Waiting Expectantly

So here we are.  Today, Holy Saturday.  The excitement and buzz around yesterday’s execution has subsided and the celebration of tomorrow’s fulfilled promise is yet to take place.  Today it is dark and it is quiet.

Falling between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday is the time in Holy Week where believers are called to pause and reflect on the burial of Jesus.  Like many of the events surrounding the final days of the incarnate Nazarene, the gospels do not agree on all of the details pertaining to the burial of the Son of God.   However, similarities do exist that provide still further insight into the character of Christ.

In all four gospels, the reader is introduced to a (surprisingly) rich disciple known simply as Joseph of Arimathea.  We are told that he was a “respected member of the council,” (Mark 15:43 NRSV) but not told which one.  It is clear that he had some influence for he convinces Pontius Pilate to turn over the dead body of Christ.  Upon reception, the burial proceeds in a rather traditional manner.  Jesus is wrapped in linen, anointed with fragrance, and placed in a previously unused tomb.  There are woman mourners present and the entire ceremony occurs in such a manner that the body can be buried before sundown in accordance with tradition.  With the exception of the reality of the person being buried, there is nothing particularly astounding about the process.  The story’s undertaker, Joseph of Arimathea, does however raise further curiosity.

Such a traditional ceremony is surprising from someone who may not have been a Jew.  Arimathea was an Israelite town and the council mentioned in Mark may have been one composed of Hebrews, however John explains Joseph’s previously anonymity by writing that his discipleship occurred in secret due to his, “fear of the Jews” (19:38 NRSV).  This fear may have been that of a cautious outsider or of a nervous inside betrayer of the faith.  Despite his ethnicity, one thing is made very clear, this man from Arimathea had money; enough money to afford a brand new tomb; enough money, and therefore means, to meet and make requests of the Governor of Rome. Here we find not the command to the rich young ruler to sell all of your possessions to have treasure in Heaven, nor do we hear anything about a camel or an eye of the needle.  Joseph does not resemble one of the nomadic twelve who gave up material wealth to follow Jesus of Nazareth, but that does not mean that he did not suffer.

The gospels also tell us that Joseph of Arimathea was expectantly awaiting the Kingdom of God. While other disciples we confused with issues of status in the afterlife and proper conduct in the present one, Joseph concerned himself with that which Jesus spoke of the most; the Kingdom.  A Kingdom in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  An odd thing to expectantly await from a powerful and wealthy individual.  But, just because Joseph’s suffering is not easily visibly identified, does not mean it doesn’t exist.

In the midst of doing ministry, it is easy to be consumed by visible need.  Jesus spoke frequently about caring for the hungry, poor, and outcast; the least of these.  However, Jesus also commanded us to love your neighbor as yourself.  Not just the beggar on the street corner, but also the CEO on Wall Street.  Grammy award winning Gungor express this sentiment in song, “Atheists and charlatans/and communists and lesbians/and even ‘ol Pat Robertson/Oh God, He loves us all/Catholic or Protestant/terrorist or president/everybody, everybody loved.”

We know not the specifics of Joseph’s affliction, but for someone who expectantly awaited the radical change of current circumstance, we can be certain that it existed.  There are no stories of the sacrifices of this man in response to his faith.  Rather we meet him just as he is.  While others are still reverberating from the aftershock of the crucifixion, this man takes it upon himself to care for the body.  We find him, on Holy Saturday, ready to receive the salvation of the cross, expectantly awaiting the Kingdom.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Ben Wright of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Palm Sunday Liturgy

The following is a liturgy/guide that was written for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on April 1, 2012.

Worship on the Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm/Passion Sunday – April 1, 2012

On this sixth and final Sunday in Lent, let us remember that the word the crowds yelled as Jesus and his disciples entered the city of Jerusalem was “Hosanna.” This word means “save us” and could be the word that we use roughly 2,000 years later to call upon this same Jesus to be Lord of our lives. But, we cannot and should not forget that it was only five days later, on the day we call “Good Friday,” that Jesus  was crucified and killed. Oh, how quickly “save us” can turn to “leave us alone.” This has been the story of the scripture from creation until this pivotal week that we have entered again today.

Today, we begin the Christian celebration of Holy Week on the day we call Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday—for there is so little separation in our hearts between devotion and treason. As we light this candle to symbolize Jesus’ presence here with us in worship, let’s take a moment to say “hosanna” in our hearts and humbly to welcome Jesus into the place to teach and guide us.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Even as we journey to the cross : let us raise our voices in song.

Song: Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai

Lyrics:
Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai
Blessed is he who comes
Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai
Who comes in the name of the Lord

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Psalm 118:5-7, 17-26
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
Zechariah 9:9-13

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
John 12:12-16
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Group Reflection on the Scripture

Saint Andrew of Crete, the 8th Century bishop and Church Father, once wrote, “ So let us spread before [Jesus'] feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere braches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming braches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.”

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer

Song: Great is Thy Faithfulness

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Amen.

Humility

St. Anthony the Great, who some call the “Father of All Monks” and the “Father of Monasticism,” was a third and fourth century Christian leader and teacher who confined himself to the wilderness of the Egyptian deserts so that he might undertake a life of devotion to, and pursuit of, his Lord Jesus. It was in the wilderness that Anthony was pushed away from comfort and predictability and into the forming hands of God. He once wrote, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’ ” It was these snares that Anthony fled to the desert to escape, but his writings and prayers make it clear that he found temptation even in a land of lack. As he would often indicate in his later writings, it seems that we cannot ever escape sin or temptation as we carry them with us wherever we flee.

But Anthony points to a sublime truth in his reflection on the snares of sin in this world. The only path that leads us through countless obstacles will be the path that forces us to become more dependent upon our Lord and less dependent upon ourselves and our abilities: the path of humility. This is a notoriously difficult path to walk because it begins with sacrifice, continues through struggle, and finishes in releasing all that we are to a God who is at times elusive and speaks with a still small voice. Anyone who sets out on this path without fear or hesitation must not be deeply considering what it means for their life, for we know that God can and will ask for nearly anything from us and the path of humility demands our sacrifice before we’ve even reviewed the terms of of our devotion. In short, the path of humility carries us into the Kingdom of God, but prohibits us from carrying anything with us through the doors. It is along this path that we learn slowly to utter the words of our brother, Job: “Even if God slays me–even then I will trust in God.” (Job 13:15)

But, how do we take up such a path? If we want to be saved and to seek out a Lord who asks us to make ourselves less, then what are the first steps along that path? Almost 1,000 years later, one of Anthony’s spiritual descendants, Gregory of Sinai, encouraged Christians who sought the path of humility not to wonder whether they were or were not a “greater sinner” than their neighbor. Instead, each of us should assume, like Paul in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim 1:15), that we are the foremost of all sinners. Of course, to do this in word only is to gratify the ego and to drink deeply from the subtle sin of spiritual pride–it is to speak truth while harboring arrogance in the heart.

But, if we’ll make ourselves less and make our Lord more, while knowing that our sin is more than sufficient to make us the slaves of evil and death, then we will find that the path of humility leads us out of death and into life–we will find that no snare can restrain us from fleeing to our Father who waits by the road and eagerly searches for his prodigal sons and daughters to come over the hill with repentance on their lips and hearts now empty enough to welcome in a Lord who loves them more than life itself. After all, this is the path–the path of humility–that leads to life both before Anthony said it and continuing now and into the as yet unconsidered future.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Josh Hearne of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Who does the will of his father?

You remember the parable of the two sons Jesus talks about? In Matthew 21, Jesus tells a parable, speaking to all sorts of people, but appearing to focus on those who are hypocritical and self-righteous. He says, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The first,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” It seems every time Jesus talks in these parables, there’s so much packed in each one. I think he’s trying to reveal the hypocrisy of some of those in the audience, inspire repentance, show the mercy and grace of God, and possibly provoke some of those who think they’ve got it all figured out.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I really don’t know a whole lot about everything that is going on here but I would like to tell you what my take is on this parable and how it has convicted me. So, it seems there are Pharisees and other people who were known for their hypocritical lifestyle among many other people from different backgrounds in the audience. Jesus appears to tell this parable in a way that is not preachy, giving his audience a lesson, but in a way that inspires self-conviction. We’ve all been in a situation similar to these two sons. We’ve been given a task we may not want to do, but we have been asked and we should follow through. I find myself in situations like this all the time. Not just limited to obeying my own father, but with other people as well. For instance, one thing I do all the time when someone asks me to pray for them is to say, “Definitely, I’ll pray for you.” Later, I find that I just pushed it in the back of my mind and I completely disregarded their request. How hypocritical of me! I wish I could go back to those people whom I told them I would pray for them so that I could repent…I would probably just push that to the back of my mind too…(Lord, forgive me, sinner that I am).

God’s grace allows us to repent, move on and take steps to live more obediently. This grace is shown in this parable. When the first son says, “I will not,” he is deliberately disobedient. He probably thinks about it and is convicted, so he repents and goes to work. Even though this son sins, Jesus uses this as an example that we will sin, but God shows mercy on us and allows us to repent and take a step toward doing the will of our Father. Jesus is more concerned with us obeying that the work actually getting done, which is evident in his question. He asks, “Who did what his father wanted?” not specifically, “Who worked in the vineyard?” He cares that both get done, but if our heart is changed, our actions will show it.

Then he says after they answered him that the sinners and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of them. How provocative is that? How upside-down is that from their point of view? They’re thinking, “Prostitutes and sinners?…They’re entering heaven before me? But I follow all the laws and commandments!” And yet, Jesus says this to reveal that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a place we can get into by following laws or going to church or just “working in the vineyard.” It’s a place for sinners who repent and realize that we don’t have everything figured out. It’s a place for people who have been transformed by a God who loves us unconditionally; for prostitutes, drunkards, addicts, sinners who embrace Jesus because of his love. So here’s our chance – let’s repent and lay down our pride, after we said no, and go work in the vineyard. We might find out all the other workers there are just like us. Who are we fooling anyway? God?

This inspirational word was brought to you by Mike Huggins of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Make Me Uncomfortable

Has God ever asked you to do something you were not really comfortable doing? Did you follow through on the task given to you, or was the fear too great? Personally, there have been times that I have chickened out. Am I proud to admit that? Certainly not, but it happens. But, when I do follow through on what God has asked of me, the outcome has always been a blessing to me and everyone else.

For example, one fear I have always had was being on stage. As an introvert, I absolutely hate being the center of attention. So, what does God ask me to do? You guessed it; be on stage. I have been playing drums and percussion since I was a child, and I felt God wanted me to use the musical talents given to me to minister to other people. Over the years, I have played on many stages and I have played for hundreds of people. You would think that I would get used to playing in front of crowds after a while, but the stage fright has always been there. I would pray for God to take the fear away, but it always stayed. I would get frustrated sometimes and question God. “Why have you asked me to do this when You know it bothers me so much?”

It took me years to come to the conclusion that God did not intend on ever taking the fear away. The thought occurred to me when I read the story of Paul in II Corinthians 12.

 1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The fear may stay with me, but I can rest in knowing that the power of Christ is within me. Now, I pray that God makes me uncomfortable, so that I will always have to rely on Christ to accomplish the tasks ahead of me; because, if my calling ever becomes about me, then it is no longer worth even two small grains of sand. It is a great reminder that it is not me, but it is Christ within me that gives me strength to accomplish what I believe to be unthinkable and out of the question. I will delight in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong by the power of God’s grace.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Daniel Stevens of Grace & Main Fellowship.

To Be Known

When asked what to study for the upcoming test, my favorite college professor would continually tell students, “be omniscient.”  This attribute, the “all-knowingness” of God is something that has had my concern for quite some time.  As a youth, my initial resentment to the concept came in response to assumed opposition to free will.  What do my choices matter if God already knows I am going to make them?  Fortunately, continued examination has brought new insight into this grandiose characteristic of the Divine.

In this case, I think the surface understanding of God’s omniscience is misleading.  I have trouble believing that God knows the exact arrangement of every note of every piece of music that ever has, is, or will be written.  I don’t think it is of utter importance that God knows the first word my finger strikes as I open a book to a random page.  An entity that can instantly generate a given string of information is not God, it’s google.  I think the all-knowingness of God goes beyond data regurgitation to something deeper.  For this, we must consult scripture.

First, read John 4:3-30.  It’s ok, I’ll wait.  I’ve been meaning to google repair instructions for a 2003 Kitchenaid oven.  Done?  Good.  Next, let’s watch a short clip.  The video below (presented by Student Life Ministry) depicts an intimate modern interpretation of the conversation between Jesus and the Woman at the Well from the Samaritan woman’s perspective:


http://youtu.be/Q49BbfgJbto

Here, performer Erin Moon speaks out the true nature of God’s omniscience, “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.”  In the John 4 story, this foreign (at least to Jesus) woman surely had quite the reputation; given her previous five husbands.  If not for rampant gossip, the distribution of misunderstandings of her story, then why would our leading lady head to the well at the time chosen?  She did not draw water at midday out of convince, on the contrary.  She draws water at noon because she knows no one else will be there, doing the same, in the heat of the day.  She comes to be alone.  She comes to hide in herself, without the risk of ill-informed onlookers.  She fails.

There she meets a man, a Jewish man, who is bold enough to ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink.  Perplexed, conversation ensues until a climax is reached where Jesus tells the woman, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (vv. 17-18 NRSV).  These words, spoken from a different source, could come off as harsh and judgmental.  But coming from Jesus, someone who genuinely knows this woman, the words come out as a blessing.

Jesus proclaims these words without an exhortative finger wag, “LOOK AT YOU!” but rather with embracingly outstretched arms, “look, at you.”  The Woman, astounded by her encounter, dashes back to town.  There, she mentions nothing of living water nor does she lead off with the whole Messiah thing.  Rather she announces, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  She is not amazed by Jesus’s record keeping; by the fact that he was aware of her past—the local women’s collective surely possessed similar abilities—instead, the Samaritan woman is amazed that Jesus knows her, for to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.  Jesus doesn’t bring up her past for some sort of ethical object lesson but rather mentions it in a compassionate display of empathy.  Jesus doesn’t feel for this person, he feels with her, because he knows her.

I’m not convinced that the Lord has an 8-page report on the reality that I am currently craving cheese and crackers.  However, I am convinced that the Redeemer is familiar of my propensity for late night snacks and is also fully acquainted with my fondness of extra-sharp cheddar.  So while the Creator of all the Heavens and the Earth may not be aware of the details of my midnight munchie, Christ knows about it, because he knows me; for to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Ben Wright of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Bebaw Loves

My grandfather—we called him Bebaw—was an exceptional man of whom I have many beloved memories. I could tell you countless stories about his sacrificial love in my childhood and of his eager and kind spirit—such as the many Christmas mornings where he crawled into the floor with me and said to me with playful sincerity, “Bebaw didn’t get any toys this morning.” After pausing for a moment, he’d ask, “Can I play with yours?” Of course, the answer was yes because toys were great, but Bebaw was better and he was always on my side. This man who held grudges against sports players for decades (Peyton Manning for his thrashing of Kentucky football, to name one), was the first to buy a Duke sweatshirt when I was accepted into the Divinity School at the University he had despised since 1992 when Christian Laettner broke all our hearts.

Bebaw passed in 2011, his wife (Memmi) passing several months later, and we all still miss them dearly. Every family dinner seems to be a little less full, nobody knows who is supposed to dish out the ice cream, and we all take turns trying to tell his stories like he did, but it’s not the same. Well into my adult life, Bebaw continued to be a generous and loving grandfather. When my wife and I were first married, it was the generosity of Bebaw and other family members that made it possible for us to make the trip back from Durham, North Carolina, to Ashland, Kentucky, for Christmas since we had just had to have new tires put on the car and didn’t have the money for the trip. Even after we had achieved some measure of financial stability, Bebaw was forever slipping money into my hands when we made the trip home with the almost ritual words: “For gas. Don’t tell Memmi.” Any time I’d try to tell him he didn’t need to do that he’d laugh and say, not entirely truthfully, “Bebaw has enough money to burn a wet dog.” In those last days of his life, he told me how proud he was of me and my heart melted at the thought of his love for me. His last words to me were the refrain I’d heard so many times before as a child, teenager, and adult: “Bebaw loves.”

In Ephesians 1:7-8a, the author writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” In my life, I’ve had a world-class education in grace being lavished upon me, and yet I still cannot (and will never) comprehend the fullness of God’s grace in my life. To think that God not only gives us those things that we do not deserve and of which we could only dream to receive—for that is simply what grace is—but that God heaps this grace upon us to the point of overflowing is an astonishing realization. My grandfather lavished his grace upon me not because I deserved, for I surely didn’t, and not because I loved him, which I surely do, but because of his deep and abiding love for me. To Bebaw, it seemed the only reasonable response to the deep, deep love he held for his family.

The same is true exponentially for our God who is love incarnate. God doesn’t redeem us by blood and forgive us our trespasses because we deserve it, because we surely don’t, and not because we love him, for sometimes we do but sometimes we don’t and sometimes our actions belie our words, but because of God’s deep and abiding love for us who are made in God’s image and filled with God’s breath.

To paraphrase my beloved Bebaw, God has enough grace to burn a wet dog. To borrow his words, which he assuredly borrowed first from God, “God loves.”

This inspirational word was brought to you by Josh Hearne of Grace & Main Fellowship.