If I asked an evangelical Christian what it meant to believe "in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord," she would probably ask me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For many believers, having a "personal relationship" with our Savior is the very definition of being a Christian. What is odd about this is that evangelicals, who claim to get everything from the Bible, talk about being a Christian with language that never appears in the Bible.
What are spiritual senses? Well, whatever they are, they don't operate apart from our physical senses. It's a way of seeing, a way of hearing. In fact, I think Wesley is talking about letting the Holy Spirit train our physical senses, raise them to the next level, so that we can use them to help us tune into the reality of the spiritual, the presence of God. For me, that's what it means to be born again, to have God fill up my senses ("like a night in the forest, like a mountain in springtime, like a walk in the rain…")
It being Memorial Day weekend, I got to thinking about how being a disciple of Jesus Christ is like getting called up to serve in the military. First of all, like the U.S. military, the church has an all-volunteer army. But in the church, you can even enlist as a baby. Joining up only requires that you get baptized. Your baptismal certificate takes the place of enlistment papers. But there's another similarity between the church and the military. Once you're signed up, you must submit to a higher authority. Only here you don't belong to Uncle Sam; you belong to Jesus Christ. And I should probably tell you, Jesus has a stop loss policy, too. In fact, there is no leave from this duty. There is no end of service contract. And there's no such thing as a reserve soldier of Christ. Here is a big difference between the church and the army: Being a follower of Jesus is a fulltime, lifetime active-duty commitment.
The author of First Peter wants us come to Jesus, our living stone. [I Peter 2:4] Now there's an odd image when you first hear it. What is a living stone? It's not a Rolling Stone. When they get up on stage anymore, we're not sure all of them are still living. And it's not the people of Colorado, now that they've legalized marijuana. They would be living stoners. No, the question is what does it mean to say that Jesus is a living stone?
I have been so excited! This is a ministry first for me. I've never confirmed anywhere near 17 youth all in one day. With a couple of baptisms to boot, this is one happy pastor today! I thought instead of a sermon, I would read a brief letter to the confirmands and their congregation, a kind of baccalaureate address, I guess. Here goes:
Charles Wesley wrote, “Christ the Lord is risen today. Earth and heaven in chorus say…” So both earth and heaven celebrate Easter today. And that means that we hairless apes aren’t the only part of God’s creation caught up in Jesus’ resurrection. I like to call Matthew the Green Gospel because it's the only Gospel that gives us the earth's story along with the Easter story.
This morning our children are going to act out the Christ hymn as I trace out the scenes of Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the events of this week tell the story of Jesus emptying himself as he arrives in Jerusalem. He comes prepared to give up everything, including his life on earth, so that we can have life with God.
Think of Lazarus' tomb as a room where you pack up every feeling you own, every memory you have (good and bad), every relationship and every regret, every bit of grace, every ounce of guilt, every pleasure and every pain you have ever known. Pack it all up and put it in the tomb. Take out only those feelings and experiences that give you life and enhance your ability to love. Then prepare to give the rest away, because it has started to smell anyway.
My problem with Fred Phelps is that by telling people that they were going to burn in hell, he claimed to know things that only God can know. He claimed to be able to see things that no human being is allowed to see. And at the same time, he was oblivious to the central truth of Christianity: in Jesus Christ God offers us the most amazing love and mercy. That's what the man's neighbors were too preoccupied to see, the Pharisees were too arrogant to see, and his parents were too frightened to see. Though they all could see Jesus, they couldn't see him as the incarnation of God's love and mercy. But because of the man's humility, he could see, and for that, they drove him out of the city.
The Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to give her living water, never let down her bucket, never took a drink. And after speaking with Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went into the town to tell everyone about the Messiah. I guess she didn't need her jar anymore because she became one. Jesus filled her up with Living Water so that she could leave her jar of junk and go fill someone else. Sometimes the only way to fill your jar is to go empty yourself into someone else's need.