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As we come from the preparatory season of Lent into the celebratory season of Easter, we go through Holy Week. Holy Week commemorates the final days of Jesus’ life and his final journey into Jerusalem. It begins with Palm Sunday, a day of celebration with undertones of the crisis and violence to come. According to the Bible, as Jesus entered Jerusalem a crowd gathered laying their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches. On the other side of Jerusalem, the Roman governor Pilate would be entering to his own parade. Palm Sunday sets the scene – Jesus took on the Roman authorities, claiming to have more power than even Caesar himself.
On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the Passover with Jesus, and the institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion (also known as The Last Supper or the Eucharist.) Christians do not celebrate the Passover described in the book of Exodus, but Maundy Thursday would not exist without it. Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room of house to celebrate this Jewish holiday.
When we celebrate the Last Supper, we commune with Christ. We also remember how Jesus took bread and broke it, saying, “This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” The bread broke would have been unleavened bread, in remembrance of Israel leaving Egypt so quickly they could not add leavening.
Jesus took a cup of wine and pass it to the people assembled, saying, “This is the new covenant, shed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins. Take, drink, and do this in remembrance of me.” The cup passed would have been the cup of Elijah, the most major prophet of Israel’s history. Jesus intentionally claims to be both the incarnation of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfills God’s plan first made known to Abraham all the way back in Genesis.
On Good Friday that plan goes into another act, this one a political and religious drama which culminates on the cross. Jesus is taken before both the religious authorities and the Roman occupational authorities. He is mocked, beaten, and forced to carry his own cross up Golgotha. There he was crucified. To the Roman government, crucifixion was meant to show the world how powerful the empire was. To Christians, the crucifixion reminds us of our sin and of the willingness of God to forgive. The cross reminds us also that death is not final, and that Good Friday is merely a way station on the road to the final act.
This final act is Easter Sunday. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead and this day we celebrate the resurrecting power of God that made Jesus come alive again. Easter celebrates that death is not final – that the light of God always pierces the darkness of sin and death. Easter is a celebration of hope: hope in God’s Son, hope in the resurrection, hope for the world in which we live.
Join in celebrating Holy Week this year from April 17 through the 24. Palm Sunday worship begins at 10 am on April 17. Maundy Thursday worship begins at 7 pm on April 21 and includes a cantata sung by our wonderful choir. Easter Sunday brings two opportunities to worship, including a sunrise service at 7 am held at Westhunt Baptist Church and our regular 10 am worship. Come and worship the Risen Lord this Easter season!
One of the most well known card tricks ever played is the Three Card Monty. A mark who doesn’t know what’s going on comes up to the dealer. Three cards are laid down on the table, one of which is a Queen of Hearts. The mark is shown the Queen of Hearts, and then all three cards are turned face down and the dealer starts exchanging the cards one for another, back and forth, all the while chanting to the mark to “keep your eye on the Queen.” Eventually the shuffling stops and the three cards are lined up. The mark is asked to choose a card. Inevitably the mark is wrong no matter how much they kept their eyes open, because the whole thing is an illusion. The dealer has hidden the Queen up his sleeve; the mark is intently watching a bunch of superfluous cards.
Jesus once saw the eyes of many trained on the superfluous. He was in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Sukkot (or Booths or Tabernacles), a celebration of abundant harvest given by God. In the midst of the feast Jesus is teaching in the temple courts and doing quite well – he is the Son of God after all, he knows more than a little about Judaism! Yet as some in the crowd begin to wonder out loud if Jesus is indeed the Christ and others wonder why the authorities who want to kill him are dithering on the sidelines, a new trick emerges. “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”
They’ve taken their eyes off of what is important – is Jesus the Messiah or not? – and begun staring at where he is from on the map. Now at first this seems important: ancient prophesies had dictated that the Anointed One of God would hail from the City of David (aka Bethlehem). But in the midst of overwhelming revelation such as signs, wonders, miracles, teaching, is geography really that important? I would say, “No.” Although Luke’s gospel goes to great lengths to tell us Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.
In Lent, we are challenged to discern what is important. We are called to keep our eyes on the King, to search intently for God’s kingdom and pray for its coming, and to know when we are being given an illusion. So often we lose the forest of the Gospel for the trees of the Law, and Lent challenges us to step back for just a moment an reorient ourselves towards God’s kingdom.
Shannon and I were watching television while feeding Jamie the other night and we saw an advertisement for fish sandwiches at a fast food joint. I immediately picked up on the theme, turning to Shannon and saying, “You know Lent must be coming when the fish sandwich ads appear on television.”
Many who grew up either in Roman Catholic families or who had friends who were Roman Catholic may remember that during the Spring before Easter fish was traditionally eaten on Fridays. Other than that, however, Lent remains a mystery to many of us.
Lent is a period of preparation for Easter. Lent was observed in the early church as a time when people who were ready to join the church (known as catechumens) received their training. Catechumens would join the church on Easter Sunday, almost always through the sacrament of Baptism and the public profession of their faith.
Within the first four hundred years of Christianity, Lent had become a forty day period for all Christians to consider their own lives, to learn more about the faith, and to through fasting to spiritually connect with Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. (See Matthew 3:13-4:11.)
The season itself begins on Ash Wednesday (March 9 this year) and continues through the Saturday before Easter (April 23). In some circles, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. Sundays are excluded in Lent because they are a day to celebrate the Resurrection.
Lent is a season of self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. During Lent we traditionally fast (give up certain foods or possibly all foods), rededicate ourselves to the disciplines of prayer and studying Scripture, make a concerted effort to give to the poor, make changes to lead a simpler life, or a combination of these things. In our time where life moves so quickly, Lent invites us to slow down and reflect on who we are, what we have become, and most importantly who Christ is calling to be.
So come and try Lent for a season, or continue to observe Lent if you have done so in the past. Come and dedicate yourself to God, preparing for the wonderful day when we hear that Christ is Risen. Take time to think, to pray, to study, to reflect. Slow down, and wonder at the love of God to come to us, die for us, and rise for us so that we might have life in Christ.
Come and observe a Holy Lent.
(An Ash Wednesday Service is planned for March 9 at 7 pm in the Sanctuary.)
Maybe you remember the first time you cooked a full turkey. Maybe it was for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I remember the smells of the bird cooking in the oven as I waited for Thanksgiving dinner to arrive on the table. Those are smells that remind me of holidays in my family, and I suspect in many of yours as well.
A friend of mine who will never be confused with a chef tried cooking his first turkey a few years ago. Maybe the oven temperature was too high, or it was cooked too long, but the smells coming out of his kitchen did not remind me wonderful holidays, but mostly of fire drills at school. Smoke was everywhere, turkey was blackened – and not in the Cajun sense of the word. I wondered aloud what had happened. He told me that he was trying to overcome the fact that he hadn’t had time to defrost the turkey properly, and upped the oven temp 50 degrees and cooked it longer, thus the smoked and charred bird for Thanksgiving. All I can say is I was glad I had other family to visit that holiday, or I might have gotten very hungry.
Just as you need time to defrost the turkey before you cook it, we need time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s coming. “I know that,” you may be thinking, “I need time to get and wrap presents, put up a tree, hang lights, write Christmas cards, and do all that other stuff.” But to defrost a turkey, what do you have to do? You have to take it out of the freezer, put it in the refrigerator, and then let it sit there for days on end.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was going to have God’s son Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
During Advent we have a chance to say to God, “Here am I. I am here, I am ready, I am waiting for your command, Lord. I want to live out your will. Help me to see what that is for me.” This requires waiting and listening more than doing or running. In this process of waiting, we also say as Mary did, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Let it be. We are called to let God be in our lives and to recognize that all the running around we do cannot bring us closer to God, but only farther away.
Prepare, wait, listen, and be. Let God be the source of light in your life. My prayer is that even in the midst of busy Advent season here at church we slow down and let ourselves get ready for Christ’s coming. And then on Christmas day we can rejoice fully in the good news God has for us.
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6)
What do we have left when the lives we have built fall down, when the center shifts and we are left powerless and grieving? Consider last Sunday’s sermon about what God gives when we fall down, and consider the possibilities that might come through adversity. Can you think of a time when the Holy Spirit gave you an opportunity to witness to God in the midst of adversity?
My daughter Eva and I went out trick-or-treating on Halloween. Eva is 3 years old, so she was excited to go trick-or-treating to say the least. So around 6 o’clock we got her dressed up in her costume (little purple witch, she was adorable!) and she and I started down our street.
Now our street comes to a dead end about one block from our house in one direction, and in the other direction it goes about four more blocks before T-ing off at another street. I figured five blocks was going to be about right for Eva’s little legs, so we headed down the street in the direction of the dead end.
Eva loved trick-or-treating. She loved knocking on doors. She loved saying “Trick or Treat!” She even said, “Thank You!” unprompted at least twice. She was having a grand time.
We got to the dead end and turned around and headed up the side of the street opposite our house. I figured we’d pass by our house and keep going until Eva tired out. But as we got about two houses away from ours Eva shouts, “Daddy! There’s our house!” And starts running home.
I couldn’t stop her. She ran across the street – thankfully no cars were out at that time. She ran up the drive. She waited for me to open the door, and in she went. Her little pumpkin-bag was maybe one-third full of candy, but she was done trick-or-treating. She was home.
My wife looked at me, her face accusing me of keeping our little girl from knowing the full wonders of Halloween night. I held up my hands, “She wanted to come home. I didn’t do or say anything! I wanted to keep going!”
Eva then saw the other pumpkin-bag of candy – the candy we were handing out to trick-or-treaters that night who came to our door. So for the next hour or so she handed out candy, and she was good at it! She didn’t try to take any candy for herself or eat it while no one was looking. She sat on the couch, watched a movie, got up when she heard a knock on the door, went with daddy to answer the door, and gave each costumed person two or three pieces of candy. And she loved it.
My wife and I pondered this later in the evening. We remembered times when we would plan our routes through neighborhoods so we could get the most candy. Yet Eva wanted to go, get just enough candy for her, and then come home. As she gets older she’ll probably want more candy and realize that she can stay out longer to get it. But for now she values getting enough and then going home with Mom and Dad, and she loves handing candy out to others.
There are times when we become so enamored with claiming and getting that we forget that there is goodness and joy in going home and giving to others. There is a time when we have enough, so we can rest and even give what we have away so that others might have enough. It may look strange to outsiders – it certainly felt strange for me to watch my child voluntarily end trick-or-treating early to go home. But intentionally resting in God’s grace and giving of ourselves and our resources can be a wonderful thing indeed.
The title of this blog, “The Burning Bush,” is a direct reference to Moses’ call by God in the wilderness. Moses, we are told, came to Mount Horeb and there “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)
The title is also a take on our congregation’s name, Laurel Presbyterian Church. The mountain laurel is a bush and the church is called to be led by the Holy Spirit – who is associated with tongues of fire at Pentecost in Acts 2. So the people of Laurel, led by the Spirit, would be the “burning bush.”
The Spirit has led Laurel for many years, and leads us even now. Where the Spirit leads we seek to follow. One of the directions the Spirit may be leading Laurel is to be welcoming to all in our community. One of the ways we can be welcoming is by making our building open and hospitable to those who have been here before. To that end, the session (governing board) has been looking at ways to make our building and grounds more hospitable.
We are looking at doing some capital improvements to our building, including some overdue capital maintenance and possibly adding a parking lot in front of the sanctuary. We have received a proposal from a outside business to lease some of our land for the purpose of erecting a cell phone tower. More information about these projects can be found here (click and scroll down to “Announcements”).
All the buildings and capital, however, will not matter if the church – the people of God – are not welcoming themselves. So as we consider how God may be using our building to provide hospitality to strangers, let us also consider how God may be using us to provide hospitality as well. Who are we being called to welcome into our building, our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our community? How can we welcome them so they feel a part, and are not longer “them” but “us”?
Which one is it? If the church is the ends, then the goal is to bring people into the church, where they will be “saved” from the world. If the church is the means, then the goal is for the people of God to show God’s intention to redeem the world.
If the church is the end, then we can be content with waiting for everyone to come to us. If the church is the means, then we are called to go and make disciples.
If the church is the end, then we can the goal is the building up of the church. If the church is the means, then the church is willing to die to itself so that we might live for Christ and God’s mission in and for the world.
What else happens when we change from thinking of the church as the end to thinking of the church as the means by which God proclaims good news to the world?
The Way of Christ implies that there is a better way of being and doing . And the church in its actions shows that better way. Whether is Philemon freeing a slave who eventually becomes a bishop or a congregation becoming racially diverse in a segregated society, the church is charged with showing the world there is a different and better way.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The church shows it every day, every week. It’s been said many times before me that 11 o’clock on Sunday is the most segregated hour during the week. But we show every week in our worship it doesn’t have to be this way, when people from east and west and north and south, people with light skin and dark skin and every hue in between worship together.
Over the past four decades it has gotten progressively harder to make ends meet for more and more people. But we show every time we gather for fellowship it doesn’t have to be this way. When we say, “Bring what you can, and eat what you need,” we show the world a different way.”
It is becoming clearer to more and more people that our society and culture is becoming more and more fragmented. People are becoming more and more isolated, even as we claimm more and more “friends.” But we show in how we love and care for one another and even for those who visit us that it doesn’t have to be this way.
In Greek society, no one who was a slave became anyone of any importance. Yet in the church, Onesimus became the bishop of Ephesus.
Christ shows us a better way, a way of truth and grace, a way of fellowship and love, a way of life and freedom.
Here’s the image of the week from last Sunday’s sermon. (Although if you listen to the sermon here, you may have other candidates.)
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:13-14.
Also, we had an ice cream social in the fellowship hall yesterday and the fellowship was great. The story of the day, however, was the ice cream. Claudia Hicks made five different flavors by hand over the previous week and all of them were fantastic! If you missed this great time then you need to convince her to do it again. Her family wanted to label the event, “1st Annual” Ice Cream Social. Claudia wasn’t so sure about that.