The Parables of Jesus

This past Easter Sunday, I preached on the importance of imagination. I invited us to consider how the resurrection of Jesus was an event in history that transformed the world and that also should transform our imaginations – not in the sense that the empty tomb was imaginary, but in the sense that the empty tomb forces us to see the world in a brand new way. This was the invitation to the disciples, and it’s an invitation to us today, too. Come and see!

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Jesus had actually prepared his disciples to use their imaginations for quite some time. As they walked through Galilee, as they ate in homes, and as they entered Jerusalem, Jesus frequently told stories about his Father and his Father’s kingdom. We call these stories parables. Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. These stories were intended to open up the disciples’ imaginations, to make them think and wonder about the deep mysteries of God using language that was familiar and accessible. The parables are some of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture, and Jesus wants to use them to reshape our imaginations today as well.

Starting May 5, I will be preaching through some of the parables from Luke’s gospel. You may have noticed that I skipped these parables as we studied Luke all winter long. That was intentional. Now that we’ve walked with Jesus from Advent to Easter – through his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection – we can circle back to his stories to expand our imaginations this springtime. I hope you’ll join us in this season of ministry as we go further up and further into the God-filled life to which Christ calls us.

Yours,
Blake

Good Friday

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Holy Sonnets: “Death, be not proud”
By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Maundy Thursday

We welcome all to join us for an observance of Maundy Thursday tomorrow at First Presbyterian Church. We will meet at 6:00 p.m. for dinner, followed by the Lord’s Supper, in the Fellowship Hall. After this (probably around 7:00), we will move into the sanctuary for a brief service of worship.

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The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, referring to the “new commandment” Jesus taught his disciples (John 13:34).  This is a sacred and a somber time, yet it is not a time without hope, for we know that out of the darkness of the tomb will shine the brilliant light of resurrection on Easter morning.

Click this link to learn more.

Strange Surprise

"Strange Surprise" by Malcolm Guite

None of this need have happened, all of this,
These unexpected gifts, this overflow
Of things we know, and things we'll never know,
None of this had to be, but here it is,
The here-and-now, in all its strange surprise;
A space to be ourselves in, and a grace
That spins us round and turns us to the source
Whence all these gifts and graces still arise.

And now the one through whom all this was made,
Whom we ignore, on whom we turn our back,
Whom we denied, insulted and betrayed,
Gathers and offers for us all we lack,
Voices on our behalf creation's praise,
And calls us to become the song he plays.

 

Ascension Day

The Ascension of the Lord

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From the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

The seven weeks of the Easter season include the festival of the ascension of our Lord — Ascension Day. Throughout the earliest centuries of the church, every Sunday celebrated the unitive festival of the paschal mystery: the passion–death–resurrection–ascension of Christ, the giving of the Spirit, and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time. Over the years, however, Christ’s redeeming work was gradually separated into individual feasts on specific days. For instance, by the late fourth century, the Lord’s ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we commemorated as two distinct aspects of Christ’s redeeming work. Ascension Day’s exaltation of Christ, however, still looks both back to Transfiguration and Easter and forward to Christ the King (or Reign of Christ).

In that John Calvin’s theology placed great importance on the ascended and regnant Christ, Ascension Day is in some ways the Presbyterian feast day. Christ is Lord of the world and head of the church, we proclaim. Christ’s ascension, therefore, concerns us not only with ecclesiastical matters but also with social and political ones. If Christ has ascended, then there are no other rulers — all others are merely pretenders. Christ reigns supreme.

With the raising of Christ to a position above all worldly powers, the earthly ministry of Christ begun at Christmas’s incarnation now concludes. The path of faithfulness obediently followed by Christ traveled through the suffering of the cross to the exaltation of the glory. From glory to suffering to glory again is the shape of Jesus’ ministry as well as ours. We too, are destined for the glory we share now in Christ only by faith. “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

A Prayer:

Most High God, we are witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ: written in the Law, promised by the prophets, sung by the psalmists; given in love for the world, risen from the dust of death, lifted up in heavenly glory. Let our lives proclaim Christ's life. Wrap us in your power and presence so that we may worship you always, continually blessing your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Image credit: Icon of the Ascension by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev (1360-1430)

Reflections on Maundy Thursday

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday.  What on earth does that mean?

On Maundy Thursday the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in an upper room before his arrest and crucifixion.  During this evening, Jesus washed his disciples' feet and shared his "last supper" with them.

Image credit: Diane Herring

Maundy Thursday begins the Triduum, the three-day period from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Sunday.  The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, referring to the “new commandment” Jesus taught his disciples (John 13:34).*

At First Presbyterian Church, our worship service on Maundy Thursday is the primary midweek event during Holy Week.  As such, our service also draws attention to Good Friday and the suffering, death, and burial of our Lord.  The removal of the elements from the sanctuary represents the humiliation, nakedness, and abandonment of Jesus as he was arrested and crucified.  As we leave in silence, we contemplate the darkness of his death on the cross for us.

This is a sacred and a somber time.  Yet it is not a time without hope, for we gather as a people who know that out of the darkness of the tomb will shine the brilliant light of resurrection on Easter morning. 

It may be Thursday... but Sunday's coming.

Blake

P.S. - Take a look at the other resources for reflecting on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday:


“What Happened on the Cross?" - N.T. Wright responds

"Countdown to Calvary" - a new BBC series chronicling the last days of Jesus' life

Do You Want to Get Well?

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Today we heard the story of Jesus healing an "invalid" at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18).  Jesus asks a probing question: "Do you want to get well?"  The man does, and Jesus heals him. 

One-fifth of all the material in the Gospels is concerned with Jesus' healing of some form of physical disease.  This has dramatic implications for our life today as Jesus' followers.  The Son of God came to save us and to heal us - in body and in soul, in this life or in the life to come.  

Take a look at these extra resources, especially the Wilson article I referenced in my sermon.

- Blake


We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that He has power but also wonderful foretastes of what He is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.
— Tim Keller, "The Reason for God"

Image credit: Rembrandt, “Christ Healing”