The Cross As Surprise

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 13.31-35; Philippians 2.1-11

In the book, The Shack, Mack is a man who encounters, after a tragedy in his life, encounters the triune God. The triune God comes to Mack as an African-American woman, a middle Eastern man and an Asian woman. At one point in the story of their conversation Mack sits with Jesus, the middle Eastern man.

“Jesus?”

“Yes, Mackenzie,” says Jesus.

“I am surprised by one thing about you.”

“Really? What?” asked Jesus.

“I guess I expected you to be more uh, humanly striking.”

Jesus chuckled. “Humanly striking? You mean handsome?” Now he was laughing.

“”Well, I was trying to avoid that, but yes. Somehow I thought you’d be the ideal man, you know, athletic and overwhelmingly good looking.”

“It’s my nose, isn’t it?” says Jesus.

Mack didn’t know what to say.

Indeed, what do we say about a Jesus with a big nose. Because we like our Jesus to be good looking. We like our Jesus to be the ideal man. We like our Jesus to be successful. Glorious. Practically glowing. Isn’t that what the pictures do for us? We like our Jesus to have a face like Matthew Mcconaughey (or substitute a hotty of your choice). We like him to have a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger (or substitute an athlete of your choice, except without the steroids). We like our Jesus to have a resume filled with success and achievement. We would prefer that Jesus be the person that we would like to be.

This is the season of Lent, and what I like about The Shack’s Jesus (having a big nose), is that it hints that Jesus is somehow not like we expect. Somehow Jesus does not fit the image that we would create for him if we were directing the movie. How many times have you seen an ugly Jesus.

But we are not sitting in the director’s chair. We are not the authors of the story. We are the hearers. The witnesses. And in this season, we hear the story not of a triumphant conquering hero, we hear the story of an accused criminal, going to the cross and dying there.

It is true that the resurrection is on the other side of that story. It is true that the story ends well as Paul says, God exalts him, giving him the name above every name, but if you read the story of scripture, if you measure the number of verses and what they deal with, there’s a whole lot more material about Jesus’ death, his story of his journey to the cross, than there is about the resurrected Jesus. The one we prefer. So if we want to struggle with the story faithfully, if we want to take seriously the wilderness of Lent and where it takes us, then we can’t jump to the end too quickly.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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