I said something in my sermon yesterday that I would like to dig a bit deeper into. Here’s what I said- “Whatever you do, you’re going to be criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing, you will still be criticized for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing SOME thing than for doing nothing. I’d rather be persecuted for doing the right thing than be rewarded for doing the wrong thing. I’d rather be called a fool for following a God who’s a party person than be called wise man for NOT following Him.”
I have a retired
preacher friend who is…shall we say…colorful! He used to smuggle Bibles into Communist-bloc
countries. He’s been detained by KGB agents. He yearly leads a men’s ministry
group in the French Quarters of New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras, the
wildest party in the world- 50 guys, marching 5 across, carrying a cross down
the middle of Bourbon Street in the midst of debauchery that is hard to describe.
He also used to hang out in the local bars of the town where his church was. He
would sit near the men’s room (his philosophy was that, when you spend time in
a bar, everyone is going to end up in the restroom!), and when guys would come
by, he would get their attention and say something like, “Jesus loves you. Brother.”
The responses ranged from ignoring him to cussing at him to spitting on him.
But he said that, as the night wore on, and people got more…lubricated…they
also became more receptive to his message. When asked why he did it, he would
say, “Jesus told us to try and save the sinners…and there are a LOT of sinners
in those places!”
David Brown said, “Never
be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home.” We
are in the 4th week of our current Sunday sermon series- “Who Is Jesus?” Based
on a book by United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. In this series, we peel
back the shiny, pristine veneer that we use to cover Jesus and look at who He
REALLY is…and some of it is shocking. The 1st week, we looked at Jesus the Vagabond.
The 2nd week it was Jesus the Peacekeeper. Last week- Jesus the Storyteller.
And today we look at Jesus the Party person. Ann Landers said, “At every party there are two kinds of
people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are
usually married to each other!”
One of the most common portrayals of Jesus
in the Gospels, and yet one of the more under-appreciated and under-recognized,
is that of him enjoying dinner and having fellowship at the table with people
in their homes…Jesus the Party Person.
There are people who
seem to think that Christians shouldn’t have a good time- it’s improper and
undignified for us to…GASP!…have fun! But regardless of what the
puritanical party-poopers think, when Jesus is present, it’s “Party on Wayne!
Party on, Garth!”. Pull up a chair and grab a plate!
Did Jesus EVER turn down a dinner
invitation? It doesn’t seem like it! He visited all kinds of homes and shared
all kinds of meals with all kinds of people. Whether it was a Pharisee or tax
collector, a friend or a religious opponent trying to catch him in a trap, a
small gathering of the spiritual elite or a large, raucous party full of
sinners, Jesus would sit with them, talk with them, tell stories, laugh, enjoy
their company, discuss important issues…and challenge their accepted notions. Jesus’ habit of relating to people at parties reminds us that
God is personal and social- intensely interested in personal fellowship with
His people. It also challenges us to remember that the only effective way to touch
people with the Gospel is through face to face personal human contact—being
present, listening, sharing, making connections. We all know Jesus spoke to
crowds, but often it only served to provide an opportunity for the REAL work of
the ministry, which took place with an individual or small group, in a more
Mark 2: 13-17– Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.
A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he
saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.“Follow me,”
Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner
at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his
disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law
who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they
asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On
hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but
the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
You know…nothing makes
you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than …being there! The most controversial part of Jesus’ habit of
partying with people was his choice of parties. He frequented places the pious
folks avoided religiously. He associated with characters who were
well-known…and NOT in a good way. He touched people…and let people touch
Him…when it was SURE to cause scandal. He welcomed spiritual losers and
enjoyed the company of common folk who had less social clout than your average
houseplant. When He HAD the opportunity to shine in front of the paparazzi, he
wasn’t appropriately deferential or cheesy but instead challenged their
spiritual snobbery and questioning their hidden idolatries.
I have heard it said, “I’m thankful for the mess to clean after a
party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” There is nothing like a feast. We celebrate
all our holidays and special days with marvelous traditions, awesome, delicious
comfort foods, rich desserts, and extensive preparations and presentations that
we save for just such occasions. We anxiously await warm weather holidays when
we get to have people over for a cookout. We gather at tailgates, local pubs
and sports bars to watch games and cheer on our team around tables piled high with
food and drink. Churches (WE do it best!) are the acme of partiers; we bring
our folks together for potlucks and pleasure.
Nowhere is Jesus’ human-ness more apparent
than in the image of Him moving from one party to the next. He’s no puckered,
pious Puritan- He’s a party person! He wasn’t a temple priest bathed in
incense; he was a wandering rabbi who did some of his best teaching amid the
festivity of the dinner table. Jesus was accused more than once of behaving
like a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. His
response? “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I haven’t come
to call the righteous, but the sinners.” When Jesus wasn’t
preaching or teaching…you’d find Him at a party. It might be at a tax
collector’s house or at Pharisee’s home. The guests might include power men in
the community…or the real riffraff. And what seemed to bother the stuffy,
“religious” types wasn’t that Jesus went to parties, but that He
seemed to enjoy Himself a bit too much.
In fact, it was at just such a party that
Jesus performed His first miracle. Remember the wedding at Cana of Galilee?
They run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus to do something. Does she want him
to make a beer run down to the Cana 7-11? No. Does she see this as His time to
shine? Yes. And what does He end up doing? He turns water into wine…about 400
gallons of it! I’ve heard many people try and explain away this
first miracle. “Jesus simply sped up a natural process- in nature
grapevines turn water into wine,” or “All miracles are really just
nature sped up.” But they’re missing the point. The point is this- running
out of wine is the surest way of bringing a party to a grinding halt, and
Jesus’ act allowed the party to keep going.
In 1966, Time Magazine announced that God was dead. In 2005,
George Barna pronounced that mainline denominations were basically dead after
hemorrhaging members for decades. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. is no
exception, having gone from 13 million members in 1968 to 8 million members in
2004. We have been called a sleeping giant…and we are just that; a body 8
million people strong…poised to be used by God. I believe with all my heart
that we have a relevant message for our generation- God’s unmerited grace. It’s
what this world needs…and what we need to hear regularly from our pulpits. We
need to experience it in our relationships with each other. We need to come
face to face with the living God and receive forgiveness from sin, freedom from
guilt, and healing from our brokenness. We need to NOT get so caught up in all
the pomp and circumstance, tradition and ritual, that we fail to remember that
Jesus…THAT Jesus…the one we claim to follow when we claim the name
“Christian…was the life of the party. He was in the middle of the action- He
WAS the middle of the action- NOT turning away from those who need Him the most
but instead breaking bread with the sinners, ne’er-do-wells and flawed humans
of the world…in other words…us.
WE engage in revelry because parties offer
a breather from the dull, humdrum world we live in Monday through Friday. But
in HIS partying, Jesus rejects the notion of
taking a temporary break from the world and instead offers a glimpse of the
world healed, redeemed, and restored to what God originally intended. God
promises to be with us, celebrate with us. And that all sounds all fine and
good until God dramatically makes good on His promise and actually shows up…
not as the thoroughly moldable God we want him to be but rather as “He who
parties with sinners”- Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever you do – you’re going to be
criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing – you’ll still be criticized for
it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing
SOMEthing than for doing nothing. I would rather be persecuted for doing the
right thing than doing the wrong thing. I would rather be called a fool for
following a God who is a party person than to be called a wise man for NOT
following Him. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
The Bible…and amazing book…regardless of your beliefs. But what do we know about it? Bits and pieces? Fractions of stories we’ve heard? here’s some Bible trivia that you may find interesting!
I meet with an attorney today. Not just any attorney…my dad’s attorney. I am the executor of my dad’s estate (that always sounds funny to me…it sounds like there should be some “Tara-like” manse on a big hill overlooking the entire plantation!) and that means stuff needs to be done.
Today I do one of the hardest things I have ever done…bury my dad. And I don’t just mean attend his funeral…I mean perform his funeral. I officiated at my mom’s funeral, and today I do the same for my dad. It’s interesting- I have had many people say (either regarding my mom or my dad) “I can’t imagine how you could do that!” or “Isn’t there someone else?” or even “Bad choice, pastor!” And while I understand that those folks are well-intentioned…for me…in my situation…they’re wrong.
It’s getting closer! I can feel…can you? On February 13th, pitchers and catchers report to the Spring Training camps to begin the process of getting ready for another season of Major league Baseball! (At least the St. Louis Cardinals report that day, and since they are my favorite team…I will admit that I don’t REALLY care when the other teams report!) Soon mt beloved sports magazines will be filled with what REALLY matters…baseball news! And soon I will be able to watch my Cardinals play ball, or at least follow it pitch-by-pitch on my phone and/or laptop! (Yes…I’m a geek! BUT…I embrace my geek-ness…or is it geek-hood? I guess I could always check that out on Wikipedia!!) And like all good baseball fans, I enter Spring Training every year confident that THIS is the year when my team wins the World Series. For baseball fans…for sports fans all across the spectrum for that matter…hope springs eternal.
That great theologian Pablo Cruise said it best when he said, “things didn’t turn out the way you planned!” It’s the truth- often things simply do NOT turn out the way you intended them to. Case in point- I would hazard to guess that, while there TONS of football fans celebrating this morning because they root for the Packers or the Steelers, there are tons MORE who are disappointed today because the team they picked at the beginning of the season to “go all the way” is at home right now, on the collective couch (it’s a BIG couch!), jockeying for position and waiting to watch the Super Bowl!
When the phone rang at 9:15 last Saturday morning, I was making B & G’s. For those of you who may be uninitiated, B & G’s are, of course, biscuits and gravy! My sons LOVE B & G’s! I make both the B’s AND the G’s from scratch, and my youngest is not a fan of sausage so my G is pure milk gravy! So there I was, making B & G’s, when the phone rang. I saw by the Caller ID that is was brother, and since I was right in the middle of cooking, I decided to let it go until after breakfast.
was about 9 years ago. My youngest son was not yet 2 years old, which would
make my oldest son not yet 14 years old. We were living in the parsonage of my
last church. If you’ve ever had back problems, you know that, sometimes, all it
takes is one simple act to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and put you
into MAJOR back pain. Well, this particular day…that straw came down! My
wife’s back went out in a major way! I left my oldest in the Family Room
watching my youngest while I tended to my wife, who was in bed, writhing in
pain. Then, the comedy of errors began. The first thing that happened was that
my in-laws arrived. When they rang the doorbell, the dog (a LARGE German
Shepherd) started barking. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are coming in the
house, my wife’s in the bedroom writhing in pain, and the kids are in the
Family Room. I get my in-laws in and yell at the dog, who continues to bark. As
I go through the kitchen to get back to my wife, I remember that I was cooking
something on the stove when all this started…and it is now…burning! So the
dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is calling to me
from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, and the food is burning. I
run into the bedroom to check on my wife when…the smoke detector goes off! So
the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is calling to
me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is burning and
the smoke detector is going off. Well, the smoke detector is LOUD and it scared
my youngest son, who starts crying! So the dog is barking, my in-laws are
wanting my attention, my wife is calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are
in the Family Room, the food is burning, the smoke detector is going off and my
youngest is crying. Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the phone starts
ringing. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is
calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is
burning, the smoke detector is going off, my youngest is crying and the phone
is ringing. I run to the phone, trying to block out the barking, crying,
calling and alarm, and answer the phone. It’s the alarm company! I realize that
I need to call the Fire Department, which is only about 4 blocks away, or they
will show up at the house. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my
attention, my wife is calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the
Family Room, the food is burning, the smoke detector is going off, my youngest
is crying and I’m trying to call the Fire Department when I hear…the sirens!
So I end up at the front door, trying to explain all of this to the firemen,
while the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is
calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is
burning, the smoke detector is going off and my youngest is crying! Oh, and
just then…the alarm company calls back! Hans Christian Anderson said, “Life
itself is the most wonderful tale of all.”
is our 3rd week of “Who Is Jesus?”, a sermon series based on a book by William
Willimon and designed to pull back the shiny, pristine veneer and look at who
Jesus REALLY is. The 1st week He was a Vagabond. Last week He was a Peacekeeper.
Today, He is a Storyteller. Jesus told stories…the Bible refers to them as
parables. He told a LOT of them- depending on what you identify as a parable,
there are somewhere between 35-50 of them in the Gospels. Even His disciples
said, “Why do you talk in parables?” Parables were a prevalent method
of teaching for Him. But what IS a parable? A parable is a short, allegorical story designed to illustrate or
teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. It’s a statement or
comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or
the like. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
Parables- pithy, strange little stories from everyday life- are the most
distinctive…and unusual…aspect of the teaching of Jesus. Mark says that
Jesus never said anything in public that wasn’t a parable. Some people, when
asked a theological question, respond with thoughtful, general principles that
are high-sounding, serious and uplifting. Dr. Phil comes to mind. But not
Jesus! Jesus often explained God with unexplained stories, most of which lack
neat endings or immediately apparent points.
you notice that a parable conveys its meaning INDIRECTLY? They’re often veiled
in subterfuge. Here’s an example- Matthew 5:13-16- “You are the salt of the
earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It
is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on
its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let
your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify
your Father in heaven.
presidential candidate Ross Perot was know for saying some… interesting
things. He often spoke in parables. here are some examples…actual quotes- “Be
careful about picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper
by the ton.” “Life is like a cobweb, not an organization chart.” “If
you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” “If
we decide to take this level of business creating ability nationwide, we’ll all
be plucking chickens for a living.” “There’s nothing worse than driving
home a point when a guy’s fiddling with his salad.” How…parabolic!
love to say, “It’s hard to say anything definitive about God. He’s so
large, nebulous, vague.” Don’t we wish! By rendering God into an abstract
idea, we try and reassure ourselves that we’ll always be safe with God. But God
has other plans. By sending Jesus, it’s as if God is saying, “You want to
know what God looks like? Look at Jesus! There, that’s who I am.” With His
parables, Jesus made the scandalous move from, “We’ve always believed and
done…” to “But I say to you…” His critics replied that nobody should talk
so subversively and disruptively…unless He’s God. Jesus holds little interest
or charm for people who are comfortable with themselves here, now, in this
place, living their lives as the world tells them, content as pigs in mud.
Jesus comes to people where they are…but isn’t content to leave them AS they
are. It’s as if Jesus is saying that God is met amid the stuff of daily life,
in the tug and pull of the ordinary. Yet God is rarely self-evident, obvious,
or with uncontested meaning. Hear these words-
10:30-37- “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked
by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving
him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he
saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came
to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as
he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put
the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The
next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after
him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense
you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man
who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one
who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
you hear the one about the traveling salesman going down from Jerusalem to
Jericho who was mugged, beaten, stripped naked, and left to die like a dog in a
ditch? Now, by chance, down the road comes a priest…and we all know what a
PAIN clergy can be! He spies the bleeding man, lying helpless in the ditch,
and…and…and…passes by on the other side. Just like a pastor! Then along
comes a pious but not priggish, religious but not showy, good old, plain old
Methodist…like you and me. He catches a whiff of this…MESS…in the ditch
and, being religious and…quite cautious person- passes by on the other side.
you’re the man in the ditch. You’ve lost a lot of blood. Time’s running out.
With your last ounce of energy you look down that hot, dusty road and what do
you see coming toward you? A nice looking, spiritual but not one of those
fanatics, possibly Republican, traditional-values person like you? Nope. You
see a despised, worthless, good-for-nothing, low-down, racially impure,
theologically uninformed… Samaritan. Yep…your last best hope is a man you
hate! “It’s only a flesh wound. I’m OK, I’m OK! Just DON’T touch
me!”But no, this rotten Samaritan has the gall to rip up his designer suit
to bandage your wounds. Then, if that’s not bad enough, he lays your bleeding
carcass on the fine leather seats of his Porsche, he takes you to the hospital,
shells out all of his credit cards, and tells them to spare no expense in your
salvation. Boom. End of story. But wait! Jesus isn’t done. He has to add,
“Go and do likewise!” Is this a joke? Is He kidding? I’m supposed to
parables, the joke is on us. What is God like? Well, He’s like a dragnet thrown
into the sea. When the net’s hauled in, it’s teeming with all sorts of stuff- a
few good fish but lots of trash as well. The servants ask, “Master, do you
want us to sort the good fish from the bad?” “No, let’s worry about
the sorting on another day. What a huge haul!” THAT’S what God is like.
Any questions? Don’t be troubled if you don’t quite “get” the story- the
disciples didn’t really get it either. Jesus comes across at times as this
Zen-like teacher whose greatest desire is to NOT pass out the right answers but
rather provoke even more questions. You and I tell stories in order to explain
what sort of world we live in- stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Jesus, on the other hand, tells stories NOT to create more answers but to
elicit more questions. They just begin, out of nowhere, often in the middle,
without context. They are frustratingly lacking in important details. Few of
them have satisfying conclusions. They seem more intent on confusion than
clarification. Surely, Jesus could have found a more effective way to explain
his message…unless explaining wasn’t his chief goal.
Jesus reaches out to us; sometimes, Jesus pushes us away. Jesus is God WITH us
– not God controlled, explained, and tamed by us. Jesus not only speaks in
parables; in a way, Jesus IS a parable. Many people think Jesus told lots of
these stories because He was trying to put difficult ideas into simple,
everyday settings. But that doesn’t do justice to the complex, disarming, disorienting
quality of most of these parables. Their surprise endings, or lack of endings,
their cryptic, enigmatic quality, the way they delight in making heroes out of
scalawags and Samaritans suggest that parables are meant to disrupt more than
to explain. Story by story, Jesus moves us from the safe, secure world we
thought we knew to another world where everything is strange and things don’t
turn out as expected. Jesus’ parables often involve an element of surprise or
an unexpected twist- they catch us off guard. They move from the very familiar
and understandable to a sudden turn of events which challenges us…and invites
further reflection. His parables enlighten us…IF we approach them with an
open mind and heart, ready to let them challenge us. But if we approach them
convinced that we already know the answer…we look but don’t see, listen but
parable is told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday
to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the
service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the
ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said,
“With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks cannot go! There is no God-given
task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk
through life. We can soar high in the sky!” “Amen!¨ was quacked throughout the
duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, “With
our wings we can fly through life! WE CAN FLY!!!!¨ The ducks quacked out a loud
“AMEN!” in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that
were present commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard
from their duck preacher….and then they left the church and waddled all the
Too often we walk away
from Jesus the same way we walked in…. unchanged. But Jesus meant for His
parables to provoke a response. If we listen with faith and humbleness then we
WILL understand and receive what Jesus wants to speak into each of our hearts. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
When I was 5 years old, before In started Kindergarten, I got strep throat. We weren’t big on running to the doctor every time we got a sniffle, so I didn’t go, at least not right away. Then one morning I woke up and my arm hurt. Based on my description, my mom thought I had “slept on it wrong” and that it would be OK in a little bit. It wasn’t. The pain continued…and spread. My mom took me to the doctor’s office…a clinic that sat down the hill from the hospital. (The building is STILL there, by the way…just saw it while I was home for Christmas. It’s no longer a doctor’s office, but nearly 50 years later and the building is still there!) The doctor did…whatever it is that doctors do under those circumstances…and announced that I had rheumatic fever. I wasn’t even allowed to go home first- I was driven straight up the hill to the hospital- do not pass go, do not collect $200!
I have noticed a interesting phenomenon recently. (I actually have noticed it many times before…it just comes up again every year!) The revelation revolves around the fact that it is snowing as I write this. And here’s the revelation- people are nicer when it snows! No, really…they ARE! I’m sure you’ve seen it too!
Directional signs are marvelous things. They can either show us EXACTLY where we need to go…or they can make a bad situation worse…like the sign to the left! Have you ever thought about where YOU are going to go? I know I have other folks tell me on occasion where THEY think I should go! (But that’s another story entirely!) But do you ever wonder about that? I mean…really wonder?
I had an interesting conversation with some folks from my church recently which got me to thinking- who you describe your faith journey as a big gush…or a steady drip? Let me explain.
My first date with my wife was on her 16th birthday. I was in the school musical…Oliver!…and we had a show that night. We met the previous October on a hayride, and had been getting to know each other ever since. I was perhaps the BIGGEST geek ever around females, but I really wanted to date this girl! I finally got up the nerve to ask her to attend the musical. (Interesting first date- you sit in the audience by yourself while your date is on stage!) We went to a restaurant afterwards and had sauted mushroom and stale birthday cake (I had called ahead for the birthday cake…but did NOT request “stale”!) while listening to the dulcet tones of Mr. Mike Zikovich as he sang and played his synthesizer! (I should have known that would be a special day…there was also a solar eclipse that day!) The rest, as they say, is history!
It was ABOUT 12 years ago…give or take. I was pretty new to the ministry…still wet behind the ears, theologically speaking. I was the half-time Associate Pastor at the church I served- it was my first appointment as clergy. Called me Associate pastor, call me what you want- in reality I was th part-time youth guy. No more, no less. I was working 20 hours/week…OK…I was being PAID for 20 hours/week. In fact, I was working closer to full-time…that’s the way it works in the ministry! At the same time, I was a full-time seminary student. It was an…interesting time of life!
Peace signs- when I was
growing up, they were jewelry, they were clothing decoration, they were a
visual way to thumb one’s nose at the establishment…a way to engage in “stick-it to-da-man-osis” to paraphrase jack Black. In fact, I remember having a tie-dyed t-shirt with a big peace sign on it…I
wore it with my massive, two-toned bell bottoms! I WAS all that and a bag of
chips! And who can forget Richard Nixon flashing matching “V for victory” peace
signs at every turn? But there have been other “peace signs” before that one-
the olive branch, the dove. What IS peace? And how do we define a Peacekeeper?
Last week, Jesus was a
Vagabond. Today, we start at a different, and rather unusual, place- Christmas!
Mary has had the visit from the angel, telling her she’s pregnant. So she goes
to see her cousin Elizabeth, who is ALSO pregnant…with a baby boy who will grow
up to be John the Baptist- the herald of Jesus. Mary visits for 3 months, heads
home, and then…John the Baptist is born. His dad, Zechariah, who has been
struck mute throughout the pregnancy, is now able to talk, and so…he SINGS!
Luke 1:76-79- And
you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on
before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of
salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of
our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those
living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path
If you Google
“peacekeeper”, you get a lot of info about…a missile! So I learned a lot
about…the Peacekeeper missile. It was an intercontinental ballistic missile
system that was deployed in 1986 and decommissioned in 1995. The Peacekeeper
was over 70 feet long and weighed 198,000 pounds. It was a four-stage missile with a range of just under 6,000 miles. Each missile carried up to ten MIRVs (multiple independently
targetable reentry vehicle).
Each of the ten carried a payload 25 times more powerful than the bomb dropped
on Hiroshima. Puts “Peacekeeper” in a totally different context…doesn’t it?
What does “peace” mean? Peace means “being in a right
relationship.” So peace between you and someone else means being in a
right relationship with each other. Peace within means being alright with
yourself and peace with God means being alright with God. People often go the
opposite direction, though, don’t they? It’s all about “me”…and what’s in it
for me! A young Christian visited an older believer to ask for prayer.
“Will you please pray that I have more patience?” The older man
agreed. They knelt together and the older man began to pray, “Lord, send
this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in
the afternoon; send this young man tribulation in the evening….” At that
point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray
for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for peace.” “Ah,”
responded the wise Christian, “it’s only through tribulation that we learn
Notice in the Scripture passage I just
read- even as he rejoices over the birth of his son, Zechariah recognizes the
greater glory that is coming. He says that this Savior that is to come will
shine on those living in darkness. He will guide our feet where? Into the path
of…wait for it!…peace. Jesus was heralded as the Peacekeeper even before He
was born! But what exactly does it mean to call Jesus a Peacekeeper? The truth
is that the birth and life and death of Jesus have precipitated a lot of
violence. And Jesus warned it would be so, saying he did not come to bring
peace, but a metaphorical sword.
The man who never raised
a sword, even in self-defense, nor allowed His disciples to carry or use
swords, openly referred to His message as a sword. He also says, “Do you think
I’ve come to bring peace to the world? No, I tell, but rather division.” Jesus
DOES bring peace…but His peace often is precluded by disruption and despair.
Jesus’ peace is a threat to what we would call world peace.
To call Jesus a
Peacekeeper is really a bit oxymoronic. A political leader who doesn’t make war
when national security is threatened is nor prince. And peace that is based on
anything other than a balance of military power is inconceivable. Jesus is as
strange a king as there ever was.
It would have been one
thing for Jesus to say, “I always turn the other cheek when someone wrongs me”
or “I refuse to return violence when violence is done to me”. I mean, Jesus IS
the Son of God…we EXPECT that of Him…right? But NO…Jesus has to take it a
step further, and command US to act the same way! “How do we get back at our
enemies again, Jesus? Oh, that’s right…by LOVING them! What do we do to those
who persecute us, Jesus? Oh yeah…PRAY for them!” Let’s be honest…we DEEPLY
wish Jesus had said something else…ANYTHING else! We want to justify violence
Scripturally, but sorry…Jesus just won’t play along! Jesus supports nonviolence, non-retaliation and forgiveness NOT on
the basis of their effectiveness in changing the hearts and minds of our
enemies- “it’s SURE to bring out the best in them!”- but rather because it’s
what God would do. There is not ONE single incident where Jesus condones
violence or reacts with violence. The fact that Jesus got dragged into this
bloody mess is testament to how little people know about Jesus and how
unfaithful the world has been at following Him. The truth is that Jesus the peacekeeper never backed away from an argument, scurried
away from a howling mob or blanched at a confrontation with a scathing critic.
But the interesting
thing is that, from the beginning, Jesus was the cause of a great deal of
violence and bloodshed- but none of it was initiated by Him. Jesus came in the
middle of the infamous Pax Romana…Roman peace. On the surface, this was a time
of unprecedented peace in the Roman Empire. But dig a little deeper, and it had
a more…uneasy…imposed…feel to it. For
the enemies of Rome, the Pax Romana didn’t signal much in the way of peace or
tranquility. And let me assure you- Jesus was an enemy of the
There are many
rationales for violence…but none of them can reference Jesus to defend them. We
can argue that violence is sometimes effective, or justified by circumstances,
or a possible means to a better end, or practiced by every nation on the face
of the earth— but we can’t drag Jesus into the argument with us. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s character, and as it
turns out, God is not really very much like us. And if God wins victory in this world by accepting
death on a cross…then all our values have to be reevaluated- what we claim as
COMMON sense becomes NON-sense when it comes right down to it. God’s
kingdom has a very small door, sized for the lowly to enter. Have you noticed
that while there are many instances in the New Testament of people harming and
killing Jesus’ followers, apart from the one instance in which Peter takes up a
sword and is rebuked by Jesus, there are zero, zip, nada in the way of
instances of followers of Jesus using violence against their torments.
Instead, they are called to pray for their enemies, bless those who curse
them, and leave vengeance in God’s hands, not take weapons up into their own
hands. How did Jesus react to his crucifiers? While dying on the cross he
simply said ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, and then of
course he called us to take up our crosses and follow the same path and the
same response to our tormentors.
Gandhi said, “An eye
for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of one of the
greatest seekers of peace in our lifetimes- the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. He said much about keeping the peace, but one of the most profound things
he said was, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear…
That old law about “an eye for an eye” leaves everybody blind… The
time is always right to do the right thing… Peace is not merely a distant
goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Do you remember what the
heavenly host of angels said to the shepherds the night Jesus was born? “Glory
to God in the highest and on earth peace on those whom God favors!”
Interestingly, it sounds remarkably like Caesar’s royal proclamation, which was
“Glory to August Caesar, God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those
with whom he is well pleased.”
Luke shows Jesus as the
reality of that to which Caesar is only a parody. The angels’ song isn’t just a
birth announcement- it’s a proclamation announcing a change in leadership.
There is a NEW king in town…the Prince of Peace…the Peacekeeper. God is fixing
things through this Jew from Nazareth who refused to fight back and who dies
NOT threatening, “One day I’ll get even!” but rather praying, “Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do.” In Jesus, we see peace…a
peace that truly passes all understanding. It’s not a peace that we achieve by
studying the course of world history or by meditating on the human condition.
Instead, this peace comes from the One who is paradoxically known as the Peacekeeper.
Do you remember the
words that Jesus first spoke to His disciples following His resurrection? They
were in the upper room and they were scared for their lives. Their leader was
dead, their future uncertain. Then…Jesus appears through locked doors and
speaks to them. Do you remember what He said to them? “What a bunch of failures
you are. Where were you when I really needed you?” No, His first words were short
and sweet, “Peace be with you.” The ONE thing they DIDN’T have was the VERY
thing He offered – peace. And He’s still offering it today. Do you have it? Did
you bring it with you to church this morning? Or do you find yourself saddled
with burdens that are too heavy to carry? The bigger question is this- are you
going to leave here today still saddled with those burdens? Or will you turn
them over to Jesus? You have the opportunity to just do that this morning…will
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
After all these years…now it can be told! When I was in high school, I was a band geek! (I know…shocking…right?!) I was also a theater geek. (Even more shocking…right?!) But this “midnight confession” deals with the fact that I was a band geek.
A couple of days ago I started teaching a new class- The Bible For Dummies! I intentionally “borrowed” the title to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to how hard it is to really KNOW the Bible. I made it clear to the class on this very first night that the Chief Dummy is the one leading them! I shared rather embarrassing stories about myself and my amazing lack of Biblical knowledge at different times in my life. (When I was a freshman in college, I took an “Intro to Christianity” class…as a requirement because I certainly wouldn’t have taken it for any OTHER reason at that point in my life!…and had to ask my buddy, who is now a nationally-know bread-baking Benedictine monk, why the professor kept talking about the Axe of the Apostles. “Why did the Apostles have an axe?” In my first year of seminary I thought the Book of Hebrews was in the Old Testament! Makes sense…right? Hebrews? Old Testament? Work with here, people!)
ven you the answer key yet! Well…here it is!
When I was a kid…I had BIG plans! I wanted to be a famous actor. I wanted to be a famous magician. I wanted to be…well…famous! I wanted to live in i big mansion with a gozillion rooms and a garage FULL of cool, exotic cars. I wanted to marry the most beautiful woman on the planet and have awesome kids. Oh, and I wanted a horse!
There is a gentleman in my congregation who is a navy veteran. He spent much of his adult life out on the ocean. He has seen parts of the world I will probably never see…except on the Discovery Channel!