Not every workplace observes Good Friday as a holiday (i.e. Holy Day), and not everyone has the ability to attend a Good Friday worship service in person. So, we've assembled these prayers, pictures, and readings for you to use on your own time. As you do so, reflect on Jesus' sacrifice, his death on a cross, and the depths of God's love for all of humanity.
Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. So, let us pray:
your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross
so that he might draw the whole world to himself.
Grant that we, who glory in this death for our salvation,
may also glory in his call to take up our cross and follow him;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The United Methodist Book of Worship, "A Service for Good Friday")
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals— so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.
Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus;and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
graciously behold this your family,
for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing
to be betrayed into the hands of sinners,
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer)
If someone had told me that I would one day be a part of the Leadership Team for a new church plant, I would have said, “I don’t think so.” But that is exactly what I am doing right now, and I'm loving every minute of it.
Several years ago, I found myself as a member of a church but not participating at all, not even going to worship on Sunday mornings. Why? I guess I was frustrated with not feeling like I was a part of the church, never being asked to volunteer even after signing up on volunteer forms, not being nurtured in my faith or cared for when it was needed.
I have been in the Church most of my adult life and have always been involved in church leadership by chairing committees, working with Sunday School classes, volunteering with the congregation's youth group, and just about anything else I was asked to do. The Church was my family, but I had been missing that feeling of belonging and of worth. I desired the closeness that I had once felt to God and with my fellow Christians.
I missed working for God and feeling like I was part of a church family, and I wanted what I once had. At the same time, I kept feeling nudges from God to find another church. Then, I watched as Peace Tree was getting started. So, one day I said to my husband that I wanted to check out Peace Tree. We met with Pastor Kris over coffee and we liked what we heard.
Pastor Kris invited us to try out a House Group, so we went to the Martinsburg Cove House which meets Sundays at 6:30 p.m. I can’t tell you how loved I felt and how we were welcomed into this group from day one. I had found what I had been missing! I wanted more and even said to Kris that I was ready to get plugged in doing something for the Church.
Several months later, Pastor Kris invited us to be a part of the Leadership Team. Again, the feeling of warmth, love, and camaraderie was present from day one at these team meetings. We accepted the challenge to serve God in this way and we haven’t looked back.
It has been such a wonderful experience being a part of the Leadership Team and witnessing the launch of our Large Group worship celebrations. Planning opportunities for ministry and serving God as church planters has been such a joy. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be a part of this new church and how it is such a big part of my life. I can see God moving through this group, and the love and care shared by others is authentic and genuine. I feel God's presence at every event, every worship service, and at every House Group gathering.
I thank God every day that I listened to His nudging and pursued Peace Tree. If you're like me and you are looking for that feeling you once had at church years ago, or if you're just looking for a new church home, then try Peace Tree. You won’t regret it! Love lives here and God is in our midst.
Peace Tree is part of the United Methodist Church, and we are connected regionally to other UMC congregations in Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, and Western Kentucky. Our area is being challenged by the planned gathering of white supremacists and associated hate groups in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017. The following is a letter written by Bishop Bill McAlilly to local churches. You can read the original post on Bishop McAlilly's blog HERE.
Dear United Methodist Family,
The same hate groups that devastated the Charlottesville, Virginia community just a few weeks ago are now targeting our Tennessee Conference by planning to gather in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on October 28, 2017 to spread the vitriolic evil of racism. As United Methodists, we must remember and recommit ourselves to the ideals of our United Methodist social witness.
Within our Social Principles we understand racism as sin and contrary to the fundamental recognition that “our primary identity is as children of God.” “Racism … plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.” I call on all of us to renew our personal and collective commitment to stand against racism and the violence born from it.
Some have inquired as to our possible response to the racist protests being planned. We are encouraging people to work within the interfaith partnerships already formed. The Shelbyville First United Methodist Church and the Shelbyville Church of the Nazarene will be sponsoring a prayer vigil on Thursday, October 26, 2017.
The Rutherford County Interfaith Council and the City of Murfreesboro encourage individuals to consult the #Murfreesboroloves Facebook community. Individuals who seek to publicly counter-protest in the Shelbyville area should consult the Shelbyville Times Gazette for information on where to legally gather. For more information, please feel free to call the Stones River District Superintendent, Rev. Max Mayo, at (615) 893-5886.
I call upon all United Methodists to join in praying for our communities as well as discovering creative ways to live our baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Bishop Bill McAlilly
Also, I invite you to read and reflect on Reverend Paul Purdue’s sermon, Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Being Mistaken for the Children of God preached Sunday, October 8, 2017 in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas. You will find a link to this message below:
Rev. Paul Purdue: Blessed are the peacemakers – Being mistaken for the Children of God
Did you know over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's Disease? One in three senior adults die with Alzheimer's or another dementia. But Alzheimer's doesn't just affect the individual; it affects that person's entire family. Last year, more than 15 million people provided unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's or other dementias. That care added up to 18.2 billion hours which is valued at $230 billion. Chances are you have a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who has been affected by Alzheimer's or another dementia.
It's important to care for our aging family members who live with these diseases, and it's just as important to care for the caregivers. This is why our mother church (Collierville UMC) started a support group in the early 1990's for individuals who cared for family members living with Alzheimer's and other dementias. That first support group gave birth to the Collierville Alzheimer's Day Care Center in 1995. As the ministry and work of the Collierville-based center grew, a larger facility was needed, and in 2003 the Page Robbins Adult Day Center moved to their current location at 1961 S. Houston Levee Rd.
We think it's wonderful that such an organization as Page Robbins Adult Day Center exists in our community, and we'd like to support their work this October. Herbie Krisle, executive director of Page Robbins, will be in worship with us this Sunday at 10:00 a.m. during our Large Group worship celebration. She'll share a word about the work that's happening at Page Robbins as well as offer us ways in which we might volunteer or contribute to their mission.
To help welcome Herbie, we're holding a Donation Drive to help replenish the most frequently used items at the center. We're encouraging everyone to bring one or more of the following items:
Donated items help keep operating costs low for Page Robbins. Clients' families pay fees, but those fees do not cover the entire budget. As a non-profit agency, Page Robbins receives no government funding. Instead, they raise approximately $400,000 each year. Thanks to the countless donations and volunteer hours that individuals and families gave in 2016, there were 110 clients and families who got their joy back. We're excited to give a bit of joy in 2017 through our Donation Drive!
I've seen first-hand the love, art, singing, and laughter that takes place in the Page Robbins Adult Day Center. It truly is a special place and the clients are blessed daily by the loving staff and community volunteers. So, join us this Sunday at the Malco Towne Cinema in Collierville for our 10:00 a.m. worship celebration to hear a witness about this wonderful organization, and please consider bringing an item or two for our Page Robbins Donation Drive.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Last weekend, the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate returned to the Memphis area to assist Guatemalan citizens who are living and working in the United States. Consulate officials helped individuals process updates to their documentation including passport renewals, birth certificate applications for children who have dual-citizenship, marriage licenses, certificates of death for loved ones who had passed away, and government-issued identification cards.
Trinity United Methodist Church (Midtown) served as the host site for this event, with Iglesia Metodista Unida "El Redentor" acting as the liaison with the Consular General in Atlanta and Peace Tree UMC coordinating volunteers for the two-day event. Volunteers came from the three churches mentioned above as well as from the following groups & organizations: Collierville UMC, Emmanuel UMC (Memphis), St. Paul UMC (Lakeland), Trinity Baptist Church (Cordova), Teach for America, Latino Memphis, University of Memphis Spanish Department, Sigma Chi Fraternity (EK Chapter), and the Congregational Health Network from Methodist Healthcare. By the end of the weekend we had helped serve 929 neighbors, and Christians of all ages from varying socio-economic levels and different cultural backgrounds had come together to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
The Guatemalan Consulate hopes to return to Memphis for another visit in 2017. So if you'd like to work alongside all these amazing people, then please Contact us today. Reverend Luz Campos is the pastor of El Redentor, and below you can read her letter to the volunteers. With her permission and with light editing, we share it with you now:
It was 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 24th when we realized that there were already some cars in the parking lot with people waiting for the line to start. When we returned at 2:00 a.m. the line was very long; men and women with children in their arms prepared to spend the night waiting in line in order to receive assistance from the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate.
Unfortunately, during the early hours of Saturday the 24th, a storm with strong winds and heavy rain approached Midtown. But no one moved from their place in line. Thanks to the compassion of Rev. Jonathan Bratt Carle and for Rev. Goyo de la Cruz who coordinated the details of opening the Education Center at Trinity UMC, at 4 o'clock in the morning we were able to allow people to enter. Everyone was obviously soaked but thankful for the shelter.
The church housed between 400 to 500 adults plus children that Saturday morning. And at 8:00 a.m. the officials from the consulate arrived to assist the Guatemalan community. Everyone was very grateful because the volunteers from Trinity UMC had shared water, fruit, and cookies. There was even a group of volunteers who took care of the children. We are also very grateful to our neighbors from the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association for their support in allowing us to park along the streets of their neighborhood throughout the weekend.
There is a Latino saying that says “Union Makes Force" (La Unión hace la Fuerza). It is true! The union of three churches (Trinity UMC, Peace Tree, and Iglesia Metodista Unida “El Redentor”) and many volunteers made it possible for us to be the hands and feet of God in this journey.
Thank you brothers and sisters! And to all the volunteers, thank you for working so hard to serve our neighbors. They were very satisfied, not only because they were able to carry out their official consulate business, but also because they met people who truly love God. They encountered people who exemplify the love of God burning in their hearts by serving others. So once again, "Thank You."
Rev. Luz Campos
Iglesia Metodista Unida "El Redentor"
It fascinates me how people can have so many memories that are centered on food. We remember funny conversations during Thanksgiving dinners, favorite dishes that moms cooked for us when we were feeling blue, meals that turned out horribly and yet our loved ones grit their teeth and ate them anyways, and restaurants where we had our first date with our significant other. Friends have shared with me how they’ve remembered potlucks at their childhood church. Young people in Collierville serve breakfast on a monthly basis to individuals who are impoverished or homeless and those memories will stick with these students for a lifetime. Every week at Peace Tree, we make sure to include a meal at every House Group gathering, and we do so for several reasons, memorability being one of those reasons.
Food makes moments memorable. To demonstrate this point, here's what we ate this past week at Peace Tree: we had pasta at the Martinsburg Cv House, pizza and salads at Mellow Mushroom during Monday Night Hangout, burgers with a side of macaroni and cheese at the Winleaf Dr House, and chicken stir fry with rice at the Loeb St House. To go along with each of those locations, we’ve studied the book of Acts, shared conversations during Trivia, looked at Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and discussed what it means to be compassionate as Christians. The food is always delicious, but we also value the discussion and the people with whom we share our meals.
Secondly, sharing a meal at House Groups encourages us to live out our core values: Love All, Serve All, Live Together, Follow Christ. Good food tends to fill the room with love, and by thanking God for the food and asking God to bless the meal, we are receiving and returning love to God. For the families who prepare the meal, they are serving others; guests who come to the house also find ways to serve by pouring drinks, clearing tables, and washing dishes. There’s always room at the table so we can eat together. But perhaps the most important reason we include a meal at every House Group gathering is because it follows Christ’s model for ministry.
All throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, we see Jesus eating and drinking with people. His first miracle was at a wedding reception where he turned water into wine. Time and time again, concerned Jewish leaders point out that Jesus is eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus often found the most unpopular person from the towns he passed through and invited himself over to their house for dinner. Jesus asks a woman of a different ethnicity to draw water for him at the well and then he proceeds to offer her Living Water and amazing grace. Communion was first celebrated at a meal which Christians refer to as the Last Supper, and even after the crucifixion, Christ consumes broiled fish with his disciples after his walk to Emmaus.
Nowadays, it seems as though the Church has divorced its worship services from the very meals that Jesus enjoyed while on earth. If we’re serious about following Christ, shouldn’t we be eating the way he ate with the people he sought out by gathering in ordinary homes and towns where he would’ve walked? Peace Tree is serious about following Christ, so we decided at the outset of this church planting journey to bring Church to our dinner tables. What a blessing it has turned out to be! We’ve seen House Groups multiply, dinner tables extend, and menus expand to include more people. Sharing meals together at Peace Tree gatherings makes the moments memorable and allows us to live out our values, especially our core value of “Follow Christ.”
This Sunday, all our House Groups are coming together for a meal and an afternoon of bowling at Funquest in Collierville. If you’re in town and would like to join us, we’d love to have you! Just be sure to RSVP to the event HERE. Similar to our House Group gatherings and every community event before this one, we will be sure to have plenty of food for everyone! (As a side note, we handed out water and pop-ice in July, grilled burgers in August at our Back to School BBQ, delivered baked goods to First Responders on Sept. 11, handed out dog treats at our Blessing of the Animals in October, roasted hot dogs at our Family Fest in November, and poured cups of hot cocoa at Carols & Candlelight in December. We’re not kidding when we say we LOVE sharing food with our neighbors!).
We hope you’ll join us for a meal at one of our upcoming House Group gatherings sometime soon. Just remember that the meal is part of our worship time together when we’ll also celebrate communion, pray for each other, and read the Bible together. You can also join us this Sunday in Collierville for lunch and bowling. If you’ve never considered how a meal can be a worship service, try doing this: the next time you eat a meal with your family, go around the table and say what you’re thankful for and how you’ve seen God throughout your day. And if you’re at an established church, try finding ways that you can incorporate meals, potlucks, coffee & donuts, soup kitchens, and any other food-centric ministry into your congregation’s worship services and weekly programs.
Christ set the example for all his followers by sharing meals with many different types of people. It’s time for the Church to reclaim this food-centric ministry. It’s time to make God a topic of conversation at our family dinner table. It’s time to share meals together in our church sanctuaries. It’s time to believe that Church can happen at a picnic table in our public parks, and in our dining rooms, and at the local coffee house, and in our favorite restaurants. It's time to believe that Church can happen anywhere.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
In a few days we'll be ringing in the new year and welcoming 2016. But in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, my thoughts still linger on the people we visited in Scripture during our House Group worship, the characters of the Nativity Story: Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Each was greeted by an angel, each was terrified by the news they received (or simply by the sight of God's holy messenger), and each heard the phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid."
These are words that I've needed to hear time and time again during these first six months of church planting. Whenever I doubted myself and my calling to plant a new church with the mission of reaching new people, I heard God whisper, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I feared whether or not I could raise enough of my salary to support my wife and unborn child, our friends and family showed their support and assured us, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I've led a Launch Team into the unknown, they've had my back and echoed the angelic phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid." So far this journey has been fantastic and humbling as I've trusted God, put my faith in his provisions, and depended on others to work alongside me as we fulfill our mission to Love God by Loving Others. We've shown our corner of God's Kingdom that Church can happen anywhere, and we enter the new year greatly encouraged and more excited than when we took our first steps this summer.
We want you to know how God has been moving through Peace Tree and how God has been using us as His hands and feet. We volunteered our time and recruited others to serve at the Guatemalan Consulate Visit in early December where more than 800 individuals received assistance from their government's officials. When you factor in children and spouses who also attended the event, we ministered to over 1200 people! Over 163 people have attended one of our community events including our Suggs Park Field Day and Back to School BBQ. Over 145 people have worshiped with us outdoors including our most recent service, Carols and Candlelight on the Collierville Town Square. 74 different people have visited one of our House Groups. And back in September, we showed our appreciation to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs during our Public Safety Appreciation Day by delivering baked goods to the Collierville Police Department and six Firehouses.
Thankfully, Peace Tree has several strategic partners and sponsors that have made this ministry possible. We're thankful to our mother church, Collierville UMC, for their continued prayers and support. And we are grateful for the Memphis Annual Conference and the Metro-McKendree District of the United Methodist Church for their assistance through funding and resources. I am most especially thankful for the more than 55 individual donors who have made charitable contributions to Peace Tree totaling $25,339! Their gifts make our ministry possible and helps support my work as a church planter.
As we approach January 1st, there are a few more days for individuals to make a gift to Peace Tree. So, if you believe in our mission and support our core values (Love All, Serve All, Live Together, Follow Christ), we hope you'll consider making a gift to Peace Tree HERE. Our online giving portal makes it possible for donors to give instantly and securely and assures them that their gift counts towards 2015's charitable contributions.
We are thankful for many things this Christmas season. We see a genuine community forming in front of our eyes. We've reached out in service and loving-kindness to our neighbors. We've worshiped Christ and studied God's Word together. And surrounding each of us has been a Spirit of Love and Peace. We hope that you will continue praying for us, sharing our story with others (especially those who feel far away from God), and that you will join us at an upcoming House Group gathering or community event. I am sure that I will still have moments of fear and trembling, but at the same time I stand amazed at everything God has done through us in just six short months. If you see me sometime soon, please remind me (as I remind myself daily), "Do Not Be Afraid." The Savior is here! A new year is about to begin, and with it comes multiple opportunities for this new church to reach new people for Christ. Amen.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Families come in all shapes and sizes these days. No longer can we drive by a home and assume that a "traditional" family containing a husband, wife, and 2.5 children live inside. More and more families include a step-parent, an adopted sibling, or a foster child. And with these modern-day realities come modern-day challenges: how to visit every family on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, how to please grandparents who live hundreds of miles away, and how to coordinate schedules with an ex-husband or ex-wife who wants to see a child during the winter break.
On top of this, there are many young adults who have started new jobs this year and won't travel home for Christmas. They've formed new family groups with other young people to fill this void. Newlyweds have to determine which spouse's family they will see at worship on Christmas Eve and which family they will visit on Christmas day. There are so many obligations, appointments, and traditions to uphold during this busy time of year that we often forget to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
So this year, we plan to celebrate Christmas early on Friday, December 18th at 7:00 p.m. This week marks the end of the semester for students, but families will still be in town. Celebrating Christmas early means you won't have to worry about splitting time with another family on December 25th or navigating an unfamiliar town to attend a worship service on Christmas Eve. And celebrating under the gazebo on the Collierville Town Square means you won't have to worry about parking spots, fighting for seats, or running out of room for you and your family. "Carols and Candlelight" will be a chance to take a Christmas service down to the basics: we'll read the Nativity Story and prepare our hearts for the Christ child, we'll sing beloved carols that echo that story, and we'll gather together with neighbors who long for community and friendship.
This Friday is not simply a chance to pause and celebrate Christmas on your schedule; it's also an opportunity for you to invite someone who is searching for Christ this year. Think of the co-worker who hasn't attended a church worship service in years, the neighbor who doesn't do well with large crowds, the classmate who is a spiritual person but who has no faith community. This is an opportunity to share the joy of Christmas and spread some holy-day cheer. We hope you'll join us this Friday, but we also hope you'll text or call a friend who you'll pick up and bring along to "Carols and Candlelight."
With so many things happening in the world, it's easy to forget why we celebrate Christmas. "Carols and Candlelight" will provide a much needed reminder. I'm most looking forward to our final carol where each person will be invited to light their candle. It's a reminder of how Christ is the Light that came down to earth, a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that we follow and shows us the Way. Celebrating Christmas early on December 18th reminds us that Christ is our Light, and when we share that Light with our neighbors, the world becomes a brighter place. We'll see you this Friday night in Collierville.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Last Friday, my wife and I visited a “church” of sorts, a place where Americans spend more than $10.4 billion a year. We were greeted at the front door, ushered towards the room on our ticket and invited to purchase food and beverages. When we walked into the main room we saw a sea of strange faces, but we did encounter a couple of friends. We exchanged pleasantries as we walked down the aisle, then we took our seats. A type of liturgy flashed across the screen reminding us to turn off our cell phones, to limit our talking, and to be sure we knew the location of the exits in case of an emergency. Before the main event, we sat through another welcome followed by several announcements of upcoming films. And there we were, sitting in the cold, dimly lit sanctuary of the movie theater.
I love movies. Anyone who’s heard me preach in a worship service expects me to reference a movie at some point in the sermon, whether it is planned or sporadic. Since Americans see so many movies a year, and since critically-acclaimed movies along with huge blockbusters have been seen by the majority of the people sitting in the pews of a congregation, it makes sense to me to draw examples out of the most popular movies of the day or classics from cinema’s past when I get up to preach. What really gets me excited about movies is when I see religious references or undertones in the storytelling. There are Hindu references in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Buddhist and Taoist influences in the Star Wars films, and Jewish and Christian archetypes permeating Superman.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found a connection between Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi thriller, The Martian, and three parables (simple stories that teach spiritual lessons) from the Gospel of Luke. Be warned that the following discusses plot points from The Martian and contains minor spoilers.
If you have simply seen the trailer for The Martian, you know that Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, gets left behind on the red planet following an accident during an emergency evacuation. His crew believed he died on Mars, so Watney is left all alone on the desolate planet with only his ingenuity, creativity, potatoes, and disco music. He also has a home base from which to work, a rover with which to explore, and several other items from past missions, rovers, and satellites that he must seek out in order to survive.
Meanwhile, on earth, satellite imagery picks up movement on the red planet which can mean only one thing: Mark Watney is still alive. The folks from NASA start discussing what to do to ensure he stays alive, what the press will do with the news, and whether or not to tell the crew who are ignorant of his survival. But in an unscripted moment during a press conference, Vincent Kapoor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) boldly states, “We will do everything within our power to bring him home.” This one sentence became a bridge from the movie to the Gospel of Luke.
Luke groups three of Jesus’s stories together in chapter 15 of his Gospel. We commonly refer to these stories as The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and The Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son. At some point in the movie, Mark Watney assumes the roles of all three lost items: sheep, coin, and son.
Jesus asks a mixed crowd of supporters and haters what they would do in a certain situation: You have 100 sheep and one goes missing. Which of you wouldn’t abandon the 99 sheep to go out and find the one lost sheep? When you come home with that sheep, you’d throw a party, right? Now, there are several practical questions that must be asked, but hold onto those for the moment. Right now, I would like you to simply consider why astronauts would travel to Mars. Perhaps it is because we all have an innate animal instinct to explore the unknown, to travel out into the wilderness, and discover the undiscovered. In a way, the crew of the Ares III were like sheep who decided to leave the relative safety of their flock in order to venture out into unknown territory. Thus, Mark Watney becomes the Lost Sheep.
Jesus doesn’t stop at sheep; he goes on to tell a story about a woman who has lost a silver coin which is part of a collection of 10 coins she wears in a special headpiece. The woman sweeps the room and searches diligently until she finds the coin. After recovering it, she throws a party for the neighborhood to celebrate. But here’s the kicker: the party probably cost more than the value of the coin she found! Again, there are questions regarding the practicality of such party, but for now consider this: the coin had no control in whether to be lost or found. It was an item that fell to the will of gravity, physics, space & time. The woman had to make the effort to search and retrieve the Lost Coin. Such was the fate of Mark Watney. He could not control the antenna apparatus that knocked him to the surface of Mars hundreds of feet away from his crewmates. He became the Lost Coin, an object that had no control of its surroundings, at the mercy of the elements, and subject to physics, space & time.
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the practical issues raised by these parables and by The Martian. Why would a shepherd leave 99 sheep defenseless in search of one lost sheep? Isn’t it better to cut your losses, protect the 99 you’re sure you have right now, and make sure you don’t lose another one? And the woman who found the lost coin: why throw a party valued greater than the coin which was found? It makes no economical sense to do such a thing! And as my wife pointed out in the car ride home from the movie theater: “Imagine all the good that could have been done for the hungry and the homeless, the refugee and the uneducated with all the money that was spent on trying to save one person who was lost on Mars.”
I agreed from a utilitarian perspective that more good could be done with the money, brain power, energy, and time spent on a rescue mission to bring Watney home from Mars if instead those monies and resources were spent on all the people who suffer here on earth. As we drove down Poplar Ave, she continued, “Was it selfish of Mark Watney to allow all those resources and all that money to be spent on him? Is his life more important than anyone else’s life?” Jeff Daniels’s character states, “It’s bigger than one person,” to which Sean Bean’s character replies, “No, it’s not.” Is it possible to justify the use of these resources for one person?
At this point in the conversation, it suddenly hit me: The Martian is a parable! It's almost as if Jesus began telling a story that started out, "How many of you after losing an astronaut wouldn't do everything within your power to bring him home?" Now, before my fellow nerds get in an uproar, yes, I know that there are many applicable skills for space travelers found in this movie, and I know that the science is pretty rock solid. But when asking the theological and philosophical question, “How big is God’s Love?” the answer will always be, “God’s Love is bigger than the universe! God will stop at nothing to bring you home!” When a non-believer says, “Explain God’s character to me,” the response of Christian believers should be, “God will use up all of God’s resources to find you, rescue you, and offer you a life that is greater than the life you are living right now.” This may not make any sense to us practically, and it may not fit our systems of logic. But it doesn’t have to. This is God we’re talking about, and our minds cannot comprehend the mind of God. God’s actions exist outside of our logic, and God’s plans are greater than our own plans.
You may be asking, “So, how is Mark Watney like the Lost Son?” I’m glad you asked! The son sets out on his own, does some things he probably shouldn’t do (Luke doesn’t go into great detail, but let’s just say the words ‘squandered’ and ‘dissolute living’ show up), but at some point he comes to his senses. He realizes that life is better with his father; life is truly a life worth living when he’s back home with his family. He has to eat some nasty food and work some shady jobs before he sets off for home, but he did it all to survive. He makes the conscious decision not to die.
Watney decided he wasn’t going to die on that planet. He used science to create water in a controlled environment, used human feces to act as fertilizer for his potatoes, and put his life on the line numerous times to simply survive as a castaway millions of miles from home until help arrived. But just like the Lost Son, Watney had to make the decision to survive, had to wake up to his reality, and had to put all his efforts into finding a way home.
All of us get lost at some point in life whether we’re like the coin that doesn’t even realize it’s lost, or the sheep that follows its animal instinct to wander and explore, or the son who makes questionable choices before waking up to turn his life around. Or maybe you’re like the Lost Astronaut who feels abandoned and alone and thinks maybe your life isn’t worth saving. Dear reader, listen to me when I say that God’s Love for you is bigger than the universe! God will stop at nothing to rescue you and bring you home!
God’s grace covers us all, but grace requires sacrifice. God’s own Son died on cross for the world to know how great God’s love is. There was no greater sacrifice than that! When we accept that love, we start making the conscious choice to change, to sacrifice, and to allow parts of our old self to die so that we may become more like Jesus. When this transformation occurs and our lives as New Creation begins, we start to see others the way God sees them, to love others the way Christ loves them, and we encounter the Holy Spirit living through our neighbors.
The story of God’s rescue mission is about one person: You! God loves you so much, that God made the greatest sacrifice imaginable in order to bring you home. You may say that this makes no sense, but it doesn't need to make sense for it to be true. God loves you and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
If you’re like me and you’re looking for a great movie to see this weekend, I highly recommend The Martian (a.k.a. The Parable of the Lost Astronaut). It currently has a 93% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com and it’s Certified Fresh. The Martian is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity (i.e. Matt Damon’s buttocks). If you see any other spiritual undertones or metaphors in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, please share them in the comments section.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
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