Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The eternal gospel

One of my groups just finished reading through the Revelation. I love a couple of the final songs that show up in the book. In Revelation 14, an angel flies and proclaims "the eternal gospel":
Fear God and give him glory,
for the hour of his judgment has come;
and worship him who made heaven and earth,
the sea and the springs of water (14:6-7).
Then, in chapter 15, God’s redeemed sing "the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb":
Great and amazing are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
for your judgments have been revealed (15:3-4).
These hymns are both terrible and beautiful. We sometimes struggle to connect the judgment of God with the "eternal gospel", until we remember how thoroughly evil saturates the world, and how even our highest ideals can be contaminated by sin, until we recall that our broken world truly needs to be made right. All of us cry out for God’s justice, and rejoice when we see it coming. The doctrine of God’s judgment is not intended to inspire terror in God’s people, but thanksgiving, because "though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet" and will restore all things. One day in the future, and even now through our prayers and works, the kingdom of God comes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kids' Praise @ Easter

Our Kids' Praise group sang and performed in Traditions Worship (9:00 am) on Easter morning. Thanks to Marsha and to all the kids!

The Betrayal of God (Job and Human Suffering #1)

Audio file.
Job 1-3

What an amazing story. Job has everything, Job loses everything. If you flip to the end of the book, Job gets everything back, doubled (42.10-17). He had seven thousand sheep here in the beginning. At the end, he has 14 thousand. He starts with 3000 camels, finishes with 6000. 500 yoke of oxen, to 1000. 500 donkeys, to 1000. Except for children. They don’t double – children are irreplaceable, and though the text does not state this explicitly, children are immortal – but Job does have 7 more sons and 3 more daughters. (You have to wonder how his wife managed to bear 20 children!)

Job has everything, Job loses everything, Job gains back double. And, somehow, God is to blame for both blessing and pain. A bit disturbing the way it plays out behind the scenes. And an amazing story. In fact, the story shows up in several other ancient cultures, in Egypt and Canaan and Babylon. Those stories follow a similar plot – a good man loses everything, then gets it back, and the god, or gods, are to blame. Those stories, however, do not include what we have in the Bible, the almost 40 chapters of poetry that reflects on the nature and cause of suffering.

Most academics have concluded that the writer of the biblical Job used a preexisting folk tale to create this great classic. Whether or not that is so, it remains God’s book. Because of this, we should not simply explain away or remove the disturbing elements of the text. Is Job a test-case for a god running a science experiment on human loyalty? Is Job an unwitting pawn in a wager between God and Satan? Well, no. But haven’t we all wondered those things at some point in our lives? From the very beginning, the unknown author of Job raises the most difficult questions about human suffering and lets them sit there, unanswered. Some of these issues become more clear as we work through the entire book, some do not. But the writer manages to address much deeper and more difficult questions that we often fail to ask. For now, he’s just setting the hook, drawing us in to the conversation that will play out over the next 40 chapters of beautiful and daunting poetry.

Easter SonRise

Thanks to all who got up early, set things up, and enjoyed the beauty (and cold) of early Easter morning. Thanks particularly to Mount Rose Cemetery and their staff (pictured with Pastor JP) for the carnations given to everyone in attendance and for staging the chairs for us.  They are great hosts! The stained glass is from the mausoleum.

Egg Hunt

Thanks to the youth for preparing all the eggs and gifts; to Sharon, Laura, and Michael for making it a great day; and to all who helped out overnight with the young people, prepping breakfast, providing hospitality.  Finally, thanks to Kristi the Easter Bunny!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Team Day

Our Team Day a few weeks back - with a focus on defining our vision for ministry and mission in our community.

Spaghetti Dinner

From the annual youth ministry fund raiser event. Lots of fun, fine food, great service.

30 Hour Famine

Catching up on posting pics from recent events, now that the broken computer is replaced! A few weeks back, our young folks went without food for 30 hours to raise funds and awareness of hunger issues. They had a great time. Thanks to all who helped out.

Come to Life!

Audio fileJohn 20:1-18, Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 51-58

Christ is Risen!

In the selection from 1 Corinthians, Paul rehearses for us what he says is "of first importance" (15:3). But he gives us no drama, no narrative, just a set of bullet points: Christ died, was buried, was raised – all according to the Scriptures – Christ appeared. And, I, Paul, am part of that story. It happened to me. But here, at least, Paul doesn’t tell us the story. You can check it out in Acts 9.

The next section of the chapter, which we skipped in today’s reading, is a mostly philosophical argument about resurrection and its implications. It is great reading, but not our focus today.

The final section, which concluded our reading, describes the victory of our faith and is loaded with drama. Not the drama of story, but the drama of poetry and metaphor.
A language note: The Greek root for "vain" or "empty" shows up five times in the chapter. First, in verse 2, where Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to "hold firm" so their faith will not be "in vain." In verse 10, Paul speaks personally, saying that "[God’s] grace toward me has not been in vain". Then, twice in verse 14, "If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain." Finally, in the last verse, because of the resurrection, "in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (58). At beginning and end (Fee, 808), and throughout the whole, Paul is concerned that what we believe, as well as how – the actions, is not "in vain", not futile, not empty, not just a waste of time.
In this final section, Paul’s victory cheer, he declares "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (15:54). He is borrowing language from the prophet Isaiah, "[God] will swallow up death forever" and giving it the twist of common Greek alternate phrase, "in victory" in place of "forever" (Fee, 803-804).

Christ Crucified

Audio file.
Palm/Passion Sunday
Psalm 118, Mark 11:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, Mark 15:1-39

On the first Sunday of Lent, we began the centrality of the cross of Christ for Christian discipleship and witness: “We proclaim Christ crucified, scandalous to Jews and moronic to Greeks”, to use the Greek roots “skandalon” and “moria” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  In the following weeks, we followed the implications of this theme as Paul develops it in his letter to the Galatian churches.  For Paul, the call of Christ was a call to the cross, and a call to a death.  First, “death to people pleasing” – If we live to please God, then we don’t have to worry about performance anxiety for anyone else.  Then, “death to self-righteousness”.  Only bad people go to heaven, only sinners are saved.  We please God not by our own efforts, but through the goodness of Jesus himself.  And, such a radical negation of self-righteousness implies a radical equality of all persons before the cross.  As Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  And, last week, “death to slavery”.  The process of transformation, the work of living out what God has done in our lives, is not energized by slavish obedience to laws or rules.  It is energized by love.  “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

Today, we recap with a look back to 1 Corinthians 1.  Paul tells us that the cross is a counter-intuitive salvation, not simply unexpected but against the grain of what we expect and even desire.  It is, first, counter to human wisdom.  That is, it seems pretty dumb.  And, second, it is counter to human strength.  That is, it seems pretty lame.
            First, the cross of Christ seems pretty dumb.  The human religious impulse for “wisdom” – that is, for answers or enlightenment – is not satisfied by Christ crucified.  Why evil?  Why suffering?  Why?  That nauseating question of our four year olds is repeated by us.  Mind you, God doesn’t mind the questions we ask.  However, instead of getting an explanation for pain-suffering-evil, we get a Savior who suffers. 
            Second, the cross of Christ seems pretty lame.  The human religious impulse for “signs” – that is, for miracle on our terms – is not satisfied by Christ crucified.  We treasure stories of super-human strength, of deliverers who achieve greatness.  We like John Wayne and “make-my-day” Clint Eastwood, James Bond and Jason Bourne.  But there aren’t too many stories of salvation through weakness, or through death.  Clint Eastwood’s recent film, Gran Torino, is a marvelous exception; and he dies with his arms extended, his body forming the sign of the cross.  (Note to parents: It is well deserving of the “Restricted” rating.)  One other note: Over and over in history, both national histories and family systems, victims who overcome by their power become the new oppressors.  Jesus triumphed not by his power but by his weakness.  As the writer to the Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weakness” (Hebrews 4:15).
            Dumb and lame.  Scandalous and moronic.  It is, quite simply, not the salvation we’ve been looking for.  But it is the salvation we need.

Mission Central

Mission Central in Mechanicsburg is one of our partners through the connections of The United Methodist Church.  Check out their most recent news, excerpted below:

"Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song." Pope John Paul II

Greetings Easter people, and thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you do to touch so many lives locally and throughout the world with the love of Jesus Christ!

For Mission Central, the month of March saw 104 interactions that touched almost 17,000 lives with almost $43,000 of God's resources. These included outreach throughout Pennsylvania, to the Congo, Haiti, the Czech Republic, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and Washington D.C. Overall for 2012 so far, these resources have a distribution of 10% within Pennsylvania and 74% nationally, with the remaining 16% disbursed internationally. In combination with our in-house ministry partners, we disbursed almost $452,000 of resources from the building in March. How amazing is that!

In reality though, March at Mission Central was more about incoming shipments than disbursements. We were blessed to receive 6 tractor trailers of seasonal items from Giant foods. These are Autumn, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's items, some of which we have already redistributed to local ministries. If you have a need-or know an organization that does-to use these types of items in an outreach ministry, please let me know.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Egg Hunt!

The annual Egg Hunt is coming soon! Invite your friends, your enemies, your neighbors, your coworkers. As always, it is a lot of fun. Outdoors, weather permitting, at the Holtzapple Estate, a 2 acre private meadow and pavilion off Mount Rose Avenue between the church and 83. Check out the invite letter. (Sorry for the lack of pics ... am still working without internet access on my computer.)