Sunday, April 25, 2010

“Declaration” Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Sermon text for Sunday, April 25, 2010

There are some moments that change everything. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and the Protestant Reformation was born. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and unanimously declared; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and the flames of the American Revolution took hold. On December 8, 1941 Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before US Congress and declared; “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” By the time his speech had ended, the United States had officially entered World War II. The writer of Deuteronomy envisions this kind of dramatic moment for the people of God. He calls them to a defining moment when they would stand before God and the world and make a declaration that would define the rest of their lives. In Deuteronomy 26:16 and 17 we hear: 16 The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him.

It is so easy to think about the Book of Deuteronomy as a book of law, after all the Greek name that we claim for the book is “second law.” But it is more much more than that. It is a book of the law that emerges from the living experience between God and God’s people. This passage invites us into a grand assembly when the people of God were hearing and considering what it mean to follow the ways of God. Their leadership lead them to a moment of declaration – a moment when they were to called to unapologetically claim their desire to walk in God’s way, to keep God’s decrees, commands and laws, that they would choose to actively obey God. Sometimes we forget that a declaration of faith is born in the acknowledgement that we need God, that we cannot be who we need to be apart from God. I would have loved to have been there and witness this moment of decision, this moment of active faith. The people stand. They lift their voices. Hear the report; You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him.

But this moment was no one-sided affair. God was not, and is not, looking for a blindly obedient people. God was, and is, looking for a people of faith founded in authentic relationship. This is a great “law” passage that identifies a moment when the people declared that the Lord was God and that they would follow God’s commands. Now God responds. In verses 18 and 19 we hear; 18 And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.

In response to their faithfulness God declared that He would claim them and bless them. Did you hear what God declared? Those who declare their faith in God are HIS people! Treasured Possessions! That God would bring fame to their name and make them a holy people! These are terms of endearment and rich with promise of God’s blessing. God tells the people because you have declared your faith in me, I claim you, bless you, and will work in and through you – and in and through us as a family of faith.

God calls us to a whole new place and a whole new attitude and this is reflected in this passage of shared declaration. It is an attitude of faithfulness and obedience emerging out of an authentic ongoing relationship with God. We chose to obey because we love God, have faith in God, and know that we belong to God as a treasured possession. So what does it mean to live as God’s treasured possessions? This is a loaded phrase. Let me turn the question around. What are your most treasured possessions? The reality is that for some their most treasured possessions are things made of paper that can be carried in a wallet, or made of metal and can be driven down the street, or made of brick and mortar and with a street address. They are things that can be possessed. But instead they become possessed by their possession and the unbridled pursuit to hang on to them. The problem is when we measure our treasure in the tangible, we find it gives nothing back and can vanish in seconds with a blip on Wall Street, an envelope with a pink slip, or the stirring of the strong Oklahoma winds. The only treasure that has meaning is a treasure found in flesh and blood – people to love and embrace…..people who can love and embrace. The treasured passions of God are not the things that he spoke into existence like the roaring oceans or the majestic mountains. No, God chooses prize the creation created in God’s image, the one who freely gives faith and love, the one who walks in the way of God out of a relationship of choice.

What does it mean that God has made us a holy people? Note the term here is “holy” not “religious” or “self righteous.” Holy is a word reserved for the divine. We are a holy people because in our declaration of faith God responds and claims us, and chooses to allow us to touched by the brush of the divinity of God that makes us His. We hear similar language in an earlier passage. Hear Deuteronomy 7: 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. In our declaration of faith we choose to make a life defining declaration that the Lord is our God, God responds and chooses us as His own. Hear again that our obedience is born in relationship, our “chosenness” springs out of faithfulness; being a treasure of God is a reflection of being an authentic child of God.

This idea of chosenness is a concept that has been – and is – hotly debated within and outside of the Jewish community. (1) Some Jewish scholars will tell you that chosenness brings with it the burden of identity in front of others. Our passage tells us He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised. In the Old Testament covenant language speaks to the chosen ones find their identity with God based in their place as the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Christians, when we come to this idea choseness we find it rooted in a faith relationship rather than a genealogical line. Our defining declaration of faith in God and resulting relationship is rooted unapologetically in our faith in Christ. Our choseness brings us the promise of God’s presence and places upon us the responsibility to make sure that the praise, fame, and honor God chooses to bestow upon us as this scripture describes is not for our glory but is given that we might bring glory to God.

One of the questions that have begun to emerge from various voices within our church family is why God has chosen to move among us, to bless us, to stir fresh in the life of our church family? I believe that this passage helps us to begin to hear the answer. I believe that God has moved in our midst not out of our strengths, but because we came to God in a declaration of faith born in brokenness. We were a broken congregation – the facilities were broken, the heart of the church was broken and the cry of declaration sounded out, “We are yours and we will do whatever you want us to do God.” I came as a broken pastor – with a broken body and a spirit broken before God and the cry of declaration sounded out from and ICU bed, “I am yours and I will do whatever you want me to do God.” In our brokenness God reshaped us and remade us – first apart and later together. In faithfulness to obey God, to do whatever God wanted us to do, to seek to be the people that God wanted us to be, to follow God decrees and commands for our lives as a family of faith we found the power of God’s declaration that this day that we are his people, his treasured possession as he promised. God’s movement in our midst is not born in a right of a church or people but rather in God’s response to a boken people who chose to make a bold declaration of dependence and chose to walk in God’s way. God has chosen to let other congregations begin to hear our story and seek to learn more not for our glory, but rather that God might receive the glory of the story of that which was broken is now redeemed.

I invite into a grand assembly where we hear ;16 The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. We are invited into a moment of declaration where we proclaim in front of the world that the Lord is our God. This is no trivial religious pronouncement. It is a defining moment that invites us into an authentic relationship with God both as a person and as a people. In our brokenness and our acknowledgement that only God can meet the deepest needs of our heart we call out in declaration. We do not have to wonder where the story ends. God stand ready to call us a treasured possession, a holy people, the children of God.

(1)Note articles posted at and on April 21, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Situation in Thailand

(Photo from BBC News)

I will never forget our first moments in Thailand. We were young couple with two small children ready to begin to live out our missions call. Bangkok would serve as our home for the first year while we went to language school. While it was a new culture to us, we found great joy in exploring the city and discovering the joys of new experiences and new friendships. My office in Oklahoma City is filled with wooden elephants and cultural images that come from our season in the Land of Smiles. Now, the country we still love, and the city we once called home has become a cauldron of political discontent and the seeds of potential civil war seem to have begun to take root. You have "Red Shirts," "Yellow Shirts," "Multicolored Shirts," the police and the military all standing within feet of each other ready to respond to any hint of provocation. I would like to tell you which side is right, but the story is much more complex than that. There is truth, lies, and corruption spread across the parties. My grave concern is that I do not see an easy way out for any of the parties involved. I fear that they are so ratcheted up the intensity of the moment that great blood shed awaits them the all. I invite you to join me in praying for the people of Thailand. Pray for wisdom for the leaders of the various factions. Pray that they needs of the nation will prevail over the desires of each group. Pray that God might move in this situation in a way that might help the eyes of Thai people might see the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Saturday, April 17, 2010

“An Encounter on the Road” Luke 24:13-35

Art work by He Qi (

I was moved by the eerie silence I experienced as I stood alone in a field that was a part of the battlefield at Gettysburg. In my mind’s eye I could begin to imagine young men in blue and grey crouched down absorbing the seemingly endless barrages of cannon fire; sweating nervously as they awaited their next set of orders that would push them in a life and death struggle against one another. I could almost hear the old iron slugs slicing through the air and the cries of pain as a bullet or cannon shard found their target. As I stood in the midst of this ordinary looking field that had become the home to death, I could not help but think of the Stephen Crane’s description of a young man in his American classic The Red Badge of Courage. His central character is one who is barely more than a boy – who in the heat and confusion of battle slips away in fear and grief.

When I come to this story in Luke and we stumble upon two disciples heading out of Jerusalem on the way to Emmaus, I wonder if they might have been feeling the same kind of fear and grief that a battle broken solder might feel. They had experienced the incredible intensity of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem and had witnessed His brutal crucifixion. While the story of resurrection had begun to ripple among the disciples, these two had enough. They had endured all that they could endure. Now we find them slipping away – heading out of town – heading out of the hurt and confusion. Broken and broken hearted they head to Emmaus. The two began the day’s journey in the hours after the resurrection. Scholars and archeologist debate on exactly where Emmaus was. Since the 4th Century some have place it just on the edge of the hill country of Judah. The crusaders identified a second credible option that would have moved the two a different direction. But, candidly, I am not sure it would have mattered much which direction out of town they were heading, the key for the two – and for us – is they were heading out. They wanted out of Jerusalem and had walked away from the disciples huddling together in the Upper Room,

We find the two engaged in conversation in the heat of the day on the dusty road. You can almost see them walking and talking together. Their conversation was intently and intensely focused on what they had experienced together over the past few days. Luke tells us: They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. I would have loved to have heard what they had to say to each other. I wonder if they were talking about the Triumphant Entry; or maybe the cleansing of the Temple; or maybe what it was to watch the crowd turn on Jesus so quickly. Surely they were talking about the trials or the dramatic scene on Calvary. Perhaps they were talking about the resurrection stories reported from the women and affirmed by their friend. We cannot be sure what they were talking about at when the stranger appeared, but were still so caught up in their own experiences, their own grief, that they could not comprehend that Jesus was walking with them. Eugene Peterson’s interpretive translation, The Message, we hear the story this way; In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was. He asked, What's this you're discussing so intently as you walk along?" They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.

Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened during the last few days?" Can you imagine what Jesus must have been thinking when they asked him this question? Did he have any idea what had been going on in Jerusalem? Of course he did. But Jesus was in the redemption business and these two were heading the wrong direction. He (said) ask them, "What has happened?"

The two proceeded to tell Jesus the whole story. They said, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn't find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn't see Jesus." It is clear that in their grief and doubt they lost their way and walked away. Their hope had been shattered and their faith deeply wounded. They knew the story but missed its power.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would appear to these two? We really have no idea who Cleopas was. We have to assume that the readers of Luke would have had some idea, but his identity has been lost to history. The second disciple is unnamed and unknown. But it seems that Jesus wants to reclaim and redeem all who called him Lord. He did not want anyone broken, broken hearted and lost on the way. Jesus speaks and redefines the experience of the two pulling together all the Scriptures that explained his death and resurrection. Their encounter on the road with a stranger is transformed into a time with the Savior. They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: "Stay and have supper with us. It's nearly evening; the day is done." So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared. Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?"

In a moment reminiscent of the Last Supper they eyes were opened and their hearts burned. They had been restored. These two were the first two to encounter Jesus along the road between where they were and Emmaus. But, they are not the last. We too find our place on the road between where we are and Emmaus every time we walk way – when doubt overcomes faith – when frustration overcomes hope – when the baggage and fears from our past overcomes the future that God beckons us toward. We too find ourselves on the road between where we are and Emmaus –the question is whether we will be so consumed by our grief and doubt – our fears and agenda – that we miss Jesus walking in our midst?

Musical Element by Sanctuary Choir and Soloist Emmaus
Who is Jesus Christ? The question echoes down Emmaus Road. Dead or raised to life?
The same doubts spoken first so long ago when a stranger came to two men on their journey,
And it was not long before their broken hearts were burning

Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus a stranger wants to come and walk with you
Somewhere along the way your heart will be burning, drawn into the holy flame of truth.
Right now He may be a stranger to you. What will he be when your journey's through?
Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus the Savior wants to walk with you.

Some ask Him in to stay as night falls on their own Emmaus Road.
Some push Him away and never see the mystery unfold
But those who take to heart the word that has been spoken, as He breaks the bread of life their eyes will open.

The story of the two ends in dramatic fashion. The two disciples sprint back to the other disciples to spread the good news that it was true, that Jesus had risen just as He said, and that they knew this because of their own encounter on the road. They had followed Jesus – had walked away in grief and despair – and were reclaimed by Jesus and returned to their journey of faith and faithfulness.

Their story is our story. We are redeemed to follow; but there are moments when we are so clouded by our own experiences and emotions, so shaped by our own agendas and fears, that we lose focus. But, if we listen well and open our eyes we can have a fresh encounter with Jesus. Followship is a continuing journey of faith, faltering, and renewal; of an encounter on the road where Jesus meets us and helps us turn around and find our way back home to faith and following Him.

What will you do when you have your encounter on the road between where you are and Emmaus? Will you look up from your despair and doubt, your personal agendas and your expectations long enough to see the face of Jesus and to hear his voice? Will you set aside all of the distractions to claim a time at the table with him and hear him offer you the Bread of Life? What will you do when you find that you have faltered or failed? Will you let him turn you around and put you on the right path again? Somewhere between where you are and Emmaus the Savior wants to walk with you. Let us pray.

Difficult news related to an important Baptist leader

This morning I recieved the difficult new of Dr. Cecil Sherman's passing. I first met Dr. Cecil Sherman at a meeting at Ridge Road Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1991. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was in its earliest day. I appreciated the hope and the energy he brought to his vision of what this emerging movement might bring to the troubled Baptist landscape. I led our the new church we were planting to join the Fellowship and in 1994 Beth and I joined CBF as missionaries. Cecil Sherman's leadership was a vital part of our willingness to invest our ministry journey in what was still a very young and loosely structured organization.

Cecil Sherman, former Cooperative Baptist Fellowship national coordinator, suffered a massive heart attack April 15, and passed away this morning in Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Va. An Associated Baptist Press article released yesterday recounts; "Sherman, 82, was the first coordinator of the Fellowship, serving from 1992 through 1996. His pastoral ministry spanned decades, including pastorates at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and First Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C. Sherman, whose wife of 54 years -- Dorothy "Dot" Sherman -- died in August 2008, was diagnosed with acute leukemia in July 2008. He was the visiting professor of pastoral ministries at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, a CBF partner seminary."(1) At an age when many would have been content to settle into a quiet season of retirement Cecil Sherman stepped forward in leadership. He brought a strong voice and a gentle steady hand of leadership to the shaping of the young CBF movement. He effectively brought congregations together to step beyond the Baptist battle and work together for the sake of the Kingdom. He brought Dr. Keith Parks in as the Global Missions Coordinator and empowered him to lead CBF missions to work with those with little or no access to the gospel. He called churches to remember that it was missions that brought us together and gave us commonality of purpose. He encouraged an young leaders whose season of ministry had been defined by Baptist conflict to find their place in positive congregational ministry. I am thankful for his powerful history of congregational leadership and for his era of shaping a moderate Baptist movement. He will be missed.
Grace and Peace, Tom

For more updates visit

1. Carla Wynn Davis writes for CBF Communications. Bob Allen contributed to the ABP article.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

“Breakfast with Jesus" John 21:1-19 NLT

This Sunday morning we look at Breakfast with Jesus - when a meal of fish and bread becomes a grand moment of redemption.

It is hard to paint a pretty picture of the apostle Peter in the Holy Week context. At the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday when Jesus washed his feet we hear him missing the moment and babbling on. Then, in the hours to follow, we witness the one who was closest to Jesus, the unquestioned leader among the disciples, turn and deny him, not once, but three times. When Mary Magdalene head to the tomb on that incredible morning, we find Peter quaking in his boots, trembling in fear, hiding in the Upper Room. It is hard to believe that this is the Peter who Jesus promises will be the rock on which he builds his church. But, Jesus is in the redemption business. At shore side breakfast along the edge of the Sea of Galilee Jesus makes a way for Peter to find his place again, and in the process paints what I think is one of the most powerful pictures of personal restoration in the Bible.

After trauma of the crucifixion, and the drama of the resurrection, they finally found themselves back at home – back among the familiar. Jesus had told them to meet him in Galilee. I bet their hearts leaped with joy. Finally an assignment from Jesus that was easy. They hit the road and headed home. “Home;” simply saying this word stirs the emotions and can trigger a flood to memories. For some it might be playing a game on the front yard, for others a smell of something special cooking in the kitchen, or maybe it was a smile of affirmation you would find that would fill your heart with joy. I can imagine that this is the kind of feeling Peter had when they found themselves back home, back among their boats, back among the fishing nets, back to their old stomping ground.
Early in our service you heard our focal passage from more formal translations. So, allow me to claim the New Living Translation to frame our conversation. Later Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. 2 Several of the disciples were there — Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. 3 Simon Peter said, "I'm going fishing." "We'll come, too," they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. Jesus had told them to meet him in Galilee, where they story together had begun. The disciples went ahead of Jesus, but the appeal to go back to their old ways familiar ways were simply too tempting. The old ways, the old places, are so familiar, so comfortable, it seems Peter gives into them. Jesus had called him out of the boats to be follow, but now, as he stands along the water’s edge he forgets what he was called to be, called to do, who he was called to serve. Peter sees a boat, probably one belonging to his family clan. He sees the waves breaking, perhaps even some fish jumping, and he decided enough is enough, he’s going fishing. They others join in. This was not recreational fishing; it was a commercial exercise with a payoff at the end. It’s been a long time since they had had a moment like this. No crowds, no Pharisees, no Sadducees, no Roman soldiers, just the water and the boats. They were back to their boats, they were back to their nets, they were back at home, and they were still lousy fishermen. But, like has happened so many times to them before – and to us before – Jesus shows up and everything changes.

4 At dawn the disciples saw Jesus standing on the beach, but they couldn't see who he was. 5 He called out, "Friends, have you caught any fish?" "No," they replied. 6 Then he said, "Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you'll get plenty of fish!" So they did, and they couldn't draw in the net because there were so many fish in it. The voice of Jesus penetrates the air. Their ordinary day of fishing becomes extraordinary. Failure becomes success – the empty nets are filled! Does this sound familiar? It should. It is a mirror image of the story we find in Luke 5:1-11. It is this story when Jesus steps into the disciples’ lives and turned them upside down. It was in this first fishing story when Jesus beckons them to follow, and promises to make them “fishers of men.” This memory of this moment is not lost on the disciples. It was Peter who had led them back to fishing and now led them headlong, back to Jesus.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and swam ashore. 8 The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only out about three hundred feet. 9 When they got there, they saw that a charcoal fire was burning and fish were frying over it, and there was bread. 10 "Bring some of the fish you've just caught," Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn't torn. 12 "Now come and have some breakfast!" Jesus said. And no one dared ask him if he really was the Lord because they were sure of it. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. The last meal they had shared with Jesus was in the Upper Room in the hours before the chaos in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was the moment he told them of the betrayer and transforms the Passover Feast into the Lord’s Supper. The tenor of this meal is different. It seems more relaxed. Jesus beckons them to breakfast of fresh cooked fish and bread. But, here is Jesus, serving them again. Shane Stanford, a Methodist author and minister offers a powerful picture of this moment. He says; “Jesus must have enjoyed the setting as well. By re-creating the scene from their first days in ministry together, he knew the significance of the moment would not be lost on the disciples. Before, they were called to leave everything and follow him; now they were being called to lay down not only their vocations and worldly pursuits but eventually their lives. The meal they shared was not just breakfast, it was sacrament.” The breakfast alone would have been remarkable, but Jesus was not through. He brought another agenda to the breakfast table. He had a bit of unfinished business he need to attend to with Peter. Jesus had an act of redemption up his sleeve.

15 After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," Peter replied, "you know I love you." "Then feed my lambs," Jesus told him. 16 Jesus repeated the question: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know I love you." "Then take care of my sheep," Jesus said. 17 Once more he asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, "Lord, you know everything. You know I love you." Jesus said, "Then feed my sheep. 18 The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don't want to go." 19 Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, "Follow me." Jesus asks Peter three difficult questions – seeking the affirmation of Peter’s love and commitment. The first ….do you love me more than these – is he referring to the fish and the symbols of Peter’s life before he followed Jesus? Is he referring to the other disciples – Peter’s friends and colleagues? Or maybe Jesus is pointing at the boats and Peter’s old way of life? In the end it could have been either or both because what he wanted to hear from Peter was that he love him more than anything or anyone else. With the second question and Peter’s affirmation – he changes his language. It change in language reminds us of Jesus’ earlier commission for Peter to be the foundation on which he was to build the church. But Jesus was about do to something that would have stilled the air. He looks at Peter – and for a third time asks the question. The third question must have pieced Peter’s heart…Then he said it a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was upset that he asked for the third time. Redemption is not easy. It makes us face ourselves and God honestly and deal with the issue that fractured our relationship with God and others. Why was Peter upset when he asked the third time? I think it was because he was deeply embarrassed. It surely reminded him of his denials in the courtyard. Peter’s heart must have cried out, “He knew! Jesus Knew!!!!!” But instead of judgment Jesus brings restoration. The threefold denial in the courtyard is replaced by a threefold affirmation and commission on the seaside. Jesus call for Peter was the same as that which launched their journey together “Follow me.” This time Peter understands the price.

Max Lucado offers; “For one of the few times in his life, Peter is silent. What words would suffice? The moment was too holy for words. God is offering breakfast to the friend who betrayed him. And Peter is once again finding grace in Galilee. Now it’s just you and God. You and God both know what you did. And neither of you are proud of it. What did you do? You might consider doing what Peter did. Stand in God’s presence. Stand in his sight and wait. Sometimes that’s all a soul can do. Too repentant to speak, but too hopeful to leave – we just stand. Stand amazed. He has come back. He invites you to try again. This time with him.”

Revelation 3:20 in The New Living Translation reads; “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Where Peter’s moment was at the water’s edge water, Jesus is just ready to claim a meal of redemption with us. Redemption for the times we were called to follow and fell away. Redemption for the times we blew it, when we messed up, when we wounded another with our words or deeds. Redemption for the times when we chose our old way of life over life in Christ. Redemption that makes a way for us to find forgiveness and restores our relationship with Jesus.

I think the reason I love this story so much is that I relate better to the stumbling and bumbling Peter than I do the self confident Paul. I like Peter, I am deeply thankful for a Jesus that redeems when I fail and who restores me when I stumble. I am deeply thankful for the Jesus that stands on the water’s edge when I have lost my way to redirect me, to reassure me, to remind me of the first moment he called out to me. How about you? I think I smell the fish frying. Are you ready for a breakfast with Jesus? Are you ready for a redemptive moment with God?

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Face of Treachery Mark 14:53-64

The sermon below was the one I preached at Tabernacle Baptist Church as a part of our joint Good Friday service. Please hear that this was the core text - the responsive nature of the context meant that this sermon grew a bit in its actual proclamation.

I want to begin this evening by thanking all of those who were a part of last night’s service. It was great night together. Thank you, Pastor Hairston for your strong words that called us to “A Table for One.” As we concluded worship last night I told the congregation present that I always thought I was high energy, until I met Daryl. I truly appreciate your heart and your passion for the Gospel. I also celebrate the friendship that you and I, Beth and Karen, and our daughters have discovered together. I am thankful for you. Our message for tonight is found in Mark 14:53-64 and is entitled, The Faces of Treachery.” Open your Bibles and mark where the passage begins. We will come to it in a just a few moments.

Tonight we gather for a Good Friday worship event. The reason the term Good Friday is chosen is because it is argued that while what the Jews and the Romans will do to Jesus is not good, the results of Christ’s death are very good! While I appreciate this argument, my struggle is that when I come to this night I still struggle calling it good because I cannot get past the faces of treachery that fill the story. It is fitting that this story unfold in the dark of night, because when you look at how the people acted, they would not have wanted anyone to see them acting this way in the light of day. Rather than act in daylight in boldness, they slink and slither in the dark of night.

Our story picks up where we left off last night. Jesus and the disciples had shared a remarkable time together in the Upper Room. After the supper they went out in the dark of night into the Garden of Gethsemane for Jesus to pray – and everything changes….the treachery begins to play out. We see the torches coming in the distance. In the distance you can begin to see outline of the faces of the crowd armed with swords and clubs. The angry mob has been sent by Caiaphas, the high priest, and others from the inner religious circle. It’s funny that they did not want to be seen with the mob, it was beneath them, but sends the mob do to their dirty work. We see the face of Judas kissing Jesus, with a kiss of treachery. The one who had just hours before been seen as one of the twelve, and intimate friend and follower of Jesus, now would forever be known Jesus’ betrayer. The mob seized Jesus and our passage in Mark 14:53-64 begins. We heard the passage read earlier and it is now marked in your hands. With the passage ringing in your ears, let me invite you to walk with me into the heart of the story. The scene takes place not in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin where wind of what was happening might drift to the slumber masses in the city, but rather in Caiaphas’ home, where a mockery of justice could be played out in secret; where the ruling was certain before the first word was spoken; where evil could play outs its game in the shadows of torchlight.

Simon Peter, Jesus best friend, the leader of the apostles, the one on which Jesus had pronounced: (Matthew 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. This same Peter, rather than being at Jesus’ side is, as the scripture say, following at a distance – then standing in the courtyard outside warming his hands by the fire. In the moments to come Peter will denial Jesus three times, just as Jesus had said. Jesus had become a relational liability for Peter. Hear his cry when he is accused of being with Jesus; “I don’t know what you are talking about, I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:69-74). He had followed Jesus from the start. He had seen Jesus heal and feed the five thousand; he had been with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration; he had listened to Jesus teach day after day; he had seen Jesus walk on water; he had professed with passion that Jesus was the Son of God. This same Peter, now becomes a face of treachery in his cry; “I don’t know the man!”

Inside the villa, upstairs in a large upper room, the hastily called Sanhedrin has gathered in the middle of the night to play out their plan. The high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. One of Jesus’ followers had taken the bribe to betray him; they had seized him, now they need to put on a show trial so they could demand the Romans kill Jesus. But they suddenly had a problem. Jewish law required the common testimony of two men to convict someone. They list of false witnesses came in and out of the room, but they could not get their stories together, instead contradicting each other. You could feel the tension rising in the room. Were they going to go through all of this and have Jesus slip from their hands? Their faces of treachery glowed in the candlelight. It could not end here! Caiaphas rose from his seat and addressed Jesus directly: "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" I imagine that the silence must have hung in the air and every face was on Jesus. Jesus opened his lips and spoke two works: I AM.

The term Mark uses for "I am" is only used twice in the whole of Mark's gospel and its historic tie is clear. The way Mark uses the term "I am" invites us to let them leap forth from our memory calling us to Moses and his encounter with God at the burning bush. Exodus 3:13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "The God of Moses and Abraham, Jehovah, Yahweh, The Great I AM was in their midst but their eyes were so blinded by their own sense of power, place and privilege that they could not see. God was speaking to them, but their eyes were so filled by the sound of their own voices they could not hear. Their faces were so set on treachery they could not step back.

63The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64"You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him. This moment haunts me. In a matter of a few hours Herod and Pilate will become embroiled in the story and their faces will be added to the treachery, but it is this moment, when the Sanhedrin issues its death warrant that is the catalyst for Jesus’ crucifixion. This moment is burned into my heart and mind. It is the angry treacherous face of Caiaphas that I see when I think of the mockery of justice that leads Jesus to the cross. It is the voice of Caiaphas I hear echoing in my ears when the crowd yells “crucify him!”

This moment became more personal in an unexpected encounter in Montreal, Canada. When I worked as a part of a mission organization staff I visited a missionary family from our organization living and working in Canada. One of our meetings finished a bit early and learned that there was an exhibit for the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the old New Testament manuscripts that exist. I could not wait to see them. The exhibit was great and just off to the side that had another room that read; “Other Antiquities for the Era.” I had some time left open so I went into the room. It was full of incredible artifacts. Then I came to one that sent chills down my spine. The placard read that this was the Ossuary (or coffin) for the High Priest Caiaphas. I stood there looking at the intricately carved stone box and felt an overwhelming sense of anger and hatred filling my heart. This was the man! This was the man that condemned my Jesus to the cross! There was a part of me that wanted to smash through the glass and destroy the box and anything inside of it that helped to sustain his place in history.

Then suddenly I felt a stirring in my heart. It was like a whisper speaking into my soul. It was not Caiaphas alone who condemned Jesus to the cross. The face of treachery that joined him was mine. He did my bidding. It was my sin, my choices for speak words that wounded, or to sit silent when words that called for justice needed to be spoken. It was my sin, the times I acted out without the consideration of others and the times I did not act out in love when it was needed. It was my sin, my moments when my soul was drawn into darkness rather that living a life of light before the word. There are some who want to claim that we are predestined to sin because we are Adam's heirs. My problem is that sin is not something that happened to me. I see clearly that my sin is of my own choosing. I remember a boy in my 6th grade class who was overweight. I remember the things we said to him. I can only imagine how our words - how my words - must have hurt him. I did not think about his hurt at the time, but I have countless days since then. How I wish I could find him now and say "I'm sorry!" Perhaps you have a similar story in your life - a moment when you the word that tumbled from your lips - or you did something that now makes you cringe. These are our sins. They are not inherited, they are chosen. The Good Friday face of treachery was not Caiaphas’ but the one looking back at the mirror. I am not alone. The Good Friday face of treachery also stares back at you when you look in the mirror.

The whisper spoke again. No one sent Jesus to the cross. It was a path that was chosen before the beginning of time. While the mockery of justice is clear, these men did not have the power to crucify the Son of God. Jesus acted in choice and obedience. The cross was the means for redemption for me, for you, and all of humanity. It was and is the symbol of God’s grand act of extravagant grace. Hear the pronouncement of Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And First Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” Hear the good news; just like Jesus redeems Peter for life and ministry after the resurrection, God is still in the redeeming business, making a way for life to spring forth from death, for forgiveness to rein/rain over sin, for us to reclaim our place as children of God.

No matter whom you are, no matter where you are from, no matter what you have done, Christ paid the price for our redemption on the cross and sealed it for eternity in the moment of the resurrection. It is time to start living like the redeemed and becomes agents, ambassadors, ministers of the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. It is time to quit standing around and warming our hands over the fire, looking from the outside in, like Peter, and find our place in the service and servanthood of God. It is time to move for the comfort of our pews and our sanctuaries into the highway and byways, streets and sidewalks where people need to know that that is a God who loves them so much that he would claim the Good Friday cross on their behalf and claim and empty Easter tomb that we might live life and life eternal. It is time to allow God to transform our faces of treachery into faces of grace, reaching out to our communities and our world in the name of Jesus. Our community, our world, longs to see authentic faces of grace. Amen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Living One John 20:1-16 Revelation 1:8, 18

Easter morning sermon text celebrating the power of the resurrection.

Mrs. Miriam Timothy was my senior year English teacher in High School. As I look back, she was one of my favorite teachers and one the best teachers I ever encountered. Somehow she managed to draw you into a poem or story as though you were the first one in history ever to hear it. The words seemed to leap from the page and stir in the air. She made it clear, if the story was compelling, it did not matter if you knew how it ended; nor how many times you read it; you would never grow weary of it. She was right. As we look across literature we know how Romeo and Juliet ends, but the when we hear it read or played out on stage it draws our ears. We know that Anne Frank will be discovered, but her Diary still breaks out hearts. We know what happens when Charlotte weaves her web over a runt piglet, but we still find a tear at the edge of our eyes when the spider gives way to her babes. We know what will happen when Tom Sawyer’s friends encounter him painting of fence, but we still chuckle when we latter find them with a whitewash brush in hand. While all of these stories amuse us, bemuse us, makes us laugh, and makes us cry, none of them hold a candle to the story we witness together every Easter morning. We know the Gospel story of resurrection, but while the other stories entertain us, this one transforms us.

My favorite account is the one found in the Gospel of John, because it gives us a sense of the chaos and confusion in those early morning hours that gives was to the day break reality that Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said. I can only imagine what Mary Magdalene must have been feeling when she came to the tomb. She had lived under the suppressive rule of a violent empire. She had found hope in one she believed to the Messiah. But in the last 72 hours she had seen the Jesus seized by a mob sent by the religious insiders, endure a mockery of a trial, condemned to death though he was innocent, beaten mercilessly by Roman soldiers, crowned with a crown of thorns, nailed to a rugged cross, and then crucified. She had witnessed Jesus’ agony and had seen the sky go black and felt the earth shake. She came to the tomb of Jesus downcast and broken hearted. She was bewildered by the dramatic acts of the past few days. But she would discover that her confusion was only just beginning. In the midst of death she would find life! Her world would be turned upside down when she heard the question, “Who are you looking for?”

John’s Easter account is found in John 20. We begin with verses one through ten where we will find that Mary’s Easter- and ours – begins in the confusion of the early morning mist. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. At a distance she saw there was a problem, the large stone had been rolled away. What had happened? Had someone taken the body? Mary ran for help. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

The disciples had been hiding in the upper room in absolute fear. They had seen Jesus crucified and were afraid that they would be next. They heard the words of Mary and took off with her. The confusion in the mist continued. Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

The passage offers us an odd little picture of the sprint to the tomb by Peter and the other disciple. It seems that they just can not help competing. By their dash proves seemingly pointless. In the end they understood that the body of Jesus was missing. They believed it was gone. They went home – dejected and rejected – it had been bad enough that they had crucified Jesus – but now his body had been taken as well. Their grief had been compounded. What more could happen? What more would they have to endure? They had heard Jesus' teaching about his death and resurrection for some time now, but it just did not reach them. The prospect of resurrection was more than they could conceive, particularly after what they had witnessed in the streets of Jerusalem and seen at the cross. They were so wrapped up in their own story that had missed the story of the movement of God.

The disciples that had accompanied Mary departed, and in the process miss the greatest moment in human history. Regardless of what others thought, regardless of the price, Mary had stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and wept. Now we hear her tears again, weeping for his loss and weeping for the loss of his body. She was a woman on a mission. She was going to find out what happened to Jesus and no one and nothing was going to stop her.

She went over where his body was laid with care and saw two angels, unsure of who they are, broken hearted, she speaks. Hear the word’s of verses eleven through thirteen. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Mary’s grief was not the polite Southern grief that suffers in silence. She was unapologetic in her pain and passionate in her desire to find the body of Jesus. The others can go if they want to, but this is not her task, this is not what her faith will allow. In the midst of her brokenness and tears, God speaks! The miracle of the resurrection story is about to change everything! The place of death is about to be transformed into a place of life and victory!

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Her grief and her pain blinded her to the possibility - to the promise - to the reality that Jesus was with her. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"As we read the resurrection stories, we find that the women and the disciples came to the grave that Sunday morning expecting to grieve the painful and tragic death of Jesus. These first disciples simply could not imagine that they would find the tomb empty or meet the Risen Christ. But in the moment this question is raised to Mary everything will change for her and change for us. The power of the resurrection transforms defeat into victory, death into life, sin into forgiveness, hopelessness into divine hope. “Who are you looking for?”

I think that the reason that across the world the largest day for church attendance comes on Easter morning is that so many know that there is something of value in the Easter message. But, while they have come looking for Jesus they have not found the kind of relationship with God that impacts their everyday lives. The John resurrection story portrays what happens when one who was earnestly looking for Jesus finds him. We, like those that surrounded Jesus are tempted to look for the kind of savior that we think best fits our life situation. We look for a savior that can help our broken marriage, or fix our problems with our teenage child, or redeem our situation at work. We have been coaxed into believing that if we will at least show up at church on Easter Sunday, dressed in our best, then God will do something to fix our lives. The problem is that Jesus frustrated everyone that came to him with their own expectations of what savior he was supposed to be. If we come seeking the Jesus that will bless our comfort way of life, that Jesus that will meet our expectations, our the Jesus that will fix our problems, then we will be like the disciples who went home from the tomb disappointed and broken. But, if we will honestly and earnestly looking for the Jesus of Easter morning then we will hear his call to radical discipleship and respond to his call to love God and love our neighbor. If we come earnestly looking for the Jesus of Easter morning we will find the Jesus transforms sin and death and becomes the means for God to transform not our problems – but our souls.

(15b-16)Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" In a single word everything changes. She knows that voice. Jesus’ voice strikes a chord deep within her heart. Have you ever long to hear from someone? Have you had a moment when an argument had separated you and you knew you needed desperately to talk? Have you worried about a loved one and could not reach them? Have you had a friend on your mind and had no idea on how the reach them? Then the phone rings and you hear a voice. They do not have to tell you who they are. When their voice reaches your ear your heart stops and is filled instantly with joy. It is them!

This is the kind of moment Mary experiences. In hearing her name she knew the voice. She knew that she had found what she was looking for. No, it was not the body of Jesus, it was the living Jesus. It was the voice of the familiar, the voice see hears has beckoned her and others to come and follow – to seek God first – to be forgiven and to forgive others – to be healed and to become an agent of healing by introducing people to the One that can offer salvation. The hearing of the voice of Jesus changes everything. Death has given way to life. She has found who she was looking for and it is the Living One, the Savior, Christ the Lord. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). She see Jesus face to face and the reality of the resurrection claims the day.

Our service began with the two grand Jesus pronouncements found in Revelation, Chapter 1. Hear again 8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. These strong words are fulfilled in the empty tomb. Resurrection is the moment that God rewrites history and creates the means of life and eternal life in and through Christ. Resurrection is the Easter story of life – of a living and loving God. It is the ultimate declaration that God is faithful from the beginning of time and has fulfilled His promises – that forgiveness awaits – that grace reigns down. The cross has given way to the empty tomb. We who were destined for death now find life. We who were held captive by sin now find freedom. We who were separated from God are now drawn close.

Yes, it is a familiar story. We hear it again and again every Easter. We know who wins in the end. But I love to hear the story of the Living One, the One who was at the beginning and will come again; the One who was dead and is now alive forever; the who has transformed death from an ending to the beginning of eternity in the warm embrace of our living and loving God. It is a story that I love to hear; it is the story of my Savior. Amen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

FBC OKC and Tabernacle Baptist Church - A New Relationship is Born

This Easter season First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City began a new relationship with Tabernacle Baptist Church, a predominately African-American church here in our city. On Maundy Thursday we worshipped at our place and claimed the theme “Communion.” We served the Lord’s Supper in five stations throughout the sanctuary, each table lead by a member from both congregations. We served beside each other. We served each other in the name of Jesus. On Good Friday we gathered at Tabernacle to focus on the cross where we all come acknowledging our place and finding redemption together through God’s grand act of grace. In prayer and praise, song and sermon, we celebrated our common faith in Christ.

Tabernacle Baptist’s pastor is Dr. Daryl Hairston. He has become a friend that I cherish. He brings great joy into my life. We hope that our congregations can find the same quality of relationship that we have found with each other. Our choice to begin the church to church relationship during Holy Week is no accident. Many times traditionally white and black churches trade pulpits or do something together over the MLK birthday weekend or during Black History Month. Often these become acts of symbolic connection, but little happens between the churches in the weeks and months that follow. Daryl and I wanted to move beyond these symbolic acts of community and invite our congregations to become authentically family with and for one another. We chose Holy Week because we believed it was powerful to begin our congregational relationship in worship focused on the One who makes us one. Through the cross and the Easter empty tomb we are become brothers and sisters in a way that transcends race and culture. We hear in Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV) You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Part of what Daryl and I hope is that our churches relationship will also speak at a visible witness of community to a city that seems to claim a quiet and polite segregation and racism that divides our community. In some cities across our country the lines between the races is overt and the tension is palpable. In Oklahoma City it is more subtle, but its insidious nature is just as profound. It is our hope that as our congregations worship together, work together, and play together that our city will see a different way, a different model that can call us to a true sense of community. We are hopeful that those who claim one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV) can show the way together.

A personal note- I want to offer my sincere appreciation for the remarkable turnout of the FBC OKC church family when we worshipped at Tabernacle. I am thankful for this very visible sign of support for this new congregational relationship. Your response truly touched me.

Grace and Peace, Tom