Tag Archives: hatred

Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

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This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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Following the Preparation

These are my speaking notes from Tuesday night’s Baccalaureate at the Commodore Perry High School. Prior to the message, we read the entire book of Jonah as a reader’s theater with myself as narrator, four of the seniors as the captain of the ship, as Jonah, as the King of Noinevah, and as God, while the audience had a follow along ‘script’ and read all the parts of the sailors.

Here, then, was my message…

BACCALAUREATE SERVICE
Commodore Perry High School

June 2, 2015

CONTEXT:

Jonah………………………… Prophet in northern part of the ancient kingdom of Israel, following decades of Assyrian cruelty and brutality. HATES the Assyrians!

Assyrians……………………The bully nation in the ancient Middle East when Jonah was alive. They would not only conquer nations and exile their people, but they enjoyed being cruel and brutal.

Ninevah……………………..Capital city of the Assyrian Empire. According to the Bible, there were about 120,000 people living in the city when Jonah arrived there.

MESSAGE:

In chapter 1 we met Jonah. He has spent the time and effort to prepare to be a prophet for God and he has become God’s right hand man in the area where he lives. He’s ready to do whatever God asks… to go give God’s messages to whomever, and wherever, God sends him.

But, even though Jonah works for God, he has some reservations about doing his job whole-heartedly. He HATES the Assyrians. He HATES their ways and customs and cruelty.

So when God tries to send Jonah to give a message to the king and the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Jonah LIKES the idea that God’s “gonna get them”!

But Jonah also knows that, despite all the talk of judgment by God, God always responds to repentance… God goes out of His way to look for a reason to NOT give sinners what they really deserve… In the church we call that “mercy”… Someone deserves to be punished, yet they aren’t given that punishment because the judge (in this case, God) decides to show them mercy. And with that mercy, they get another chance to do what’s right.

Jonah is certain that God will forgive them if they repent, so he decides that he will NOT warn them about the coming judgment God has threatened. If they aren’t warned, then they can’t repent. If they don’t repent, God will have no choice but to carry out the judgment. So Jonah runs away from God.

You, like Jonah, have been preparing for your life after graduation. But no teacher or administrator has ever been able to make you have the right attitude as you learned. If all you’ve done is do whatever was needed in order to graduate tomorrow night, instead of learning the deeper lessons and attitudes of being a responsible citizen, then life will be harder for you and you will need remedial education… And that comes from the school of hard knocks where you fail to learn from others and have to make ALL your own mistakes, and pay for your own mistakes.

You know, when you do get into your dream job, or the school you’ve selected, there will come a point when someone in authority will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. Running away or quitting is NOT the solution. Jonah learned that the hard way. Try not to have to learn that one the way he did.

Well, later in chapter one, there’s all these bad things happening to Jonah and everyone he happens to be around, because God is trying to get Jonah’s attention. Remember, you may be able to run away from a task or quit a particular job, but you never outrun God or outrun yourself. If you don’t deal with your own attitudes and emotions, you’ll find that you’ll keep having the same problems no matter what job you have or what school you’re in. And God will still be there trying to get you to let Him lead you in better ways than you could ever do on your own.

Chapter one ends with Jonah fessing up to the captain and others on the ship that he is the one that’s stirred up all the mess that they’re in. And he finds himself in the sea… and the ship is released from the storm and a big fish (yeah, it never says it was a whale) … a big fish comes and swallows Jonah whole.

It’s important to remember that sometimes, when we’ve messed up, we need to simply admit our mistakes and our sins and face the consequences.

Chapter two is a prayer that shows us what Jonah was thinking and feeling as he comes to regret his attempt to run away from what was right. He confesses it to God and God orders the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach.

When you do find yourself on the receiving end of consequences that you deserve, use it, like Jonah, to make things right… to the best of your ability. And that starts by admitting your mistake, or whatever it was… admit it to yourself and to God… for that’s when you will be able to see the hope.

In chapter three, Jonah DOES go to Ninevah and preaches the exact message God had sent him to proclaim: “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!”

Something a lot of folks miss here in this book is that Jonah is like the most successful preacher, pastor, prophet, evangelist ever! He is sent to proclaim God’s message to 120,000 people and THEY RESPONDED TO HIS MESSAGE! They repented of their evil ways and God, in verse 10, sees the change of heart these people have had and decides to offer them mercy.

Jonah is truly successful! Sometimes we can be successful, and still not have things right in our own lives… Jonah was still hoping to see God bring fire and destruction down on those people.

That’s where chapter four comes in, with the rest of the story. Jonah starts complaining to God… accusing God of not being fair. After all, if God was fair, everyone would get the punishment we deserve, right?

Jonah still hopes God will zap the Ninevites and destroy them… so he goes and waits to see what will happen. He sets up his tent (ok, it says a “shelter”, but for us that would be like a tent) and waits. God decides to teach Jonah about mercy and causes a shade plant to grow up to make it easier for Jonah as he waited. Jonah had a heart of gratitude over that.

But the Bible goes on to say that “God also arranged for the worm.” The very next morning after the plant grew up miraculously, there is now a worm that GOD sends to destroy the thing that Jonah likes.

Sometimes, God, or an employer, or a professor, has to do something or challenge something in order to try to get us to see things from the right perspective. Our minds always start from the idea that “of course I’m right.” Sometimes we need help to see a new perspective or to get a clearer picture of the reality around us.

Jonah SO needs a new perspective!

God even sends a blazing hot scorching wind! And the Bible says that Jonah was so disheartened that he wished he was dead. All in God’s attempt to get Jonah to face up to his bad attitude regarding people that God loves.

You know, when we set ourselves up against others, whether it’s in little ways or big, we set ourselves up against God. When we find ourselves hating someone, or an entire population of someones, we’re on shaky ground. Because the Bible tells us that God loves those others that we can’t stand.

Jonah learned that it’s not enough to be prepared for a task, you need to obey and actually do it.

Jonah learned that when you’ve made a mistake and everything seems all messed up, you need to own up to the mistake, face the consequences, and turn to God for help in turning your life around.

Jonah learned that just doing the minimum requirements of the job might produce results, but you don’t really get to enjoy those results.

Jonah learned that, in the final tally, it’s the way we treat others, our attitudes and our choice between hatred or love, that really make the difference… and WE will be the ones experiencing that difference… and even God will notice, and honor, that way of treating others…

It is my prayer, and my hope, that you, the class of 2015, will learn from Jonah’s mistakes and not necessarily have to personally make all those mistakes yourselves.

Face the future you’ve prepared for without running, with courage to own up to your own actions, to do the job required of you, and to always look at the people around you and how you impact and influence them.

And you will have a blessed and successful life, no matter what comes your way.

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