Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Daniel's Vision

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on November 26, 2006

Daniel describes judgement day in the celestial courtroom. An angel brings out a magnificent throne and sets it in place. Then another throne is brought out and set in place. Soon to follow was another throne and another throne after that until finally four thrones are placed in a circle. The thrones are set in place and the elders take their seats. Yet they are not the focal point of this vision. The interplay of light and shadows pulls our eye elsewhere until we notice there in the middle of the circle stands another throne. This one is different from the others. It is ablaze with fire. The throne in the center has wheels like a war chariot. The wheels, like the chariot itself, are burning fire. And as we watch we see an Ancient One take his throne; his clothing is white as snow, and the hair of his head is like pure wool. The color white has always symbolized holiness. God, the Holy One of Israel, as we might expect is dressed in a clean white robe. Even the Lord God's hair communicates holiness for it is white like wool. This Holy one of Israel, He is able to take His seat on the flaming throne of justice.

Now Daniel looks around the celestial courtroom and notices the attendants of the Lord. In his vision, Daniel saw that thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. They are God's holy angels and ten thousand times ten thousands, one hundred million angels await God's command. When the verdict is read, when judgment is pronounced, the angels will carry out the sentence. What a glow of heavenly light there must have been surrounding the twenty-four thrones and the Ancient of Days. What a vision of power. It leaves us flabbergasted.

The scene is now set and the action begins. The court is seated and the books are opened. Envision the Lord God putting a hand on the cover of a book and slowly the book is opened. The book contains the irrefutable evidence of peoples' lives. Not a word has been unheard not a thought has been left unrecorded. Now the vision turns from awe into fear. An awesome God, seated in a flaming chariot, surrounded by powerful angels and he has the unedited book of people's lives. That book will be opened. The evidence will be presented. It will be admitted. Based on that evidence an eternal, non-pardonable, irrevocable verdict will be rendered. At this point we may feel a sense of fear arising in the pit of our stomach. None of us wants to be judged and especially not by God. If that was the final thing Daniel had to say we would leave here in fear and trembling because there is none of us who is perfect. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Just when we are falling into fearful despair another character appears in the vision.

This one looks like a human being and we recognize this person as Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we see Jesus in the celestial courtroom we immediately remember another vision of Jesus before a throne. There are two characters in this vision. There is Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. And there is Jesus Christ, described in the previous vision as "one like a human being."

Pilate walks back into the palace and calls for Jesus. He says, "Are you the 'King of the Jews'?"

Jesus answers, "Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?"

Pilate says, "Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?"

"My kingdom," says Jesus, "is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

Then Pilate says, "So, are you a king or not?"

Jesus answers, "You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice." (John 18:36-37, MSG & NRSV)

We see Jesus on trial before a Roman Governor. And the eternal judge, Jesus, will be tried and sentenced and crucified for our sins so that when we stand before Jesus and he sits on the throne of judgement, and the book of our life is opened, and Jesus calls our name, and we dare to glance up into his eyes, we will see there only love. Only love. And we will walk away free men and free women. The good news of the gospel is that the cards are stacked in our favor. When it comes to judgement day, the Lord God is dealing from a stacked deck and the cards are stacked in our favor. Our judge is named Redeemer!

Here at the end of the church year, after living through another cycle of hearing the story of Jesus' life, of being taught by him in miracle and parable, we come to the end of another cycle of the liturgical year. After another year of living our lives, burying our dead, baptizing our babies, struggling and thriving, we bring all of the year's experiences to the climax of this day. We lay it all back at the feet of Jesus, the one who stood trial for us so that when we are judged in the celestial courtroom we will stand a chance. Thanks to Jesus, our King and our Redeemer, we stand a chance we stand before the judgement seat of God.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Temple in Transition

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 13:1-8
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on November 19, 2006

Stand on the Mount of Olives and look toward the city of Jerusalem. See the ancient stone wall surrounding the city. See the gold dome of the Muslim mosque called the Dome of the Rock that sits on the temple mount and dominates the skyline. Walk down the hill and across the valley, through the stone gates into the city of Jerusalem and find your way to the temple mount. See Orthodox Jews wearing their black suits with beards and black hats, swaying back and forth in their seats as they quietly sing the Psalms before the Wailing Wall which are the only stones left standing from the time of Solomon's Temple when many of the Psalms were written. Walk to the narrow passageway that leads up to the temple mount where the magnificent temple stood in Jesus' day. Notice the young Israeli guards swarming around the area like bumble bees with their submachine guns loaded. Walk up onto the temple mount and see the splendid golden dome and intricate design of the round Dome of Rock. Enter that mosque and there in the middle is a large stone where Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven riding on a mighty steed.

What you will not see on the temple mount today is the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem that stood on this spot during Jesus' lifetime. Herod had begun remodeling this temple 20 years before Jesus was born and it was finally completed it 64 years after Jesus death. So throughout his entire life, the temple in Jerusalem was a work in progress. It was a temple in transition. This temple was 20 acres of white marble with some single stones 37 feet long several tons heavy. This magnificent temple was destroyed and burned to the ground by the Roman army when they stamped out the Jewish Maccabean Revolt only 6 years after the temple was completed. This magnificent temple was the inspiration for our scripture reading today. As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to Jesus, 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' Then Jesus asked him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'

Later, as they are sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking at the temple from a distance, the disciples ask when the destruction of the temple will occur. Jesus replies in apocalyptic language of death and destruction that applies as well to us as it did to them. In the 20th century 180 million people were killed in war. That equals nearly 5,000 per day. So every day during the previous 100 years, a group of people roughly equal to the population of Batesville were killed in war. Every single day. For 100 years. This is death on a scale we can hardly fathom. Jesus tells his disciples there will be wars and rumors of war.

More and more we are experiencing upheaval in nature. Hurricane Katrina recently wreaked havoc on our neighbors on the Gulf Coast. Just this week there was a 8.0 earthquake in Japan. The Darfur region of Africa continues to bleed and starve day by day. Earthquakes and famines. The whole world seems to be coming apart at the seams. We hear from scientists that there are holes in the ozone layer. Even Evangelical Christians are now concerned about the environment. As Thomas Friedman says about America, "Green is the new red, white and blue." That green signifies our need and desire to develop alternative energy sources that are cleaner and do less damage than the ones we have now. Envision our round blue earth as a temple and sometimes it seems as if the temple is being destroyed. Jesus says all these tumultuous events are but the beginning of the birth pangs. Paul will extend this image of birth pangs, saying, "The whole creation groans as it awaits rebirth." The temple of planet earth is in transition.

Jesus uses temple in 3 senses and in each case the temple is in transition. There is the temple in Jerusalem; the temple of the earth and the temple of our bodies. He said once, "Destroy this temple and in 3 days I will rebuild it." Those who heard it thought he was referring to the temple complex in Jerusalem but he was referring to the temple of his body. The Apostle Paul extends this image to include each of us saying, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." There is one thing we know with certainty and that is that death always precedes resurrection. That is true for any kind of temple. Every temple is in transition.

Now don't be led astray by Jesus' apocalyptic language. Apocalyptic language is poetic, not scientific. Jesus is not providing a road map to the future. This is not an a.b.c. timetable of the last days but more a paint by the numbers portrait of the death and destruction that precedes the resurrection of any kind of temple. A retired First Grade teacher tells story of one of her First Grade students who was very proud of the watercolor finger painting he made during class one day. The next day the boy was frowning so hard the teacher noticed and asked him what was wrong. "You've got my picture upside down," said the little boy. That's what Jesus would say to some modern writers who want to factualize the artistic portrait of destruction Jesus paints in our text. "You've got my picture upside down."

Someone said a picture is worth a thousand words. That is the idea behind the spiritual practice of drawing and coloring a mandela. Mandala means mirror in the ancient Sanskrit language from whence it comes. A mandala is a  symbolic circular design that serves as a reflection of our spiritual journey at a particular point in time; similar to a photograph of what is going on in the inner spectrum of our consciousness if such a photograph were possible to take. Each mandala corresponds to a number from 1 - 12 in a circular design that correspond to the numbers on a clock. Each number on the dial signifies a different place in a person's spiritual development. Mandala #5 denotes destruction, completion of a cycle of growth, death. Mandala #6 means rebirth, a new cycle is beginning, resurrection. Jesus is speaking in our text today about Mandala #5, the mandala of death and destruction. This is a painful place to be. If you ever find yourself painting mandala #5 you will be coming from a painful place in your spiritual journey. But take heart, because after the mandala of destruction comes the mandala of new life, more thorough integration, resurrection, the beginning of a new cycle.

We are not painting a mandala today but we are participating in an act of representation. Our pledge cards serve as a type of measurement of where we are in the cycle of our spiritual development. Use this pledge process as a mandala, a mirror into your own soul, a photograph of where you are on your spiritual journey at this particular moment. Know that where you are today is not necessarily where you were this time last year or where you will be this time next year. For each of us is a temple of God in transition from one stage of spiritual growth to another like the minute hand on an old fashioned clock on the wall that passes each number on the dial in a never ending circle of life. If you find yourself today at mandala #5, feeling like your world is coming to an end; take heart, you will not remain in the graveyard of the soul. For after the mandala of death comes the mandala of resurrection. You will be born again to new life in Christ.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 12:38-44
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on November 12, 2006

Survey the New Testament and you will find Jesus and money mentioned 30 times in the gospels. The references begin with Jesus birth when Wise Men from the East presented gold to baby Jesus and perhaps were granted the blessed opportunity to hold him and kiss his tiny head. The references to money end when Judas Iscariot receives gold for betraying Jesus with a kiss. Money was an essential ingredient in Jesus' life and teaching.

Consider, for instance, the story of the widow's mite. The disciples and Jesus are in the temple in Jerusalem. They are in the part of the temple called the court of women. A crowd of people are standing in line waiting to put their offering in a trumpet shaped receptacle at the treasury. The scene looks similar to how it will look next week when you are standing in line waiting to put your pledge card in an offering plate on top of the communion table. Now Jesus does something extraordinary. He sits down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Remember that next week when you walk forward to put your pledge down. Jesus sat down in the temple in Jerusalem and watched what people were putting in the offering plate. He saw some rich people put in large sums of money. Then a poor window came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Suddenly Jesus jumped up and in his excitement he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." In short, the widow threw it all away and it made Jesus' day.

It made his day because Jesus practiced the same spiritual path as this widow. He practiced the path of kenosis, the path of self-emptying love. Jesus practiced self-emptying love from the moment of his conception in Mary's womb. In his life, Jesus horrified the prim and proper by dining with prostitutes and sinners, telling parables about extravagant giving; by teaching always and everywhere, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth." John's disciples disapproved of him for drinking and banqueting; the Pharisees disapproved of him for healing on the sabbath. But he went his way, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, "gambling away every gift God bestows." Finally, Jesus practiced kenosis , self-emptying love, when he humbled himself and became unto death, even death on a cross. (For a fuller discussion of kenosis see Cythia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pp 83-88)

There is another woman in the gospels who practiced the path of kenosis, the path of self-emptying love. Once, when Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper, while he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. "That's criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year's wages and handed out to the poor." They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly."(Mark 14:3-9, The Message)

A modern movie, Babette's Feast, illustrates the principle of kenosis . Babette is a famous chef in Napoleon's Paris when she has to flee the country due to being caught on the wrong side of a political debate. She flees to Denmark where she takes up residence with a couple of older widow women. These women run a small church of about 20 members that has been continually declining since their father, who had been pastor of the church, died. Babette gets involved with the little church and finds it to be full of bickering, dissension and unrest. One day Babette gets notice she has won the lottery back in France. Shortly thereafter she receives a check for one million dollars. She uses the money to throw an elaborate feast and cook up the finest food available on the planet. The conflicted congregation slowly melts into the moment and over the course of Babette's exquisite seven course meal a healing takes place between the members of the congregation. After the feast, the congregation assumes she will be leaving them since she is now rich. Babette says, "What? Leaving? Rich? I don't have any money. I blew it all on that feast I threw for you all. I'm not going anywhere." Thus does Babette practice the path of kenosis, self-emptying love, throwing it all away in service of others. This is the kind of extravagant giving Jesus practiced. Giving that is way beyond expectations. Beyond the call of duty. All encompassing giving. Time and talents and money. Cheerful giving. Radical giving.

We will each have the opportunity to bring the gospel to bear on our money in the coming wee. You will receive a letter from the church this week. The letter explores our stewardship theme, Noah's Ark, and asks for your commitment via the enclosed pledge card. As you consider your response to Christ's invitation to give, remember the widow in the temple. As you fill out your pledge card and bring it next Sunday for our stewardship dedication. Pray about your giving this week. Ponder the story of the widow in the temple. Remember the story Babette's Feast. Remember that hymn we sometimes sing, "Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe." Then you'll know what to give. It will be very clear to you.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 11:32-44
on November 5, 2006 at Batesville Presbyterian Church.

They were away from Bethany when Jesus told his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was no there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:10-15) So began a journey that would lead to the awakening of Lazarus.

The awakening of Lazarus was a life and death issue in more ways than one. First, of course, Lazarus was dead. He had been in the tomb for four days. This was not a case of a near death experience. He was so dead that his sister Martha was worried about the stench they would encounter if the tomb was opened as Jesus had ordered. Secondly, the scent of death was in the air in regards to Jesus and his disciples. For if Jesus did indeed raise Lazarus from the dead, such a public miracle only two miles from Jerusalem would be the last straw for the powers that be and they would almost certainly decide that Jesus must be killed if he took this fateful step.

So when Jesus makes it onto the scene, four days after the death of his good friend Lazarus, and after he cries with Lazarus's sister Mary, Jesus calls for the mourners to roll back the stone that covers the cave where Lazarus has been wrapped up like a mummy and laid to rest. This is a risky situation for Jesus. For if the stone is rolled away and Jesus calls Lazarus to rise from the dead and Lazarus does not come back to life then Jesus will look like a cheap magician who has lost his touch and who may then be discounted as a has been. On the other hand, if the stone is rolled away and Jesus does in fact raise Lazarus from the dead and does this on the home turf of his fiercest critics then that will likely be the last straw -- strike three -- and Jesus is likely to be murdered by the people in charge who will feel he has become too powerful and threatens their place in the sun. So Jesus is faced with a terrible double bind. Whatever he does will have negative consequences in some way. Jesus chooses to raise his dead friend back to life. He puts his friends concerns ahead of his own. This is typical of the way he lived. After Lazarus walks out of the tomb where he has been dead for four days, wrapped up like a mummy, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped with kerchief, Jesus says to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Jesus takes the situation of his own double bind and uses it to unbind his friend Lazarus.

Many of the Jews standing there believed in him. But some of them went to the religious authorities and reported what Jesus had done, thus demonstrating how they were dead to the power of God as powerfully demonstrated through Jesus' bringing Lazarus back to life. The religious authorities called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our temple and our nation." The religious authorities felt threatened by Jesus. They had some justification for their feelings. Jesus brought more to the game than they could handle. And, strangely enough, I think this is the key point of the text.

Roaches scatter when we turn on the light in the storage shed. They scatter because they fear the light. So some of the witnesses of the resurrection of Lazarus scattered after the event. They ran away from the light. Fear drove them away from Jesus and into the hands of the authorities. They were not awakened to the reality of God's power in Jesus. We wonder how such people could be so unaware and recalcitrant in the face of the power of God in Jesus. We wonder why the religious authorities turned against him. We wonder why the Romans crucified him. And as we wonder, we can hear Jesus speaking through his pain on the cross saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." They were unaware and Jesus recognized that and asked God to forgive them for that.

Think of the resurrection of Lazarus as being a parable in motion. This time instead of speaking a parable Jesus enacted it. He lived it out. Before beginning the journey to Lazarus's tomb Jesus told his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." Jesus knew Lazarus was dead and plainly says so a few verses later. But his purpose, beyond literally raising Lazarus from the dead, was to enact a parable of awakening so that we would recognize the power of God available to us through Christ.

Jesus wants to awaken us. You may argue that we are already awake and you would be correct up to a point. We are awake enough to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. But being awake is more than a belief that we come to hold. Being awake is an attitude that we take toward life. Being awake is a way of experiencing the world. It is a world-view. People can be asleep in the sleep of disbelief or the sleep of fear and so need to be awakened. And this awakening is not a one time shot. It's not that we awakened once and joined the church, were baptized, and from now on we are awake. There are different levels of being awake. There are different stages of understanding about God and ourselves and the world. Christian theology has a broad term for this unfolding of the spiritual life into ever greater spirals of love and devotion. Sanctification is our term for this awakening to Christ.

Today as we welcome new members into our congregation, we acknowledge their sense of spiritual awakening and we join them in opening ourselves to the power of Christ within. Also this morning, as we remember our dearly departed loves ones on this All Saints Day, we realize that our time is limited, our days are numbered, and we gain a sense of urgency in the great task of sanctification. We don't take life for granted. We awaken to the precious quality of life. Jesus went to Bethany for the specific purpose of awakening Lazarus. When Jesus called his name, Lazarus came forth from the tomb. Listen carefully this morning and you may hear Jesus calling your name and challenging you to come forth from the tomb in which you have been sleeping. Our appropriate response is clear. Like Lazarus, all we have to do is respond to Jesus voice, awaken from our slumber, and walk out of the tomb. Jesus is standing there waiting for us. Let us not make him linger.