Hating Easter and the same old Jesus

He Qi Palm SundayOn Saturday, I got out in the glorious weather (finally!) to have brunch with a friend at Eastern Market (if you haven’t had the crêpes from the crêpe place and Blackout donuts from DC Donuts, you should really put that on your to-do list!).  As we were talking, I reminded him that yesterday was Palm Sunday and his face scrunched up and he made a little noise of distaste.

I said, “Dude, how can you hate Easter?!”

His response:

It’s the same old thing: the same cheesy songs, the same scriptures, the same sermons. There’s nothing new there.

That got me thinking, because in a sense he’s right. Every Easter we talk about the same thing; every Palm Sunday we talk about the same thing. It can be real easy to go through the motions, to slip into lazy routines, to assume that we’ve heard it all before. Especially at this time of year.

I’ve heard the Easter story for as long as I can remember, and yet what God impressed upon me this week is that if we open ourselves up to God, if we ask him to show us some new insights, he will. That’s what it means to be in a relationship with the living God; that’s the power of the Word of God.

In writing this week’s message (which you can find here), I was reminded again that Jesus is far more than our traditions and our routines and our well-worn stories.

The messiah whom we encounter in Matthew 21, the one who enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, is not really at all what you may have expected, the one who is not here to fulfill all of your greatest longings in all the ways that you planned.

Jesus is not the king of your own making or your own choosing, but the king who turns everything on its head. This Jesus was not just an ancient teacher spouting wise sayings that you can post on social media to get likes and clicks, but the king who says:

Do what I say and you will have life. Trust in me. Trust in my way.

This Jesus did not stay dead; this Jesus did not stay in ancient history, just to be talked about and dissected and debated. This is not the Jesus of same old, same old. This is the living Christ.

Roll on, Easter.

LISTEN HERE: “Not the Same Old Jesus.”

Easter Sunday, CNN, kids getting shot

Time sure flies, doesn’t it? Next week, I’ll have been serving as the Leadership Resident at The District Church for SIX MONTHS. If you’ve been following/reading along, you’ll know it’s definitely been an adventure—getting to be a part of all the amazing things God has been doing in our neighborhood, in our city, and especially in our church.

April has been a particularly good month. ONE’s Lazarus Sunday campaign worked out extremely well, with churches all over the country, including The District Church, joining in to raise awareness about the issue of AIDS in Africa and the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) that are making a phenomenal impact. I even got to be interviewed by CNN! (Full article and video here.)

I got the opportunity to preach on Palm Sunday last week, and then somewhat unexpectedly, this morning. Aaron and Amy had been going through the process of adopting a second kid, and everything came through between Thursday and Saturday morning. So they are now parents of a beautiful baby girl—Natalie Rose; and I was drafted to pinch-preach on Easter Sunday! This morning was a fantastic celebration—we had the most people we’ve ever had at a TDC service, and everything came together nicely!

And here, for your listening pleasure, are my first five messages from the last six months:

Finally, I also spoke at Young Life in the middle of the month, and while it’s hard to know how much ever goes in or sticks with these kids, I was able to say what I wanted to say—what I felt like God wanted me to say—and I guess I’m just leaving the rest to God! Things have been going well with building relationships, but recently, a couple of the boys were involved in a shooting incident and one was hit in the leg. He’s going to be okay, but it was a reminder that there’s still much work to be done. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated!

Wishing you life and peace in the name of the risen Christ,
Jus.

Easter messages

If you’re wanting to listen to one sermon series this Easter …

… go listen to The District Church podcast. 🙂 I preached this past (Palm) Sunday, on expectations and reality–“What are you expecting?” And Aaron will be preaching this coming Sunday. (We’ll have a Good Friday service tomorrow evening, but won’t have recording capacity.)

But I also highly recommend this short series from John Ortberg and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church–“Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” John’s a pastor and author I respect greatly, and the first two messages of this series have really hit home for me. Go listen to 1) Friday and 2) Saturday.

 

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday; today marks the start of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Here’s the account from the Message paraphrase of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 21:

When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.” This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet: Tell Zion’s daughter, “Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal.”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat.

Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!” As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

[Above right: Alexandre Bida, Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, engraving, from Christ in Art by Edward Eggleston (1874).]

Life now

For those of you with whom I haven’t been good at being in contact (or being informative), here’s the latest. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here’s the précis: life is exciting for me right now.

At this precise moment, having finished my final paper, I’m one Hebrew final away from being halfway through my time at Fuller. By noon tomorrow, I’ll have reached the aforementioned midpoint, which is both surprising (how time flies!), sad (how time flies!), and exciting (after the happenings of the last 18 months, what more awaits?). It’s also exciting because it means I’ll have almost two weeks off from school stuff—I’ll still be working, but I’ll have more time to hang out with God and with friends, to recharge and to, as one friend put it, “do things that make you whole.”

Directionally-speaking, about six weeks ago, I switched out of the MDiv program and am now enrolled in the dual MA in Theology and MA in Cross-Cultural Studies. The reason for this was a further crystallizing of my understanding of God’s calling. God has tended to lead me incrementally (probably coz he knows I’d freak out if I saw the rest of my life), and this was just that next step—an understanding that my calling is to be engaged in fixing of a broken system, whether that leads me through social justice avenues of combating human trafficking or working in the inner city (which I mention as two currently possible options) or through the workings of the political system. Or perhaps the next increment will focus my path yet again.

Either way, it’s exciting to be where I am, figuring out who I am and where God is calling me. An experience in the last two weeks made me realize that I had been more complacent than I realized, less ready than I would’ve liked to be, and that there was much still to deal with that I had let fall to the side—one of the pitfalls of being a laidback person is that it can slide into laziness. So I’m pushing myself and exhilarated to face the challenges ahead.

The plan for the next year or so? Probably in the summer, I’ll wind down my time in the Admissions Office, a place I have been honored and privileged to work, a place of pastoral support and friendships. This will free up my schedule to engage in an immersion of sorts—I’ll be looking to get involved in various aspects of social justice, integrating the learning in the classroom (that I have become so comfortable with) with the learning on the ground. So whether it’s volunteering with the poor, interning with an advocacy group, offering time to a non-profit, I’ll be doing something that will not only satisfy my desire to be active but, more importantly, help me figure out better how God is leading, which will in turn set me up as I look to graduate from Fuller in the summer of 2009—and that’s all exciting, too.

I’m also excited because next month, I’ll be heading to Alabama to visit my erstwhile neighbors and surrogate-California family—the Holdens—and to see my mentor and his family, who were my surrogate-London family—the Lotzes. On the way back, I’ll be stopping through Chicago to see Laura (who, if you’ve read my blog for awhile, you’ll know had an unwitting but pivotal part to play in my deciding to come to Fuller) and other Wheaton friends, and my high school buddy Dawen, who I haven’t seen since … who knows when!

And I’m excited because I’ve accrued enough miles to fly back to London for free. Now I just need to find the right time! But I promise I’ll see you soon.

And it’s Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the beginning of Holy Week. I’m coming off of two straight nights of being with friends and laughing so hard I was tired. God’s been good. Sometimes things come together. And, at least in the immediate aftermath of a hard decision, such things can serve as a confirmation of sorts that God is in it all with me. And that, above all, is the most exciting.

***

The Right Measure

In being afraid to commit … or being too ready to commit?

In being afraid to be vulnerable … or being too vulnerable too quickly?

In being challenging to the point of discomfort … or being affirming to the point of self-satisfaction?

In changing to be someone you’re not … or refusing to become more who you were meant to be?

In being so busy that you lose sight of peace and rest … or being so free that you lose sight of the importance of activity?

In being an introvert who is drained by large groups … or being an extrovert who can’t handle being alone?

In being all … or nothing?

Extremes are easy. I’ve been all of these. It’s the middle ground that requires grace—that’s the tightrope walk. But it’s the right road.