Thursday, October 30, 2008


Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:16-17
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 26:30-37
Sermon: Where Does Worship Come From?

The sermon entry will be rather different this week because of how I preached the sermon. It relied heavily on being able to see objects within the church and on the screens. Thanks to my Dad for letting me borrow the laser pointer...It really helped! The premise of the sermon is that our worship today is based upon a worship format that extends back thousands of years. In fact, many of the items found in traditional churches are variations of worship items present in the Tabernacle and Temple of ancient Israel. I was a little scared that it might be too much of a "teaching" sermon, but it was well received.

The Tabernacle is an old word that basically means "tent." Why we use tabernacle in Christianese? I don't know. The original worship space was a portable tent. What a great metaphor for God being with us wherever we go!

Solomon's Temple was basically a permanent Tabernacle. It had many of the same features and was laid out very similarly.

To enter the Tabernacle structure one had to first go by the Altar. A place of sacrifice, the altar was a bloody mess. Day and night sacrifices went up as substitutionary offerings for sin, for shalom (health and blessing), and for gifts to God. The Protestant Christian church has no altar for the Christian altar was the Cross on which the perfect Lamb of God died. In Roman Catholic churches where the Eucharist is an actual "redoing" of the Death of Christ, the priest is literally sacrificing Christ and so the Table also serves as an altar. However, Protestant theology does not believe Christ is sacrificed repeatedly; furthermore, His death on the Cross was a sufficient sacrifice once and for all. Thus, what is often called "the altar" in Protestant churches is actually the Table, which I'll come back to later.

The second item that one would come to is the Laver. It was an huge ceremonial washing bowl. The water was used to ceremonially cleanse and purify. Notice that after the altar and atonement comes the cleansing. In the Church, our baptistry serves this same purpose. In the entrance of Roman Catholic churches is a beautiful symbol, the holy water through which we come into the church. Figuratively and literally, one enters the Church through faith in Christ's atoning death and through the cleansing waters of God's Grace.

Inside the Temple was beauty and mystery. Candles or Menorahs burned brightly. The mystery of fire has always captured mankind's imagination. Fire has always been something somewhat mystical. The connection of life and death and purification juxtaposed with the warm light given off makes fire nearly sacred...or a symbol of the sacred. Today, we still light fires in our traditional churches. Acolytes bring the fire in and take it out when we leave. In the Christian tradition we have also tied this to Jesus' words, "I am the Light of the world." When we gather together, Jesus promised to be with us; thus, we light the candles as a symbol that Jesus' Light and Spirit is among us as we worship together. We take that light with us as a reminder that we don't hide the light under a basket; rather, we shine it brightly for all to see. We take Jesus into the world...we don't try to hide him away at a church building!

Inside the Temple was also a Table of Unleavened bread. This was consecrated bread offered to God, but also for the priests. Leviticus 24:5-9 says that the bread is an offering to God for the priests of God to eat. There is something wildly awesome about all of this. Giving to God means giving to others. The bread and the animal sacrifices were offered to God, but the priesthood ate from them as well. Secondly, it is worth noting that we are sustained by God's blessings, and that when we eat from God's Table, our lives are blessed. Thirdly, the Church (altar) Table serves in this same capacity. The offering of Christ's Body and Blood to God is served to us at the Communion Table. 1 Peter 2:9 says that followers of Jesus are the new "priesthood, a holy nation, God's own possession." As Christ made us all priests, we now eat from that Table the Bread and Wine consecrated to God through Christ Jesus. We eat from the Table of God as priests. Brothers and Sisters, what an awesome privilege to eat from God's own table, the offerings of Christ.

One of my favorite professors in seminary Richard Lischer told this story:

One of the pillars of the congregation stopped by one day to tell me that he'd just been born again. "You've been what!?!" Born again! Yep, I was visiting my brother-in-law's church and I experienced something there, I don't know what it was...but something was happened and I was born again!

Lischer replied, "You can't be born again! You're Lutheran and chairman of the board of trustees!"

What my professor got caught up in is something that seduces us all: The ordinary. Too often we get into a routine of church. We try to make routine and ordinary something that is spectacular...that is mystery...that is far from routine.

Enter the Holy of Holies. The "holiest place." There was the infamous Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, the presence of God, and all of it was behind a curtain. The Ark, which means box. Yes, box. Noah built a box. The Israelites carried around a box. Indiana Jones searched for a box. You get the drift. It was a box that carried important reminders of their story with God. The tablets of the Law given at Sinai, Aaron's budded staff, and a golden pot of Manna served as visible treasures symbolizing God's presence with them. My take is that we have it all backward: The Ark isn't what's important....It's the story inside.

The Ark was not to be touched, and the Holy of Holies was not to be entered except by the high priest, once a year. It was sacred space where God's Glory dwelt on earth. And separating all this from the rest of the Temple was a huge, ornate curtain. This thick curtain was a divider separating the people from God. In the Gospel texts, when Jesus dies, the poetry of God blossoms for the curtain in the Temple was torn in two. The divider between the presence of God and the people was gone. Now, through Christ, all could come into God's presence. The book of Hebrews says that we can boldly approach the Throne of God because of Christ's atonement.

Churches no longer have untouchable Arks or dividing curtains for central to our theology is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us and among us. God no longer is unavailable to the common person for the people of God have been made priests under one high priest Christ.

In closing I shared a story about the mystery and grandeur of worship being like my only experience of Crater Lake. My parents took me out West when I was in high school, and we went to see Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful scenic gems of the USA. Apparently, the water is so clear that you can see a 1 foot object 1000 feet down. The lake itself is in the crater of a volcano. Anyhow, when we got there, it had snowed like 15-20 feet in June! There was fog, snow, and snow drifts as far as the eye could see. Crater Lake was a huge disappointment. Worship can be like that, too. Sometimes there are things in our lives or things happening around us that allow us to miss the grandeur of it all; HOWEVER, Crater Lake is still beautiful...I just missed it. God is beautiful, and sometimes we miss it in worship, too. This is why it is important to keep coming back. Sometimes the fog of our lives keeps us foggy in worship. Sometimes the timing of our lives is the wrong time to hear a message. Does that mean worship is bad? Does that mean God is less grand? No!

Worship should be a multisensory experience full of symbols and actions that invite us into the presence of God. Worship is a declaration of our faith in God, so let us, as we come together every Sunday, worship with these symbols all around us...knowing that they speak to us through many generations of faith...that our God is the Living God full of Glory and worthy of praise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Excellent Thought of the Day

Kudos to Kara, best Youth Pastor ever!

She has an excellent article on a broken Jesus statue...

Church Logos

Is your church thinking of updating its church logo? Is your church venturing out and planning on creating one for the first time?

Here's a great help from Stuff Christians Like.

#12 is my favorite.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:12-18
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 33:12-23
Sermon: "Radiant"

I love astronomy. I love the stars. I had a telescope growing up that I would spend hours outside looking through. I've taken pictures of the moon and Jupiter and Saturn through it (which is no easy task!), and I've looked at several different stars. I love the stars. I love space. It's so big, it's hard to even grasp. Plus, I like the fact that we're all star dust. Our past and future physical state twinkles at us every night...and every day.

The Sun is our star. Earth was formed from it and is sustained by it. The Sun composes 99.8% of the solar system's mass (I couldn't believe that fact...that amazing!), and it is 99.2% hydrogen by volume. All that hydrogen is flying at super-high speed inside the Sun under intense heat and pressure. So much so that when the hydrogen atoms hit, they fuse to form Helium...But, when this happens, enormous amounts of energy is produced. That is why the Sun is so hot and bright: It is a huge fusion reactor. The energy that the sun produces is absolutely enormous. Temperatures inside the sun reach over 1,000,000 degrees C according to NASA's SoHo observatory.

The Sun provides our planet's warmth and energy. Just going outside on a sunny day and feeling sunlight on our faces warms up our day. A simple experiment that goes beyond science and into our emotions as well. The Sun's light also gives our planet's ecosystem energy. Plants convert it to sugars and animals eat plants. The energy of the Sun keeps our planet alive with warmth and with its energy.

However, this same Sun is also Destroyer. A few billion years from now, as the Sun expends its nuclear fuel, the earth will be consumed by the Sun as it stretches all the way out to Mars. There will literally be no Earth once this happens. Even today, the very life-giving radiation of the Sun would kill us all if not for the Magnetic fields of the Earth and the Ozone in our atmosphere. The Sun - brilliant, life-giving, beautiful, deadly, radiant. Glorious.

Today's Scripture Lesson is about the Glory of God. It's something we speak of often in church and in faith. We say, "God you are glorious!" Meaning, "God you are worthy!" Sometimes we speak of God's glory as a a shiny beam of light. "Your glory shines in the Heavens!" So what is glory? How do you define glory?

Perhaps a concept that might help us is the term "Beaming." We often use this word when referring to people, and there are three main ways that we use this word...

We speak of someone beaming when they are proud of something. When the team scores the last, winning points of the championship game, the players' faces are beaming. They are proud of their accomplishment. Or take the singer beaming after the applause for a job well-done. Or the look of a Daddy showing off his firstborn, bursting at the seams...he beams. Glorious of the worth that comes from within.

The glow of pregnancy is another way we use this word. The hormones and excitement of new life brightens a mother's face and skin. She looks brighter, more beautiful. These young mothers are beaming with the excitement of new life (not for German engineering). Their glow is the look of creation, of life, of beauty. Glorious from the life-giving nature of creation.

Nothing is more obvious or nauseating (not really, I like to see it) than the look of two new lovers. Happy and enamored. Beaming with love, couples have that silly smile and that twinkle in their eyes that beam. Notice, though, that this twinkle sharpens in the presence of the beloved. Love of someone shines out, the glory that comes from love.

And so it is with God - God's glory shines forth from the worth of who God is. The Creator and King of the Universe, worthy of our praise. It is a description and a brilliance. God's radiance shines from being the unique persona that always was, is, and will be. The Creator of the Universe, hotter, and more brilliant than a billion shinning stars: the worth and splendor of God. Behold, brothers and sisters, this is glorious radiance of God shinning forth from the very worth, life, and love of God. The glory of God is a Radiance, spendid and terrifying, Wonderful and Beaming.

Yet, within nearly all religions, we humans speak of the hidden Face of God. Perhaps this is a condition all of us lament: For there have been times all of us have called out to God wishing to see the divine presence in our midst. In need, despair, loneliness, or fear, I believe we all have longed to see God's Face smiling back at us, reassuring us of the Divine presence.

This is the Mysterium Tremendum, the Terrifying Mystery that God's Radiant Splendor is hidden from us...yet it is something we long for. Call it what you will, but the Radiant Glory of God, much like the Sun, is dangerous. Love and Life flow from God, yet the pure Holiness and Power of the Divine could annihilate us. I think of it like our TV growing up. Every few years a lightning storm would send a bolt of lightning too close to our house. The electricity, something the TV needed to work, from the lightning was too much. It fried our TV. Too much of exactly what it needed, fried it. Perhaps, this is what seeing the Face of God is like: Something that would overload everything within us.

So who can approach God!?! No one!?! Well, yes and no. For when God comes near, God is active, reaching out with Hands of Love, protecting us, restoring us, providing for us. Those same hands that reached down into the primordial mud and formed adam (humanity), in this text, reach down and cover Moses, sheltering him from the unbearable Glory of God's Face. So we see this at work: God's Hand of mercy is sheltering us and protecting us. Like a child holding a little critter being shown off to Mom, God cradles us in the Divine hands, holding us below, and covering us from above. So intimate, the Glorious King. God holds us close. God holds you close. God loves you and desires to keep you close at hand, in the presence of God.

There is a story of a child who had always wanted to see the circus. For years, he had begged his parents to take him, and one day it was announced that the circus was coming to their city. He was excited, and his parents gave him $5 to go see it.

He ran all the way downtown, and he saw elephants and lions and clowns parading through the street. He was amazed, but suddenly he though, "I haven't paid!" So he ran up to a clown and asked, "I have $5 to see the circus, who do I give it to?" The clown answered, "I'll take it." So the boy gave him the money. After the line of circus folk had moved on the boy ran home, saying, "Mom, I saw the circus downtown!" To which his mother replied, "No, Johnny, the circus is tonight, you just saw the parade."

Why do I share this? Because too many of us give our all to the parade and not for the show. Too many people have assumed that they got everything out of religion and faith because they went to the church service. On the contrary, like the circus parade, church worship services are but a taste of experiencing the relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The real show is in daily life practicing the Presence of God.

For the last two weeks, I've been reminded of how awesome sushine on our faces really is. With Winter approaching and a few rains, the sunshine has felt so amazing beaming down on my face. I've loved it. The warmth brightens up a bad day. The yellow beams seem to make worries lighter. So, too with Sonshine. Only by spending time in the presence of the Son do we experience the Radiant Glory of the King.

Moses said, "For Your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on earth." - Exodus 33:16

The Presence of God is what makes the life of faith. It is God's Presence in our lives that has changed us! It is God's Presence and Hand at work within us that is bringing forth Salvation!

The life of the Disciple should be one of presence. We should be seeking the Presence of God.

This can be done through three regular activities:

  • Daily Scripture Reading
  • Daily Prayer time
  • Gathering together in Worship

Keeping these disciplines is a way to cultivate our spiritual lives and practice the Presence of God.

Now may the Glory of God shine brightly in our lives. May the Radiant Splendor of the King beam down upon us purifying us and making us whole. May the Glory of Christ fill us and shine from within that our lives might reflect the Light of Love to a hurting, broken, and dark world. Amen.

He's in my brain!

No, not the zombie!

Rob Bell.

Seriously, I've been working on this Exodus hermenuetic thing for a while now. I've begun to see a central theme of the Bible, that many of the stories repeat the theme in different ways. It is Exodus. For me the key to getting a big picture of the Bible, especially the Work of Jesus, is by reading it in context with the Exodus story. I've been working with this for about 6 years now after doing some research on OT Temple worship, and I've been even more convinced as I have been trying to brush up on my Eucharist/Holy Communion theology.

Recently Rob Bell beat me to a book title called, "God Wants to Save Christians." In this he outlines several points where the Church (especially the Western church) just doesn't get it. Besides that, he begins to outline a hermenuetic of his own...the Exodus story.

It seems as though everytime I read a new Rob Bell book, he's saying something that I've been chewing on and thinking about...often in eerily similar ways.

Don't get me wrong. It's not exact, and I disagree with him about how much liberation theology is present within his hermenuetic. But I'm encouraged that the Spirit of God is leading us together. And it's not just the two of us. I recently read some other pastors writing of basically the same thing.

Sometimes it seems like we're out on our own too often...especially as we try to be faithful heretics (read Peter Rollins' new book "Fidelity of Betrayal"). It's nice to know that sometimes I really am hearing the Spirit of God trying to tell me something...and it's not just my warped brain messing up all the time. Even greater is knowing that the Spirit of God is talking to others, and that together we are called to the ministry of bring God's love and truth to the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Better Glimpse

As I continue to try to improve my preaching, I ran across a thought that struck me. The idea goes something like this: If you generalize about something you make it seem far away, but if you are very specific it seems close. We say, "I'm going to 321 E. St. in Winchester, or Downtown Indianapolis, or Paris, or China, or Mars." See how they get more general the further away you are. That's the concept.

As I thought about the concept a while it struck me that we as pastors have been guilty of this too often. We speak of God and Heaven and Salvation...Yet, they seem so far away. We speak of a God that did amazing things....years ago. We preach about a the skies. We accept a Salvation...for the future.

My aim is to narrow the gap. What is God doing, RIGHT NOW? Where is Heaven, RIGHT HERE? What does Salvation mean for our lives, RIGHT HERE & NOW?

In my missions class I was taught that the missionary translates three things: The Bible (and it's culture), your own culture, and the culture to which you are going. I remember being really stoked about the idea. I went home thought about and came back to class with a question. I repeated the professor's thesis, and I asked, "Isn't this exactly what a pastor is supposed to do." He smiled and said, "You got it."

For teachers and pastors, our aim continues to be that of offering a better glimpse of God at work in the people's lives...Not just long ago...Not in others' lives...Not in the future....but God at work and play, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A New Day

Though the Church by and large is dragging her feet as much as she can, the world is changing. I find it very sad that again the Church is fragmenting much like it did when Martin Luther ushed in a new era. The old way versus the new.

I know many will go ape over this, but here we are:

I believe in online ministry. Websites, blogs, and yes, baptisms...

If you object to this, does it help to know that the pastor insisted on doing this because it was too important to wait? That she was a new Christian that had committed her life to Christ? That a few days later the person baptized unexpectedly died from an aortic aneurysm?

It's a new day. A new world. A new ministry.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Favorite Halloween Post from 2007

CommonCraft is a brilliant company that puts things into plain English. They posted my favorite Halloween webpost last year...I share again as we wait for Halloween...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sans Secretary

Brenda, our Administrative Assistant, is out of the office this week and next. She is a huge help to the church, and things aren't quite as smooth without her here. I'm reminded of who really runs the office when people come in and ask, "How do I....?" or "Where is....?" or "I'd like to..."

My blank stares say enough most of the time, but usually end up saying, "I don't know."

Another lesson of how it takes all of us to do the work of the it reinforced how dependent we really are on each other.

Hope to see you soon, Brenda!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Letting God...

Charles Swindoll tells the story of a boy who went to Sunday School one Sunday. Afterward, he runs up to his father, saying, "Dad, Dad! They told this cool story about Moses and all these people crossing the Red Sea. It was awesome!" Proud that his son would be excited about a S.S. lesson, the father asked his son to tell him the story.

The boy said, "Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Israeli navy built pontoon bridges across the so that the people could walk over safely..." At which point the father interrupted.

"Um, son, is THAT what they taught you?" The boy replied sheepishly, "Well, no, but if I told you what my Sunday School teacher said you'd never believe it!"

Miracles. Hard to believe sometimes...especially when entire seas are parted and armies are swallowed whole. It's easy to get caught up in details and being a spectator of the story; however, this story invites us to look more closely and see ourselves standing at the Red Sea, too.

The story starts in a test of Glory. Pharaoh is concerned about his glory. What will the Hittites think? What will my own people think if I let these people go? Who is this Moses and rabble of slaves that I, Pharaoh should even listen to them?

God has chosen to make this story a testament throughout the ages for his glory as well. The Exodus story will be the central theme of Jewish theology and later even Christian theology. So it's a battle of two forces competing for the Hebrew slaves....

Yet, it's also a Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil. If Pharaoh wins, what does that say about God? If Evil triumphs does that not justify slavery, oppression, and brutality? If Evil were to win when Good has put all its chips in, then the stability of life, the universe, and everything is upset.

Make no mistake this story is so powerful because it plays out every day in our lives. Will we stay as slaves to Pharaoh, or will we trust God to lead us to a new, promised land?

When the Israelites see the Egyptian chariots, they begin crying out to God. I think most of us would, too. The Hebrew word for chariot is Merkhava. That is also the name of the Israeli main battle tank. Aptly named, they are equivalents for their respective times. Imagine fleeing on foot and seeing a division of M1A1 Abrams tanks coming after you!?! In this moment the story begins to really focus on trust.

Who do we trust? Do we trust God? Do we trust God when things are hard? Do we trust God when life is in turmoil? Do we REALLY trust God when Pharaoh's chariots are bearing down on us? Too often, we react in difficult times the same way the Israelites do...we blame.

Moses, it's your fault. Moses, we told you that we didn't want to come. We wanted to stay in Egypt! It'd be better to be a slave in Egypt than free and die! they really mean that!?! Maybe, a better question is do we? Husband to wife, "It's your fault I had the affair." "I wish I were never born!" Driver to passenger, "I told you we shouldn't have been speeding."

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, when confronted with our fears and shame, we tend to blame. "She made me eat it." "The snake told me to." "SSSSS." (roughly translated as it was the donkey's fault).

Paralyzed in fear, they cry out, but Moses basically says, "Sit back and watch God." And, while we expect Moses to have the right answer, he so often doesn't. He doesn't here either.

Karl Marx once said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Contrary to what you might expect, I agree. Far too often, religion is been used as a way to pacify and stupify the crowds. It can me used to make people feel good about themselves. It can be a social affair, chic, and erudite. A politician, king, or pastor can weave spells with religious sounding words that sound and feel good.

That's the last thing we need or that God wants for us. We don't need a faith that dulls our intelligence or minds. The true disciples of Jesus aren't drugged into a stupor; rather, we're quite caffeinated. Our faith should unsettle us. It should convict us. It should motivate us to energy and action. Our faith should inspire the courage to topple empires and confront Pharaohs. The Christian life only comes caffeinated!

Moses wanted to sit back and let God do it all, but God has called us to Covenant. In a covenant, there are two parties acting, and we have our part, too.

When the Israelites are standing back crying out, God says, "Mah titsaq alay?" Why are you crying out!?! Then he says, "Get moving!!!!" The life of faith is one of pray AND action. God loves hearing our prayers. God enjoys our conversations with him...But, many of the things we pray for we have a direct role to play.

"God help our marriage." That requires me to be a good husband. "God help our finances." That requires me to be a good steward. "God bring peace to earth." Requires me to have and offer peace from my own life. "God forgive me," also requires me to forgive myself...and others.

The life of faith is a balance of trusting God for everything AND moving in action to fulfill our end of the covenant. Abraham Joshua Herschel said we shouldn't be taking leaps of faith; rather we should be taking leaps of action. Rabbi Michael Siegel called this the "amen of action." His sermon on this topic is extraodinary.

I quote him now:

The stories of our lives may not be as dramatic as the splitting of the
sea...But that does not mean that God is any less concerned about us than the
people of Moses' time. [Brothers and Sisters], God's words to Moses
continue to echo throughout the generations into our own time. Mah titsaq
alay...Why do you cry out to me? Get moving!

Let's head out to the Promised Land.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Seth Godin's Blog

If you haven't checked out Seth Godin's blog, you're really missing out.

Here is a fantastic article...I've been chewing on it daily since he wrote it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Passed Over

Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30

Scripture Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14

Sermon: "Passed Over"

Blood. It's gruesome. It's gory. It repulses many. I have to admit that having tried to give blood a few times, I can't. Each time, I've failed to make it through! I work with animal blood. When others are bleeding, I can work with them. But, when it's my blood, I'm out.

There was a plant manager at a big industrial complex. Having just finished his second round of Red Cross training, he commented to the Red Cross Director. "I'm so glad I took this training. You see last week we had a gruesome accident. Someone was seriously injured and there was blood everywhere. Luckily, I remembered exactly what you taught us. I immediately sat down, and put my head between my knees...and it worked just like you said! Funny. Sad. True. Blood grosses us out.

Ironically, blood also attracts us. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw, Roman Gladiators...all bloody...all very popular. When we lived in Chicago they had traffic delays all the time. One of the delays was a "rubber neck" delay. When there was an accident, people would turn and look at the accident as they went by...presumably to see the carnage. I call this the "mangled arm" syndrome. It's gross. It's disturbing. We may shut our eyes, yet we will always take a peek. We're drawn to blood just as we're repulsed by it.

This is biological. All living creatures that we see fly, crawl, walk, or swim have blood. Without blood there is no animal life. Blood is life-giving. Our reactions to blood come from millions of years of evolution.

What is also interesting is that blood is a major part of nearly every religion. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. As we have such strong reactions to blood and considering it's importance for life, the symbol of blood in religion is very powerful. It represents life, death, and healing (giving life back).

In the Scripture texts, blood plays an important part of the story. In fact, one of the central themes of Passover, the Last Supper, and Holy Communion is blood.

In the Passover text, God tells Pharaoh to let his people go. Stubborn and in a battle of "divine" wills, Pharaoh and the LORD go at it. God sends 10 plagues. Each plague an attack on the Egyptian gods. The Nile, the sun, frogs, etc. But, the last "god" that the LORD goes after is the sun god of Egypt, Pharaoh. For in any monarchy there is ALWAYS one person more important than the king/queen: The first born son. They are the future national security of the country.

In this case, Egypt considered both pharaoh and the first born of pharaoh to be divine. In the last assault upon Pharaoh's "fortified" heart (usually mistranslated as "hard heart...but there is a nuance there), God smites the first born. An attack upon the very core Pharaoh and Egyptian security, religion, and heart. At stake was the Hebrew people; moreover, at stake was every single human being oppressed and enslaved by the tyranny of human depravity. Don't feel sorry for Pharaoh, this was a brutal tyrant bent on genocide and slavery.

However, the LORD told Moses to instruct the people to eat an unblemished lamb or goat as a family. Sit down together and eat the animal ready to travel. They were to paint the blood of the lamb over their doorposts, and when death came by, it would passover the firstborn of every household having blood on the doorframe. God commanded that the Hebrews, the children of Israel were to celebrate this meal for all time...

And they did. Around 1500 years later, Jesus prepares the Passover meal with his disciples. But at this meal, Jesus shifted things a bit...OK, a lot!

Taking the bread, Jesus said, "This is my body broken for you." The flesh of the lamb broken for us. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they were ashamed. In a very stark and sad scene, God takes his creation that was "exceedingly good" and marred it. God himself took the first life-blood of an animal, and gave the skin, the flesh, of the animal to cover the shame, the guilt, and the spiritual nakedness of Adama and Eve. In that same manner, the body of Christ is broken that we might eat and live.

Taking the wine, Jesus said, "This is my blood of the new covenant. Take and drink it." A few days later Jesus' blood would flow on a wood framed cross. Just as perfect lambs' blood flowed on door frames in Egypt so many years ago.

The Passover Meal is our meal. The story is our story. In Christ, the Lamb of God, we share the Passover Meal. Through the blood of the Lamb, shed on the door posts of the universe, the angel of death passes over.

You see the Cross becomes the 2nd Exodus. Jesus died on the Cross to free free us from all that would be pharaoh. Pharaohs of guilt, addiction, self-hatred, jealousy, pride, abuse, and the list goes on. In this Passover, we are delivered from ourselves, our sins, and the oppression that humans too often push on others. We are freed to live a new life, a transformed life: The abundant life.

In Communion the stories merge: Exodus and Gospel. As we eat the meal of the Lord together, let us eat ready to leave this place. Ready to leave our sins and shame and oppression behind, but also ready to leave these walls, to proclaim the release that Christ is offering to the world.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Standing for Something

As many of you know, I'm all about standing for something. I have a difficult time with wishy-washy people, politics, and faith.

Even those of us who are quite resolute/stubborn can suffer from this, too. Is our message consistent? Are we always carrying the same values? Are we pandering for attention, votes, sales, popularity, etc.?

Here's a great article on standing for something by Seth Godin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New Toys

I added some new features to my blog. Check them out on the left-hand side.

New to Life According to St. Mark:
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"I AM"

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 3:1-15

The very famous story of Moses and the burning bush. There are three things that I take away from this story about God.
  1. God is untamed.
  2. God is in control.

  3. God is merciful.

God calls to Moses from a bush burning, but not being consumed by the fire. An oddity that Moses checks out. Moses is quickly warned to take off his sandals for where he is standing is holy ground. Holy. Early in the story the fierceness of God shines forth. One of the common symbols of God's presence in the Bible is fire. Samson's parents, the covenant of Abraham (the torch going between the cut in half animals), Elijah, the pillar of fire, and even the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were all instances of God appearing as fire. Why fire?

Fire is untamed. Fire burns clean, yet it destroys. Fire is beautiful, but it can kill. It attracts us, but it will cause us to flee a building in panic. Fire purifies, but it also leaves a mess. What better metaphor for God!?! Fire shows us something about God: Namely, that God is untamed, wild, and fierce. We dare not approach him lightly. Annie Dillard once quipped, "It's silly that all of these women come to church with their fancy, velvet hats...In light of the presence of the One to whom we are coming, we should be wearing crash helmets!" Right on Annie!

God is not domesticated. He is wild. And because of that, each of us must build our relationship with God. There is an ancient Jewish story of a young man who asked his teacher and Rabbi, "Why do your daily prayers always include you saying, 'God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob?' Why not just say, 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?'" To which the Rabbi replied, "Because my son, Abraham's God and Isaac's God may not have been Jacob's God." Each generation, each person must find and relate to God for themselves. God is not something passed down like a trophy or a family heirloom. The one, true God of the Universe is someone who we all must make our own...we MUST have a personal relationship with God...and that boils down to stopping and turning aside to see and hear the burning bushes in our lives.

Yet, this wild God is in control. Though Moses wants to manipulate God through the use of the divine name (Egyptian theology believed that using the intimate divine name of a god would allow one to control that god...see The Book of the Dead as a classic example), God gently and somewhat humorously responds differently than Moses expects. Ehyeh asher ehyeh. "I am what I am." God is. There is no reason for God's existence, God is. There is no beginning or end, God is. With concisive voice, God shrugs off Moses' attempt at control, and asserts truth about Himself. From this name, derives the name of God by which the Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews refer to God in the most sacred sense: YHWH. This sacred name is translated as LORD because the Jewish readers believed the name of God to be so sacred that they wouldn't say it out of respect. Instead, they said, adonai, which means lord or master. So when you see an all caps LORD, you will know that this is the sacred name of God given to Moses on mount Horeb/Sinai.

God is in control, not Pharoah. Too often we forget this. Pharoah, the divine morning star of Egypt, was being challenged by the Hebrew God, the LORD of the Universe. It is a struggle of the divines for the very souls and bodies of the Hebrew people...for us. Pharoah will lose. All who would be pharoah lose. God is in control.

Lastly God is merciful. The LORD uses Moses, in some persons' eyes a traitor, a murderer, a runaway. God gives Moses a chance of redemption...a job that Moses was made to do. God is and forever will be a God of second chances.

God is merciful to all of humanity. Our heritage looks back the Magna Carta as a "Bill of Rights." It proclaimed human rights on which our own Declaration of Independence and Constituion were framed. Yet, they were 2500 years late. God's speech at the burning bush is a declaration that humanity was not meant to be ruled over in tyrrany, oppression, and slavery. Created in the image of God, we all have human rights. This burning bush becomes the foundational piece of Israel's Magna Carta. The very concept would live on in Torah, Israel's laws given by God: Slaves and foreigners have rights. Slaves would be freed every 7 years. Lands would be returned to original family owners and debts forgiven on the years of Jubilee. God said, "I have come bring them up..." Throughout history God has come down to us to deliver us from evil, oppression, and often ourselves; moreover, God brings us up to a new place of living. A blessed place of living...and one day, to a promised land beyond death.

This is the promise we can take away from the burning bush: God is involved in our lives because the LORD loves us. Even when we don't see it, God is at work redeeming the world to Himself, restoring us all corporately and individually. Let us give our lives in praise to this wild, merciful LORD of the Universe.