God is not done!

It was when I was about ten years old that we did not have a TV set at home. In fact, we did not even have electricity in the village where I grew up in Korea. But I remember everyone’s ears pricked up to this radio live report: Neil Armstrong was stepping down on the surface of the moon and we got all excited about this historical event of 1969.

But I hear there are people who believe that the Moon landing was just a Hollywood showcase and that the US Government has been lying to us for 40 years now.

We still deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars after that tragedy are still not finished. But if you go online, there are conspiracy theories arguing that the collapse of the twin towers was an act of controlled demolition orchestrated by government officials of this country. Wow…

Also in Korea, there are some people, especially young ones, who do not believe that there was Korean War at all. Again, wow.

Throughout history, the same thing has been true with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many people who think the resurrection was fake. Some people have argued that Jesus’ body was stolen by someone. If that was true, how would you explain what happened later on: how did the disappointed disciples after Jesus’ death go back to Jerusalem and later give their lives for the Gospel of the resurrection? Could it just happen? I personally cannot make that connection. What would have been their motivation?

From the very beginning, there have been many folks who did not want to recognize the risen Christ Jesus.

John Lennon of the Beatles once said: “Christianity will go… We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Now, John Lennon has been gone since 1980 but Christianity is still going! And it is going strong in many parts of the world.

Six weeks from today, I will be going to East Africa to do some volunteer teaching for ministers there.

As you can imagine, people’s lives in that part of the world are tough; resources like water and food are so scarce that people are always hungry and thirsty. The living conditions are beyond your imagination.

But one thing I saw last time was this: churches are on fire. People love Jesus. People give their lives to God. People experience the power of the Holy Spirit. People are healed from their illnesses. There are miracles happening in people’s lives.

God is not done with the world. God reveals himself in the works of millions of people who are followers of Jesus Christ in every corner of this planet.

When I was in Uganda six years ago, many pastors had more than one church because churches were growing and there were not enough pastors. The majority of them give their lives with no pay; they want to learn; they have this hunger for education; they have the desire for the Bible and theological education.

By the time I come back from this trip, I know I will be exhausted physically, but I will be much stronger spiritually.

I want to go there not just for the people, but for my own spiritual formation. I want to be challenged; I want to be energized; I want to be empowered by the spirit of God; I want to be refilled by the power of the risen Christ that is among those Christian men and women who, despite all the difficulties they face, never give up their hope and continue to work to spread the Gospel.

I believe they are the true role models of Christian faith in this day and age. How can you give your lives without even getting paid? Do you think it is possible without the conviction of faith? Do you think it is possible without the presence of the risen Christ?

In Luke 24: 13-35, two disciples are on their way home to Emmaus. They were like retreating German soldiers after World War II dragging their feet with their heads down. Even though they had heard from some women about Jesus’ resurrection, they said, “No, it can’t be true.” “No, I don’t believe it.” “Get real; it is done; we are going home.” No hope, no dream; the only thing they had were regrets and disappointments.

But Jesus was not done with them. Jesus was there walking with them even though they did not recognize him. Jesus was reminding them of the biblical promises about himself, the messiah. And it was when they sat down and broke the bread with them that they recognized it was Jesus. Coming right back to Jerusalem, they realized they were not the only ones that Jesus had revealed himself to.

Before, everyone was disappointed; everyone was down; everyone was hurt; everyone was broken; everyone was sad; everyone thought it was all over. Now, after that evening, everyone was joyful; everyone was convinced; everyone was rejuvenated; everyone was hopeful; everyone was ready to do anything even though they would not get paid.

Folks, here is the bottom line: God is not done with us. Our life hangs in the balance of whether we believe in the resurrection or not.

I know American churches are struggling; I know churches here are all dragging their feet just like those disciples who were heading to Emmaus.

But Jesus is here with us; the risen Christ is walking and talking with us in every step of our life.

God is not done with us. Your life and my life can become transformed by the same power of Jesus Christ who transformed the disciples 2000 years ago and many others these days in many parts of the world.

The future of your life and my life, and the future of all the churches can not only become changed but we can also transform this world… Not by our power but by the power of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of all.

God is not done yet. Because of that, God is calling you and me to open our eyes and open our hearts so that we recognize Jesus, the risen Christ, not just with our heads, but in our hearts and minds and in lives and actions.

Every Sunday should be Easter; the joy and excitement of Easter should be our everyday experience. It is what God wants from us; He wants us to recognize His presence no matter where we are.

Church! Before this service, I am sure that some of you came here with doubts and uncertainties about your faith. But now and after this moment, I hope and pray that we have this unwavering faith in the risen Christ so that we not only live a new life in faith but we can also share this good news of Jesus Christ with others in this world.

Christ is not done with us; he is walking with us reminding and empowering us with his presence.


What We’re Singing: Easter Sunday

What we’re singing at First Baptist Church of Berkeley this Sunday

Easter Sunday – “Christ is risen, Christ is risen, indeed!”

The service begins with recorded music and words for contemplation, the Matthew 28 telling of the resurrection story.

Hymns of Rejoicing:

“Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!”                                                                       (words: Brian Wren, 1986; tune: hymn to joy, Ludwig van Beethoven, 1824)

Stanza 1:                                                                                                                           Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!                                    Christ is risen! Hush in wonder! All creation is amazed.                                         In the desert all-surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.                  Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

“Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing!”                                                            (words: Cyril Alington, 1931 tune: gelobt sei gott, Melchior Vulpius, 1609)

Psalm 100 responsive reading, with sung response:                                         Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.                                                       (words and music by Rawn Harbor, 2006)

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1–12 (Luke’s version of the resurrection story)

Hymn: “Because You Live, O Christ”                                                                             (words: Shirley Erena Murray, 1987; tune: vruechten, Dutch melody, 17th century)

Stanza 1:                                                                                                                              Because you live, O Christ, the garden of the world has come to flower;          the darkness of the tomb is flooded with your resurrection power.                 The stone has rolled away and death cannot imprison!                                           O sing this Easter Day, for Jesus Christ has risen!

Scripture Reading: John 20:1-18 (the Good News as recorded by John)

Hymn: “Woman, Weeping in the Garden”                                                          (words: Dan Damon, 1991; tune: kingdom, V. Earl Copes, 1959)

  1. Woman, weeping in the garden, who has pushed the stone aside?           Who has taken Jesus’ body; Jesus Christ, the crucified?
  1. Woman, waiting in the garden, after men have come and gone;                after angels give their witness, silently you watch the dawn.
  1. Woman, walking in the garden, Jesus takes you by surprise;                    when the gardener calls you, “Mary!” faith and joy meet in your eyes.
  1. Woman weeping in the garden, weep for joy, for you have seen              Jesus Christ, Messiah, risen; Christ, of whom the prophets dream.
  1. Woman, dancing from the garden, find the others and proclaim                Christ is risen as he promised; tell the world he knew your name!

Message – “An Easter People (Minister Sharon Allen, preaching)

Hymn: “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”                                                               (words: Samuel Medley, 1775; tune: duke street, attrib. John Hatton, 1793)

Time of Sharing and Prayer

Time of Offering

Hymn of Dedication: “He Lives”                                                                                        (words and music: Alfred H. Ackley, 1933)

Call to Communion: Mark 16:1-7 (the resurrection story as told by Mark)

Sharing the Bread and Cup

Hymn of Joy: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”                                                        (words: Charles Wesley, 1739; tune easter hymns, Lyra Davidica 1708)

Stanza 4:                                                                                                                                     Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!                                                         Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!                                                                                Made like Christ, like Christ we rise, Alleluia!                                                                 Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Easter Blessing:

Pastor: Behold, I tell you a mystery! We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed, for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised. For, like Christ, our earthly bodies shall put on immortality and the saying shall be fulfilled:

People: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave is your sting?”

Pastor: Thanks be to you, O God, who gives us the victory through Jesus the Christ. And as we say “Amen,” Eternal One, we proclaim for all time:

People: I know that my redeemer lives!

Pastor: Christ is risen!

ALL: Christ is risen, indeed! Amen!


FBC Berkeley worships at 10:00 am every Sunday in Crouch Classroom, Hobart Hall, on the ABSW campus. Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Hall (ABSW faculty) is the pastor. Come sing with us! We are a Welcoming and Affirming congregation for the LGBTQ community (www.fbcberkeley.org).

“It is Finished”

restorative justice 2

“It is Finished”, the final words of Jesus spoken from the cross just before his death, according to John’s gospel (19:30).  In verse 28 John quotes what he understands to be Jesus’ penultimate words “I am thirsty”, and he is the only gospel writer to include this quote.  Before this penultimate quote John has included a parenthetical comment “in order to fulfill the scripture.”  This parenthetical comment is often overlooked, but has been inserted by the gospel writer to point us to his larger meaning; lest we miss it!  With this inserted comment John is alluding to Psalm 69: 19-21.

19 You know the insults I receive,

And my shame and dishonor;

My foes are all known to you.

20 Insults have broken my heart,

So that I am in despair.

I looked for pity, but there was none;

And for comforters, but I found none.

21 They gave me poison for food,

And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

While two other gospels writers (Matthew & Mark) include the scene where the sponge is dipped in sour wine and lifted to Jesus on a stick for him to drink, John is the only one that highlights this event.  John initiates the description of the giving of sour wine to Jesus with a quote from Jesus, “I am thirsty”.  John concludes this short epic with our traditional language around communion “When Jesus had received the wine” followed by Jesus’ final words “It is finished”, and an ultimate narrative comment “Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Given the allusion to Psalm 69:19-21 coupled with the final breath of Jesus on the cross I would like to suggest that John has created a double entendre .  Jesus’ last words, according to John, certainly point to the last moments of Jesus’ life, but they also point to an extreme shift from the old ways of dealing with hatred and violence to a new way.  “It is finished” also speaks to the Psalm 69 passage.  After verse 21, Psalm 69 shifts into, what was at the time of the writing of this Psalm, the typical response to enemy attack and violence, mainly imprecations.  Note the language of verses 22-29:

22 Let their table be a trap for them,

A snare for their allies.

23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,

And make their loins tremble continually.

24 Pour out your indignation upon them,

And let your burning anger overtake them.

25 May their camp be a desolation;

Let no one live in their tents.

26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down,

And those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.

27 Add guilt to their guilt;

May they have no acquittal from you.

28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;

Let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

29 But I am lowly and in pain;

Let your salvation, O God, protect me.

In his telling of the crucifixion story, John, the last of the gospel writers, building off of the gospel stories that had come before his own, emphasized the insertion found in Luke’s telling, “Father forgive them ; for they do not know what they are doing”, (23:34)  by ending the reading of Psalm 69 at verse 21.

21 . . . and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

“It is finished”

In other words, no more!  We shall no longer meet violence with imprecation.  We shall no longer call down the wrath of God upon our enemies.  We shall no longer include in our lament the cry for God to pour indignation upon those who accuse and attack us.  John’s depiction of the death scene signals the end to the theology of retributive justice, i.e., an eye for an eye justice.

The death of Jesus on the cross, according to John, is a call to non-violent resistance against the evil of the world, a call to forgiveness, and a call to resurrection into a new way of living.  It is a call to restorative justice.

May we see, may we hear, may we practice.

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

What We’re Singing: Palm and Passion Sunday

MARCH 29, 2015
What we’re singing at First Baptist Church of Berkeley this Sunday
Palm and Passion Sunday – “Lifting Up Our Souls”

The service begins with Psalm 118 as a Prayer of Invocation, including the sung response: “Hail and Hosanna! Blest is he who comes in God’s own name to make our world God’s home!” (words: James Hart Brumm; music: Alfred Fedak)

Scripture Reading: John 12:12–15 (“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord the King of Israel!”)

Contemporary Reading, by Howard Thurman:

For more than two years, Jesus had been engaged in a public ministry. So sensitive had grown his spirit and the living quality of his being that he seemed more and more to stand inside of life, looking out upon it as a man who gazes from a window in a room out into the yard and beyond to the distant hills. He could feel the sparrowness of the sparrow, the leprosy of the leper, the blindness of the blind, the crippleness of the cripple, and the frenzy of the mad. He had become joy, sorrow, hope, anguish, to the joyful, the sorrowful, the hopeful, the anguished. Could he feel his way into the mind and the mood of those who cast the palms and the flowers in his path? I wonder what was at work in the mind of Jesus of Nazareth as he jogged along on the back of a faithful donkey.

Hymn: “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates”
(words: Georg Weissel, 1642; tune: truro, Thomas Williams, 1789)

Stanza 1:
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, behold the King of glory waits,
The King of Kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here!

Following the Prayer of Confession, we sing these Words of Assurance:

Come and fill our hearts with your peace.
You alone, O Lord, are holy.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace, alleluia!
(Taíze chant)

Scripture Reading: Mark 14:10–15 (“His disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”)

Chant: “Eat This Bread”
Eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry.
Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.
(Taíze chant)

[We move to a table at the back of the worship space, to sit down and share communion.]

Scripture Reading: Mark 14:16–25 (“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”)

Sharing the Bread and Cup

Scripture Reading: Mark 14:32–42 (“They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’”)

Sharing our Prayers, our praise and laments

Call to Prayer: “Love Lifted Me” (James Rowe, 1912)
Love lifted me, love lifted me, when nothing else would help, love lifted me!

Time of Offering and Hymn of Dedication: “What Wondrous Love Is This” (Words: American folk hymn; tune: wondrous love, Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835)

Gospel Reading, Mark 15:53–64 (“Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none.”)

Solo: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
(words: attributed to Bernard of Clairveaux, 1091–1153; tune: salley gardens, Irish folk melody, arr. Benjamin Britten)

O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded with thorns, your only crown:
how pale you are with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that image languish which once was bright as morn!

What language shall I borrow to thank you, dearest Friend,
for this your dying sorrow, your pity without end?
O make me yours forever; and though my days be few,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for you.

Time of Silence

Blessing for the Holy Week Journey: Philippians 2:5–11 (“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the 8point of death even death on a cross.”)

Hymn of Praise: “Lift High the Cross”
(words: George William Kitchen (1827–1912); tune crucifer, Sidney Hugo Nicholson, 1916)

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.

FBC Berkeley worships at 10:00 am every Sunday in Crouch Classroom, Hobart Hall, on the ABSW campus. Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Hall (ABSW faculty) is the pastor. Our preacher this Sunday is Pastor Hall. Come sing with us! We are a Welcoming and Affirming congregation for the LGBTQ community.

Crucify him! Crucify him!

This is a powerful post by Paul Raushenbush on Anti-Semitism and Palm Sunday.

Ignorant or willful misunderstanding of the death of Jesus has led to horrible oppression of Jewish people over the last two thousand years. Christians celebrating Easter should remember that Good Friday was a day when Christians went on rampages against Jews often leading to their deaths. If you need any proof there is a fun lemonade drink popular in Spain around Easter called “Matar Judios” or “Kill Jews.”

Read the rest here.

What We’re Singing: Fifth Sunday of Lent

MARCH 22, 2015
What we’re singing at First Baptist Church of Berkeley this Sunday
Fifth Sunday in the Season of Lent (theme for Lent: “Lifting Up Our Souls”)

 Opening Hymn: “How Deep the Silence of the Soul”
(words: Sylvia Dunstan, 1989; tune: resignation, traditional American tune)

Stanza 2:

Like unseen chimes on moving air, like warm and morning sun,
like gladd‘ning, greening, growing things, like trees with blooms begun.
Such is your presence in our lives, you touch without a trace,
until we turn and find ourselves held fast in your embrace.

Following the Prayer of invocation and Confession, we sing these Words of Assurance (to a theme by Antonin DvoÍák):

Kyrie, kyrie, eleison (Lord, have mercy)

Psalm of the Day: No. 51 (selected verses) with sung response (Kyrie, kyrie, eleison)

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 31:31–34 (“I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.”)

Contemporary Reading from A Tree Full of Angels – Seeing The Holy in the Ordinary, by Marcina Wiederkehr

At birth, the eye of God beholds us as we really are, frail and glorious. The eye of God beholds so much more than we are able to see in our lives at any moment. Always our good and potential loom large under God’s gaze. Why, then, is it so hidden from our sight? It is time for us to embrace this frail flesh of ours with love. If we want to be disciples, we must claim and cherish our humanness; for what was good enough for God to embrace should be good enough for us.

Gospel Reading, John 12:20–33 (“Anyone who serves me must follow my path; anyone who serves me will want to be where I am, and that one will be honored by the Father.”)

Hymn: “Let Us Go and Walk with Christ”

(words: Herman G. Stuempfle, 1997; tune: song 13, Orlando Gibbons, 1623)

Stanzas 1 and 2:

Let us go and walk with Christ, by his grace forgiven, freed;
follow him with steadfast step where his Word and will may lead.

Let us go and serve with Christ where he walks among the poor,
reaching out as Christ’s own hands, hearts to heal and hope restore.

Hymn in response to the preached message: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

(words: Isaac Watts, 1707; tune: hamburg, Lowell Mason, 1825)

Stanza 3:

See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Hymn of Dedication: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Stanza 4:

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Hymn for the Lenten Journey: “Go Walk with God in All You Do”
(words: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, 2004; tune tallis canon, Thomas Tallis, c. 1567)

Go walk with God in all you do, and may God’s love bring joy to you.
May gifts of peace fill all your days, and may God’s truth guide you always.

FBC Berkeley worships at 10:00 am every Sunday in Crouch Classroom, Hobart Hall, on the ABSW campus. Rev. Dr. Nancy E. Hall (ABSW faculty) is the pastor. Our preacher this Sunday is Minister Sharon Allen, FBCB Administrative Associate. Come sing with us! We are a Welcoming and Affirming congregation for the LGBTQ community.