Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blogger troubles & Sermon

Just like this picture being - just a bit off - accessing this blog has been a little messy. I don't know if it was my end or what but for 3 days or so Firefox just wouldn't load anything from Blogger. But we're good now.

Sunday, I preached for the second time at church, this time on John 20:24-29. I think it went fairly well. No one left the sanctuary in the middle of the sermon. No one sat me down afterward to tell me I'd offended them. And no one threatened to call my CPM and warn them not to certify me to be ordained. So, all in all, I think I did ok. I trust God will use it for good. Since I'm in the middle of Reading week, preparing for my 3 final papers, I don't have a lot of stuff to write, so I figured I'd put up my sermon so anyone can read it for themselves and determine if I really am a heretic. This Sunday I'll be leading worship as the liturgist for the last time as an intern. Then my internship will be complete. It'll be nice to have one last year without responsibilities every Sunday before I dive into the Ministry fulltime...

Sermon: Who’s Story is it?

Text: John 20:24-29 4/23/06

Story is a powerful tool. We read them, we watch them and we tell them constantly. We measure them against each other and have an innate sense for what is a good story. Telling a story is an art form. Have you ever tried to tell a story and got mixed up in the details? Maybe got the characters confused and the story came out wrong? I have to confess – I’m terrible at remembering names. I’ve often found myself wanting to tell a great story but not being able to remember the names of the characters involved. There’s nothing worse than getting to the climax of the story and having to ask the person you’re telling the story for the name that makes the story make sense. It’s embarrassing. If you don’t get the characters right, you just can’t tell the story, you don’t get the right message.

Our Scripture text for this morning, from John 20, is the intriguing story of “Doubting Thomas” as he is often referred to as. It begins with Thomas being given the news that Jesus had been spotted – alive. Of course, Thomas had not been there. The other disciples had “seen” Jesus, supposedly. They had “seen” the man whom they all knew had died on a horrible Roman cross - and buried in a tomb, stopped up by an enormous stone. Yes, these other disciples had “seen” Jesus alright… but whatever mystic phantom or fear-induced hallucination the disciples had experienced – Thomas wanted none of it. Thomas lived in the real world – aware that death was present. He had been ready to die with Jesus just a few weeks ago, at the news of Lazarus’ death… it was not that Thomas didn’t want to believe – but facts were facts and dead men don’t rise – even if they did have amazing insight and miraculous powers. The only thing that would change Thomas’ mind would be cold, hard evidence. No, mere words would suffice. Thomas needed to see Jesus – the nail marks, the lance wound. But no, his eyes might play tricks on him – he would need to feel the wounds – put his finger in the wholes, his hand into Jesus’ side. That’s what it would take.

So a week later, when Thomas was gathered with the disciples in the same house – you can imagine his astonishment when Jesus appears out of nowhere! Jesus – alive? This can’t be, and yet it is. In the flesh – his wounds, visible to the naked eye. And he offers Thomas to touch him – to test him out. But by this time, Thomas needs no more convincing. And the words that he proclaims are the greatest statement of faith found in the gospel of John – “My Lord and my God!” Thomas goes from skepticism and unbelief to the greatest statement of faith uttered in John’s gospel. What a turnaround.

But the last words in the story are not those of Thomas – they are the words of Jesus himself – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” And I have to say, that it is here, that if nowhere else gives rise to the question – “Who’s story is this?” So far, we’ve read this as if Thomas was the central character, the hero if you will. It’s all about Thomas missing Jesus’ visit, Thomas unbelief, Thomas’ requirements, Thomas’ faith… But the last words are Jesus’ and if we look carefully at the story, I wonder if we may have gotten the leading role and the supporting roles reversed.

Because, even though we began reading at verse 24, that sentence is really a continuation of the story Jesus’ appearances before – to Mary at the tomb, and to the disciples in the house. It’s almost a side note that Thomas had missed out. The primary actor here is Jesus – because it was Jesus that came to the disciples – Jesus presented himself to them to show them that he was alive. And not only that, but he came back for Thomas! I find that utterly amazing. I mean, Jesus came back for one disciple, who by all accounts had written Jesus off as dead. But Jesus’ not only comes back specifically for Thomas, he offers him to touch the nail scars, put his hand in the spear wound in Jesus’ side. For all of Thomas’ unbelief, Jesus goes the extra mile to ensure that Thomas would believe. Jesus goes the extra mile to offer Thomas all that he requires to make this magnificent statement of faith…

And this statement is about Jesus. It is not a testament to Thomas’ deep theological understanding – but to what Jesus’ has done. Jesus, God in the flesh, makes himself known to Thomas in such a way that Thomas can make this statement. Jesus, God incarnate, has done the miraculous work on the cross and in the resurrection, that makes Thomas’ allegiance not only worthy but necessary!

And the final words of this story – they belong to Jesus. It is an affirmation and a blessing, directed first to Thomas and then to those that would come after – that would not have the benefit if seeing Jesus in the flesh. Those that would be dependant upon the faithful witness of the disciples, and the story that they would tell – the story of Jesus. This passage, this story is undoubtedly about Jesus. Thomas, for all his attention, plays merely a supporting role. It is Jesus’ story from start to finish and Thomas simply adds some flavour. And if we focus too much on Thomas, we can end up telling the wrong story.

I wonder myself, if as Christians, we sometimes get caught telling the wrong story, focusing on the supporting characters instead of on the lead role… I sometimes wonder if we focus a little too much on “what God did for me” instead of what Jesus Christ has done for all of us. I feel like every time I turn on the television or pick up the newspaper – I hear another story of a person whose life was changed by a good book, a nice friend, a tragic experience. And I wonder, what is the difference between their story and my own? They were saved by 12 steps, I was saved by Jesus – their life is healthy and full because of Dr. Phil’s advice, and mine is healthy and full because of Jesus… But if this is how I conceive of the gospel, as my story against others, I’ve confused the actors – I’ve gotten the names all mixed up and the story doesn’t make sense. Because the gospel is about what Jesus Christ did on the cross. That is the central focus, not on something in my life, something that happened to me – but something that Jesus did. And I firmly believe that if we are to share our faith, we need to focus on Jesus’ story. Because ultimately, it is Jesus’ story. We are supporting actors. And part of proclaiming Jesus as Lord, is about subordinating ourselves, bowing our knee and acknowledging who the hero is…

One of the greatest statements I have heard regarding the empowering of sharing the story of Christ comes from the pastor, missionary, theologian Lesslie Newbigin, “I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you.”

When we are sure in the knowledge of who the gospel story is about, who’s work is central and who’s work is secondary, we are empowered to share the gospel story without worry or fear – knowing that the God who overcame the grave is the ultimate hero.

Note: If you steal this sermon and preach it as your own... God will know.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Easter - reflections on my family

Last weekend we were lucky enough to host most of my family for Easter. We enjoyed good food together, took a family portrait and were able to celebrate both Good Friday and Easter Sunday in worship. Being 8 hours (or more) away from my family in Canada makes these times, rare as they are, all the more special, especially now that we have a baby. It was so neat to see my brother and sisters interact with little Brennan, and to see my parents, especially my mom, just oggle and dote on him. I know they loved coming down, I know they loved seeing him (for the first time) and I know they wish they could do it more often.

Easter is the most special and significant holiday in the year, we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. And as Christians, we live and celebrate as a community - one family. But the family of our blood, when we are united in faith, has an especially significant bond. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate this fact more and more. I can sit here and joke about the idiocyncracies of my family, the little quirks that make it odd - I can even lament not having this or that - but it's worthless. Because that is my family, and the more time I spend with them the more I realize how blessed I am to have them. I realize how much I love them.

When I look at my son, I can't help but gush with love for him. And in that, I can't help but imagine how my parents felt about me, their love for me. I realize that no one is perfect. Parents do the best they can with what they have. They do the best they can for their kids and hope that it will work out. My parents did that for me, and I love them for that.

I wish I could spend more time with them. I wish they could spend more time with their grandson - their nephew. But right now, that's not possible. Maybe in the future that will be - I hope so. In the meantime, I will have to enjoy the times we do have together. I'm looking forward to a reunion in June, and hopefully having my little sister and brother down for a week in July. They're my family, and I love them...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter - 2 Years Removed

While I was busy last week, I came across a few things in some boxes. One of which was the insert from either the Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service at Bel Air Pres where I was on staff before coming to Princeton. I had made some notes on the subject of Easter and, interestingly enough, on the subject of mission. I thought I'd post them here, nearly verbatem as a testament to how God weaves certain motifs in your mind over time. The idea of mission especially.

I wrote this as something to be spoken, so I've transposed it in light of that:

You may not be able as yet to proclaim the triumph of His resurrection-
But do not go home tonight and live in the emptiness of His death.

You may be able as yet to affirm the day of His return -
But do not give in to the darkness of night.
For just as night gives way to day and darkness to the advance of the sun-
Know that the Son of Man
the King of Kings
the Lord of Lords did not remain in the tomb.
Accept the knowledge, accept the peace, accept the words that he left his disciples with.
Do not fear, do not doubt, do not worry.

Some additional notes I made concerning misssion, also concerned our new favourite disciple: Judas. But I have no comments on the new gnostic gospel bearing his name...

Why did Jesus Die and Why did the people turn on him?
-He didn't live up to their expectations

Why did Judas betray Jesus?
-He wasn't doing what Judas thought he should

Why did Peter raise the sword to the High Priest's servant?
-He didn't understand Jesus' mission

You have a choice, will you decide Jesus mission for him?
Or will you accept HIS mission for Himself and HIS mission for you?

His mission is not power but meakness
His mission is not merely justice but mercy
His mission is not merely for His glory but our redemption, our reconciliation
He came out of love, will you decide to accept that love?
Is God's mission good enough for you?

Do not mistake it for your own.
It is HIS work, HIS action, HIS love that enables.
When you hear of His pain, know that he did it for you.
When you hear of His death, know that he did it for you.
It is HIS Mission and He did it for you.

I preach in 4 days on John 20:24-29 - the exchange between Jesus and Thomas. It will be interesting to see exactly what transpires, but I think some of this ethos will flow into it, much of what I've been reading and thinking about this year and hopefully, even more of the Holy Spirit and the message that God wants the people to hear...

Sunday, April 16, 2006


So this is what it's like to be gone for a week? Not too bad.

I had a major paper due Tuesday for my Hebrew Narratives class and my family was here for Easter weekend from Canada. It was a whirlwind week and I've come across a few things that I want to post on, so - they're forthcoming, very shortly...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Gospel...

Just because I'm swamped with a presentation (which we finished - thank Goodness!) a Paper & sermon, internship report and post-Easter sermon, it doesn't mean that all of you out there (and I just KNOW there are a huge number of people who read this...) should suffer. So here's one of the best quotes I think I've ever come across concerning what we have to offer in regard to sharing the gospel. Feel free to tell me what you think of it, it's from Lesslie Newbigin's "Truth and Authority in Modernity - a great, short read.

Perhaps one final point needs to be made. If, in the postmodern world, we tell our story, we will be met with the rejoinder: Yes of course. That is your story. But there are other stories. Why should we believe this one?” How does the Christian respond to this? Clearly we must resist the temptation to propose some supposedly more fundamental and more reliable truth on the basis of which the story of the gospel could be validated. Certainly we may try to show how the biblical story makes sense of human life in a way that no other can; but even this becomes clear only when one is part of the story. In the end, the only answer we have to give to the question is along such lines as these: ‘I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you.’ That invitation will come with winsomeness if it comes from a community in which the graced of the Redeemer is at work. Whether or not it is accepted is not a matter in our power. To be anxious about it, to fret about it, is a sign of unbelief. The one who invites is in control, not we.” P. 82-83

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Crazy New Jersey

These photos were taken outside our apartment today - April 5th, a day that was forcast to have a high of 48 degrees, 3 days after it hit 78 degrees and everyone was wearing shorts and sandals!

This is definitely the oddest place I have ever lived. So far, the entire State does not live up to its reputation as being the armpit of the U.S. but it is indeed ODD! I just thought all of you who don't live here might enjoy a small window into this world...

Monday, April 03, 2006

First Love...

When Bridgette & I first started dating, there were certain things that we did, certain things that I did for her. But as our relationship moved along, some of those things were set aside, just as most of us men do. Unfortunately, like all of us, the question comes "how come you don't do ______ anymore?"

I realized something as I was praying this morning, that this was a fairly good analogy of my spiritual life. I felt like God was saying - "you've lost your first love - go back to what you did at first" Which included a heck of a lot more prayer and reading of my bible.

As I've been at Princeton, I've kinda felt that there's a definite lack of that, there are a number of people who feel they're struggling - not with their faith per se, but more so maintaining the same kind of relationship with Christ that existed before they came here. Princeton is an academic institution, and it can sap you if you don't continue to do the things that got you here - spiritually. No one is holding your hand and asking you if you prayed, if you read the bible devotionally, if you're following Jesus as your LORD. It's not out of maliciousness or anything, it's not some kind of Liberal plot or anything like that. It's simply the way it is.

So, personally, I'm being challenged by the words of "him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks amon gthe seven golden lampstands." who calls me out saying "You have forsaken your first love... do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamptsand from its place..."