God Particles: Lent 40 “The Garden” (music by Silent Whale Becomes A Dream)

Reading: John 19:40-42

 

In the beginning, there was a garden.

And this garden was called Eden.

It was here that God began his relationship with mankind (Adam and Eve).

It was also here that God threw out Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed Him.

 

And now we get to the point of Jesus’ death…and there is another garden!

And THIS garden is located in a place surrounded by death!

 

To me (and I hope to you), there is something hopeful and beautiful to know that among all this death there is STILL a sign of life (The garden).

 

And as we prepare for the day of Resurrection, I invite you to ponder what it means to have this garden play a role in the story of death and life.

 

I also invite you to take a break from your day and enjoy this song from a band called Silent While Becomes A Dream.

I fell in love with this post-rock band when I first heard the song that is our final musical peace for this Lenten season.

It is called “As Walking On Canopy” and I want you to break the song into two parts.

The first part spans the opening of the song to the 6:24 mark.

During this time, read John 19 (the crucifixion of Jesus).

And then when the song hits the 6:25 mark, begin to read  John 20 (The Resurrection [6:25-12:58]).

And for the final 2 minutes of the song, think back on our Lenten journey,

and let me know if you have learned anything new about God, Jesus, or yourself.

 

I want to know how Lent has changed you.

Or at least how Lent got you to think about God in a different way.

 

Thank you for your time and your encouraging words during this process.

I look forward to continuing our journey after Easter.

 

God’s blessings,

PJ

 

God Particles: Lent 39 “Finished” (Music by Alan Jackson)

Reading: John 19:28-30

The Greek word for “finished” means “to bring to a close.”

 

Today, we ponder all the things Jesus brings to a close:

 

The suffering

The sin

The hate

The betrayal

The wrongs

The “undones”

 

All these things are now closed because of Jesus.

 

All the things we have ever gotten wrong are not ours to carry anymore.

 

 

God Particles: Lent 38 “Judas” (Music by Collective Soul)

Reading: John 13:21-30

I remember something bad happening to me when I was in high school.

I had my heart broken and my trust wasted on people I called friends.

What hurt worse was that these were friends from church.

It took me a LONG time to get over that hurt.

 

For years I would carry around the sting of betrayal.

 

But then that changed…

 

Back in 2002, I was praying and contemplating in the sanctuary of my internship congregation (Ascension Lutheran in Jackson, MS). As I was enjoying the silence, I happen to look up at the cross and pictured Jesus there.

That is when it struck me HOW he got there.

He had one of his friends betray him.

And then I remembered how none of his disciples (his TRUSTED followers) were there to watch him suffer and die.

 

I realized that Jesus knew the hurt that I had.

Jesus knew the pain that I carried with me.

And Jesus still went through the pain of the cross to save the very people who betrayed him.

 

If Jesus could do that, then could I find it in my heart to forgive and release my pain?

 

And I did.

I prayed for forgiveness.

I prayed for the POWER of forgiveness.

And then I let it go.

 

And the hurt went away.

The burden was lifted.

 

Today, I invite you to look at the cross and picture Jesus up there.

Then I want you to think how FORGIVENESS and GRACE are such powerful gifts.

 

Then I want you to grab hold of those gifts and use them.

For yourself and for any around you that you have an issue with.

 

Today is a great day to forgive.

 

God Particles: Lent 37 “Beast” (Music by Finger Eleven)

Reading: Matthew 17:14-21

Have you ever heard of The Incredible Hulk?

He is a comic book character and the alter ego of one Bruce Banner. Whenever Bruce gets angry, out comes the Hulk.

I was an avid fan of the television show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno that ran on CBS back in the day.

 

I used to think it would be cool if…just for a moment…if I could let out the beast inside when I get angry.

 

But this is not a comic book.

This is real life.

 

What is alarming to hear is that we all have a beast inside of us.

We all have that Anger that can build up over time.

 

And if we don’t learn to quell that Anger, eventually someone is going to get hurt.

 

Today, I invite you to admit to the beasts that linger insider of you.

What are the demons that you need to confront and cure?

Then, I invite you to open up to God and let God do His work inside you.

 

Maybe you need to talk about forgiveness.

Maybe you need to ASK for forgiveness.

Maybe you need to just let past hurts go, and work on living you life without carrying those burdens around.

 

Put your demons and your burdens on the shoulders of Jesus.

Let him carry them to their resting place.

 

And then may you find rest in Him.

 

God Particles: Lent 36 “Walk Away” (music by Ben Harper)

Reading: Matthew 26:69-75

 

Peter really tried to be the perfect disciple.

He was ready to answer any question Jesus asked.

He was ready to wash Jesus’ feet rather than let Jesus do the footwashing.

He was ready to stand by Jesus until the very end.

 

Until he didn’t.

 

Peter lied about being Jesus’ disciple.

He fled while Jesus died on the tree.

 

But he wasn’t the only one.

According to the Gospels, outside of the beloved disciple and some women, the disciples were nowhere to be found.

 

Why? The easiest answer is they were saving their own lives. If their leader could be arrested and killed, certainly the leader’s followers would be next on the cutting line.

 

I have to be honest with you, I probably would have done the same thing.

Just like the disciples, I am human.

Self-preservation is high on my list.

Fortunately, self-preservation was not high on Jesus’ list.

In fact, it wasn’t on his list at all.

 

And that is a good thing.

 

Jesus followed through on his mission.

Jesus did not run away.

 

Today, I invite you to think of the times you have walked away from God.

And then think of all the times God has welcomed you back, OR is calling you back now.

 

JUST BECAUSE WE WALK AWAY DOESN’T MEAN GOD WILL!

 

And that is Good News for us (and Peter).

 

God Particles: Lent 35 “Serious” (Music by XTC)

Reading: Matthew 21: 1-17

And so Holy Week begins.

 

This is the week that things go from good to bad to worse.

Jesus certainly made a lot of friends and fans during his public ministry (“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them”).

However, along the way Jesus also made his share of enemies (the chief priests and the scribes).

And this is the week that Jesus and his enemies come face-to-face.

 

This is the week where we see Jesus put his teachings into actions.

It is one thing to talk a big game.

It is another to actually play the game.

For many, we TALK about the things we believe in, but are we ready to actually DO the things we believe in?

 

Many of us talk about being a better Christian, but are we ready to TRY to be better Christian?

 

Too many times, Christians judge loudly and then get caught doing the very thing they cursed.

This is what non-believers, seekers, and doubters will call us Christians out on, AND THEY HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO DO SO!

 

We need to be more consistent.

We need to be more honest.

We need to admit to our human frailty and our need for a Savior to make things right.

 

We are called to try better.

 

Let this week be the week we start doing that.

 

 

Sermon for April 13, 2014 “Tangents”

Reading: Matthew 21:1-11

Do you have a friend who wants to tell you a story and the last thing we want to do is HEAR let alone the FULL version of it?

One of my oldest and dearest friends has a special talent for “going off script.”

She can be in the middle of telling a story (a very LONG story), and then go off on a tangent.

Over time, when she was about to take us to Tangentville, I would actually start to snap my fingers and yell “Tangent! Tangent!” just to get her back on course.

Why am I telling you about my friend?

Because I want to explain why we celebrate Palm Sunday and not Palm and Passion Sundays together.

It is important to know that today we are getting the beginning of a story.

One that I believe cannot be told in one worship service.

This is a story with a beginning, middle and an end.

This story is called: “Holy Week.”

And it starts today with Palm Sunday.

We begin with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Next week we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over Sin and Death.

But there is more to the story than triumph.

We get the MIDDLE section: the Tangents:

  • The moments of dread and betrayal of Maundy Thursday and
  • The pain, the suffering, and the emptiness of Good Friday.

And I believe there is something to the idea of pain and dread being surrounded by joy and celebration.

Because that is the Story of God:

  • In the beginning, all was good.
  • Then came the fall.
  • Then there was pain.
  • There was desertion, not on God’s part, but on our’s.
  • And in the end, all will be good again, it will be great

Thanks be to God through Jesus the Christ.

So I believe we should celebrate Palm Sunday on its own because we are celebrating the beginning of the end.

 

The second reason goes beyond Biblical or Theological reasons.

A year ago, I came across a speech from Dr. Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist.

Dr. Rushkoff was speaking about his book, Present Shock, which looks into our culture’s obsession with the Present.

A lot comes from this new digital age we are in.

From iPhones, to iPads, to Facebook, to Twitter, you name it, we love the idea of being able to be connected

But this new focus on the present has led to a BIG problem:

How Do We As A Culture Read?

People want to read like they listen to music.

Not albums but singles.

Bits and pieces.

They want blogs not magazines.

They want photos not words.

Reading like this causes an even bigger problem in Dr. Rushkoff’s opinion:

 

People end up reading in order to dismiss.

 

We read something in order to dismiss it and move on to the next thing.

 

We do not read to absorb.

We read to get it over with.

And I believe this has crept into the church.

 

For many years Palm Sunday and the Passion were TWO distinct events.

But when attendance began to dwindle for events like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigils,

The Church felt like it had to do something in order to ACCOMODATE a changing culture.

So rather than TWO events, we have ONE.

The church thought it was good to cut the story.

And in a span of an hour, maybe an hour-fifteen minutes, the congregation goes from Jesus’ day of joy to Jesus’ day of pain and suffering.

 

And I can’t help but think when we do this we are just trying to get Holy Week done as quick and painless as possible.

 

We dismiss the tangents to the story of joy and celebration.

We dismiss the pain and the hurt.

 

Why?

Because we have other things to do.

We have busy lives.

And church…worship… is not a priority for many of us.

Church is now a calendar item that has a set time to begin and end.

One day a week.

Sometimes once a month or once a year.

We Christians don’t have time to wait, and to ponder, and REMEMBER what Jesus went through on our behalf.

 

So I say we make the time.

 

We make the effort to give this week the respect it deserves.

And we give God the time, the respect, and the ATTENTION that He deserves.

 

And we can start by noticing how Jesus did not rush things.

 

He did not come down to us, and quickly head to Jerusalem to die.

No, he had to change the lives of the people around him.

He had to change the lives of Pharisees, fishermen, soldiers, lepers, blind men, women, and foreigners.

 

He had to show them that they all mattered to God.

 

Jesus had to show them that He loved them.

 

And that kind of mission takes time.

 

That kind of love takes attention, dedication, and sacrifice.

 

This is the kind of love that we need to hear.

This is the story that needs to be told.

This is the story that needs to be shared.

 

This is the story of a God who made time in His schedule for us.

Can’t we do the same for him?

 

God Particles: Lent 34 “Anarchy” (music by The Sex Pistols)

Reading: John 2:13-22

 

Yep. I’m going there.

Jesus meets Johnny Rotten.

I warn you, I may use a word or two that might upset your senses.

 

In our reading today, Jesus is pissed (Yeah, I said it) off.

In my opinion, there is no other way to describe the scene.

 

Jesus has gone into the temple to WORSHIP and to TEACH, but all he sees is money.

Money being spent, money being exchanged, and there is no way to differentiate the temple from a marketplace.

And Jesus (this is God we are talking about, people) makes his opinion known.

 

Jesus causes anarchy.

He whips people, he pours out the money, he YELLS at people to stop making the temple a place of BUSINESS rather than a place for worship.

He challenges the leaders and the moneychangers.

 

 

This kind of action is how Jesus made enemies of some very powerful people.

This kind of anger gets the enemies to plot not only his arrest but his death.

In a way, Jesus is the “antichrist” to their way of living and ruling.

 

So this sets up what happens next week when we focus on Holy Week.

The Week when everything falls apart and then…well, you will have to tune in and see.

 

But as far as today goes, I want us to reflect on times we have replaced God with money, greed, digital toys, etc. in our hearts, our bodies, and our “temples.”

What are the ways we avoid God in order to satisfy our selfish needs?

 

And what are the ways God is telling US to stop?

Because trust me, God is trying to tell you that through the words and care of friends, families, bosses, or ministers.

 

Are you ready to rebuild your temples and put God as your centerpiece?

 

God Particles: Lent 32 “Jesus and the Devil Part 1 of 2” (music by The Rolling Stones)

Reading: Matthew 3:13-4:1

 

Comedian Ron White talks about the time he was taking his young son to the airport to send the little one off to see family and the reservationist asked, “Will there be anyone to pick up the child when the plane lands?” Ron sarcastically answered, “No. I’m just gonna staple a $20 bill to his shirt and leave a note that says, ‘Best of luck.’’

 

When I read this part of the Matthew Gospel, I can’t help but picture God the Father sending Jesus off into the Wilderness with nothing more than a small note that says, “See you in 40 days. Oh, and don’t eat or drink anything.”

 

It sounds crazy to think that a Father, who just proclaimed how proud he was of his Son, would then send him off to face his arch-enemy.

But that is what happened.

 

But God doesn’t send Jesus off to face the Devil alone.

And we will get to that more tomorrow.

 

But what I want to focus on is that while the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, NO WHERE does it say the Spirit LEFT Jesus!

As Jesus is about to face The Tempter the Spirit (God) is with him.

And for us that is Good News.

We do not face Temptation alone.

God is with us, breathing His words of love and acceptance into our hearts and minds.

The words he tells us are: “My child. You don’t have to give in or give up. I have you. You don’t need anyone else but Me.”

 

The Devil can do a very good job at convincing us that God is not around when we do wrong.

 

But God is telling us that He will always be around.

The Devil doesn’t call the shots.

 

The Devil can’t keep God away.

 

And that is good news.

 

 

God Particles: Lent 31 (music by @Wheatus)

Reading: Matthew 9:9-17

Matthew, the tax collector, was not “Mr. Popularity.”

If there had been a Facebook back then, and if Matthew wanted to friend you, you would have quickly responded with “No” and a “Block” messages.

In the Jewish community, Tax Collectors were considered traitors because TC’s worked for the “evil foreign government” and TC’s were rumored to have taken more money than people actually owed.

So tax collectors were not considered part of the inside crowd.

Matthew would not have had many friends.

 

But then here comes Jesus.

Jesus invites Matthew, one of these “traitors,” to follow him and become one of his disciples.

And then Jesus causes a bigger uproar by eating at Matthew’s house with other tax collectors and sinners.

What is a religious man doing with THOSE people?!

That is the very question asked by the Pharisees.
So Jesus does something so “awesomely Jesus-y” and defends the tax collectors and sinners.

He says he has come to “call” them.

He has come to call them home.

He has come to call them back to God.

 

What Jesus is teaching us is that God never threw out the sinners and tax collectors.

We did that.

But God is determined to tell those who have been cast out that there is a place in HIS house for them.

 

I love how today’s song ends with such an uplifting verse that ties in the whole story behind the song.

It also ends on how there is always Someone ready to invite “the outsider.”