Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Third Day Always Comes

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 24:1-12:

Charlie was a standout football player in the state of Missouri when he was growing up.  But not only did he stand out on the athletic field, he also excelled in the classroom and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy, where he also flourished, graduating near the top of his class.  After graduation he became an officer in the Marine Corp and served on the front lines of the first gulf war, we need to stop having wars that have sequels.  While he was in Iraq, Charlie was awarded several decorations and he came home to his small town as a hero.  Everyone was proud of their boy and couldn’t say enough things about him.

But as happens with many soldiers, Charlie came home with some issues that were not properly dealt with and he began spiraling downward into mental illness and he started committing violent crimes, which ended him up in jail, where his mental issues left untreated only proceeded to get worse.  He lost an extraordinary amount of weight; he chewed off the tips of some of his fingers, and then gouged out one of his eyes with his own hands, and ended up in the psychiatric unit at the prison.  Every week Charlie’s parents, Bill and Barb, would visit him, and would sometimes bring the pastor of their Methodist church, Scott Chrostek.  But Charlie was no longer known as the great athlete or war hero, he was now known for the crimes he had committed and what he had become in prison.  He was not talked about as much and certainly was not heralded as the person that others should emulate or people they wanted their sons to be like.

After being released after serving several years in prison, Charlie was placed into a half-way house near his parents’ home and he began coming to church with them, and then he asked the pastor if he could begin serving as an usher.  Rev. Chrostek said he was got scared, and wondered how people would respond.  How would they feel about seeing Charlie serving in this position? And what would they see, after all he didn’t look great, he was missing some of his fingertips, and one eye was gone, what would people do?  But Scott said yes, and the next week Charlie was handing out bulletins.  Scott still said he was so afraid of what might happen.  The first few people through the door, kind of smiled and took their bulletins from Charlie, and then as more people saw him they sort began to brighten up and say “hey Charlie, good to see you, how you doing,” and Charlie thrived in the role.  He began to put on weight, he began wearing nicer clothes, he got his hair cut and eventually began taking some courses at a local college.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Here is my sermon from Sunday. Part four in our series on the people of the passion. The text was Luke 22:1-6, 14-16, 21-27, 47-53:

In one of the most dramatic scenes in theater, Julius Caesar is attacked by those conspiring against him, including his beloved friend Brutus, and Caesar utters the words that have echoed down to us since the day that Shakespeare first wrote them, “et tu, Brute?”  Then Caesar says words that are just as important, but not as well known, “then fall, Caesar.”  That might be one of the most famous scenes of betrayal in history, except, of course, for the one we just heard between Jesus and Judas, but I have to be honest and say that I think that Judas might be one of the most tragic and misunderstood characters of history, maybe especially in Judas’ understanding of himself.

Often in the New Testament, people’s names will tell us something about who they are.  While there are several Judases in the gospels, including another disciple, the Judas we are focusing on today is referred to as Judas Iscariot, or Judas of Iscariot, Judas the one called Iscariot, among several others, not only so we can tell him apart from the other Judases, but also to give us some information, but the problem is we don’t really know what that means.  The answer you are most likely to find is that Iscariot may mean “man of Kerioth”, a town recorded in the book of Joshua as being in southern Israel, but there are some problems with this identification.  The first is that there is no indication that the town of Kerioth still existed 1200 years after Joshua mentions it, as there is no record of it during the time of Jesus. The other problem is that all of the other disciples’ were from Galilee, where Jesus is from, so what would someone from southern Judea be doing up in Galilee?  Does that mean it’s impossible, of course not, and if it that is true, it would mean that Judas was different and separate from the other disciples from the very beginning.

Some scholars have speculated that Iscariot may mean that Judas was a member of a group of zealots called the sicarrii.  We know that at least one other disciple, Simon, but not Simon Peter, was called a zealot, but the sicarrii were a special group who assassinated other Jews whom they saw as collaborators with the Romans, including the high priest Jonathan, using hidden knives, from where they get their name.  Another option is that Iscariot comes from an Aramaic word meaning “red color,” so maybe Judas was a red head, and we all know about red heads.  In the end, where most scholars who have worked on this issue end up, is that while they may have their personal preference, the truth is that we simply don’t know what the term Iscariot means and it may even be that 40 plus years after the facts that even the writers of the gospels no longer knew what it meant either.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Peter the Denier

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 22:31-34, 54-62:

Just about every time we see an interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter, or when we see Peter by himself doing something, I imagine Jesus’ putting his head in his hands and shaking it and saying “Peter, Peter, Peter,” because Peter just never seems to get it.  He wants to get it.  He wants it so badly you can feel for him.  But Peter is the impetuous one.  We could say that he is the extravert’s extravert, but I’m not sure it has anything necessarily to do with extraversion; instead it appears that Peter has no filters in his life.  Whatever he thinks to say immediately comes out of his mouth, and whatever he thinks to do he immediately does.  Most of us know someone like this, and while there is something endearing about it, there is also something totally exasperating, and that is what we see with Peter.

During the Sundays of lent we are looking at the people we find in the passion story.  So far in looking at the people we find at the cross and at the trial, we really know very little about the characters involved.  They have little back-story or little other involvement in the gospel narratives.  Even with people like Mary, Jesus’ mother, we just don’t know very much.  We have her at the beginning, we have her at the cross, but there are few stories of her in between, and where she does have interactions they are very limited.  Peter, on the other hand, is someone who is crucial to the story that is told not only when Jesus is alive, but also post resurrection and in the beginning of the church.  Peter is maybe the most important disciple, and while it has been said that besides for Jesus himself that Paul is the most important person in the history of Christianity, it could be argued that Peter comes in third in importance.