Archive for April, 2011

Good Friday reflection: The seven last words from the cross

April 22, 2011

The cross at Ground Zero in New York City. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Below are links to all six parts of my Lenten sermon series, “Seven Last Words.” They include video and manuscripts.

“‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Woman, here is your son… [Son,] here is your mother.”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I am thirsty.”

“It is finished” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

A prayer for Good Friday

April 22, 2011

This comes from the Book of Common Prayer. It’s especially fitting for this day:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

The Vinebranch band is awesome, in case you didn’t know

April 21, 2011

I was just sitting in worship on Sunday, minding my own business, when I was blown away, as I often am, by how good these Vinebranch musicians and singers are. I grabbed my iPhone and recorded this. This was just an “ordinary” Sunday, I suppose, but they sounded great and looked as if they were enjoying themselves. A perfect combination.

Lenten Blog Tour: Paradise Now

April 21, 2011

The following post is part of the Lenten Blog Tour, which features Lenten reflections from 41 bloggers using scripture passages from the new Common English Bible translation. The CEB New Testament is out now, and the full Bible will be published later this year.

"Gordon's Calvary" at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem: A proposed site for Golgotha, "The Skull."

Reflection Text: Luke 23:32-43

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

As most of my friends and parishioners know (and some of my blog readers are learning), I have become one of those annoying clergy people who tells everyone that they ought to go to the Holy Land if they ever get a chance. I say that as a former skeptic: you couldn’t have convinced me before I left how meaningful the trip would be.

My favorite places were those in which we could say with some certainty that Jesus walked here. Jesus healed here. Jesus spoke these words here. Sometimes I would even settle for “in this general vicinity.”

One of my favorite moments was captured in the 20-second video clip below. It shows the ancient synagogue in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. (It’s now part of a church.) It’s not quite the original synagogue—the walls were rebuilt in the fourth century—but the floor was original to the first century.

As I stood in this small room, I thought, How cool is this? It’s very likely that Jesus walked on this floor, possibly even mounted these steps, when, in Luke 4, he read the words from Isaiah that inaugurated his ministry: Read the rest of this entry »

“The love of God was satisfied”

April 20, 2011

At least one person (besides the people in the Vinebranch band) noticed with curiosity a change that I requested in the closing song on Sunday, “In Christ Alone.” The change related to this stanza:

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

That’s almost perfectly good—a slightly prosaic but effective statement of the penal substitution theory of atonement. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I’m a fan of penal substitution—not to the exclusion of all other theories or images of atonement that are also found in the Bible.

But whatever else we mean by atonement—the means by which human beings are reconciled to God through the cross—let’s at least mean that God did something objective to take care of humanity’s problem with sin and evil once and for all. The predominant biblical idea is that Christ’s death on the cross—in continuity with the Old Testament’s motif of sacrifice—was “substitutionary”; Christ died in our place; God took upon himself the penalty that our sin deserved. Among many other Old Testament references, see Isaiah 53 for the motif of the righteous suffering on behalf of the unrighteous—in order to bring healing.

Sin offends God’s holiness, which is another way of saying that justice matters to God. It’s true that I personally don’t want God to hold me accountable for my share of evil and death-dealing in this world. But I can at least want other evildoers to be punished for their share—you know, at least the really bad people like Hitler or Osama bin Laden.  Read the rest of this entry »

Scenes from Holy Week

April 19, 2011

I took these pictures around what’s left of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples were looking at these stones when they came into Jerusalem for Holy Week. (For “Scenes from Palm Sunday,” click here.)

At the Western Wall, or "Wailing Wall"

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’” (Mark 13:1)

These are the large stones to which the disciples are referring.

“Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:2)

Stones being "thrown down"

Sermon for 04-17-11: “Seven Last Words, Part 6”

April 19, 2011

Sermon Text: John 19:30; Luke 23:44-49

[Please note: After pressing play, the video may take several seconds to load.]

The following is my original manuscript.

Poor Tiger Woods! I don’t say that often or easily. But I must admit, after last weekend, I felt bad for the guy. On Monday, there were exactly two questions asked on Atlanta sports-talk radio stations: The first question was “Who is Charl Schwartzel?”, the winner of this year’s Masters tournament. And the second question was “What’s Tiger Woods’s problem?” This second question was motivated by the terse press conference Woods gave after what was nearly an heroic comeback before falling short in the final round of the Masters. As it is, he missed a makable eagle on the 15th and a makable birdie on the 16th. So he fell short.

And when he gave his press conference after the round was over, he knew he had lost. So Woods wasn’t warm and friendly and talkative in the press conference that followed. But he wasn’t rude, either. He didn’t insult anyone! He didn’t use any profanity or anything! After all, Woods knew that he just missed a golden opportunity to rehabilitate his image and reestablish his dominance of the game and put to rest all questions about Tiger Woods the golfer, if not the person. I imagine he was incredibly disappointed. So who can blame him for not being all “chatty Kathy”? Not me!

He started his final round strong but didn’t finish strong. By contrast, Schwartzel, the winner of the Masters, started strong and finished even stronger, making birdies on his final four holes. When Tiger finished his round, he might have said, “It is finished”—as in, it’s over; I’m finished; I’ve lost. When Schwartzel finished his round, by contrast, he might have said, “It is finished” as in, “I have successfully completed the difficult task and won an improbable victory.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why not bodily resurrection?

April 18, 2011

Peaking inside the empty tomb. (The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.)

I’ve been reading the Huffington Post’s Christianity page for about a month, and I like it. Even though I frequently disagree with its writers and bloggers, I appreciate that a relatively mainstream news and opinion website devotes serious attention to religion, and gives actual Christians and other practitioners of religion the ability to write about their faith. By contrast, Newsweek‘s religion coverage, for example, often treats religious questions with the seriousness it would devote to extraterrestrials and U.F.O.s.

I read this opinion piece, “Is a Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Necessary for Easter to Have Validity?” by author Steve McSwain, with sympathy. As I said in a recent sermon, “Heaven is not consolation for a life poorly lived,” and if we treat it as such, life after death begins to feel like pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. It feels like wishful thinking. It feels death-denying.

As I’ve emphasized many times in sermons and on this blog, eternal life isn’t something we have to wait for. It begins now. True, we can’t experience it in all its fullness on this side of resurrection, but we experience some measure of it—by all means. I even preached a sermon on this very topic just a couple of weeks ago. McSwain says he came to this realization after reading his favorite French writer. Nevertheless, the present reality of eternal life (what theologians call “realized eschatology”) is deeply embedded in the New Testament itself—in John’s gospel and Paul’s letters especially. Both the Johannine Jesus and Paul speak of resurrection as both a metaphorical and physical event (e.g., John 11:17-27, Romans 6:1-4, Ephesians 2:5-6). The Bible isn’t either/or on the question of resurrection; it’s both/and.

While I’m sympathetic with McSwain, get a load of this paragraph, in which he gives his number one reason for denying bodily resurrection:
Read the rest of this entry »

Scenes from Palm Sunday

April 17, 2011

When I was in the Holy Land recently, I took some pictures of places associated with Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry. This might give you a better idea of what the events described in the Bible, such as Matthew 21:1-11, looked like. Keep in mind that Bethphage, Bethany, and the Garden of Gethsemane are all on the Mount of Olives. Bethany, where Jesus stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, is on the other side of the mountain away from Jerusalem. They are all in walking distance from Jerusalem, as you can see from the photos. Click photos to expand. Enjoy!

“You can’t argue with decency”

April 15, 2011

Listen to last weeks episode of This American Life, entitled "Know When to Hold Em, Know When to Fold Em."

I was deeply moved by this first story on last week’s This American Life. In it, writer Dave Dickerson describes his experience of coming back to the Christian faith after professing atheism for several years after college. During those years, he used to argue with believing family members—even ridiculing them—over the implausibility of some stories in the Bible.

What changed Dickerson’s attitude about faith? Love.

One night, he and his father were eating at a diner. Dickerson started to make his well-rehearsed case against Christianity. His father listened patiently and told him that he was proud of him and happy that he liked to study these things. But then his father shared his own testimony of faith, describing his life before his conversion—how miserable he was, how depressed he was, how he almost divorced Dickerson’s mother. Indeed, the writer remembered, his father was miserable when Dickerson was a boy.

It changed, his father said, when he began attending church for the first time. A Pentecostal church no less—with speaking in tongues, dancing in the aisles, and rolling around on the floor. His father said he thought those people were crazy. “But I could not ignore the love in that room and the care that they had for each other.” As his father was sharing this story, Dickerson was also reminded of an unexpected act of kindness that his older brother, also a believer, had performed for him some years earlier.

Love, Dickerson realized, was the common theme.

Before having dinner with his father that night, Dickerson said, “I had sort of expected to argue like I had with my brother-in-law, you know, not to win, but to come to some kind of armistice, some kind of truce where we’re like, ‘Well, we’ll agree to disagree, but I see your point—you know, it’s a good point.’ But I hadn’t expected to lose completely. Because you can’t argue with decency. You can’t argue with goodness.”

I was reminded of Jesus’ words in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If you want to be a witness for Christ, love works.