Sunday, April 26, 2009

Deeds of Love

1 John 3:16-24

What is love? We’ve been asking this question for centuries. And of course, love is a favorite sermon topic, so we preachers have had more than enough opportunities to offer our definitions. And yet, it seems as if this continues to be an appropriate topic to consider, because we still struggle with our definitions and with our practice of love.

I know that for the broader world love is eternally connected to romance, but normally, when the Bible speaks of love, it has something else in mind. Indeed, love is the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus summed up the law of God in two commandments – love God and love neighbors. Every thing else is simply commentary on these two commandments. And if you read through our text this morning, I’d venture to say that you wound find that we keep the first by keeping the second.

When it comes to the biblical idea of love, I can’t think of a better pop culture example than the closing scenes of the old Star Trek movie: The Wrath of Kahn. In this film, Captain Kirk’s old nemesis, Kahn, tries to destroy the Enterprise, and the crew has only one hope of survival– Spock must fix the warp drive to keep the ship from exploding. But to do this he’ll have to enter a radiation-filled reactor room and cap the reactor. Spock goes into the room and fixes the problem, knowing that he won’t come out alive. His crew mates are saved and appreciative, but they regret their loss. But, as Spock lies dying, trapped by his own choice in the reactor room, he tells Jim Kirk that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one"

Although Spock is a person of logic and never shows emotion, I would suggest that his action was truly an act of love for his crew mates. As the movie closes, Spock’s body is beamed to the newly formed Genesis planet. In the sequel, Spock is reborn and then reunited with his spirit, which had been placed within Dr. McCoy through a mind-meld. Now, it might be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that this is a metaphor for resurrection, but I think you get the point. The gospel message is simply this, the needs of the many – us– outweighs the needs of the one – Jesus.

Good Friday reminds us that Jesus stood against the “powers that be,” and that he died a horrific death as a result. The Easter event, however, reminds us that despite the horrors of Good Friday, God has vindicated Jesus through the resurrection. Easter teaches us that life and not death is our destiny. With life as our destiny, we hear the call to live out God’s passion. For, as Bible scholar Marcus Borg puts it:
"At the heart of Christianity is the heart of God -- a passion for our transformation and the transformation of the world. At the heart of Christianity is participating in the passion of God." (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, p. 225)

If I understand him correctly, Borg believes that love and faith are action oriented. What we do, more than what we say, gives evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God.

1. Jesus is Love in Action

It seems odd to many modern people that Christians use an instrument of execution as our primary religious symbol. Of course, the cross has become such a popular piece of jewelry, we may forget that it was the ancient equivalent of the electric chair.

But from a biblical and a Christian perspective, this horrific device has become a sign of God’s love for the world. This is the message of John’s letter. In Jesus’ death, we discover how much God loves us. By laying down his life for his friends, Jesus shows us the fullness of God’s love, and encourages us to do the same.

The question is: how do we follow this pathway? John isn’t asking us to die. He’s asking us to live sacrificially for others. This means living a life of service to humanity with the hope that the world might be transformed. In his willingness to give his life as an expression of God’s love for the world, Jesus gives us a hint as to the true nature of the Christian faith. It’s really not about me. It’s about the world and its needs. Jesus’ message is one of servanthood, something he demonstrated by getting on his knees and washing the feet of the disciples (John 13). Now, Jesus’ disciples didn’t always get what Jesus was trying to do or teach, any more than we do. To give you an example, some of the disciples were trying to advance their position in Jesus’ kingdom, but Jesus pointed to the woman who washed and anointed his feet and said – remember her because she got it. She understands that the way of the kingdom is the way of service (Mk 14:3-9).

Jesus lived a life that welcomed others and transformed lives. He empowered fishermen, tax collectors, and women, both wayward and virtuous. He touched the untouchables and gave them life. Yes, Jesus is love in action.

2. Christian Faith is Love in Action

If Jesus is love in action, then the Christian life should be a manifestation of this love in action. Though none of us seems able to fully live out this life of divine love, it remains our goal. It’s why we sing: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” We sing the song with gusto, hoping that it will be true in our own lives.

Jesus offers us an example of how to live a life of love and service, but sometimes we put Jesus on such a high pedestal that we can’t conceive of living life the way he did. So, we often turn to the saints of God, the ones who have lived lives of gracious love and with whom we can better identify. Of course, they too wish to live as Jesus lived.

And to whom do we look? Each of us has our own list of saints, but Mother Teresa is usually near the top. But, she’s not alone. There’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Martin Luther King, both men were saints of God whose lives helped changed the world, and both of them, like Jesus, died young. When I think of people who lived sacrificial lives of love, I often think of Father Damian, the Belgian Catholic priest, who gave his life caring for the lepers on Molokai. So closely did he work with these “untouchables” of society that he too contracted the disease. Still, despite his own disability, he never gave up his calling to care for others. Whoever lives their lives for others with such devotion, they become for us mentors and guides. They show us the way of Jesus, and remind us that the Christian life is truly one of service to others.

3. Love comes from the Spirit who Abides in us

True love, the Scriptures teach us, is seen in the way we live our lives in the world. John asks: How does God’s love abide in one who “has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” When the love of Jesus truly penetrates our lives, when we truly abide with the Spirit of God, our hearts will reach out to those who are in need. By walking in the Spirit we’re empowered to be servants of everyone whom God loves. And according to the gospel of John, God loves the whole world enough to send a son to share our lives and to be a beacon of love even in death.

With Easter’s glories fading from our memories, it’s easy to forget the Easter message of transformation. But, a day is coming when we will once again be reminded that the Spirit of divine love is present among us, changing lives. Yes, very soon we will arrive at Pentecost, a celebration that brings to us a message of encouragement and empowerment, so that we who follow Jesus, might love those whom Jesus loves. Whether it’s caring for a leper or making sandwiches for the homeless, whether providing shoes for needy children or comforting the grieving, where the Spirit is present, Jesus the crucified and risen one, touches and transforms lives. And, so, filled with the Spirit of the God revealed to us in the cross of Jesus, we sing:
“They will know we are Christians, by our love, by our Love.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Walking in the Light

1 John 1:1-2:2

An ancient Easter hymn declares:

That Easter day with joy was bright,
the sun shone out with fairer light,
when, to their longing eyes restored,
the glad apostles saw their Lord.
(
Chalice Hymnal, 229)

On this second Sunday of Easter, as we continue to bask in the glory of the resurrection, I pray that our eyes have been restored so that we can see our Lord. Having had our sight restored, I pray that we might confess that “God is Light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).

This confession that God is light, should bring to mind various biblical texts and images that can help us better understand who we are as the children of God. And there is no better place to start than at the beginning, where God says: “Let there be light.” And when God saw the light, God declares that the light is good. Indeed, as we emerge from a long winter, we can readily affirm the truth of this statement – Indeed, the light is good! It’s good because it lights our paths and warms our bodies.

1. God is Light

John apparently assumes that we would all agree with his confession that God is light, because he goes right on and applies this confession to our lives. But before we skip to the application, I thought it would be helpful to stop and think about what this confession means.

When I read Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text, the contrast that appears in this statement becomes a bit clearer. In The Message version of the text, God is described as being “pure light” and “without a trace of darkness in him.” God is pure and perfect light. There is no stain, no impurity, now shadow even. And if God is this pure light, without darkness or shadow, what does that mean? Does it not mean that in God’s nature there is no evil, deceit, or capriciousness? Doesn’t it mean that God can’t be bribed or corrupted? Indeed, if this definition is true, we can’t manipulate God or use God to justify our darker moments. And, therefore, to walk with God is to walk in the light and not the darkness.


2. Choosing to Walk in the Light

If God is pure light, then when God is present God’s light will illuminate our own deeds of darkness. It’s just like what happens when you turn the light on in a dark cellar – all the creatures that enjoy the darkness quickly scurry away. That image is apparent in the Genesis story of the Fall, where Adam and Eve hide in the hope that their own dark act won’t be exposed. Of course, as the story continues, we learn that their efforts at hiding from God were less than successful.

If God is pure light, without a trace of darkness, the same is not true of us. I think we’re all aware that there’s at least a bit of darkness in our lives. The question is: to what degree does the darkness control our lives. John suggests that we have a choice – we can decide whether we’re going to walk in the light or in the darkness.

When I think of this choice between light and darkness, my thoughts are drawn to the Star Wars films, which at least a few of view of you have probably seen. Although the way in which this idea is developed in the films is a bit simplistic, there’s something to be learned from them. The point that’s made in the films is that whatever choice we make will color the way we live our lives. They also suggest that the choice isn’t as easy as we might think. We’d all like to think that we’re on the right side of things – that we’re people of the light. But as we learn from the films, darkness has its attractions. There’s a certain power that emerges from dark emotions like anger and hatred and fear. If we give reign to them, we may just gain power over our own fate and the fate of others. Sometimes, we may even have good intentions, and believe that our choices are the right ones. We might believe that our choice is benefiting others, but in the end we discover that we’ve given into a darkness that consumes us. This dilemma is well illustrated in memos released just this week by our government. We learned first hand that Justice Department lawyers gave the green light to torture – all in the name of protecting the nation’s security.

But, back to the movies: The characters of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, father and son, live out the tension that exists between light and darkness. Anakin becomes powerful by tapping into his anger and his resentment, but in the end this new found power destroys the very people he loves and it ultimately consumes him – turning him into Darth Vader. Luke on the other hand, although tempted by the possibilities of the dark side, especially when he’s offered the opportunity to save friends and loved ones, he chooses to walk the other way. By embracing the light, he takes a risk, but in the end he redeems his father.

So, which way will we turn? As you consider this question, we need to hear John’s caveat – if you claim to walk in the light, but continue walking in the darkness, you’re lying to yourself and to others. And if you think you’re not walking in darkness, you’re still deceiving yourself, because unlike God, we’re not pure light. There is darkness within us – unfortunately. We’d rather that it be different, but John seems to know us better than we know ourselves. Sin continues to have a foothold in our lives. I know this to be true, because when the light of God’s presence shines into my life, I can see the shadows of darkness present in my life. It’s not a pretty picture, but its reality.

If there’s bad news in this sermon, there’s also good news. We may not have broken free from sin’s hold on our lives, but the light is stronger than the darkness. Through God’s Spirit, which shines the light of God upon our lives, we’ve been enabled to break free of sin’s hold on our lives.

3. The Way of the Light

This is all well and good, but talk of light and darkness seems rather abstract. What about some concrete examples of darkness and light? I don’t know if there’s a better list than the one found in Galatians 5, where Paul speaks of the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. On the one hand, the darkness is expressed in things like: immorality, idolatry, enmity and strife, dissension, faction, envy. As for the light, it’s expressed in these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, Paul writes, there is no law (Galatians 5:16-23). We may never, in this life, fully experience the fullness of God’s light, but when we let this light, which is God, shine through our lives, then surely these fruit will be present in our lives, transforming us into bearers of God’s light in the world. And remember what Jesus say, don’t hide your light under a bushel!

But, when the darkness gets control of us – which it does on occasion – John says that God has provided us an antidote, a way of redemption and renewal, so that we don’t get caught in the whirlpool of darkness. He tells us that if we sin, God has given us an advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Jesus makes it possible for us, and the whole world, to stand before God and bask in God’s glory. As Beverly Gaventa puts it:
The fellowship of Christians then is not a fellowship of those who do not sin; but a fellowship of those who know that they have Jesus as their advocate when they sin. (Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching, B WJK, 1993, 283).

4. Baptism and the Light

Although this morning’s text doesn’t speak of baptism, I think there’s a relationship between baptism and the light. For Disciples baptism marks a point of decision. By going down into the water and then rising out of it, we identify ourselves with the one who bears the light of God – Jesus the righteous (Romans 6). And as the author of 1 Peter puts it: baptism serves as an appeal for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21). When we’re baptized we make a choice – we choose to follow the light, even if darkness keeps calling out our name.
This morning as Rial is baptized, completing something that for whatever reason, fell through the cracks of the years, I’d like to invite you to join with Rial and renew your own commitments that were made in baptism, commitments that you made to walk in the light that is God.


Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Surprise!! -- An Easter Sermon

John 20:1-18

Rarely is there any “surprise” in a surprise birthday party. The tale-tell signs are everywhere — the clandestine phone calls and the secretive meetings. Besides, since you know that your birthday is coming up, you’re not at all surprised if your friends jump out from behind the sofa and yell: “Surprise!”

A real surprise would be a long lost friend unexpectedly showing up on your doorstep. Or, you go out to dig a well in the backyard and stumble upon a complete T-Rex skeleton. That’s the definition of a surprise. It’s something that happens, which you wouldn’t ever expect to happen.

Although the four gospel accounts of Easter morning differ to some degree in how they pass on the details of that event, they all agree on one thing. They agree that everyone involved was truly surprised to learn that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was missing. This is especially true of John's account, which carries with it a sense of the “who dunnit?” Indeed, this would be a good case for Sherlock Holmes or one of the CSI teams – whether it’s Vegas, Miami or New York. In fact, you might even call in the NCIS team to get to the bottom of this mystery!

I. THE EMPTY TOMB

Although John doesn’t explicitly say this, we could assume from his narrative that Mary Magdalene had watched the soldiers take Jesus down from the cross. If we make that assumption, we might also imagine her helping Joseph and Nicodemus prepare the body and then place it in the tomb (John 19:38-42). If we had been there with her, and had shared in her experience of the cross, like her, we would have been devastated. Good Friday had dashed all of her hopes and dreams, and so when she went to the tomb, early on that first day of the week, she went to grieve not to find an empty tomb. I can see her walking toward the tomb in the coolness of the morning, tears falling down her face, wondering what would happen to her now that the Master was gone.

While she was in that frame of mind, she would have looked up, her eyes cloudy with tears, and discovered that the stone, which sealed the tomb, had been rolled out of the way. I think she would have been frantic when she looked in and found the tomb empty. I don’t hear in this text Mary shouting out: “Oh joy, he’s been resurrected, just as he said.” No, as John suggests, her first inclination was that someone had come and stolen the body; there was no other possible explanation.

When she returned to where the disciples were hiding, her story led Peter and the beloved disciple, to check out the story for themselves. Although the beloved disciple got there first, he deferred to Peter, who entered first. Like Mary, Peter found the tomb to be empty. Although John says that beloved disciple looked in and believed, I don’t see anyone jumping and down celebrating the resurrection. So, I’m not exactly sure what the beloved disciple believed, because apparently they still didn’t "understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead."

II. MARY'S QUEST

Everyone went back into hiding, everyone except Mary, who stayed behind. Maybe she was hoping she could find the body or at least get an answer to where the body might be. It’s at this point in John’s version of the Easter story, that Mary looks into the tomb and finds two white-robed angels sitting where the body had once lain. They asked her what would appear to be a most insensitive question: “Why are you weeping?” And she answers: "They have taken away my Lord."

While the beloved disciple may have believed, Mary remained unconvinced. The tomb’s emptiness didn’t prod her toward faith in the resurrection. She knew that bodies didn’t just disappear, there had to be a logical explanation, but these two messengers from God didn’t offer her any help. They just reinforced her confusion and her grief.

As the story continues, Mary realizes that someone is standing behind her. She glances back, but doesn’t recognize who it is, but she figures it must be the gardener. When the supposed gardener asks: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" In her anger and in her grief, she yells back at him: "If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

III. THE WONDERFUL SURPRISE

David Hume, an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, questioned the truthfulness of anything he couldn’t experience with his own senses, and he didn't even trust them. His world view was closed to anything that couldn't be explained by empirical testing, and as far as he was concerned, resurrections were outside the bounds of his presuppositions. While Mary wasn’t a disciple of Hume, resurrections weren't part of her normal life experience either, and so she needed a rational explanation. I can sympathize with her. I’d probably want the same thing.

While the angels didn’t help, when the “gardener” called out her name, he broke her world view, and ours, wide open. She knew exactly who it was, when Jesus called out her name. This was her surprise. She went looking for a body, but she found her Lord. Indeed, she shouted out "Rabboni!" And then she probably said something like: "Oh my, you're not dead! You're alive." She must have been as giddy as Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. She was so excited that Jesus had to restrain her. I can see her grabbing hold of him and not wanting to let go. He’d gone away once, but she wasn’t going to let him go away again. But Jesus said to her “don’t touch, you have to let me go.”

IV. MARY'S MESSAGE

I’m sure Mary let go very reluctantly, but Jesus wasn't finished with her quite yet. She would be his witness, his apostle. He commissioned her to take the good news of the resurrection to the rest of the disciples. This is another Easter surprise, because in choosing Mary to be his first witness, Jesus elevated her, and with her, all women, to a place of equality with men in the kingdom of God. He could have revealed himself to Peter, or to the beloved disciple, but he waited for Mary, and that just didn’t happen back then. But on that day it did, and it changed her life and ours forever!

When Mary got back to the Upper Room, she carried with her the good news –“I have seen the Lord!" That must have come as quite a surprise to the despondent disciples, but this confession transformed their lives. That was a day, to quote a Brian Wren hymn, “of new beginnings, a time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone” (Chalice Hymnal, Chalice Press, 518).

On this glorious Easter morning, Mary proclaims to us this message: He is alive! And if Jesus is alive, then we’re alive! Death no longer reigns. Indeed, death has lost its sting. There is no need to fear. Why? Because Jesus has conquered death, and made it his servant. Therefore, with Mary, and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, we can proclaim this message: "Alleluia, Christ the Lord is Risen Today!"


Preached by:
Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Easter Sunday
April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Standing Firm

Isaiah 50:4-9a

"Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." That’s what you’re supposed to say when bullies pick on you and call you names. It would be nice, if names didn’t hurt, but from experience I can say – it’s not true. Names do hurt. Indeed, we’ve discovered that verbal abuse can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse. James understood this to be true long before the psychologists caught on. He called the tongue a "restless evil, full of deadly poison." Indeed, the same tongue that we use to sing praises to God, we also use to curse those "who are made in the likeness of God." (James 3:1-12).

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, and as we wave our palm branches and triumphantly process into church the excitement begins to build. Yes, this is a time to shout out words of praise and give thanks for God’s gift of deliverance. Oh, if things would just stay like that, but if you know the story, you know that things quickly changed. Those same voices that shouted out words of praise, soon began to call for the head of Jesus.

As a preacher, I never know what to do with Palm Sunday. It’s fun to sing and dance, but I know where things lead. Making a big deal about Jesus’ triumphal entry seems rather beside the point, when I know that Good Friday is on the horizon.

But the Gospels tell this story nonetheless, maybe as a reminder to us that we’re often fickle, getting pulled along by the crowd, this way and that. In that telling of Jesus’ story, we find him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. To us riding a donkey might not make an impression, but for first-century Jews, it may have called to mind a prophetic word of hope. It’s quite likely that Jesus intentionally acted out Zechariah’s prophetic word that one day a king would ride triumphantly into the city on a donkey, bringing with him the promise of peace for all nations, even as he extended his rule to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:9-10).

So, as the people began to hear that the teacher from Galilee was riding into town on a donkey, they must have wondered – Is this the one? Indeed, is this the one who will wrest dominion from the hated Roman oppressors and restore freedom to God’s people? With those thoughts in mind, it’s no surprise that the people responded by shouting hosanna and by spreading palm branches out in front of him.

As we consider this scene, we need to consider another one, because it’s quite possible that as Jesus was entering the city through one gate, the Roman governor was riding into the city through another gate astride a war horse. So, here we have it – two visions of reality. One vision lifts up peace, while the other focuses on domination. We’re fickle. We’ll give peace a chance, but only for a moment, because when push comes to shove, we’re likely to embrace Caesar. It’s safer, after all!

I. STANDING FIRM

Linus once said to Charlie Brown:
"I don't like to face problems head on. I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. This is a distinct philosophy of mine. No problem is so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from!"

I like that philosophy. I'd rather switch than fight! But Charlie Brown, who isn't known for standing up for himself, asks Linus: “What if everyone in the whole world suddenly decided to run away from his problems?” Linus answers: “Well, at least we'd all be running in the same direction.” [Robert Short, The Parables of Peanuts, (HarperSan Francisco), 47].

When we see Caesar’s armies heading our way, it’s likely we’ll either flee or submit, because those are the safer choices. But is that the Jesus way? Is the Jesus way, the safe way? I believe that Jesus knew what he was doing when he rode into the city riding on a donkey. He knew he was asking for trouble – because Rome wasn’t going to back down easily. That’s why the triumphal entry is an aberration. Jesus understood that peace would come by way of the cross and not the sword.

This Friday we will gather to reflect on the cross and its meaning for our lives. In our imaginations, we’ll watch as Jesus is nailed to the cross, cries out in agony, and dies a cruel and painful death. And, we’ll ask why things happened this way. I expect that the answer we receive will be a complicated one. There is no easy answer as to why the cross stands at the center of our faith. But, I do hope that our Good Friday reflections will remind us that no matter what we do, even if we abuse God’s son, God will not give up on us. And, I also hope we’ll better understand that while the search for domination is world’s way of living, God’s way is one of love, reconciliation, and peace.

In Christian theology, Jesus is often identified with the suffering servant of Isaiah 50. He’s the one who stands firm in the face of oppression, because he knows that God will stand with him. In the face of trial, this servant says "he who vindicates me is near." So, who can contend with me?

As I think about the church's place in an often hostile world, I find great hope in the history of the Christian faith. We can go all the way back to the earliest days, to Paul, Ignatius, Perpetua, and Origen. But there are many recent stories to consider as well – stories like that of the Chinese church. In 1949, when the Communist government kicked out the last western missionaries, that church was still small and struggling. No one gave it a ghost of a chance of surviving without outside help. But, today, more than a half century later, that church has mushroomed. Despite the cultural revolution and years of oppression, the church has grown from a few hundred thousand to millions of adherents. In fact, no one is completely sure how many Christians live in China, but some estimates place it well above fifty million. The church could have folded in 1949, but it didn't.

II. GOD'S THREE GIFTS THROUGH JESUS

Though times can be difficult, Isaiah 50 offers us three words of hope. These words, which apply at one level to the Jewish people, and at another level to Jesus, also apply to us, for as St. Francis said: Christians are "little Christs."
  • God Gives a Word that Sustains.
Words can destroy, but there are also words that heal, console, and sustain the weary. Jesus brought words of healing to sinners, outcasts, and the frail, and as "Little Christs" we can do the same.
  • God opens our Ears
Some times we worry about what to say to someone in distress. But in many cases we don’t need to say very much. Just listening may be more important that saying anything. Isaiah invites us to pray that God would open our ears so that we could hear God’s voice and also hear the voices of our neighbors. Even as God quiets our rebellious hearts, by opening our ears to his voice, God offers consolation and support, so that we can listen to our neighbor’s cries for help in times of trouble.

  • God helps us Persevere
It’s easy to give up in the face of difficulty. Linus may be right, running from our problems might be a good philosophy. It’s a safe choice, after all! But is this what God wants from us?

Jesus knew that Palm Sunday wouldn't be the last word. He knew that Good Friday stood in front of him, but he stood firm in the face of oppression, because he knew that his vindication was near. He knew the truth of Psalm 46, which declares that God is our refuge and our strength. Yes, God is our very present help in times of trouble. Though earthquakes shake the land or the oceans roar, we needn’t fear, because God – not the church, not our family, not our government – is our strength. The world may ask: Where is your God? And our answer should be: "It is the Lord who helps me."

Luther's magnificent hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God, is based on Psalm 46. In this grand hymn, we declare that God is our "mighty fortress" and "a bulwark never failing, our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing." Though our enemies seek our destruction, we needn’t fear. There’s no need to run from our problems. Instead, we can stand firm, because God is near. God says to us in our times of trouble: “Be still and know that I am God!"

The promise of Palm Sunday is that Easter will overcome Good Friday. Jesus cries out on our behalf – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And he also declares a word of hope: “Into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” In this declaration, we find our hope.

The message of Holy Week, which we enter this morning, is this: Whether it’s sticks or stones, or names, we have been called to a ministry of word and service, and no matter what comes our way, God is there to sustain us in our ministry. As we go forth into the world, we don’t go alone. There will be resistance, but God and not Caesar will prevail. So be strong, stand firm!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
April 5, 2009