Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jeremiah 31:1-6- “Oh, the Joy!”

Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 24, 2011

From what I remember seeing this one Milwaukee band play a few years ago, I think he might have sung backup vocals, but not so much. Mainly the reason the guy was on stage was to play the tambourine. And he really played that tambourine. Played it all sorts of ways, played it like his life depended on it, played with abandon, played it as part of his dance, played it with the flourish usually left to electric guitar players, ducking and fronting and raising his eyes to the sky.

Oh, it was just a rock band playing songs about love and loss and whatever else, but when I think about those verses from Jeremiah chapter 31 and that verse that says: “Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful,” when I think of that verse that talks about playing tambourines and joining the dance of the joyful, the dance of the merrymakers, when I think of that verse, I think of that guy in Milwaukee playing his tambourine with all his might. Oh, the joy! Oh, he played with such joy!

It’s that kind of joy that we have today, isn’t it? The joy of Easter, the joy of praising the Lord for what He has done, the joy of knowing that Jesus rose from the dead, the joy of knowing that death has been conquered. That’s the joy we have today, the kind of joy that makes us want to play the tambourine, the kind of joy that makes us want to set aside everything else, to join the dance of the joyful, the dance of the merrymakers, the whirl of the dance of the ones who dance and make music to the Lord. It’s the joy that makes you forget about what other people might think, the kind of joy that just calls you to celebrate the Lord with whatever kind of dancing you can muster.

But maybe you’re not really feeling it this morning, maybe you’re not so sure about that joy, maybe you’re not feeling as if you could dance and play the tambourine today. And I don’t mean just because we don’t usually dance or play tambourines on Sunday mornings, I mean, you’re not feeling it in here (your heart), you’re not convinced that today is much different than any other day, you’re not sure you can even say the words, “Oh, the joy!”

If that’s a struggle for you, if you’re here but not sure what all the fuss is about, if you’re here but not sure you’re caught up in the Easter moment, well, perhaps it’d be helpful to go back, to go back and remember that it wasn’t always this way, there wasn’t always an occasion for joy, there wasn’t always reason to dance and play tambourines. In fact, in our lives, if we really look at ourselves honestly, there’s plenty of reason that we shouldn’t be joyful—shouldn’t be joyful because we’re so separated from God, we’re sinners, we’re turned away from God. Where’s the joy in that?

But the verse in Jeremiah says “Again you will take up your tambourines,” again, as if there was a time when you didn’t “take up your tambourines,” a time when you didn’t “go out to dance with the joyful.”

Saying again really implies there was a time when there wasn’t any dancing with the joyful, there wasn’t any merrymaking going on, there wasn’t a party, there wasn’t music.

In fact, these verses from Jeremiah are written about the fact that Israel was split in two, with the northern kingdom, Samaria, being under foreign rule. And Jeremiah was prophesying that the southern kingdom, Judah, would also be under foreign rule, would send the people into exile. There’s destruction in the North, and there’s destruction approaching the South. So there’s this great sense of loss, this great sense of having everything you know and love, everything you trust in be taken away from you.

So when Jeremiah speaks the word of God, the word of hope and consolation, when Jeremiah says that again the city will be built, again they will play the tambourine, again they will plant vineyards and enjoy the fruit, when Jeremiah says again, he means again, once again, a new time, a new day, a new happening to replace what the people had been experiencing.

Again, it’ll happen again. It happened once long ago, but now it’s going to happen again. It happened once long ago, but that got lost, so now we wait for it to happen again. Again the city will be built. Again, they will dance and make merry. Again they will plant vineyard and enjoy the fruits of their labor (Howard Wallace).

In a way that’s what happened with this band from Milwaukee. The tambourine guy, well, he saw the band playing and just felt like the music needed a tambourine, so he kind of talked his way into the band, started playing tambourine, and once again, the music took on its power and joy.

Like the tambourine guy stepping in to help the band, God saw that the people needed joy, so He stepped in to provide the reason for joy. He stepped in and said He’d forgive their sins. He stepped in and said He’d bring them back from exile. He stepped in and gave them hope for a future day when they’d return to the land and be His people once again. Oh, the joy!

Spiritually, you and me, we’ve been overrun, we’ve been sent into exile, we’ve experienced the consequences of our sins. We’ve faced punishment for our sins, and we face the punishment of death. Because of our sin, everything that brings joy has been taken away. We’re separated from God.

But God steps in like the tambourine player, steps in to bring joy again. God’s Word points to a time when there will again be joy, again the city will be built, again we will play the tambourine, again we will plant and enjoy the vineyard.

Today is about the AGAIN, making AGAIN possible.

Today is about God stepping in to play tambourine for us, bringing us the joy we need.

Jesus on the cross canceled the past.

Jesus rising again brings the joy and hope.

Today is about God stepping in to play tambourine in your life, to say “Oh, the joy!” for you. Even if it’s hard to see the joy in your life, even if it’s hard to remember why Easter is about dancing and tambourine playing, still the Spirit is working today in your life, working to bring that joy into your life. He will be your God, and you will be His people.

Where do you need God to play that tambourine for you? Where do you need joy? Where do you need the hope of Easter in your life? Where do you need God to step in and remind you that He has done it all for you, that He has made eternal life possible, that it’s all about what He’s done? Where do you need God to step in and be your God?

Last week we showed the film Race to Nowhere, a documentary that looks at whether we’re pushing our children too much in school, pushing them to achieve so much. It was a great event, had almost 90 people here, and had a great discussion afterwards. What struck me in the film, though, was the sadness of some of the students that they interviewed. The sadness and anxiety in their lives as they try to well, really well in school, and try to accomplish a lot in extracurricular activities.

We didn’t really get a chance to talk about it that night, but what I saw in those students was a real need for God to step in. They needed God to step in with a message of joy, to step in and play tambourine for them, give them music for dancing, give them hope beyond what they saw in their lives. The students seemed so broken, so overwhelmed, and I kept thinking, “They need hope. They need Easter hope. They need hope beyond their stressed out lives.” They need to hear that God steps in to play tambourine for them, give them the joy of knowing Jesus.

Today, Easter, is the promise that He brings that joy to you, that He works that joy in your life. God has stepped in to play tambourine in your life—He’s brought you the joy through His Spirit, brought you the hope of eternal life. Today is about the fact that God has stepped in, God is your God, God has made you to be His people, God has done everything that’s necessary for you to be His people and have eternal life.

So even if you came today and didn’t feel like playing the tambourine and dancing, even if you feel as there’s not joy in your life right now, I want you to walk away remembering that God has stepped in to play tambourine in your life, that God has stepped in to bring you joy, that God has stepped in to bring a joy that goes beyond anything that’s going on in your life, a joy that is eternal and lasting, a joy that will eventually win the day and bring us back from exile and brings us AGAIN to be with God forever. Today is about the AGAIN. Today is about making us God’s people AGAIN. Today is about giving us life AGAIN. Today is about playing the tambourine AGAIN.

Psalm 16 - “You Will Not Abandon Me”

Easter Sunrise (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 24, 2011

We were in Nevada, on our way to a backpacking trip, and my dad, my cousin, and I were driving along on the highway, through the desert-like landscape, flat, dusty, hot, with some arid hills off to the sides. Then up ahead we saw something off to the side of the road, off in the ditch really. There was a boat, a pontoon boat, off to the side of the road. It wasn’t on a trailer or anything, just kind of shoved off to the side of the road into the sand and dirt, shoved there as if it was waiting for the desert to flood.

I always wished I had stopped to take a picture, take a picture of this strange sight, this boat in the middle of the desert, this boat abandoned there not anywhere near water, without a way to get to water, without any hope of doing what a boat is made to do—float. And I wish now that I had taken a picture, because then I could show you the picture today because that’s what being abandoned looks like. That’s what being abandoned looks like.

Have you ever felt like a boat abandoned on the side of the road in the desert? Have you ever felt like you were abandoned, left without a way out, a way home, a way forward, a way back? Have you ever felt like you were abandoned, left in a desert without any hope of doing what you were made to do—float, rise up, do things, do great things? Have you ever felt abandoned?

I mean, there’s the feeling of being abandoned that we get when we’re little, when Mom or Dad walks away, and we feel as if our heart will burst from the sadness of seeing Mom or Dad go away leaving us with the babysitter or sending us off to school for the first time. There’s that kind of feeling of being abandoned. We’re not really being abandoned, but it feels that way, it’s hard to believe that they’ll come back, it’s hard to know anything but that lonely, lonely feeling, and so we panic and cry.

Then there’s the feeling of being abandoned that we get even as adults, the feeling of panic of being lost, unable to find our way, lost without directions as we’re driving to meet someone, or being separated from our family and friends in a big crowd in Grant Park and no one is answering their cellphone. Even as adults, we can have that panic feeling, that panic that we’re lost and we’re not sure where to turn, and we feel abandoned, waiting on the train platform in the freezing cold for a train that apparently isn’t ever going to come, there’s a panic and feeling of being abandoned.

Then beyond all of that, there’s the deep feeling of being abandoned, being emotionally abandoned, the feeling when someone you love neglects you, the feeling when it seems like no one loves you, the feeling of a child when Mom and Dad are fighting, the feeling of a teenager whose friends left her out of the party invitation list, the feeling of an adult who can’t seem to find the right mate, the feeling of someone who was just told that they are being let go from their job, the feeling of someone who is in an abusive relationship. That’s a deep sense of being like a boat in the desert. That’s a deep sense of being abandoned.

And then there’s the times when the doctor says, “It doesn’t look good,” the times when the police officer knocks on the door and says, “Ma’am, I have some difficult news,” the times when we face death all day long, those are definitely times when the hot wind blows around us as we sit like a boat lost in the desert.

Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me? Why have You left Me on this cross to die? Why have You left Me like a boat in the desert? Why have You left Me like a lost child, a lonely teenager, an abused wife, a dying husband? Why have You abandoned Me in this most awful way?

And yet, even in that moment of being abandoned, even in that moment of experiencing every kind of abandonment we can imagine, even in that moment of being separated from God the Father, still Jesus trusts the Father, still Jesus says, “Father, unto You, I commend My Spirit,” Father, I give You My Spirit, I leave My Spirit in Your hands, I trust You to watch over Me. Even in that awful moment of being abandoned, of being like a very forlorn boat in the desert, even in that moment, it would seem that Jesus still could’ve said the words of Psalm 16, the psalm we read today, a psalm of trust, the psalm that says: “You will not abandon Me to the grave.”

You will not abandon Me to the grave.

In the mind of Jesus, in His faith and trust of the Father, Jesus can hear the water rushing in to lift Him out of the desert. He will not be a boat abandoned in the desert. He will be raised up again in the water of life. Jesus will not be abandoned forever in death. He will be raised up again.

This morning, that’s what we’re hearing—the rushing water coming to fill in the desert, coming in to lift up that boat, coming to make sure that boat isn’t abandoned in the desert forever. That’s what we’re hearing—a mighty rushing water, water rushing in to lift Jesus up. Jesus may have once been abandoned for our sake on the cross, may have been separated from God the Father on the cross, may have been left like a boat in the desert, but He trusted that the Father wouldn’t leave Him there, wouldn’t abandon Him to the grave, wouldn’t leave Him there forever. The Father would send a mighty rushing water to raise up the boat, the Father would raise Him from the dead and bring Him out of the tomb.

This morning we still hear the echoes of Good Friday, the echoes of Jesus crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me? We hear that crying echoing still this morning.

Yet, we can also hear Psalm 16 chiming in, Psalm 16 declaring trust in God the Father, Psalm 16 declaring, “You will not abandon me to the grave.” Jesus wasn’t abandoned to the grave, and we won’t be left for dead either. Jesus was raised to new life, and we will, too. We hear the echoes of Good Friday being washed out by the sound of the water rushing in to raise up that boat in the desert, Good Friday’s sounds being washed out by the sound of joy, the sound of declaring, “You will not abandon me to the grave.” Jesus Christ didn’t remain a boat abandoned in the desert. Jesus Christ didn’t remain abandoned in the grave; the Father raised Him up to life. Jesus Christ may have experienced the worst kind of abandonment—like a combination of being a lost child, a lonely teenager, an abused wife, and a dying husband all at once; Jesus Christ may have experienced the worst kind of abandonment—being abandoned by the Father; but He trusted that the Father wouldn’t let it end there, that the Father wouldn’t abandon Him to the grave.

And today we celebrate that we can also say those words of Psalm 16—“You will not abandon me to the grave.”

When we feel like a boat abandoned in the desert, well, through faith, we can hear the mighty rushing water, the water coming to make us float again. When we feel like a lost child, a lonely teenager, or a grieving spouse, or maybe when life is so overwhelming that we feel like all of that at the same time, when we feel like we’ve been abandoned, today, Easter morning, today is the reminder that we will not be abandoned, that the Father will not leave us like a boat in the desert, that He will not leave us without any hope. We can trust in Him as our refuge, we can trust that He will not abandon us to the grave, we can trust that death will not hold us, that we will be raised to new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Today is about the water rushing back in, rushing in and raising us up.

Last year I was involved with a program called Doxology, a series of conferences and retreats about how pastors can care for people while also making sure that they themselves receive care.

I started the three-part series a year ago in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. That Colorado gathering was located at a beautiful retreat at the base of a mountain with a chapel built right into the side of a cliff. In that small chapel, experiencing multiple chapels and devotions each day, in that small chapel, I heard that mighty rushing water coming to lift me up. I experienced God’s Word, His grace coming to lift me up, lift me up because I was in a spiritual desert. At Doxology, I experienced reminders of God’s tremendous promise that He won’t abandon us to the grave.

Pastor Hal Senkbeil, who preached at my installation here at Bethel, is the director of Doxology. He speaks God’s Word with a gentle determination. He’s gentle, but determined to ensure that the Gospel is proclaimed in all its sweetness, to ensure that the Good News of Jesus is heard. When he preached in that chapel in the mountains, I heard the mighty rushing water coming to lift me up like a boat abandoned in the desert.

What I heard was that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t abandoned. I heard that God the Father had sent Jesus to die and rise again for me. I heard that God the Father was sending Jesus back to come get us. I heard that there’s hope beyond our momentary troubles, beyond whatever challenges were facing me. I heard the Gospel, the Good News, of forgiveness, life, and salvation come pouring down around me, lift me up, and give me new life. I heard the reminder of my baptism, the reminder of God bringing me into His family. I heard that the Spirit is working in my life. I heard that I can trust that God is my refuge, stronger than any mountain that surrounded me. I was a boat in the desert, and the Word of God came to lift me up and make me float again.

Today, this morning, that mighty rushing water is coming to find us again, coming to lift us up, coming to lift us up like boats in the desert that need water to make us float again. The Easter Gospel, the Good News that Jesus has risen from the dead, that Good News is the mighty rushing water. There’s the gracious promise that there is life after death, the promise that you will not be abandoned to the grave. Whatever leaves us feeling like we’ve been abandoned, whatever leaves us feeling desperate and alone, however our sins begin to shake our confidence, whatever it is that leaves us like boats in the desert—well, there’s a mighty rushing water today, there’s Good News for our souls, there’s rejoicing over the Resurrection of Jesus, there’s rejoicing over the promise of our resurrection from the dead, there’s the mighty rushing water coming to lift us up, lift us up, and we will not be abandoned to the grave.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 - “Pointing to the Day’s Events”

Good Friday (Year A - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Friday, April 22, 2011

Tonight’s sermon is based on the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. You may want to have your bulletin open to the reading as we meditate on these words from the prophet, words that point to Jesus, words that point to today’s events, the events of Good Friday.

13 See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

But not right away. Jesus wasn’t lifted up and highly exalted right away. I mean, there were some like the disciples who exalted Him, who worshipped Him, who believed in Him, but really, Jesus was rejected, rejected as One who is not worth our time.

Sound familiar? It’s still happening, still happening that people are rejecting Jesus, rejecting Jesus even though now He really has been raised and lifted up and highly exalted, even though He’s been raised from the dead and deserves all the praise of heaven and earth, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, though, it’s Good Friday when we remember the time that Jesus wasn’t highly exalted. On this day, Good Friday, He wasn’t raised up in praise; He was lifted up on the cross.

[But] 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 [even] so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

Even though many were appalled by Jesus, even though many rejected Him, even though He was rejected and beaten, beaten and flogged to be left for dead like the rejected carcass of an animal, even though He was crucified in a most terrible killing, still He will be the One who will sprinkle the nations, sprinkle them in a purification rite, sprinkle them and make them clean. Even though Jesus was disfigured and stretched out on the cross, still He is the One who brings forgiveness of sins and purity and holiness to us by the washing of water in baptism and the sprinkling of His blood in the Lord’s Supper. The kings will shut their mouths when they realize who Jesus truly is, what He has done on the cross. The once-despised and rejected carcass has become the One who makes the people spiritually clean in the view of Almighty God.

[But] 1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Does anyone believe our message, does anyone believe the message of God, does anyone believe that Jesus is more than meets the eye, more than He seems, more than a rejected carcass on the cross? When we see how He grew up, when we remember how He came from the most humble birth, lived among a humble family, wasn’t from the ruling class, wasn’t from the power class, didn’t seem to be an important leader, wasn’t a vital part of running Israel, when we consider that many despised and rejected Him, well, then does anyone believe the message of God, the message of the Old Testament prophets, the message that Jesus is the One, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Suffering, Sinless Servant set apart to save His people? Does anyone believe this? Because really, it mainly seems like we despise Him and we esteem Him not.

[But] 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

And that’s the thing: Jesus is the One. People may not have believed it then, and people may not believe it now, but surely, Jesus is the One. Surely, Jesus is the Messiah. Surely, Jesus is the One who took our sins upon Himself, took our sins with Him onto the cross, took the punishment in our place.

In our sinfulness, in our resistance, in our unfaithfulness, we might consider Jesus to be stricken and smitten and afflicted by God for His own misdeeds, but when we really look at it, when we really consider what’s going on, when we really sit and back and realize that He didn’t do anything wrong, that He committed no crime, well, then we have to realize that He was pierced and crushed and wounded for our sins. We are the sheep that have gone astray, we are the ones who have wandered away from God’s ways, we are the ones who should’ve been pierced and crushed and wounded, but God put all of that on Jesus, God put all of that on Jesus so that we could be saved from death. Looking at the cross today, looking at the cross on Good Friday, well, it’s all about Jesus stepping into our place, suffering in our place, dying in our place.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Jesus didn’t try to talk His way out of the situation. Jesus didn’t call out with vicious attacks on His executioners. Jesus didn’t spend His last breaths calling out for vengeance or retaliation or rebellion. Jesus went to His death with words of peace and forgiveness and love, with words of pain—yes—but He didn’t tell us to inflict violence on the ones who did this to Him. Jesus went to His death, following the will of the Father, following it to the very grave, being assigned a place with the wicked, the sinners, all of us who face death because of our sinfulness, Jesus laid down His life for us all the way to the grave even though no one ever proved that He had done anything wrong or said anything wrong, even though no one had ever proved that He was a sinner.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

This was the Father’s will, the Father’s plan, to have Jesus suffer in our place, to be a sacrifice for our sins, to take the punishment we deserved, to take that punishment and survive. Survive and see the Lord’s offspring, His children, His people—us, we are His offspring, the ones who have been born again, the ones who have been given new life, the ones who have been brought into His family again through what Christ has done. The Father’s plan was to have Jesus suffer and die and then rise again and bring us to new life so that the Father would see His people as His children, see His creation as His holy ones, see us as the ones who will live with Him forever.

So today we see His suffering, today we mark the suffering of Jesus, today, Good Friday, we honor His death on the cross, but today we recall the words recorded here in Isaiah, the words that promise that Jesus will see the light of life, will see the light again, will be raised from the dead. Tonight we mark the fading of the light, the extinguishing of the light, the smothering of the light, the dousing of the flame, the way in which death was allowed to put out that bright light. But God recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. God recalls His promises and will bring Jesus out of the grave, will bring Him back to the light, will not let His Holy One see decay, will not abandon Him to the grave.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Which brings us back to the beginning: he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Jesus has done this great thing on the cross, therefore the Father will give Him a portion among the great, He will ascend to the right hand of the Father, He will have all authority in heaven and on earth, He will be forever praised in heaven and on earth.

And why? Why will Jesus be exalted, be praised forever, why does He ascend to the right hand of the Father, the place of power and authority, why? Because He poured out His life unto death, was numbered with the sinners, and he bore the sin of all the people. Jesus is exalted today and forever, because He took our punishment on the cross. That’s His glory and honor; that’s why we call Him the Savior. That’s why we rejoice in His death; that’s why we call today “Good.” We celebrate and honor Jesus today, because His death marks the end of our death, His punishment on the cross means that we will not suffer eternal punishment. That’s His glory and honor; that’s why we call Him the Savior. That’s why He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Psalm 116:12-19 - “Pointing to the Evening’s Events”

Maundy Thursday (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tonight’s sermon is based on the Psalm reading from tonight. You may want to have your bulletin open to that page as we contemplate Psalm 116 and meditate on how it points to tonight’s events, the events of Maundy Thursday.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

They left the Upper Room singing a hymn, and it’s possible to imagine them singing Psalm 116, because after all, Psalms 113-118 were the psalms used for the Passover celebration, the meal that the disciples and Jesus had just celebrated together. And Psalm 116 is a psalm, a song, a hymn that points to the evening’s events, so yes, it’s possible to imagine that psalm on the lips of the disciples and Jesus, on their lips as they go out into the night, go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

The psalm says: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to Me? How can I give enough thanks to the Lord for all that He has given Me?

And our thoughts turns to the night’s meal: Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.”

He gave thanks. The meal is a thanksgiving meal, a thanksgiving for all that the Lord has given to us, a thanksgiving for saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, a thanksgiving for watching over His people all these generations, a thanksgiving for what He was now doing—bringing salvation to completion in Jesus Christ.

The psalm continues even as the meal continues: I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

And after the supper, He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Jesus lifts up the cup of salvation, the cup of His blood, the cup of suffering, the cup that brings salvation to all people, the cup of His blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, forgiveness offered to all who call on His Name, for all who believe in His Name.

And when they had finished the meal, when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives, to pray, to pray like Psalm 116:

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.

And Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, take this cup of suffering from Me, but not what I will, what I decide, but what You will, what You decide.”

Jesus went and prayed, went and showed His commitment to the Father’s plan, went and committed Himself to the vow He made to suffer and die for the people, the vow to save the world in the midst of Jerusalem, on the cross, in the sight of every people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
Precious is the death of His Holy One.
Precious is the death of Jesus.

The hymn continues, the spirit of prayer continues:
O Lord, truly I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the Son of Your maidservant.

Jesus in the Garden prays three times, committing Himself each time to the Father’s will, committing Himself as a servant—the son of the maidservant Mary, committing Himself as One who came to serve not to be served as He showed the disciples by washing their feet that night.

And the psalm shows His trust in the Father: You will free Me from My chains.

Jesus trusted that the Father would free Him from the chains of death, would free Him and raise Him to new life.

So Jesus is able to say: I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the Name of the Lord.

Jesus would offer Himself as the sacrifice, offer His own body, His own life in sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He would lay down His life to be sacrificed on the cross; on the cross He would call on the Name of the Lord, use His dying breath to call out for the Father.

And again the psalm says: I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Jesus had been welcomed in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with victory branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” Jesus had taught in the temple. Jesus had preached in the streets. And now Jesus would go to die in the midst of God’s holy city.

And with that, the hymn echoes in the night, a hymn that points to the events of the evening—points to the Lord’s Supper, points to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, points to tomorrow’s event on the cross. Psalm 116 is a hymn that carries all of that, carries all of the weight of the evening’s events, the weight of the events that had already taken place, the events that would take place the next day, the events that would bring about the salvation of the whole world. The hymn echoes in the night, and Judas and the soldiers would be arriving soon. The hymn echoes in the night with the last line perhaps being what stays with the disciples.

The last line: “Praise the Lord.”

“Praise the Lord,” our English translations have, the last line of the hymn that we can imagine the disciples and Jesus singing, the last line is “Praise the Lord.”

But in Hebrew, in the original language of the psalm, the last line is the word we do not sing in Lent—at least by church tradition, we don’t say the word that may have echoed in the night on that Holy Thursday, the last line of Psalm 116 in Hebrew is (whispered) “Hallelujah.”

(whispered) “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise the Lord.” The last words they may have sung would have been “hallelujah,” a word we can hardly bring ourselves to say during the season of Lent, during this season of contemplating the suffering and death of Jesus. To think that the disciples and Jesus went out into the night, went out towards that dark hour, went out with that word on their lips.

It hardly seems appropriate; that’s why the church doesn’t sing it during Lent. It hardly seems appropriate to PRAISE THE LORD in the face of the death of Jesus, in the face of the awful fact that our sin put Jesus on the cross, in the face of the suffering and death of our God, well, it hardly seems appropriate to PRAISE THE LORD.

And when we’re contemplating our sin, when we’re contemplating what brings us to this night, when we’re contemplating our need for Jesus to pour out His blood for us, when we’re contemplating just how bad things are between us and God, when we see really how awful it is that our God needed to die to pay for our sins, well, we can hardly bring ourselves to say that final line of the hymn.

Who knows what was going through the minds of the disciples that night, but I wonder if some of them sensed that “hallelujah” didn’t seem right, I wonder if some of them sensed that something tragic was happening, what with Jesus offering them His body and blood, talking about offering Himself as the sacrifice, I wonder if some of the disciples had trouble singing that final line, had trouble saying “hallelujah” that night.

I wonder if they struggled, I wonder if they struggled to say “Praise the Lord,” like we might struggle to say that tonight. As in the words of a modern day rock poet who says:

That’s why we cry, “Lord, we wander so long
And we worry so much
‘Til we can hardly cry, ‘Hallelujah’”

‘Til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” ‘til we dare not say those words, ‘til we dare not say, “Praise the Lord,” we wander so long, we worry so much, we see our own sin, we are overcome by sadness for our waywardness, for the ways we wander away from God, we are overcome and we can hardly bring ourselves to say the last line of the hymn that they may have sung this night.

But is there a way in which we could say that word, that we could sing that line? Is there a way to look at tonight, to look at tomorrow, to look at what Jesus did and sing that last line? Oh, I don’t mean that tonight’s the night for jumping up and down and applauding and carrying on like it’s a great big party to watch our Savior go down for our crimes.

But tonight can be about praising the Lord. Tonight you can walk away from the Lord’s Supper with a smile on your face, a “hallelujah” on your lips, you can walk away from the Lord’s Supper tonight, go out into the night singing a hymn, go out with “hallelujah” echoing into the night, because tonight is about this most precious gift from Jesus—that He sacrificed Himself for us, that He lifted up the cup of salvation for us, that He fulfilled His vows to the Lord, that He promised to die for the people and that’s what He allowed to happen on the cross. Tonight isn’t just a somber reflection on our need for the Lord’s Supper; tonight is a celebration that we’ve been given this great gift of the Lord’s Supper. Tonight we can have those last words on our lips—“Praise the Lord.”

Oh, we will wander and we will worry ‘til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” we will struggle to say that word—not just because of Lent, we will struggle to say that word because life often doesn’t seem like a “hallelujah,” life often doesn’t seem like the time for praising the Lord, because there are awful, tortuous things that happen to us, there are injuries and sicknesses and tragedies and deaths and defeats in life ‘til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah.”

But tonight is a reminder that even on the night when He was betrayed, even on the night when He went out to be arrested and beaten and condemned to die, even that night Jesus sang “hallelujah” with the disciples, praised the Lord, praised the Father in heaven for what He was doing, what He was going to do through the cross, what He was doing to save the people of the whole world, save everyone from their sins. And if we can imagine that Jesus had a “hallelujah” on His lips on this night, well, then at least in whispered reverence, we can say the word, too.

Say it quietly with me: “Hallelujah.”

You may wander, you may worry so much, you may wander and worry ‘til you can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” but tonight the Lord invites you to say it, invites you to eat His body and drink His blood, invites you to commune with Him, invites you into fellowship with Him, invites you to eat of the sacrifice of His Son, invites you to have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Tonight, I believe, that Jesus is inviting you to say that last line of Psalm 116. So say it again quietly with me: “Hallelujah.”

You may wander, you may worry so much, you may be perplexed by a whole host of things going on in your life, you may be struck by the reality of your own sin and your separation from God, but God invites you tonight to see that He has prepared Jesus as a sacrifice on your behalf, prepared Jesus to step into your place, prepared Jesus to be your Savior, so you’re invited tonight to say the last line that may have echoed into the night as the disciples and Jesus finished singing that hymn. Say it again quietly with me: “Hallelujah.” One more time: “Hallelujah.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Isaiah 50:4-9a - “Setting His Face Like Flint”

Palm Sunday (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 17, 2011

A few years ago I was at Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells with a youth group. They dared me, and so I had to try it. I had to try the Point of No Return, a waterslide that’s 10 stories high and has a nearly vertical drop. You walk up the stairs, with open views of the entire waterpark, the wind blowing, the sun shining down on you. When you get to the top, you can only see the very beginning of the slide. Otherwise, it just drops out of sight.

You lay down in the top part of the slide, cross your legs and your arms, and you have this feeling that you need to press your back into the slide, very much hoping that gravity will keep you on that slide. The lifeguard gives you a push, and down you go—straight down.

Well, that’s what I had been dared to do, so I gathered up my courage and walked to the top of the slide. Borrowing a phrase from Isaiah, I set my face like flint, laid down in the slide, and trusted gravity to do its work.

OK, so actually, I was completely scared, and my face probably showed all of my worry and anxiety, but still I had to lay down, trust gravity, and ride the slide for five seconds of terror and adrenaline.

Jesus had to face His own Point of No Return on Palm Sunday, riding the slide into Jerusalem. He set His face like flint and trusted God the Father. Jesus, though, wasn’t freaking out; He really set His face like flint, was stone-faced, faced the terror that awaited Him. Jesus trusted the Father, laid down His life, and rode that donkey toward a punishment that would seem to last an eternity.

Jesus trusted gravity, so to speak. Like trusting that gravity will bring you safely through a near vertical drop, Jesus trusted the Father. Jesus trusted that the Father would bring Him through this week of Passion, this week of being betrayed, rejected, arrested, beaten, and killed, trusted that the Father would bring Him through death and give Him life again.

The words of trust in Isaiah 50 could’ve been on the lips of Jesus on Palm Sunday. The words of Isaiah 50 were written about Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to rescue God’s people. The words of Isaiah 50 could’ve been on the lips of Jesus as He laid down, trusted gravity, and rode that slide into Jerusalem, they’re words of trust:

The Lord God will help Me.
I will not be disgraced.
I will not be ashamed.
He will justify Me.
No adversary will come near Me.
No one will condemn Me.

That trust, that trust placed in the Father, that’s why Jesus is able to go forward into Jerusalem today, that’s why He is able to ride that donkey, that’s why He is able to go to Jerusalem even though He knows it means certain death, He’s able to go forward because He trusts in the Father. He lays down, trusts gravity, and rides that slide. He lays down His life, trusts the Father, and rides that slide into Jerusalem.

That trust, that trust placed in the Father, that’s why Jesus can say the other words of Isaiah 50, the words about what He was willing to endure. He can say:

I was not rebellious,
Nor did I turn away.
I gave My back to those who struck Me,
And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.
Therefore I have set My face like a flint.

Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem—stone-faced, as in, determined, resolute, resolved, not turning back. Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem, faces the terror, lays down His life that day knowing that He’s riding toward arrest and trial and execution. Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem, stone-faced because He trusts gravity to bring Him through that 10 story, near vertical drop, stone-faced because He trusts the Father will bring Him through that passion and death.

He goes stone-faced to His death for us, goes stone-faced to save us from death, goes to give us the hope of living after death, goes to pay for our sins, goes for us.

So setting His face like flint, it’s not so much as an example to us. I mean, it is an example, it reminds us to lay back, trust gravity, and ride the slide, the way Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday reminds us to set our face like flint, to be resolved and determined, to lay back, trust God, and ride the slide of life.

But more than that, Christ set His face like flint as a gift for us. He did it to give us eternal life. He did it for us. And because of what Christ did, because Christ was stone-faced, because Christ was determined, that’s why I can lay back, that’s why I can trust God, that’s why I can ride the slide of life, that’s why I can trust Him to hold me safe through this near-vertical drop of terror.

Setting His face like flint—that’s Christ as gift, that’s Christ for us.

So it’s not just about mustering up the courage ourselves to go down the Point of No Return in life. It’s not just about mustering courage to face ridicule or mistreatment or even death. It’s not “buck up, little camper, have the courage of Jesus.”
No, it’s seeing that Jesus already did this for you. He went down the Point of No Return, the actual Point of No Return, He laid down His life, died on the cross, was separated from the Father, for you. Jesus mustered the courage to face death, He did this for you.

Today is about what Christ has done for you. Today—Palm Sunday—is gift! Today is about what Christ endured, so we don’t have to. Today is about Jesus going down the Point of No Return so that we don’t have to, so that we can go to the Point of Return, so that we can have life after death, so that we can praise Him forever, praise Him with Hosannas forever. Because of today, because Jesus rode into Jerusalem to face death, because of that, we don’t face an eternal Point of No Return. We have a Point of Return in the cross, we have a Point of Return, eternal life, we will be raised again to new life.

Think about it this way: How many of you have NOT gone down a near-vertical water slide? Raise your hand. You all can live vicariously through my experience, or the experience of someone around you that has gone down one of these water slides. We can tell you all about it, and you can live vicariously through what we experienced.

How many of you have NOT set your face like flint when facing certain death? You can live vicariously through Christ. He laid back and trusted gravity; He laid down His life and trusted the Father. He did that for you. He did that to give away the effect, give the effect to you as if you had done it yourself. Because of what Christ did, what Christ did on the cross, well, it’s like you were there, it’s like you suffered and died too, it’s like you paid for your sins, but Christ did it for you because you never would’ve survived the drop, never would’ve survived death, never would’ve been able to live again. Christ did it for you, on your behalf, rode that slide in your place, and then gave you the effect. The effect is that death is canceled, death is defeated, death cannot hold us any longer. The effect is that there is life after death. Jesus gave you that effect, that gift, that blessing. That’s what it means to live vicariously through Christ.

So the reason I can lay back and trust God is because Jesus already did it for me. When I’m facing the challenges of life, a challenge to my faith, when I’m facing a crisis of faith or when I’m facing my own mortality, well, it’s not all up to me to make myself strong, to make it through this Point of No Return.

It’s really about what Jesus already did for me. He laid back and trusted the Father, He laid down His life, His work on the cross has meant that my salvation is secure, my life is in His hands.

So what is your Point of No Return, what are you going through that feels as if you’re sliding off a near-vertical drop? What’s got you going over the edge, afraid that you’re just doing a free fall? Where do you need to lay back and trust gravity? Where do you need Jesus to lay back and trust the Father for you? Where do you need to live vicariously through Jesus? Where do you need Jesus to set His face like flint for you, to be stone-faced for you, to face the terrors of life on your behalf?
Maybe it’s with your health, facing some tough things. Maybe it’s with your mental health, what’s going on with you emotionally. Maybe it’s a crisis of faith, struggling to believe. Maybe you’re facing your own mortality, wondering what it means that life is short.

Whatever you’re facing, whatever is the 10 story, near-vertical drop that you’re facing in life, well, the tremendous news from Isaiah 50 is that Jesus has already been there, already been through the crisis, already gone down the slide of life and death, already survived and rose again for you. The great news is that Jesus did more than set us an example, did more than just showing us how it’s done. The great news is that Jesus rode out the terror for us, rode that slide of life and death, rode it and rose again so that we can live again through Him.

So it’s not just about trying to follow His example, it’s not about trying to trust the Father like Jesus trusts the Father. It’s about the fact that Jesus already did it for you.

What’s the crisis you’re facing? What’s the 10 story, near-vertical drop you’re facing in life? Jesus took that Point of No Return and made it into a Point of Return. We may go through challenges, we may face terrible challenges, but there’s this promise: the cross of Jesus is our Point of Return. We will not be left for dead. We will not find a Point of No Return, a place where we can’t be back with God. The cross of Jesus is our Point of Return. The cross of Jesus brings us through all of the challenges of life, even brings us through our own mortality, and will bring us to everlasting life. And not because of what we do, not because we’re so great at trusting gravity as we go down that drop, not because we’re always confident. No, we’ve got that Point of Return because of what Christ did for us.

So today, ask God to help you trust gravity, ask God to help you set your face like flint, ask God to help you trust Him as you face challenges in life.

But more than that, realize that Jesus has done it for you. He rode that slide for you. He rode into Jerusalem for you. He went to face death for you. He set His face like flint for you. You couldn’t do it yourself, so He did it for you. He did it for you so that you can have eternal life, so that you can have a Point of Return.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

John 11:1-53 - “Jesus at Moments of Doubt”

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 10, 2011

These are the rough draft notes of my sermon.

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey is a book that I’ve recommended to many people who are struggling with their faith, struggling to believe. Yancey, a long-time Christian and noted author, realized that his faith didn’t make much sense to his non-Christian friends. So he decided to take apart his faith, pull it back to the basics, and write about why it is that he believes in an invisible God. The result, the book Reaching for the Invisible God, is a conversation about what it means to believe in someone we can’t see, what it means to believe in grace, love, and mercy that we rarely experience here. The result is that Yancey puts his faith back together in front of the reader’s eyes, so that, in the process, you’re invited to believe. You’re not commanded to believe; you’re not forced to believe; you’re not tricked into believing. You’re invited to believe. You’re invited to see that there’s an invisible God there for you that invites you to believe.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, the account of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus repeatedly invites people to believe in Him, to believe in Him even as they struggle while reaching out for the invisible God.

With this news that Lazarus is sick, how can there be anything but sorrow? Death seemed imminent, so how could Jesus not respond with sorrow?

Why didn’t Jesus go to Lazarus right away? How could He remain for two days while the family mourns?

But then when He does decide to go, how can He go? How could Jesus go up to Bethany in Judea when He knows that there’s where the Jews are who want to kill Him? How can He risk His life and go the Bethany?

When He gets there, Lazarus is already dead. What can Jesus do now? What good is it? Why wasn’t He there earlier?

Then we hear Martha’s struggle. Sure, there’s the hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, but what about now? My sorrow and struggle is now. The mourning is now. Even if I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, even if I believe that He’s the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, well, that still doesn’t seem to answer my sorrow right now.

Then when Jesus goes to the tomb, well, there’s still the confusion and disbelief. “Lord, there will be a stench if we open the tomb.” Still they struggle to believe, struggle to see that Jesus is about to do something through the power of God, something that will bring glory to God.

But through it all, Jesus invites them to believe. Jesus invites them to come to Him, come and see the invisible God working visibly through Him. When they hear that Lazarus is sick, He invites the disciples to see that Lazarus being sick and dying will be for the glory of God. When He tells the disciples that Lazarus is dead, he invites the disciples to see that Lazarus dying will be for the sake of helping them to believe in Him. When Martha objects to opening the tomb, He invites Martha and everyone gathered to believe in Him and see the glory of God when He raises Lazarus from the dead.

The whole event is an invitation to believe, an invitation to believe that Jesus has power over death, that Jesus has the authority of God, an invitation to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God sent to deliver the people. The whole event is an invitation to doubters to believer. Which makes me think that it’s an invitation to us, too, an invitation to us to believe in Jesus, an invitation to see that Jesus is the Savior, to see that Jesus loves us even in the midst of our sorrow, to see that when Jesus appears to be slow in acting that He still loves us, an invitation to see that Jesus has done great things in our lives so that we may believe in Him.

As I working on this sermon, I was listening to an alternative Country rocker named Chris Marshall who has a song coming out titled, “Look Out Your Window,” which seems perfectly for the invitation that Jesus offered to the people around the raising of Lazarus, and the invitation that He offers to us.

Look out your window
And you’ll find that the exercise of opening your eyes
Slowly leads to the opening of your mind
So you can finally take a look at the world that’s just outside
There’s a world, There’s a world that is just outside your window
Metaphorical, metaphysical, infinitesimally wonderful world

Jesus invites us to look out the window, to look beyond what we see inside our little world, to look out the window and see the incredible things that He’s doing. Jesus invites us to look beyond our room of doubt, look beyond what we can see in here (our hearts) and here (our minds), look beyond that and see what He’s doing in our lives and our world. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to see that Jesus has been here along, to see that God is right there outside the window, an invitation to see that when we find ourselves reaching for the invisible God that He’s already there.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

John 9:1-41 - “A Different Man”

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 3, 2011

Last week I told the story of the woman at the well, how Jesus offered her living water, water of eternal life, the water of forgiveness and life that comes through Him. Today’s Gospel reading from John gives us another story, another story of someone coming to believe in Jesus. I want to tell you that story today from that man’s perspective. And again, I don’t mean it’s a story as in fable or fiction; this is a story of an event that really took place. I’ve expanded the story with details to help us understand this man and see ourselves in this story.

Oh, that’s it. That’s why they’re questioning me. They’re stuck on the fact that Jesus made mud and put it on my eyes, he spit into the dirt and mixed it up to make mud, he kneaded the dirt to turn it into mud that he smeared on my eyes, and that kneading, that action of kneading, well, they’re sure that this broke the Sabbath laws. Jesus broke the Sabbath rest by kneading mud for my eyes.

Here Jesus does this incredible thing, something no one has ever heard of, no one has ever heard of a man born blind who then receives his sight again, Jesus has just done this incredible thing for me and for everyone to see, and now the Pharisees are just concerned about whether Jesus kneaded, worked the mud or not.

Well, there’s no reason to deny what Jesus did; I already told them the story. Surely the Pharisees will realize that the Sabbath rules shouldn’t prohibit such an action, a good action, an action of giving me sight, giving me new life. Are they really going to say that doing good on the Sabbath breaks the law of God? Are they really going to say that Jesus isn’t from God, that Jesus is a sinner, that Jesus is somehow evil for what He has done? That doesn’t seem to make any sense.

But sure enough, that’s what they’re arguing about, they’re arguing whether Jesus is from God or not. I’m just trying to stand off to the side, waiting to see if they’re done with me, while they argue back and forth. Some of them are so sure that Jesus couldn’t be from God, couldn’t be from God because he did this thing on the Sabbath. Others, well, I like them; they’re realizing that only a man from God could do what was done today. They’re right, How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs? I’m hoping the whole group listens to that kind of thinking, because I’m very sure that I just experienced something only God could do.

But now, what’s this? They’re coming back to me, they’re asking me, “What have you to say about Him?” Well, I guess I’m kind of emotional about this thing, I’m not sure if it’s the smartest move to go against the Pharisees, but come on, it seems pretty clear. “He is a prophet.” That’s what I say, although I’m wondering what they’re going to do to me for making such a bold statement.

But what do you know, they’re not going to do anything to me right now, except to make me wait right here while they get my parents. I’m a grown man, but still they won’t believe that I was born blind so they are fetching my parents to vouch for me. This is absurd. Can’t they see that an incredible, miraculous thing has taken place? Can’t they see that we could all be praising God together, singing songs, and glorifying God for what He has done? But no, we’re waiting for my parents to come and say that I’m their son and I was blind from birth. I want to go and find Jesus, I want to go see this prophet, but I better wait here until the Pharisees tell me I can go. No telling what they’d do to me if I just hightailed it out of here.

Well, good, now my parents are here. Surely this will clear everything up. Yep, they agree, I’m their son, and I was born blind. But. . .oh, I forgot that my mom and dad would be afraid of the Pharisees. I can see that they’re overjoyed for me, they’re wondering how it is that I can see, they want to rejoice with me, but I can also see that being in front of the Pharisees has made them very, very afraid. They quickly figured out that if they say anything positive about me receiving sight, if they say anything remotely positive about Jesus, that the Pharisees will bar them from the synagogue. I know they’re probably torn apart inside, but still it’s tough to see them not take a stand. It’s tough to have them just leave me here to answer the questions myself. It’s tough to see, because I’m feeling pretty alone right now. And it’s tough to see, because I really want my parents to know Jesus, to know that He’s a prophet, to know that Jesus is able to do great things through God’s power.

But now my parents are gone, and the Pharisees are back to questioning me. And what a funny way of going at it. They say, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” Give glory to God? I’m supposed to give glory to God that Jesus is a sinner. I’m supposed to reject this man who gave me sight and gave me new life. I guess they can say what they want, but I can’t bring myself to say it with them. I can’t reject Jesus. I mean, I didn’t really know much about Him before today, but I’m telling you, that man didn’t do something evil when give me sight.

So I say, “I do not know if he is a sinner. I know one thing: I was blind and now I see.” All I can do is tell them what I have experienced. All I can do is keep telling them what I know to be true. Nothing in me makes me think that I shouldn’t be rejoicing over what Jesus has done for me. Nothing in me makes me think I should reject Jesus. In fact, everything in me wants to find Jesus, to see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be His disciple, to know how it is that He was able to give me sight.

Ah, but now the Pharisees are at it again, asking again and again about how Jesus did this thing. I’m starting to lose patience here. I know I shouldn’t. The Pharisees are in charge, they’re the authorities, I could be in a lot of trouble if I don’t watch it, but it’s exasperating how they keep asking again and again. Is it really about the kneading, about working the mud, about breaking the Sabbath? Is that why they’re asking or is there something different going on?

I guess I’ll just be blunt: “I have told you already and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”

Oh, my! Now I’ve done it. They’re blind with rage now. According to them, I am definitely a disciple of Jesus, sure to be kicked out of the synagogue now. They, well, they’re sticking to being disciples of Moses—as if Jesus doesn’t follow Moses. They’re saying that they know God spoke to Moses, but they don’t know where Jesus comes from, where Jesus gets His power and authority.

Well, no sense in backing down now: “I find this surprising. You do not know where Jesus comes from; yet He has opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone worships God and does his will, he listens to them. No one has ever heard of anyone who opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

Right now, this moment feels like an eternity. My heart is beating so fast, I am dripping with sweat, and I’m shaking, but my vision is clear, my eyes are focused on their eyes, I can see that I’ve said something that has struck them right between their eyes. This is a moment of clarity—they’re against Jesus in a vehement, ugly, jealous, sinful way. They’re against Jesus so much, they’re so blind to who He is, that they can’t even see what I see. This is a moment of clarity—I am a disciple of Jesus, I will find Him, I will follow Him, I will know who He is, I will see God working in Him.

My moment of clarity is now rudely interrupted. The Pharisees are yelling at me, all sorts of things, things like, “You were born in sin! You can’t be seriously trying to teach us?” They’re yelling and kicking me out into the street.

I walk a few paces down the street, the yelling fades into the background, the dust settles, the crowd stares at me in disbelief wondering what just happened with the Pharisees and me, but you know what. . .I still have that clarity. I still have that clarity! The Pharisees are vehemently opposed to Jesus, and it’s ugly, it’s sinful, it’s prideful, it’s downright evil the way they’re rejecting Him. You see, I still have that clarity! They can kick me out of the synagogue, but that’s alright. I’m going to find Jesus, follow Him, and be His disciple. I’m going to see what God is going to do through Jesus. That’s the clarity. That’s the clarity of faith that I still have—no matter what the Pharisees just did to me.

Well, it seems I’ve wandered around for a while now, caught up in this clarity and euphoria and excitement of having sight and knowing about the prophet Jesus. But then, what’s this? Someone tapping me on the shoulder who says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Hmm, Son of Man, that’s a curious title, but I think I know what this guy means. Do I believe in the man, the man that healed me? Well, that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do—find Jesus and believe in Him. “And who is he, sir, that I might believe in Him?”

And this guy says: “He is the person talking to you.”

Overjoyed, still in that moment of clarity, I fall down before Jesus. “Lord, I believe.” I worship Him by bending low to the earth and by saying words of praise. I have found the One who will give us truth and light and sight into things that are holy and righteous. I have found the One whom God has sent to save His people. Lord, I believe.

Say what you want, but that’s my experience and that’s what I see. Say what you want, and the Pharisees certainly say some cruel and misguided things about Jesus. Perhaps you’ve heard those things, too—things that say Jesus isn’t who He says He is. Perhaps you’ve heard people say that Jesus is nothing more than a good teacher. But say what you want, I know what I believe. I see a prophet, the Son of Man, the Lord who made my blind eyes see, who made my blind heart believe. Say what you want about Jesus, but I tell you, He’s the Savior, He’s the Messiah, He’s the Lord’s Anointed One, He’s been set aside for the work of God, the incredible work of salvation.

Say what you want about Jesus, but I’m hoping you’re saying you believe. I’m hoping you say that you follow Him and are His disciple. I’m hoping you’ll see Him as I see Him, see Him as the prophet, the Son of Man, the Lord, your Savior.