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Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:54, John 19:31-42, 20:1-18


Holy Week has been different for me this year. It started last week, with Palm Sunday. At our church service, during the Kid's Connection message, the speaker reminded us of the timeline of the events of Jesus’ last days on earth in his human body. During Sharing & Prayer time, another person talked about being in Rome for the observance of Palm Sunday. Then having actual palm branches to wave at the end of the service, I could see myself at that first Palm Sunday. I could see Jesus entering Jerusalem, I could hear his followers singing “Hallelujah!” I could feel the joy and hope of the coming of the promised Messiah, the King!


Later this week, at our Maundy Thursday service which was a Tenebrae observance, I felt the anguish and sorrow as Jesus stood trial before Pilate, being accused of things that were untrue. If I had been there, would I have screamed out in his defense, “He didn’t do anything wrong!” Or would I have turned on him and with the crowd, shouted, "Crucify him?"


Then one by one the candles were snuffed out to represent the life and light of the world, Jesus, dying on the cross. Would I have stayed to watch as the women did? Or would I too leave and abandon him as most of the disciples had? What would I have felt as I heard Jesus call out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”


But on the day of His resurrection, what would it have felt like to have my emotions jolted back to joy and HOPE? Like Mary? Remember, she had witnessed both Jesus' crucifixion and his burial in the garden tomb, and then saw the Risen Saviour!


How we view the resurrection is a matter of perspective. All the early Christ-followers had built their hope upon was dashed to the ground on Good Friday. But as one writer put it, we have the benefit of hindsight. Two thousand plus years later, we know what was coming and for us, Easter is the day that changed everything. We have the advantage of having the written Scriptures, of being able to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The Gospel, the Good News, that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who paid the debt of sin, and restored and is restoring our relationship with God, our Father, the creator of heaven and earth. This is the gift of Salvation – this is the message of the hope of the resurrection!


I ask you this, “What are we doing with doing this message of hope?”


While I was writing this message, I read the following story about a comedian, who was described as “quick to offend.” In a video he posted, he tells of a businessman from a previous night’s audience, who showed up a second time to give him a personally inscribed Bible. Visibly moved and assuming the businessman knew he was an atheist, he described how this really good guy looked him in the eye when he spoke, and how he cared enough to risk ridicule or rejection. From there, he went on to express his lack of respect for Christians who don’t proselytize – which means to share their faith (and make disciples). He said, “If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?”


That really got to me. If I, if we, have joy and hope in Easter, the resurrection, shouldn’t we continually be sharing this good news? Jesus told Mary to tell his disciples that he was risen; Jesus told his disciples and us, in Matthew 28, to go and make disciples of all the nations. And in Acts 1:8, Jesus again says, “and you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.”


I don’t know about you, but after my newfound experiences during this Holy Week, I want to become more bold about sharing the hope of the resurrection.''


"You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart!"


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)


(adapted from Lori Lower's SonRise Service Sermon,

Ashland Brethren in Christ Church, 4/7/21)






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I love spring! I love how the flowers start to peek out of the ground. On my walking route last spring, I noticed a residence that had flowers planted in the shape of a heart. (I trust you can see that in the photo I took above.) Spring seems to bring hope, along with sunlight and fresh air, to counteract the bleakness of the past winter.


I think most everyone will agree - this past year has been different, difficult, and perhaps downright depressing! So when this question was posed to me, "How's your heart?" it was very hard to answer honestly. My heart feels battered and perhaps betrayed by all that has transpired through the Coronavirus pandemic and upheavals associated with it, and by the unrest across the United States - whether political, racial, social, etc. Although I have not experienced the loss of a family member or close friend to Covid-19 and the accompanying complications, there are people that I personally knew who have succumbed to the disease, and my heart breaks for their families.


The writer of Psalm 73, Asaph, acknowledges that the human heart is frail, and that strength comes from God.


"My flesh (health) and my heart (spirit) may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever." [Psalm 73:26]


So when our hearts feel battered, betrayed, and broken, and our circumstances are different, difficult, and depressing, we need to give ourselves a "heart-check." A friend and I are starting to go through a devotional study that focuses on renewal, Heart Check, by Christine Caine. The title of the lesson for Day 1 is "Give Your Outlook an Upgrade."


"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving

for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what

is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is

unseen is eternal." [2 Cor. 4:17-18]


Sometimes we need to let go of things - expectations of ourselves and others - and allow Jesus to fill our hearts with hope - with the expectation of living with the reality that this world is not our home. For those who desire a heart check, we need to look up and fix our eyes on God.


Pastor Vicki sent me two prayers earlier this week, asking if they could be used in a blog post; one for looking back on 2020 and the other for looking ahead to 2021. At first, I didn't think now was the time to use them as New Year's celebrations are long past. I then realized that this is a good time - today is 3/20/21. Today is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and for most of us in America, the pandemic restrictions (which started a year ago in March 2020) are looking to be lessened and lifted, so in some aspects, this IS the perfect time to usher in a new year/season! Look for the reminders for a heart check within these prayers.


A PRAYER, FOR LOOKING BACK ON 2020 God of Life, There are days when the burdens we carry Are heavy on our shoulders and weigh us down When the road seems dreary and endless, The skies gray and threatening, When our lives have no music in them, And our hearts are lonely, And our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, Turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; Tune our hearts to brave music; Give us the sense of comradeship With heroes and saints of every age; And so quicken our spirits That we may be able to encourage The souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, To your honor and glory. Amen. -attributed to Augustine of Hippo (354-430) A PRAYER, FOR LOOKING AHEAD IN 2021 Wind of God, blow far from us All dark despair, All deep distress, All groundless fears, All sinful desires, All Satan’s snares, All false values, All selfish wishes, All wasteful worries. Blow into us Your holy presence, Your living love, Your healing touch, Your splendid courage, Your mighty strength, Your perfect peace, Your caring concern, Your divine grace, Your boundless joy. Wind of God, Blow strong, Blow fresh, Blow now. Amen. - Pamela Wilding, Kenya (from Prayers Encircling the World)

Both of the above prayers are from a collection of prayers compiled

by Meghan Feldmeyer Benson, Chaplain of Duke Divinity School


When I was re-reading Psalm 73, as mentioned above, the words to the Chris Tomlin song, I Will Rise, came to mind. It is a song filled with hope and a resolve to keep looking up!


There's a peace I've come to know Though my heart and flesh may fail There's an anchor for my soul I can say "It is well"

.....

There's a day that's drawing near When this darkness breaks to light And the shadows disappear And my faith shall be my eyes


Here's the video with lyrics:


 



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This question might be one of the oldest and most asked question about the spiritual life throughout the ages. What is the purpose of prayer?” It’s one question that I’ve been pondering for most of my life. Prayer can be defined most simply as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks (in word or thought) addressed to God, or a god, or another object of worship.” I have also found that it can mean “an earnest hope or wish” and even a “slight chance,” as in “you haven’t got a prayer.”


So why do we pray or what is the purpose of prayer? At a very basic level, it is because we have found that we cannot do this life alone; we need to ask for God’s assistance, guidance, and leading in order to survive. Whether we pray every day or only when the circumstances are grave or even when we have something to rejoice about, I would surmise that most everyone has uttered a prayer at some point in their life.


In my study of prayer over the last couple of years, I’ve found that one purpose of prayer is that it is a way that God allows us to join with Him in the work that He is doing in our world. It is an aligning of our will with God’s will, and is not - what many people think about prayer - a way to change God’s mind or to get Him to do what we want Him to do. Yes, He wants to know what’s on our hearts, what burdens us, and He welcomes us to bring our requests to Him, as well as our thanks and praises. But God is not a genie in a bottle. He wants to develop a relationship with us, which goes way beyond just bringing Him our grocery list of wants and needs.


I collect quotes and Scripture references about prayer and I recently found this one which comes from author, Lysa TerKeust. She says, “When we pray, we invite the divine presence of the almighty God to do life with us that day. Then we need to watch for Him — go on a God-hunt and make connections between the things we pray for and the things that happen throughout the day. This is the direct evidence of His hand at work — in us, around us, and in spite of us.” I especially like the thought of inviting God to do life with us.


There is a line in a contemporary Christian song that says this about prayer and how God speaks to us; “It changes us, it changes what we see and what we seek.” We don’t pray to change God, but that He changes us. We are to fix our focus on Him, and not on our circumstances. So to adapt a popular credit card commercial, “What’s in your prayer?

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


This article was originally written for the Ashland Times-Gazette clergy column in

August of 2018.



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