The Ultimate Mystery

Life Notes—April 29, 2010 

“Little children, I am with you only a little while longer.  You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’”  John 13:33 

I have been to Salt Lake City a number of times.  It is a beautiful city, clean and well-maintained with friendly people.  It is set in a large valley, surrounded by mountains.  To the north you can see ski slopes.  In the middle of town is “Temple Square,” housing a number of Mormon buildings, including the Tabernacle and the Temple.  The non-Mormon public is invited and encouraged to walk through the various buildings and visit with Mormons in the square.  But when it comes to the Mormon Temple, only Mormons are allowed to enter.  For the rest of us, that Temple is forbidden.  Beautiful on the outside, but what mysteries are hidden within? 

In the passage above, Jesus knows his days on earth are limited—his death is imminent—and he is preparing his followers for what is to come.  He is going where they cannot go.  He will be on the other side of the grave where only those who have died have gone.  For the rest of us this is the ultimate mystery—what lies on the other side?  Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus assures us he is going to prepare a place for us there, but doesn’t share anything of the nature of the place or our future existence within it.  It is a statement that generates more questions than answers.  But at least it tells us there is a place for us on the other side; therefore, there is a place. 

In my simplistic understanding, much of Jesus’ message was to assure us there is more to this life than this life.  In other words, what we know and experience on earth is only what we know and experience on earth.  That is why much of what he said creates more questions than answers and why his words are subject to different interpretations.  We have only an earthly yardstick by which to measure and define truths that extend far beyond earth.  Jesus came back across death’s division several times to commune with his disciples, proving there is more to this life than we can see or experience.  After the passage above, Jesus commands that we “have love for one another.”  It is by our love we are to be known.  In spite of what happens on earth, we know there is more.  We cannot outgive love.  That knowledge allows us to love one another regardless of circumstances, without fear of the consequences.  That sets us apart.  That allows us entry into a secret place that, although anyone can enter, not everyone chooses to go. 

Tom continues his “Simply Christian” series with, “Loving Others,” based on the scripture John 13:31-35.  Life (Living in Faith Everyday) worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus begins at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  You are invited where we are going—First Church!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

A Good Follower

Life Notes—April 22, 2010 

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  John 10:3b-5 

I am not a good follower.  A good follower follows.  A good follower waits for instructions and waits to make sure he or she understands the leading of the leader, and then obediently follows as instructed.  A good follower does not question why the leader is leading down a particular path, nor does he or she question whether the leader has his or her best interests at heart.  A good follower trusts the leader. 

Obviously, only a good and ethical leader is worthy of good followers.  Otherwise we can end up with atrocities like occurred in Nazi Germany.  While I consider Jesus Christ to be firmly in the “good and trustworthy leader” category, I am still a poor follower.  I question everything.  I read a passage of scripture and host an argument in my head about what it means and how or if it applies to me.  When Jesus suggests I turn the other cheek, I question whether he means literally (so I could end up slapped on both cheeks), or whether he means figuratively (so my cheeks are in tact, but I have to give up a clever verbal reaction to another’s unkindness), or whether it was something that applied 2000 years ago but not today. 

I confess to sometimes being one of those irritating people who finish the sentences of others.  I jump to conclusions while the case is being made.  I make assumptions about the motives of others long before I have all the information.  At times I act as though I do not have time to follow the conversation of others, as if I am an extremely busy and important person.  In fact, I am neither.  I am just impatient and a poor follower.  If I sometimes cannot even follow a conversation, how can I follow the leadings of my Lord and Savior—the one I know has my best interests at heart? 

The good news is the deeper our relationship with our Lord, the more intimately we recognize his voice; and the less likely we are to be led astray by imposters.  Our unwillingness to follow serves us well, sometimes, as too many would-be leaders are not worthy of followers.  The trick is to distinguish the shepherd’s voice from the other noise so we know when to suspend our skepticism and follow. 

Tom continues his “Simply Christian” series with, “Following Jesus,” based on the scripture John 10:1-18.  Life Worship is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional services in the sanctuary are at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Do you recognize the voice of your shepherd?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Moments for Mutton

Life Notes—April 15, 2010 

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’”  John 21:15 

I have never been around lambs.  My mother, who raised lambs as a child, assures me they are one of God’s cutest creations; and also one of the dumbest.  They were constantly finding new ways to put themselves into danger by wandering away from the flock or by not paying attention to their surroundings.  If they were not watched diligently, they were sure to find new and creative ways to injure or kill themselves.  It is no wonder to my mother why shepherds filled such a crucial role in Jesus’ day, protecting these furry charges from their own stupidity. 

It is probably not entirely complementary that we, as Jesus’ flock, are often referred to as lambs.  In God’s eyes we must appear too stupid, at times, to distinguish between what is good and bad for our well-being.  Jesus, as our shepherd, is constantly watching over us, doing his best to keep us out of temptation and out of the valley of the shadow of death.  But in spite of his best efforts, we often wander there, anyway.  At least lambs are cute… 

So, in the passage above, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and Peter assures him he does; Jesus says, “Okay, if you love me, feed my lambs.”  Does that mean Peter was to become a shepherd?  Does that imply we, today, should become shepherds?  Well, maybe not literally; but certainly figuratively.  God’s children, even the smarter ones, have needs.  Some need food and shelter, some need love and attention, some need clothing and pillows, some need company and conversation.  God’s children have needs; and we have gifts.  Some of us can give money, others skills, some give time for visiting, others drive those who cannot otherwise easily travel. 

We feed Jesus’ lambs by spending enough time with others to understand their needs.  Sometimes a little of our time is all they need, other times the needs go deeper and we may help them find assistance elsewhere.  But time and attention are always required in feeding lambs.  Isn’t it interesting that time and attention are not possessions, like food or money, but are gifts given to us through no efforts of our own?  The richest among us has no more time or attention than the poorest.  We are only given the choices of this moment.  And in this moment, those who love Jesus are to feed his lambs. 

Tom continues his “Simply Christian” series with, “Doing Good.”  It will be based on the scripture John 21:1-19.  Life Worship is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional services in the sanctuary are at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Can you say, “Baaaaaaaaa?”

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator


Faith-Guided Vision

Life Notes—April 8, 2010 

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  John 20:25b 

My daughter, Grace, was born suspicious about Santa Claus.  The whole ‘coming down the chimney’ story, and traveling-around-the-world-in-one-night bit, and always knowing who had been bad or good fueled her skepticism.  Seeing a variety of similarly-dressed, but different looking Santa’s at department stores and on television created questions in her mind.  Sit on the lap of one of those sometimes-creepy Santa imposters?  Not a chance.  She would write out her wish list and mail it to him, thank you very much! 

In spite of her skepticism, she really wanted to believe.  Or perhaps she was just afraid not to believe.  What would happen if you called Santa’s bluff, only to find Santa Claus was real?  Was it worth the risk of no presents?  As a father committed to never (outright) lying to his daughter, I would field her questions carefully, never directly confirming or denying the reality of Santa.  It became a cat-and-mouse game between us—Grace trying to corner me with a question that could only be answered honestly with a confirmation or rejection, and me doing my best politician-in-training act to wiggle out of a direct answer. 

In the passage quoted above, Thomas is skeptical about the return of Jesus from the dead.  Jesus had appeared to others, but Thomas refused to believe until he could touch the wounds.  Grace would stay up as late as her young eyes allowed, hoping for a glimpse of the mysterious, bearded fat man.  Her only evidence of his appearance would be the cookie crumbs on the plate and the presents under the tree.  It wasn’t proof-positive, but the gifts helped make the point moot.  For Thomas, Jesus appeared and allowed him to touch the wounds so he could believe.  Santa teaches that those who are good, receive.  The resurrection teaches that those who believe, live! 

Many of us are skeptical; just like Grace about Santa, just like Thomas about the resurrected Christ.  We want proof positive before we will suspend our unbelief.  But sometimes those proofs can only be seen through our faith in things unseen.  If our vision is not guided by faith, we can easily miss the proof we seek.  We really want to believe, but it seems too good to be true.  Most of us today must believe before we see. 

Tom begins a new series this Sunday, “Simply Christian: Believing and Witnessing.”  It will be based on the scripture John 20:19-31.  Life Worship is at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional services in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Open the eyes of your heart, and believe!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

In, Not Of

Life Notes—April 1, 2010 

“What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  1 Corinthians 15:50 

One of the mysteries of the structure of the United States is the relationship between, yet the separation of church and state.  One of the confounding mysteries of Christianity is the relationship between, yet separation of flesh and blood from the spirit.  The Constitution of the United States declares no government can either mandate or prohibit religious practice.  Christian writings claim that we are to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world.  The distinctions are confusing, at best. 

Churches exist within the United States, yet have important separations from governmental interference.  Christians live in the realm of flesh and blood—the material world—but are advised to be grounded in and focused on another world.  The “real” world is where we learn and grow and experience flesh and blood, but the “real-er” world lies beyond.  It cannot be seen by flesh and blood; but it can be experienced.  Our earthly senses cannot measure or define the kingdom of God; it is discovered by faith alone.  But once we catch a glimpse of that kingdom through faith we begin to see evidences everywhere of the interwoven tapestry in which we live and move and have our being.  Spirit and flesh; flesh and spirit.  Separate, yet intimately connected.  In, but not of. 

One glorious image of the crucifixion and resurrection is the amazing distinction between, yet the inseparable connectedness of flesh and spirit.  In flesh and blood Jesus suffered horrendously.  At the same time and with the same act he gloriously accomplished the spiritual salvation of humankind.  Christ knew, in ways we cannot, that flesh and blood is but a small chapter of the book of life.  Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God, but the soul housed in flesh and blood on the earth can and will enter the kingdom of God because of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Jesus felt physically forsaken by God in his suffering, as we often do, but he knew the spiritual tie held strong.  He suffered “in” this world, but his foundation and strength was not “of” this world.  Keeping his focus on the eternal, he made it through the physical torment.  May we do the same, through and by his resurrection! 

This Sunday is Easter, the highest and holiest day of the Christian year.  Tom’s sermon will focus on the victory over sin and death found in the resurrection, from the scripture 1 Corinthians 15: 50-57.  There will be six Easter celebrations at First Church this Sunday.  Life Worship will occur at 9:30 in Brady Hall.  Other more traditional services downtown will be at 8:00 and 11:00.  A SonRise Service, led by our youth, will occur at 7:00 AM on the west campus, followed by contemporary worship at 9:30 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Christ is risen!  Come, rejoice with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator