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I recently had the opportunity to join some colleagues in listening to Michael Frost, Missiologist from Australia. I am very grateful. Frost is skilled at articulating missional philosophy. Even more interesting, he is actively experimenting with this philosophy in his home church. Though he might prefer to refer to church (due to assumptions formed when one hears the word church) as “a collective of neighbors who center our lives on Jesus.”

He shares important concerns. One of them being that church attendance is conventional. There is nothing radical or strange about church attendance because the church is only doing what other entities are doing, trying to help people to fit in with everyone else. Frost is right, there is a better way. There is a better way to be human (I think he was listening to Jon Foreman on the flight over). And the church should be leading the way.

The church should be salty. This collective of those who center our lives on Jesus should be delicious and enticing and inviting and interesting in their behavior. The church should provoke curiosity. He gave a list of ways to do this but I don’t like lists and tend to shut down after the first or second point. But here are the first two things he encouraged; 1) Bless three people each week. Bless someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. 2) Eat with three people each week. Eat with someone from the Body, someone outside the Body, and a third person of choice. Even for someone who doesn’t like lists, I think those sound inviting and interesting and lean in the direction of Christian behavior.

Frost says he doesn’t care about attendance or tithing. He doesn’t want the church to be busy recruiting new persons or becoming the coolest show in town. What he wants is for the church to show the world what the Reign of God looks like. Amen.

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Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there are some new trees growing. A downy serviceberry and a flowering plum are trying to take root so we can enjoy their blooms and fruit in the future. They are not the only things growing. Carrots have been planted. We have already been eating lettuce, arugula, onions, chives, thyme, parsley, and oregano. My mouth is watering just to think of what else we will pull out of the ground later this year. Today, there is a chicken in the smoker. My mouth waters as I walk past to get a whiff.

The garden is coming along. Daryl came up on a Mahindra and leveled the spot. He did an excellent job but my friend Roger mentioned that a John Deere might have made it even more level. There were a surprising number of rocks that came out of the space and they are now stacked alongside the site in a way that resembles a wall.

The trail cam continues to be busy. The old visitors are back. New visitors include wild turkeys and a coyote (who appears pregnant). No bears yet on camera but they are leaving evidence of their presence. Scat full of sunflower seeds suggests that someone is hanging their bird feeders too low. Black Capped Chickadees have taken up residence in a nest box. The field guide describes their nest as a cup shaped nest using moss and coarse materials for a foundation and lined with softer material like fur. In this case, it appears to be the fur of a German Shepherd named Duke.

It is an overcast day and a host of birds are singing. A host of others are feasting at the feeders. Goldfinches are already starting to get that brilliant color they will show off later in the summer. A Pileated Woodpecker flew into the yard. Other birds are investigating empty bird boxes. Dad would have said they were negotiating the lease. But it is birds we can’t see that are causing the greatest commotion. Barred Owls are singing. It sounds like a riot is taking place just beyond the treeline. Not really singing, this has a name – caterwauling. The courtship ritual is a medley of dueling cackles and hoots and caws and gurgles. The best way I can describe it is – a ruckus. For at least one afternoon, here between Jacks and Shade Mountain, we listen to a wild soundtrack.

Remember that guy named Joe Friday from team Dragnet? He became famous for the question “Just the facts ma’am.” How about that television show CSI? Anyone a fan? If so, then you know everything is dependent on the evidence. Here’s the facts. We live in a dragnet, CSI kind of world. We comfort ourselves with facts and evidence.

Here’s the facts based on Luke’s account of Easter. It was Sunday. It was early in the morning. It was the women finding the empty tomb. It was two men wearing clothes like lightning who spoke “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here – he has risen!” These men went on to tell the women “remember he said he would be crucified and rise again on the third day?” It’s not in the text but we know what they said next – “Guess what day it is?”

The text seems to go out of its way to make sure we know it was the women who found the empty tomb. We even get names; Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, mother of James, and others. This is who tells the Easter news to the other disciples. The text tells us the other disciples thought this sounded like nonsense. We know what they must’ve been thinking “Where is the evidence?”

Things were more primitive then. We know what they needed was a good CSI team. Some good detective work may have taken care of this situation. If it were us, we would have dusted for fingerprints, photographed footprints, taken a linen sample from the graveclothes, interviewed the angels, estimated the weight of the stone and how many people it would take to move it. If the women would have brought back this type of evidence no one would have accused them of nonsense.

We are fascinated by evidence. If we can figure Easter out, then we can fit it in with the rest of our story. Easter could have a place next to other notable occasions. But as it is, Easter is a little dangerous. A resurrection from the dead that cannot be explained makes us a little nervous. But Easter doesn’t fit in the world’s evidence-based way of thinking. Easter introduces a new worldview. Easter invites us to start thinking differently.

Here’s a fact, more facts won’t make salvation more accessible. If that book in the religious section convinces us resurrection is possible, if some new discovery is dug out of the sands of the Holy Land, if some lawyer type makes an undisputable claim, if some preacher gives three good reasons to believe in the resurrection, if the shroud of Turin is authentic, if those really are the crown of thorns rescued from burning Notre Dame – does the gospel suddenly become more real?

The gospel is not trying to sway us with physical evidence. The gospel isn’t even interested in giving a doctrine of resurrection. We might be fascinated by new finds but this stuff does not impress the gospel. The gospel does not allow us to stay in that place for long. Instead, it wants to move on to the real news. God is alive and on the loose.

We haven’t got this Jesus figured out. We can’t put Jesus on the shelf, can’t lock him up in a safe box, can’t claim to know his next move, as it turns out – can’t even seal him in a tomb. That is part of what is so great about those women who went to the tomb. Luke seems to be saying “will someone just listen to these women?”

The gospel wants us to understand that we cannot simply put God in some place. We can form our best definition of God. We can give our best description of God. We can make our best guess about how God creates, loves, saves – but God will still be more. God will simply not stay where we try to fit him.

One would think if we killed him, wrapped him in graveclothes, and sealed him up in a tomb – he would still be there when we went to find him. Easter reminds us, that’s not the way it works with God. As it turns out, God is a hard one to figure out. We can put God in a tomb, but that doesn’t mean we will find him there in the morning.

It is not easy to admit we haven’t got something figured out. It is much easier to disregard what we do not understand. But if we take this old text seriously, we will believe in a God who behaves unpredictably. We will believe in a God who is impossible to hold down, impossible to seal inside of a tomb. We will believe that God is on the loose.

And this God might just invade our lives in ways we are not ready for. As two men dressed like lightning reminded us, Jesus said it would happen like this. He said he would be crucified and rise again on the third day. It might not say it in the text but we know what they were thinking – “Guess what day it is!”

We have all heard some version of the story about the town that had become a place of injustice. A place where greed and corruption became the new normal. If you have heard some version of this story (while growing up I was made to believe that Wyatt Earp coming into Tombstone was the primary version), then you know the feeling when a hero rides into town to make things right. That is the feeling that rides into town on Palm Sunday.

It is unfortunate that we sometimes talk about Palm Sunday in a way that simply details Jesus mode of transportation into Jerusalem. We can be certain the gospel has something else in mind.

Jerusalem is looking for a king. Someone who will drive the Romans out. Someone who might revive the glory days of the Davidic dynasty. Jerusalem is looking for salvation – salvation from Rome. The people were overlooking their sin problem because of their Roman problem. Then here comes Jesus, riding in on a donkey, and they were ready to cast their vote with him to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. This is about much more than transportation.

Still, a nonviolent prophet on a donkey seems too tame. There is a text in Revelation where the heavens open and a white horse appears. We are told the rider is Faithful with a capital F and True with a capital T. We are told this rider makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire. He is wearing crowns on his head. His name is the Word of God. Right behind him are the armies of heaven on white horses. Out of his mouth is a very sharp sword. He brings the fierceness of Almighty God. His robe is inscripted with “King of kings and Lord of lords.” If the people had a copy of the Revelation they would have said “Yeah, that’s what we want.”

But that’s not what it looks like when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst singing and palms. It looks more like a text from Philippians where God became a servant. Where God humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on a cross. But that story does not stop there. It goes on to say that this God was exalted to the highest place and given a name above every name. It tells us that at the mention of this name every knee, in heaven and earth, shall bow.

What we do not want to lose sight of is the fact that the rider on the white horse with eyes like fire and the one who became the servant who was exalted above every name is the one who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is who rides into town on Palm Sunday. It is too easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to withdrawal our support for Jesus and cast a vote for Barabbas. Perhaps he will increase our odds of defeating Rome.

We often find ourselves looking for a man to become a god. We are given a God who became man. It is none other than the God of history who rides into town as King on Palm Sunday. The gospel hands us a palm branch and lyrics to a hosanna song and asks us to follow.

My friend Gerald Mershimer, Professor of Preaching at Ohio Christian University, wrote this earlier today, it is fresh off the press. Thank you Gerald!

“Save Us, Lord, from Shallow Praise (A Palm Sunday Prayer)”

 

Save us, Lord, from shallow praise,

      That loves you only when it pays,

Conforms You to OUR means and ways,

Save us, Lord, from shallow praise.

 

Give us, Lord, a praise that’s true,

        That burns with holy love for You,

That dies to self and lives for YOU, 

        That takes our cross and sees it through.

 

Give us grace to bless your name,

         In our loss and in our shame,

Grace to bless you when we cry,

        Grace to trust when loved ones die,

Grace, when you won’t answer “Why?”,

        Grace to praise your Unseen Hand,

When we cannot understand,

        What you allow 

    or what you plan.

 

Give us, Lord true hearts of praise,

          Surrendered to YOUR means and ways.

 

Save us, Lord, from shallow praise.

Last night I completed a six week fly tying course. It was a blast. The instructors, from Trout Unlimited, were enjoyable and the experience of tying multiple flies was extremely helpful. As an additional plus, they provided the equipment and supplies. There were even moments of talking entomology. I can’t wait to catch a fish on one of these things.

Fly tying, as other hobbies, comes with its own culture. I have found myself using some terms that I never even knew before. Words like shank, gap, and eye have taken on new meaning. There are times when a wooly bugger is appropriate and times for a sulfur parachute. Conversation has totally changed. While I’ve never been overly interested in fashion, suddenly I am noticing what everyone is wearing. That’s a soft material, I am thinking, wonder if it floats? Wonder if it would work for dubbing? “Pardon me”, I ask the Hobby Lobby employee, “Can you direct me to the foam?” “How about the chenille?” I now own a bobbin and a pair of hackle pliers. I am looking for ways to use “whip finish” in conversation.

Fly fishing, as fly tying, is new to me and I look forward to some new experiences this coming year. But I can’t help but notice other changes taking place as well. I have been tempted to pull over while driving to snip a little hair off that roadkill. I used to vacuum when pets started to shed, now I put that hair in my pocket. I am rummaging through my Mom’s sewing kit for different threads. I have started frequenting Joann Fabrics just to rub up against some materials hoping some of them will stick to me via static cling. I have been scaring the neighbor’s chickens in the hope they will throw some feathers. Last night while visiting a friend, I pulled on the frayed end of their rug just to get a little extra material. The possibilities for that next fly are endless.

“Is that a loose thread hanging from your sweater? Let me help you with that.” I had no idea how this class might change my life.

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there is a property at the end of a cul de sac that recently had an address change. This isn’t your typical circle at the end of a paved street with suburban surroundings. This is one of those places at the end of a lane where a turn a round was created by cars circling through the grass. It can’t be seen from the road due to the distance but also because there is a significant amount of timber blocking the view from the road.

Much of today’s timber is managed in order to get a quick return. Back here, there is old growth and mature hardwoods. Just the kind of place where cavity nesters might want to live. A number of cavity nesters reside back here. There are Mice, Red Squirrels, and Northern Flying Squirrels. Gray Squirrels who are skilled at making their own nests will reside in cavities. Tree Swallows, Black Capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, White Breasted Nuthatches, as well as various wrens and swallows.

To increase the odds, we have been installing nesting boxes for cavity nesters. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and we have several boxes ready for guests. Considering the time of year, we should be seeing potential tenants anytime now. Screech Owls are cavity nesters. Keith, Joe, and I hung a box last weekend hoping it will be a future home for these raptors who feast on a lot of critters including mice and insects. I am hoping that mosquitoes become their favorite.

We have been catching a raccoon on trail cam in recent weeks. Perhaps we should put the trail cam in the vicinity of the boxes to see who might be checking things out. Onions are planted and there is a rectangular area painted in the yard where a raised garden is going to be. (While painting the area it felt like I was lining a soccer field). The neighbor, Daryl, has agreed to bring his tractor over and level the proposed site.

Ice continues to cover much of the small vernal pools. Soon, maybe this week, these pools will be full of frog song. I did find two Wood Ducks enjoying the small thawed portion of one of these pools. That reminds me, Wood Ducks are cavity nesters. Maybe it’s time to hang another box.