Thursday, April 19, 2012

Easter 2012: Empty Tombs and Bobsleds

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/08/2012

video recording of the service at

Easter 2012: Empty Tombs and Bobsleds

Vineyard Church of Milan


It’s Resurrection Sunday. The first day of a brand new week.

Today is the day that a story sweeps in and engulfs every event, every word, every action in human history. Because of the resurrection, our lives are caught up in a story. Lent is over. Good Friday now lives only in memory. Today, and every day from here on out, is Sunday and Sunday’s children, the days that Resurrection Sunday gives birth to, the days that share Resurrection Sunday’s DNA.

Today is the day the story sheds it tragic skin and emerges as a true comedy.

Today is the day our story becomes a good story.

Today is the day the story becomes epic.


24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!

Luke 24:1-6

Let’s be clear about a few things.

One. We’re not stupid. We know how things work. Dead people stay dead. A dead looking plant might perk up if you water it. Dead looking sick people might recover with enough care and willpower and medical attention. Mostly dead people might be revived by CPR or heroic intervention. Some have even reported out of body experiences in the midst of surgery or trauma, only to be “sent back” and suck in air again for years of new life afterwards. But truly dead people stay dead. Especially people who are killed dead by powerful empires and rulers vested interests in keeping dead people dead so they can’t start revolutions.


This story, the resurrection story, on the other hand, is crazy. It says a dead person, dead for more than a day, stopped being dead and started being alive. Fully alive. Alive and kicking alive, no worse for the wear alive.

And not metaphorically alive, like alive in our hearts or memories or even some disembodied existence, like a ghost or something. But pinch-me-I’m-not-dreaming alive.

Resurrection raises provocative questions, doesn’t it? Resurrection says we might not be stupid, but we maybe shouldn’t be as sure of things as we thought we were. Because if that can happen, what else is possible?

But this story is even crazier than just that:

13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him…

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

Luke 24:13-16,30-31

Which brings us to the second thing we need to be clear about. This story says this dead person, Jesus of Nazareth, after being dead, was so alive, filled with so much life, in such a new state of animated embodiedness, that people couldn’t quite recognize him at first. Like when someone you’ve only ever seen in blue jeans and a t-shirt shows up dressed to the 9s, hair all done up, pedicured and manicured, maybe even a little makeup. And you do a double take. But more than that – so much more alive, body and soul, that you could spend the day with them and think they were a stranger until something clicked, they said that thing in that particular way, they moved their hand and cocked their head in only the way they do that, and you realized – whoah! That was Jesus.

And then poof, he disappears.

Which is where it gets even crazier. Because it means his body is a whole different kind of alive then the kind of alive we know. It has a fully alive physicality in a dimension that surrounds this one, and is fully alive in this one as well. Some of us have had out of body experiences, and some of us have had out of this world experiences, but Jesus has out of this world experiences in his resurrected, flesh and blood body.

36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Luke 24:36-43

So again, just so we’re clear. We aren’t stupid. But our sense of what is possible just got blown out of the water. Something crazy incredible is happening on resurrection Sunday, and it’s happening right here on planet earth. With atoms and molecules and flesh and blood and bone and breath. It’s just that those atoms and molecules and flesh and blood and bone and breath are behaving as they’ve never behaved before.

Resurrection isn’t about somewhere else. It’s not about escape to angels and harps and clouds. Resurrection happens here. And that means everything about right here, right now has changed.


Resurrection is embodied, engaged, active life here.

It is the affirmation of here. The affirmation of work and embrace and laughter and forgiveness and sunshine and birds and working through conflict and horses and soccer and encouragement and struggle and trees and art and music and faithful persistence and dance and poetry and on and on…

It is the affirmation of breakfast.

Resurrection is about something new starting here, in the world we call home.

Resurrection is an announcement of new creation.

The story isn’t that someday we abandon this place.

The story is that God hasn’t abandoned this place, and he never will.

(you know how you leave something at someone’s house, in an attempt to ensure continued relationship…? this is place is now permanently connected to God, since he’s now embodied in a new creation version of it…)

God is starting a new creation, here, out of the tomb of the old. As the scriptures describe it, Jesus is the firstborn from the among the dead. Which means there will be all kinds of second and third and next-borns.

Thus our task as followers of the resurrected Christ. To see and name and give ourselves to the good that resurrection will one day make really real, incorruptible and permanent, perfect and untainted.


Our task is to practice resurrection. To give ourselves to all that resurrection will resurrect, and push it in that direction like a bobsledder pushes the bobsled until gravity takes over. People... Justice... Business... Beauty... Creation itself… Celebration and gratitude… Worship of every sort... True love in every form...

Will the things you have given your life to go on when God’s good new world takes over the old, when Resurrection comes? When death is gone from it? When only the beautiful and true and redeemed remains?

As we practice resurrection, Resurrection has a few other things to announce along the way.

For example, Resurrection is the cancelling of every debt. Once and for all, buried, never to come out.

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

Everything that stood against us – our sins, the things we’ve given ourselves to that will not go on in God’s new world when resurrection comes – those debts we’ve incurred are cancelled. Nailed to the cross. There is nothing then to hold us back from practicing resurrection. From giving ourselves afresh.

Resurrection also says someone else is in charge. Someone good. Someone really, really, really good. Life is in charge, not death. Mercy has triumphed over judgment. The resurrected Jesus has disarmed those powers and authorities that previously ruled our world, he’s made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Affirmation is in charge, not accusation. Love rules over all.

Resurrection says nothing has to be the way it’s always been forever. No story has to end the way it looks like it’s going to end. No tomorrow has to have its feet stuck in today. Because Resurrection changes every story.


What we do, as followers of Jesus, is to learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces bursting forth right here among us. And then we move towards it, to embrace it with open arms, no matter how unlikely it seems.

In a community that is hurting from job losses and broken families and interrupted starts, as followers of Jesus, we learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces getting ready to burst forth, and we water it. We create breathing room for it. We welcome it. With faith rooted in the resurrection that’s already happened. We practice the kind of life that will one day take over this place as God’s good new world infuses this present reality.

In the life of a child who is hurting from brokenness beyond their control, we learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces getting ready to burst forth, and we name it and give ourselves to that good work God desires to bring to completion. We make space for them to practice resurrection along with us.

In the lives of everyone we meet, we keep our eyes peeled for resurrection – which seems to most often happen right where the dead are buried – and we look for ways to embrace it. To bless it. To roll away the stones. Until every tomb is empty.

And even in our own lives, full of death though they may be, we learn to look for resurrection. To look for Jesus, present even though we didn’t recognize him at first. And when he asks for breakfast, we offer him everything in our cupboards, and sit down with him to eat.

That’s what these who are getting baptized our doing. Choosing to give their lives to learning to see the new creation resurrection announces. Choosing to trust that the risen one has indeed triumphed over every other power and authority. Choosing to practice resurrection in relationships, in work, in play, in worship day after day after day until God’s good new world takes over the old.

Do you see this tomb they buried Jesus in? He isn’t here. He is risen!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Behold Thy Mother

mini-sermonette notes from the Community-Wide Good Friday Service at Marble Memorial United Methodist Church on Good Friday

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

John 19:25-27

Behold. See. Perceive.

At the foot of the cross, on Good Friday, we see one another differently. By the authority of the king of the Jews, soon to be crowned king of all creation, our relationships to one another are re-defined by his love.

Behold. See. Perceive.

Look at John, Mary. He is your son. See him in the light of my love, under the shadow of my cross.

Look at Mary, John. She is your mother. See her in the light of my love, under the shadow of my cross.

Mary, an older woman now. Perhaps 5-10 years beyond the normal life expectancy of 40 in that time. Free with the other women to come and go, no threat to the Romans or the antagonistic leaders in Israel persecuting the Jesus-movement rebels. There with the other women at the cross.

John, perhaps 15 or 16 years old. Was he more courageous than all the other disciples who had fled? Perhaps. But, more likely, still baby faced, not shaving yet. And therefore, like the women, under the radar, free to come and go, no threat to gather a band of rebels after the death of their messianic leader.

A widow woman. A baby faced boy. Made family by their relationship with Jesus.

This is the work of the cross. The love of God redefining, reestablishing relationships, making family where hundreds of generations of human history had broken family apart.

This good Friday, may we hear Jesus’ words on the cross.

Behold. See. Perceive. This is your brother. This is your sister. This is your mother. This is your father. This is your son. This is your daughter.

Behold. See. Perceive. Look beyond the skin and the circumstances and the life history and the class and the culture and bank account balance and the religious background and the education and the clothing and the weathered facades we wear.

Behold. See. Perceive. This human being is your kin because of my love. Love them now, as you would love your own.

This is the work of the cross. This is our commission on Good Friday.

Palm Sunday 2012

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/01/2012

if you’d like to watch a recording of this message on ustream, use the following link:

21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5“Say to Daughter Zion,

‘See, your king comes to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Some years ago, I received a call from the wife of a Presbyterian pastor, the pastor of a large church near Detroit. He was dying of cancer, and all treatment options had been exhausted. She had heard that our church believed in God’s power to heal, and that we prayed for the sick, and she asked if we would come pray for her husband.

A couple of ministry leaders and I took a road trip to the hospital he was at, and met her there in her husband’s hospital room. He was gaunt and weak and unconscious, while she was strong and vibrant, full of faith, and grieving at the same time.

We began to pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to come and show us what the Father was doing. Almost immediately, something like a holy electricity filled the room. His face began to flush, and his muscles seemed to visibly relax. We understood that to be a sign of God’s presence, and whenever God is present, his power is also present, because the two are one and the same.

And so we prayed with quickening faith. Announcing the authority of Jesus over the cancer that was wracking this man’s body, proclaiming the nearness and the hereness of the kingdom of God, joining with Jesus in his healing work on the earth. The air felt thick, and our hearts were moved with compassion. All of us began to weep as we prayed, sensing Jesus’ strong, powerful love for this man.

Something extraordinary was happening. His face became radiant. His wife’s eyes were filled with renewed hope and deep, deep love. We prayed. And we prayed. And the life of God was dancing among us. Until it became clear that we had prayed all that we were to pray in that day, in that moment.

We continued to intercede over the next couple of days, hoping, maybe even expecting to hear news of healing, of a miracle, of recovery. But instead, the news we got was that he had passed away.

It was a bitter disappointment. We knew God had been there. We knew he’d heard our prayers. We knew he loved this man, and his wife. We knew we had cooperated to the best of our abilities with his new creation purposes for this family. I knew God could heal him. I’ve seen God do extraordinary things in other circumstances, right before my eyes. Things that only a God who still does miraculous things could do. And yet. And yet.

When I read Matthew’s account of the triumphal entry, I think about that experience. And others like it. I think about other times in my life that I know God was at work – sometimes in ways that go beyond my comprehension – times when I know he was up to something good, but all the evidence I have to hold on to is failure. Results that taste bitter in my mouth, that make him at first glance seem cruel for getting my hopes up.

As a pastor following Jesus with and among you, I know some of your stories, the same kinds of encounters with God that have this unsavory mixture of extraordinary hope, anticipation and unfathomable let down.

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Resurrection Sunday, so named because of the palms that were waved and spread out before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem before his eventual arrest and torture and crucifixion, Palm Sunday is a day to find ourselves in communion with the crowd that welcomed Jesus with such acclaim that day. A day to come before him with our deepest desires, and trust him to be the Savior he desires to be for us, even if along the way, he becomes less of who we hope he is, and more of who we truly need him to be.

Let’s dive in to this scene, and invite God’s Spirit to speak to us through it…

Matthew is reporting on two realities at once. The reality of what he knows now, in hindsight, and the reality of the at-the-moment expectations and hopes of the crowd, and probably the disciples, too. Fascinating interplay between those two realities in this story.

Let's start with the on the ground experience.

Cloaks on the donkey and on the ground. Most people would only have one cloak, so this is a way of celebrating and valuing a person as highly as you can. A way of saying, if you needed it, I'd give you anything else as well.

Sidenote: Jesus only asks of us what we have to give, and only wants from us what we give to him gladly, from the heart. A cloak, like our time, our money, our words, our energies; something we may have had other plans for when the day started, but in the presence of Jesus we give for another purpose. And in so doing, it becomes a pathway for God to enter our city.

Like our mission as a church to create breathing room. Our task is a simple one, but matters no less for its simplicity, because God comes in the space we create and fills it with life.

The cloaks are probably also reference to 2 Kings 9:13 (Jehu anointed by Elisha)...

A statement about their expectations as to what is really going on. A New king being proclaimed in defiance of the existing king. This crowd, these disciples, are giddy with excitement, long-pent up anticipation and dissatisfaction. The emperor may have us under his thumb, Herod may be his lackey, but here before us is the King we acknowledge.

Sidenote: We know that feeling. Something bigger than us has us at its mercy. Sickness, the threat of death, death, economic realities, a dysfunctional family system, a broken past, a new and unwelcome normal not likely to change, etc. But then we see Jesus approach, and we know none of it stands a chance before him. And so we see him coming and we feel emboldened to rage against the machine, to thumb our noses at the things that have us down, and put our hopes in him.

The palm branches have a similar significance. When Maccabees had arrived in Jerusalem 200 years earlier, after conquering the pagan armies oppressing Israel, the people had done the same thing. It was the start of a 100 year royal dynasty.

Combine that with the royal chants "son of David" and "hosanna" (which means save us) the picture comes into focus. This crowd, and surely the disciples, too, expect that Jesus is the kind of king, of Messiah, that they had been hoping and praying for. A king like David has come again to save them from oppression! He will raise up an army, defeat Rome as David defeated the Philistines, restore glory to Israel, rule with justice, establish peace.

But Matthew knows that this isn't exactly what is going on. Matthew knows what awaits Jesus in Jerusalem (and so does Jesus!), and it isn’t a glorious enthronement. Not yet. Thus the reference to Zechariah 9:9, lowly and gentle. This isn't a military victory march. This is the God of the universe subverting power with humility, undoing evil's self-serving power with self-giving love. The path Jesus must walk, to accomplish what really needs to be accomplished, leads over the cloaks and palm branches of the crowd, yes, but it also leads to him being stripped naked and hung on a branchless tree.

"The people wanted a prophet, but this prophet would tell them that their city was under God's infinite judgment. They wanted the Messiah, but this king was going to be enthroned on a cross. They wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression, but Jesus was going to rescue them from evil in its full depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and the exploitation by the rich." N.T. Wright, For Everyone

Nonetheless, fully aware of the gap between the heartfelt desires of these hurting people and the path that he must take – and the pain and disillusionment they would experience as he did - Jesus receives their hopes and expectations, he embraces their embrace. He doesn’t correct them, chastise them, redirect them, dismiss them. (after all, he set the stage for all of this with his instructions to the disciples) He says, in essence, you are right to come to me, and you are right to come to me just as you are, with everything on your hearts, and all your hope placed in me. You are right to come with celebration of God and defiance of evil on your lips. I know that your enthusiasm may fade just days from now, and you may think I or evil itself made you look a fool. But I hear you more deeply than you know, and more deeply even than you hear yourselves, and my answer, the answer that has been on my lips from before creation itself ever drew its first breath, is Yes. Always Yes. Forever, Yes. And so I give my yes to you, even though you cannot understand it now.

He relates to us the same way. Jesus doesn't always correct our requests as we bring them to him; instead he listens to our hearts and is gentle with our hopes, because he knows they are well placed. He will answer every prayer.

But he will always answer in his own way, because he is Lord. And because he is good, through and through, and only his way is faithful to his goodness.

And here is contained some of the mystery of God. Some of his Yeses are to us, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, cruel and bitter disappointments. The cruelest and the bitterest. Some of his Yeses make us think we were wrong about him all along. Some of his Yeses cast a dark shadow over the future and the present and the past.

Yet, is in those very dark hours that he is at work like a kernel of wheat that has fallen to the ground, dying our death with us and for us, so that death itself might tremble at his Yes, and never be able to speak again.

And so our task is to continue to lay down our cloaks. Over and over. And our palm branches. And let our lips continue to be filled with praise and cry’s of hosanna. Until Easter dawns. And the resurrection Yes of our gentle king riding on the donkey shakes the earth, rolling away every obstacle, emptying the tombs.

Practical Tips:

Write your deepest hope down, desire, longing down and bring it forward during communion to place in this prayer box (share story of box…). After we celebrate communion, we’ll offer these expressions of our hearts to Jesus, and acknowledge him as king together.

After communion, pray psalm 118 together…