Waiting to Cry

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17)

These words were written to a struggling group of people. They were a small group relatively speaking.  Their size does not diminish their faith. Neither does it gain them any standing with their neighbors. They are different from everyone else. They are not like the Jews. Rome has learned to deal with the Jews. These Christians are different. They are pushed to the fringes of society and deprive at times of making a living. They are like persons of Hispanic descent living in Arizona. But rather than producing a document to show they are legal residents, they are invited to worship the emperor Domitian. When they refuse –their lives are in peril.

John writes to them to not provide an escape, but to give them hope. John writing from exile on the isle of Patmos understands as well as anyone that following Christ does provide for way around the harsh, brutal hatred unleashed by the powerful on those who are different from them.  John writes to give courage and encouragement to Christians who are living through a time of great tribulation.

No more hunger and no more thirst are words of amazing comfort to a group of people who have been enduring a place in society where their capacity to provide for themselves and their families is limited by those had the power to gainfully employee them. What do you do to provide food, clothing, and shelter? You get a job. You earn your keep. What if no one will give you a job because you are a follower of Christ?  You go hungry. You watch your family go hungry. It is a terrible kind of suffering.

John says, they will hunger no more, and thirst no more.

You can be certain that if there is work, it is the work that no one else is willing to do. It is the work done in the worse conditions. Under blazing Sun and Scorching heat. But if that is the only work that you can get, you take it gladly.

John says, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat

In the midst of such living—stress, strain, fear, worry—doubts and uncertainty must have arisen from time to time. The tension between keeping the faith and surviving may at times have become unbearable. What to do? Would not life be easier if we just looked, acted, spoke, worshipped like everyone else? What to do?

John says the Lamb at the center of the throne will be the shepherd. The lamb of God who died for you, will be your Shepherd. In your uncertainty, let the lamb be your shepherd. In your doubt, let he lamb be your shepherd. He is the one that will show you the way through this time of tribulation. He is the one who will show you the way to God.  He will guide you to the water of life. Water is life. Then and now, we cannot live without.

John’s vision touches his readers in places where they have very real hurts and constant anxieties. He creates an image for them of a time where there is no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching sun. He writes of a shepherd who was a lamb who will lead them to the water of life.

And then he adds and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. What must that look to a people in the middle of live a trying life? To people with so many reason to shed tears? To a mother struggling to care for her children? To a father seeking to provide for and protect his family? To men, women, boys, girls, families seeking to faithful to what they know of God while they suffer intense persecution?

What does it look like to you? The idea of the God who took on flesh, dwelt among us and died for us reaching down to wipe away your tears, what does that look like to you? What tears would God be wiping away? How did they get there?

Perhaps more than any other aspect of this scene, this notion of tears being wiped away grabs us. Because we have tears, we cry, we weep. Maybe not today, maybe not right now but we have done so and we will again.  John knows that about the people that he is writing to just as we know it about each other. We do not escape from our trials or our tribulations. For that, John gives us an image of our tears being wiped away by God.

No more tears. In a world that so often has so many reasons to cry, to sob, to weep, how outlandish is it to speak of time when God will wipe those tears away once and for all. In a world crowded with people just waiting to cry is possible that there will come a time when no more tears will be shed?

I am leaning on the fence next to the track waiting for my son’s event.  I am not alone, other spectators are behind me in the stands, some have found a place along the fence, others are moving from one place to another. There is much activity and excitement. The day is absolutely gorgeous.

In the midst of all that activity, I notice that someone is standing beside me. He speaks, “I am not supposed to be here.” “No?” “I am not supposed to be within three hundred yards of this place.”   I want to say “Hey, sorry man, but I am off the clock.” “I am not here working, I am here watching.” I don’t say that. I don’t say that because there is something in his voice when he speaks. He is not just speaking, he is exhaling words. He is speaking because he cannot keep from speaking. He is hurting. I can tell by the sound of his voice. He is about to cry.

So, I listen. They are separated. His wife made allegations. There is a restraining order. She could not make it to the track meet. His daughter called him and asked him to come. That is why he is here, even though he is not supposed to be here, not supposed to be within three hundred yards of her.  He does not cry out loud, but I can see the tears in eyes.

That is the world in which we live. There are all kinds of people out there just waiting to cry. So when John talks about God wiping away our tears we perk up. We know tears. We know the pain, the hurt, the disappointment from which they spring.  A time and place when God will wipe them away once and for all no more tears seems rather delightful, rather joyous. A time and a place that we would like to get to. The resurrection makes such a time and such place a real hope.

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How do Women Preachers Dress on Easter?

Early in the morning she is on her way to the cemetery, to the place where he was laid to rest. What is going through her mind as she makes her way to his grave?

Maybe she is blaming herself. Reliving the last few days or even years to try to figure what she might have done to cause his death or what she might have done to prevent it.  Painstakingly, she examines her words, her actions trying to find a clue to help her understand why this has happened. What could she have done that would cause things to turn out differently?

Perhaps she is too scared to be thinking of what she might have done or not done, said or not said. Maybe she is concerned for her own safety.  After all, he is dead. Will they stop with him or will they come after those who followed him?  If she is afraid, her fear is not enough to keep from going to where he is buried. Others may be too frightened to venture out, but not her. Fear or no fear, she will go to him.

She may well be numb. Grief does that sometimes, just leaves a person mercifully numb. With the immense tragedy of the loss floating somewhere beyond the reaches of her mind, she puts one foot in front of the other. At least, she is moving. One step at a time, she goes to him. What will she do when she gets there? Cry some more. Who knows? All she can handle right now is putting one foot in front of the other. She will figure the rest out when the time comes.

She does get there. They all have her there on that first Easter morning, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some of the details and characters vary, but each of them place Mary Magdalene at the tomb of her Lord that morning.

Weeping outside the tomb she hears a voice. He calls her name. In that moment the first Easter sermon gets written. Later she will proclaim to the others, “I have seen the Lord!”

Every sermon preached this Sunday will in some way expand on what Mary said that first Easter morning.  No doubt, they will be longer than hers. Filled out with illustrations and a poem or two they will be meaningless without the truth of her first Easter sermon.  If her words are not true, there is no church.  A movement that gave hope, healing and meaning to a good many people merely fades into annals of time.  Without the truth of her words, all that could be said is that a good man died. The same thing could be said of many good men and good women over the last 2000 years. Their names are in history books and they are remembered from time to time.

However, because of the truth of her witness, people don’t just think about Jesus from time to time.  Some people think of him every day. Some gather weekly with others to worship him. A good many more find their way to a sanctuary each year to celebrate Christmas and Easter. All the words in all the years since that resurrection morning spoken in all the places were the name of Jesus has been praised are preceded by Mary’s simple, yet earth changing message, “I have seen the Lord.”

I know that there are those who would say that five words do not make a sermon. Yet, on that first Easter morning those five words are the best preachin’ available. If that is all the preaching that happens on the first Easter, some may wonder why God did not arrange the order of things so that those words come from the mouth of a man rather than Mary’s.  If God did not want women to preach, then why is it that on the most significant day in Christian history the most significant message in Christian history, along with specific instructions to deliver it is given to a woman?

The question arises “How do women preachers dress?” Well, the first one dressed like a grief stricken soul whose deep sadness was turned to great joy.   Cloaked in numbing sorrow, she was wearing resurrection life before she was finished. This is to say that what a woman wears when she is proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not really the point at all.  The point is that she has had an experience with the risen Lord,   an experience so real, so life-changing that she cannot help but tell others.

May the church that bears his name have ears to hear the words of his servants, male and female, as Mary’s sermon gets reused again.

Easter, Our Best Day.

Today we remember and celebrate that day in history when our Lord’s tomb was found empty and his disciples were startled to learn that death did not have the last word.  So it is that Easter is always the best day for the church.  Simply put, without the resurrection, there is no church, period, end of story.  A good teacher, a fantastic healer, a compassionate feeder of the hungry, and a tireless advocate for the poor died.  Without resurrection that is all Jesus would have been; and while we might still remember Him, there would be little to celebrate.

Yet, we believe that God was in Christ reconciling Himself to the world in all of the events leading up to and, of course, including Easter. That being the case, Easter is far more than just a day for those who would profess faith in Christ.  It is the event that is foundational to all the ways that we might know God and be known by God.  No one day is big enough to hold all that Easter means to the church nor what it does in the lives of individual believers.

The question arises: If Easter is the defining event in God’s ongoing effort to connect with God’s creation, have you had your Easter yet?  As a body of believers, we celebrate His resurrection. We have remembered His suffering and His victory over sin and death.  Even so, the truth of the matter is that Christ did not simply die for all of us; He died for each one of us.  Easter is always the best day for Christ’s church, but the event itself is an intensely personal matter for those individuals who make up that church.  Frankly, sometimes it is easier to keep Easter at a distance.  Sure, let the choir sing, let the preacher preach, and certainly the children will want to hunt for eggs.

We find it easier living around the surface of our lives most of the time.  We focus our energy and effort on exterior components of our living rather than the interior, living from the outside in rather than from the inside out.  This tendency makes having a personal Easter experience somewhat difficult.  The Easter event did not just happen on the first day of the week.  There was that final meal on Maundy Thursday.  Then there was the betrayal and arrest in the garden.  Before Jesus was finally nailed to the cross, there was a trial and Peter’s denial. Ultimately, there was a tomb with a stone rolled in front of it.  The church tries, sometimes better than others, to remember the events leading up to Easter.  Those events are an important part of the story.

They are also important for us as individuals as we seek to let the reality of Easter inhabit our lives.  The truth is that many of the events leading up to Easter are not filled with overly pleasant memories.  In fact, some of those events reveal the darkness of evil at work in the world, and quite naturally we would rather not linger near them any longer than we have to.

In a similar way, within us there are places that are marked by betrayal and denial.  There are stored away deep within us the transcripts from the trials we have endured, and perhaps even the trials through which we have put others.  Inside of us there are crosses that we have born and may still bear.  To be certain, there are tombs; there are graves where parts of us have died or maybe where we wish we had.

We cannot get to the Easter that would happen within us if we only pay attention to the concerns on the surface of our lives.  We cannot get to it without rising up earlier on the third day to go to those places down in our souls where we expect to find heavy stones marking the dead places within us, only to find that they have been rolled away.  If we don’t go to those interior places, to those hurting times in our lives, to those dying times that we have pushed to the very bottom of our memories, we cannot know whether or not the stones are still there.  We cannot know if they have been rolled away or not.

Christ is risen!  That is the easy part.  The more important question for each of us to ask is whether or not He is alive in us.  Has the risen Christ taken residence in our lives, rolling back the stones that cover the tombs in our lives?   These are Easter questions, questions that we do well to ask, not just on one Sunday morning in the spring of the year, but each day that we seek to follow the resurrected Christ.   That may seem like something of a burden, yet it points us to the image of Christ standing at the doorways of our lives, knocking and waiting for us to open our lives fully and completely to Him.

Part of the wonderful mystery of Easter is that Christ is risen, and whether invited or not invited, Christ is near to our lives seeking to love us anyway He can.

Eastering

Today is Easter. The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. It is the most significant day of the year for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, we celebrate the glory and wonder of the Easter every other Sunday of the year. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. It is the day of his resurrection. God is alive and we are not alone. God lives and because God lives God’s love, grace, mercy, compassion, justice and peace is alive as well. All that is God is living in our midst regenerating lives, reconciling relationships and redeeming creation. In Easter, we see as much of God as we can see in this world. Easter is God’s most loving moment. It is God saying as loudly and clearly as God can say that God wants to be in a loving relationship with God’s creation.

As such, Easter is the defining event in human history. God, the creator of all that we know and can ever know gives to us, sacrifices for us and suffers for us that we can know God, know that God is with us and know that God loves us. Of all the ways that we might respond to what God has done in Easter, one of those ways has to be wonder. How can we help but wonder at the mystery of it all. That one so great could care so profoundly for us is beyond our understanding and comprehension. To explain it or to try and make sense of it baffles the human mind. Yet, God did it for us.

Because God’s love for us is most clearly and fully demonstrated to us in the Easter event we worship. In light of what God gives to us in Easter, we offer ourselves back to God in worship. We sing and we pray, but on a deeper level, we finally worship when we cease our efforts to maintain control of our lives and give ourselves wholly to God. Whatever form or mode our worship may take it truly becomes worship as we offer our lives back to the one who has given love and life to us.

In response to Easter we wonder, we worship and we work. We work not because we have to but because we cannot help but to do something. Responding to Easter with mind and spirit alone stops short of adequately expressing the life changing impact of the agonizing cross, the stone rolled away, the tomb empty. What happened in Easter transforms our thinking, our praying and our doing.

At Ball Camp, we live out the Easter reality when we put our faith into action. Whether we are in our community, inner-city Knoxville, the mountains of Kentucky or an ocean away, when act in the name of Jesus we proclaim his resurrection. When we endeavor to act in ways that we believe he would act we demonstrate not just with our words but with our actions that he is alive. Easter is an event we remember. It is a victory we celebrate. It is a vocation we pursue.

For the past month you have heard words and read handouts about the Easter offering for Global Missions. This offering is used to send the story of God’s love all around the world. Workers are able to tell the story of God’s love to some of the world’s most neglected people because of your support of this offering. They are remembering, celebrating and doing Easter. As you give to support this offering, you proclaim the Lord’s resurrection for all the world to hear.

This week we will take a team of folks to McCreary County, Kentucky. We will be working at the Dunsmore’s home. We are going to install new windows in this couples house. We will be taking out and installing. We will be removing and replacing. Most of all we will be Eastering. We will be acting like the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. Come go with us if you can.