Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Awakening to Baptism

John 10: 1-10 is not a story about baptism. No one is being dunked in a river, sprinkled on the head, or being blessed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are no crowds, no water, and no preacher...

At first glance, this story has nothing to do with baptism. Go ahead and read it...see what I mean?

Except, baptism is not all about the water, the crowds, or a preacher baptizing. Baptism is also about identity. In baptism, you are acknowledging that you are a child of God; that God is with you all your life, cleansing you of sin and claiming you as beloved. In baptism,you claim that you are who you were meant to be. 

Baptism is not only an event, however; it is not simply something that happened in the past. Baptism is a way of life. 

Mark Stamm, in his new booklet, The Meaning of Baptism in the United Methodist Church (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2017), writes that in the Pentecost story, the author of Acts says “And that day about three thousand persons were added” (Acts 2:41, NRSV) to the community of Christians through baptism. Stamm goes on to observe:

When I recount this story to my students, I often pause here and facetiously say, “And then they all went home and said, ‘what a wonderful and transforming religious experience that was!’” When they’re paying attention, they protest, saying, “That’s not what happened at all,” and they are correct. Those first Christians became a new community, one that “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts. 2:42). Theirs was a community in which the work of the Spirit was manifest. They cared for one another, sharing their lives on multiple levels, and that sharing overflowed, drawing others into their fellowship. The remainder of Acts provides the continued narrative of that overflow and by the grace of God received in baptism, we continue writing new chapters.

New chapters. We are characters in God's story of love, mercy, and compassion. So how are you continuing God's story through your life? How does your identity as a child of God continue the work of God in your close relationships, your community, in your church family, and in the world? If "God draws us beyond preoccupation with our own needs and destiny, and gives us a place in God’s ongoing project of blessing the world and calling it to justice and love (Stamm, again)," then our baptism empowers us and invites to think beyond ourselves, just like God does. We are children of God. 

In this passage, John 10: 1-10, the shepherd seeks to hold all of the sheep together, regardless of color or physical condition, as one community. This is not your perfect flock. They are not all soft, white, beautiful sheep. Some are blind, wounded, crippled, or lame. But they aren't seen that way, because they are together. Their identity is through their shepherd, who holds them all together. So it is with us and with God through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

If you read this, and are not baptized, but want to be, or are interested in a conversation, my email is jack.ladd@flumc.org. I'd love to talk with you.

*Credit to the Discipleship Ministries of the UMC (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar)


Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount out-poured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

*"Grace Greater than Our Sin," United Methodist Hymnal, 365

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Awakening to Ministry

John 20: 19-31 picks up right where we left off, where Mary went running to tell of the resurrection to the disciples, who were are holed up in a room behind locked doors. No one can get in, not even those who are so nervous, so threatened, by the way the crowds loved Jesus, that they might come after his followers, too.

The disciples are bereaved over the death of Jesus and maybe over their own failure to stand with him to the end, but now this woman, Mary Magdalene, is making the most incredible claim that has ever been made, a claim that would undo their sense of failure and inadequacy, their loss of hope. All might be made right after all; all might be healed. Could it be? Could it actually be so? Is it true?

There in that room, gathered in fear and confusion, they lock the doors, and wait. And then Jesus shows up. What are his first words? "Peace be with you." No fear. No scolding. No turmoil. No doubt. Only peace. We say these words to each other during our worship services. We extend the peace that Jesus offers to us. And then--as the gospel of John's Pentecost--Jesus breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit into the disciples.

It is their commissioning to go out and be peace and love and justice for the world. Just as God sent Jesus, so Jesus sends them into the world that God loves so well. O. Wesley Allen hears in this breath the echo of Genesis and "God's breathing life into creatures at the beginning of the world (Gen. 2:7)." On Easter, Allen says, God in effect recreates through resurrection not just a few followers long ago, but all of us as well (New Proclamation Year A 2008).

During the next 3 weeks, I am going to be preaching a series called "Awakening." This first sermon will be focused on how we awaken to ministry. We learn how to minister from Jesus, who literally met the disciples right where they were in that room. Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and especially Thomas, all wanted more evidence that Jesus was actually risen from the dead when he appeared to them. Jesus does not scold them, but is patient and provides what they needed to believe. We can do the same for anyone seeking Jesus, or looking for someone to share Jesus with.


Everliving God,
your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,
   confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
   the presence among us
   of him who is head over all things and fills all,
even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 323.

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giving Up Death

As the season of Lent draws to a close and Holy Week is upon us, again I find myself in a happy, comfortable, familiar place, because I know that Easter is right around the corner. I have a habit of not letting these feelings last for very long, once I identify them as such. When I am comfortable, I tend to be more laid back and let things fall through the cracks. I don't pay as much attention as when I am uncomfortable, looking for a way back to the peace that I crave. This creates a sort of cycle, as you can imagine.

On the one hand, I know that Sunday is Easter. This gives me peace, hope, and joy! On the other hand, I remember that this week is Holy Week, where Jesus was headed to the cross. I remember that Christians in Egypt have been killed during a worship service on Palm Sunday this week. I remember that many in our world suffer and die for their faith. Indeed, we need Jesus to save us from all of this.

Easter becomes cheap when we do not consider what it took for Jesus to rise again. He had to die, and he did. If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, you have a glimpse of what Holy Week is all about. The pain, confusion, heartbreak, and grief of loss sometimes feel like a pit of emptiness and despair. Christians find their way out of that hole through the healing power of time and hope that death is not the end. It wasn't for Jesus, and it will not be for us.

On Thursday evening here at Gray Memorial UMC (2201 Old Bainbridge Road), we will have the stations of the cross displayed. These images will help you walk through these final moments of Jesus' life. You will find that he prayed, was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, condemned, crucified, and buried. Although they are tough images to look at, they remind me of the price of salvation; of what Jesus went through so that we could have a relationship with God. However confusing it is that Jesus died for us, the peace and assurance that I am saved because of it makes all the difference.

So, in these few days before Easter, I invite you to read the story of holy week (Matthew 26:30–27:66, Mark 14:26–15:47, Luke 22:39–23:56, and John 18:1–19:42). I don't blame you if you read this narrative while you cling to the knowledge of how it ends! We follow Jesus here and now, knowing that Jesus rose again on the third day after he died.


God of such unwavering love,
how do I "celebrate" the passion and death of Jesus?
I often want to look the other way  and not watch,
not stay with Jesus in his suffering.
Give me the strength to see his love with honesty and compassion,
and to feel deeply your own forgiveness and mercy for me.
Help me to understand how to "celebrate" this week.
I want be able to bring my weaknesses and imperfections with me
as I journey with Jesus this week, so aware of his love. Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Giving it Up: Popularity

Palm Sunday. On this day, followers of Jesus remember his humble entry into the holy city of Jerusalem, "mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Matthew 21: 1-11 describes the scene, but it may not be as it seems...we may see this as a glorious procession into Jerusalem, but for all of its prophetic magic (it fulfills Zechariah 9:9-10), power and strength were absent. Authors Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have noted that on the other side of the city, Pontius Pilate was also processing in as tensions were threatening the holy city. His was an entrance which included war horses, steel, might, strength, glory, and more popularity.

And so we also may have opposite and conflicting "processions" meandering their way into our lives. On the one hand, Christians believe and remember that Jesus came in humility, fulfilling God's promise to the world. But we also want Jesus to come in power and might and popularity. We want following Jesus to be "popular," but Jesus' way is the way of the cross. It is the way of humility, service, and love of others (especially those who are not "popular"). We want Jesus to fix our problems, but the reality is that he doesn't fix them, he enters into them. During this time of festival in Jerusalem, the city "was in turmoil" (v.10). He entered into it. He did not fix it, as was Pilate's goal, with all of his power and might. Jesus strolled on cloaks and branches on a donkey as the people shouted "Hosanna!"

"Hosanna!" is a word that means "save us" or "help us." It is a term of praise as well as a prayer; this word is used only in the Bible here when Jesus enters the turmoil of the holy city.

Do you allow Jesus to enter into your life, your turmoil, humbly, or do you want him to fix everything? How are there different, conflicting "processions" in your life?

We know how this story ends. Not in the overthrow of the Roman powers, but on the cross, dying for you and me. It ends in death and resurrection, not in power and might (at least not in the way that was expected). We can use our knowledge of how this story ends to our advantage: we know that in the end, humility, obedience, and love wins. We know, as unexpected as what Jesus did was, God wins by saving us not through power and might, but love and mercy. Thanks be to God!


"Hosanna in the highest!"
that ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer,
the Lord of heaven our King.
O may we ever praise him
with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence
eternally rejoice!

*"Hosanna, Loud Hosanna," United Methodist Hymnal, 278.

In Christ,