IVP - Online Pulpit - April 2011 Archives

April 28, 2011

Easter Reflections

By Mae Elise Cannon

During this Easter season, I am reminded of the great privilege of living in the Holy Land, with the opportunity to spend significant time in many of the places where Jesus lived and ministered during his time on earth. The Mount of Olives is one of my favorite places to sit, reflect and worship. Overlooking the city of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives reminds us of the time Jesus spent on the earth and also the promise that one day there will be a New Jerusalem:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:1-3)

Jesus’ time on the earth not only ministered to people in the “here and now” but also provided the promise for a different future.

Dominus Flevit

Walking down from the top of the Mount of Olives, there is a church that commemorates the site where Jesus wept for Jerusalem. The church is called Dominus Flevit, which means “The Lord wept.” As Jesus was descending the Mount of Olives on the road to Jerusalem, the people began to worship him. They spread their cloaks in the road and waved palm branches as he passed. These disciples cried out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). When Jesus saw Jerusalem, he was deeply troubled. The Scriptures tell us in Luke 19:41-42:

As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

Jesus grieved over the brokenness that he saw in the city of Jerusalem and in the world. The people of Jerusalem missed their opportunity; they failed to see “the time of God’s coming.” It was as if Jesus’ disciples understood bits and pieces of Jesus’ message, but didn’t have a comprehensive picture of what was happening or what was yet to transpire.

Garden of Gethsemane

As one proceeds down the steep incline on the Mount of Olives, a pilgrim will come across a large church commemorating the possible site of the Garden of Gethsemane. However, on the other side of the street, away from the hordes of tourists and the thousands of people who come to visit the Church of All Nations (or the Church of the Agony), there is an olive garden hidden in the recesses that is often quiet and peaceful. This is a profound place to reflect on the struggling of Jesus when he was in the garden with the disciples on the night before his crucifixion. This is very close to the place where Jesus would have uttered these words (Lk 22:42): “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Although the disciples had fallen asleep, we are told that Jesus was not alone. “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Lk 22:43). However, Jesus was in anguish and “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk 22:44). I have heard some say that Jesus’ wrestling in the Garden of Gethsemane is indication of Jesus’ humanity; an argument against his divinity. However, I believe that Jesus’ wrestling in this garden is one of the most profound glimpses of the true miracle of Jesus’ incarnation: Christ as fully human, fully divine. Christ willingly entered into the suffering of humanity. The wrestling of Christ indicates the deepest form of empathy and compassion as he sacrificed himself to carry out the will of God; “not my will, but yours be done.”

Golden Gate

If one continues to walk past the Garden of Gethsemane, through the Kidron Valley and up to the Old City of Jerusalem, one can see the “Golden Gate” or the “Gate of Eternal Life.” It is believed that this gate to the Old City is where the Messiah will appear again when he returns (Ezek 44:1-3). In ancient times this gate was known as “Beautiful Gate.” In 1541, the gate was sealed by the Ottoman leader Suleiman I in order to prevent the return of the Messiah. Looking upon the gate, there are thousands and thousands of graves which surround it—the burial place of many hoping to be the first to rise when the Messiah comes again. The Golden Gate is a reminder to Christ followers of the hope that we profess in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our Lord and Savior is one who lived and suffered on this earth. He understands our every need and sorrow; he gives us joy and hope for the future restoration of his creation. As we reflect on this Easter season, co-workers and laborers in the ministry of the gospel, may we: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” for “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).

cannonOP.jpgMae Elise Cannon served as Executive Pastor of Hillside Covenant Church in Walnut Creek, CA and is currently living in the Holy Land. She also wrote the Social Justice Handbook.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:49 AM

April 20, 2011

3 Reflections on Holy Week

Below are the reflections of 3 pastors on 2 questions: “How do you create a new excitement and dedication to an annual event like Easter?” and “What is your favorite part about taking the Church through Holy Week?”

gladdingOP.jpgSean Gladding was co-pastor at Mercy Street in Houston, TX and is now part of Communality in Lexington, KY. He recently wrote The Story of God, the Story of Us.

Our community has developed a rhythm for holy week which helps us to enact and experience anew the events of that week in Jerusalem two millennia ago. We begin with a Seder meal on Wednesday, in which we are reminded that our story has its roots deeply planted in the story of Israel and that the God of the exodus event has delivered humanity once and for all from bondage to sin and its effects. On Thursday we wash each others’ feet, an opportunity to humble ourselves, serve each other and ask for forgiveness for anything that lies between us. On Friday we gather in the darkness of a Tenebrae service, as we remember that the Light of the world succumbed to the darkness. But that is not the end of the Story.

On Easter Sunday we gather in the cemetery in our neighborhood, among the daffodils, tulips and new leaves that signal the end of the darkness of winter and the coming of new life in the spring, and there we celebrate the resurrection—new creation!—and share a feast together after the fasting of lent. We sit among the tombs, next to our community garden, and there we pledge ourselves anew to partner with God in the work of new creation.

Christ is risen! Hallelujah!

cannonOP.jpgMae Elise Cannon served as Executive Pastor of Hillside Covenant Church in Walnut Creek, CA and is currently living in the Holy Land. She also wrote the Social Justice Handbook.

Having led a local church as an executive pastor, I have a tendency to be more of a linear thinker. Thus, when planning celebrations such as Lenten services and Easter Sunday, it is important for me to encourage the participation of people in the congregation who are creative types, artists and visionaries. There are endless possibilities of creative ways to celebrate the risen Christ through the use of art, music, drama and other dynamic elements. During one of my favorite Easter seasons, the church focused on the song “In Christ Alone.” For the four Sundays prior to Easter, the sermon for each week focused on one of the sections of the song. Each week, as we sang together, the congregation celebrated the truth of Easter and the wonderful gift of Christ’s death on our behalf. We were weekly reminded of the truth and good news of the gospel message, with its culmination in Easter—the glorious hope that we as Christians profess and celebrate in Christ alone.

Holy Week is a small microcosm of the reality of Christian life and experience. In one week the body of Christ has the opportunity to intentionally remember and enter into the grief, sorrow and loss of the Passion of Christ, and then, with the dawning of the sun on Easter morning, to celebrate with great hope and expectation the victory of his resurrection and the promise that one day he will return. I am deeply grateful for the reminder of Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). This passage refers to more than the end of Jesus’ human life. It is a reminder that the debt of our sins has been paid; the brokenness of the world might once again be made right because of Jesus’ death on the cross. These words have traditionally been called by the church the “Words of Triumph” because they are a reminder that in Christ, victory has been won and the forces of evil have been conquered. Easter represents our great hope as we continue to wait in eager anticipation for the dawning of a new day when the world will be completely restored in its relationship with our Creator.

ComiskeyOP.jpgAndrew Comiskey is a pastor and founder/director of Desert Stream Ministries. He recently released his new book, Naked Surrender.

Holy Week is about the cross, the centerpiece of our faith. It is at once our liberty as a church and our challenge. In order for we, the church, to fully access the liberty of the cross, we must embraced its challenge. So the cross deserves our concerted attention. That’s what Holy Week affords us: the chance to follow Jesus to Calvary, marveling at his faithfulness, facing our infidelities and their cure. His cross thus becomes ours as we surrender anew to his life. Clearly the most important week of the year for the local church.

On Holy Week, I enlist members of the body to illuminate Peter as the “every(wo)man” of Holy Week. His response to Jesus at every juncture of the week becomes the theme. We see in his enthusiasm, his bold proclamations, his flight, and finally his repentance the essence of ourselves—the church. Our prayer: “O God, make us infidels faithful through your faithful love demonstrated at Calvary.”

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:03 AM

April 18, 2011

Notes From an Experience of Fasting and Praying

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:12-13)

This fast takes me back to when I was a boy growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church. When we listed the food items we would be fasting from during Lent, we did it out of obligation thinking somehow we would become “better people” and that God would be “pleased” with our sacrifice. I don’t think I have progressed much beyond that.

I began with noble goals of toppling idols and of drawing closer to God, but in the middle of the fast the temptation is toward performance and results — specifically, spiritual performance that tempts me to a religious pride, and to physical results because I am losing unneeded weight. God is lost in the details of the very thing meant to find him. It becomes more about what I can do by means of this religious exercise as opposed to what God can do in me. It ends up becoming a type of self-help process by which I prove I don’t need the grace of God.

The temptation is to forget my first love, basically. If there is one thing that Jesus proved during his temptation, it was that he depended upon the father totally. He did nothing in his own power. My hope is that as I continue, I will lean more heavily upon the Lord. By his grace, I will lean less upon food and even less upon myself!

There were times I’d long for a piece of pizza—not so much because I was hungry, but for the sheer pleasure of taste. So God uses the fast to inform me of how hedonistic I really am.

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed how often food is advertised in the newspaper, on television, at the movies, or on billboards until now! One gets the paranoid feeling that the world is out to sabotage one’s fast. Perhaps the devil is not pleased when we seek heavenly bread and wants to divert our attention as often as possible. I am reminded of his encounter with Jesus where he suggested that Jesus transform stones into bread. Jesus’ answer is amazing:

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

If there is one thing that Jesus proved during his temptation, it was that he depended upon the Father totally. He did nothing in his own power. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,” he responded when faced with temptation. If you are fasting during this time (and even if you are not), you too will be tempted—but not just with food. You will be tempted to live life on your own power, even life with God. So stay close to Jesus if you are fasting during Lent.

saresOP.jpgThanks to Mike Sares for this contribution. Mike is the pastor of Scum of the Earth in Denver, CO and author of the book Pure Scum.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:53 AM