Good Friday

The words of this hymn are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux.  The music is by Bach, from his St. Matthew’s Passion.  It absolutely captures all that we observe on the cross of our Lord.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown
How pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
T’was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee.

We will sing this tonight at our Maundy Thursday service.  Maybe not quite as soulful as this, but no less meaningful.

O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God, I love the holy Lamb of God…

The Patience of the Cross

During this week when we think of the cross, here are words from St. Cyprian, from his work On The Virtue of Patience:

He is the innocent, he the just, he rather who is the embodiment of innocence and justice, is counted among evil-doers.  Truth is confuted by false evidence.  The future judge is subjected to judgment; the Word of God is led to the Cross in silence.  At the Lord’s crucifixion the stars are thrown into confusion, the elements are disturbed, earth trembles, and night swallows up day.  But he himself is silent, unmoved, hiding every sign of his godhead throughout the whole duration of his Passion.  Enduring all things, he perseveres to the end, so that in him patience may be brought to its full measure of perfection.

Our perseverance and patience in suffering and our own “cross experiences” are part of our life in God and imitation of our Lord.

Merton Monday

Another thing: I have discovered the penitential psalms. You do not discover them until you know how much you need them. You do not know your need until you experience it. You do not experience your poverty when you tell yourself about it but when God tells you that you are poor. When God tells you of a sickness, it is because He means, at the same time to provide a remedy.

- Thomas Merton, journal entry, 1953

The penitential psalms are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143.

  Maybe you would take

and read one each day of this Holy Week.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Stations of the Cross

4.11.2014

Centuries ago, Christian pilgrims began going to Jerusalem and retracing the steps of Jesus as he carried the cross to his death.  At each place where a significant happening in Christ’s passion took place, Christians would stop, pray, sing and remember what Jesus suffered.

            The pathway that many believe Jesus may have traveled with his cross in Jerusalem is called the Via Dolorosa.

            Because most of the world could not go to Jerusalem for Holy Week, churches began posting paintings and depictions of the life of Christ that corresponded to the various stations so that believers could make the same devotional journey wherever they were.

Today, many churches have artistic works of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion so that Christians can prayerfully follow the path.

image

This devotional practice has come to be known as the Stations of the Cross.  We will do the stations on Good Friday evening, April 18, at 7 PM in our sanctuary.

With visual imagery, silence, prayer, music and Scripture, we will reflect on Christ’s final hours and the cross.

            The Stations of the Cross are a way to remember and draw close to Christ’s suffering and death for us.  And it is a profound way to get ready for the celebration of his Resurrection three days later.

            Too many people rush right past the suffering of Christ and move to his rising, missing the impact that his death has for our faith.

            Traditionally, there are fourteen stations.  Some stations in the traditional fourteen have no reference in Scripture.  The stations that I am preparing for us will all come from biblical references.

            Moving through the Stations of the Cross can be helpful in our personal journeys of commitment to God, our growth as a community of faith, and as we mature from self-focused people to Christ-focused people.

            As you move through the Stations, you may find something of your own journey of faith captured in Christ’s journey.  We may not literally carry and die on a cross, but if we are honest, much of our life is under the shadow of the cross of our Lord.

            It is grace that we have a Savior who goes before us in the pain and suffering of life so that we can know hope and healing.

            The Stations of the Cross have made a deep impression on followers of Christ for centuries.  Many hearts have experienced the touch of God by journeying through it..

            On Good Friday, next week, the journey will take place at MOPC.

This Sunday

4.10.2014

We are going to leave Galatians for just a week, and turn to the Gospel of Mark.  I am going to preach from Mark on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Resurrection Sunday so that we can go to the fundamental events that shape and give meaning to Holy Week.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels, and the pithiest.  Many believe his was the first written.  So important are the events of the final week of Jesus’ life to Mark that he dedicates a third of his Gospel to them.

I am titling the sermon for this Sunday - Palm Sunday - “An Ironic Day”.

The irony of everything about this day is that all that the people who are shouting for Jesus as he rides to Jerusalem presume Jesus to be is pretty much wrong.

As the Bible scholar James Edwards says, the people shout for the coming kingdom of their father, King David, which reveals their confusion about Jesus’ true mission.  He is not a king who will come to get rid of the Romans and bring back Israel’s glory days. 

 The crowds shout “Hosanna” which means “save us”.  But they shout and get excited without understanding Jesus’ purpose.

They are enthusiastic, but enthusiasm is not necessarily faith.  Jesus is popular on this day, but shouting praises is not discipleship.

I also think about what it took for the disciples to go and untie a colt that belonged to someone else.  I had a similar experience that I will share on Sunday - not one of my prouder moments.

On Maundy Thursday, April 17, I will preach on Mark’s account of Jesus’ beginning The Lord’s Supper (14:12-26), and on Resurrection Sunday I will preach from Mark 16.


On Suffering

4.9.2014

David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times called "What Suffering Does" is another characteristic thoughtful piece from him.

One of my professors in seminary, who survived life in a German labor camp during World War II and who came to a deep and personal faith in God while there, said that whether or not suffering comes to us is not a choice.  We all suffer. How we respond to it is a choice.

Brooks’ speaks about this.  It is worth the read, especially in the season of Lent when we are thinking about the cross and suffering of our Savior.

Equip Conference

4.8.2014

Next weekend I am speaking at the EQUIP Conference which is being hosted by New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Kearns.  I have been asked to speak on “Reaching the Next Generation”.

Some might wonder about having a Presbyterian guy talk about reaching the next generation.  I mean, the average age of a member in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is 65 years old and going up steadily each year.  I had to call and make sure they gave me the right topic.  I’m thinking maybe “The Power of Committees” is what they meant.

But we do want to get younger, and we aim toward that with our Children’s and Youth Ministry, and The Mount.

It is open to all pastors and lay leaders, and is just $10 and includes lunch on Saturday.  There will also be some strong music teams leading in times of worship.

If you are led, come and join me.

Merton Monday

Can such a hope be realized by anything but prayer - prayer that burns out the heart, that fights despair, that comes up in flame and fights the cold darkness of despair.

- Thomas Merton, journal entry July 30, 1957

He was writing about the hope of a new monastery to be started and built in Ecuador.  The challenge was huge on many fronts.  Three times in the entry he asks, “Can such a hope be realized by anything but prayer?” 

What hope of a vision do you live with?  Can it be realized by anything but prayer?

Our Eyes Are On You

4.5.2014

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It seems the longer I live the less I know.  For some reason, I thought as I got older I would know more.  I know some things, but there is plenty that I don’t know.

I still don’t know why suffering comes upon many people.  I don’t know why certain nations seem to be in such turmoil.  I don’t know why people get mad and leave a church home that has loved them intensely.  I don’t know why some people don’t change, or seem to want to change.  I am often faced with “small” decisions each an every day about whether to pursue this program for our church, whether to invest in this ministry, whether to move in that direction.

There are many situations and decisions I face where I am not sure what to do.  I am not sure whether to go right or left, or somewhere in between.

Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, was being threatened by the armies of some enemy nations.  It was a tense and deeply uncertain time.  He prayed to the Lord, and concluded his prayer this way: "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." Second Chronicles 20:12

In my times of not knowing I do know that I need to keep my eyes on the Lord.  Even if I don’t know, he does.

The Psalmist experienced great peace, like a child at his mother’s breast, when he didn’t raise his eyes too high to things that were beyond him.  (Psalm 131).

Confusion and contradiction are going to come.  I can’t figure everything out all the time.  But I find I can be centered and strong by keeping my focus on the Lord.