Palms and Passion

Life Notes—March 29, 2012

“Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”  Mark 11:8-9

“All of them condemned him as deserving death.  Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.’”  Mark 14:64b-65 

The final week of the earthly life of Jesus was a whirlwind of contrasts.  It began with his triumphal entry intoJerusalem, hailed as Messiah, King of the Jews, and ends with his crucifixion as a blasphemous, insubordinate liar.  We recognize the entry intoJerusalemon Palm Sunday with parades and the waving of palm branches.  We recognize the Passion, or the suffering of Christ in other ways. On Holy Thursday we remember his arrest by theTempleleaders.  Black Friday recognizes the handing over of Jesus to the Roman authorities for an excruciating crucifixion. His death and burial occur late that afternoon.  The week begins on a high note, but quickly turns very, very low.  What happened to change the fate of Jesus so quickly and completely? 

I was twelve when I pulled my dad’s old guitar out of basement storage, found a few dusty song books with chord charts and began the tedious process of learning to play.  It was exasperating because there was so much I didn’t understand.  I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.  I knew what I expected and hoped to hear, but the reality manifesting in the sound from the guitar did not match my expectations. 

That life experience was maddening because I didn’t understand the realities of learning to play guitar.  That is similar to what happened to Jesus’ followers in his final week—their expectations did not match reality.  They mistakenly believed that Jesus had come to set them free from Roman oppression.  They expected a ruler, like the Roman governors, but a ruler who would be one of them.  They did not understand the reality—and Jesus knew they didn’t get it.  Once they discovered his Kingdom was not of this earth, and his authority was of a different source and power from that of the Romans, he knew his followers would turn on him and he would die the miserable death of a murderous criminal.  He also knew he had to go through it—for our sake, as well as to complete his mission on earth.  And so, this Sunday we celebrate the Palms and the Passion—the bookends of Jesus’ last week on earth, and two vital stops in our journey to Easter. 

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter.  Mitch will preach downtown where Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Tom preaches at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Communion will be served at all services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Matching expectation with reality requires knowledge.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator


No Pain, No Gain

Life Notes—March 22, 2012

“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’”  Mark 8:34-35

It is early in an election year and I am already weary of the rhetoric and promises.  Too often the candidates make me feel like a kid on Santa’s lap: “And what do you want from your government this year, little boy?”  Remembering John F. Kennedy, I do not want to know what my country can do for me; I want to know what is best for my country.  I long for a candidate to give it to me straight.  Tell me what needs to be done and then just do it.  The first presidential election I was engaged in had an independent candidate named John Anderson.  What I remember about him was his promise of hardship—that our nation was in trouble and we would all have to tighten our belts and pull together in order to right the ship.  Needless to say, John Anderson did not get elected President. 

If there were elections for Savior of the world, I doubt Jesus would get elected, either.  What serious candidate would tell me to deny myself and take up my cross?  Lose my life in order to save it—are you kidding me?  What kind of uplifting message is that?  It is certainly no way to get elected.  But, of course, Jesus wasn’t running for office.  And the job of Savior is not an elected position.  And we have God to thank for that. 

Jesus’ words can be difficult and confusing because he often speaks of spiritual realities as if they were familiar, day-to-day realities.  He sought to help us understand the vastness of the greater life around and beyond us, but utilized familiar examples from our limited daily experiences.  We simply cannot grasp the life Jesus calls us to while we hold tightly to our earth-bound existence.  We have to let go.  We are given the free choice to hold onto our earthly life—at least until it ends.  Or, we can reach for the eternal part of our lives and pass through death as if passing through a curtain from one room to another.  When seen only through our earthly eyes, following Jesus may be fraught with pain and denial and hardship.  But when seen in its true spiritual context we take our place as a vital part of a life so much larger and so much more beautiful, and a love so pure and deep that we simply cannot fathom the majesty.  I believe that is the life Jesus calls us to, even while we live on earth.  But we must reach for something larger and unseen.  And we must let go of what is seen and familiar. And we must have faith that when we reach, His hand will be there to pull us through. 

This Sunday is the fifth of Lent.  The sermon is “Living the Gospel,” based on Mark 8:31-35.  Life worship downtown begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Jesus may not be electable, but He is still Lord…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Living Water

Life Notes—March 15, 2012

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’”   John 4:13-14

The story of the woman at the well is interesting and informative at many levels.  Jesus is resting by Jacob’s well when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.  Jesus, weary from his journey, asks her to draw water for him to drink.  In that era, Jews and Samaritans did not intermingle, so it was an unusual request for a Jew to make of a Samaritan.  As she questions why Jesus would ask her to draw water for him, Jesus reveals many personal and less-than-stellar details about her life that he could not have known, except divinely.  Jesus sees deeply into the past she tries to hide and shows her the way to salvation.  He tells her about the “living water” he gives that quenches “thirst” for eternity.

Clearly, Jesus is talking about something other than the water in Jacob’s well.  He is referring to a spiritual “thirst,” not a physical one—a spiritual thirst that dehydrates our daily lives.  It is this utilization of a common, physical example—the need to quench one’s thirst—to illustrate a spiritual truth that is both confusing and enlightening.  There is the physical water they draw from the well, but there is also spiritual “water” drawn from the Spirit that is equally vital to life.  Our physical needs have their root in spiritual realities and we cannot long satisfy physical “thirsts” without also drinking of this spiritual water.  The relationship between the physical and spiritual referred to here is intriguing.

Does spiritual reality animate, or cause physical reality?  While we cannot know this with scientific certainty, I believe it does.  The woman at the well has a recurring physical reality—failed relationships with men—that she tries to hide from her human counterparts.  But she cannot hide them from Jesus, who sees with eyes that read the spirit.  While the woman at the well is ashamed to be known so intimately, Jesus does not condemn her.  Rather, he offers her a path to salvation.  Jesus sees through everything we try to hide, too, loves us as much as ever and offers us this living water.  Only this water will quench our spiritual thirst; and once satisfied, improve our physical reality and become in us a “spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.”

This Sunday is the fourth of Lent.  Tom’s sermon downtown is “The Power of One, based on John 4:1-42. Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.   Mitch’s sermon at the west campus is “The Power of Many,” based on John 6:1-14.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come to the well and drink.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Making Much of Little

Life Notes—March 8, 2012

“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.”   John 6:11-13 

Many of us heard the story of the loaves and fishes when we were young.  Jesus, with his disciples and a very large group of followers, says, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” knowing they did not have the money to buy that much food.  A boy offers his five barley loaves and two fish.  Jesus blesses the food and the disciples distribute it to the crowd.  The crowd of about five thousand eats until “they were satisfied,” and the disciples gather the left over food—filling twelve baskets. 

Either Jesus multiplied the available food in a miraculous way or the crowd was not very hungry.  Obviously, the first explanation is the point of the story.  And I do not doubt Jesus’ ability to multiply a small amount of food to an amount sufficient to satisfy a mob, but I also do not believe that is the entire story.  Another angle, one painfully evident today, has to do with what is required to be satisfied and its relationship to faith. 

I have visitedEastern Europetwice, and both times I was amazed at the relatively small houses, yards and cars.  InAmerica, many of us would feel cramped beyond tolerance.  Where would we keep all our stuff?  We had an exchange student for most of a year who grew up with her parents in a 3-room apartment.  Somehow, she not only lived in those restricted conditions, she actually lived happily!  How was that possible?  Deep in the woods to the east of our house are the remains of a tar-paper shack from long ago.  Its entire square footage is roughly equal to the smallest bedroom in our house.  I know whoever lived there had children as the surrounding ground is littered with rusting bicycle remnants and other toys.  How could they have lived like that? 

Of course the real question is how have we come to live as we do today?  Some weeks I throw away more uneaten food than I ate in several days as a bachelor.  When did we come to need so much?  And how can we be so dissatisfied with our abundance?  Jesus faithfully made much of little, and a large crowd was satisfied.  Faith and satisfaction are related. What will it take for Jesus to satisfy us today?  Hint: some faith required… 

This Sunday is the third of Lent.  Tom’s sermon downtown is “The Power of Many, based on John 6:1-14. Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.   Mitch’s sermon at the west campus is “The Power of One,” based on John 4:1-42.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday. Are you satisfied with your life?  Church can help.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Searching For Truth

Life Notes—March 1, 2012

“Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason you can’t believe in it.  Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a (person) needs to believe in the most: that people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; that true love never dies.  It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not.  A (person) should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.”  Uncle Hub 

This quote is from the movie Secondhand Lions.  It is the story of a 12-ish year old boy left in the care of his two crusty old great-uncles.  One uncle (Michael Caine) tells bizarre tales of valor and honor about the wild exploits of the brothers in their younger days.  The “kid,” as they refer to him, is constantly questioning the truth of the stories and just when he is about convinced they are nothing more than the product of a wildly overactive imagination, something happens to make him realize they may have actually happened after all. Ultimately, the movie is about the search for what is important in life.  The kid has been raised by an unstable mother and is desperately seeking something solid in which to root his life.  Uncle Hub (Robert Duvall) has a speech he gives boys about to become men, and the quote above is the part of that speech he gives to “the kid.”  

The speech reminds me of issues Christians sometimes quibble about.  We argue about whether events in the Bible are actually “true” or not, whether they actually happened as recorded or whether they are accurately portrayed.  But in doing so we risk missing the vital lessons contained in the events and stories.  Treating other people as we would like to be treated is always a good idea, both for us and others, regardless of whether the Golden Rule is “true.”  Loving our neighbor as our self is simply a good, caring practice, but cannot be scientifically proven to be “true.”  If the “real” world is limited to that which can be replicated by research, it is a very small and colorless world indeed.  

Is good triumphing over evil in your life?  Has true love ever died?  Sometimes our understanding of life and love is far too limited.  Our lives are not over.  Does anyone know how, or if, their life will actually end?  Can we see beyond the grave?  Of course not.  There are principles we should believe whether they can be proven as “truth” or not.  They are guides for a fruitful life.  Lent is an excellent time to ponder these truths and reaffirm what we believe.  We may not have a great-uncle Hub to remind us of what is important, but we do have the wisdom and stories of the Bible to inform us. 

This Sunday is the second of Lent.  Both Tom (downtown) and Mitch (west) will preach a sermon titled, “Connecting to the World,” based on Luke 10:1-11.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Communion will be served at all services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Join us in our search for Truth…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator