Archive for April, 2011

First meal in God’s new creation

April 30, 2011

Traditional site on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus fed the multitudes

Earlier this week, I wrote about John’s use of Creation imagery from Genesis in his resurrection narrative of John 20. The scripture I’m preaching on tomorrow, Luke 24:13-35, tells of two disciples encountering the risen Lord on the way to a village called Emmaus. (I’d show you a picture of Emmaus, but we don’t know where it was located.) Like John 20, it has another Creation allusion—which I never saw without the help of N.T. Wright and his wonderful For Everyone series of commentaries.

(Since this will not be in my sermon tomorrow, I’m not stealing my own thunder!)

The first meal in scripture takes place in Genesis 3, when the serpent convinces Eve (and Adam) to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent says that God knows that “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So she eats the fruit, shares it with her husband, and “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (3:7).

Their eyes were opened, in other words, to the reality of their estrangement from God. As a result, they were exposed, vulnerable, defenseless, and afraid. They were destined to die.

By contrast, the first meal in this new creation—the beginning of the new world that Christ’s resurrection makes possible on this side of resurrection—takes place in Emmaus, when Cleopas and his companion break bread with the resurrected Jesus. When this happens, Luke tells us—echoing that earlier meal—”their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31).

As with the first meal in Genesis, their eyes are opened. But this time to a drastically different reality: Christ is risen, which means that “the long curse has been broken. Death itself has been defeated. God’s new creation, brimming with life and joy and new possibility, has burst in upon the world of decay and sorrow.”

All I have to say to this is, “Cool, huh?”

N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2004), 296.

Prayer for marriages

April 29, 2011
No, I didn’t wake up at 2:00 a.m. to watch the event or don a silly hat to attend a royal wedding viewing party. But how can I resist what everyone else is talking about today? Here’s the prayer that the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wrote for the special occasion—and it’s  good one.
God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

New sermon series in Vinebranch

April 28, 2011

During the next six weeks of the Easter season, we will be focusing on the disciples’ encounters with the Risen Lord. This Sunday’s sermon looks at Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The scripture is Luke 24:13-35.

My preaching schedule for the next six weeks will be as follows (click to expand):

Two recent NY Times columns tackle religion (in a good way)

April 28, 2011

Columnist David Brooks writes this week about the hit Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park. The musical, about a couple of Mormon missionaries in Uganda, pokes fun at Mormonism but not Mormons. The reviews I’ve read indicate that despite the musical’s raunchiness, it has a surprising amount of heart.

Brooks likes the musical, but he pays close attention to the message it communicates about religion.

The central theme of “The Book of Mormon” is that many religious stories are silly — the idea that God would plant golden plates in upstate New York. Many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch.

But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.

These two paragraphs, in my view, perfectly summarize where popular culture stands in relation to religion in America. Lest we think that Brooks endorses this kind of vague religiosity, he continues: Read the rest of this entry »

Short Easter video from Vinebranch on Sunday

April 27, 2011

This short Easter-related video was looped prior to the service. Pictures and video come from my recent trip to the Holy Land.

Easter Sermon 2011: “I Have Seen the Lord”

April 27, 2011

Sermon Text: John 20:1-18

When I was in the Holy Land recently, I had a chance to actually see some ancient tombs, including these. There was nothing special about these tombs. They weren’t tourist attractions. They were just on the side of a road somewhere in Galilee. Notice the stone beside the tomb?

A tomb from ancient Israel. Notice the stone to the left.

I had always pictured the stone as a giant boulder, similar to one that might flatten Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. But that’s not right. These stones are chiseled into the shape of a wheel. They’re made to roll inside a groove just below the entrance to the tomb. Tombs aren’t like caskets. Families reused tombs over and over again. They’d put the body in the tomb. Come back a year later after decomposition, remove the bones, and place them in a “bone box,” or ossuary. And the process would repeat itself. So the stone had to roll fairly easily. The reason they wrapped the body and prepared the body with spices and perfume is to cut down on the smell when they went back in a year later.

Mary goes to the tomb “on the first day of the week,” while it was still dark, and sees the stone rolled away, and what is her first thought? Jesus has been resurrected? No, of course not. It’s clear that none of the disciples expected Jesus to be resurrected. Jesus had talked to them about it, but they didn’t grasp the concept, which is understandable. Resurrection was far beyond their imagination. It’s true that most Jews believed in resurrection for the righteous dead at the end of the age, but no one believed that it had ever happened or would ever happen to any one person before that time. Read the rest of this entry »

New Creation in John 20

April 26, 2011

An ancient stone that covered a tomb (The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem.)


As I was preparing my Easter sermon last week, I was very tempted to pursue a theme that emerges from the text of John 20:1-18, but I couldn’t make it fit. If I were in one of those mega-churches whose pastors preach 40-minute sermons I might have included this, but then again… My congregation would be asleep. Sometimes I have to tell myself, “Save it for the blog.” That’s what this post is about.

The theme is this: Easter morning means, among other things, that New Creation—a new kind of life in light of Christ’s resurrection, which will be completed in our own resurrection—has already begun for those of us who believe in Jesus. Let me explain.

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb “on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” John really wants us to know that it was the first day of the week. In fact, he repeats it later in v. 19, when the disciples are gathered in the upper room: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week.

(John is such a deeply symbolic and theological gospel, we can be confident that the emphasis on “the first day” isn’t incidental. This is why John’s three reminders that the beloved disciple reaches the tomb before Peter is so intriguing yet elusive. What on earth does that mean?)

The scene is set: Darkness on the morning of this first day. For a gospel whose first words are “In the beginning”—and speaks of the creation of the world through the Word, who is Christ—we should hear a faint but deliberate echo from those first words of creation in Genesis; when “darkness covered the face of the deep, and the spirit of God swept over the waters.” The Spirit of God is once again at work, but it’s no longer the first day of Creation—that’s where the gospel begins back in John 1:1. It’s now the eighth day. Read the rest of this entry »

The Vinebranch band is awesome, part 2

April 25, 2011

Detail from the new sign on the Vinebranch chapel on Main Street

Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, the Vinebranch band sent the congregation out on a high note with this rousing rendition of the traditional “Ain’t No Grave.” I recorded it on my iPhone. The Vinebranch band will be hosting its semiannual Coffeehouse on Friday, May 6, from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. in the newly renovated Vinebranch Chapel. It’s an opportunity to take in some great live music—including a wide variety of rock, pop, country, and gospel—while enjoying free Starbucks coffee and dessert. Free childcare is provided for children in third grade and younger.

Responding to another post doubting bodily resurrection

April 23, 2011

After my post early in the week responding to this Huffington Post blogger, one of you brought my attention to yet another interesting post on resurrection at that site. This one is a little better, I guess, but it deserves a response. Since my Easter sermon is (finally) finished, I think I have a little time now. I’ll quote the interesting parts and then respond.

Many sermons in churches declare clearly that Jesus physically rose from the dead, in the sense that his same body was reanimated. The Bible, however, is much less clear on the details of the resurrection. Mark, the oldest Gospel, ends with the mystery of an empty tomb with no appearances by Jesus.

He’s right about the Bible’s being ambiguous about Jesus’ resurrected body. In resurrection, Jesus’ body isn’t a resuscitated corpse. A physical body in the sense that we understand it couldn’t disappear and reappear at will, nor could it walk through locked doors. The resurrected Lord was at least physical, in the sense that he could be touched, and he ate and drank. But he was more than physical as we understand it. N.T. Wright calls it transphysical, which works for me. If we don’t understand it, well, that’s O.K. There is much mystery here. But we know from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that whatever Jesus is in resurrection, we will (at some point on the other side of death or at the end of history as we know it) be like him. Read the rest of this entry »

New Vinebranch chapel sign!

April 22, 2011

As I said a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of Alpharetta Methodist, we’ve been making some improvements to the chapel. As of today—just in time for Easter—we have a new sign outside the chapel. I think you’ll agree that it’s beautiful!

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