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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  • Courageous Ministry

    Dear Friends,

    I hope this month’s edition of the Pulse finds you and your loved ones navigating life and faith with as much grace and self-compassion as possible. I know that some in our community have welcomed summer as a time to travel with family and friends, and to be reunited with loved ones. Others continue to struggle with health issues, isolation, and anxiety about the resurgence of Covid with the Delta variant. In the immortal words of Paul to the Romans, as a community, we “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is a chair or pew here on Sunday mornings for people in all seasons of life, and an open door to my office for any burdens (or celebrations) to be shared. I hope that you will join us or tune in via livestream on August 8th when I incorporate a compassion ritual in our worship services, to mark the lingering impact of Covid on the lives of God’s people everywhere. 

    Whether you have been in Bruner Hall often this summer, or it has been some time since you’ve walked through the doors of FPC, I want to share with you some happenings that I celebrate as we continue to serve faithfully as an inclusive community of faith and compassion at FPC Logan. Since the beginning of Pastor Derek’s sabbatical on June 1st, we welcomed four guest preachers who shared the Good News with us, from Scriptures ranging from Genesis to the Gospels, from Ezekiel to Ephesians. Two of these preachers are women who I’ve had the privilege of mentoring as ministers in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church in Utah. At summer’s end, we will welcome two additional preachers to share in our worship life, and I will conclude my ongoing spiritual disciplines sermon series later this month. 

    This summer, FPC has been home to Loaves & Fishes and a series of Red Cross Blood Drives. In June, our middle schoolers organized and delivered a supplies drive for Cache Humane Society, with two middle schoolers traveling to American Fork Canyon for a reservoir clean-up with presbytery peers. Eight high schoolers from FPC Logan traveled with me to Denver, where we served with Habitat for Humanity for four days, offering a total of 22 hours of service each. In two weeks, we will gather at Stokes Nature Center for earth care efforts. The Mission Committee is gearing up to prepare us for another Mission Sunday at FPC this fall. I learned that just this week, the Sew n’ Sews prepared a large shipment of homemade sanitary pads to benefit our neighbors in Ethiopia. Beth MacDonald and Barbara Troisi have been busy processing Deacon’s Fund applications to provide for the safety and welfare of neighbors here in Cache Valley. Barbara and Dorothy Jones visited our neighbors at Williamsburg with Cache Ministries in early July. Truly, there is no summer break in the ministry of FPC Logan! 

    In their meetings in June and July, your session has thoughtfully and prayerfully navigated decisions about worship safety precautions, knowing that there is no “right answer” about how to be the Church in a pandemic. Even among our Presbyterian churches in Utah, there is no uniform approach to worship in these strange days. We are discerning together, and the updated policy you received this week is the session’s most current discernment of how FPC Logan can be both a welcoming and safe house of worship for every beloved child of God, from the under 12 to the most senior among us. In electing the elders to serve on session, you covenant to pray for them and to abide by their decision-making. I hope and pray that you will continue to do both in the coming days and weeks.  

    Earlier this week, acknowledging the presence and concern of the Delta variant, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, challenged us, the people of the Church, to “wait on the Lord and be of good courage.” Courage has many faces in Scripture and in our society today, but I am drawn to this Sunday’s passage from John in which the crowd went looking for Jesus. When they find him, Jesus instructs them to work for the food that endures for eternal life and reminds them that he is the bread of life. As we take up the charge to be of good courage, I hope that together, as a church community, we will be on the lookout for Jesus, the bread of life. I expect him to surprise us and challenge us, as he always does with his faithful followers in Scripture, the disciples and friends who want to do as Jesus does in the world. You will find him here at FPC Logan, whether we worship in Bruner or the Sanctuary, with or without masks, and you will find him in the community to which we are called as partners in ministry. Come and behold that God is doing a new thing in this place, if we only have the courage to answer the call, to work for the food that endures, and to fix our sight on Jesus, the bread of life. 

    In Christ’s promises,

    Pastor Meg

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