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04.15.18 Corrupt no More Acts 13:30-43 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as David.

So I don’t mean to frighten you, rising up from the grave and all. But you know me. I’m David. I’m the little shepherd boy who killed the giant Philistine Goliath with a sling shot. By the way, I looked nothing like Michelangelo’s statue. I actually resembled more the depiction by Donatello.

I was the court musician to Saul, and as a song writer, I was also a psalmist. Some of my Psalms have received some interesting interpretations. This happens, especially with sacred texts. They get picked up and applied to new situations, and their meaning changes.

Take Psalm 16 for example. I wrote it out of a personal struggle—I can’t even remember now what it was. I started by calling out to God for help: God—and only our God—not other gods, like others did: Offering a sacrifice here, making a pilgrimage there, in the hopes that one of these gods would help, hedging my bets. No. I went to our God and our God only.

Then I remembered my blessings. And I professed being open to God’s guidance—even through my dreams! Then I continued by praising God for not abandoning me to death and not letting me see the decay of death. Instead, I wrote about God guiding me in the paths of life.

Psalm 16 is only 11 verses. It’s a good Psalm for guiding your life. . .

Anyway, the author of Acts really liked verse 10: “God, you will not let your holy one see decay.” Or some of your translations say God’s holy one will not “experience corruption.”

Well, eventually I did die. And my body did see the decay of death. But Acts applied the verse to Jesus, my descendant. He also died. But he was resurrected by God so that his body does not see decay or experience corruption.

Acts thinks I saw that coming. In a sermon in the second chapter Peter calls me a prophet. I have to say I really didn’t see it coming that way. I was writing about my life. But sacred texts get interpreted and applied to new situations.

I guess after the resurrection, everything looks different. Remember those two disciples on the way to Emmaus? There they are grieving Jesus’ death and confused about reports of his resurrection and along comes a stranger who interprets the Bible for them around these events of death and resurrection. Then, when it appears he’s going to keep traveling on, they invite him to stay. He agrees, blesses bread, breaks it, and their eyes are opened. They recognize him! It’s the resurrected Jesus!

They start seeing new meaning in suffering, new meaning in doing good, new meaning in death, and new meaning in sacred texts. Just like Acts does with my Psalm 16. I don’t mind.

Paul says that what God promised long ago to his ancestors—to me—God  has begun to fulfill in Jesus’ resurrection.  Well, if that’s true it really is good news, because God only intends good things for his children, and God is faithful to bring them about.

In my day, we thought that meant in this life. So we prayed to live long enough to see it. But by Jesus’ day, they were envisioning a life after death. And there, in the afterlife, after our resurrection, God could sort things out and fulfill his promises.

When will that resurrection take place? It still hasn’t happened. The Bible says God is patiently waiting, giving as many people a chance to turn to God, not wanting anyone to perish.

But with Jesus’ resurrection, Paul says, we know it’s going to happen. Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection, but everyone else will follow. And then God’s intention for the creation will be fulfilled: Everything is set free from the power of sin; the judgment of death is cancelled—for everyone, from the first Adam on down!

This is how Acts interprets my psalm “God will not let his holy one see decay.” I wrote it about my own hope of deliverance in this life. Acts applied it to Jesus’ resurrection. That is good news indeed, and I hope you believe it. It’ll give you hope and comfort and strength in the face of injustice, but also in suffering, and especially in death.

But please don’t forget my other point in that Psalm. I trusted God that if I was faithful to him and didn’t pursue other gods, God would keep me safe and guide me and lead me in the path of life. This is another way I wouldn’t see decay.

As I’ve said, “corruption” is the word your Bible uses. Today that word has primarily a political meaning. You talk about “corrupt politicians” and a “corrupt justice system.” What is true, just, and right is bribed away, distorted, and bent.

This is the “corruption” I don’t want you to forget. And neither does Paul. In his letter to the Galatian churches (6:8) he writes, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”

Listen, you will experience corruption if satisfy your pride, if pursue your self-centered ambitions. You’ll wander from the right path, from the path of life, from Jesus’ narrow road and small gate. Your spiritual life will be corrupted.

But it doesn’t have to be if you remember that Jesus is resurrected. He’s your high priest. He’s praying for you right now. He’s also with you by the Spirit—not just with you, IN you. You CAN be faithful to God. You CAN follow God’s guidance. You CAN overcome your ego. You CAN walk the narrow path and enter the small gate. You CAN avoid the corruption of your spiritual life by remembering Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promises being fulfilled in it.

Remember your sins are forgiven and your life in God begins now in this life and continues in the life to come.

Now I’m going back to bodily decay. I’m waiting for the general resurrection just like you. Let us keep faith until it happens, trusting God’s promise of corruption no more. Amen.

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04.08.18 Double Vision Acts 9.1-19 Sermon Summary

Note: this sermon was delivered in first person as Ananias.

It’s amazing how you come to see things differently. My name is Ananias and I live in Damascus. I’m a devout man, and well-respected among the religious people of my city.

I had heard about Saul. He also was a devout man, a Pharisee actually. They were experts at giving instructions on how to live so as to never jeopardize breaking the law. Saul was not a follower of the Way, as I was. In fact, he was a persecutor of it.

It’s been a few years since the resurrection of Jesus. Saul was trying to stamp out the movement that exploded around Jesus of Nazareth, “the way.” Saul oversaw the stoning of first martyr Stephen. After that event, the faith community in Damascus swelled. Lots of those followers of the Way came to Damascus in the persecution.

Now Saul had papers from Jerusalem, from the religious higher ups there, to extend the hunt to us up in Damascus. That’s what I heard, and that’s how I saw things. But then I had a double vision.

The Lord came to me and said my name: “Ananias.” Like he said Mary’s name in the garden on the morning of the resurrection. Like he said Mary’s name in the very beginning at the Annunciation.

“Ananias,” God said. You know my name means “favored one,” just like Mary . . . I thought of her, and of Abraham, and of Samuel. So I said what they said: “Here I am.” Be careful when you say that.

“Go to the house of Judas,” God said. This was not a good start to a vision. But it got worse. “Look for Saul,” he said. “He’s praying in a vision.” Yeah, I thought, a vision of rounding up Christians in Damascus!

“You go and lay hands on him to regain his sight.” Regain his sight?! Apparently Saul was also having a double vision. At first he saw Jesus as a threat. Then he had a vision of the resurrected and glorified Jesus and now believed he was chosen to proclaim Jesus as Messiah!

Anyway, back to my double vision. I saw Saul as the destroyer of the church but after this, I now learned he was to be the builder of the church. I didn’t want to see that. I mean I did want the church built, but not through Saul!

It’s hard to recognize good things done by someone you don’t like. It’s hard to believe in the repentance of bad people. So I argued. “This Saul causes great suffering,” I reminded God. And then I had another double vision! God said, “Now he will suffer greatly on my account.”

Part of me liked that. But part of me began to feel compassion also.

That’s how we come to embrace the double vision, through compassion. All of us can grow. All of us can change. None of us is the vision God has of us. But we can be, if we’re open to the double vision. The way we become open to this change in our own lives comes by being open to the change in others.

Later, when I was talking to Saul, who is also called Paul, he said his eyes were open on the road to Damascus but that he couldn’t see. He had to be led for a time. His sight was closed but his heart was open. That’s compassion! It’s a work of grace. God’s grace at work in a life to see more that what’s there, to see change.

God can do this because God sees more. God sees all. God has double vision. God sees a Messiah in a crucified criminal. God sees an evangelist in a persecutor. God sees enlightenment in darkness. God sees redemption in suffering.

What does God see in you? In me, God saw a favored one in a skeptic. God opened my heart and made me compassionate.

I went to Saul. I called him “brother.” I laid hands on him and prayed. His sight was restored. He was baptized, was fed, and his new vision became a reality.

What does God see in you? How will God’s grace grow compassion in your life—for others, and for yourself? How will God use you?

04.01.18 Back to Life Romans 6:1-11 Sermon Summary

Every preacher envies the young man dressed in the white robe. He was the preacher on the first Easter morning. The congregation, three women according to Mark, expected to find a body. What they discovered was an empty tomb and this young preacher dressed in white. He delivered the Easter message: Jesus who was crucified has been raised; he is not here.

The response to the sermon that first Easter was what every preacher hopes for. People were talking about it long after it ended. We still are. It was life transforming and world changing.

One of the reasons the sermon that first Easter was so momentous was that the expectations of the congregation were so low. The women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They expected to find a body.

THIS Easter morning, everyone going to a church expects there NOT to be a body. What is more, they EXPECT to hear, again this year, about the resurrection. That first preacher had it easy. What he had to say so transcended the expectations of his congregation, he couldn’t help but succeed. What could we preachers possibly say today to exceed the expectations of our congregations? All we can offer are variations on the theme.

In the hearts of his first followers, Jesus’ wasn’t the only death that Friday afternoon. Their hopes died with him.

They hoped in the long-awaited restoration of their nation as the Kingdom of God. The hoped in deliverance from Roman occupation. They hoped in renewal of religious purity. They hoped in peace and providence and protection. They hoped in justice for the poor, and righteousness for the oppressed and exploited. These hopes died with Jesus on the Cross.

His body, and all those hopes, were expected to be in that tomb Sunday morning, the day after the Sabbath, when the women came with anointing spices.

And that’s when they heard the first Easter sermon. Jesus was alive. But what about all those hopes?

The Resurrection of Jesus didn’t revive the nationalistic hopes of his first followers. It did change the nature of them, however. They still awaited the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, for example. They envisioned that would come with the return of Christ. But they didn’t wait for the return of Christ to begin living in the Kingdom of God. That’s because they would make an important discovery about the resurrection.

Nearly three decades after the resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Rome. He wrote about the death and resurrection of Jesus. He didn’t talk about the death of their nationalistic hopes. Paul wrote about the death of something that would change the world. Nationalistic hopes don’t change the world, even if they are fulfilled.

No, what Paul talked about with the death and resurrection of Jesus was not the death and resurrection of hope, but the death and resurrection of humanity itself. Paul saw Jesus as the “second Adam.” In Paul’s Jewish upbringing, the first Adam was the symbolic father of all humanity dating back to the creation of the world. This first Adam, and all of humanity ever since, came under the power of sin, an overwhelming dark force that opposes light and love and life and God.

Sin enslaved the world. And sin leads eventually and inexorably to death. It is so powerful, it even overcame Jesus and caused his death.

But then, according to Paul, the whole story changes. Because God resurrects Jesus from the dead, undoing the power of sin. In resurrecting Jesus, God reveals that sin and death are not the end of the world’s story.  In the resurrection of Jesus, the story of the world changes direction. From the path of destruction, it is now set on the path of redemption. Our destination ends where our origins began—with God. God brings it all back to life.

In other words, what the resurrection of Christ as the second Adam reveals, is that when Jesus died, our hopes didn’t die with him. Sin died with him. We ourselves died with him. Sinful humanity, and the whole world subject to sin, died with Jesus on the Cross.

How? Because the Easter message: God raised Jesus from the dead. Just like God brought the world into existence out of non-existence in creation, so God brought life from death in Christ. That, for Paul, is the definition of grace—something good that only God can do—create life where there wasn’t life before.

God’s grace, Paul argued in chapter five, overcomes sin, it outlasts sin, it outpaces sin. So Paul imagines someone asking the question: “What are we to say? Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound?”

For Paul, it is an absurd question. The Latin roots of the word “absurd” mean “coming from deafness.” If you ask this question, Paul says, you haven’t heard or understood the Easter message. You are deaf to the Easter message. The Easter message is that Christ has been raised from the dead. Sin and death no longer have dominion over him.

The resurrection reveals that sin and death do not have final dominion. They never have, and they never will. So Paul speaks of the meaning of baptism, that we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Sin no longer has dominion over Christ; sin no longer has dominion over us. “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

So many of us walk in “oldness” of life. Instead of hearing the Easter message, we are still trying to outpace sin and death on our own by adhering to a moral code, or doing good deeds, or hoping for the best, or practicing our religion. We think that with enough education, or hard work, or luck, or prayer, or study we can overcome sin on our own.

If we refuse to hear the Easter message, that God has done for us in Christ what we can’t do for ourselves—overcome sin—then we will continue to live in sin. And we will discover we are enslaved to an overwhelmingly powerful taskmaster—Sin. Grace will abound, and eventually we will die and be free of sin.

The Easter message invites us to recognize that we are already free of sin. The Christian is simply the one who accepts that what God declares is true: United with the resurrected Christ, we are free from sin. The Christian simply lives as if this is true, because the Christian believes simply that it is.

This Easter, may you not be deaf to the message of that first preacher. May you hear that Christ is raised from the dead, and recognize that God has overcome sin and death in Christ. And may you consider yourself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

03.30.18 Lamentation and the Suffering of Christ’s Body Mark 15:25-40

When we lose something, grief is our response. It is emotional, physical, and spiritual. It is also personal and private. When we express grief, it’s called mourning. Grief expert Alan Wolfelt says mourning is “grief gone public.”

Lamentation is mourning in solidarity with others. It may include our grief, but also our grief on behalf of others. Lamentation is our response not necessarily to things done TO us, or BY us. It is a shared public expression of grief.

Lamentation is also an expression of frustration. Things are not as they should be. The Kingdom of God has not come in its fulfilment.

Some people encounter lamentation in the Bible or the hymnal or the worship of the church and wonder if it is faithful? We’ve been taught that faith is a kind of resignation or acceptance. Faith is a trusting that leads to passivity. Those are aspects of faith. But so is lamentation. It is, from this perspective perhaps, faith in disguise.

Lamentation is also faith as hope. The grief and frustration of lamentation expresses our conviction that God can and should provide deliverance. If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t lament.

Lamentation is also faith as love. When we lament the suffering of others, in solidarity with them, it shows we care.

This kind of faith arises from our union with Christ. Our union with Christ makes faith, solidarity, and lamentation possible. First, Christ is united with us in his Incarnation. And he is united with us in his death. Both of these truths are symbolized by baptism. God is one WITH us and one OF us, even unto suffering and death.

Since this is true, we know we are not alone in suffering and death. We need not avoid suffering and death, even the suffering and death of others. Because of our union with Christ we can enter the suffering and death with compassion.

This is the attitude of the apostolic church, the earliest Christian communities who produced our New Testament. In Colossians 1:24 we read, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

Here we see that suffering is real but that there is also joy because Christ is with us. And more, in suffering with Christ for others, we are ourselves Christ.  So 1 Peter 4:13 can say, “Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”

Acknowledging suffering and death and even entering others’ is possible because of Christ. Hebrews 4:14-16 assures us, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

This “bold approach” in order to “find grace to help” is exactly what lamentation does.

Our Good Friday meditation is lamentation. We will enter Christ’s suffering on the Cross, acknowledge our own suffering, and remember the suffering of others. Let us express our grief and our frustration. Let us express our love for others, our hope in God, and our faith in Christ.

[The congregation then interactively engaged Psalms 22 and 88. Psalms 13 and 130 are also suitable.]

 

03.29.18 Details and Determination Mark 14:12-26 Sermon Summary

I’m always impressed by detail people. They’re normally the ones who are behind the scenes making sure everything proceeds smoothly. They’re there before the scenes also, setting everything up, and after the scenes taking it all down. Some scenes just couldn’t exist without detail people.

Passover meals are quite a scene. They lots of details: The purchasing of food, cooking the meal, the elaborate ritual, and of course the cleanup.

There was a good detail team in Mark 14, and Jesus knew about it. Mark tells us about the man with the water jug who enters a certain house where the owner has the upper room already set. There two of Jesus’ disciples prepared the Passover. This is, by the way, how we know without a doubt that women were among the disciples.

Some people say Jesus’ knowledge of these details proves his divinity. “He sees the future; he must be God!” Or maybe he had worked it out in advance and just let them know at the right time. “God has to know the future,” some say, “in order to trust his providence.” But others say, “You can trust God’s providence because God is resourceful “no matter what the details.”

Either way the stage is set, and during the meal Jesus reveals he will be betrayed. Is he seeing the future? Is he stating the obvious? Is he letting them in on the plan?

I’m not sure it matters. It seems Jesus intention is that they trust God, not Jesus’ predictive powers. He interprets the Passover liturgy for the moment they are in. Yes, God delivered his people in the past, but Jesus’ message is that God will deliver Jesus and disciples presently.

Notice that in Mark there is no “Do this in remembrance” imperative. Jesus doesn’t forecast a future in which they could remember. Instead, he is totally with them in the present.

This is so hard for us to tolerate: God’s presence in the suffering. We want to run ahead, to deny the present suffering and arrive as quickly as we can at the end. Of course we readers know there IS a future, and it gets much worse before it gets better. And it is in that future, in both the bad times and the good times, that Christ’s disciples DO remember.

This including us tonight. We remember that night. we remember the details but more, we remember the determination of Christ. He was determined to trust God whether or not things go according to plan. And come Sunday those disciples will do as we do tonight, eat the meal  in the assuring presence of the risen Lord.

Let us enjoy this meal with Christ, remembering his determination. Let us invite him to be present no matter what the details of our lives. Let us place our stories in his hands and let him reinterpret them as he did the story of Passover around his death and resurrection.

 

03.25.18 A Glimpse of Discipleship Mark 15:16-25 Sermon Summary

Holy Week proclaims God’s Word through images and pictures. It begins with the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, with crowds of adoring people waving palm branches and singing praises to God. It ends with the horror of the Cross. In between there are turning tables, imprinted coins, and broken bread.

We begin Holy Week after “Walking with Jesus” these past six weeks. With the Gospel of Mark as our guide, we started by naming our unclean spirits. We watched Jesus feed more than 5000 people. We overheard his teaching about baptism, and observed an act of true faith at the house of Simon the Leper.

Now here we are on Palm Sunday. The liturgical origins of this day are in the 4th century when Christian pilgrims went to Jerusalem to walk the path of Jesus during Holy Week. The idea spread to Rome by 11th century, culminating in local liturgies like the Stations of the Cross which emulated the Jerusalem walks. It was repopularized in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church.

This year I shared with a colleague about Palm Sunday that, “I don’t like it.” “Do you have something against parades in general, or are you trying to do too much?” was the response. It’s the “too much” option for me.

It’s been a relatively recent development that this Sunday has come to be called “Palm-slash-Passion Sunday.” Many preachers and churches make a choice. We either celebrate Palm Sunday and hope people will remember that Jesus dies before next Sunday’s Easter service. Or we don’t acknowledge Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and instead present the events of Good Friday on a Sunday.

Some of us try to compress a whole week (“Holy Week”) into one day—one hour! We refer to Jesus’ entrance, the conflict with authorities, his last supper, the betrayal, and his crucifixion. How do you include it all? We can’t of course. A handful of us will return later this week to give these events due commemoration. But most Christians get at best a Holy Week Sampler plate today on Palm and/or Passion Sunday.

The truth is, every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. It’s why we come to the table each week, because the living Christ is still our host. So every Sunday we proclaim the good news of God’s love and presence in our lives.

But to fully grasp the good news of resurrection we have to be honest about the reality of death. So every Sunday we also bring our world of death and decay with us: Confessing our sins, and offering our prayers to our high priest, the sacrificed but resurrected Christ.

Come to think of it, perhaps on no other Sunday do we do this better than on Palm Sunday. So maybe it’s not so bad after all. We’ve begun this Holy Week singing praises and waving palms. We’ll conclude our worship at the Table of the risen Lord. But in the meantime, for the next several minutes, we will take a glimpse of discipleship through Ray Bolz’ song Watch the Lamb.

And now at the Table of the Lord we pray:

We give you thanks for the many reminders of life with which you have endowed our worship this morning, from palms to children to springtime lambs. We rejoice with our Jewish brothers and sisters, including Jesus, who celebrated Passover this time of year, giving thanks for crops and for your deliverance from Egypt. We thank you for the Passover lamb, whose life was sacrificed in order to claim your people for salvation and service in the world.

We give you thanks for Jesus, our Passover Lamb, and the one whose sacrifice demonstrated to the whole world your commitment to life. With the crowds of old we shout, “Hosanna—Save us Lord!” for we are in need of saving. We need the salvation that comes from his teaching that the greatest among us shall be the servants of all, that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who take upon themselves his yoke, and his cross, shall find rest and be exalted.

Send your Spirit upon us we pray, and upon these gifts of bread and wine, that we may be blessed not only by the remembrance of Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but by our union with him through the sacrament of his body and blood. Anoint us with your Spirit, mark us as your own, and sustain us for the week ahead. May we watch and pray with Christ, even as he watches over and prays for us. For Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Amen.

Talking About the Crucifixion with Children

It’s Holy Week, which means the 40 day observance of Lent is culminating this Easter Sunday when we proclaim the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. But between now and then, there’s a lot we could talk about with our children.

Children of all ages love Easter: Springtime, longer and warmer days, things returning to life, bright colors, and the symbols of eggs and bunnies. The church has made use of these natural coincidences and non-Christian symbols to proclaim the resurrection of Christ.

But the rest of Holy Week is much harder to talk about. Palm Sunday isn’t too challenging: Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with people waving palm branches and singing God’s praise. He’s a different kind of king, a humble servant king rather than the privileged warrior kind (hence the donkey rather than a horse). The challenge comes Monday through Saturday.

Early in the week the hostility between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem increases. They argue about how to practice their religion and some of the finer points of their beliefs and whether it’s right to pay taxes to Rome.

Thursday night Jesus celebrates his “Last Supper” with the disciples. It is Passover, the celebration of God’s liberating ancient Israel from slavery to Egypt. The final of ten plagues was the death of the first-born in all of Egypt. Only those Israelites who sacrificed a lamb and spread its blood over their door were spared this agony. The catastrophe finally broke Pharaoh who let the Israelites go.

Jesus reinterpreted this ritual, casting himself as the Passover lamb whose sacrifice would provide salvation for the whole world, liberating all of creation from enslavement to the powers of sin and death. After this meal, while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, his friend Judas led a group of soldiers to arrest and deliver Jesus to the Roman authorities.

All of Thursday night and into Friday morning, before a hostile crowd, Jesus would be accused of treason against Rome and blasphemy within Judaism. The charges were not substantiated, nor his conviction justified, but the hatred of the crowd prevailed upon the governor Pontius Pilate to have Jesus flogged and crucified.

These are not easy matters to discuss even among adults, but much less with children. How can we talk about the love of God and the power of God in the face of such realities? It is confusing. If God loved Jesus, why did he let him suffer and die? If God can raise Jesus from the dead, couldn’t God find another way to save the world? Is God all-powerful or not?

The traditional answer is that Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for sin—for the sins we all commit by not living according to the will of God. For the wrongs we do, for the love we don’t show, we fail to live as God desires, and punishment is the result. The ultimate result of sin is death and damnation. Instead of punishing us, according to this answer, God punishes Jesus. And having punished Jesus, God now looks with favor upon us.

This has been the official answer in the Western Church since the 11th century. It is so pervasive you might have read it just now and thought, “Well, yeah. What other answer could there be?” But it took so long for this answer to become official, and only in the West, because it fails to answer other questions.

If Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, why do we still experience the consequences of our sins, including death? Isn’t that a double payment? If God is love, how could he be trapped in such anger that the only way out is to punish Jesus? Why does it take the sacrifice of Jesus for God to forgive, when Jesus teaches us to forgive others without a sacrifice? Can’t God just forgive? Is God really the kind of parent who punishes a beloved child through torture and crucifixion? Am I so bad that this punishment is reasonable? And if this is the reason for the death of Jesus, then did God manipulate the religious and political authorities to do it? Because surely they didn’t know Jesus was the sacrifice for sin when they condemned him to die.

Our children may not ask all these questions, or in these exact words. But if you listen to their questions, you will find these questions behind them. And not just children; you yourself may have asked these questions.

When I talk to my own children, and adults who have these questions, I begin from God’s love rather than our sin. I assume God’s steadfast commitment to life over death and to justice over injustice. I remember that God’s power is revealed not in control, but in faithfully working out every situation towards the final end of redemption.

In the end, however long it takes to get there, God’s love, life, justice, and redemption of the world prevails. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the hinge in this story. Jesus taught God’s love, the nature of true life, and the ways of justice. The religious and political leaders of his time, those with the power of life and death, refused to follow Jesus’ teaching, and when efforts to silence him failed, they had him killed. This logic is much easier for children (and questioning adults) to follow. The bullies of his day, not God, killed Jesus for being good and kind. Children get this.

I tell my children that God was watching. God was pleased with what Jesus taught and how he lived. And God stayed with Jesus even through his torture and death—something even Jesus’ best friends couldn’t do. So God is unique in his faithfulness and love. And when Jesus was killed, after waiting enough time for everyone to know for sure he was dead, when it seemed like bad does prevail over good, God raised him from the dead.

So the torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus is still a demonstration of God’s victory over sin. It is a demonstration of God’s love for us despite sin. It is a demonstration of God’s commitment to righteousness in contrast to sin. It is a demonstration of God’s power to take the worst event sin can conjure—the execution of a just person—and redeem it.

When you want to talk to your children about the events of Holy Week, and not just the Sundays, I invite you to take this approach. Without saddling them with the guilt of the universe, this approach still invites children of all ages to gratefully receive the gift of God’s love offered in Jesus Christ, and to follow him with confidence of deliverance.

May you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.