Category Archives: ending

The Holy Week Story – Friday

Crucifixion by Mexican Artist Octavio Ocampo

Holy Week Reflections for Friday

Read Matthew 27:32-56

Those who passed by derided Jesus, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the son of God, come down from the cross.”  Matthew 27:39-40

 

Crucifixion was always done in public spaces so that Rome could demonstrate its power.  Thus Jesus was crucified out in the open, naked and humiliated, for all the world to see.  This was no private affair, like John the Baptist’s beheading inside King Herod’s palace.  Anyone and everyone mocked Jesus: the religious elite from the temple, those who passed by, even those hanging on the cross next to Jesus. (In Luke’s gospel, one thief repents, Luke 23:42-43.)  The public humiliation added to the pain and suffering. 

An amazing aspect of the taunts was that they held truth.   Jesus could have saved himself and stepped down off the cross, but instead chose to save us and stayed nailed to the cross.  The sign above his head mocked him as ‘King of the Jews;” yet the cross becomes Jesus’ throne of mercy, his royal decree of forgiveness and hope. He was “the temple of God,” where God’s Spirit resided.  

When I was in confirmation, I remember taking a test that asked for the name of the day on which Jesus died.   The answer had two blanks.  I knew that the second blank was Friday, but I could not remember what word filled the first blank.  I racked by brain, “blank Friday, blank Friday.”  Finally I filled in the blank with the word: Bad, Bad Friday.   My thinking was that it was certainly a bad day for Jesus with his suffering and death.

Of course I was wrong.  We know the day as Good Friday, because it was good for us.  God turned humanity’s total rejection of his love into the final victory for us. 

How does Jesus’ death tell the truth about our lives and world?  How does it give us hope? Where do you see God at work to redeem creation?

Prayer: Lord God, on the cross you suffered the very depths of our human brokenness and sin. Your humiliation on the cross became our path to You.  Help us to remember the depth of your love and the powerful hope you give.

Pie in the Sky?

I like pie

I remember an Andraé Crouch song from my childhood, titled “If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.”  You can hear the song here.  Crouch makes the point that our faith in Jesus offers so much in this life that we don’t need to focus on the “afterlife” or heaven to see the value in our faith.  To know that I am “good enough” as I am, to experience God’s joy, love and forgiveness, to have a purpose in living and to share in the fellowship of God’s people, these all bring value and meaning today as I live on this earth.  I can experience vibrant life in Jesus now.  Heaven is simply the desert.

 This focus on the presence has been the primary focus of my pastoral preaching and teaching, except in one key area: funerals.  Prior to my coming to Resurrection, I did a rough calculations of how many funerals or memorial services I had preached at St. Andrew’s.  It was over 500.  And each one was the opportunity to preach God’s promise of eternal life beyond this life.  

My funerals always have a celebration of the deceased’s life, but the celebration truly hinged on the promise that Jesus had prepared a place for her (John 14: 3) where she is now fully alive and free.  Though the sermon would touch on the deceased and her life, my primary message was always for the family and friends gathered. I invited them to trust Jesus and his promises as they grieve the death.  God’s promise of a new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21) is for all who trust in Jesus.  Funerals give us an eternal perspective.

Preaching about the future glories of heaven is often described as “pie-in-the-sky” preaching, because it places all the rewards in heaven while we suffer though hardship here on earth.  But M. Scott Peck is right, “life is difficult.”   We all experience hardship, pain, and injustice here on earth.  The promise of God’s new heaven and new earth is that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)   Gehard Forde once responded to the “pie-in-the-sky” charge by saying, “What’s the matter?  Don’t you like pie?”   I do.

How does the promise of heaven impact your faith?

Presidents and Leaders

G.W. - Greatest President?

As an American history major in college, I remember a discussion in which we debated who was the greatest president in our history.  Several classmates argued for Abraham Lincoln because he was able to hold the union together during the Civil War.  Others thought Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest because of his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II.  You may want to add a name or two yourself.  I thought then and continue to think that our greatest president was our first, George Washington, for one simple reason.  After two terms he stepped down.

Watching the current turmoil in North Africa as large crowds protest their countries’ long-time leaders, I am thankful that our nation has a rich history of orderly presidential transitions.  George Washington started that tradition when he potentially could have been president for life.  His advisors were advocates for a longer tenure. They feared that the country would break apart without Washington.  But Washington wanted to step down and go back to Mount Vernon.  After eight years he was ready to hand leadership to someone else.

One danger for any leader is to think that your leadership is indispensable for the organization.   That is true in businesses, congregations, colleges and non-profits.  “The organization NEEDS me,” can become an egotistical justification for remaining in a leadership position long past one’s effectiveness.   George Washington showed our nation how one can gracefully step down from high office.  He modeled  a key characteristic of what Jesus described as servant leadership:

 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  But (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” Luke 22: 24-26

What characteristics in your opinion makes a president or leader great?