Saturday, April 22, 2017


(Note to readers: The responses were sung to the tune of “O Come All Ye Faithful" Lyrics by myself.}

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Easter Sunday is where the reality of faith meets he road of doubt. Either Jesus rose from the dead, in which case our faith is grounded in reality; or he did not, in which case our faith is without grounds,and of no value. But we have reason to believe that Jesus DID rise from the dead.
  1. The tomb was empty and the grave clothes vacant. if those who opposed Christ wished to silence His disciples, they had to do was produce a body, but they could not .
  2. Many people saw the resurrected Christ. They looked on His face, touched Him, heard His voice, and saw Him eat (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-39; John 20:11-29; John 21:1-9; Acts 1:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:3-8).
  3. The lives of the disciples were revolutionized. Though they fled and even denied Christ at the time of His arrest, they later feared no one in their proclamation of the risen Christ (Matt 26:56, 69-75).6. The resurrection was the central message of the early church. The church grew with an unwavering conviction that Christ had risen and was the Lord of the church (Acts 4:33; 5:30-32; Rom. 5:24).
  4. Men and women today testify that the power of the risen Christ has transformed their lives. We know that Jesus is alive not only because of the historical and biblical evidence but also because He has miraculously touched our lives.
    To this day, the murmurs of doubt are drowned in the victorious acclimation of Easter: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.!
Come with the women, Early in the morning
.Come the the tomb and find the stone rolled away.
.Angels in white say: “Seek Him with the living.”


From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,
Christ, the Lord.

3 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. What a lesson that would have been! The Author of the Book explains His work, making connections from Scripture to the events they had recently experienced.

The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ lesson was one of deep conviction of the truth of what He was teaching. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked?” they ask each other (verse 32). Their physical eyes were blinded to the identity of Jesus, but their eyes of faith were being opened as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them.

The story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road is important for many reasons. It provides an emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus, evidence regarding an additional appearance of Jesus, and a connection regarding the many eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with many of us today, as He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord.

Following this account, Jesus appears to His other disciples, removing all doubt that He was alive. Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.

Walk to Emmaus, listen to the stranger;
Hear as he opens up what Scriptures all say;
When He breaks bread, you will see the Savior.

From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,
Christ, the Lord.

Some of the followers were together: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the two sons of Zebedee, and two other followers. 3 Simon Peter said, “I am going out to fish.”

The others said, “We will go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat. They fished that night but caught nothing.

4 Early the next morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the followers did not know it was Jesus. 5 Then he said to them, “Friends, did you catch any fish?”

They answered, “No.”

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they did, and they caught so many fish they could not pull the net back into the boat.

7 The follower whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Peter heard him say this, he wrapped his coat around himself. (Peter had taken his clothes off.) Then he jumped into the water. 8 The other followers went to shore in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. They were not very far from shore, only about a hundred yards. 9 When the followers stepped out of the boat and onto the shore, they saw a fire of hot coals. There were fish on the fire, and there was bread.

10 Then Jesus said, “Bring some of. the fish you just caught.”
11 Simon Peter went into the boat and pulled the net to the shore. It was full of big fish, one hundred fifty-three in all, but even though there were so many, the net did not tear. 12 Jesus said to them, “Com e and eat.” None of the followers dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, along with the fish.
14 This was now the third time Jesus showed himself to his followers after he was raised from the dead

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers: 31 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. 33 Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. Later he fed the crowds with 5 loaves and two fish. Now he again provides food for his followers; food not just to drive away their hunger, but food to drive away their grief. Food to heal their souls and strengthen them for the task ahead; a task he sets before them when he instructs John:
Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” and “Feed my sheep.” The call to John echoes through the centuries and the task now falls on us.

There on the lake shore, see Him cooking breakfast
While His disciples fish the mourning away.
Care for my lambs and feed my sheep he tells us.”

From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,
From death to life arisen,

Christ, the Lord.



Only a few days earlier, a huge crowd had gathered to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

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

We cannot know, but it is probably safe to surmise, that some of those who shouted “Hosanna!” were also part of the crowd that gathered at the Pilate's palace. They listened as the chief priests and elders made their charges; and as Pilate interrogated the non-responsive Jesus.

Then, when the governor asked who he should release, Jesus or Barabbas, things got really ugly.

In 1964, I was in Air Force security police training. It was a time when Viet Nam was just ramping up, anti-nuclear war sentiment was strong, and cities like Los Angeles and Chicago were erupting in racial violence. It wasn't surprising, then, that our training included crowd and riot control. One of the first things we learned about mobs was:
A mob is dangerous thing one can get caught in. A mob has no leader, has no logic or reason, and no sense of right or wrong or morals. People who as individuals would not do bad things will certainly do them if they are in a mob where responsibility is diluted and spur of the moment actions happen.
The Website Brainz says:
Human beings tend to exhibit very unique behaviors or habits once they’re in a group. Some sociologists call it “herd behavior” but it is more often described as “mob mentality.”
It is not all that difficult to turn a crowd into a mob. How often have we seen a crowd at a sporting event become a mob? Sometimes because their team lost; sometimes because their team won. The cause doesn't matter. Tamara Avant, Psychology program director at South University — Savannah, explains:
When people are part of a group, they often experience deindividuation, or a loss of self-awareness. When people deindividuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.
Deindividuation obviously does not occur every time people get together in a group, and there are some group characteristics that increase the likelihood of violence, such as group size and physical anonymity. First, many people believe they cannot be held responsible for violent behavior when part of a mob because they perceive the violent action as the group’s (e.g., “everyone was doing it”) rather than their own behavior. When in a large group, people tend to experience a diffusion of responsibility. Typically, the bigger a mob, the more its members lose self-awareness and become willing to engage in dangerous behavior. Second, physical anonymity also leads to a person experiencing fewer social inhibitions. When people feel that their behavior cannot be traced back to them, they are more likely to break social norms and engage in violence.

Spurred on by the chief priests and elders, the crowd quickly became a mob demanding the release of Barabbas. Three times Pilate asked, and three times, with increasing hostility, the mob demanded Barabbas.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

I honestly believe that Pilate tried his best to save Jesus' life. Luke tells us; Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” He even offered to comply with the Passover tradition of freeing a prisoner by releasing Jesus. But the crowd would not be placated. They wanted blood. Knowing how easily a riot could begin, and fearing the loss of life and property a riot, and putting it down would entail, he found himself caught in a choice between two evils: the taking of an innocent life against the safety of the city. He made the choice to allow, not demand, Jesus' crucifixion. Mortified by his decision he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” And Jesus was led off to the slow, agonizing death of crucifixion.

33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is Jesus, the king of the Jews.

38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left
At noon, as Jesus hung between two criminals, the land was engulfed in darkness. Then, after crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Which the Jews would have recognized as the opening of Psalm 22 which starts out in despair and ends in joy.) Jesus died. He was not in a coma, he was not comatose, he was not in some sort of suspended animation, he was dead. Because they couldn't handle dead bodies on the Sabbath, he was placed in the tomb without preparation. And as if he wasn't already dead, the tomb was sealed, no air could come in. Even if he was alive, he would die from lack of oxygen.
For two thousand years the Jews were persecuted by Christians as “Christ Killers.” They, along with Pilate, were cursed and condemned for their actions on that long-ago day. But the truth is, if anybody deserves the blame, if anyone deserves the credit, it is not the temple leadership. It is not the Roman overlords. It is God, the creator and salvation of the world. It is God, who on that day gave his own Son, to be the final and atoning sacrifice for all humanity.

To understand Good Friday and Easter, we must try to understand the sacrificial system under which Israel lived. Humans were sinners. Atonement required a sacrifice. And so an ongoing circle of sin, sacrifice, atonement, sin sacrifice, atonement emerged. But in the death of Christ, the ultimate and final sacrifice was given. Like the lamb presented for sacrifice, Jesus was without blemish or sin. This was a sacrifice no human could offer, for the sacrifice of a child would be punished by public stoning. Only God could, and only God did, offer that sacrifice, in payment for the sins of all.
In ancient Israel six cities were founded as cities of refuge. Thither for refuge could flee men who, without malice or premeditation, had taken the life of a fellow man. Once within the gates of the city of refuge, they could not be touched by any hand of vengeance or judgment. The rabbis have an interesting tradition that once every year the roads leading to these cities of refuge were carefully repaired and cleared of obstacles and stones, so that the man fleeing for his life would have no hindrance in his way. The Cross is God's great and eternal city of refuge from the penalty upon sin. The cross is God's gift to each and every one of us. It matters not how horrific our sins may be, they are covered, they are paid for, and we are free. The Lamb has been sacrificed. Jesus is dead. Dead but not gone. Hallelujah! AMEN.



Today's appointed Psalm pretty well sums up the spiritual condition of the exiled Israelites among whom Ezekiel lived, and to whom he prophesied. Like their spirits, their homeland was devastated, the cities burned and flattened, even the temple in ruins.

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

In the midst of his people's despondency, and under the hand of God, Ezekiel is carried in the spirit to a valley filled with a great many dry bones. Although it is not named, its identification as “the” valley suggests a particular place; other clues suggest a battlefield. In any event, for Ezekiel, and the exiled Jews, it would call to mind funeral customs, and resurrection hopes

Jewish burial customs of the day were two-fold. Immediately upon death, the body was taken to a family crypt or tomb, such as the one Lazarus had been buried in, and sealed in. This was not the final burial, but only an interim step. The body would be left in the tomb, perhaps until the next burial. Only when the body was desiccated, dried up, the flesh disintegrated, with only the bones remaining, would the final disposition of the body be made. Once the bones were dried enough, they would be placed in a large bone coffin, an ossuary, with the bones of those who had previously died. In order to make best use of the space in the ossuary, the bones were disconnected and placed in the ossuary where they best fit. Hence an ankle bone might rest inside a rib cage, and a skull might be in the midst of a shoulder bone. All this was keep the family together for .the resurrection which would come in the reverse order of desiccation. First the bones, then the internal parts, muscles, sinews, and finally the skin.

Joshua T. Andrzejewski points out: “however, this vision has more to do with restoration than resurrection.” Kevin Madigan and Jon Levenson put it this way: “The question it answers is not the familiar, self-interested one, “Will I have life after death?’ but rather a more profound and encompassing one, ‘Will God honor [the] promises to [the] people?”

God’s promises have been impossible from the very start. There is the call of Abraham and Sarah, two impossibly old folks who were charged with giving birth to a nation as plentiful as the stars in the sky. The nation did grow up, but before too long it had been enslaved. When God liberated the people, they continually fell away – even when they had been given their own land, even when they had judges, kings, and prophets to try and keep them in line.

Ezekiel was faced with a situation in which a promise made thousands of years ago, a promise that seemed too good to be true, was turning out to be exactly that. The exile was one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history, and there’s a whole book of the Bible – Lamentations – dedicated to the words of despair and hopelessness God’s people felt at that time. The land was supposed to remind them of God’s promise; the king was supposed to remind them of God’s promise; the Temple was supposed to remind them of God’s promise. Now all those things were gone and the people were left despondent – utterly alone.
But God's promises were still there. God had not, as Israel assumed, abandoned them, Israel had abandoned God. In chapter 36, God had reminded Ezekiel:
(Eze 36:16) The LORD said:
(Eze 36:17) Ezekiel, son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own country, they made the land unclean by the way they behaved, just as a woman's monthly period makes her unclean.
(Eze 36:18) They committed murders and worshiped idols, which made the land even worse. So in my anger, I punished my people
(Eze 36:19) and scattered them throughout the nations, just as they deserved.

But the promises of God ARE the promises of God, and they remain. “I will gather you from these foreign nations and bring you home.” (Eze 36:24) God assures Ezekiel, and through him, the Israelites. In the bone-on-bone, sinew-on-sinew, flesh-on-flesh resurrection of the dry bones, God demonstrates the restoration that is to come.
(Eze 37:11) The LORD said: Ezekiel, the people of Israel are like dead bones. They complain that they are dried up and that they have no hope for the future.
(Eze 37:12) So tell them, "I, the LORD God, promise to open your graves and set you free. I will bring you back to Israel,
(Eze 37:13) and when that happens, you will realize that I am the LORD.
(Eze 37:14) My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again. I will bring you home, and you will know that I have kept my promise. I, the LORD, have spoken."

Despite the 2,500 years that separate us from Ezekiel, I think each of us must have some idea how he felt, how his people felt. I suspect that there are things many of us treasure as reminders of God’s promise: a passage of scripture; words spoken by a dear friend at just the right moment; the memory of a particular star in the sky one night. They are meaningless to anyone else, but to us they are touchstones to which we cling when everything else falls away. Now imagine that you’ve lost even those, and I think you begin to grasp the magnitude of the exile.
So we return to that painful conversation between Ezekiel and God. Painful because Ezekiel knew. “Mortal, can these bones live?” And the prophet knew the answer; he knew it was impossible.

And yet, that’s precisely what happens in the vision that follows. In essence, God says, “You think it’s impossible for me to restore my people from exile? I’m going to show you that I could do something infinitely more impossible than that. Not only am I going to restore the bones and sinew and flesh, but I am going to return my breath to these bodies, and they are going to live again.

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” God keeps promises, even though they have been impossible from the very start.

How many of us have call out from the depths of despair? At some point we all walk in the valley of dry bones? They dry bones of despondency; Grief; Abandonment; Loneliness; Depression; Pain; Fear; Illness, and more. In all these, God's promises hold.
"I, the LORD God, promise to open your graves and set you free.” “ I, the LORD God, will gather the people of Israel and bring them home from the foreign nations where they now live.

Just as God put muscle and flesh on those dry bones. Just as God did bring the people back home again. God brings us home. And like a family gathering around the home table, we gather at this table and receive the food of the promise, the Body and Blood of Christ, who died that we might have life. The table is set. Come, eat, drink, and rejoice in the assurance of promises kept. AMEN.


At the first church I served, one of the young men in the congregation had earned his Eagle Scout award. Although the troop was sponsored by another church, he chose to have his Court of Honor at our church. As his pastor, I was invited to attend. As I stepped out of my car, a gentleman with a Bible in hand stepped out of the car next to mine. I had seen him around town, and was pretty sure he was the pastor of the church that sponsored the scout troop.
Pastor Jones?” I asked.
Welcome, I'm Dann Houghton, the pastor of this church.”
No, you can't be.” he said and walked away. Seems I didn't look like what he thought a pastor should look like. He had sight, but could not see.”

Both of today's stories deal with blindness and sight. In the story from 1 Samuel, Samuel is unable to see beyond his human mindset. Eliab fit Samuel's idea of what a King should look like, And God had to set the record straight: The LORD said to him, "Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him, because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart."

In our gospel lesson from John, the man born blind receives the gift of sight, but the Pharisees, blinded by their strict observance of the law, can neither see nor appreciate the miracle of grace. Just as my fellow clergyman could not envision me as a pastor, the Pharisees could not see Jesus as the Messiah.

What we are looking at, and what we are seeing, aren't always the same. It's easy to see what we want to see, that which fits our ideas of what we are looking at.
The captain of the Titanic refused to believe the ship was in trouble till water was ankle deep in the mail room. Only then was it apparent the multi-layered hull had been pierced and the unsinkable ship was going to sink. Ships that could have arrived before the great ocean liner went down weren't summoned until it was too late.

And of course the legend of a US aircraft carrier approaching an oncoming vessel.
US Ship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
Reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
US Ship: This is a ship of the US Navy . I order you to divert your course.
Reply: Sorry, Sir, I cannot do that. You need to divert your course.
Reply: This is Lighthouse Keeper D.M. Witt, respectfully suggest you divert, Sir.

Saul, the first King of Israel, whom God had chosen, had disobeyed God; and that disobedience was the cause of his rejection. But even thou God had rejected him, he had not yet been removed from power; so when God told Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint a new king, Samuel rightly feared for his life. But he went, taking a heifer with him, disguising his purpose as a sacrifice to the Lord. At the Lord's instruction, Samuel invites Jesse and his family to join him. After preparing Jesse and his sons, Samuel has all the young men pass before him as he awaits God's choice: but God remains silent. Finally Samuel asks: “Is that all of your boys?”
There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”
Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”[c]
12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

For Samuel this was a difficult assignment. Samuel had been the one to anoint and advise Saul. He had come to love Saul and his family, and so he found it difficult to let go. How many of us find in hard to let go of things we no longer need. How many of us can't use our garages for cars because they are full of things we no longer use, but can't let go of. That's the position Samuel was in. But God did two things for Samuel. First, God reminded him that he needed to accept God's judgment “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found[a] my next king among his sons.” Sometimes it's hard for us to accept God's judgment We fear the unknown. Our imaginations run wild at the thought of what might happen. “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

The second thing God did for Samuel was to change his vision from the past to the future. Looking back is easy. Looking back is comfortable. Looking forward is not. Harry Truman told of a new toy; a small wooden bird called the "Floogie Bird." Around the Floogie Bird's neck is a label reading, "I fly backwards, I don't care where I'm going. I just want to see where I've been."

By involving him, personally, in the designation of the new king; God not only changes Samuel's focus, but gives him confidence that things will be OK. We cannot know what the future holds, but as long as we know who holds the future, we have nothing to fear. That was the lesson God taught Samuel.

In our lesson from John, Jesus is walking in Jerusalem when he saw a man who had been blind since birth. (Joh 9:2) Jesus' disciples asked, "Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?"

This was a normal question in a time when, it was believed that the righteous received good things from God, and the unrighteous bad things. Jesus, like the writer of Job, tries to put this false teaching to rest by answering: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. As long as it is day, we must do what the one who sent me wants me to do. When night comes, no one can work.” And with that, he he spit on the ground. He made some mud and smeared it on the man's eyes. Then he said, "Go and wash off the mud in Siloam Pool." The man went and washed in Siloam, which means "One Who Is Sent." When he had washed off the mud, he could see.

Unfortunately, those who were not blind could not see. In spite of his insistence they argued over whether or not he was the the one born blind, or someone who looked like him. Finally, since this occurred on the Sabbath, they took him to the Pharisees for investigation. (I often wonder, “doesn't investigating what Jesus does on the Sabbath constitute work? And if so doesn't that make the Pharisees guilty of the sin of which they accuse Jesus?)

When the man tells them what happened, Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam, they refused to believe it. Since it was done on the Sabbath, it was a sinful act, therefore it was done by a sinful man, therefore it could not have happened' therefore this man was not born blind. So they sent for his parents to identify him.

Dragged before the Pharisees on a Sabbath, the parents were understandably afraid. When asked: “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?” They answered: “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”

Again they interrogated the man born blind. Again they demanded to know what happened.

I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

Like Samuel, like far too many Christians today, the Pharisees didn't want change. “We like things just the way they are, thank you very much.” And so they closed their eyes to the sight of something that went against the grain of their thought.

When people in power refuse to see things they don't want to see; things that don't support their way of thinking; they are doomed to fail. (Joh 9:35) When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
The man answered, "Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!"
Jesus said to him, "You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now."(Joh 9:38) "I believe, Lord!" the man said, and knelt down before Jesus.
Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind? Jesus said, If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

The fact that we have eyes does not mean we can see. Millions of people can look world and
cannot see the hand of the creator, they see only evil, disaster, war, hatred, prejudice, and anger, and nothing but electro-chemical reactions.

We have two choices. We can, like the Pharisees look without seeing, or we can see what the blind man saw. Which will you choose?


Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Genesis 14:1-4

As I mentioned last week, Fay and I have purchased our tickets for our circumnavigation of the lower 48 by train. Fay is already planning to pack; not just clothes, but things to keep her comfortable and make the trip more pleasant. We will be gone for over a month, and it should be quite an adventure.

Of course not everyone likes adventure. Some are like Winnie the Pooh.
When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” asked Piglet, “what's the first thing you say to yourself?”
What's for breakfast?” said Pooh. “”What do you say, Piglet?”
I say, 'I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?'” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It's the same thing.” he said.

Like Pooh, Bilbo in Tolkien's The Hobbit, clearly wasn't the adventurous type. L“Adventures are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner! I can't see what anybody sees in them.”

There are some, on the other hand, who are adventurous. Some of you may remember Larry Walters, who achieved dubious fame in 1982 when he piloted a lawn chair attached to helium balloons 16,000 feet above Federal Aviation Administration.
Shivering in the high altitude, he used a pellet gun to pop balloons to come back to earth.
On the way down, his balloons draped over power lines, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes.
The stunt earned Walters a $1,500 fine from the FAA and the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas.

How about you? A life of adventure, or a life of safety. Many of us don't like change; we like a nice, stable, predictable life. Change is hard, and we avoid it. In fact, 7 out of 10 heart patients, when told by their cardiologist that if they don't change their lifestyle, if they don't start eating right and exercising more, they will die, don't make the recommended changes. Is that you?

I would suggest to you that, perhaps the greatest sin of modern Christians, and the modern church, is that we are simply too comfortable. While we may sing: “Give me that old time religion,” we don't really want any part of it. Early Christians were slain in the gladiatorial rings. In our grandparents time the church sent missionaries all over the world. Others set about curing the wrongs in society, standing up to immoral or corrupt governments, establishing schools, hospitals, and rest homes for those in need. They advocated for worker's and civil rights, stood against wars, fought to abolish slavery, established Sunday Schools to teach children factory workers, and fought for child labor laws and fair wages.

As Christians, we stand in a long line of heroes. But what drives us? What is our passion today? What incites us to action in the name of the Holy One? I fear it is nothing. Too many of us are not driven, we just float along with the current, hoping God won't notice we are here and as us to actually do something. (That may be what makes listening for the voice of God so uncomfortable.) Our anemic Christian lives miss our on the excitement and growth that come from radical discipleship and promise nothing to our unchurched neighbors. I don't usually say things like this, but maybe it's time to GET OUTA THE CHURCH!

There would be no church today if earlier generations had sought first of all to be comfortable. There will be no church in the future if comfort is our first priority.
God did not call Abram to a life of comfort. God did not promise Moses a life of luxury. Jesus does not promise us earthly prosperity.
(Luk 9:57) Along the way someone said to Jesus, "I'll go anywhere with you!" (Luk 9:58) Jesus said, "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own."
Jesus looked straight at the rich young man with love and said, "You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me."

The architectural term for the place we are right now is the sanctuary. The raised area behind us, while a part of the sanctuary, is the chancel, and the part of the sanctuary where you are sitting is the nave. Nave comes from the same root as navy, and reminds us that the church can be described as a ship carrying people through the rough waters of this world to the kingdom of God. Shh. Can you hear the wind blowing through the sails? Can you feel it against your face? Blowing your hair around? Like Abraham, we're off on an adventure...taking the light of God's love into the darkness of a hurting world.

What's that, you say? “I can't do that. It's impossible!” Remember the movie Miracle?
It's the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. No one had beaten the Soviet team in the last for Olympic games. Even the NHL's best teams fell victim to the Soviet power house. And now a group of American college players was about to take on the unbeatable behemoth. In one scene the American coach, Coach Brooks, is going over the Soviet game strategy and explaining to his young team what they must do to win.
You don't defend: You attack. You shove their game right back in their faces” he tells his players. “The team that is finally willing to do this is the team that has a chance to put them down. The NHL won't change their game; we will. The rest of the world is afraid of them; boys, we won't be. No one has ever worked hard enough to skate with the Soviet team for an entire game. Gentlemen, we are gonna work hard enough.” And they did. And they succeeded. And they brought home the Olympic Gold..

Imagine, if you will, what this little church could do for Christ with that kind of determination. Imagine this community changed for the better. Imagine lonely people surrounded by friends. Imagine former addicts loved, healed, and supported in Christian fellowship. Imagine children no longer hungry. It's not that the problems are too big. It's not that we are too old, too tired, or too weak. It's not that we are too small. It's that our faith is too small, too tired, and too feeble to make an outstanding effort. Christianity is an adventurous faith, and Christians are called to be an adventurous people.

No, you don't have to pack up your belongings and head out to Malaysia or Madagascar, but you may need to get outside your comfort zone. A VIM, Volunteers In Mission, short term mission trip may be for you...and no, you don't have to go outside the U.S. Yes, they can use folks our age, and you can use the gifts and graces you already have. For anything from hammering nails, to cooking, to teaching or tutoring, you are needed.

You don't even need to leave Shady Cove, or this building. You can teach a Bible Study or Sunday School Class. And no, you don't need to be an expert. There are plenty of curriculums available to guide and help you. Volunteer at a hospital or a hospice. Help out at a Senior Center. Help transport folks to medical appointments; teach your skills, or help tutor the young women at Redemption Ridge; Read to kids in the local schools;
work with one of the several groups assisting the homeless; advocate for the environment. The list of opportunities is endless:s. If you don't know where to look, see me, I'll help you find it.

(Gen 12:1) The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.
Abram went.
Jesus said: "Come with me." Levi left everything and went with Jesus.

Will You?

Beers and Boats

A gentleman moved into a small town. On his first night he went to the local tavern, sat! down, and ordered three beers; drank them quietly, and went home. He repeated this every night, arousing the curiosity of the regular customers. Finally, the bartender asked him about his strange behavior.

I have two brothers. One lives in Tampa, and the other in San Francisco. We don't get together very often, so we all agreed that when we are drinking apart from each other we will each drink a beer for the others. It's our way of being together even when we are apart.”

Everyone in the bar was touched by this sign of fraternal bonding, and word of it soon spread across the local countryside. People would come from miles around just to watch the stranger drink his toast to his brothers.

Then, one late winter evening, the gentleman came into the bar as usual, took his regular seat and ordered TWO beers. Setting the beers before him, the bartender said: on behalf of the whole community, I want to offer our condolences.”

What do you mean?” came the response.

Well, when you only ordered two beers I assumed one of your brothers has died.”

No, no, my brothers are both alive and well. It's just that unlike my brothers, I've given up drinking for Lent.”

Some people are all about sacrifice!

Welcome to Lent. In my childhood, it was the custom to give up something for Lent; a sacrifice designed to help us remember Christ's sacrifice for us. I don't think too many folks still follow this practice; but if you do, I wish you well. Of course, Lent and even Easter, wouldn't have been necessary if Adam and Eve had not listened to the temptations of the serpent.

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”
2-3 The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”
4-5 The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

The one thing about the serpent's temptation that leaps off the pages of scripture is this: the serpent lied. “You won't die.” he told the woman, “Because God knows you'll be just like God.” We know that's a lie, because Eve and Adam both died, as has every generation since. Temptation is a lie. It promises us that which it can never deliver: in fact, the only thing falling for temptation does deliver is guilt and trouble. Secondly, the serpent played on the human d:desire to be more than human.
God created humanity in God’s own image,
         in the divine image God created them,[b]
           male and female God created them.
But for Adam and Eve, being simply an image wasn't enough. Like all people, they aspired to something more, something higher. And that's what the serpent offered them. “Why be God's image when you can be God's equal?” he offered. “All you have to do is eat this delicious fruit, and godhood can be yours.

John Piper says that sin "gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier." 

So Eve ate, and so did Adam. It really makes no difference who ate first, the result was the same. Guilt and shame. Yes, their eyes were opened, but what did they see? They both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. And while the Bible doesn't use the terms, sewing clot hes of fig leaves makes it clear they felt guilt and shame: the same things we feel when we have sinned.

Although guilt, and shame are often used together, they are not the same thing. Guilt says: “ I know what I did, and I know it was wrong.” Shame, on the other hand, says: “I am wrong. I am no good.” And that's exactly how the evil one wants us to feel. Not so with God. Even though Adam and Eve gave in, and even though that deformity in our spiritual DNA has been passed down to each of us. God still loves us. God still wants us. Jesus came to get the kingdom of God into us; to restore us to the image of God in which we were made. That's the reason for Lent; the reason for the Cross; and most of all, the reason for the Resurrection.

Tom carried his new boat to the edge of the river. He carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. How smoothly the boat sailed! Tom sat in the warm sunshine, admiring the little boat that he had built. Suddenly a strong current caught the boat. Tom tried to pull it back to shore, but the string broke. The little boat raced downstream.
Tom ran along the sandy shore as fast as he could. But his little boat soon slipped out of sight. All afternoon he searched for the boat. Finally, when it was too dark to look any longer, Tom sadly went home.
A few days later, on the way home from school, Tom spotted a boat just like his in a store window. When he got closer, he could see -- sure enough -- it was his!
Tom hurried to the store manager: "Sir, that's my boat in your window! I made it!"
"Sorry, son, but someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you'll have to buy it for one dollar."
Tom ran home and counted all his money. Exactly one dollar! When he reached the store, he rushed to the counter. "Here's the money for my boat." As he left the store, Tom hugged his boat and said, "Now you're twice mine. First, I made you and now I bought you." 
If you ever think that you aren't worth much and if you think you're cheap, just remember what God thinks of you. He thinks you're His. Twice His. First, you're His because He made you. And second, you're His because He bought you on the cross. He paid a price to redeem you. That price is reflected in this simple meal of bread and juice, this simple meal from the ultimate sacrifice. Come, eat, drink, give your guilt and shame to God's care, and let go of your sins to God's cross. The table is set. Forgiveness is yours for the claiming. Freedom from shame is yours for the claiming. Come and be free. Come and feast. AMEN.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Psalm of Choice

Psalm 119:1-8; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 5:21-37
February 12, 2017 Upper Rogue United Methodist Church

Today we read the first 8 verses of Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in scripture. Psalms are the hymnal of the Old Testament, and in Jesus' time were used much as we use hymns today. While in translation, they may not appear to be poetry, they are. Like much Hebrew poetry, they are not written in rhyme, but in parallelism. That is, two or more lines repeat the same idea in different words, such as:
 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
     who walk according to the law of the Lord.
This particular Psalm is divided into 22 parts, each one beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus forming an alphabetical acrostic containing praise, confession, laments,meditations, petitions, and assurances that God is always with us. Since each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a name, the poetic structure includes the meanings of those names.

Today's section is named Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet. Aleph means first, or master, reminding us that God is the master of creation and first in our hearts and minds. It is appropriate, then, that the Psalm opens with a reminder of the blessings of obedience and the curses of not obeying the law: a reminder that we need to constantly choose to walk in God's ways.
(Psa 119:1)Happy are they who are without sin in their ways, walking in the law of the Lord.
(Psa 119:5) If only my ways were ordered so that I might keep your rules!
(Psa 119:6) Then I would not be put to shame, as long as I have respect for all your teaching.

These reminders of the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience are repeated over and over in the Old Testament. It is the same message Moses put to the Hebrew people in his last speech, just before his death and their crossing into the promised land.
(Deu 30:15) See, I have put before you today, life and good, and death and evil;

(Deu 30:16) In giving you orders today to have love for the Lord your God, to go in his ways and keep his laws and his orders and his decisions, so
that you may have life and be increased, and that the blessing of the Lord your God may be with you in the land where you are going, the land of your heritage.

(Deu 30:17) But if your heart is turned away and your ear is shut, and you go after those who would make you servants and worshipers of other gods:

(Deu 30:18) I give witness against you this day that destruction will certainly be your fate, and your days will be cut short in the land where you are going, the land of your heritage on the other side of Jordan.

Moses tells the people that it is their choice, and their consequences. They can follow God, or follow the ways of the world. A choice that continues today. Like the Hebrews in the desert, like the singers of the Psalms, we are given the choice. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)

If you've ever hiked one of the many points jutting out into the Pacific along the Oregon coast, you have probably seen signs warning; Stay on the Path; do not cross fence.” One cold and windy spring day, when we were serving at the beach, I was tapped out as and emergency chaplain. It seems someone disobeyed the sign, stepped over the fence, leaned out to get a picture and fell 125 onto the surf-crashed rocks. One person dead and a multitude of rescuers endangered because of disobedience.

Centuries before Paul, the Psalmist recognizes that all have sinned and fall short of the law; and so this first segment of the Psalm ends with a prayer for help in keeping the law.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
    in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
    when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
    as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
    do not utterly forsake me.

And that's where grace comes in. The law recognizes that humans cannot, on our own, conform to the law. Atonement could be made by a sacrifice.
(Lev 9:3) Tell the people of Israel that they must offer sacrifices as well. They must offer a goat as a sacrifice for sin, and a bull and a ram as a sacrifice to please the LORD. The bull and the ram must be a year old and have nothing wrong with them.

In the crucifixion and death of Jesus, we have ultimate and final atonement; and in his resurrection the promise of life, life eternal is assured.

It is our choice. To choose life is to choose to live in new relationships; a new relationship with God; a new relationship with others; and a new relationship with creation.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. 
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." 
But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Like the children of Israel in the desert, like the Jews of the Psalmist's time; like the Romans of Paul's day, we face the choice. Life in God or life in the world? Which will it be? It's up to you.