Friday, April 27, 2012

Holy Humor Sunday

It seems that there was a little old church out in the countryside: painted white and with a high steeple. One Sunday, the pastor noticed that his church needed painting. He checked out the Sunday ads and found a paint sale. The next day, he went into town and bought a gallon of white paint. He went back out to the church and began the job. He got done with the first side. It was looking great. But he noticed he had already used a half gallon. He didn't want to run back in town and being the creative person that he was, he found a gallon of thinner in the shed out back, and began to thin his paint. It worked out great. He finished the remaining three sides with that last half gallon of paint. That night, it rained: it rained hard. The next morning when he stepped outside of the parsonage to admire his work, he saw that the first side was looking great, but that the paint on the other three sides had washed away. The pastor looked up in sky in anguish
 and cried out, "What shall I do?" A voice came back from the heavens saying, "Repaint, and thin no more!"

A goofy, and silly joke. But, in telling it, and perhaps enjoying it on some level we actually are participating in an old and often forgotten church tradition.

It began hundreds of years ago. A monk, whose name has been lost in history, was pondering the meaning of the events of holy week, with its solemn observances of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the astonishing, earth-shaking events of Easter. "What a surprise ending," he thought. Then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, he had a new insight. His hearty laugh startled his fellow monks, breaking the silence of their contemplation.

"Don't you see," he cried, "It was a joke! A great joke! The best joke in all history! On Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified, the devil thought he had won. But God had the last laugh on Easter when he raised Jesus from the dead."

The monks called it "the Easter laugh." The idea spread rapidly, and the day after Easter became known as a "Day of Joy and Laughter" in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant countries. In homes and churches, it became common to celebrate God's great joke on the devil with joke-telling sessions. It became the custom even in monasteries. Especially in monasteries.

Recently, the Fellowship of Merry Christians, the publishers of "The Joyful Newsletter," began to urge churches and prayer groups to revive this very old custom and hold Easter Monday parties or to have Holy Humor Sundays the week following Easter.

So Happy Holy Humor Sunday! It’s appropriate, what a joyful time, to celebrate the joy of the resurrection! And you know, the resurrection is not just an Easter event. Jesus abided on Earth in his resurrection form for 40 days until His ascension into heaven. For 40 days Jesus walked and taught his disciples in a supernatural physical resurrected body.

I don’t know if you saw it or not, but during Holy Week and Easter, the History channel ran a new two hour show called, “Jesus, the lost 40 days”, usually I watch these shows with a real critical eye, because there are so many weird and bizarre theories being thrown about or scholars who rely upon old heretical writings from ancient history to disprove the Bible. But this show was a joy to watch. It delved into the resurrection and Jesus 40 days on earth in his resurrected body with inspiration, faith and reverence. If it is on again, I admonish you to watch it. One of the primary scriptures they explored in the special was our New Testament reading from today, the Road to Emmaus. In fact we have a beautiful picture that portrays this scripture right around the corner when you exit the sanctuary across from the sacristy. These two disciples were very sad. They had heard the testimony of the women who had the vision that Christ was raised from the dead, they heard from Peter and how he found the linens lying in the tomb. But they just couldn’t believe it. They doubted. They were depressed. But along comes a stranger to guide them through the scriptures on how it was prophecied that Christ would be the suffering servant who takes away the sin of the world. From Moses through the prophets. And their hearts burned at his words. As the resurrected Christ walked them through the scriptures, Christ opened up their minds and their hearts to understand and believe the impossible. Jesus truly was alive. Risen from the dead! They should be joyful. Rejoice! As we should do today. Rejoice, Jesus is alive, in a physical human body. Sitting at the right hand of God to intercede for us, to forgive us our sins as we confess them and to heal our wounded spirits and broken hearts. Rejoice! Be glad. God sent His only son for us! For you.

 And today’s scripture says, Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

Today as we break bread together, may our eyes be opened, and may we know Him in a new and intimate way. May the spirit of joy in the resurrection lift us up and give us hope. It will not vanish. Jesus is risen and ascended, he is in heaven in bodily form, still bearing the marks on his hand, his feet, his side. He sits on God’s right hand, the hand of authority to bring you close to God. Today as we commune with God at His table, remember His sacrifice and rejoice in His resurrection.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fighting the Enemy 1 Peter 5:6-11

St. Peter and Satan were having an argument one day about baseball. Satan proposed a game to be played on neutral grounds between a select team from the heavenly host and his own hand-picked boys. "Very well," said the gatekeeper of Heaven.
"But you realize, I hope, that we've got all the good players and
the best coaches." "I know, and that's all right," Satan answered
unperturbed. "We've got all the umpires."

An online Harris poll was conducted between November 2nd and 11th of 2009 on the subject of beliefs. 2,303 American adults were surveyed in the poll and it was found out that:  82% of American adults believe in God, 75% believe in heaven, 73% believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God, 70% believe in the resurrection of Jesus, 61% believe there is a hell and 60% believe there is a devil.

The Bible talks about the devil as a real being. But a lot of people have some real misconceptions about who or what the devil really is. Hollywood has really shaped our understanding of Satan. They make him all powerful, a rival to God who is everywhere. Our New Testament reading today from 1 Peter 5 tells us about the devil in verse 8, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.” 
That sounds very menacing. Peter tells us that he is like a roaring lion. Now, say you are out in the woods on a hike and you hear a loud roar of a lion nearby, what would you feel?
 You would be afraid right? 
That’s one of the devil’s biggest weapons, fear. Fear of the future, fear of uncertainty. Fear that you are worthless or unimportant. Fear that you are unloved…by others or even God. Fear that God doesn’t even exist. Fear gives rise to doubt, and doubt eats away at our faith. Elsewhere in the bible the devil is called our enemy, the deceiver of the brethren, the father of lies. The devil’s chief job is to make us lose faith. To lose hope. He wants us to believe his lies and not the truth.  Now what’s the truth? Peter tells us before and after verse 8 in the rest of the passage we read today. In verses 6 and 7 it reads:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” 

Whenever we have difficulties, whenever we go through the trials of life doubt and anxiety can eat us alive. Sometimes we may feel all alone, helpless. Peter tells us, 1: humble yourself, know that you have limits-sometimes you do not have all the answers. 2: give all your worries, stress and problems to the Lord. Because God does care. God loves you. He will work it out, but first he wants you to let go. Let go of the stress and anxiety, and talk to Him about your concerns.

Stress kills.

   In 2003 Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University took blood samples of people who were under constant stress and those who did not have overbearing stress factors in their life. What she found was the blood of those under stress contained a high amount of the chemical Interleukin-6 or IL-6. Previous studies have associated IL-6 with several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers. Stress kills. When we are overcome by stress we need to humble ourselves by letting go and casting our cares into the master’s hands.  The devil is prowling, roaring like a lion causing us to worry to doubt.
But Peter tells us in verses 9-11,
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Whenever doubts, or fears assail you, resist them. Whenever stresses abound, resist it. Take comfort, it is not just you, but everyone goes through the same types of problems as you do one time or another.

I have a nephew who has had a tough time of it over the last few years. He’s holding down two jobs and trying to finish his college education after re-examining what he wanted to do with his life. But no matter how hard he tries, he always seems to have one financial problem after another. Finally he asked his mother, is there a family curse or something? Because just as he gets ahead of the game, bam! Something happens to bring him once again to the brink of poverty.

But there is no curse, everyone at some point in their lives goes through a financial hardship, and boy it is hard to recover sometimes. Especially in our situation today with the financial collapse and the great recession killing jobs. But he is not alone. We are not alone. The same suffering that we stress over is universal. It is being human. And it will not last forever. In due time, in God’s time, everything will be resolved. And through this time of suffering, God is strengthening us, by teaching us how to surrender to His will, to lean on Him for guidance and serenity, and one day we can also help others, to the glory of God.

Recently, I myself have gone through a great time of struggle. After my hospitalization in December and January I found out my employer had hired someone else for my job even while I was in the hospital bed. My savings were becoming depleted and I felt helpless, in limbo. Other issues pressed on me also, along with coping with the change in my health. I prayed and prayed and it seemed like nothing was happening. But I realized that I was really under spiritual attack. The lions roar was overwhelming the still small voice of God. And just that realization, gave me a new perspective and let me claim the victory that Christ had for me. And within one week I came across three other people who were struggling as I was. They were from all walks of life, a college professor, a housewife and social worker. I was able to share scripture and prayers with them and let them know that they were not alone. And just last week my work called me back to work full time. A little bit of suffering, and afterward by surrendering and giving over my anxieties to the Lord, he comforted me, established me, and strengthened me. And then He was able to use me.

What about you today? Is the roaring of the prowling lion drowning out that still small voice of God? You’re not alone. Cast all your cares upon God, he cares for you, he does. And He wants to strengthen, establish and strengthen you as you endure the storms of life. And in the end, you will be blessed. You will have a deep peace and assurance that the hand of God is upon you. 
The devil may roar, but we have the victory in Christ our Lord. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.