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March 31, 2018, 12:00 AM

This is How it Ends?!


by Sandy Bach

Mark 16:1-8

16 1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

When visiting a family with a sick relative, I've found that each family member takes on a different and unique role.  One family member becomes totally unable to care for his ailing mother.  But, he's perfectly competent in handling her financial affairs.  Someone else takes over nursing responsibilities with ease.  Another sibling sees that food is provided while another takes care of those long neglected home repairs.

Each member of the family rises to the occasion as long as they can do what they're good at.  Sadly, too many families become critical of each other.  They don't understand that there are differences in gifts and talents.  The one caring for mother is a "saint."  The others are criticized for "running away."

As near as theologians can tell, this is the original ending to Mark's gospel.  The other two endings don't appear in the earliest manuscripts that are available to us today.  When you think about it, it's no surprise that new endings were added.  Ending the gospel with the women running away from the empty tomb and not speaking to anyone about it is a pretty lousy ending.  How was the news to get out?  How was Jesus' ministry to move forward?

So, this is it?  This is the Good News?   Mark's Gospel may be short and concise, but what happened?  Did he run out of paper?  or time?  We don't know, but it's worthwhile looking at it to see what God is telling us.

The Sabbath is over.  It's time to get back to work as usual.  Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome come to the tomb.  Mark tells us they have spices they've purchased to embalm the body.  The body has already begun to decay, the smell won't be pleasant.  And, they have very little hope of entering the tomb anyway because of the heavy stone blocking it.

I think they're here for another reason: they need to be near him.  Even if he is dead, being at his grave will hold some bit of comfort.  If they can get in and anoint the body, so be it.  If not, they'll sit for awhile and simply be near him.

The men can't stand to be close to the grave.  Peter denied him.  He'll have to come to terms with that.  Judas betrayed him.  By now, he's probably dead.  The others?  They're hiding from the authorities; hiding from God.  They couldn't stand by that cross and watch their dearly loved friend die.  Along with his death went their hopes and dreams for a new Israel, free from Roman occupation.  What had become a successful ministry was stopped three days ago at Skull Hill.

The men stay away because they can't stand to be close.  The women stay close because they can't stand to be far away.

Enter the young man in white.  He carefully explains to the women: "I know who you're looking for and what you're after.  He's not here.  See?  Yes, he was crucified.  But, he's been raised from the dead.  Now, here's what you're to do.  Go.  Tell Peter and the disciples what I've told you.  Jesus is headed to Galilee.  You can join him there."

He ends the conversation with something important: "Just as he told you."

"Exactly as he said."

No one was able to understand Jesus' words when he was with him.  He told them three times that he would be turned over to the authorities, be tried and killed and would rise on the third day.  But it didn't compute.  Not with any of them.  Not a single one.

As my GPS is fond of telling me when I take a wrong turn, "Recalculating."  Arrested and tried. "Recalculating." Crucified.  "Recalculating." Rise again.  "Beyond recalculating."  Beyond comprehension.

The women watched him die and saw where he was buried.  The ministry is over.  Grieving has begun.  Not a single one of them remembered what Jesus told them.  So the young man in white reminds him, "Exactly as he told you."

And what do the women do?  They flee.  They run for their lives, terrorized and amazed.  And they say nothing to anyone.

And that's how Mark ends the gospel.  "They say nothing to anyone." They don't listen to the young man in white.  They didn't listen to Jesus.  They're scared.  They say nothing.

How do we respond when we think our world is coming to an end?  The decline of Christianity in America.  No end in sight to war.  School shootings vs. gun rights.  "Lawful and awful" police shootings.  There's nothing that can be done.  We're all headed to hell in a hand basket.

Or are we?

How did word get out about Jesus' resurrection?  How did Christianity spread?  How does the impossible happen?

It's up to God.

God, who is faithful, completes the story.  Remember at Jesus' baptism when God split open the heavens to declare that this was God's son?  Remember when Jesus breathed his last on the cross?  The curtain was torn from top to bottom while a deathly darkness descended.

We may be deniers and doubters and betrayers.  There may be sophisticated and cunning schemes afoot.  But God won't be put off by them.  God is faithful.  God has a plan.  And God's plan won't be diverted.  Not by silence or running away.  Not by anything.

So the ending to this gospel?  It seems to me that it's appropriate.  Mark kept pointing out Jesus' power and God at work.  How best to end the gospel?

With a hanging sentence.

A reminder that God is still at work today.

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!

Amen.




March 18, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — To the Future and Beyond!


by Sandy Bach

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NRSV)

If only it were true right now.  Today.

What if the law was written on our hearts?  Religious wars would be no more.  Power plays would be obsolete.  Brokenness a thing of the past.  To quote Louis Armstrong, "What a wonderful world it would be."

Alas, it's not here, yet.  The law isn't written on our hearts, yet.  We're still unpredictable and stiff-necked.

As we leave that spiritual wilderness in our rear-view mirror, we wonder what awaits us.  How will your life be different?  How will it be the same?  Will you be able to make the changes and corrections to your life that you discerned while in the desert?  Will God give up on you?  Will you give up on God?  Can you let go?

Starting over is a fragile journey.  New beginnings are scary.

Perhaps you hear those voices from your past:  "You're too weak."  "You're not good enough."  "You'll fail."

The truth is that you are too weak and you can't do it without Jesus.  Don't forget his wilderness experience.  40 days without food, alone with the wild beasts and the angels.  Then Satan showed up and tried to tell him how to do ministry.

First test:  "The people are starving.  Give them bread."

"They need more than that," Jesus responds, famished from fasting.

"Show your glory and your might and your grandeur.  Do it here.  Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple and let everyone see who you are."

"I won't test God in order to prove myself."

"Okay, then.  Take over the world.  Be the ruler.  God knows you'd do a better job than any of these leaders have!"

"That isn't what I came for.  I'll take over the world one heart at a time."

We also are tempted.  Tempted to take short cuts to our goal.  Tempted to climb over others on our way up.  Tempted to tell God how it's going to be.  But, we can't do any of those things, because, honestly, isn't that what got us the desert to begin with?  It was in the wilderness that learned to lean on God and allow God's provision to sustain us?

So, here we are on the threshold.

When Jeremiah wrote these words, they were meant to comfort a people desolated in Babylon.  No one wants to be in Babylon.  We all want to be home.  Home with our family and friends and our God.  Not in what appears to be some godforsaken land where the language, the culture, the religion are different and you feel as if your alien registration card isn't enough.

So Jeremiah writes a Book of Comfort.  "The light appears to have gone out for you," he writes.  "God knows that you live in the dark wilderness known as Babylon.  But, it's not over.  God hasn't deserted you.  God doesn't abandon."

As we approach Holy Week, we, too see the light dimming.  During worship, each week of Lent, we extinguish a candle as a symbol of the Light of Christ diminishing.  The disciples gave up all hope, betraying and denying Jesus to death.  On Good Friday, the final candle will flicker out and we'll be left in darkness.

We couldn't do it if we didn't know on Friday that Sunday is coming and with it resurrection.  We can't leave any wilderness unless we can see light.

And that's the hope we also find in Jeremiah.  Some day God will write the law on our hearts.  In fact, God has begun that good work.  And we live in the yet and not yet, waiting for the final fulfillment.  That's what gives us hope: we know that God hasn't given up on us.  That's why we know that God is waiting in the future.  Resurrection follows death.

What is  your hope for a new heart?  Have you felt God at work in your life?  What gives you hope?  What takes hope away?  Write them down.  Ponder them.  Pray over them.  Give it to God.  God, in Christ, is waiting for you.

When you're ready, come out into the light of Christ.  When you're ready, meet God in the hope of the future.  When you're ready, let go and allow God to transform you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 11, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Leaving the Wilderness


by Sandy Bach

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  (Ephesians 2:1-10 NRSV)

After the loss of a loved one, we usually enter a season of grief.  Depending on the relationship to the loved one, it can take a few weeks to more than a year.  There are too many variables to predict the length of time.  Eventually, the griever begins to reinvent their life without the loved one; not that they'll forget him or her, but they realize it's time to start over.

This can take many forms: cleaning out closets and reorganizing the home; moving to a new home or a new city; traveling more; staying home more; taking on a new hobby; even changing jobs.

Leaving the wilderness is similar to this.  We were there because we felt a spiritual longing that only God could heal.  We remain there until God says it's time.  And as we leave the wilderness, we don't return to the old way of life.  We enter what might look like the old life, but is really changed.  Perhaps our view on the old has changed and we see what must go.  Perhaps we see what's missing and we add it in.

It'll take time.  If we're intentional about our re-entry, we'll be aware of what goes and what stays.

Several years ago I traveled to Africa for ten days.  We visited a nation that is still one of the poorest in the world.  What I found was a lack of food and water mixed with an abundance of spirituality and desire to serve Christ.  When you have nothing, all you can rely on is God.  I returned home a changed person and spent time in my own wilderness.  I knew God was at work, so I waited.  When it was time, I heard God's voice.  I immediately volunteered for a layoff and took on jobs that were well beneath what I was used to earning.

I was happier than I'd been in years.  Coming out of the wilderness, I found joy in simple things (I couldn't afford to buy happiness) and welcomed each new day as if it were my last.

I left the wilderness only when God opened me to my new way of being. I had to rely on God for each step I took.  Should I get another job or take some time off?  What kind of work did I feel called to do?  Which of the skills I'd developed did I feel called to use?

Most of all, I had to know that God was in charge.  In the wilderness I had put myself in God's hands.  Healing had occurred in the wilderness.  More than that, transformation occurred.  The Hebrew slaves left Egypt and spent years in the wilderness.  When they finally entered the Land of Promise, they were not anything like the parents and grandparents that had left Egypt.  They had worked hard and slowly shed the slave mentality.  They had learned a new way to worship and put their skills to work, creating a Tabernacle for worship, the altar, the pieces that would become symbols of what their new found belief.  They were God's children.

And so it is with us.  We leave behind us what has held us back.  We enter with a new sense of who God is calling us to be.  But, we can't do it alone.  We only succeed with God's help.  God transforms our hearts and minds and then leads us where we can grow in our new person-hood.

It's a gift of grace.  Undeserved.  Not of our own doing.  God graciously heals our broken or hurting hearts.  Our response is to meet God and allow God to be in charge (meaning, that you drop the illusion that you were ever in charge in the first place!)  We respond when we open ourselves to new things and new practices and new ways.

Grace.  Undeserved.  Not of our own doing.  God chose us before we knew God.  Our job is to recognize our need for salvation.  Coming out of the wilderness means that we acknowledge and confess that need.

Will your life be better than before you entered the desert?  Yes.  It'll be a better life because you didn't make it happen without God.  It'll be a better life because you decided to walk with God.

God's message to us is, "Meet me in your transformed life.  Continue leaning on me as I help you reinvent your life."

Do you have something you do regularly that puts Christ at the center of your life?  If not, what will you do to keep reminding yourself that not only are you not in charge, but Christ is your savior in your newly transformed life?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 4, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Follow the Rules


by Sandy Bach

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.[c]

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   (Exodus 20:1-17 NRSV)

No matter how long we spend in the wilderness, eventually we leave.  Eventually, we come to terms with whatever has us there: whether we brought it on ourselves, or life inserted itself or evil has occurred.  Eventually, we come out with fresh perspective and a sense of God's transformative power.  We realize it's time to reinvent our lives.

Yet, when we enter into our newly reinvented world, how will we live?  We don't want to return to what we were before we entered the wilderness.  We surely want something different than what we had.  We want to be someone different.  We want our experience in the wilderness to stand for something.

Enter the "Ten Words."  Also known as "The Ten Commandments."  They are commandments, not suggestions.  But, don't get them confused with a code of ethics that, when followed correctly, will earn God's grace.  We don't earn God's grace.

The Ten Words begin with a very important statement: "I"m God."  You're not God.  There are no other gods mightier than God.  God delivered us out of slavery and continues to deliver us throughout history.  God doesn't get tired and give up.  Our friends may do that, but God doesn't.

God begins at the beginning:  "I"m God.  I delivered you.  Therefore, don't have other gods in my presence.  And since I'm present everywhere, no gods.  Period."

And, no idols.  Don't try to figure out who God is and put God into a box.  God is beyond the comprehensible.  That may seem easy, but is it?  When has the money god controlled your decisions?  Or the fear of scarcity?  How do you see the idol of greed and power played out in current events?  How many families have been destroyed because of these?

When your wallet is more important than God, you have an idol.  When your possessions are more important than anything else, you have an idol.

Don't misuse God's name.  What have we done in the name of God in history?  Think of the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisition.  How do we use God's name to belittle other people: people who are created by God in the image of God?

Sabbath rest.  In our 24/7 culture, it's difficult to find rest.  There are so many demands placed upon us.  Even pastors have to be reminded that they are not the Messiah, that the ministry they serve will survive 24 hours while they lay down their plows and rest.  If you don't already do this, try it.  Take a day to do anything that you don't do the other six days of the week.  You'll be amazed at the energy you gain for the rest of the week.  Worship God in the morning and then enjoy God's creation the rest of the day.

Care of the elderly in ancient days was of critical importance.  If you didn't care for your parents, who would?  I'm often asked, what about abusive parents?  You don't have to like them or what they did.  But, you don't leave them in a dangerous place, either.

The next five are more forthright.  I trust you haven't killed anyone.  But, Jesus asked about those you hurt with your words.  Who do you hurt when you break your marriage vows to enter into an affair with someone else?  How much white collar crime exists today?  How do we deal honestly and transparently with and for others in a way that respects them?  When has your envy of a friend with a nice new car caused you to feel angry and hurt?

Basic words to live by.  Love God and love neighbor.  These words are God's way of saying, "I love your neighbor as much as I love you.  And I expect you to do the same."

These words are a gift.  They are more than a code of ethics.  They reveal God's character.  God is the power behind the exodus from Egypt.  God is the power behind our exodus from the wilderness.

God is the one who stays by us in the wilderness, who leads us out of that desert place, who doesn't dessert us for any reason.  That's grace in action.  And when we accept these Ten Words, we're accepting God's saving grace.

These words turn us inside out.  From, "it's all about me." to "It's all about God and living with God's people."

God is the power in the wilderness.  The powers of evil and wild beasts?  Somehow they lose their power because we are so in tune with God the father.

Which of The Ten Words do you struggle with?  Why?  Can you embrace the discomfort and live it?  Live with it this week.  Consider how you might better honor these words and know God more fully.

God's message is this: "Learn from me.  You are limited.  I am limitless.  When you fall, I'll pick you up."

Know that God has a plan for you.  We probably don't know what it is.  While we're discerning, God is providing sustenance.  Let go and allow God to lead you to transformation and new freedom.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




February 25, 2018, 12:00 AM

Starting Over — Charting the Way


by Sandy Bach

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[a] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[b] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 NRSV)

Mark Twain couldn't have said it better.  "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah.  In a moment of insight he understands.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Then Jesus begins a new, more advanced teaching.  AP Discipleship: "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." (v 31)

No!  No, you've got it wrong, Jesus!  The Messiah doesn't die: he rises to power like King David.  The Messiah will defeat King Herod and then Caesar and then Israel will rise again as a great nation and we'll no longer be serving others.  Get with the program!  You're the Messiah for heaven's sake!

Peter takes Jesus aside for a talk.  Like an aide to a member of Congress, he tells him to be careful, don't make waves, watch what you say.  "We'll need to tread carefully, Jesus.  Build up power among the Galileans before we move into Judea."

"Get behind me, Satan!"

What?  Peter just had a moment of insight.  He rightly answered Jesus' question.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Peter the insightful disciple just became Satan?

Slow down Jesus.

But, he won't slow down.  He tells anyone who can hear that to follow him means to deny ourselves and take up our cross and then follow him.  While we're pondering that Jesus continues.  If you want to save your soul, forget it.  You'll lose it for sure.  But, if you're willing to lose your soul for Jesus' sake (not just for anything, but Jesus' sake) then you'll save your soul.

Slow down, Jesus.

But, he won't slow down.  He continues.  You can gain the world and what will it get you?  Nothing.   If you're ashamed of what I'm saying (and I wonder if he turned to Peter to say this,) than I'll be ashamed of you when I come in glory.

First Peter rebukes Jesus.  Then Jesus rebukes Peter.  Jesus rebuked demons, and acts of nature.  But, humans?  Yes, when we need to get in line.  And that's just what Jesus demands: get in line.  Get behind me.  Get in line and follow me.

We don't get it, do we?  Perhaps we don't want to get it.  Because, if we did, we'd have to give up control over everything and everyone.  Even Jesus.  Especially Jesus.

The sad thing is, Peter missed something critically important.  As soon as Jesus started talking about suffering and rejection and death, Peter shut down.  He failed to hear the good news: that he would rise again after three days.  That's important!  That's what he needs to focus on.  That Jesus will suffer and die? That's unpalatable.  But, rise again after three days?  Let's dwell on that.

Yet, aren't we so wrapped up on controlling that we fail to see the good news?  In this time that we've chosen to spend in the wilderness, I wonder if some of us are here for just that reason.  We tried to control outcomes or people or events.  And what did it get us?  Wilderness.  We tried to control our own destiny.  And here we are, wandering in the desert.

Jesus' words are hard to hear.  Just when we think we know what we need to do to get out of the wilderness, we hear Jesus speak and it doesn't compute.  Our way out becomes blurred and we may even repeat some of the same mistakes that got us here in the first place.  On this journey to transformation, Jesus corrects our flawed faith to bring us into line.

Where do you need Jesus to intervene and take control, so you can follow him?  Write it down.  Carry it with you this week.  Ponder it often.  Come up with at least one example of a place where you need God to intervene, so that you can follow the Master.  How might you follow Jesus this week instead of your own desires?

I'm saddened and sickened by yet another school shooting.  I want all children everywhere to be safe from killing and abuse and sexual predators.  I pray for an end to these events.  But, I saw a glimpse of good news this week.  Students who have witnessed the death of their friends, have taken their own action.  They are visiting with high level politicians and asking them difficult questions.

In another example, students skipped school to march on Oklahoma City, calling for our leaders to do something about teacher pay scales in our state.

These young people have taken up their cross.  They may not have all the facts.  Nor do they understand the nuances.  They'll have to figure out the details of gun control vs. the second amendment.  They'll learn that adjusting the state budget in one area will hurt another area.  They've taken up their cross.

Last week we identified ways in which we're in a spiritual wilderness.  We've charted the wilderness.  We know what it looks like and we're pretty familiar with the terrain.  This week, we chart the Way: the Way of Jesus.  And that means we let go of our assumptions; let go our need for control.  In its place we pick up that cross and journey to transformation, allowing Jesus to correct our flawed faith to bring us into line.

So, are we ready?  Are we ready to face our need for control?  Are we ready to follow Jesus?

If so, then here we go.

Everyone,

pick up your crosses and

get in line.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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