Saturday, November 28, 2009

California Church Saves City, Now State, Millions Through Service


Bonhoeffer on Advent: Judgment and Grace

Advent begins for Christians throughout the world tomorrow.

Advent is a word that means coming. The four-week season of Advent comes before Christmas and remembers both when God came to earth in Jesus and how the risen Jesus will one day come back to earth for the final judgment upon humankind and to fully, perfectly establish His eternal kingdom. Below is an Advent sermon by the German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyed in the waning days of World War Two for his opposition to Nazism.

Bonhoeffer warns Christians not to be too self-satisfied about meeting Jesus face to face, to not be so caught up in the world's notions of love, which are more about personal fulfillment, license, and indulgence than self-denying, self-giving, self-surrendering love, and to realize that we too are sinners who, apart from God's grace, have no right to stand before the throne of the most high God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.

It's only by going through conscience-stricken fear over standing in Christ's presence that we really can appropriate the love of God that allows us by grace, to stand, heads held high, before the Almighty.

Those who have been saved by God's grace through faith in Christ will experience both fear and assurance in the presence of the Almighty.

It's the self-assured, self-centered masses who either deny that Christ will return or who flippantly believe that they have nothing to fear, who approach the prospect of Christ coming to them with breezy, thoughtless confidence.

Those who are utterly fearless about the coming of Jesus know nothing about Jesus or have never wrestled with the reality of their own sins and limitations.

I love these lines from the Bonhoeffer sermon:
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness.
Here, now is the entire Bonhoeffer sermon.

The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God's dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. "Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!" (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings:
Our whole life is an Advent, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people will be brothers and sisters.
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.

God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be - in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God's goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of God's goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: "Behold I stand at the door! Open wide the gates!" (Ps. 24:7)?

One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right: "Come, you blessed. I was hungry and you fed me." (Matt. 25:34). To the astonished question of when and where, he answered: "What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).

With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?

Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).

Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent - that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: "On earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests." Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. "I stand at the door." We however call to him: "Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!" Amen.
[Thanks to E.J.Swensson for linking to this wonderful sermon over on Twitter.]

[Pictures above: Top: an Advent wreath featuring the four blue candles representing each Sunday in Advent. The picture comes from the catalog of; Bottom: Dietrich Bonhoeffer.]

The Psalm 109:8 Controversy

I'm a bit late on this, having just read about a religiously-themed slogan appearing these days on T-shirts, web sites, and bumper stickers. The slogan? "Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8."

To those who don't dig any deeper, the words and Bible citation may be anything from laudable to innocuous.

But people taking the time to look up the passage are registering differing views, ranging from laughter to outrage.

Psalm 109:8, not among the Bible's most well-known passages, reads, "May his days be few; may another seize his position."

Seen in isolation, the encouragement to pray for the president linked with the verse citation, could be a clever call to pray for Mr. Obama to be a one-term president, the rough equivalent of a conservative talk show's host saying that he hoped Mr. Obama would fail. Taken this way, the slogan is nothing more than the exercise of free speech by opponents of the President.

But is something more sinister intended? After all, the election of Mr. Obama has seen a threefold increase in presidential death threats and the next verse of the psalm says:
May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.
Of course, no one can peer into the souls of those who came up with the slogan. They may be innocent of the sentiments some see in their handiwork.

But those not familiar with the Bible might wonder what sentiments like those appearing in both verses are doing in a book which, at least in my Christian tradition, is seen as God's Word and is often called, "God's love letter to the human race."

The book of Psalms in the Old Testament is the ancient hymn book of God's people, the Jews. Many of its 150 worship songs are attributed to King David, as is this one. According to German Biblical scholar Artur Weiser, Psalm 109 is: individual lament, prayed by a man who, if we understand the psalm aright, is accused of being guilty of the death of a poor man (v.6), presumably by means of magically effective curses (vv.17ff.). It can be assumed that the accusation brought by his adversaries at the trial...was one of sorcery, which was forbidden [by God] and liable to punishment...
The psalm then, presents the plea to God of a man, presumably King David, someone the Bible describes as a man after God's own heart, who believes himself guiltless of the crime of which he's accused, including his recitation of the false words spoken against him by his enemies.

The adversaries, David tells God, have called for "a wicked man" to be his accuser. Those same adversaries then call, in verse 8, for the man's removal from office and then, in verse 9, for his death.

As far as I'm concerned, even if the creators of the Psalm 109:8 slogan intended only to be funny in expressing their opposition to the President, they appear to be ignorant of the context, background, and actual meaning of the passage.

The sentiments, quoted by David, aren't those of commendable people of faith, but of people who oppose the will, Word, and justice of God. Psalm 109:8 represents the Biblically-condemned "prayers" or wishes of people who want to manipulate the justice system to condemn an innocent man.

Does any praying person really want to be in opposition to God in this way?*

Besides, there is sound Biblical reason for Christians to actually pray for their political leaders, even those they may see as opponents to Christians and the Church.

In the apostle Peter's first letter to the first-century churches of Asia Minor, a letter which is now part of the Bible's New Testament, he encourages believers to "honor the emperor." Unlike the sloganeers, Peter's exhortation comes without tongue in cheek, despite the fact that his letter deals with how Christians should respond to suffering and also persecution, some it no doubt at the hands of the governing authorities of the Roman Empire under which the early Christians lived.

If the sloganeers are aligning their prayers with the sentiments of those who, in Old Testament times, opposed God and King David, they're Biblically ignorant. More seriously, from my perspective as a Christian, they may be guilty of making light of God and of the gift of prayer in order to make a political statement.

If the slogan-makers really are maliciously and "subliminally" calling for prayers for the death of our President, they're worse than ignorant or impious.

I suspect that they're simply ignorant. In any case, I don't want the T-shirt.

*In Acts, the New Testament's history of the Church, starting from Jesus' ascension through about 65AD, Peter cites Psalm 109:8 in reference to Judas, whose betrayal of Jesus resulted in Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Peter does so, Judas is dead, by his own hand and, according to Peter, as a member of the inner circle among Jesus' disciples, a group of twelve known as apostles, needs to be replaced.

[TY to Policy in Practice for linking to the Monitor article.]

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Please Keep David Wayne in Your Prayers


Friday, November 27, 2009

My Memory Verse for the Coming Week

Want to join me in committing this passage to memory?
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What is the Church Year?

[Four years ago, as we were beginning a new season of Advent, I presented this explanation of the Church Year. It remains one of the most popular posts I've written for this blog. As we prepare, this Sunday, November 29, to begin another Advent season, I thought people might find it helpful.]

The Church Year is a human invention. Observing it won't make us better than anybody else. Nor does keeping it "save" a person from sin and death.

But the Church Year is one of those customs or traditions designed to help people know the God we meet in Jesus and also help believers to grow in their faith.

The Church Year is built around three great festivals: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

Christmas, of course, is the celebration of Jesus' birth.

Easter is the day remembering Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Pentecost remembers the occasion fifty days after Jesus' resurrection and ten days after His ascension into heaven when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus' praying disciples and gave birth to the Church.

Historically, Easter was the first holy day that Christians began to celebrate. This only makes sense, as it's Jesus' resurrection that gives Christians hope for this life and the one to come. While early Christians did seem to remember Easter on a Sunday falling at the beginning of the Jewish Passover, the practice of the first Christians, all of whom were Jews like Jesus, was to worship on the traditional Jewish Sabbath--from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday--and to celebrate every Sunday as a little Easter. (Some echo of this can be found in the Gospel of John's occasional references to an "eighth day," a new beginning in a new week.)

Over time, a Church Year developed which allowed for the retelling of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension, followed by Pentecost. The Church Year, in order, moves through these seasons:
  • Advent
  • Christmas
  • Epiphany
  • Lent
  • Easter
  • Pentecost
Advent, with which the color blue is most often associated today, is celebrated on the four Sundays preceding Christmas, which always occurs on the fixed date of December 25. The word advent, means coming or presence. The theme of Advent is waiting. This season remembers more than the centuries when the world anticipated or waited for the coming of the Savior, Jesus, on the first Christmas. It also calls us to patiently await both God's activity in our own lives and the return of Jesus at the end of earthly time. Advent's blue, the color of the sky, reminds us of the endless hope all believers in Jesus Christ have.

Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 6, with Epiphany Day. (That's why people sing, The Twelve Days of Christmas.) We don't know the exact date of Jesus' birth. Our current date was long ago selected to be a Christian alternative to a pagan Roman festival, Saturnalia. Christmas has a short season of two Sundays associated with it, running right up to the season of Epiphany. The color of the Christmas season and of Easter, because they are both festivals of Jesus, the sinless Savior, is white.

The word epiphany comes from a Greek compound word meaning to shine upon. The Epiphany Season begins with January 6, the day we commemorate the arrival of wise men from foreign lands who followed a star to the baby Jesus to a house in Bethlehem. It was there that Mary and Joseph lived with their Child for several years after the Savior's birth. January 6, in fact, is called Epiphany Day. (Because the wise men brought gifts, Epiphany was historically the day on which Christians gave one another presents.) The Epiphany Season is composed of between four and nine Sundays after January 6. The season is bracketed by a first Sunday, that always remembers Jesus' Baptism, and a Sunday at the end that remembers Jesus' Transfiguration. At the Transfiguration, top of a mountain, accompanied by three of His disciples, Jesus' image transfigured in the luminescence of heaven and God spoke, confirming Jesus' identity and mission. On the two bracketing Sundays of the Epiphany Season, the color is white. During the season in between, the color is green.

During the Epiphany season, Christians look at the early signs that pointed to Jesus being more than just a human being, but also God in the flesh, the Light of the world. The emphasis of the Epiphany season is usually on sharing the good news of Christ with others, shining the light of Christ on those around us.

After Epiphany comes Lent, a word which in the Old English, meant spring. Lent is a time for spiritual renewal and precedes the holiest days of the Church Year, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Lent is referred to as a season of forty days, which it is if you know how to count the days. Because Sundays are always "little Easters," the Sundays in Lent (not of Lent), are not counted as part of those forty days.

The color associated with Lent is purple, the color of royalty because in ancient times, purple dyes were so rare and expensive that only royalty could afford cloth of that color. Historically, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for adult converts to the faith to prepare for their initiation into Christianity at Easter.

There are several key days on the Lenten calendar. The season begins with Ash Wednesday. This is a day of repentance, that is, of turning away from sin and turning to Christ for forgiveness. Of course, as Martin Luther phrased it, "daily repentance and renewal" are meant to be an ongoing element of the Christian's life as we routinely strive to orient ourselves to God and His will for us. But Ash Wednesday is a time when all are especially reminded of it.

Near the end of the season comes Passion Sunday (also known as Palm Sunday). On this day, we're called to remember both Jesus' seemingly triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His execution and Christ's passion, as well as its foreshadowing of Easter. Passion, a word that is really misused today, really means to be so committed to the well-being of another that we're willing to die for them. Christ had that kind of commitment to us and so, went to a cross. Passion Sunday begins that portion of Lent called Holy Week.

The next major day on the Holy Week calendar is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is rooted in the Latin word mandatum, from which we get our word mandate, related to the word commandment. That's because on the Thursday night before He was to be executed, during the Passover celebration at which He instituted Holy Communion, Jesus also gave His disciples "a new commandment": that they love one another. Many churches have foot-washing rites during their special gatherings on this day. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples before they ate together on that first Maundy Thursday and also commanded all of His followers to be servants like Him.

Good Friday, which comes on the next night, is a solemn remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross. For me, this is one of the most moving worship services of the year. At our congregation, as is true of many churches, we have a service called Tenebrae. This word comes from the Latin and means darkness. The service remembers the darkness that engulfed the world at Jesus' execution as well as our need of Him as the light in our darkness. The service ends in silence as all contemplate Jesus' sacrifice of Himself for us.

Easter Sunday brings the celebration of Jesus' resurrection in a special way and continues throughout the Easter season. This is usually the high point of the year, even in churches that don't use the Church Year. The Easter Season lasts about seven weeks. The Gospel lessons incorporate accounts of the resurrected Jesus' appearances. Tucked in the midst of the season, on a Thursday, is Ascension Day. This comes forty days after Easter. More on that below.

Pentecost Day, as I mentioned, is the celebration of the Church's birthday, when the Holy Spirit, Who hovered over the waters of primordial chaos to bring life into being back in the Old Testament book of Genesis, once again creates. This time, He creates new life by bringing Christ's Church, His body in the world, into being. The color of this day is red.

There follows after that a season that lasts from twenty-three to twenty-eight weeks. It's referred to simply as the Pentecost Season. The color is green because the emphasis here is on growing in our faith, learning to be Jesus' disciples or followers at ever-deepening levels of maturity.

The very first Sunday after Pentecost is Holy Trinity Sunday. This focuses on the great mystery of the God we meet in the Bible: One God in three Persons made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The whole Church Year comes to a close, on the Sunday closest to November 30, with Christ the King Sunday.

Associated with each of the Sundays and many of the festivals of the Church Year are three cycles of appointed Biblical lessons. These cycles, referred to as Years A, B, and C, are called lectionaries. There are several sets of lectionaries, the the most well-known being those associated with the Roman Catholics, another with Lutherans, and another with a consortium of several Protestant denominations. The lectionaries are fairly similar, but do diverge occasionally.

Each Sunday and special festival day of the Church Year has appointed lessons from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament (either Acts, Revelation, or the letters), and a Gospel lesson. Generally speaking, the Old Testament, Psalm, and Gospel readings are thematically linked. The New Testament lessons are designed to make it possible over a three year period, to have almost all the letters, Revelation, and Acts read in public worship.

The three different cycles are built on the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (Synoptic is a word that means to see together. These three Gospels are quite similar to one another--they see things similarly, while the Gospel of John has the most unique material.) Because Mark, with only sixteen chapters, is so short, the appointed Gospel lessons during its year are often taken from John.

I feel free to spring loose from what one of our former Lutheran bishops, David Preus, called "the tyranny of the lectionary," looking at Biblical texts not appointed in the lectionary, in order to address issues that seem to be important in our community or world. But the lectionary does provide a well-rounded diet of Biblical material which, when looked at in a disciplined and devoted way, can help Christians develop a deeper faith.

[The image above, showing the cycle of the Church Year, comes from Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Righteousness: It Might Not Be What We Think It Is

This is a good piece written by Pastor Deb Grant for her daily emailed inspirations, ELOGOS:
Jeremiah 33:16
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
* * * * * * *
In order to reach a new generation, we are having to look carefully at the "church" words that we throw around expecting that everyone understands what they mean. Righteousness is one of those words that make our young people glaze over because it isn't a word that is a part of their daily discourse. Chances are righteousness is never thumbed into a text message. We know that a self-righteous person is not anyone we want to be or be around. We throw out the baby with the bath water by letting go of righteousness all together. It is a state of being that we all desparately need. We need to know that we are exactly where we need to be and exactly who we need to be in relationship to ourselves, our world and our God. We can't declare that for ourselves without sounding arrogant and ignoring God. God offers himself to us so that, in him, we are made right. We may not fling the word righteousness around on a daily basis but it is knowing that who we are is completely made right in God that helps us fall asleep at night.
* * * * * * *
Lord God, help us to stand in the right place at the right time for the right reason and enjoy the moment. Amen.
* * * * * * *
ELOGOS is written by Deb Grant, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Dickinson, Texas. Replies to ELOGOS are read only by Pastor Grant. Deb Grant is the author of ELOGOS in book form and Pedestrian Theology - both titles are available at Grant's website: You can subscribe to the daily ELOGOS inspirations at that site.

"What Do You Do with a Broken Relationship?"

That's the title of a helpful little booklet from Radio Bible Class, which you can download here.

I would only add two points to the booklet's advice and undergird one point that is made there:
1. It's important to be in constant prayer about the broken relationship, whatever step you may be taking. Even if the other person with whom you are in conflict refuses to reconcile, it's important that you spare damage to your own psyche and spirit by praying for that other person.

2. It's important to enlist the counsel of one trusted Christian friend, maybe a counselor or a pastor. This is less about "venting" than it is about getting the input of someone who can tell us the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

3. This is a hard one, especially for a certain loquacious pastor I know, who has the gift of gab: Don't tell everyone in sight about your conflicted relationship. That's apt only to compound the problem. Jesus gives a process for dealing with conflicts which arise among Christians, here.
I happened on the link to What Do You Do with a Broken Relationship? on today's daily devotion in Our Daily Bread.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Consecrated to Christ, Our King

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]

John 18:33-37
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you’re going to do tomorrow. Only God knows what will happen in our lives in the coming year. But on Consecration Sunday today, we try to tell Jesus Christ our King what the intentions of our hearts are, no matter the uncertainties of life.

We owe that to Jesus, for a very simple reason.

There’s a story I’ve heard many times. It’s about the King of Denmark during World War Two. It’s said that the Nazis had come into that country and as they’d done in other places, they ordered the Jews to wear arm bands bearing the Star of David, identifying themselves to everyone as Jews. The Danes, it’s said, understood what this meant. They had seen the way Jews were being exterminated in mass numbers in other countries occupied by the Nazis. The Danish king saw this as well. And so, although he was a Lutheran Christian, the king donned a Star of David arm band as well. “All the Danes are my people,” he said, “and so, if any Dane is targeted for death, my life must be taken too.”

It’s a beautiful story. The only problem with it is that it isn’t true. It never happened. Yet, I have heard it and read it told by countless people who thought that it was true.

What gives such a big fib such a long life? I think it’s because deep down we all would like to think that there are kings and presidents, judges and legislators who so love their people that they’d be willing to lay down their lives for them.

Through the centuries of course, there have been kings and leaders like that. But they’re rare. And the rarest kind of king of all is the King Who willingly dies in the place of people He knows are guilty. That is the kind of King that Jesus is.

The New Testament book of Romans says, "...God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us...if while we were [God’s] enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by His life..."

Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to do more than bear a symbol on an armband. He went to a cross and bore the weight of all our sin, died in our places, and rose from the dead so that He can offer forgiveness, the constant presence of God in our daily lives, and everlasting life to all who turn away from sin and let Jesus reign over them.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning records part of Jesus’ interchange with a man named Pilate on the day before Jesus went to the cross to die. Pilate was the governor appointed by the Roman Empire to oversee the occupation of Jesus’ homeland, Judea. The religious leaders of Jesus’ fellow Jews saw Jesus as a threat. They wanted Him dead. So, they brought Jesus before Pilate to be condemned. Pilate didn’t care about the religious squabbles of the Jews. But he was concerned about the threat Jesus might pose to his governing authority if Jesus saw Himself as a king. That explains the first thing Pilate asks Jesus in our lesson: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

We know that Jesus came to be the King of the Jews and the King of kings. But that brings us to even more important questions than Pilate asked: Is Jesus our King? Have we totally consecrated ourselves, that is totally committed ourselves, to following Jesus today and forever?

An enthusiastic young evangelist once approached a farmer and asked whether the farmer had been saved and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The farmer replied, “Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here are the names of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I’ve been saved!”

None of us is perfect, of course. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of God’s glory and we sin.

It also tells us that even after we have received the forgiveness and new life that God offers to us through Jesus Christ, we see heaven and God’s way for us only dimly.

Like the rest of the human race, followers of Jesus make mistakes and sin. But there is a new direction and purpose evident in the lives of those who follow Jesus.

Over the long haul, others are usually able to see that Jesus’ followers no longer are ruled by selfishness, or greed, or status, or power, or sex, or the approval of others. Jesus says that His people will be known by their fruits. That means that people will be able to see that Jesus is the King of people’s lives; He will affect the things that His followers say and do, the judgments they make, the paths they follow. Jesus’ followers won’t be perfect, but like that farmer, those around them will see that they’ve committed themselves to following the King Who totally committed His life to them on the cross.

I believe that one reason that people refuse to follow Jesus or be involved with Christ’s Church, whether they realize it or not, is that they don’t want to take orders from anyone else. They want to be their own kings and queens. Carol Noren is a Methodist pastor and professor at an Evangelical Covenant Church seminary. She once told the story of an English friend who regularly railed against the very idea of royalty. He spoke of what a waste of money and time the British royal family was. So, when this man’s name appeared on the Queen’s honors list one year, Noren wondered what this friend would do. To receive his award, like others on the honors list, the man would have to go to Buckingham Palace and meet the Queen. In fact, the man did make the trip to London. At the right time during the ceremony, he bowed to the queen. As Noren puts it, “All doubts and cynicism were put aside, and in meeting and acknowledging [the Queen] as sovereign, he received the reward that only she could give.”

In our Gospel lesson, Pilate doesn’t want to acknowledge Jesus as King. Jesus tells Pilate that He isn’t the King of all the things people allow to rule them in this world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He says. Then we’re told: "Pilate asked [Jesus], 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.'”

Followers of Jesus are people who have heard Jesus’ call: all who are weary and heavy laden, come to Me, and I will give you rest.

Followers of Jesus are people who, by hearing Jesus' voice, have become acquainted with some basic truths. Truths like: We need God and God is bigger than we are. Truths like: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, but live with God forever; like all who believe in Jesus are saved, but those who don’t believe in Him are condemned because, as Jesus says, “they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Followers of Jesus are people who have put their doubt and cynicism aside and in meeting and acknowledging Jesus as their King and sovereign receive undeserved rewards–forgiveness, everlasting relationship with God, and never-ending hope, rewards that only Jesus can give. Followers of Jesus have committed or consecrated their whole lives to Him.

Fred is a man Ann and I got to know twenty-seven years ago. By the time we got to know him, he was in recovery from addiction to alcohol and painkillers. His life—and that of his family—had been a living hell for decades until he admitted he had a problem he couldn’t conquer on his own and humbly asked Christ the King to reclaim every bit of His life.

I remember on Good Friday when I read the account of Jesus’ arrest and death on the cross, I looked at Fred and saw him weeping tears of joy. He knew what Jesus had done for him. He knew that Jesus had delivered him from his slavery to pills and booze and sin. He was grateful and totally committed to following Jesus!

Two years later, Fred died, no doubt the result of abuse to which he’d long subjected his body. But as they grieved, his family and friends also rejoiced. They had seen how Fred had heard the voice of truth, the voice of Jesus, and been made new—eternally new—by Jesus Christ. As we go about our daily lives, can others see that Jesus Christ is our king?

On this Consecration Sunday, I want to challenge you to commit or re-commit yourself to following Jesus the King Who loved you all the way to the cross. Our King Jesus deserves nothing less than our total commitment.

Let’s pray: “Wonderful God, Christ lived and died for us. Help us to dare to live and die for Christ. Bless us that we might bless others, that we might infect this community and this world with the Good News of a loving God Who offers life forever to those who repent for sin and believe in Jesus Christ. And, as we prepare for our dinner together, thank You for the food and all Your other blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”