Sunday, April 27, 2014


John 20:19-23

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

        In the New Testament, when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas and the other disciples, Jesus said something very interesting to the disciples about forgiveness.  Jesus showed them his hands and side and said,  "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:23) 

        What an awesome responsibility Jesus has given to us.

        Forgiveness comes to us through the death and resurrection of Christ, and now we must go out and forgive others the sins they commit against us.

        It is a theme that is also found in the Lord's Prayer, when Jesus says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

        In the Lord's Prayer, there is the realization that forgiveness is something we need on two distinct levels.

        First, we need to be forgiven by God.

        In the book A FORGIVING GOD IN AN UNFORGIVING WORLD, Ron Lee Davis retells the true story of a priest in the Philippines.  He was a much-loved man of God, but he carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before.  He had repented, but still had no peace, no sense of God's forgiveness.

        In his parish was a woman who deeply loved God and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ and he with her.  The priest, however, was skeptical.  To test her he said, "The next time you speak with Christ, I want you to ask him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary."  The woman agreed.

        A few days later, the priest asked, "Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?"

        "Yes, he did," she said.

        "And did you ask him what sin I committed in seminary?"


        "Well, what did he say?"

        The woman smiled and said, "That's the most interesting thing I've heard him say yet.  When I asked him what you did that was so sinful, he looked at me and said, 'I can't remember'."

        God's forgiveness for us is complete.

        And that brings us to the second aspect of forgiveness.  We need to be able to give that forgiveness to others.

        The Lord’s prayer says, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."  And then in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus is teaching that prayer, Jesus goes on to give the only exposition of any of the phrases of this prayer, by saying "For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
        That is echoed here in our reading from John’s Gospel this morning.  Jesus greets his disciples for the first time after the resurrection, and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

        There is, in the Bible, a continual relationship between our ability to receive forgiveness FROM God and our ability to give forgiveness to those around us.

        And forgiving others is a difficult thing to do. 

        Several years ago, two senators were watching their careers crumble because of past relationships they had with women.  In both cases, the relationships were prime examples of harassment and abuse of power.  Barbara Reynolds, a former columnist for the USA TODAY newspaper, wrote about the courage of the women who spoke up and held these men accountable, but then she went on to advise them to do one other thing.

        She said, "It takes courage for women to confront the men who have the power to hire, fire or seek retribution.  I admire them.  But whether you're going to fight back or not, forgive.  And the sooner the better."

        Reynolds went on to write about her own experience with abuse, in which an adult relative abused her sexually when she was a child.  She described how one day, as an adult, she faced that man and confronted him with the facts of the incest.  She recounted every bit of pain he'd caused.  Her tears flowed freely.  She wrote this:

        "When I confronted the relative involved, amazingly, he didn't identify with my pain.  He did not break down and beg for my forgiveness.  He simply looked at me with vacant, bored eyes and said, 'It's the way I am.'

        "So what could I do?  Shoot him?  Sue him?  Shun him?  He didn't understand then.  He probably never would.  So I did the only two things I could do.  First, I left him, never to speak to him again.  And secondly, I forgave him."

        She went onto say that after years of analysts and psychiatrists and group counseling sessions, forgiveness was the best therapy of all!

        Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  We forgive others not so much for the soul of the one who has done us wrong.  We do it for our own good.  We do it for our own salvation.

        And forgiving others is hard to do. 

Corrie ten Boom describes forgiveness like letting go of a bell rope.  If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug for a while.  Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum.  As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. 

Miss ten Boom says forgiveness is letting go of the rope.  It is just that simple.  But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing.  Momentum is still at work.  However, if you keep you hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop. 

It is like that with forgiveness.  When you decide to forgive, the old feelings of unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves.  After all, they have lots of momentum.  But if you affirm your decision to forgive, that unforgiving spirit will begin to slow and will eventually be still.  Forgiveness is not something you feel, it is something you do.  It is letting go of the rope of retribution.
Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Next? Easter Sunrise Sermon

Matthew 28:1-10
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priest had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Imagine that the most important thing that could possibly happen in your life happens, but afterward, nothing changes.

You graduate from college, but instead of going out and getting a job, you just go home and continue to live with Mom and Dad, getting an allowance, and years later at the age of 40, still having a curfew.

Graduation day comes and goes – and nothing changes.

You finally get that promotion. But instead of going to your new office with its corner window and beautiful view of
Biscayne Bay, you go to your same old cubical down in the basement.

Promotion day comes and goes – and nothing changes.

You get married, and after the wedding service, the bride goes home to her parents and the groom goes home to his parents.

It’s ridiculous to think that these things might actually happen, because these are events that change things.

Imagine Jesus being cruicified. He is put in a grave. Buried. But then he is resurrected. He comes to life. He lives again.

It would be ridiculous to think of living through Easter and then having nothing change.

What would have happened if after Christ’s resurrection, Peter had gone back to his fishing boat and lived out his life?

What would have happened if all of the disciples just went back to their old way of life?

What would have happened if none of the Gospels had been written.

The resurrection of Christ was not the type of event that you celebrate once, but doesn’t change your life.

It demands a change in your life.

The Resurrection of Christ validates everything that the Gospel claims about Christ, and it verifies everything that Christ requires of us.

You cannot come in here and celebrate Easter and then go out and not love God.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment of the law, and the first answer is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-38)

You know, a man who died, was buried, and then comes back to life tells you to love God – you should do what he says! Easter should make a difference in your life.

In one of the Apostle John’s letters, he said, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” (I John 5:2)

Easter makes a difference.

You cannot come in here and celebrate Easter and then go out and not love your neighbor.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he not only told us to love God, but he continued by telling us what the second greatest commandment was: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

A dead man who came back to life tells you to love your neighbor – you’d best do it!

The Apostle John said “If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (I John 4:20)

Easter should make a difference in your life.

You cannot come in here and celebrate Easter and then go out and not show mercy, have compassion, work for peace, or live life that Christ calls us to live.

In the Beattitudes, Jesus talked about who would receive blessings:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy…. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5)

Has Easter made that kind of difference in your life that you feel the blessings Christ promised?

It is possible to come in here and celebrate Easter and then have nothing change. But that is like graduating college, and then staying at home, getting the allowance, and living under Mom and Dad’s curfew.

It’s absurd, but it happens.

Easter makes a difference.

Let us make sure our lives reflect the difference Christ’s resurrection demands.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Love - A Maundy Thursday Meditation

Art Linkletter was right, kids say the darndest things.

When I was in seminary, I visited a church as a guest minister and while I was waiting for the service to begin, I visited with two very young boys who had come out of their Sunday School class.  "What did you study in your Sunday School class, "  I asked.

"We learned about the four headed monster in the Bible."

Now I know I don't know EVERYTHING about the bible, but I could not recall any 4 headed monster.  So I asked, "Where is that in the Bible?"

"Oh you know, the one David killed..."

In my mind, I ran through a list in my mind -- Saul killed his 1000s and David his 10,000. David and the Philistines.  David and Goliath.   Nope, couldn't remember a 4 headed monster.

"Are you sure about this," I asked the young boys.

"Oh sure, our teacher told us how David took a sling and killed Goliath when the rock hit the giant in the ---- forehead!

Well, we hear things sometimes and we misunderstand slightly.

We all do that.

I remember teaching a class one time when I asked the students to memorize the Scripture passage, "So watch, for you don't know when the Son of Man will come."

One of the kids memorized it as "SO WHAT, you dont' know when the son of man comes."

Well, I did the same thing as a kid. 

 I grew up thinking that the Thursday before Easter was MONDAY Thursday.

And in my childhood, I reasoned it out,
Sunday was Easter.
Saturday was Holy Saturday.
Friday was Good Friday,
But Monday through Thursday of Holy Week, nothing happened, so they called it MONDAY THURSDAY.

Well, I've grown up, and I know now that there were lots of things happening during those earlier days of Holy Week, and eventually, I won't say how old I was, I learned that it is NOT MONDAY THURSDAY but MAUNDY Thursday.


Not a word you use much.

It comes from the Latin. 

How many people here speak Latin.

How many read it?

How many have ever taken a class in Latin?

Ah come on... somebody?

Well, obviously, Latin is not a living language, and it is not studied like it used to be. 

But in Latin, the Thursday prior to Easter was referred to as Mandatum Novum, which means, "A new commandment."  And eventually, this became known as Mande, which eventually became, Maundy.

This new commandment was given during the last supper of Christ with his disciples, and is found in John 13:34, when Jesus tells his followers that he is going to give them a new commandment.

I don't know how the disciples reacted to this, but I think I would have reacted with surprise, because when Jesus gives this NEW command, it is nothing but an OLD command that has been around forever.

Love one another.

In the Old Testament, when Moses is giving and setting up laws for a new society, he tells the people in the book of Leviticus, (19:18)
"'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

This love is to be for all people, as Moses explains by saying, (19:34) 

The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Jesus carried this theme of love throughout his ministry. 

In Matthew's Gospel, as Jesus is preaching his sermon on the mount, early in his career, he says,

Matt 5:43-44
43     "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44     But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

And toward the end of his ministry, he declares,

Matt 22:38-40
38     This is the first and greatest commandment.
39     And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40     All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

And now, it is the night of Christ's betrayal by Judas.
It is the night of his arrest.
It is the day before his crucifixion and death.

And Jesus is meeting with his disciples one last time and eating with them.  He is instituting the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  And at this time, when there is so much to say, he gives a new commandment, which is really not new at all.

Love one another.

He says this not because it is really new, but because they have not yet learned, as disciples, how to love each other.

And to Christ, this is so important.

And what makes this so important is that love is what gives meaning to everything we do.

I don't know if you have noticed that I like to take pictures.  It always surprises people to find out that we don't take very many pictures at home, but in the church, we are always taking pictures of what we do as a way of communicating and promoting the events of the church.

Some years ago, I took pictures of an event, and was terribly disappointed to find that I had forgotten to load the camera.  No film.

Everything I had done with that camera was meaningless, because there was no film.

And when do anything without love, it is without meaning.

How many things do you do without love?

If things are done without meaning, and without love, these things are a waste of time.

How do you waste your time?

Is your family a waste of time?
All the work you put into building a relationship with your wife or husband, parent or child, can be a waste of time.  If you do not have love for your spouse, parent or child, whatever you do is a waste of time.  It is done without meaning.

You want to work on having a good family?
You start with love.

Is your church work a waste of time?
All the work you put on the session, or in teaching your Sunday School Class, or in the Mission Committee,
All the times you come and worship God in this sanctuary can be a waste of time.
If you do not love God and your brothers and sisters in this church, what you do in this church is a waste of time.  It is done without meaning.

You want to be successful as a Christian?
You start with love for God and brethren.

All the things you do in the community and at your job.  Are they a waste of time? 

In Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, he wrote what has become a familiar and much quoted statement about love.

1 Cor 13:1-13
1       If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2       If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3       If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If said today, one might say,
If I speak with eloquence of James Earle Jones, and am heard on TV and Radio, but have not love, I am only a noisy and bothersome static.
If I have computer skills that can forecast future events in society, and if I have several doctoral degrees and can understand the great mysteries of the universe,
and if I have a deeply spiritual faith that moves mountains,
If I work in Habitat for Humanity and help the poor,
If I have become the President of the United States, Mother Teresa, the Pope, Billy Graham all rolled into one, but have no love, I am nothing.

Even the greatest of all acts in human history -- the gift Jesus gave of himself when he was on the cross, his death for us -- that would have been a waste of time.  That would have been meaningless.  That would have been an empty gesture had it been done without love.

There is only one thing that gave the death of Jesus Christ meaning.


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believed in him would not perish but have eternal life.

Love gave the crufixion meaning.

Love gave all that Jesus did meaning.

And love is all that can give what we do meaning.

Whatever we do, let it be done with love.

It is a new commandment.

But NOT that new.

We always had this commandment.

We just never have learned to do it.

4       Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5       It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6       Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7       It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8       Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9       For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10     but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11     When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12     Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13     And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.