It Is Finished

Good Friday 2014 Sermon preached at Liberty Hill United Methodist Church http://www.libertyhillumc.org

good fridayIt is finished. I said those words proudly as a junior in my high school craftsman class. I spent a semester in wood-working building a rocking horse. It was with pride at the end of the class to stand back and declare, “It is finished.” It did not fall apart. It did not wobble. It actually rocked. And it was finished.

An artist who completes a painting can declare, “It is finished.” A carpenter who builds a house can assert as the new owners move in, “It is finished.” A writer who pens the last sentence of her debut novel says confidently, “It is finished.” A teacher who turns out the lights of her classroom the final time after a long school year affirms, “It is finished.”  “It is finished” are powerful words that speak of accomplishment and fulfillment.

They can also be words that speak of defeat. A spouse who walks out of a relationship declares, “It is finished!” A business owner who flips over the closed sign for the last time says, “It is finished.” A report that the cancer is inoperable sounds like “it is finished.”  “It is finished” speaks to finality. It is complete. Nothing else is left to be done. It is finished.

On this Friday night that we call good, we have heard, “It is finished” as the final words of Jesus on the cross. However we decide to take those words, defeat is not an option. When Jesus was asked by his mother to perform a miracle at a wedding he said, “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). When asked by his brothers to make his miracle-working presence more visible Jesus reminds them, “My time has not yet come” (7:6). Speaking boldly in the temple about his relationship with his heavenly Father no one was able to touch him because “his hour had not yet come” (8:20). The gospel writer wants us to understand that Jesus was fully in control of his life. The cross is not a defeat. His whole life leads up to the moment of him being lifted up and being able to declare in the affirmative, “It is finished.” We are told that when just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness as a sign of salvation for the people, Jesus will be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life (3:14). Jesus says it is only when he is “lifted up” that we will begin to understand who he is and who sent him (8:28). After he rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus pronounces, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (12:23). He continues, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (12:32). When Jesus states boldly, “It is finished,” he is not crying defeat but words of affirmation for a life lived on purpose.

Dr. Tom Long says, “People die pretty much how they lived. If someone has been enraged throughout life, we can expect rage at the end. A person who tries to bargain with life, family, physicians, and God on death’s door has probably tried to cut a few deals before” (Accompany Them with Singing: the Christian Funeral). We die much like we have lived.

Jesus took his own story seriously. He turned the other cheek. He loved his enemies. He took up his cross. On that cross we see through the window on the very heart and character of a loving God. It is finished. Peter sobs. Redemption found. It is finished. The women wail. Love fulfilled. It is finished. The crowd stands in silence. Heaven and earth clash. It is finished. The veil in the temple is torn. All are accepted. It is finished. Earth quakes. Heaven weeps. It is finished. The power of sin is destroyed. Satan has lost. It is finished.

Jesus finished so that we can begin. Our guilt he nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). He took upon himself our shame (Gal. 3:13). His death opens up the way for us to God (I Peter 3:18). His death on the cross shattered the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). It is finished, done, completed, accomplished, and fulfilled, so that; we can live fully, abundantly, and eternally.

What shame is keeping you from living fully? What guilt is keeping you from living abundantly? What fear is keeping you from living accomplished? You don’t have to live with it. He nailed it to the cross. It is finished so that we can begin.

(As we closed out the service, I invited the congregation to come down and put a nail into the cross. The nail represented for them their fear, guilt, shame, or sin that is keeping them from living fully. It served as a reminder that Jesus declared it finished so that we can go on living.)

 

Hosanna! Save Us!

Palm SundayOn Palm Sunday Jesus makes a short journey from a land where people recognized him as the one who healed the sick, cured the blind, and raised the dead to the city where the people will reject him, his friends will betray him, and the leaders will kill him. The Gospel of John tells us that the crowd that is cheering, “Hosanna, Save us!” is the same people who witnessed his miracles. They saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus with his followers of sinners and outcast are arriving in the holy city with shouts of liberation.

He begins his short ride from the Mount of Olives. It is the same path that others have taken who have ridden into Jerusalem as conquerors. The prophet Zechariah foretells the day when the Lord will place his feet on “the Mount of Olives and the mount will be split in two” (14:4). It is on that day that the Lord will descend from the Mount into Jerusalem and will become “king over all the earth” (14:9). The people held captive by Roman oppression remember the prophecy and are anticipating the day when the Lord would redeem. It is a day of celebration. A day when all the hopes of the people are focused on God’s chosen One who will redeem the world and usher in God’s reign in Jerusalem.

This day is the beginning of Passover. It is when the people remember their salvation from slavery in Egypt and the release from the hardship of oppression. They retell the story of Moses and how he led the people to freedom to a land promised by God that would flow with milk and honey. They say again how the Lord defeated Pharaoh and set the slaves free. Jesus rides into Jerusalem like Moses descending from the mountain. He rides in as a liberator ready to set the world right and to bring God’s reign on earth. The people who have gathered to wave palm branches and make a way for Jesus know that Rome was the new Egypt and the Roman Emperor was the new Pharaoh. Their hope was Jesus being the new Moses sent by the Lord to lead the people to freedom.

At the same time that Jesus is coming through the gate on the east side of Jerusalem, Pilate is marching in from the west. Rome’s representative is holding the reigns of a war horse surrounded by the powerful and lethal Roman guard. The flags are flying. The clank of the armor can be heard through the crowd. The beating of the drums sends vibrations along the ground. The grand display was Rome’s way of saying to the people, “You may have your story of liberation and freedom but remember you are still enslaved, still under our control.”

Imagine yourself as a bystander standing on top of your house watching as both of these scenes unfold. Jesus is riding in on a humble animal while Pilate gallops in on a stallion. The crowd on the East is peasants, outcast, and sinners. The crowd to your West is upper-class, politicians, and religious leaders. Your heart longs for Jesus to be your liberator but your head reasons that he does not have a fighting chance. Standing at a distance it is clear to see how the crowd could turn so easily when Jesus did not live up to there expectation. The shouts of “Hosanna, Save us!” will quickly turn to “Crucify him!” when Jesus refuses to meet the expectations of the people.

It is difficult to discover the salvation of the Lord when we are confused about what it is we need saving from. We wave our palm branches and shout our praises of “Hosanna!” but do we truly understand what we really need God to save us from? How quickly our shouts of “Hosanna” can turn to “crucify him” when our expectations are not met?

We have a tendency to turn against God when we don’t get from God what we want or think we need. We peek at Jesus and say, “This guy is going to save us? He is going to be the one to rescue us?” We want Captain America, not Jesus. We don’t want someone who is stupid enough to get himself killed even if it means he comes back from the dead. We need a savior who never dies. We want someone who can reflect the bullets. We want someone to help us avoid the pain. Instead we get a Savior who shows us a way through the pain.

Don’t close yourself off to the way God wants to come to you today. Don’t let your expectations of what you need saving from or how you think salvation ought to look to keep you from missing out on God’s redeeming grace. Don’t be surprise if God doesn’t answer your cries of “Hosanna, save us!” in ways so utterly unexpected that you have to look back and tell yourself, “I never saw that coming.” Go ahead and cry out, “Hosanna, save us,” but leave the results of how it happens in God’s hands. If God will use the cross as a way to save the world, we must stay open to all the unique ways in which God will come and rescue us.

 

Jesus on Trial: Fred vs Fred

fred phelpsFear serves as an unwanted guide in a lot of areas of our lives. It keeps us from trying new adventures. Fear hinders our decisions about doing something different with our lives. It keeps us behind the walls of security when faith is calling us to risk. Fear can ruin relationships. It makes us insecure. It causes us to have a poor self-image.

There are times when fear is positive. We instill the fear of strangers in our children. We want them to be afraid of busy streets and hot stoves. A healthy fear stems from actual danger and requires a response. The fear subsides when the danger dissipates. There is no shame in healthy fear when you know you made the right decision for the health of your self and/or your family.

However, we live in a society that knows how to use fear as a manipulation tool. Fear becomes toxic. Politicians speak in extremes to spark fear. Religion preaches fear to control. Manipulators know that our fears give clues to what controls us. Our culture of fear presses upon us the apprehension of death, panic of failure, dread of rejection, or the alarm of insignificance as a way to get us to buy the latest product, support a particular politician, or follow a unique worldview. It takes prophets to speak out against such fear. But prophets have away of disappearing in the night when their voice gets too loud.

While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is arrested and dragged to the home of the high priest. Before he arrives, the whole Sanhedrin have been shaken out of their beds and told to assemble in the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. All this would take place between one o’clock and three o’clock in the morning. The crowd that had celebrated his arrival into the city would be sleeping in their beds as their righteous ones would condemn Jesus to death. His disciples had fled. He was left along with the seventy members of the Jewish High Council. We are told before the trial even begins that they are looking for a reason to put him to death. He has spoken out one too many times against their culture of fear and went too far in demonstrating the radical love of God.  The mock trial was a “he said, they said” demonstration of lies until finally he speaks. “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One,” asks the high priest? In the confidence of God when asked by Moses, “When people ask me who sent me what am I to tell them,” Jesus replies, “I am! And more than that, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And with those words the one who claimed to be the Messiah of the Jewish people was condemned to die. The men who were recognized for their knowledge of God and God’s way would put God on trial for blasphemy. Why did they treat Jesus so harshly? Why were they willing to believe lies about him? Why were they willing to do anything to have Jesus condemned and put to death? It was fear. Jesus is a threat to their way of life. He challenges their interpretation of scripture with his teaching. He forces them to rethink their understanding of the reign of God. He confronts their practices by healing on the Sabbath, eating with sinners, and interacting with the wrong people. Jesus has put a crack in the very foundation they built their life on.

Fear sees people for what they are, not who they are. The religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat that must be stopped. The closer an issue or person comes to challenging our way of life, the stronger the fear becomes and the more relentless we get in trying to destroy it or them. Fear unchecked can easily turn into hate. We fear before we hate. Hate becomes the consequence of fear. A child taught to fear someone different will grow up to be an adult who hates the difference. Hatred is taught through fear.

No better example of that than in the man who died this month. Fred Phelps and his congregation at Westboro Baptist Church were a perfect example of people who struck out in fear through hatred. They would force the next generation of the Phelp’s family to hold up hate filled signs at funerals, concerts, and other events that were meant to be places of healing or joy. Witnesses say the children at these rallies looked depleted, depressed, and defeated. They demonstrated a spirit of poverty which of course is what living in hate does to a person. When fear controls it leaves us powerless and the only way to feel powerful in the midst of fear is through hating those we have learned to fear. Fred Phelps was convinced by hate that people deserved death.

FILE PHOTO  Fred "Mister" Rogers Dead At 74Out of a divine sense of humor that Reverend Fred Phelps dies on the birthday of another Reverend Fred. Fred Rogers taught us to love those in our neighborhood. As an ordained Presbyterian minister his lesson came out of the pages of scripture. When confronted by an expert in the law about what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveler is robbed, beaten, and left by the road side to die. A priest and a Levite walk by and both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by and sees that the man is nursed back to health. Of course, Samaritans and Jews hate each other and Jesus tells this story to a Jewish audience. Jesus uses those whom the Jewish leaders despise as a hero in a story about loving your neighbor. Love not hate is how we are taught to respond to those who are different from us.

Both Fred’s claimed to be followers of Jesus. Mr. Rogers taught us to love our neighbor. Fred Phelps taught hatred bred by fear. Only one shows us Jesus. Jesus says we will be known as his disciples by how we love one another (John 13:35). Later the writer of I John will say, “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18). If you spend your entire life avoiding things that scare you, you are setting yourself up to hate yourself and others. Choosing love over hate gives you back control over your life.

Fear sees people for what they are, not who they are. Love sees people for who they are, not what they are. The Jesus way is the way of love. Where in your life is fear controlling you? Where in your life has fear left you powerless? Where in your life do you find yourself make excuses for your fear? Where do you see hatred revealing itself?

 

Table of Deliverance: Celebrating the Last Supper

communionIt has been said that it was Jesus’ table manners that got him killed. He was fond of eating with sinners, the outcast, and the nobodies. It seems he would invite himself to anyone’s dinner table and he practiced an open table policy when it came to who sat with him at the table. The religious leaders accused Jesus of eating like a glutton and drinking like a drunk (Lk. 7:34).

It was not just his eating habits that got him in trouble but the stories that he told that sounded too scandalous to be told around a meal. A great banquet that was being thrown where outsiders would be insiders. Who can forget the big feast that the crazy father threw for the return of his prodigal son? When your faith revolved so much around a meal, telling the wrong stories around the table could get you in trouble. Telling the wrong stories and inviting the wrong people to the table got Jesus in trouble with those who defined the table manners.

The beginning of his last twenty-four hours of his life starts out around a table. Within in a few hours he would be arrested while praying in a garden. After sunrise he would be tried by Pontius Pilate, taken out to be tortured, and hung on a cross by 9:00 A.M. Six hours later his body removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. But before all these events would occur, Jesus would gather his friends in an upper room for one last supper.

It was the season of Passover. The time when the Jewish people remembered who they were as a people and how they broke free from slavery. It was a powerful ritual celebrating the freedom that God had given the people from slavery under Pharaoh’s heavy hand. In the Jewish Passover meal, after the table is prepared, a child would ask, “Why is this night special above all other nights?”

The elder at the table would retell the story of the people’s deliverance. He would share how Moses was sent by God to tell Pharaoh, “to let the people go.” The story of nine annoying plaques did nothing to change Pharaoh’s mind. But the tenth plague had the power to send the Israelites into freedom. It was in this tenth and final plague that the Israelites were told to prepare their last meal while slaves in Egypt because after that night they would be free. Every Jewish father would tell this story with a sense of anticipation that they may find deliverance from whatever (or whomever) enslaved the people. The table becomes the place to tell the story. It is not just a rehashing of what happened in the past, but a hope of what can be in the present. In telling the story and in eating the meal, the past becomes the present. Freedom is being proclaimed for people who find themselves enslaved.

When Jesus lifts the bread of the Passover meal and says, “Take, eat; this is my body” and when he lifts the cup from the table and declares, “”This is my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he is declaring freedom for those who participate in his life and death. He is saying that through him deliverance has come.

One of the regular rituals found at tables where families still gather for dinner is the asking, “How was your day?” We have done it so regularly in our home that my kids try to be the first ones to ask the question, “Soooo, how was your day?” In that conversation we share our joys and concerns. We express those things that made us feel afraid and those things that gave us happiness. And we do it all around a meal. There is something about a meal that breaks down barriers. In the vulnerability of showing our true selves around the dinner table we find healing and strength to deal with the next day. We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we tell others. We find freedom in the telling of those stories. In that sense it becomes a means of grace. It is not just families that pray together stay together. It could be said that families that eat together stay together.

Some of us sit at divided tables. For some the stories we tell ourselves are nothing more than lies. They are made up stories because that is the best we can do. When asked, “How was your day?” You reply, “Fine” because that is the best you can tell yourself and others. We live in a broken world. A world fallen by sin. It is a world where the lies have been believed and turned into the story of our life.

But at God’s table you don’t have to keep telling yourself everything is “fine.” At this table you don’t have to keep making up stories. If it is true, we are what we eat, and then in receiving Holy Communion you can be grace-filled and forgiven. At this table forgiveness is found, mercy is handed out, and love is digested. When someone asks you why is this table so special above all other tables,” you can reply, “because Jesus showed up.”

Don’t Be Charmed (Ash Wednesday 2014)

Ash-WednesdayWhen Major League Baseball player Turk Wendell took the field he wore a necklace made from the teeth of hunted animals. Third baseman Wade Boggs would eat chicken before games. It is reported that Michael Jordan wore his college shorts under his NBA uniform. Linus, the friend of Charlie Brown, could not live without his blanket. Why? They were determined that wearing special clothing, reenacting odd behavior, eating particular foods, or carrying certain items brought them luck.

We all have things that we convince ourselves make life better. We just may not carry a lucky rabbit’s foot or have special socks we wear before important meetings. We are persuaded that having certain items or acting in a particular way makes our life easier, more manageable, and less complicated. Some where along the way we picked up those habits, routines, and instruments because someone told us “we could not live without them” or “we need this to make life more controllable.” We are left to believe that “this is who we are, and without it we are incomplete.” We define ourselves with the stuff that makes up our lives and in the process lose our true identity.

In a world that works overtime trying to convince us to buy into the latest product that will add charm to our lives, it is great to have a season that reminds us that if we are going to rediscover our identity we must empty ourselves. Lent is a reminder that we can live without. According to the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting. He spent one day for each year that the people of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. Because Jesus spent 40 days of fasting in the wilderness while being tempted by the devil, the Church has observed 40 days of Lent prior to the celebration of Easter. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It is on this day that we gather to confess our sin of being charmed by something or someone other than God. We will be marked with ashes and the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For the next forty days, we will make it a daily practice to remind ourselves that our identity is found in God. We will worship more. Pray deeper. Fast regularly. All in the hopes that through the sacrifice we find freedom through resurrection.

The danger of the charmed life is that we can lose ourselves. We get lost in our stuff and our habits. Most of us are consumed by something: eating, shopping, criticizing or blaming other people, television, self-pity, or public recognition. This consumption fills that space in our lives that is made for God. The charms become our addictions. They become the habits and substances we use to comfort ourselves, to block out pain and fear. We no longer know ourselves and make it hard to be known by others.

If you want to rediscover yourself, renew your relationship with God, and redefine your life purpose then accept God’s invitation to the wilderness. I invite you to journey with me into the vastness of silence. Let us travel together into the place that leaves us feeling vulnerable. I know it is a scary place. It is a dangerous place. The feeling of being chased by the shadow of judgment will keep us on the move. In this place we will hear, “the day of the Lord is coming.” But don’t let this be the final word. There is no resurrection without death. If we will let it this season of revealing darkness can give way to the light of new life.

TWEETABLE

Lent is a reminder that we can live without. via @jprickett #lent #40days

If you want to renew your relationship w/ God, then accept God’s invitation to the wilderness. via @jprickett #lent #40days

If we will let it this season of revealing darkness can give way to the light of new life. via @jprickett #lent #40days

There is no resurrection without death. via @jprickett #lent #40days

 

 

 

The Forgotten Virtue of Loyalty

I love ice cream. I consider it one of the basic food groups. My favorite ice cream is Mayfield’s Mint Chocolate Chip. At least it was my favorite until the day I betrayed Mayfield and pick up a tub of Blue Bell Mint Chocolate ice cream. You see, I have always been loyal to Mayfield ice creams because they were a part of the community were I resided. I would take my children to the Mayfield Dairy on Thursday’s in the summer and get twenty-five-cent scoops. The elementary school would go on field trips to the dairy and see firsthand the creation of ice cream. By the time a child got into the fifth grade they could tell you by rote memory the process of ice cream development. Mayfield was my brand. I had no clue how other mint chocolate chip ice cream tasted. I just knew Mayfield had it and it was good.

Back last summer the grocery store was out of Mayfield’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and I was in need of my ice cream fix. I gave into temptation and broke loyalty and purchased Blue Bell ice cream. Oh, my goodness, I did not know that mint chocolate chip ice cream could taste so good. I am sorry Mayfield but Blue Bell has seduced my taste buds.

We all have brand loyalty. A certain pair of jeans fit just right and we would not consider the competitor brand. We have our favorite toothpaste. We would not think of switching soft drinks. We are either PC or Apple fanatics. And our heart belongs to a particular brand of shoes.

Marketers call this brand loyalty. They know that we are creatures of habit and if they can win us to their side then the potential is there for having us as lifetime customers. A lot of money goes into building brand loyalty.

We know loyalty runs deeper and has a more lasting impact when it involves relationships. If I asked, “Do you consider yourself a loyal person” most of us would answer in the affirmative. Who wants to be considered as disloyal? We regard ourselves loyal and yet the world is filled with disloyalty. Friends are betraying friends. Politicians are ignoring commitments. Spouses are cheating on one another. Employees are stealing from employers. Secrets that were told in confidence are being told behind backs. If we consider ourselves as loyal people, then who is committing all these disloyal acts? Asking are we loyal or disloyal is asking the wrong question. The question is who or what are we giving our loyalty?

In the Hebrew Bible the book of Daniel the main character is being asked to be disloyal to God. Some leaders in Babylon were jealous of the success that Daniel, the Jewish exile, was having with king Darius. They convince the king to sign a decree into law that states any person who prays to anyone besides the king should be thrown into a den of lions. The scripture says, “Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). The conspirators see Daniel praying, remind the king of his law and that it could not be broken, and they have Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. The next morning the king runs down to the lion’s den to see if Daniel had become an appetizer. He calls out and Daniel replies, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong” (Daniel 6:22). Daniel remained loyal to God even at the threat of his own life. In response to being saved from the mouth of the lion, Daniel responds that he has done no wrong not even before the king. And yet, he did. He broke the law of the king.

Loyalty is not blind. We are not being loyal to our friends when we go along with their plan to hurt others or themselves. We should always strive to be loyal but never to the point where we would be held accountable for someone else’s actions. Loyalty is not being an accomplice to a crime. It is actually being disloyal for us not to guide our friends away from the hurt they intend to cause themselves or other people.

Loyalty is being faithful to a commitment or obligation. It is keeping our word. Loyalty is being faithful to our friendships. It forces us to choose who and what counts in our lives. Who you side with will determine where your loyalty lies. Loyalty means I will be trustworthy no matter how difficult the situation. But we must also readily admit that sometimes we have been disloyal. At times we have betrayed ourselves, those we love, and God.

In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about his own betrayal and death. One of his disciples, Peter, says, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Less than twenty-four hours later Jesus is dragged before the High Priest. Peter watches from the courtyard. He is asked three times by those standing around about being with Jesus and three times Peter denies it. Peter had just affirmed his loyalty to Jesus and now in the moments when Jesus needs him the most Peter is disloyal. He runs off feeling like a failure.

How many of us can name a time when we have been disloyal? A time when we have betrayed the trust of a friend, family member, or even ourselves? How many of us have let someone down? How many of us have let God down?

The Good News is that we do not have to live as a disloyal person. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. He looks at Peter, the one who was disloyal, and asks, “Do you love me?” He asks not just one time but three times. Then he tells Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 17). In other words, live out the reason that I called you. Be loyal to me and my purpose for your life.

The bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were disloyal, Christ died for us. His loyalty to us gives us back the lives we lost in our disloyalty. When we did not deserve it God remained loyal. God’s forgiveness in the midst of our disloyalty is reason enough for us to remain loyal to God and those we love.