilizing the ground of the new creation.  Whatever you have done, and whatever has been done you; whatever you have broken, and whatever has been broken in you; whatever disasters you have caused, or have endured; all of your shortcomings; all of your selfishness; all of your sin; all of it; all of it was there on Calvary; and, all of it, every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every page, every chapter, and every book has been completely covered in the sacrificial blood of Jesus.

No matter how good, how special, how holy you think you are, before Jesus died on the cross, all of us would have been devastated to see the record of our sins.  But, now, when the books are opened, the record of your sin, and mine, has been completely erased – washed whiter than snow.  All that once was recorded in our books, has planted in the soil of Calvary, waiting to blossom into something new.


“Into your hands I commit my spirit” – A Good Friday Sermon Preached on April 14, 2017 at First Church of Coral Springs

“Into your hands I commit my spirit” – A Good Friday Sermon Preached on April 14, 2017 at First Church of Coral Springs

Undeniably, the ordeal Jesus endured was horrific.  Starting with an arrest; then a long night without sleep – full of hate, ugliness, condemnation and abuse; dragged from the Temple to Pilate, to Herod, and then back to Pilate; abuse and mockery at the hands of cruel Roman soldiers; rejection from the crowds who shouted, “crucify him!”; a severe beating, that likely nearly killed him; a crown of thorns shoved down on his head; and then a long walk to Golgotha, carrying his own cross on shoulders that had already been flayed open by the soldier’s whip.  All of that before he was even nailed to the cross.

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

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

As we have heard, we know he thirst.

As darkness covered the land, we know that he may have wondered if even God had abandoned him.

But, as Jesus’ final moments came, Jesus appeared to have been at peace and in control.

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

            Fred Craddock writes, “There is nothing here of anger or doubt or thrashing about in the throes of death.  Rather, Luke writes of serenity, acceptance, and trust.”

John Stott writes, “It is not men who finished their brutal deed; it is he who has accomplished what he came into the world to do.  He has procured salvation for us, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins.  At once the curtain of the temple, which for centuries had symbolized the alienation of sinners from God, was torn in two from top to bottom, in order to demonstrate that the sin-barrier had been thrown down by god, and the way into his presence was open.”

As Jesus died, it is abundantly clear that he was in control.  While he was clearly the casualty of terrible human cruelty, Jesus was no victim.  He was on the cross because he had chosen to give his life for us, sacrificially.  He was satisfied that he had accomplished what he came to do.

It would seem that Jesus had always known that his life would end this way.

As Jesus began his ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, pointed to him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” 

            From the beginning, Jesus defined discipleship, saying, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  No one understood crosses symbolically, or metaphorically.  Everyone had seen crosses lining the highways, with the corpses of condemned criminals hanging from them.

            Almost as soon as the disciples figured out that Jesus was the Messiah, he told them, “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 

            Even as he prayed the night before his death, in the Garden of Gethsemane -throwing himself to the ground, sweating drops of blood in distress, and pleading for God to “let this cup pass” – we see Jesus calmly leaving the Garden and handing himself over to the Temple guards, trusting that in God’s will to be done.

Again, 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.”

The Message version says, “Father, I place my life in your hands!”

            Isn’t that what we are called to do?  To place the totality of our lives in the hands of God, just as Jesus did?

            Scripture says that Jesus said these words “into your hands I commit my spirit,” in a “loud voice.”  They weren’t an embarrassed whisper, or a pathetic whimper.  They weren’t mumbled in weakness.  In his strongest voice, Jesus loudly projected, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”; words spoken in strength and confidence in the one who was about to receive his Spirit.  Even has his physical strength came to its end, his strength of faith in God was unwavering. As he was betrayed, abused, abandoned and killed by everyone else, he knew, HE KNEW he could trust his spirit, in that vulnerable moment, in the faithful hands of his heavenly father.  He surrendered his spirit to God, and he breathed his last.

Over and over in the Old Testament, the phrase, “into your hands,” refers to when God put the destiny of foreign rulers and armies – enemies – into the hands of Israel’s leaders.  In other words, God gave them control over their enemy’s destinies and their lives.  But, in this case, placing his spirit in God’s hands was nothing to fear.

It would seem that as Jesus knew death was near, Psalm 31 came to mind…

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

Jesus spoke those words, and then breathed his last breath.

There’s something profound in this statement.  “He breathed his last.”  The word for breath, in Greek, is the same word for “spirit.”  The word is “pneuma.”  Its Hebrew counterpart is “ruach.”  When God created the first human, from the dust of the ground, God breathed his breath, his ruach, his spirit, into the human to give it life.  The life within every human being, including Jesus, is the life-giving Spirit of God.

Let’s take that even further.  Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, by the same Holy Spirit.  At Jesus baptism, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Early in his ministry, at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”

            Though we all have the gift of the spirit in us, Jesus uniquely knew what it means to be alive in the spirit.  For thirty-three years, he lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in complete trust in his heavenly Father.  And, now, now that his work was done, as his human life was ebbing, he knew that he could safely return his spirit to his Father.

And he breathed his last.

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

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.

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.

Do this…

Do this…

Today is Maundy Thursday – the day we annually remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  The word “maundy” simply means command.  We “do this in remembrance” of Jesus – sharing bread and juice/wine with each other, representing his body and blood – because he commanded us to.

Today is the annual observance of that command.

Of course, many churches obey this command more frequently than once a year.  Depending on your denomination and tradition, some do it quarterly; some monthly; some weekly; and some, even, daily.  My tradition, United Methodism, typically celebrates Holy Communion monthly, though in recent years we have been encouraged to move to weekly communion.   For this season of Lent, my own church has celebrated communion weekly, instead of our regular practice of the first Sunday of the month.

We call this ritual by several names – Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”), The Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion.  Recently, I’ve been pondering the word communion.

There are a number of words that are related to the word communion…

  • Common – as in, ordinary, and the things we share with “in common” each other.
  • Community – as in, the people we share our lives with.
  • Commune – as in, where some people live together as a family or community.
  • Communicate – as in, the sharing of thoughts, ideas, concepts, or concerns.
  • Union – as in, the gathering or joining together of things or people.
  • Unity – as in, the one-ness shared between people.
  • Unite – as in, the coming together of people for a common purpose or cause.

Isn’t that what Holy Communion is all about?  We gather as a community, sharing common pieces of bread and juice/wine with each other, which unites each person with God, and results in a unity among the people gathered?  This is more than a ritual observance, practiced obediently, because we were told to.  This ritual is communion – connecting me more deeply with God and with the community of Christ, through common symbols representing his sacrificial flesh and blood.

It strikes me that all of us need a lot more communion in our lives – ritual, and otherwise.  So much seems to drive us apart, distract us from God, and even divide our individual attention and intentions.  This world – and all who live in it – is so disjointed, disconnected, and discombobulated (sorry, I needed another “d” word, for alliteration sake).  It seems to me that obeying Jesus’ command to commune with him and with each other is much needed medicine – for all of us.

So, today is Maundy Thursday.  You are commanded – by Jesus, himself –  to find a church, to receive Holy Communion, and to enjoy the communing benefits.

Do it.  Today.  That’s a command.

I am Judas

I am Judas

I have to confess, I’ve always felt sorry for Judas.

Early in my relationship with Jesus, I recall watching a movie that depicted monologues of each of Jesus’ disciples, of what they were thinking and feeling the night of his arrest.  The monologues were fiction, of course, based on what the Disciples might have said.  Whether, or not, they were accurate, I don’t know.  But, they made an impression on me.

At the end of the film, a pastor asked us which of the Disciple’s  we most identified with.

I said Judas.

I once took part in a reenactment of the Last Supper.  I played Judas.

The FSU Wesley Foundation, where I was the pastor for eleven years, has a long-held Maundy Thursday tradition, observing the Last Supper in total silence, each person taking turns sitting at the table to receive communion.  Every year, for eleven years, I waited for Judas’ spot to open.  (I’ve never told anyone that I did that – before now)

On the Wednesday, before Jesus’ crucifixion,  Judas agreed to betray Jesus.  Though we don’t know why, Judas made a deal with the Sanhedrin to help them find and arrest Jesus, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.

Why did he do it?  Luke says that Satan entered him.  How does that happen?  He apparently loved money.  So do I.  Maybe he acted impulsively.  I do.  Some scholars suggest that Judas had become impatient, and was simply pushing Jesus into a situation where he would have to act.  I get impatient with Jesus too.

I know what Judas did was terrible.  Never having met him, I certainly can’t defend Judas’ decision.  I don’t know why he did what he did.

I guess I have a hard time believing that Judas could have spent three years in Jesus’ inner circle and not have been deeply and profoundly impacted by him.  Though he may have betrayed Jesus, at a critical moment, does that mean that he was evil to the core?  Does that mean he didn’t love Jesus?  Does that mean he didn’t regret it?

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”  Matthew 27:3-4

Is that not repentance?

Judas betrayed Jesus.  That is undeniably true.

So have I.  I betray Jesus everyday.

When I don’t give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, welcome the stranger, etc., I betray him.

When I don’t speak out against injustice, I betray him.

When I don’t love my neighbor, or my enemy, I betray him.

When I bow down to idols, I betray him.

When I am disobedient, I betray him.

When I think evil thoughts, I betray him.

When I become impatient, demanding, self-pitying, and childish, I betray him.

When I ignore or defy the Spirit’s promptings, I betray him.

When I am more of a reflection of the World, than I am of him, I betray him.

No, I have not received thirty pieces of silver for betraying him – I’ve received much more!  No, I didn’t actively participate in a scheme leading to his arrest and crucifixion.  But, Jesus was crucified because of me – for me – every bit as much as Judas.

I’m not suggesting that Judas was any better than Scripture portrays him.  I’m just reminded that I’m not so great either.  I am, truly, in every way, a sinner saved by grace.

Judas betrayed Jesus.  So do I.

Lord, have mercy.

Pre-Easter Pondering

Pre-Easter Pondering

I know it’s not Easter yet.  Easter is still a few days away.  Before Easter, we still have Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  We can’t just skip to Easter, bypassing all that led to Easter.

But, Easter is on my mind – probably because it’s the biggest day of the Christian year and I have a sermon to prepare.

Here’s what I’m pondering…

I don’t have any problem believing in Jesus’ resurrection.  As unexpected as it was, and as impossible as it may seem, I do actually believe that Jesus died a human death, that his corpse lay in a tomb from Friday evening through early Sunday morning, and then his dead body came back to life – resurrected life!

Undeniably, that is a pretty remarkable thing to believe.  But, I do.  With all of my heart, I do.

I also don’t have a problem believing that because Jesus was resurrected, that he has made that possible for me.  I mean, because Jesus died and came back to life – in a new, resurrected way – I will be raised after I die, too.  I believe that.  When I die – whenever that may be – and breathe my last breath, I believe I that I will awake to a new, resurrected life on the other side of death.

Undeniably, that, too, is a pretty remarkable thing to believe.  But, I do.  With all of my heart, I do.

But, here’s what’s on my mind this Holy Week about the Resurrection.  The Bible doesn’t only say that Jesus rose from the dead (past tense), or that we will be resurrected after we die (future tense).  The Bible says that we ARE resurrected (present tense).  Now.  Today.

“Therefore, if anyone IS in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new IS here!”  (2 Corinthians 2:17)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but CHRIST LIVES IN ME. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

“Since, then, YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life IS NOW hidden with Christ in God.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

I HAVE been raised with Christ.  I AM a new creation.  My life IS NOW hidden Christ.  CHRIST LIVES IN ME!

Present tense.  Not just past tense.  Not just future tense.  Present tense.  Resurrection is a present reality.  I AM resurrected!

Is that really true (I know that it is)?  I don’t always feel resurrected.  I don’t look resurrected.  The Lord knows, and everyone I know will confirm, I certainly don’t act resurrected.  What does it mean for Vance Clifton Rains to be a resurrected human being, alive in Christ, today, in Coral Springs, Florida, at work, in my house, etc., etc.?

I certainly couldn’t ask such a question without Christ’s resurrection.  And, this life is short, so my future resurrection from the dead is pretty exciting.  But, increasingly, it seems to me that my current state of resurrection may be what’s most important.

If my future resurrection means that, on the other side of death, I will be completely free from this life of sin and selfishness, and that I will have perfect communion with God and God’s family, and that I will be a perfectly whole and unique reflection of God’s image in me, does my current state of resurrected-ness mean that I am to be those things now…

  • free from sin and selfishness?
  • in perfect communion with God and God’s family?
  • a perfectly whole and unique reflection of God’s image in me?

Today?  Is that what being resurrected, in the present tense, means?  If not, what else?

This week, as I ponder Easter, I just keep coming back to wondering if we are missing the point.  We (Church-going Christians) do our programs and rituals.  We read our Bibles.  We believe what we we’ve been taught to believe.  We have our stances regarding what is right or wrong.

But, are we resurrected people?  Do we worship as resurrected people?  Do we serve as resurrected people?  Do we work as resurrected people?  Do give as resurrected people?  Do we love as resurrected people?

If I AM resurrected, why am I still so enamored with this world?  If I AM resurrected, why isn’t my life, my attitude, my worship, my heart a better reflection of the world and the life to come?  If I AM resurrected, why aren’t I more like Jesus?  Now?  Today?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not questioning the present reality of my resurrection.  I AM raised with Christ!  I know that it is Truth.

I’m wondering what it would look like for me, for you, for the Church, for the Body of Christ to look a bit more resurrected – TODAY.  And, every other day, until Christ comes again.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Happy Pre-Easter.  Now, go be resurrected.

The Road to Restoration: The 6th Sermon in a Series Called, “Restoration,” preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Road to Restoration:  The 6th Sermon in a Series Called, “Restoration,” preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

In the year 1010 BC, King David and his army attacked and conquered Jerusalem, driving out the Jebusite inhabitants, taking Jerusalem as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.

In the year 925 BC, Jerusalem was temporarily captured and pillaged by the Egyptian armies, led by Pharaoh Sheshonk I.

In the year 586 BC, following a long siege, the Babylonian army, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, captured and destroyed Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple, and the city’s prominent citizens were exiled to Babylon as slaves.

In year 350 BC, King Artaxerxes III and his Persian army captured Jerusalem and burned it to the ground.

In the 332 BC, Alexander the Great and his armies took Jerusalem.

In 63 BC, the  Roman army under Pompey the Great besieged Jerusalem, captured it, and made it part of the Roman Empire.

Over the course of ten centuries, Jerusalem had been captured and conquered, and battered and destroyed by one king after another, one army after another, usually leading to ruin, death, subjugation and destruction.

Then, in 33 AD, after three years of ministry, leading an army of former fishermen, tax-collectors and prostitutes, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a poor carpenter, road into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Fulton Sheen writes, “As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Romans columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes.  In contrast to this, here is the One who comes triumphant upon an ass.’

As the Psalmist wrote, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)

As Jesus began the last week of his earthly life, he was ready to publicly announce himself as the Messiah.  In order to fulfill the Prophet Zechariah’s prophecy of the Messiah, he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, where crowds of Jews had gathered to celebrate the Passover feast.  As he approached, the crowds recognized him, and the prophetic significance of what he was doing.  They spread their cloaks on the road, like rolling out a red carpet, for their new king.  They cut down palm branches, and waved them in the air, like we wave flags at a presidential inauguration.  And they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The word “hosanna” means something like, “Lord, save us.”  This wasn’t an acclamation for just anyone riding into Jerusalem.  No one had shouted Hosanna for the Babylonians, or the Persians, or the Greeks, or the Romans when they rode into Jerusalem.  This was not a welcome for just any king.  “Hosanna” was a shout for God’s chosen Messiah, coming to save his people.

But, save them from what?  Save them from who?  And, more importantly, save them how?

On that Sunday, everyone – Jesus’ followers, the Jewish crowds, The Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Romans – assumed that Jesus was doing what other conquering Kings had done, riding into Jerusalem to reclaim the crown and throne of the nation of Israel.  At that point in history, Israel was occupied Roman territory, ruled by a puppet pseudo-Jewish king named Herod, but really governed by a Roman governor named Pilate, and his army.  The Jews hated the Romans, and longed for the day that God would kick them out and restore Israel’s privileged place in the world.  They thought Jesus’ arrival was that day.

The Jewish crowds, gathered along the roads, imagined a new day of freedom and prosperity, with Jesus as their King.

The disciples imagined being seated in thrones at Jesus’ right and the left hand, places of privilege, ruling alongside the King of the Jews.

The Pharisees and Sadducees saw a false Messiah, a threat to their authority, and feared what could happen if the Roman armies felt threatened.

The Romans probably barely noticed, always ready to squash a rebellion with Rome’s military might, if necessary.

Though many must have realized that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy about the Messiah, by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, no one seemed to make the connection that conquering kings usually came with armies, riding on chariots or warhorses.

Jesus had a different agenda.  Jesus had a different crown and throne in mind.

Bill Hybels wrote, “Everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms.  Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule.  Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing.  Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king.  Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem – to die.  He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.”

            Isn’t it interesting that we always assume that the solution to every problem is exerting physical power, accumulating wealth, gaining prestige and worldly importance, being the winner and defeating the losers.

Who’s important?  Rich people.  Powerful people.  Famous people.  How do we get things done?  Get someone elected.  Send in the military.  Leave it to Wall Street.

Haven’t we learned our lesson?  Through the years, we’ve watched one powerful person after another serve their own self-interests, unleash untold pain and suffering, and many fall from grace.  Why are we so enamored with thrones and those who sit on them?

Earlier this week, the President of Syria dropped chemical weapons, killing at least 85, and wounding hundreds.  We retaliated, by firing sixty tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base, each costing over $1.6 million – that’s nearly a billion dollars! Some have praised the US attack.  Some have condemned it.  Some have switched their positions.  Was it the right thing to do?  I don’t know.  I know I couldn’t have made that order.  But, I’m not in a position to make those decisions – thank goodness. In response, the Syrian army dropped more bombs on the same town, adding to the nearly 1 million people who have already died in that long Civil War and there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees.  And, I am absolutely sure that many more people will die before this is over.

The citizens of Jerusalem had witnessed the same kind of death and destruction, in their day, that came with every conquering King and army.  Why did they think this time – another conquering King –  would end any better?  Why do we?

Jesus has shown us a better way.

John Stott writes, “The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.

Undeniably, Jesus was and is powerful – there’s no force in the universe more powerful.  But, Jesus demonstrated an entirely different kind of power – the power of sacrifice, service, and love.  Jesus was and is a king, undeniably.  But he did not intend to rule an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one.  Jesus was prepared to wear a crown – but his crown would be made of thorns.  Jesus would be victorious – but first he had to be defeated.  Jesus was prepared to sit on an eternal throne, at the right hand of the Father, but first he would hang on a cross.

No one, during the excitement of Palm Sunday, could have imagined how the week would end – with Jesus, the King of the Jews, dying on a cross.

I suspect, if Jesus had wanted to sit on an earthly throne, he could have.  The Father would have let him.  He had the support and love of the people.  He could have called down legions of angelic armies to defeat the Romans.  He had the power and authority of God at his disposal.  He could have reestablished the nation of Israel, right in the heart of this broken, fallen, world, and ruled it forever.  Isn’t that what Satan had offered him during his temptation?

But, Jesus didn’t come to rule nations.  He came to heal the nations.  He didn’t come with power in order to ascend to a throne, but to descend into the depths of human suffering.  He didn’t come to defeat his enemies, but to forgive them.  He didn’t come to kill, but to be killed.  He didn’t come to inflict pain on his enemies, but to take on the pain and suffering of the whole world.

He didn’t choose the road that leads to success and achievement, fortune and fame.  He chose a road that led to the cross.  He didn’t come to rule us.  He came to restore us.  And, restoration wouldn’t come from sitting on a throne.  Restoration would require a cross.

As Isaiah prophesied, “By his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

As the Psalmist wrote, The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.   The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.”  (Psalm 147:2-6)

            For the last 5 weeks, we’ve been talking about the ways Jesus can restore all that is broken in our lives and in our relationships.  But, let me be very clear, he took our brokenness to a cross, not to a throne.  While you and I may respect thrones, honor thrones, and even yearn to sit on thrones ourselves, there is no healing there.  Thrones put people on crosses.  Your restoration wasn’t even sent down from the throne of Heaven.

Restoration comes from a savior, who humbly rode a donkey down a road that led to Calvary.



I had the privilege of teaching my church’s confirmation class about the Sacraments this morning.

When I teach about Baptism, which is one of our two Sacraments in the United Methodist Church, I often ask, “What is water used for?”  I’m looking for three answers, each that help us understand the meaning of Baptism, knowing I will usually only get two.

Everyone knows that we use water to wash.  Similarly, Baptism washes away our sins.

Everyone knows that we need water to live.  Similarly, in Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the source of never-ending life.

The third, that know one ever thinks of, is that water can kill a person – you can drown in it.  Similarly, the waters of Baptism drown us, killing the old sinful person, and then we rise from the water, born again.

But, today, one of the confirmands thought of one that I had never considered.  Water refreshes.

I like that image of Baptism.  Baptism refreshes.  In Baptism, I enter into life in the Spirit, which is refreshing.

I was reminded of Acts 3:19, where Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

I love that image – times of refreshing from the Lord – that begins with Baptism.

Though there are certainly times for seriousness, and even lament, it seems to me that spiritual refreshment ought to be the defining characteristic of life as Jesus followers.

Yes, there are times for reflection and discernment.  Yes, we are called to obedience.  Yes, there are times for broken-hearted repentance and confession.  Yes, there are times for rolling up our sleeves and doing what needs to be done.  Yes, there are times for prophets to speak out, and to fight for justice.  Yes, there are times for weeping and wailing.  But, refreshment is a gift that is perpetually available, and too often ignored.

Jesus said that all we have to do is ask…

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead?12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:9-13)

Refreshment.  I like that.  I want that.  I need that.