Sunday, March 29, 2009
Below is the sermon draft for tomorrow morning. It is from John 2 and is a great Lenten text that invites us to prepare ourselves for the Easter story. It lets us see a glimpse of Jesus righteous indignation and see the picture of the temple raised and resurrected.
It would have been an amazing site to behold. The Second Temple, or Herod’s Temple, would have been the most impressive piece of architecture in Jerusalem. Archeologist and Biblical scholars paint the picture of a structure with walls that could have stood the equivalent of 20 stories tall. A scholar from the Jewish-Christian Dialogue writes: “undoubtedly the centrepiece of this majestic complex was the Temple itself. A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. The attention to detail in its construction is exemplified by the placing of gold spikes on the roof line of the building to prevent birds sitting on the Temple and soiling it.
On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance. The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis. The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests. Finally, in the centre of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept.”[i]
I want you to hear the wonder and majesty of this structure so when we hear the account in John 2: 12-22 its impact will leap from the pages for us. Hear the story.12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."
20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
In the beauty of the temple’s construction it had become a virtual monument to the religious enterprise, to corporate religion. In the beauty of the temple’s construction they had lost focus on the true purpose of the temple. The temple courts had become the Wal-Mart of ritual products: a unique temple currency that had to be purchased at a highly inflated rate; hawkers selling cattle for the wealthiest; sheep and dove could also be had for the right price. You could buy anything you might need to feed the religious machinery.
Jesus cannot stand it. Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" We like to think of the peaceful Jesus, the healing Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the feeding Jesus, the loving Jesus. But here we see Jesus’ righteous indignation. He was MAD. The temple of God had become the seat of commerce. Something had to change. He takes matters into his own hands. For one moment – in an act of zeal – with a stampede of sheep and cattle and a cascade of coins – the manipulation and economic exploitation – for one moment – stopped.
The crowd stills and turns on Jesus. “By what right do you do this” they asked? “Show us something – give us a magic trick – perform us a miracle – and show us.” With their words still hanging in the air Jesus answered. His words shocked them. He told them what he would do; "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." “What???? Destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days….did you look around – this place is huge and pretty amazing. It took over 46 years to complete this. What are you talking about?”
Jesus was trying them to prepare the disciples for the Easter story. He wanted them to understand that the cross would not be the end of the His story, but the beginning of the resurrection story. He wanted them to understand that what would draw them into God’s presence would not be found in a temple made of marble and the economics of the religious system but in the gift of life and life eternal that could only be found in an empty tomb. Sue points us toward this gift in the voice of the trash collector. Terry Ascotts tells the story of this gift to millions through the ministry of SAT-7. It is the reason we worship. It is what makes us children of God.
John tells us that the disciples didn’t get it then. It took some time and a dramatic moment for them to understand. 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now it’s our turn. Are we ready to make sure we do not get so wrapped up in the trappings of church that we might miss the power of the presence of God? Are we ready to claim the Jesus that wants nothing to stand in the way of our relationship with God? Are we ready to claim the move toward Easter, gazing at the cross and rushing to the empty tomb? Are we ready to celebrate a broken temple and the promise of resurrection?
[i] Cohney, Shelly, “The Second Temple at the Time of Jesus” available online at http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?id=807 on March 25, 2009 and also at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/secondtempletimeofjesus.html on the same date.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
It is hard to hear bad news. When someone walks into my office and begins a conversation with the question; “I have good news and bad news, which one do you want to hear first?” My immediate reaction is “tell me the good news and skip the bad news.” You know, despite what I say they always stay long enough to give me both the good and the bad news. I listen, but I do not like it.
I have discovered that I am not unique. Most of us cringe when the dentist looks at us and tells us, “I need to talk you about what we need to do next” or when the doctor says, “I have your test results, why don’t you sit down and let’s talk about them.” Those moments put a knot in our stomachs and can make our hearts skip a beat. As we begin to draw toward Easter, and as the disciples drew close to Jerusalem, we hear Jesus try to prepare them – and us – for the days that just ahead. Look for me at Mark 8:31-38. It reads; 31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
This is one of the passages where we hear Jesus trying to help prepare his disciples for his impending crucifixion and the resurrection. He is clear but they struggle to understand. It is more than they can imagine. If we are honest, even on this side of the empty tomb, it is almost more than we can imagine. How could Jesus – Emanuel – God with us, choose to claim the brutal pain of a Roman cross.
I. Hard Words to Hear vs. 31-33
This passage finds its place in scripture just after Peter has made his grand pronouncement of Jesus as the Christ. What should have been a moment of celebration turns in a moment of angst. Hear again; 31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Peter cannot bear to stand to hear what Jesus has to say. With Peter’s dramatic confession of Jesus as the Messiah he would have also begun to understand the possible implications of the confession. If Jesus was the Messiah as they had understood it, then Jesus would usher in a military kingdom, claim the restoration of the nation, and his disciples would be at the forefront of what lied ahead. It was going to be great![i] In sharp contrast, Jesus offers a picture of conflict and death. The suffering and dying of the Messiah would have been completely foreign to their ears. The Messiah was supposed to come to conquer and establish a reign of God. How would this be possible? Let’s be honest, sometimes we find ourselves in Peter. We come to God with expectations – with our own agendas – and we expect God to deliver. We expect God’s blessing. We expect God’s protection. We expect God’s provision. We come expecting – and are sometimes shocked to discover God’s plan and our plans are not the same.
The next moment is a dramatic one. Jesus so upsets Peter that he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. “Rebuke” is not one of those words we use every day. In fact, even in scripture it is usually reserved for a spiritual context – like when Jesus rebukes a demon. Peter was so captivated by his own agenda that he challenges Jesus and demands he reconsiders what he has said. Every time someone besides Jesus "rebukes," they are proven to be wrong.[ii] Jesus wanted his disciples to understand but their own agendas kept getting in the way. He also understood that everyone would bring their own agenda to cross. He cannot allow the disciples to shape the journey that awaited him. Jesus immediately turned the table on Peter. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Can you imagine how these words would have stung Peter? Can you imagine the shock on the faces of the disciples? Can you imagine what it must felt like for the disciples to hear where they had hoped for glory they would find chaos, conflict, and death? We hear this passage from this side of the empty tomb. Can you imagine how a Galilean fisherman might hear the promise of resurrection?
Each Easter season Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ its way to movie screens, church halls and selected television broadcast. It is a powerful and painful movie to witness. But, one of the great flaws in Mel Gibson’s movie is that it seems to imply that the Holy Week story that carries Jesus from the Garden to mock trials, brutal beatings, and ultimately the cross is a story of something that HAPPENED to Jesus. If you listen to a chorus of preachers you would think Jesus was a hapless victim of the cruelty of humanity and the vengeful nature of God. They are wrong. Jesus knew exactly what he was getting into and chooses it as the means of redemption. Peoples’ agenda would have to give way to obedience to God. Chaos and conflict would have to give way to peace. The cross would have to give way to the power of resurrection – the witness of the empty tomb. [iii]
OK, I know it must seem to some of you that I am jumping the gun on an Easter sermon – after all, I am already mentioning the cross and resurrection. But what I want you to hear it that Jesus was talking about it long before that dramatic week in Jerusalem. He wanted his disciples prepared for what they were going to face. He wanted them to be prepared for what would be demanded of his follower on the other side of the resurrection. Jesus wanted his disciples and the crowd to understand that the idea of radical followship was not uniquely his.
II. Get Ready vs.34-38
In the second half or our passage we hear Jesus choose his words very carefully. There are three phrases he claims I want to focus on for just a moment. The first is the phrase is where he calls his followers to “deny himself” Jesus wanted those gathered around him to understand that the radical followship would require them to change their orientation. They were going to be expected to dump their personal agendas – to put self aside. This becomes crystal clear in the second phrase, “take up his cross.” Jesus claims the picture of the most hated, most vile symbol of Roman oppression, the cross, to show them the depths discipleship. He wants them to understand that they will have to choose to pick up their cross – and will model what that looks like in his own Jerusalem moment. Occasionally you will hear someone profoundly misunderstand this idea. They will say things like; “my arthritis is just my cross to bear”…..or “my boss is a jerk, but that is just my cross to carry.” Jesus had something much deeper in mind. It was not about dealing with our life pains or professional discomforts; it is about taking up the kind of discipleship that dies to self – every aspect of self – for the sake of radical obedience to God. It is about throwing out our agendas – our well crafted plans – our expectations of economic success and community recognition. He shows that in the third phrase; “and follow me.” “Follow me” claims a verb form that implies a continuing action – a habit – of following.[iv]
When you wrap these three together you begin to understand that Jesus was calling his followers to the kind of faith that would compel them to set self aside, to take up a self giving way of life where radical followship is the normal, natural result; where our habit is to follow faithfully follow God. Jesus goes on to teach them that it was not about what you could claim as your own – but who claims you as His own. That this kind of faith is not something we would earn or buy – but is expressed in its daily living out of life. It is the kind of faith that will prepare us for the chaos of the streets of Jerusalem, will allow us to tremble at the feet of the cross, and rejoice at the site of the empty tomb. It is the kind of faith born in a Christ who chooses to claim his cross on our behalf and then bring us into the hope and the power of the resurrection.
I saw this kind of faith in the voice of a student from Southern India who is ready to leave his family and his culture and risk his life to share the Easter story in the Muslim dominated north of his country. I saw it in the face of a young Chin woman who will lead a children’s ministry among the Burmese – because she loves them and wants them to know Jesus –even though it might lead to her arrest. We will not face these kinds of dramatic choices, but the call to follow at all cost still echoes for us. We find it when realize that God does not want parts of our life – or even our best – but all of us. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand quest for this kind of radical discipleship will how they would experience the drama of Easter week. He wanted them – and us – to see the cross not only a symbol of agony but also a place of divine choice. He wanted them to understand that the empty tomb will become a place of miraculous hope and life transforming promise. It becomes the strong promise that God is with us and that we live now and for eternity in the midst of God’s presence and power. It becomes the place of promise that will empower them to live as God’s children; a people of radical followship.
We started this service in a time of dedication for four families and their new babes. We agreed to be their family of faith for these families and to model our faith for their children. This is a sacred commitment. It beckons us to live the lives of radical followship that can serve as a living witness to these children and as a source of encouragement to their families. As these children grow they will face a culture where Christianity has been push to the margins and where the values they embrace will be challenged at every front. They will desperately need models of radical followship. The will need to live in the midst of an Easter people who live in the shadow of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
It is time to hear the hard words of Jesus that will draw him to the cross and draws us to the empty tomb. It is time to begin preparing the way to claim lives of radical followship born in the Easter story. It is time to begin preparing ourselves for Easter – for its agony – its joy – and its call to follow. Its time…..[v] Let’s pray.
[i] Influenced by Culpepper, Alan R. “Mark,” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, (Smyth and Helwys: Macon, GA, 2007), p.286.
[ii] Available online at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark8x31.htm%20on%20March%2019, 2009.
[iii] Influenced by Jung, Carl Gustav, from “Psychoanalysis and the Cure of the Soul” cited as a supporting quotation in “The Ministry of Reconciliation: The Cross of Changes” published in the biweekly newsletter of Le Penseur Reflechit on December 22, 2008.
[iv] Turlington, Henry E. “Mark” The Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 8, (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1969), p. 337.
[v] Other resources consulted include: Homoletics web resources; “Mark: A Study Guide” by Hershell Hobbs; “Mark” in The New Interpreters Bible; Mark 8:31-38, in Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's An Exegetical Study of the Common Lectionary, coordinated by Prof. John E. Alsup.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
It has been almost a week since I returned from my time in SEAsia. The influence of jet lag has passed but the glow from the trip remains. A couple of things that I carry with me:
- The students and faculty at Singapore Bible College make me very optimistic about the future of the church in Asia.
- The heart and faith of the Chin refugees in Malaysia touched me deeply. They have so little but share it with one another and others so generously.
- The Chin informal school organization is amazing. It does so much with so little.
- I am deeply thankful for my friends serving in SEAsia. They are doing some remarkable things for the Kingdom.
- My time in Southern Thailand brought back a flood of memories. But, the passionate faith demonstrated my pastor in Songkhla and his wife continues to be a source of profound inspiration to me.
It is good to be back in my place as Pastor at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to serve among a remarkable congregation that share a heart for the world. I am grateful that for the support they give me in living out my twin calls to the church and the world.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Friday, March 13, 2009
My time at the Singapore Bible College still seems to resonate - via follow up emails from several students. The team's time in Singapore allowed them to be exposed to Hindu worship patterns and the powerful presence of Chinese Buddhist temples. The time in KL with the Chin leaders proved remarkably moving. The tour of the city center invited them to begin to process the nature of Islam. The pause in Penang offered us a bit of time to share some memories, but also a time to refresh before our time in Southern Thailand. The time in Songkhla brought back a flood of wonderful memories and a powerful time for the team to see spiritual impact of Thai Buddhism, Animism, and traditional Chinese worship patterns. The time at the Reclining Buddha and the team's response to the adjoining shed with images and idols from a wide range of religions was significant. This moment was made even more meaningful when we realized that our Thail friends were praying for us as we encountered these spiritual icons.
I do wish I could communicate the joy and the depth of the faith of our Thai Christian friends. They are like family to Beth and me. The quickly embraced the rest of the team as well. The time with them was spiritual energizing.
The clock says it is time to head to the plane. Oklahoma City awaits. It has been a great two weeks. It is time to go back home. I will be in the pulpit on Sunday morning. I am ready to be with the family of faith at FBC. I am anxious to share our stories and to move forward together in the ministry that God has prepared for us to do.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Yesterday we took vans the three and a half hour ride from Penang across the Thai border to Songkhla. This was our home for several years. We were met at the hotel by our Thai pastor and his wife. They are like family to us. We took a quick tour of the city, including checking by our old house. Our neighbors still remembered us and we had a grand reunion. We also went by and fed the wild monkeys. It was a blast watching the reaction of our team as the monkeys took peanuts from their hands. We cooled off and then headed to Beth's birthday dinner. We went to our favorite resturant. It is a simple Thai Chinese resturant that puts to shame what we call Chinese and Thai in the US. Our Thai friends joined us for a great night. It was a lot of fun and Beth laughed the whole night. It was a good birthday for her.
Today we head out for the culture and religion section of this trip. It should be a very good day. We will see a Muslim village, a reclining Buddha, a huge Chinese temple, and a wide variety of other sites and sounds. The picture is from a small fishing village the team will see today as well. Look for tomorrow's posting for more details on the day.
Thanks for coming along for the trip via the blog.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Monday, March 9, 2009
We spent the afternoon exploring KL. It had the opportunity to catch the flavor the city.
The boarding call for our flight to Penang just sounded. More soon.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I met up with the FBC OKC team about 9:45 yesterday morning. (The arrived safe and sound.) We headed out almost immediately. Our first stop was Orchard Road, where the best in high end shopping from Europe and the States meet. The stores and shopping centers are something to behold. These ultra-modern high tech stores offer almost anything and everything you might every need or want. It was fun to see it, but then we moved on to the more culturally focused areas of the city.
From Orchard Road we headed to Little India, an huge enclave that is the primary shopping and restaurant hub of Singapore's significant Indian population. It was great fun to wander among the shop houses and to experience the pulse of this vital community. We grabbed lunch at a wonderful restaurant. We ordered a variety of foods and it seems that everyone found something they enjoyed. A cultural highlight would have been the time in and around a Hindu temple and some of the we discussed there.
We took a short break in the late afternoon and then meet some friends at an outdoor pavilion for dinner. There a seeming endless variety of foods offered in this Singaporean version of a grand food court. After dinner we went to Chinatown. We experienced a huge Chinese Buddhist temple and then did a little shopping at a night bazaar.
We closed the night with a boat ride on the Singapore river. I love how Will Pennington put it: "It is like a Disney ride, but it's real!" By the time the boat ride was over jet lag had set in and the team crashed for the night.
We are now in the Singapore's Changi Airport - one of the best airports in the world - on our way to Kuala Lumpur. More later from there.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Friday, March 6, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
This afternoon I met with the worship team to walk through the logistics for each day. They have a great plan in place that should highlight the diverse cultures that claim this campus as home. This evening I had dinner and an extended time with the Student Missions Fellowship that his responsible for leading this event. They are an amazing group. They come from: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, and Holland. They raised some great questions and I got to hear many of their stories of how they came to the school and what they hope for next in their life and ministry. Meeting students like these give me great hope for the future of the Church. They are also a powerful picture of the truly global nature of the church. It is my hope to help the church where I serve truly capture an understanding of what God is doing in the world and where we can be a part of it. The good news is that I believe we are moving in the right direction.