“IT’S OUR BIRTHDAY”

Come celebrate the SONRISE

Text – JOHN 20:1—18

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.

The weather was the coldest in a decade and had a bite to it, but a crowd gathered to worship at sunrise – as we joyously do each Easter. It is with such joy each year down at the dock at sunrise and here at 9A.M. that we come to celebrate the SONRISE.  And well we should – for as Jesus rose from the dead that first Easter morning - IT’S OUR BIRTHDAY – our eternal birthday.

We are moving toward the end of the festival half of the church year – which  focuses on God’s Presence among us as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ. 

    

Our focus began in a most unlikely place to encounter God – behind an overcrowded inn in a cave being used as a barn for sheep and goats and a donkey or two.  There a Child was born and a manger where the animals received their food and water became The Bread of Life, Living Water Baby’s first crib.

That Baby Jesus, though He was in the form of God – is actually God Himself– did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but was willing to exchange it all as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ. For you and for me He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

That God could do such a thing is no miracle. With God all things are possible – even God Himself coming among us as The vunerable flesh and blood Christ.  The miracle is in the Love.  By His Own Choice, God loves us that much.  

And being in human form, God further humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  

   

God loves us so much that God’s Love took Him, through torture of every kind, to the cross and to another cave. On Good Friday, we are reminded of that cave – the airtight cave tomb where Jesus was carried from the cross with a rollstone to seal Him in.

             

 

“What’s So Important About Palm Sunday?” 

 

Text – MATTHEW 21:1-11 and LUKE 19:28-40

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.

 

    

When a king or general arrived at a city he planned to conquer, in his finest military apparel and mounted on a horse, he entered the complex known as the city gate to announce the purpose of his arrival.  In The Holy Bible, horses have always been symbolic of war because only conquerors invading the Holy Land arrived on them - very few other horses even existed in a land which could not support even their most basic needs. 

 

Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem from their three-month long retreat six days before Passover and as usual, they stayed on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  When the large crowd of Judeans arriving for Passover learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.   The next day Jesus left Bethany and crossed west over the Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley to Jerusalem.                                                 

 

Unlike earthly conquerors, Jesus went right through the city gate into the city of Jerusalem itself to announce to all the people the purpose of His coming. Jesus had come to conquer the world, sin, the devil, and death for us and he announced His arrival not on a horse but on the back of a donkey.No one should have been surprised at such an arrival.  Had not God – speaking through Isaiah seven centuries before Jesus’ arrival– said “Say to the daughter of Zion, 'See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

 

    

There, as Jesus was seated on the donkey, a large crowd spread their cloaks on the road and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

During the Roman occupation, the Holy Land - never being a place of material wealth - was in even greater financial straits and the clothes they were throwing in Christ's path were a costly pledge of allegiance to The Savior.

 

“THE GOSPEL IN A NUTSHELL…

…BUT THERE’S MUCH MORE”

 

Text — JOHN 3:1—21

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.

     

     

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Judeans.  This man came to Jesus by night … Nicodemus’ Pharisaic life was built on a Pharisaic faith rooted in God’s Law and the Pharisee’s perceived ability to totally show his love for God by fulfilling perfectly every requirement of his Pharisaic interpretation of God’s Law. 

This Pharisee ruler of the Judeans was part of a small minority in the governance of Jerusalem and the temple. Judea was a conquered land offended even by the stanchions and banners carried by their conquerors and forbidden by God’s Word.

The highest ranking religious and secular Judean authority was Caiaphas — the high priest who, through agreement with Rome, presided over the temple and Sanhedrin.  His political party, whose majority members controlled the temple and Sanhedrin, was the Sadducees — a party composed of priests who rejected all belief in an eternal relationship with God – unbelievers appointed by Rome to  govern the faithful in church and state. 

The Judean people were as secular as their church and government.  Synagogue attendance was down though most people expressed inactive belief in God.  The faith and moral climate of the nation was totally secular. Sounds all too familiar!

The religious Pharisees sought to earn their Salvation through perfectly fulfilling every requirement of their Pharisaic interpretation of God’s Law. Even that Pharisaic attempt at Salvation and relationship with God was no solution for Nicodemus. 

 

He continued to struggle to find the Truth and used every moment he could studying the Scriptures and seeking enlightenment from the rabbis he knew. Then Nicodemus heard Jesus Who taught with Authority, Enlightenment, and Wisdom that went far beyond the teachings of all the Pharisaic rabbis.  

Late at night, when no one was around to see him, Nicodemus went to see Jesus privately.  Wasting not a moment, he went right to the heart of his concern - “How can I totally and completely love God and show God that love by fulfilling perfectly every requirement of God’s Law and, thereby, earn an eternal relationship with God?  It seems such an impossible task. How can I do it?”

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus who came because he knew he was truly incapable of earning eternal Salvation by fulfilling perfectly every requirement of God’s Law – now was told he must be  born again. How can that impossible feat be accomplished?   

Well, obviously, unlike human beings, with God, all things are possible. Whatever God wants to do, God can and does do without regard to human evaluation.

 

 

“A LETTER FROM JOHN”

 

Text – JOHN 11:25--54

This morning’s sermon is a letter which the apostle John may well have written to us – based on our Gospel text this morning.

 

Dear Fellow Members of The Communion of Saints,

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.

In my travels as one of Jesus’ original disciples and an apostle, I have asked a number of people if they were given the chance to speak with God face to face what is the first question they would ask.  By far the three most popular questions were: What is my purpose on earth?  Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? and How do I know I will get to heaven? 

We know, in Christ,  a saint is anyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. A saint is someone who has dealt with and continues to deal with those three questions in our own personal lives and who has found and continues to find Jesus is at the very heart and center of the answers to all our questions. We are a communion of faith - the Communion of saints in which Jesus Christ has made us all members.  

A community of the faithful!  The more you look at faith … analyze it … and, above all, experience it, the more you realize what a precious gift Faith is — a gift only God can give.

I used to think “Seeing is believing”.  I know what I see — and I thought my strongest beliefs always grew out of the testimony of my own eyes – and ears.  

 

“Who Is The Real High Priest?”

    

Text  - JOHN 2:13—22

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.

The Passover of the Judeans was at hand… and Passover was the most important of all the Old Testament holy days. Every follower of The One True God dreamed of that Passover he or she could actually celebrate in the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. Each year that dream came true for many of the faithful and the streets leading to and through the holy city were jammed with people.

   

Many of them went early to purchase their lambs in the temple porticoes where there was more livestock for sale than a village of barns. All purchases had to be paid with temple currency and the temple agents at their tables set the exchange rate for each of the world’s currencies. 

Once purchased the lambs were taken outside the southern portico and north to be bathed and inspected by the priests in sheep pools. Those found acceptable were taken into the Court of the priests to be sacrificed – their blood sprinkled on the sacrificial altars in front of the Sanctuary which housed the Holy and Holy of Holies.

    

Jesus and His disciples went up to Jerusalem – beginning with an inspiring walk up the east side of the Mount of Olives where many traveled in groups and sang Psalms befitting the Passover Season.  Others spoke of the dreams being fulfilled by their pilgrimage to Jerusalem or merely stood at the top of the Mount and drank in the splendor of the temple across the valley.

Down the west slope and across the Kidron Valley, they moved ever closer to the huge stone steps that would take them to the portico entrances. 

Appearing more like entrances to a Cleveland Indians game than the entryway to the holiest spot on earth, their path was cluttered with merchants at makeshift tables or carrying their wares in baskets - miniature temple models to use as a reminder of this visit to the holy city – prayer shawls with temple labels – the newest spices and incense for sale in Jerusalem before becoming available elsewhere.  Today we would call it a tourist trap.  It was.

Lining the valley, there was a score of pagan temples offering miracle cures for all manner of illnesses to those willing to make the proper contribution.

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