Friday, April 18, 2014

Maundy Thursday Homily

We've all been in cars with our families, going on a long road trip, when one of the wee voices from the back seat asks that most dreaded of all questions: “Are we there yet?” No matter what we tell our kids, nieces and nephews, or grandkids, we all know that from that moment on till we reach our destination, the question will be asked more than several times. By the end of the journey, we will be both weary and extremely thankful that everything is over.

Some pastors and priests experience the same kind of weariness and frustration throughout the season of Lent and during Holy Week. That might sound odd to some people, for after all, isn’t Easter the highlight of the whole Christian year? Of course it is, but just like parents who take their kids on a long journey, clergy feel the weight and burden of ministry at its most intense, heaviest, and exhausting at this time of year.

The pressure to make everything meaningful is highly demanding; the expectations of congregations to make Easter a great knockout event are very high; and the standards that we think God expects of us as clergy are unrelenting. Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are all main events and high church experiences. The temptation to make everything perfect and powerful is intense. The enticement to make everyone happy and strongly connected to God is immense.

But this week is not about the pastor, the preaching, the programs or projects that we use to celebrate Easter. It’s all about Jesus and what he has done for us. Our good and godly works keep us occupied and busy in church throughout this time, but no matter what we set out to do or accomplish, it’s still all about Jesus. We may journey together as pilgrims from Lent to Easter, but the destination is not bringing our community of family and friends together. Jesus is the destination; He is the terminus of all that we do; He is the stopping point of all that we complete; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of this whole journey.

When Jesus gathered His disciples together in the Upper Room, they may have thought that their journey with Him was over and that they had reached their final destination. His three year ministry had been a success in their eyes and now Christ’s work would be recognized at a higher level. They all bought into the belief that Jerusalem was the end of the journey and the beginning of something bigger and better. What they did not understand was that Jesus Himself was the Final destination – Jerusalem and even the Temple itself at the heart of the city were just places along the route, were just stopping points along the Way.

Jesus tried to show them this by initiating a new ceremony which we call Communion.
Instead of saying the traditional:
Hamotzi (Blessing over bread)
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-alom ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Or the Kiddush (Blessing over wine)
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-alom bor-ay peri ha-gafen.

Instead of saying these blessings, Jesus expressed a new and radical idea: He was the Bread of life, given by God, to the Earth, to be broken on the Cross for our sins. He was the True Vine, created and planted by God, whose lifeblood was shed for the cleansing of our souls. The end of all things was placed upon Jesus; the beginning of new things emerged from His sacrifice, death, and resurrection.

So the questions for this evening, which each one of us has to ask of ourselves is this: Are We There Yet? Are we at one with Jesus? Have we reached our final destination in Him?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week devotion: From Death to Life - Hebrews 10:17-18

Hebrews 10:17-18      Then the Holy Spirit adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

Every day, a past mistake or a deep regret crosses my mind and saddens my heart. I remember clearly the circumstances of my misdeed and the pain or disappointment that I caused. I feel ashamed at what I did, either as a teenager or an adult, a child or an old man. The past haunts my soul for a time and I shake my head miserably. Once again, I ask God for forgiveness; once again, I pray to Jesus for pardon.

The strange thing about this is that I’m not letting go of what Christ has already forgiven. Emotionally, I revisit my sins in a Calvinistic masochistic way. I want to experience my depravity and punish myself for past foolishness or selfishness. I want to be dour and depressed, wallow in my waywardness, and spirituality meander in my own morbidity. I’m only hurting myself. I’m only hating who I am because of pride. It’s easier to beat my breast and say ‘I am to blame,’ rather than humbling myself and truly asking for mercy. To be human is to hold on to my sin; to be divine is never going to happen.

And then I read wonderful verses in the Bible about God’s love for me, Christ’s mercy for me, and the Holy Spirit’s grasp of me. My sins are totally forgiven and remembered no more by God. I don’t need to keep beating myself emotionally, physically, spiritually, or mentally because Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary is infinitely more than enough to wipe away my tears and cleanse me of the past. I don’t need to wallow in sin; I just need to follow Him.

Holy Week does incredible things for all of us. It reveals our humanity being rescued by Christ’s humanity and divinity. It takes us from the depths of utter despair to the heights of true happiness. We journey through this week as dying, hopeless creatures and end up becoming everlasting children of God. We are forgiven and lifted up because we are meant and made to be Easter people. This is the Gospel Truth. This is the Good News!

Questions for personal reflection

Is there a past mistake in my life that I have never forgiven myself for committing? Am I willing to bring it humbly to Jesus and truly seek His pardon this week?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, our times are in Your hands, and You know our past mistakes. Help us to let go of our bad choices, foolish deeds, and sinful events by bringing them humbly and sincerely to You. Take us from despair and death; lead us to love and life. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to make a comment or ask a question of today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s drawing is one of John’s Holy Week images for 2014. It’s called ‘Lazarus.’ If you would like to view a larger version of the drawing, please click on the following link:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Good Friday Devotion: Annual Reminder - Hebrews 10:3-4

Hebrews 10:3-4          But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Usually, when we break a promise or disappoint someone, we seek their forgiveness and hope to be given an opportunity to redeem our mistake with a gift. Sometimes parents do this with their children, especially if they've been unable to keep a special promise because of work related commitments. At other times spouses, who disappoint their partners, have a lot of giving to do in order to make amends. And even businesses, that unexpectedly fail their customers, usually offer a discount or free gift to make up for the disappointment. In all of these cases, some process of sacrificial giving is necessary in order to restore relationships, confidence, and trustworthiness.

In Old Testament times, when God’s people disappointed Him, they quickly offered a ritual sacrifice of a bull, a goat, a sheep, or some pigeons. Their mistakes and sins damaged their relationship with God. Because the people absolutely depended upon His bounty and blessings to sustain them, their livestock, and their crops, they sacrificed the best of their animals or the first of their produce to placate Him. They feared God’s wrath in ways that we cannot understand or even accept today.

But no matter how many times they sacrificed, the people still sinned. No matter how often they kept special feasts or religious rites to glorify God, they still were contaminated by their past mistakes and personal regrets. Their sacrifices were not sufficient to meet God’s requirements. Their regular religious rites could not effectively redeem and restore them to God.

This is why Christ came from God to enter into history and the world. This is why He sacrificed Himself so that our sins, as well as those of Christ’s own people, may be absolutely forgiven by God. After all, if the sacrifice of God’s Only Son was not enough to satisfy the demands of God’s holiness and justice, then there is nothing in all of existence that can save human beings from sin. We may not like the idea of God’s just demands; we may not ever fully understand why Christ had to die; but this we can know: Jesus died for our sins, so that we can be absolutely forgiven and eternally restored to God. This is also why the other name for Holy Week is “Passion Week’ – a sacred commemoration and faithful focus on Christ’s suffering, His Passion, for us.

Questions for personal reflection

Do I accept that Jesus died for me? Do I realize that His Death has given me Life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, we cannot fully comprehend why our sins would condemn You to death on a Cross. We don’t fully understand why God’s justice demanded such an awful and shameful thing. However, we are fully thankful that Your personal sacrifice has completely atoned for our sins, as well as restoring us to God forever. In Your Holy Name, we humbly and gratefully pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment or ask a question about today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Holy Week drawings. It’s called ‘Descent.’ If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

Monday, April 14, 2014

How We Do Church - Erin Presbyterian Knoxville

Here's how we do church at Erin...enjoy...:)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Short Devotion: The D Word - Hebrews 12:10

Hebrews 12:10            Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

Parenting is the hardest job on the planet. It always has been and always will be. As a parent, you always want the best things for your children. You want them to have the best education and opportunities. You want them to experience the best of friends and the best that you can give. You just want everything to be better for them than you ever had for yourselves.

At some point, the awful D-word enters into parenting: discipline. Little Johnny or Janey behave badly, despite all of the good things that are all around them. This is where the rubber hits the road and parenting becomes even harder to accomplish. Harsh discipline will deepen resentment and accomplish practically nothing; little discipline will trivialize the faulty behavior. Time outs work for a while with younger children, as do prohibitions from cell phones, computers, and other devices for teenagers. The whole point about discipline is to make it a teaching moment – a discipling toward better behavior.

The one thing that parents need to beware is an over-indulgence after the discipline has ended. Some parents make the serious mistake of rewarding their kids after discipline, only because the parents feel bad about disciplining their kids. This completely undermines any progress in character. Parents, who do this continuously, usually end up ruining their own relationships with their children and spouses.

When God disciplines us spiritually, He usually does it to get our attention and make us aware of the consequences of our sinful choices and deeds. His discipline is meant to cause us to reflect upon our poor decisions and repent of our disgraceful acts. As Christians, we are still prone to making mistakes; however, as Christians, we are meant to humbly confess our sins to God and seek His mercy. God’s discipline brings us back under His care – without it, we would separate ourselves completely from God and, in the end, be forever isolated from Him in a hell of our own making.

As we head into Holy Week, let’s use the days to come as a means of spiritual discipline, to draw closer to God, seek salvation from His Son, and be restored to God’s Kingdom.

Questions for personal reflection

What methods of discipline were used on me to get my attention and strengthen my character? How have I experienced God’s discipline in my life?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, discipline us each day with Your love. Help us to learn from our mistakes and not take Your mercy for granted. When we are at fault, enable us to take time out to confess our misdeeds to You, as well as to restore what we may have broken in our relationships with others. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Holy Week drawings called “Her Holy Tears.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Prayer for Springtime Rain

Prayer for Springtime Rain

Lord of the Living Waters,

Whose precious portions of vitality
Sacramentally shower
The white wintered Earth,
Transforming the icy wilderness
Into verdant pasture;
Redeeming life
Through abundant rains,
Woven across the land
By vernal winds
And springtime blessings:

We seek Your fountains of grace
To replenish our fields,
To renew the cherished cycle,
To animate the sown seeds,
And to refresh our community
With promised waters
Bringing life, love, and harvest.

Grant Your goodness
From above
To pleasantly fall among us,
So that Your people
May weep no more
Of wasted lives
Or fear withered fruit;
But instead,
May we seasonally rejoice
In Your lavish richness,
And happily dance
In Your holy rain.

In Christ’s Name,
We passionately pray.

© John Stuart 2014

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Holy Week devotion: No More War - 2 Samuel 1:27

2 Samuel 1:27             "How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!"

Like most people on Earth, I long for a day when war will be no more. Tragically, I don’t think that it will ever happen in my lifetime, or indeed anyone else’s. I personally think that it’s going to take the Return of Christ on this planet before war will be over. Between now and then, a lot of nations, peoples, and ethnic races will still raise arms and fight one another.

For instance, presently we’re ending a long and fruitless war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with another Russo-Slavic war in the Crimea on the horizon, as well as a conflict between the two Koreas. Just when we’re successfully bringing our military folks home, another conflict arises and man’s inhumanity to man raises its ugly head again. As creatures, we’re supposed to be the greatest work God ever made because we’re hallmarked with His image. In reality, we are abysmal warmongers, whose depths of cruelty, aggression, and hostility denounces and shames the good work of God within us.

            As we draw closer to the historical events and commemorations of Holy Week, we will be reminded of the loathsome betrayal and unjust arrest, trial, and execution of Christ. We will see humanity at its best in Christ’s obedience, meekness, and sacrifice, compared to mankind’s abominable acts of cruelty, injustice, and even insanity. If we are really honest with ourselves, we will recognize that all of us are capable of the same despicable deeds that sent Christ to the Cross. We are no different than the vilest characters depicted in the Gospel stories; we are no better than anyone else.

            The good thing about this self-awareness of human depravity is this: it brings us humbly before Jesus, from whom we receive undeserved grace and total mercy. Even though our sins nail and kill Him on the Cross, Jesus pours out His godly love to rescue and redeem us, as well as to save and sanctify us, so that we may be eternally restored to God’s favor, love, and peace.

Questions for personal reflection

What areas in the world are currently experiencing conflict? What are my prayers for the people of those warring regions?

Prayers:          Lord Jesus, today we call upon You as the Prince of Peace and the Royal Redeemer who rescues and reconciles the world. We pray for all those regions where war and conflict, unrest and division are painfully affecting the lives of many innocent people. Help us, as Christians, to pray for peace continually. Grant us peaceable attitudes to help reduce hostility, disagreement, anger, and aggression in our own lives. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is on of John’s new Holy Week images called ‘Cup of Salvation.’ If you would like to view a larger image, please click here: Cup of Salvation.