Tag Archives: Gospels

The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sermon given on Sunday, January 14, 2018:  This sermon serves as an introduction to sermons based on the images included in the stained glass window.images

Special note: The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, has a stained glass window that captures God’s story and during a conference the images mesmerized me. The next few weeks, God’s story will be shared based on the artistic images of the window. Thank you to COR for investing in such an artistic interpretation so The Story can live in all who view it or who learn The Story shared by others.  See attached link.

 

Scripture connections:

Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 1:1-5, NLT

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Revelation 1:7-8, NLT

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reflection through art: The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sitting in our sanctuary in rural Missouri, we are wrapped by stained glass windows that share God’s story in brilliant images and vivid colors. The symbolism of the stained glass windows reflects the literature of the Bible; and we are privileged to be surrounded by these windows.

Stained glass windows have spoken to me since a child sitting in my hometown sanctuary where the windows allowed smoky light to filter in during the Sunday morning service as the sun rose behind them. The pew in which I sat each Sunday, I watched the window of Jesus holding the lost lamb. I suspect many recognize that story because they too have seen that picture either in their Bible or in a frame hanging on a wall or in a stained glass window like I did.

My awareness of God’s story and fascination for the stained glass windows probably led to the overwhelming sense of awe as I stepped into the newest sanctuary (hardly an accurate word for the enormous room or auditorium) at Leawood’s (Kansas) Church of the Resurrection. The window is huge and measures 35 feet by 92 feet. [The completed jigsaw puzzle is preserved and on display so others may inspect it as we work through the stories and the meaning of the work.]

Briefly, the window has three primary panels that merge together, bordering along a river path that wraps around the central panel. The first section reflects the Old Testament, the middle section is Christ’s story as found in the New Testament, and the final section is The Church after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The window is packed with images—some very familiar, some less so. But every element of the window carries God’s story forward. There is no time better than today to begin a journey through God’s story as shared in the window.

Let’s begin with Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

 

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

These words share the beginning of our understanding of Creation. The world God created is represented as coming out of the cosmos in the puzzle, a dark purple circle of heavenly-like bodies—an image I recognize from sitting out gazing at the night sky.

What better time than these first weeks after Christmas to review the opening of Genesis and consider the relationship of God to this world. How one perceives Creation, or explains how the world came to be, is not an issue for me. What matters is that there is an omniscient being I know as God, and no matter what, I am convinced that God’s story includes the stories of the Old Testament and led to the necessity of God joining us in the human form of Jesus Christ.

Reading the gospel of John, the Story is summarized in those first five verses:

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 

The words we use each and every day are the very tools to carry God’s story forward. The Bible’s words record the relationship of humans to God, provides examples of life challenges and how faith in God makes the human experience bearable. The words shared through the Bible warn, teach, and love us.

John identifies God as The Word. From the cosmos, the Word became the world we know. The Word carries the story forward so all humanity can understand. The Word gives us the ability to tell the story in so many ways—from the visual images as we see in our own stained glass, in the art hanging on our walls, in the sounds of the music we hear, in the words of the literature we read, and in the words we share with one another.

John is one of four different views of Jesus’ story. The middle panel of the COR stained glass window takes The Word and records it visually for us. The Word shared in the gospels tell the stories of Jesus’ life, but maybe more importantly the words provide us the lessons for living in this world with others from around this world.

Interestingly, John’s gospel ends with these last two verses:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

25 Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

The reality of the Bible is that there is no way that The Word is complete. The Word continues as The Church fueled by the Holy Spirit and this is illustrated in the third phase of COR’s stained glass window.

The panel is filled with the images of disciples who have carried The Word forward around this globe in almost every different setting one might think up. As Jesus the man died on the cross, he commissioned his disciples to become The Church. He did not say build a structure to keep the faithful inside, he said to be The Church. The Word continues in the words, the actions, and the story of the disciples that continue following Jesus’ teachings.

The gospel John shares Jesus’ vision for The Church in the book of Revelation. Again the words confirm and continue the timeless story:

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

As we continue to review the story of God as shared in the words of our Bible and the stories of the people who illustrate living a life faithful to God and serving as The Church, we will see that the gift of Jesus Christ provides all the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

By following The Word, the Teacher and the Holy Spirit as all those before us and those reflected in the COR’s stained glass, we will met Jesus Christ personally. We will see that God is “the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end . . . the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for all your disciples

Who share the Word in the Bible,

In the visual arts of stained glass,

And in the auditory arts of music.

 

We ask for your presence in our lives

As we find you speaking to us

In so many different ways:

Through written words

Through visual arts

And through music.

 

Guide us, too, as we continue your work

Sharing The Word in new and surprising ways.

May we be the Church

Sharing the gifts of hope, love, joy and peace. –Amen

 

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Stages of Faith: Impossible to Believe

given on Sunday, April 30, 2017:  Stage 1 of the 4 stages of faith 

Scripture connection: Luke 24:13-35 (NLT)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[b] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[c]

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Reflection:  Impossible to believe

Easter is over. Or is it?

The Story continues beyond one annual holiday celebration. The Story never ends. The Story is about life eternal and that is impossible to believe. Or is it?

Turn to John 20:1 and just think about the story:

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

 

Jesus’ life ended on a cross. Everybody saw it with his or her own eyes; they could not deny that Jesus was dead. But on that Sunday morning, reality changed. The Story continued and continues yet today. Only one problem, the empty tomb simply seemed impossible to believe. Or is it?

Look at the calendar and you know that right now, right here The Story is well over 2,000 years old. Any study of history or even a geological or archeological study can methodically and scientifically explain the experiences     of humanity. Very little remains mysterious, yet The Story hinges on the empty tomb, and explaining that is a problem for those who need concrete evidence to believe.

Faith is believing what you cannot see. Faith is knowing The Story of Jesus Christ and believing it to be true. But what happens when the belief in the story is filled with uncertainty and questions?

Think about this statement:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe [John 20:2]. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened [John 20:6]. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection [John 20:16]. (4) Then as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them [John 20:28]. (19912346-2347)

 

Reading that study note answers some of my own questions, but not completely. This week the lectionary includes the reading from Luke 24 and I discovered an almost identical study note:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like the disciples, they may pass through four states of belief: (1) At first, they may think it is a fairy tale, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then as they commit themselves to Jesus and devote their lives to serving him, they will begin fully to understand the reality of his presence with them. (19912270)

 

The scriptures throughout the four gospels all include the story of Jesus’ walk to Emmaus, but the Mark version only covers two verses, Mark 16:12-13:

12 Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. 13 They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.

 

The reference to the walk is not nearly as specific in Matthew 28:16-17:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

 

All four books mention Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road, but two accounts provide more details and that may be due to the audience that the writers were addressing. John was written to the newest Christians and those looking for answers, Luke was written to the Gentiles who did not know the prophecies. Mark was written for the Roman citizens who were now Christians while Matthew was written for the Jewish people who were familiar the prophecies and were anticipating the complete story of Jesus.

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful long waiting to have Jesus come and save your people? Are you one of the Roman citizens who is learning the story for the first time? Are you a Gentile, someone who knew nothing about the Jewish faith but were neighbors? Are you looking for answers and you have heard about Jesus and are curious, wanting to know more?

Sometimes placing one’s self into the story is difficult, so consider who you are in today’s culture:

  • Are you one of the many who was born into a Christian family and have always attended church in the traditional way—baptized as an infant or child, went to Sunday school, always attended church, got married in the church, and then raised your family in the same manner? You are reading Matthew with a historical understanding and are expecting Jesus to save you in this world.
  • Are you an American citizen who has learned that Christianity is a faith system that matches your understanding of how laws work to make a society that is productive and nurturing of freedoms? You are reading Mark and seeing how Jesus’ one commandment makes sense in today’s world.
  • Are you a non-believer who is just learning about this Christian faith and need to be convinced that it is a lifestyle that makes a difference and will ‘save’ you providing you eternal life? If so, then you are reading Luke to academically learn and understand what Christianity is and how it works in your life right now.
  • Are you a new Christian, born again, or someone who is seeking to find answers about how to live a happy, productive, even successful life in today’s world? Reading John makes sense to you. It is not overly wordy and it is to the point. No nonsense in telling this story of how Jesus was born and lived.

 

Yet, the story is impossible. Or is it?

What is the rest of the story? As a child of God and the rest of The Story is your story. You are writing The Story with your life, so learning what you believe and what you do is important as you keep Christ alive.

The concern is how to take a story that seems so impossible and follow the message today. How can one live and believe something so old in today’s world? How can something that sounds like a fairy tale make any sense today?

First, remember that literature has a timeless message for all of humanity. Good writing shares ideas that apply in any setting, among any peoples, and at any time in history. Themes in literature never become outdated. The theme of the Bible really boils down to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Remember, Matthew was written for the Jewish people who knew God’s prophecies and were historically prepared for Jesus’ coming. The question demonstrates the skepticism even the faithful had concerning the reality of Jesus. The Pharisees’ interrogation shows how they could not believe what they were witnessing in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ answer combined the Jewish faithful relation with God to a much simpler, inclusive commandment:

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 

The Story continued in Matthew’s gospel. The answer seemingly addressed the Pharisees’ own disbelief, yet change for those people was difficult if not impossible. The threat to the Jewish way of life lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

But The Story did not end with a human death. The Story continues as Jesus left the tomb—resurrected from death. Impossible to believe? Even to those who were eyewitnesses to the three days the resurrection was not real.   If even the eyewitnesses struggled to believe, so do so many in today’s world struggle to believe.

Stage 1 in faith is to hear the story, want to believe, and then accept the story as real. Beginning to believe has to hear the message of the gospel and then start practicing the commandments to love God and to love one another. As Christians, disbelief in The Story is just part of developing one’s faith. What sounds impossible to believe yet appealing, too, opens the door to discipleship.

Discipleship calls us to follow Jesus’ commandments. As we shift our lives into a Christian lifestyle, the impossible becomes believable. When we test God’s lifestyle against those lifestyles existing around us, we discover the reality of God’s grace not only for ourselves but also for others. The impossible to believe story leads to answers in living the challenging lives we live today. Discipleship includes study of the scriptures as well as application of the lessons shared in those words. The Story that seems impossible to believe comes alive as the words turn into actions. Now the impossible is possible.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Forgive us for our disbelief in The Story.

Help us hear you speak to us

In the words shared by your earliest disciples.

 

Forgive us for our uncertainty of The Story.

Help us to practice the simple law

Jesus taught and the disciples preserved.

 

Forgive us for our skepticism about The Story.

Help us test the commandments daily

As The Story becomes real even today.

 

Guide us in our discipleship,

So we may discover the truth

And find the joy of living

In the ‘Sonshine’ of Easter morning

When the impossible became real.

 

In the name of God,

Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Mission Control: Jesus & Us

Scripture connections: (from the Common Lectionary for Year C)

  • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm 32 (UMH )
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Luke 15:1-3,11b-32

Reflection:

Years ago, a movie about a mission’s failure came out—Apollo 13—that provided a breath-taking account of how a mission doomed to failure was salvaged by two teams working together yet separate. The spacecraft circling the moon was doomed to failure if a solution was not found. NASA’s Mission Control frantically working to find a solution on earth with the Apollo 13 crew working within the confines of their own craft circling the moon kept in communication while searching for redemption.

The mission came so close to utter failure with the loss of an American astronaut crew looming. There was no giving up. There had to be a solution. At that time, there was no shuttle between earth and space; only oral communication linked the two physical settings. NASA may have been the creator of the mission, but it took all the teams in the control center and in the spacecraft to assure the mission succeeded.

During the past few Sundays, the mission God established for his chosen people arose out of the need to shut down the evil that existed. His creation was an entire world, but only one people successfully practiced faithfulness—the ancient Israelites. God needed a solution so he turned to Abraham and his descendants to serve as God’s messengers to spread the good news and transform the world.

The centuries recorded in the Old Testament includes the good versus evil conflicts that demonstrate God’s efforts to keep evil from spreading. The mission remained constant, but the efforts were inconsistent. Even the warnings from the prophets did not provide the lasting change God was seeking. The Old Testament concludes and God’s mission is in crisis.

In the Apollo 13 mission, failure was not an option nor is God’s mission. For thousands of years, by human standards, the mission was failing, repeatedly. God could no longer wait for humans to complete the mission. Time had arrived to fulfill the prophets’ warnings—a savior was needed.

The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are four different records of God’s personal solution to prevent his mission’s failure. God intervened by joining his chosen people on the earth he created. He was born as Jesus of Nazareth.

Why? Why would God decide he personally had to intervene and to teach his people what the mission was and how to accomplish it? Why?

In the Christopher Wright’s study, the problem is the world was evil, as evil as Sodom and Gomorrah; and the temptation to sin continued to grow. Scripture readings this week focus on God’s forgiveness, and the commentary develops the arguments for Jesus to intervene:

  • Joshua 5:9-12 emphasizes that God keeps His promises: the Israelites leave Egypt, are fed manna until they can produce their own food crops in the new, promised land.
  • Psalms 32 tells us that nothing is better than forgiveness.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 explains that forgiveness transforms one’s life and that by accepting forgiveness there is an inherent responsibility to share that experience with others—another words to accept God’s mission to share the good news.
  • Luke 15:1-3, 111b-32 is the recognizable story of the Prodigal Son; a parable that illustrates the importance of reconciliation with God; even the most broken relationship with God can be forgiven.[*]

 

Today’s world continues to be evil filled. The faithful seem forlorn with how to carry the mission further. American society no longer seems to reflect the faith-based principles upon which it was founded; instead society has shifted to a more-secular, legalistic base that complicates the simplicity of God’s one commandment—love one another. The free will of man places self-centered life before a God-centered life. This shift makes it so much easier for Satan (evil) to take control. Humans are again living in a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like world.

How does one resume a God-centered world? Begin with confession. One must acknowledge that God is not the center of his or her life. When life seems comfortable and no major problems are interrupting daily life, losing sight of God and his law is easy. When life around us gets busy and Sunday morning arrives, going to worship loses out to a few more hours of rest and relaxation.   When finances become tight and the only solution seems to be work more, the practices of one’s faith lose priority.

In the lectionary’s commentary, sin is defined

“in biblical terms, [as] a condition from which none of us is free (Rom. 3:23); it is also a self-chosen act, like knowing the good and not doing it (James 4:17).[†]

 

Sin breaks the relationship with God, and identifying our sin must happen before God forgives you. Wright separates sin from forgiveness:

. . . “the ache deep in our hearts that comes from recognizing the hurts inflicted on ourselves or others that litter the landscape of our lives.[‡]

 

An ache—in other words we find ourselves hurting because of sin. Additionally, what we did has hurt our own self and/or others in the process. The action may have been only once, but maybe it is ongoing. Once we identify the cause of the ache, confession begins the return to a God-centered life.

Confessing one’s sin is not a quick, one-time fix. Once we confess our sin, then God expects us to return to the faithful practices that John Wesley referred to as the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Confessing is simply step one in re-establishing a relationship with God, one that returns us to his mission to reclaim his creation from evil.

Is returning from sin possible? Absolutely. With God, it is possible. God forgives us as long as “[we deliberately release] the claim we have on another [focus]. “[§] God and his mission must be the focus. We must deliberately return to God by following the very teachings provided by Jesus as preserved in the four books of the gospel.

God did not give up on his mission. During the thousands of years that passed since he identified Abraham and his descendants to take control of God’s mission, God did not reach its ultimate goal. God’s concern that the mission would fail led him to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament by the birth of Jesus.

The four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and resurrection. God’s mission is retold and the team is identified to spread the gospel of the good news forward—in time and in new locations.

The movie Apollo 13, illustrates how teamwork between Mission Control and the crew can successfully solve a problem. God needed an earthly team to fight evil, so he selected Abraham and his descendants. In the end, he stepped onto the earth to work with the earthly team as Jesus.

Today, we are Abraham’s descendants because we accept Jesus, also a descendant, as our redeemer. He lived on this earth, teaching and modeling how to be God’s co-worker on this earth.

To be part of the earthly team, we can find success as long as we deliberately confess our sins, return to the teachings of Jesus, know the story that we are to share, and then do all we can to see that God’s mission continues.

[Let us now join in the Responsive Reading, UMH 766, Psalm 32, as our confession of sin as we share in the Service of the Word and Table, UMH p. 12.]

 

Closing prayer:

Dear God of All,

As we open our hearts to you,

help us to deliberately name our human errors.

As we listen to words of scripture,

help us to find the guidance we need to live God-centered lives.

As we work hand in hand as a team,

help us to share your story in words and ways others hear.

As we continue through the season of reflection,

help us recommit ourselves to your mission. –Amen.

 

 

[*] (Wilson 2012) p. 86.

[†] Ibid, p. 87.

[‡] Ibid, p. 89.

[§] Ibid

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