Sunday’s Sermon Today: Take HOPE (Easter -Luke 24:1-12)

Do you ever say things the wrong way, like you respond or you don’t respond the right way? One of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan, shares a series of instances of “foot in mouth” disease- like when you ask someone when the baby is due – and then you realize they’re not pregnant…

Like when the attendant at the concession stand hands you your buttered popcorn and says, “Enjoy your movie.” And you say, “you too.”

When the waitress brings your dinner, and says, “Enjoy your food. Let me know if you need anything.” And you say, … “you too.” Ah! Like she is actually able to afford any of the food in the restaurant or will get to eat until her shift is over and there you are rubbing it in her face.

Regan takes it a step further though, he says he finds himself in positions where he wants to wish someone well, and ends up tongue-tied. It’s symptomatic of our lives, isn’t it? Losing track of the words we’re supposed to say…

When someone is heading into something tough, and you want to wish them luck but you also want them to be careful. So you say, “take-” but halfway through, you realize they need “luck,” too, and it comes out “take luck.” But you realize that’s bad so you say something that comes out jumbled like “take good luck and care…” It’s tongue-tied and stumbling but the thing is, sometimes, we need something like that: “good luck and take care” all mixed into one.

Easter is like that. It’s both/and. Jesus’ story changes our story but the reality of the situation we live in still involves pain and struggle sometimes. Jesus’ resurrection ends the story but it also doesn’t end the story. Jesus’ kingdom is here and not yet. Jesus’ death and resurrection changes what after-death looks like, but it’s also supposed to change the here and now, too.

It’s kind of confusing if you haven’t thought about it much. Actually, it can be confusing even if you have!

Seriously, what other story has the punch line halfway through, and then keeps going? If the Death Star blew up for good in The Empire Strikes Back, or if Iron Man destroyed all of the bad guys in the first Avengers movie, or Harry and Sally decided that they could be friends in the diner scene? Wouldn’t it change how the rest of the story played out?

In our Old Testament scripture from Isaiah 40, scripture that U2 made even more widely known through song, we hear a lament – a cry for help from one of God’s prophets. This is pre-Jesus, pre-Messiah, but it cries out for some things that I hear people crying out for today.

Peace. Justice. Love.

We hear a cry for help, a cry for God to come through, to raise up the valley, to lower the mountains, to reveal the glory of God (Isaiah 40:4-5). It’s a cry to make things fair and right again, to settle things so that the people looking to God can find peace and rest. They’re not crying because the people are doing well, because they’re happy – that’s not when people cry out to God, right? They cry out when they’re under fire.

And yet, in the midst of the people’s struggle, in the occupation of their land by people who didn’t understand them or care about them, the prophet reminded them that God had promised that everything would be redeemed one day. God promised them everything would ultimately work to their good – even when it didn’t always feel like that. God promised that in the midst of everything, good and bad, that God would be there.

That’s good news, right?

Maybe you don’t feel like that today. Maybe you have been struggling with financial stress, marital discord, health problems, the death of a loved one – something that makes you feel like you are here and God is way, way over there.

Isaiah gets how you feel. That’s why he uses the shepherd imagery to get his point across: that God is the good shepherd who will lift up his lambs and care for them. It shows that God leads, and provides for, and protects God’s followers. It shows that God, the shepherd, who keeps things close. It shows that God sees and knows things that God’s people, the sheep, can’t even comprehend because the sheep are the ones looking for the next blade of grass, the stream of water, the place to sleep – the immediate needs.

In the midst of oppression and opposition, in a world pre-Jesus, God sees the big picture: the God of the universe promised that the covenant, originated with Adam, and Noah, and Abraham would not be denied. We have scripture post-Jesus to comfort us, but sometimes we don’t find comfort there.

Whether it’s those people back then or to us today, Isaiah delivers some tough love, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah knows what it is to experience the grind. He knows what it’s like to live in a world where fear exists, where worry grows, where the people around us that we need more, we deserve more, we should have more, that we’ll never have enough.

And in the midst of this, before the Messiah has even come, Isaiah remembers God to the people. He tells them not to fear, but to hope. Isaiah tells them to hang on, to hold on, to simply believe in the goodness of God.

But what about us? What do we hope in?

You can hope in money, or power, or your job, or your relationships. But most, if not all, of that is going to fade.

I know some people who, when their lives get rough, they get walking. Walking away from their responsibilities, their families, their church. When they have problems, they cut out the things that they think are ‘extra,’ and church is one of them. When they deal with emotional or physical pain, they hit an addiction, figuring that masking the pain is better than dealing with it.

I know some other people who, when things get bad, they get serious. Serious about prayer, about church, about accountability, about how they can find God in the midst of all of the other stuff. They don’t have all the answers and God knows they’re not perfect. But they place their hope and their need for grace in Jesus’ nail-pierced hands.

Those people are like the women we heard about in Luke 24.

Luke writes that some struggling, distressed women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. They went to see their best friend, their teacher, their leader one last time. He was already dead, their hope was gone. They weren’t thinking about what he had said, that he would rise again in three days, but rather, they were focused on the reality right in front of them. They didn’t know how to go on, but they knew they needed to honor Jesus.

They were hope- less. But they weren’t ungrounded.

We know from reading the various gospels that what the women found was not what they expected. Jesus wasn’t there in the tomb, not in person or as just a corpse. The angels in Luke are pretty blunt: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee.”

The angels could’ve quoted Isaiah 40:21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

The disciples, these women, were supposed to know. They had been told; they had received the message. They had relationships with Jesus that would have backed up what he told them, so that they understood they could trust him. They could’ve known better, but who knew that people rose from the dead? Who comes back from that?

The thing is, once the disciples saw it for themselves, they couldn’t stop talking about it. They told everyone they could, but those people had to go and see it for themselves. But the stone rolled away, the vanished Roman centurions, and the disappeared Jesus himself – those were too amazing to be ignored!

So, consider that for a moment. The disciples were still under occupied rule. But they weren’t just enslaved – they were persecuted because they wouldn’t obey their own rulers and made outcasts. The term “Christians” was a slur, intended to defame and slander.

And yet, here we are. Because when they realized Jesus was risen, they couldn’t keep quiet. And the story of Jesus teachings, and miracles, and resurrection showed something about how God cared for the world that people hadn’t gotten before.

But, still, bad stuff happens.

In some ways, things haven’t changed. We still live in a world where we’re told we should be afraid. Whether it’s the nightly news or the talking heads on a twenty-four-hour news conglomerate, we’re told how much “those people” and these issues affect us.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who mentioned the ways that the “news” had become agenda-driven by someone else. Whether it was single-parent families or same-sex relationships, some would have us to believe that this is the downfall of our society and our church.

What about the way that we’ve overspent and borrowed our way into debt?

What about the failure as a community to put “loving God and loving others” before our own needs and desires?

What about forgetting the fervent prayer of Jesus lived out even to the death on the cross that we would forgive others, even when they continued to wrong us? [Sidebar: seriously, Jesus is on the cross, and he’s saying, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Forgive these people nailing me to a cross. Forgive these people who hate me and persecute me and slander my name even though I’m your son, even though I’m God. Jesus’ forgiveness quotient is unbelievable! End sidebar.]

Are we guilty of forgetting all those things? Are we guilty of getting stuck looking at the ground when we should be looking up to a great God in a great world made for us to live and thrive in?

My favorite Switchfoot song (“The Shadows Prove the Sunshine”) goes something like this:

Oh Lord, why did you forsake me?
Oh Lord, don’t be far away away
Storm clouds gathering beside me
Please Lord, don’t look the other way

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight
Dry eyes in the pouring rain
The shadow proves the sunshine
The shadow proves the sunshine

We can’t see how bright it is until we’ve seen the dark. We can’t see the glory until we’ve experienced the pain. We can’t understand grace until we admit that we’re sinners in need of a savior, that we can’t get by on our own. The shadows in our lives show us that the sun/Son still shines!

Jesus had to die so that real life could be proven in God’s grace. Just like an acorn falls to the ground “dead” so that a great oak tree can rise to life, just like we die to ourselves in baptism and confirmation so that new life can occur, Jesus died so that we would see that real life was possible!

Friends, Easter is a great day. It is wonderful to remember and to celebrate,  to sing and to shout. But if it is not lived out in our daily practice, if we don’t forget that the point of the story has already been told to us – that is, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, crushing death in his wake – then Easter doesn’t mean a thing.

If we are content to let others tell us what to buy, who to fear, what we need, and who is “out” so that we are “in”, then Jesus might as well have stayed in the tomb. Because Jesus didn’t die for us to be scared or judgmental.

Jesus died for us to be free.

If we let the darkness in life steal our hope and our joy and even our faith, then the fact that we’re here right now doesn’t mean much. If we don’t hold onto the hope of the empty tomb, then our lives are missing the mark – one definition of sin – and we leave the potential God has for us unfulfilled. Because Jesus didn’t die for us to be miserable or stuck in sin.

The angels coronated Jesus at his birth singing a song of freedom and salvation for all, and Jesus preached it all along. But if we don’t live like we’re saved, if we don’t remember that Jesus died for us and for everyone else, even Isis, and our terrible next door neighbor, and the bully at work or school, then we’ve supplied the nails and forgotten that the tomb door is left hanging open and the passover sheep has escaped…

Jesus died and rose again so that you could have life and have life abundantly.

Jesus died and rose again so that you would recognize that you could and should live differently.

Jesus died and rose again so that you would know that you were loved by the great God of the universe who created the world, covenanted with the people, and refuses to give up on us even when we worry, fear, and sin against God.

Jesus died and rose again so that we could see, that hope sung about by Isaiah was a hope fulfilled not a dream deferred, that hope was the unquenchable, unconquerable, unassailable quality instilled in us for the way that the world should and will be.

Jesus busted the hinges off of the tomb, left them broken behind him, and announced that the kingdom of God is coming.

All of your worry – which is just fear that’s been allowed to fester, all of your anger over life not going the way you hoped, all of your desperation in seeking to have more – all of that is left nailed to the cross, if you’ll let it. And in return, in his nail-holed hands, Jesus offers you salvation, and love, and a place in the center of God’s will. It’s all wrapped up, not in care or luck or wishing on a star. But in one simple gift:

Take hope.

So, that just leaves one question on this fine Easter morning: what are you going to do about it? How will you fight the darkness in your own life?

Will we leave here and choose to give up judging others, gossiping about them, thinking less of them, knowing that only God’s love truly gives us power?

Will we leave here and choose to live tomorrow like it’s a gift, and make each day a tribute to what God has done and is doing?

Will we recognize that to celebrate Easter means living tomorrow in the grace and peace of Jesus, casting out all anger and fear?

I hope we will. Won’t you join me in living out life with an eye toward heaven and two feet in this life? Won’t you join me in wishing us all well, not in luck or care?

Won’t you, “Take hope”?

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All Hail King Julien! (TV Review)

allhailkingjulien1You may not have heard, but the obnoxiously overbearing lemur king from Madagascar, Julien (Danny Jacobs), has his own Netflix original television show! The second batch of five episodes release on Friday, and I caught a sneak peek of several of the episodes. If Penguins of Madgascar and the original trilogy of Madagascar were your thing, then you should make haste to the lemur kingdom forthwith!

Julien is up to his usual shenanigans, expecting absolute obedience and delivering his nonsensical, self-absorbed kingly decisions. Andy Richter voices Julien’s ‘henchman’ Mort (and Ted), while Kevin Michael Richardson voices his other buddy, Maurice (and Chauncey). However, India de Beaufort’s Clover may be the smartest character, as she seems to constantly be trying to do her duty to protect the hapless king. But Julien sees new character, the tenrec Timo (David Krumholtz) as a magician because he knows “science,” and gives him most of the credit.

Of the episodes I saw, my favorite was the one where the evil fanoloka Karl (Dwight Schultz) tricks Julien into loving coffee… and causing the addiction of his whole kingdom. It’s hilarious to watch the obsession with the drink, and the way that the hooked-on-caffeine feelings play out throughout the kingdom. That it’s called “Brown Julien” (like “Orange Julius”) is clever enough, but the hijinks that occur made this my clear favorite.

You might learn a thing or two from King Julien, but mostly, you’ll just laugh and shake your head. rating: rent it

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The Bible Says What? “Lessons in Common Sense” (Ex. 20:22-23:19) #9

10commandmentsThe Ten Commandments have been delivered. And we have enough time following them. But it’s not like God was done speaking then. There are plenty more admonitions and warnings to be mentioned after that. And it’s possible that they have even more to say about the heart of God then the ‘big ten’. But these aren’t hanging up in anyone’s court and I’ve never heard anyone fight over Exodus chapter 21. So what gives?

God definitely understands that the way people learn is “repetition, repetition, repetition.” He tells Moses (again) in 20:23:”Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” Is there any wonder that we still mess up our lives the most when we worship something else other than God, whether it’s money, power, sex, fame, etc.? And yet, the opposite is true, too: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you” (v. 24).

But let’s get at these ‘additional instructions’ without any cute names, and see what’s going on there:

Slavery was allowed, but after six years of slavery, the person (if Hebrew) went free without paying their debt (Ex. 21:2). Sounds semi-compassionate. Then you get to verse 4, and a slave who married another slave during slavery, the wife and potential children didn’t go free. Sounds systematic, and indubitably, it makes my skin crawl. Quite frankly, the next sets of verses about slavery make me think this is all some kind of backlash against the way the Egyptians held slaves, but doesn’t sound like the God I know. This sounds like Moses working within the system to try to create order, while at the same time encouraging the Israelites to behave better than the Egyptians. Either way, I just can’t wrap my mind around slavery being acceptable to God, and as a ‘canon reader,’ I have to assume that this came through the mouthpiece/viewpoint of Moses trying to keep the peace. It still stinks.

Beyond slavery, we get some interesting points:

-If someone killed another in anger/on purpose, they were to die; if it was manslaughter/unintentional, God provided places they could flee to (7 cities, I think), but they dodged a bullet if the person they hit could recover and walk away. Attack or curse your parents, and it was no doubt, off with your head. Kidnapping meant death, too (Ex. 21:14-18).

-Obviously, offspring are always important from maintaining culture and family lines, but it’s shocking (given the current arguments over what a person is or isn’t) that the unborn fetus was protected as early as Mt. Sinai with lethal repercussions (Ex. 21:22-25).

-Your bull kills someone, the bull dies; the bull kills someone after they’ve already killed someone, you die (Ex. 21:28-32). Guess you’d be smart to keep that bull on a leash.

-“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed” (Ex. 22:2-3). What you can see in front of you counts.

-Here’s a bit of amusing, very detailed ruling: if your tools were stolen while a neighbor was boring them, the neighbor is on the hook for restitution (22:7-9). Can you imagine how much more quickly tools were returned in Moses’ day?

-Sex wasn’t to be taken lightly, because it was ultimately the way that the nation would continue. The legacy and covenant would be passed down so having children out of wedlock didn’t help anything (Ex. 22:16-17). It’s why sex with animals was taboo, too – to cut down on centaurs participating in the covenant (Ex .22:19).

… and then it gets good. Check out the following verses:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (22:21). In other words, “you know what it’s like, so don’t do it to anyone else.” If we were more aware of times we’d been mistreated, how would we react differently?

Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Ex. 22:22-24). There are lots of the world’s ills blamed on fatherless children. What would happen if you and I (and the church) made them a priority? What would happen if we helped them rather than blaming them?

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Ex. 22:25-27). Again, don’t marginalize or mistreat those who are in need, because once, you were in need.

-We already know we’re not to spread false witness, but we treat ‘gossip’ like it’s not really a big deal.  But God knows the way word spreads like wildfire, and the way those words can cause more damage than many actions can: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness” (Ex. 23:1).

– NEWSFLASH, COMMON SENSE COMING: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit” (Ex. 23:2-3). That might be my favorite instruction in the whole section. Don’t follow the crowd! Don’t get caught up in the group think! Don’t buy into the hype! As I type, I’m shaking my head… when will we learn?

-If you see someone else’s property in trouble, help them, don’t just let it slide because they’re your enemy (Ex. 23:4-5).

-And again: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). “You, who’ve been oppressed, should fight oppression.” Seriously, how many people have done wrong to someone else because of the wrong done to them? Societal woe #1?

-The law of fallow: the Israelites were to work the fields for six years and to leave it unused in the seventh. We’ve lost sight of not working, not laboring, not overusing things. We trumpet more and more production to negative effect. God was trying to help the land and the people (Ex. 23:10-12).

-And then, for the fiftieth time, God says, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Ex. 23:14).

No matter how you slice it, God keeps coming back to pushing respect for each other, and for God. It’s pretty clear that it boils down to “loving God and loving others,” no matter how many stipulations or levels of detail we’re provided. If we accepted faith/religion/practice as simplified to those two things, would we be any more successful? Would we be any more faithful? There’s a simplicity there that bears examining … but the levels of rules and regulations is only going to grow over the next few books of the Bible. Stay tuned.

Any rules that struck you right, wrong, or different? Reply below!

 

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The Bible Says What? Moses & The Weight Of Leadership (Exodus 17:7-20:21) #8

mosesarmsMoses thought it was bad when he was performing the largest jailbreak in the history of humanity, liberating the Israelites from Egypt. But he hadn’t taken into consideration what life would be like when he was actually leading this group of newly-liberated ex-slaves around house-hunting. Seriously, if Moses had a low deodorant kind of day, the freedom trail might have ended right there with the Amalekites slaughtering Joshua’s ragtag army at Rephidim.

But Moses was rolling with Degree that day, and as long as his arms kept his hands in the air like he just didn’t (or did) care, the Israelites won. If his arms drooped, they were going to lose. So, Moses’ number two and three lieutenants, Aaron and Hur, held up his arms. Then things get even more interesting than a couple of arms in the air: Moses’ father-in-law arrives to give him advice.

While Jethro is visiting, he observes Moses sit as the sole decider of every issue that the Israelites face. Petty stuff like where to park their camel, disagreements over the right way to wear their tassels, family squabbles over inheritances, frustration over the missing sheep and cattle. Every last thing, from circuit court material to Judge Judy episodes, Moses was judge, jury, and executioner. Now, Jethro, an outsider who didn’t believe in God, had just converted because of Moses’ testimony (Ex. 18:10-12), but his worldly experience told him that Moses couldn’t sustain the practice of handling every little detail.

“What you’re doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone,” Jethro said. “You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how to behave. Select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men, who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials” (Ex. 18:17-22).

This is solid advice from an older man who has seen the world, instructing his younger ‘son’ in the ways he can be a better leader. It’s practical but it’s also theological, because Jethro says, “If you will do this and God commands..” And it is followed up, compounded, launched off of by the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. (Not to be confused with ten suggestions, options, or possibilities, but ten commands.) I’ve never heard it preached about this way, but before there were the Ten Commandments, Moses tried to do it on his own.

Whether it was a question of Moses thinking he could handle it, that God didn’t care or want to be bothered, or that he hadn’t really stopped to process the system at all, Moses’ way of doing things wasn’t working. But then, thanks to a mentor who wasn’t even an ‘insider,’ Moses is turned back to God as the center, the judge, the savior. This makes me wonder: do I listen to good advice regardless of the source? (Of course, that requires discernment, but still: have we ignored God’s voice to us because we dismissed the messenger?)

And then there’s the big picture: God wouldn’t (or didn’t) deliver the Ten Commandments that the Israelites were to live their lives by until someone was ready to receive them. But when Moses was ready to leave, God delivered the “ten words.” Having just preached an eleven-week sermon series on the Ten Commandments, I’ll leave those well enough alone. But you can check them out starting here, if that’s of interest. Suffice to say, all of the commandments are about God, but they’re also about family, community, and society as a whole. Again, pouring out of one man’s recognizing that he could not bear the weight of judgment alone.

Suddenly, as Moses delivers the Ten Commandments, the people get it  – Moses is different from them, because God has chosen him. “Speak to us yourself and we will listen,” the people said. “But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Ex. 20:19). Being God’s “first man” put Adam in a position (post-eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) carried responsibility and consequences, and for Moses, those same weights are now passed down to him even more than when he was wrestling Pharaoh.

From raising up his arms to delivering the rules that would govern the Israelite society, Moses is discovering what it means to be a leader for God. In the process, we might learn something about the power of prayer, and of mentoring, for ourselves.

 

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Sunday’s Sermon Today: The Script Is Flipped (Luke 19:28-48)

Easter is only a week away. Around here, where spring has sprung after a cold, snowy winter, it seems like Christmas wasn’t that long ago. Ash Wednesday was snowed out – and we missed one of the Sundays, too. But ready or not, Easter is here – ready to launch itself into our busy world, and celebrate a new life through Jesus Christ, king and Messiah.

The truth is, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago was just as surprising then as it is to the average person on the street today.

What Jesus was, who Jesus was, was not who anyone expected.

The Jews were expecting someone on a white horse, someone ready to be a military leader, in power and glory. They were expecting that the Messiah would show up in fury, violence, surrounded by warriors. They had seen this script before, like a movie playing out the way that war movies always play out.

But then, there’s Jesus.

Jesus shows up, riding on a colt, not a warhorse.

Jesus shows up, and the people sing praises to the “king,” singing about “peace in heaven” but hoping for war on earth.

Jesus shows up, debating the Pharisees but never swinging a sword.

Of course, it does say in Luke 19:45-16 that Jesus does clear out the temple of those selling sacrificial animals at inflated rates. But there’s no apocalyptic confrontation.

In fact, it says that Jesus taught every day in the temple -not exactly hiding out as a guerrilla combatant or storming the castle. It says he does this in the presence of his enemies, the teachers of the law and the leaders.

All of that can feel “same old, same old” when it comes to preaching Palm Sunday or worse yet, hearing the same sermon! But what if we took the principles Jesus displays here as he enters Jerusalem (and over the next few days) and lived them out?

1- Jesus enters humbly, not with angel attendants or giant vanguard, selecting the lowest possible way to begin his final week. He knows the way people are responding but he’s “keeping it real.” Seriously, how many of us, knowing our final week was upon us, would choose to stay grounded and humble? How many of us would dial up room service, make it all about us? Jesus, fully God and fully man, clearly had a lot to wrestle with, but even in the midst of this celebration, he keeps it even keeled. Jesus clearly doesn’t read his own press clippings.

I remember the one time I “had it going on.” I was a senior in high school, and I’d earned a scholarship to one school academically. But the other school I was looking at, the swimming coach kept calling, telling me how he wanted me on the team. As a high schooler, and with only one coach calling, this was a big deal. He wanted me – or so he said.

But we have a tendency to get sucked in by the people who tell us things we want to hear. We read what other people say about us thanks to Facebook or Twitter; we measure our lives in likes or shares or the gossip that gets back to us. What would it look like if we didn’t get too high (or too low) based on what others thought of us or expected of us? What if we remembered that we were God’s children, that God had a plan? That will consistently factor in to the decisions Jesus makes.

2- Jesus is willing to work, even if it means doing the dirty work. Upon entering the temple, he messes with some hard folks, some dangerous people. These folks selling doves and sheep and more for higher costs, knowing that the people entering the temple are in desperate need of sacrificial animals, are not to be trifled with in the way we remember this. And Jesus, son of a carpenter and full-time teacher, physically confronts these people to take back the purpose of worship. While other people want to celebrate him as a potential Jewish king, Jesus rolls up his sleeves and wades in to do the work. What would our lives look like if we struggled against the ‘hype’ and did the work that no one else wanted to handle? Can you imagine looking for the dirty jobs in your life, and volunteering so that others didn’t have to?

When I was in seminary, I spent one summer working for the township’s water and sewer division. We read meters, shoveled (cough) stuff, and drove heavy duty equipment. But there was a guy there named Tommy who was completely unfazed by anything we did. Tommy had worked for water and sewer for forty years, and drove a sump pump after hours for more money. Once, he walked out on the beam to fix a rotor on the centrifuge … and fell in! He hopped out, washed himself off, and went back to work. He was unafraid of the junk he would face.

What about us? Do we face things head on? Do we show grit in the face of work, even dirty work? What if we were quick to confront impropriety in our own lives, and noticed when others were being mistreated, and did something about it?

3- Jesus stays “at it,” even in the midst of his enemies. Jesus’ enemies are all around him, plotting his demise and he’s still teaching about the kingdom of God. Do you know why you’re here? Not, like “my mom, wife, etc. dragged me to church today.” I mean: Do you know what your God-given purpose is? Do you know what it is that you’re supposed to do to make a difference?

One of the things I love about superheroes is that early on, there’s usually a moment or conversation that defines them. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do about the problems of the world, and someone helps them determine it. In Jesus’ case, that happened three years prior when he was baptized (only a few months ago for us!) Jesus doesn’t need to DTR (define the relationship) at this point because he knows what he’s supposed to do – teach the good news of the kingdom of God. So he does it, regardless of the cost personally.

Let’s skip ahead a bit, from Sunday to Thursday of Holy Week, consider it “foreshadowing” in the script…

4- Jesus will lead by serving, washing his disciples’ feet. It’s his last meal and he’s thinking about everyone else. He’s washing feet (the role of the servant or slaves), he’s empowering them, instilling hope, even as they know the walls are closing around him. Jesus is self-less, not just in the way he dies on the cross, but in the way he treats others. Are you that selfless?

I know I’m not. I tend to worry about my own hunger, happiness, or desires. I want to get mine too often, and it gets in the way of following Jesus. Sure, we’ll never be nailed to the cross for our faith so we can’t do that like Jesus, but what about loving unconditionally? What about sharing our faith in genuine way? What about caring for the needs of our family, friends, neighbors, and community without regard for ourselves?

I read recently that we shouldn’t love our neighbor as ourselves (as it’s popularly interpreted) but we should love them better. We should love ourselves better. We should love… relentlessly.

5- Finally, and most importantly, Jesus will put his trust in prayer and in God’s mighty plan. I’ve written before about how I worry about things, how I can get anxious or overly excited over something in the future I can’t control. Let’s face it, I just don’t like change. But the truth is, if Jesus can know that things aren’t looking good for him, that his enemies are coming for him, and he can remain a “non-anxious presence” and care for those around him, then why sweat the little stuff?

Why not “let go and let God”? Why not pray more and worry less? Why not recognize that everything about our lives is in God’s hands?

A month ago, I went to the doctor’s because my heart was flip-flopping. If you’ve never felt a heart palpitation, I’m not sure I can describe it very well. It’s like having someone punch you (with some strength) in the chest, but the sensation is coming from the inside. I underwent test after test, but they just couldn’t find anything that really put a reason to the sensation I was having. For the first few weeks, I agonized. Was my heart imploding? Was there some major condition wrong with me, going undetected?

I wasn’t given any reasons – I didn’t have any answers. But one day, in the midst of reflecting and praying, I came to this conclusion. Drum roll, please…. Worrying wasn’t improving my situation at all.

So, I decided – and yes, I think it’s a decision sometimes – to trust that God had a plan.

It’s not a novel idea. But if we look at Jesus’ life and example, there’s more there than “just” dying on the cross. Jesus lived humbly, boldly, and faithfully.

No one is throwing a parade for you tomorrow morning, but how will you enter your day at home, at work, in your community? Will you go boldly, trusting God’s plan and resting in God’s presence?

It’s so unexpected, so countercultural, it just might work.

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Into The Woods: Danger Lurks (Movie Review)

intothewoodsSince the 1990s, stars have been lining up for potential film adaptations of Into the Woods, from Robin Williams to Meg Ryan. Walt Disney’s musical adaptation of the Broadway show was a success of epic proportions, netting two hundred million dollars worldwide and garnering three Academy Award nominations (Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design). Director Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesChicago) no doubt succeeded with James Lapine’s film adaptation of his own Broadway play, thanks to the host of actors and actresses who filled out the roster, including Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman, and James Corden. But there is plenty of magic to go around in this fairy tale twist of mythical proportions.

A Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) are cursed with barrenness by the Witch (Streep), for crimes the Baker’s father committed. The couple will come in contact with various characters from our fairy tale memories like Jack of the Beanstalk fame (Daniel Huttlestone), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), the Big Bad Wolf (Depp), Cinderella (Kendrick), an Evil Stepmother (and the Prince (Pine), as well as ones we haven’t, like Jack’s mother (Ullman), the Giant’s wife (Frances del la Tour).

It’s a singing fairytale kind of movie that surrounds the desires of the hearts of the Witch, the Baker, and the Baker’s Wife, and entertains us as they travel this moral road less travelled. In the process of pursuing their dreams, the characters all squabble with each other, and ultimately work together by default when faced with the Giant’s wife. Sadly though, even some of the characters we think we should like pay the ultimate price.

I’m never much one for singing and movies, but the sets and special effects were spectacularly epic. And Streep is awesome as the Witch. Fans will enjoy the Sondheim Original “She’ll Be Back” performed by Streep, as well as a behind-the-scenes look into how they made the woods, got the cast, etc. Oh, and you skip all of the talking points and use the feature to jump straight to the songs you like. For a non-musical rube like me, it’s a ratings: borrow it but for everyone else, I imagine it’s a gotta have it!

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Harlan Coben’s The Stranger: Thrilling Morality Play (Book Review)

Harlan Coben strikes again.

In this latest thriller, a stranger approaches lacrosse dad Adam Price in a bar one night and tells him that his wife faked a pregnancy. He’s left with a decision: to press the issue and find out the truth, or to let it go and always wonder? So, when he raises the question, he sets in motion a series of events that ultimately lead to the revelation of a bigger conspiracy, where everything hangs in the balance.

When his wife goes missing after their confrontation, Price is left with two questioning teenage boys, some of his wife’s friends, and several town leaders who want to know what’s going on. It’s not quite The Stepford Wives but there’s more going on here than you’d initially expect, and it’s not just Price’s wife, Corrine, who the stranger is out to get. Coben will tie in several figures from various towns and states to make for a tangled web, but you’ll be searching for answers about whether this is supernatural … or something sinisterly human. [At one point, I was imagining The Box…]

Having read absolutely every one of Coben’s books to date, I’ll say that this one was good but not great. Some of the characters seemed to be repeats of previous ones (or Linwood Barclay ones), interjected in at times to move the plot along, but failing to really capture the creativity that I love Coben for. One of the main perpetrators of violence just didn’t make sense; simplifying it down to the way it was ultimately resolved was much more fulfilling. rating: rainy day it (go buy Tell No One)

 

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