Monthly Archives: March 2010

3.31.10 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Russell Brown

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28.

As he recounts this climactic moment of Jesus’ life, the gospel writer John stands at a decidedly different place than the other three gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each tell the story of the sour wine offered to Jesus from the perspective of an outside observer, offering an accurate recounting of that moment. John alone speaks from the perspective of Jesus. From this point of view, John tells us that at this moment, Jesus knew that his mission on earth was complete. that there was nothing additional left for him to accomplish.

He also reminds his readers that Jesus wanted the people in the crowd to recall the words of Psalm 69:21 where we read, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” It is as if John is saying to his readers, “For Jesus, there is no such thing as a moment that could not be used to teach. You might hear these three simple words as nothing more than the most simple possible statement of physical need. But Jesus – even with his dying breath – is tirelessly pointing people back to the scriptures and to God’s presence in their lives.”

John is also alone in identifying the stick on which the vinegar-soaked sponge was attached as being the branch of a hyssop tree. We learned during last weekend’s sermon that hyssop is a central symbol of liberation and of purification. The Israelites were directed to use the hyssop branch to spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts so that the angel of death would “pass over” their homes in Egypt. Hundreds of years later, King David invokes the hyssop branch as a means of being purified from sin in Psalm 51 following the disclosure of his affair with Bathsheba.

And so John, in the very short span of two verses, reminds us that Jesus is our rabbi (or, teacher), our liberator, and the one through whom we are cleansed from our sin. And as we stand at the foot of the cross witnessing this painful scene, we find ourselves suddenly reminded that Jesus also serves for us – just as he was for the Samaritan woman – as the source of what he referred to as “living water” in John 4:10, in sharp contrast to the sour wine the world offered him to drink in his hour of need.

As we journey deeper and deeper into this Holy Week, let us make a point of recalling all of the roles Jesus plays in our life, and all of the ways he seeks to express his love.

3.30.10 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Scott Chrostek

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Up until now, we’ve been on a journey of discovery, exploring the 24 hours that changed the world; the last 24 hours of Christ’s life.  On this journey we have moved from the candlelight of a traditional evening supper, only to have it turn dark by the thought that this would be the last supper shared amongst friends.  We moved next into the darkness of temptation and betrayal experienced in a garden.  It became darker still as we continued our journey following a shackled Jesus to a kangaroo court and watched him lowered into a pit, left alone to stand trial, rejection, sentencing and flogging all by himself.

The whole while we were experiencing an increasing darkness, but it’s not until we read this passage in Mark, “When it was noon,” that finally discover that, “darkness had come over the whole land.”

When I read this passage, my mind takes me on that familiar journey where I want to cry out;

“And just when I think it can’t possibly get any darker…”

“Just when I think that the worst has passed…”

“Just when I think, “Mercy, Lord, Have Mercy…”

In this scene we finally experience the unthinkable; at last we come face to face with complete and utter darkness, and it’s in that darkness, at that hour that Christ goes to the last possible place he can go.  He is now quite literally staring down death, and by the sight of its face cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I imagine the onlookers whispering to one another, saying, “What did he just say?  Is Jesus finally doubting God?  Did he just question his identity?  Do you think he’s scared?”

But I’m afraid that’s not the case here…

At the darkest hour, when it couldn’t get any worse, Christ cries out to the world the opening lines to the song of deliverance, a psalm of salvation.  These aren’t so much words of despair as they are words that point to the strength of a God that will not stop until all who sleep on* the earth, bow down; until the future generations proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

At the darkest hour, hanging on the cross, Christ relies on the word.  He props himself up on the strength of Scripture.  He rests on the only thing that doesn’t disappoint, and in so doing shines the light of hope that pierces the darkness.

When there are no words, where do you find strength?

O, that we, like Christ, could rely on Scripture during times like these.

3.29.10 Monday Insights from Pastor Steven Blair

“Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross invoke serene images of green pastures and golden streets.  Frequently, references to heaven focus on the landscapes and objects because we are incredibly visual people. I invite you to think of the emotional representations of “paradise.”

* The warmth of returning home after a long trip
* The satisfaction of feeling worthy without having to tirelessly earn accolades
* The complete awareness of being loved by someone who sees all your mistakes and secrets and does not turn away.

This is paradise, regardless of whatever landscape surrounds us.  Because of Jesus, this paradise awaits us, but it can also be experienced here and now.  Hear again the criminal’s two comments that prompt Jesus’ reply:
“1) We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  2) But this man has done nothing wrong (23:41).” 

To experience this paradise, both now and later, we can follow the criminal’s comments by doing the following:

1) Admit the ways that we are imperfect, the things that we are guilty of
2) Claim Jesus’ innocence of all Sin as God’s perfect savior for the world. 

I invite you to spend some time today speaking to Jesus as if you were next to him in the same way the criminal had been.  If you do that, today, you will be with Jesus in paradise.

Steven Blair
Pastor of Congregational Care (M-R)
steven.blair@cor.org
personal blog:  www.stevenblair.wordpress.com

3.26.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

This scene creates 2 distinct emotions for me.  On one hand, I’m mad & furious at what is happening to my Lord.  On the other hand, I’m filled with awe & humility at God’s astonishing* love for you & me.  (*Editor:  Adjectives that accurately capture the spirit of this love really are rather limited.)

First, I think this scene resonates so powerfully with us because we have all experienced the taunts from others who pretend they are better than us in some way.  While our Moms can analyze away their mocking, (they are projecting, they feel inferior so they have to tear you down, or they wish they had mouthful of braces & glasses, too.) it is still painful.

Secondly, this scene displays God’s incredible capacity to love us all.  As a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the restraint God showed as His one & only son was being demeaned & degraded.  I wouldn’t begrudge God one bit, if He rolled up His sleeves & started cleaning house with a “Rocky”-like soundtrack blaring in the background. 

This is where a Bible study, ala Disciple 1, can help us to fully appreciate this scene.  My wife, Doris, & I met in Single Adult Sunday School (which met in the now removed annex between the East & West buildings), we were married at Resurrection in June the following year (in what is now the Student Center – good heavens, I sound like my Dad describing Overland Park circa 1966.), and that fall took Disciple 1 together.  (Relationship Tip #17: It is a much better “date night” than a so-so movie.)

As we started our journey in Disciple 1, I wondered why the curriculum would spend so much time covering the Old Testament.  However, as we later read the New Testament stories, the background of the Old Testament stories gave the Gospels additional resonance & clarity.

For example, we might recall one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament, the true “Super Bowl I.”  This contest pitted the highly ranked prophets of Baal verses the embattled underdog Elijah.  (To be fully enjoyed, this story just has to be read aloud.)  As you read this account in 1 Kings 18:16-40, you can’t help but cheer & echo Al Michael’s 1980 Olympic hockey call, “Do you believe in miracles?”  God puts His foot down & clearly demonstrates that He is large & in charge.
But then we have today’s story.  God does nothing.  Because of the context of the Old Testament stories, we know God could do anything He desired to bring this vicious scene to a halt.  He doesn’t.  Thus, we have the deepening realization that God (& Jesus) allowed Jesus to be placed on the cross.  Jesus &/or God had the power to immediately put His suffering to an end.  He didn’t. 

We begin to recognize that He could have used His power to conquer the world with force.  He didn’t.  Instead, He used His undefeatable power to conquer the world with love.  Why?  So that you & I could be saved from our brokenness. 

Wow!  Now, cue the Rocky soundtrack one more time.

3.25.10 Thursday Insights from Amy Otto

When I think of the Crucifixion of Jesus, a vivid image comes to my mind from 6th grade Social Studies class. We were studying the Roman Empire, and we watched the 1960 movie Spartacus. There is a section of this movie in which rebellious slaves have been captured, and the order is given that all of them should be crucified along the road leading to the gates of Rome. Roman soldiers lead the chained slaves down the road, which is already lined with crucified criminals. In the movie, the crosses were about 10-12 feet tall. This was exaggerated for effect, as Pastor Hamilton’s research suggests that crosses generally only stood about 8-9 feet high.

In the movie, as you watch the men being walked down this road shackled together, the camera focuses in on the local people. Their expressions say it all. There is fear and sadness in the eyes of the men and women as they try to avert their gaze from those already crucified and the parade of the slaves going to be crucified.

That scene put Christ’s crucifixion in perspective for me even at that young age. Jesus was not hung on a cross on a hill towering over the countryside the way many artists portray him. He was crucified probably by the roadside, high enough that you’d have to look up to see his face, but low enough that you could smell his sweat and blood, hear his moans, see the wounds and the anguish on his face.

During Lent, I find I’m kind of like the local people in Spartacus. I try to avert my gaze from the ugliness of the crucifixion. I prefer to focus on what happens after the crucifixion–Christ’s resurrection. But to fully understand what God did for us through Jesus, we have to face the crucifixion. Only when we stare that awful deed in the face can we truly appreciate Jesus’ love. Only then can we praise God that we do not have to die a death like Jesus’ in order to be saved.

Amy Otto serves on the Student Ministries staff at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

3.24.10 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Nicole Conard

Today we are on Day #31 in 24 Hours that Changed the World Devotional as we reflect on this one verse in Mark 15:21.  Sometimes we can take one verse of the Bible and meditate/think/ponder about it in many ways. 

Here are my thoughts after reading and meditating on this verse: We imagine the busy streets filled with people in Jerusalem. This man, Simon, was minding his own business, and then was pressed into service —as this grusome scene of Jesus carrying his own cross passed by him.  Simon did not know Jesus or follow Jesus. He had know idea what was going on and then instantly he was wrapped up into this drama. Because of this accidental experience, the way he views his life, changes. So much so, he has a verse in the gospel of Mark, depicting this very event. 

Can you imagine what he went home and told his sons? How his life was changed?  As we read in the GPS background — later, his sons are noted to be followers of Christ. 

One day. One interruption. 

I recently read that in a single day an average American will be interrupted 73 times. So during one of the 73 times today, I invite you to pause and ask – How can God use me today?  Is this a time when I need to see the bigger picture and pay attention?  Could this even change my life? 

I encourage you to pray the following prayer taken from the end of the devotional:

Lord help me pay attention to the interruptions and to see in them opportunities to serve you an do your will. Amen.

3.23.10 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Molly Simpson

Have you ever been mocked?  Can you imagine being stripped naked, put in a costume, spit upon, and taunted in front of 600 people–all this after being flogged and beaten nearly to death?  This is what we find happening to Jesus in Mark 15:16-19.  It seems ridiculous and cruel–how could hundreds of soldiers be so entertained by doing this to an innocent man?

I remember a scene from elementary school that still disturbs me.  Walking home from school one day, my friends and I stumbled upon a fight.  It was going on in the grass across the street from the school–several of the “cool” guys pushing, shoving, and hitting another guy, one who was a bit of a nerd and too smart for his own good.  Smart guy was easily half the size of the others, and he didn’t have buddies fighting with him.  It seemed so grossly unfair, the four bigger guys taking on the fairly powerless and scrawny smart guy.  Smart guy didn’t do anything to them–this was just a game.  It was entertaining for the other guys, and somehow, it must have made them feel powerful.

Did mocking Jesus just hours before he would be put to death make the soldiers feel powerful?  Jesus obviously wasn’t a threat to them at this point, he was going towards his crucifixion willingly.  But unlike the smart guy from my elementary school days, Jesus was not powerless.  At any point during this terrible scene, he could have thrown off the crown of thorns and played his God card.  He could have called down the heavenly host–the angel armies–to back him up or protect him.  He didn’t.  Jesus endured this humiliation and mocking knowing that once it was all over, death, sin, torture, and behavior like this would no longer have the last word.

Where do we find scenes like the mocking of Jesus today?  In what situations do people with power abuse, belittle, and mock those who are defenseless?  Does it happen in subtle ways around us?  Those “cool” guys, I wonder who they are pushing around today.  Who am I pushing around?

May we ask God to show us when we are the ones unfairly mocking others.  When we see others doing it before our eyes, may we have the courage to speak against it.  And may we all accept and live in the grace of Jesus Christ who endured the worst so that we might live the best life.

3.22.10 Monday Insights from Pastor Andrew Conard

This simple verse in John 19:1 carries a good deal of significance. As was pointed out in the GPS and in 40 Days of Reflection, this verse can be linked back to the verse Isaiah 53:5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” As I reflect on this passage, I am struck by two points.

First, I hardly ever consider the sins of which I am aware in my own life to merit physical torture or death. These are what Jesus endured on my behalf. It is hard for me to imagine what it is like to be whipped, scourged, flogged or beaten in the way that Jesus was as described in this passage. That this would be the rightful punishment for things that I have done or left undone makes me feel uncomfortable.

Second, this verse puts in my face the depth of love for you and I in Jesus’ suffering and depth. It hurts me to think that someone else would be punished for the sins that I have committed and in such a physical, dehumanizing and shameful way. Yet, this is the reality of the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Will you receive this gift from God?

    3.19.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

    This scene never fails to raise tons of questions from a Disciple class.  On one hand, we have huge throngs of people crowding the road from Bethany to Jerusalem singing “Hosanna” (Save us!) as Christ rides on the back of a donkey on Sunday.  On the other hand, just 5 days later, we have a violently boisterous crowd shouting “Crucify Him” as Christ stands in bondage.

    We have to ask, “Who are these people?”  How can there be such a dramatic change in attitude in such a short period of time?  (For the record, an even faster transformation of spirit & attitude can occur.  For example, after listening to an uplifting sermon on patience & love, say a young boy happens to drop his lightly-glued, glitter-filled Sunday school creation on the floor of a brand new mini-van.  S-i-g-h.)

    Back to our scene:  It is oh so tempting to condemn this crowd as being beneath contempt.  Our “high horse” is saddled & ready to ride.  But before we leave the stable, let’s pause & reflect a minute on our own lives.  Have all of our choices reflected our love & devotion to Christ, ala the Sunday scene?  Or have some of our choices, perhaps, turned from Him & His teachings, ala the Friday crowd?

    What if we were to make a simple chart with 2 columns:  Sunday & Friday?  If we were to list some of the decisions we made this past week, how would we characterize our choices to the following scenarios?  (Feel free to personalize this chart with your own experiences this week.)

                                                                                                   “Sunday”                   “Friday”

    • Volunteers are needed                                    ______                    ______
    • Engaging in gossip                                             ______                    ______
    • Attending worship on a beautiful day       ______                    ______
    • Time in heartfelt prayer this week              ______                    ______
    • Donating blood                                                    ______                     ______
    • Consideration of a Mission Trip                   ______                     ______
    • Worthy cause in need of funds                     ______                     ______

    Upon reflection, perhaps we’ll find our empathy for the “Friday” crowd has grown.  Like us, they may have been afraid of what a life fully committed to Christ might look like.  Similarly, they may have turned away from Jesus in order to gain favor with the “in” crowd.  Or maybe they, too, are nervous that the perceived “cost” of following Jesus was just too high.

    So, back to our opening question: “Who are these people?”  They are folks, astonishingly similar to you & me.  With this realization, I’m grateful for the imagery from Pastor Adam’s sermon from several years ago.  Adam asked a gentleman from the congregation to stand beside him.  The man’s arms were stretched out in front of him toward Adam.  This person represented God.  Adam then turned his own body away from God to face the opposite direction.  This would be you & me when we find ourselves in “Friday mode.”  However, even as we are turned away from God, God’s arms remain open & ready to receive us.  As Adam demonstrated that Sunday morning, we can once again enjoy His embrace.  All we need to do is to turn around & go back to Him.  Hosanna!

    3.18.10 Thursday Insights from Pastor Penny Ellwood

    Pilate began his questioning by looking Jesus in the eye and flippantly asking him,  “are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replies that if he were king like Pilate expected, then his followers would have started a war.  So, you are a king, says Pilate.  Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not from this world.” 

    Pilate and Jesus appear to follow the conventions of conversation; but they never really communicate.  As the GPS states, “they just talk past each other.”  Pilate can’t get to where Jesus is because they come from different worlds.  Jesus’ reign is not about human power; it is about divine power, and that power has not yet been fully revealed. 

    In this reading from John’s gospel, we see the stark contrast between kings and kingdoms. Pilate is the Roman governor: the sole representative of the Emperor to the province of Judea.   The Roman Empire promised peace, prosperity, and protection, but at a price. Nations under Roman rule had to pay high taxes, were subject to occupation and slavery, and depended solely on Rome’s benevolence. It was a system of domination, which encouraged accumulation, submission, and exploitation.   Unfortunately, we still see this system of domination present in much of our world.   

    Jesus’ kingdom operates with a different set of values; to love ones enemies, to serve one another and to seek God’s will.  As Christians, we seek to embody the kingdom principles in the church and we work together to build the kingdom here on earth, so that we might realize God’s peace, provision and protection.

    The book of Revelation promises that one day we will experience the truly just and benevolent rule of Jesus Christ in all its fullness.  For now, we live with one foot in two places and pray, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”