Saturday, March 30, 2013


Sermon given at  Ecumenical Good Friday Service, River of Life UMC, Beloit.

Psalm 22:1-18, 25-31 (read responsively as a Congregation)

John 19:16-22, 31-37, 38-42

also responsive reading Litany of the Seven Last Words following the sermon.

(Intro self, Licensed Minister at United Church of Beloit)

These Ecumenical services help us to enjoy different orders of worship, different speakers, worship styles. And we get to spend time together with folks from other churches and be reminded that we are all indeed ONE body of Christ!

Today of course is Good Friday. This past Sunday, we waved our palms shouting hosanna to the king! Thursday evening ws the last supper, where Jesus washed feet and began the tradition of Communion. Then his arrest, and the shouts of Hosanna, became cries of Crucify him! Today we share powerful scriptures about the crucifixion. Right now, let's consider the Psalm.

Psalm 22 was composed by David, the great king of Israel, about 1000 years before the time of Christ. The Psalms have been referred to as the Jewish hymnal and the Christian prayer book. They were composed to be sung in worship. Ps 22 is a lament...a passionate expression of grief or anguish. In the Jewish tradition this Psalm is read at Purim, {poohr-eem} the holiday devoted to the story told in the Book of Esther of the persecution of the Jewish people by Haman. Jesus and his followers were Jewish, so would have known their scriptures well! Many of the things Jesus said during the 3 years of his ministry on Earth were quotes or references to the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. This Psalm, when read through our modern eyes, knowing the story of the crucifixion, is certainly a foreshadowing or prophecy of what Jesus suffered. Jesus said the first line of this Psalm while on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” this was the only time in the Gospels that Jesus referred to God as anything but “My Father in heaven” or “Abba”.

How could Jesus feel so utterly separated from God? He was God, he was
with God in the beginning, according to John chapter 1. Jesus said in John chapter 14, speaking to his disciples mere hours before his arrest, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” How, HOW, could Jesus feel so utterly separate from God?

He who was without sin, took on the sins of the world. The sin of every human being. Every single thing that keeps a person separate from God, for that is the definition of sin...Jesus took on during the beatings, the flogging, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion. The One who was fully human, fully divine, who endured the worst that humankind could dole out, was perhaps never more fully human, than on that cross, covered in our disgrace.

How could he do this? Could there have been another way? Could Jesus have saved himself, could he have commanded an army of angels to come down from heaven? Of course. But Jesus came to show that God's power and might are not the same as humans envision. Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” God's power, God's perfect kingdom is not like an earthly kingdom. God's Kingdom, a kingdom of “Shalom”, the Hebrew word meaning peace, wholeness,
and well-being, protection for all of God's creation. Shalom is when all is right with the world. When humans are in good relationship with God and with each other, as we were created for! In the earthly world, peace is usually obtained & kept by military power. But the peace Jesus offered is a different. It is a peace obtained, not by a show of force but by what seems to be utter weakness — Jesus died on a cross like a criminal and outcast.
How could this be?
Note that the latter part of our Psalm talks about God triumphant over the anguish. Not just personally for the psalmist, but for the Great Congregation....the people of God! That all will worship and bow down, for dominion...the kingdom of Earth.. belongs to God. That all will serve and be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance, saying “he has done it!”
How could this be?
Could it be, that with God things are done a bit differently than to the human mind? God's ways are higher than our ways, God's thoughts higher than our thoughts. Could it be that God's power is weakness?
God came to earth...taking on human form, becoming an infant...what is more vulnerable than a newborn baby? Jesus was born, not in a palace, not to a family known for wealth and power! No, he was born to an ordinary working class family in a non-descript town. Over and over in his ministry, people had trouble understanding what he was saying, even those closest to him! Jesus, fully human and fully divine, loved people even when they were being clods.

Brennan Manning: Weakness relates us profoundly to the people we serve; it allows us to feel with them the human condition, the human struggle and darkness and anguish that call out for salvation. Further, weakness relates us profoundly and apostolically to God because it provides the arena in which His power can move and reveal itself; His power is made manifest in weakness.

Jesus became completely weak...for us, to save us! The word in the Bible that means 'to save” is Sozo. (sode'-zo) it means to be saved for eternity, but it means more than that. Remember the languages of this time had fewer words than our modern English, so each word had more than one meaning, actually layers of meaning. So looking at the layers of meaning of these words adds tremendously to our understanding of the Bible. Sozo, this great word, means to be saved for eternity. It also means to be protected or saved from danger, to be healed, made well, to be restored to health and wholeness. Sozo brings shalom!

Jesus was King of the Jews allright, but not in the way that was expected. He was not a messiah king that the Jewish people expected, one who would overthrow the oppression of the Roman Empire.

In the remarkable book Simply Jesus, Author NT Wright says;
You see, the reason Jesus wasn’t the sort of king people had wanted in his own day is—to anticipate our conclusion—that he was the true king, but they had become used to the ordinary, shabby, second-rate sort. They were looking for a builder to construct the home they thought they wanted, but he was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed, but within quite a new framework. They were looking for a singer to sing the song they had been humming for a long time, but he was the composer, bringing them a new song to which the old songs they knew would form, at best, the background music.

How could this be?
Jesus was a king beyond all human comprehension! He was a king come to bring about peace and wholeness and protection. He became weak, vulnerable, in order to display God's perfect power! How? ok I am gonna reveal the end here...not that the butler did it, but that Jesus rose from that grave! Shh don't tell the others, we'll let them be surprised, ok?

So...God's power was on display! But....where IS this peace and prosperity and protection? Why didn't it happen instantly? how come everythign isn't a bed of roses? How come we still have weeds and thorns and rocks?

Couldn't God have made the world all perfect again? Why can't the poor be housed and fed and clothed? Why are there still wars and genocide and atrocities. God could snap those fingers and make it all right! Why doesn't he? Could it be that the architect of this new framework has something grander in mind?

Our Psalm says, “Posterity will serve him..” We are among the posterity! We will serve the Lord. Love inspires action...For God so LOVED the world, he GAVE his only son.....We are to love and care for others. Could it be that we –those who know Jesus as Lord are indeed to help make this world better? That we are to help bring about this kingdom?

Author Ann Spangler writes:
If God is King of the whole world, why is the world such a mess? Couldn’t an all-powerful God do something about the poverty, crime, and suffering that have been part of the world’s story from the beginning? Wouldn’t an all-loving God want to? The question nags. It’s hard to ignore. It demands our attention.... God.... decided to take the long way round, quelling the world’s rebellion not by brute force but by the power of divine love. That strategy requires restraint. It takes patience. It means justice in a final sense has to be delayed. It means evil is played out to the bitter end so that love can draw as many people as possible into the kingdom.   To say it another way, the weeds and the wheat are allowed to grow up together until the world’s last day.

Richard Foster phrases it this way:Human beings are so important to God that the divine purposes are worked out through the messiness and sprawl of human history. Apparently, it is more important to God that human beings learn his ways in freedom than it is to get things done efficiently.

We are to learn God's ways and accomplish God's will! Yes God could make the world perfect again. But in order for humans to be fully in relationship with God and each other as we are created to be, we are to learn God's ways and help achieve that Sozo, that perfect Shalom. We can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. How can we? We who represent half dozen or so church in a non-descript town in the midwest...How can WE help make God's Shalom come to earth? We can reach out, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to stretch out a hand, and walk alongside someone in their loneliness, their grief, their hunger, whatever. We do this in the Name of the One who loved us so much, he gave his very life for each of us.

How can we? You see as we live our lives...and we go through the hard stuff, we learn compassion. Compassion means to to suffer Jesus did with his friends when Lazarus had died, Jesus wept. They were standing outside of the tomb and Jesus joined them in their grief. He took on their anguish.

We learn compassion and we learn to care for one another, to walk with our friends and strangers through this thing called life, living out the LOVE that we have found in Jesus. When we comprehend that love, how can we NOT reach out? That love, that came to earth, from a throne in heaven, to become mortal, to live in a frail human body with aches and hunger and fatigue. That love that came to earth to live and to die on a cross. That love calls us to reach out!

Author Brennan Manning again:
The greatest need for our time is for the church to become what it has seldom been: the body of Christ with its face to the world, loving others regardless of religion or culture, pouring itself out in a life of service, offering hope to a frightened world, and presenting itself as a real alternative to the existing arrangement.

We who are here today represent several churches here in the Greater Beloit area. Our city has not had it easy over the years. But we have good people here with good values and a core of strength to get through what we must. When we reach out to one another in love, we will find that we are blessed beyond our expectations. Our community needs us, our community needs our churches to show what love means. Our world will be a better place when we do so!

Today, as we contemplate the incomparable love that brought God to earth as a baby who grew up to show us how to love and care for each other, how to live and how to die-- today let us pray to better live out that love. It was our sin that put Him there, it is our calling to make that love shine again in this world.

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