Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections on the texts for Easter 4C - John 10:22-33 - "Plaintalk"

Tell us plainly – are you the Messiah, or not?

This question oozes with impatience. How often do we find ourselves with the same attitude? We want answers! Yes or No?!? Right or Wrong?!? Black or White?!? We like answers. We don’t like ambiguity. Jesus, can’t you just answer a simple question?

How does he answer this question? Jesus points to his acts of grace – to his works and he asks his questioners (us) a counter-question – what have you experienced? Have we experienced Jesus as the Messiah? Have you experienced Jesus’ presence during different times in your life; have you experienced Jesus in the Sacraments; have you experienced Jesus’ love and grace through others who have reached out to you? That is the answer to the question! So is Jesus the Messiah? Well, what does your experience tell you?

One way we have of seeking the answer is to look for supernatural acts. And in fact we often get caught up looking for the supernatural. Like Elijah, we expect God to come to us through Jesus in the earthquake, the storm, in lightning and thunder, power and glory – through great and glorious wonders. But, over and over again we see that in the Bible and especially through the life and ministry of Jesus, that God prefers to come to God’s people through mundane, quiet, everyday experiences. God comes to Elijah through a “still, small voice.” God comes to us through bread and wine, through a gentle touch, through a kind gesture, through a loving deed.
This Sunday is “Good Shepherd” Sunday. Not many of us make our livings as professional shepherds anymore. But yet the image remains powerful one, as the words of Psalm 23 make plain: The Lord is my Shepherd… he makes me lie down by still waters, he leads me along right pathways…. Ultimately this Good Shepherd has been willing to die for those whom he loves. So, he dies, is crucified and is raised on the 3rd day. In this way he can continue to be ever present with us forever, throughout our lives.

God is present with us – through Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus says, The Father and I are one. Whatever Jesus does, God does. God reaches out to us as the Good Shepherd, through Jesus. God dies on the cross – God raises again on the 3rd day – through Jesus. This is what is at the heart of our joyous celebration of Easter; this is the promise which is given us in Baptism: Through Jesus, God will shepherd us, and love us and be present with us forever, throughout everything. We may not always recognize His presence – but it is there.

So…. Tell us plainly: Jesus, the Good Shepherd is the Messiah, the Christ! Amen!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Does it Take - Thoughts on the Gospel for Easter 2C

What does it take for you to believe that Jesus has risen?  We live in a society that really seems to crave “proof.”  We just have trouble taking things on faith.  And even if we have “proof” of some sort, that might not be enough.  We want more and more signs and wonders.  But is that enough?

The disciples also wanted “proof.”  Mary comes from the tomb with the news that she has seen the Lord, and two of the disciples then run to the tomb to see for themselves.  The Gospel tells us that the “Beloved Disciples” believed right away when he saw the folded up grace clothes.  Peter, on the other hand, was perplexed and, we assume, not completely convinced.  Then Jesus appears to 10 of them – Judas is gone and Thomas is somewhere else, we don’t know where.  Meeting with Jesus, seeing him and talking with him brings the disciples to believe (sort of).  But Thomas is not there and when he hears the news he refuses to accept this wild story on its face.  He wants to have the same experience of the risen Lord as the other disciples.  And Jesus comes back, specifically to provide this for Thomas.  “Do not doubt, but believe!”  Jesus tells him.  That is all it takes for Thomas: “My Lord and my God,” he responds.

So, we have an empty tomb, burial wrappings in an odd arrangement, angelic messengers, a gardener who knows Mary by name, two disciples who break bread with a stranger who then disappears, the physical presence of the Lord – who eats fish on the beach.  What does it take?  The gospels make it clear that for each of the disciples they need a different experience, which is provided to them.  The gospels are also clear about something else – it is ok!  There is nothing wrong with seeking understanding and doubt.  Jesus does not condemn Thomas’ doubting, or any of the others.  Jesus is patient with them and provides his physical presence to them in order to strengthen their faith.   One might wonder why Jesus even bothered returning to these disciples and going through all this.  He knew them, and how they struggled with faith, and how confused and faithless and flawed they were.  Why not appear to Caiaphas or Annas or Pilate – those who were in charge?  The answer is clear and simple: because Jesus loved these 11 men (plus the other followers).  Jesus was invested in these disciples, as flawed as they were, because he loved them and knew their potential.

We are no less flawed than those 11 disciples.  We have our doubts and struggles and our issues.  We all struggle to some degree with competing loyalties, we have trouble with priorities and are sometimes faithless – just like those 11 disciples.  But Jesus has a commitment to us and He will stay with us and work with us and love us and continue to shower grace upon us – because He loves us.  And the gifts he bestows upon the 11 are available to us as well.  He offers them “peace” or “shalom” or complete well-being; the opportunity to become one with God and God’s creation.  And he offers us the Holy Spirit – the presence of God in our midst to provide us strength and wisdom and insight and comfort and a sense of God’s abiding presence that grounds our lives and ministries.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"The First Day" - Easter Sermon - 4/4/10 - Peace Lutheran Church

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Today is the day that Christ is raised from the dead and in doing this God defeats the powers of death and darkness. Today – not yesterday – Today! But didn’t all these events happen in the past? What do you mean that Christ is raised today? It is so tempting for us to look at the events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection as being only past history. But when we do that, coming to church on Easter then becomes a commemoration of something that happened in the past. Which is nice, might even be fun, but that’s about as far as it goes.

When I was young I grew up in a little town, New Castle, Delaware. Now New Castle was one of the oldest European settlements in the United States having been established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1651. It is actually older than Williamsburg, Virginia. And so, growing up there was like growing up in the midst of a lot of history. And every year in May one weekend was celebrated as A Day in Old New Castle. All of us residents got to dress up in colonial costumes and all the old building and churches were open and people could come into town on the old cobblestone streets. It was great fun. But by then end of Sunday it was over. We would clean up, put the costumes back in the closet and come Monday morning we would be back to the old routine; we would be back to the present.

Is that what Easter is like? All this happened in the past- Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection happened 2000 years ago. In this way, Jesus established Christianity and that’s great so now I can just get on with my life, nodding at Jesus occasionally as I commemorate various events in Jesus’ life a couple times during the year. Commemoration does not require much of us really, so it is comfortable and it does not challenge our way of being in the world too much. And come Monday, we are back to our present life; our usual routine, right?

Besides we are in good company. Look at the reaction of the disciples, huddled in fear and confusion. The events of Jesus’ execution are over – the women, in particular Mary, come to the tomb to take care of the burial rituals, and then presumably that would be that. Time to move on with life and put this behind. Mary encounters Jesus but when she reports the news back to the disciples, no one believes her. It’s as though they say, “Mary, get over it – he’s dead. Jesus is now past tense!” Over and over again this is the reaction of Jesus’ closest associates – Thomas, Peter the other disciples, the two followers on the road to Emmaus. It’s over, it was fun while it lasted, but now we need to move on. It’s time to get back to the usual routine!

But, it’s not over – it has only just begun: “He is not here, he is raised!” The resurrection of Jesus means that the new creation has started today! Today is not the end – today is the beginning! Today is the first day of creation!

Let’s turn for a moment to the Old Testament account of the creation of the world. In the first chapter of Genesis, which was read last night at the Saturday vigil, we hear these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and the earth was without form and void and darkness moved over the waters. And God said, let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good…. There was morning and there was evening, the first day.” This is the account of the first day of creation. God then continues through the rest of the week creating the world and finally the bible tells us that “on the 7th day, God finished the work that he had done and God rested on the 7th day… So God blessed the 7th day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Now, let’s turn back to the Passion – Jesus is crucified on the 6th day of the week, and all of the Gospels tell us that there was an effort by the authorities to remove his body from the cross before sundown so that he, and the two thieves, would not be left on the cross during the Sabbath, the 7th day – since the 7th day is the holy day on which God rested. That is Saturday. Jesus is buried on the 6th day, and the 7th day, the Sabbath, is quiet. There are a couple ancient traditions about this day, but there is nothing in the Gospels. Jesus remains entombed on the 7th day – the Sabbath. The work of the old creation is now over!

And then, comes the early morning of the 1st day of the week – Sunday. The women come early in the morning – before dawn actually – and there they find that the stone, which stood in front of the entrance of the tomb, has been moved and that Jesus’ body is gone. As light begins to break the women encounter two men – “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is risen!” A new creation has now burst forth! Here on the 1st day of the week God is creating new and just like in the Genesis account, the first act of creation is to bring light into the darkness of the world. “Let there be light!” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! “And the light shines in the darkness” so brightly that the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome it.

Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” In Jesus’ resurrection the work of the old creation is now complete, and the work of the new creation has just begun. In other words; Jesus’ resurrection makes a difference to those of us who believe and are baptized. It makes a difference for how we live – now; and how we order our priorities and how we relate to others - now. Since Sunday, today, is the 1st day of the New Creation, there is no returning to the old routine. Everything is new! Resurrection changes the way we are in the world and the way we relate to others. Our entering into this holy past brings it into our present and it shapes our future. It makes a difference.

There is an old movie that I saw when it first came out called “Back to the Future.” I’m sure many of you saw it also. Essentially the premise of this film was that through this fancy invention – a time-travelling DeLorean car – Marty could go back in time. And so he goes back in time to when his parents were in high school. And he gets involved with this past and when he finally returns to the present, goes back to the future – in a very dramatic scene – he discovers that his present and future are now changed, they are different. His life is now completely new. Because of his experiences of entering into the past his present and future are transformed.

Now, we don’t have a DeLorean that will transport us back in time to the past. But, what we do have are the Sacraments, through which we are Baptized into the story of Jesus, through which we are buried and raised with Christ; we have the bread and wine of holy communion through which we experience Christ’s presence in our lives now and through which we are strengthened to be Christ’s presence for others; and we have our weekly celebration of the resurrection, through which we continually renew our connection to the story of Christ’s passion and resurrection. And all of this brings these past events alive into the present and they make a difference in how we live now and how we relate to others. And it all will shape our future.

To put it another way, in the words of David Bartlett: “Easter is not a time to dwell on the past, even if it is a holy past; Easter is a time for us to be renewed for service and a time for us to consider the ways that our risen Lord leads us into today’s responsibilities and tomorrow’s promises.” That is what Paul means when he asserts that in Christ’s resurrection we are a new creation; that is what resurrection means.

And so, on this 1st day of the week; on this first day of the new creation, again we proclaim:
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

May this proclamation and this remembrance of the risen Christ make a difference in the way we live and are in relationships with others. And may others continue to experience the risen Christ through us as we reach out in the love and grace which comes from our risen Lord. In the name of the Father, the +Son and the Holy Spirit. +SBD

This sermon was inspired by my reading of the following.
“The Challenge of Easter” by NT Wright
Article “Jesus Ahead of Us, Not Behind” by David Bartlett, Christian Century – March 13, 1991

I love this work which is by the wonderful artist - He Qi