Remembering to Remember
As I write this, it’s Memorial Day. The one day each year when we are to take a breather
and remember those valiant men and women who gave their lives for our country in the armed
services. As I prepared the message for the Sunday before Memorial Day, I was captured by one
verse in the Gospel text:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples on that fateful Thursday evening as they gathered at the
table we now call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus sat there sensing the crisis about to unfold, the
closeness of peril, the reality of the end and realized it was time to sum it all up. Biblical
scholars have termed the portion of John's Gospel between the 13th and 17th chapters the
“Farewell Discourse.” In it he speaks of the centrality of love. It was then as it is now a
completely new way of thinking about religion, God, and our relationship to Him. Fifty years
later, John would write, “God is love.” It is the very essence of God to act out of love. Love for
God, love for neighbor. Those who live out this type of love also live with God. Those who
express God's love in their lives live as close to God as is possible in this world. And then the
most profound definition of love - “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life
for his friends.” And then he left that upper room and did just that, the unthinkable. He died for
them. He laid down his life not only for his friends but also for you and me.
Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we remember. We remember the sacrifice
Jesus made on that Friday on the cross. What else can we say about the one who went
obediently to the cross than his own suffering was for our salvation. With his stripes we are
healed. He laid his life down for his friends. God continues to use that event to make us more
human, to make us more loving, to heal us and make us whole, to redeem our very souls.
That's what happens when we remember. Somehow the horrific events of something like
the holocaust, when we confront it, and see it and remember, when we stare at the pictures of the
piles of shoes, when we walk through the museums - somehow remembering the horror not only
incites outrage, anger and resolve, but it also stimulates a certain gratitude for God's love.
And so I encourage each of you to remember. Remember those men and women who
paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Remember that freedom is in no way free. But also
remember with thanksgiving another sacrifice made on a hill outside of Jerusalem some two
thousand years ago. Remember with gratitude the love and grace it represents.
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood,
to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 2:5 - KJV)
If you spend much time in a garden, you will inevitably have to deal with rocks. It seems as if the earth grows rocks. I plant beans, cucumbers and tomatoes and the soil grows rocks! Most of these rocks are discarded into piles to be thrown in a ditch or down the hill. Some however will be used to outline driveways, construct mailboxes or even build houses. I’ve always been amazed at rock houses. I marvel at the craftsmanship that goes into taking a bunch of irregular, mismatched stones and turning them into a building. It would seem to me that before these stones could be used for construction, someone would need to take some time smoothing out the irregularities, knocking off the rough edges and making them fit with their neighbors. But rock houses are not always build this way. Our Scripture lesson this morning reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ is much like these rock houses. God does not wait for us to have all of the jagged edges smoothed or the rounded corners removed before he uses us to build his church. The classic example of this is the Apostle Peter. Peter was the antithesis of what you might think an apostle of Jesus should be. He was inarticulate, often said the most inappropriate things, and when the chips were down he took off running. Peter was certainly a stone which by all rights should have been rejected. Thankfully, this is not how God works. God chose Peter to be the foundation of His church. On the banks of the Sea of Galilee Jesus reinstated him (John 21:15ff). And we all know Peter went on to be a central figure in the emerging church. I guess if there is a moral to all of this it would be if you see yourself as unworthy to be a part of God’s kingdom, if you believe yourself to be too stained, too rough to enter into a relationship with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, just think back on Peter. If God was willing to use Peter, there is absolutely no one who is beyond redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God!
Marked for Life
1 John 3:16-24
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is probably one of the most cherished symbols in all of Christendom. The community of faith which gathered around John’s gospel in the first century understood that they were a people who were marked for life by the cross of Christ. Contemporary opinion often sees Jesus’ death on the cross as being an event that was forced upon him, or in the least offensive terms one in which he reluctantly participated. Nothing could be further from the truth. We learn in John’s gospel that he willingly laid down his life. All of the suffering and all of the pain were gladly accepted of his own volition. Thus you and I are ready recipients of this great gift. Whatever degree of tragedy incorporated into Jesus’ crucifixion has been far outweighed by the reality and triumph of the resurrection. There are those who see Jesus as the victim, but we Christians understand him to be the victor. Jesus said, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This is how the Good Shepherd gathers his flock. The church gathers in memory of this life given freely for all. There is something in this forfeited life which marks each and every one of us. We gather believing that sacrificial living is the way to live into abundant life. Christian living is life poured out so that it can be refilled from God’s everlasting fountain of grace and mercy. This is what life, what love really looks like. He laid down his life for us!
Blessings in Christ our Good Shepherd,
I wonder how many times we go about our daily lives as if we were wearing blinders. We’re so focused on whatever task, whatever business is at hand that we fail to see the much larger picture which is full of grace and beauty. This past Sunday we took a look at the story of Jesus appearing to the two followers of his on the road to Emmaus. I can see them in my mind’s eye - depressed, downcast, eyes centered on the road five feet in front of them. Jesus shows up and they still can’t seem to tear their eyes away from their despair. It was only when they sat down to eat and Jesus broke bread with them, forcing the two men to focus on something other than their own problems, that they saw Jesus for who he was. Perhaps this is a model for us. If we want to learn who Jesus really is, we need to step away from our daily concerns and focus on him. Just a thought - Pastor John.
Last Sunday (April 19, 2020) we took a look at the very familiar story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. The disciple frequently labeled “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:19-29). In John’s gospel, it’s the second time Jesus appeared to the disciples behind locked doors. Jesus insists that Thomas touch his wounds to prove that the man before him is in fact the Risen Lord. So often we take this story at face value. Jesus allowed Thomas to touch the wounds in order that he might believe in the resurrection. A much deeper question though is why did Jesus still have wounds? Why didn’t God “fix him up” before his resurrection appearances. The first church I served had twelve beautiful stained glass windows said to have been imported from Belgium. One of the windows showed Jesus as the Good Shepherd complete with staff and lamb in his arms. Only close inspection revealed the wounds in his hands and feet. It is the wounded Christ who is the Good Shepherd. His injuries remind us that Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be completely whole before he comes to us. Jesus’ wounds remind us that he has experienced the same pain and loneliness, the same abandonment and despair that we feel. Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us experiencing all of the highs and lows of human existence. Regardless of where we are in our walk of life, Jesus has been there and more than that - he cares. He cares about each and every one of us. So much so that he willingly endured unimaginable pain and suffering and the humiliation of the cross in order that through him each of us might find salvation. Thanks be to God!
Greetings in Christ! We would like to welcome you to the Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church website and blog. Rev. Hallman will be checking in on a regular basis to give you a weekly glimpse at the upcoming service of worship and offer words of support and encouragement. We hope you are blessed by Christ through this ministry and continue to be kept safe in His presence during this difficult time. If you need pastoral care, please contact Rev. Hallman via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
God be with you till we meet again
By His counsels guide uphold you
With His sheep securely fold you
God be with you till we meet again!