Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Behold, a mystery.

April 16, 2017

The women.  The women come back from their early morning trip to the tomb with shocking news.  Their breathless report adds alarm to the already deep despair; “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”  One final indignity.

The men, being men, and desperate to appear to be doing something – Peter and ‘the other disciple’ take off running, to confirm or refute this hysterical report that the tomb is empty.  Having been reduces to helpless observers by their fear of the authorities and the shock of seeing Jesus treated as a criminal, this looks like a problem they can solve.  Calm the women; find the body.

Sure enough, the tomb is empty – the grave clothes are neatly folded. Rumour confirmed,  John’s gospel reports that both saw, and believed…the women, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

So home they went – confused.

It will take a long time before the men do anything with this disturbing information.  The men whose names we know – whose lives we follow in the pages of Scripture – gather together; afraid, uncertain, unable to function .  Their world has been overturned.  Their main task – to follow and learn and question Jesus – has been taken from them with the death of their teacher.  The men have been little more than background noise, and the women have too often been portrayed as even less than that – object lessons, or unwelcome intruders.  But now, the women lead the way.

Mary.  Faithful, beautiful, devoted Mary.  Mary has seen it all.  Jesus in the villages; Jesus at the temple; Jesus arrested; Jesus tortured; Jesus killed.  For her, the mystery begins with an empty tomb, but seeing what she has seen and knowing what she knows, Mary stays.  Mary waits.  Mary mourns.

She knows that friendship demands more, so she stands unafraid in the middle of this mystery.  And this is not without risk.

The men, ever practical, may have chosen the safest path.  Imagine, being found at the empty grave of a convicted enemy of the state.  The men keep a low profile – waiting for the dust to settle.

But Mary stayed with her grief – her questions – her memories, because that’s what you do.  That’s how you mourn a friend.  And her bravery – her devotion is rewarded.  Mary will find the beginning of an answer in an incredible encounter with the Risen Jesus.

A mistaken identity.  A whispered question.  Her name, and that wonderful moment of recognition as a friendship is honoured with another, deeper, more wonderful mystery.  The mystery of Jesus words – Jesus presence – of Jesus resurrection – will turn the world upside down…again…for all of his friends. So what has the mystery done for you?

Because this isn’t just another long weekend, or another chance to get together with family and friends – no matter what your plans; no matter how you came to be here this morning, at the bottom of it all these ‘Holy days’ that have become holidays are rooted in mystery.

The mystery of existence – of life and death – meaning and purpose.  All of these things hang in the air and dare us to respond.  The mystery of the day is always connected to the work of God, because God is always at work.

And the choice we are given is always the same.  We can offer a quick surface examination of the facts – a stroll past the tomb, the cross – a passing glance at the landmarks of faith that satisfies our need to be busy and look like we’re involved.  Or we can go further.  We can run the risk of meeting God at work – of being recognized.  We might stand still in our confusion and curiosity long enough to be called by name, and drawn in to the work that God is doing in the moment.  Mary choose to meet mystery head on – all her questions, all her fears – and she was radically changed by her decision.  God works like that.

Our churches were once imagined to be places where the mystery of God’s presence was honoured and celebrated.  Certainly at times like this they still are.  But we are in danger of turning them into places to hide.  We come to feel safe – to inoculate ourselves from the misery and uncertainty that plagues our lives.  Perhaps we imagine that if we play our cards right, our patience will prevail, and the problems of the world will pass us by.  If we deny the grief that is ours as part of the human family – grief that wounds the heart of God and stirs the Spirit to action – if we hold ourselves in splendid isolation, with just the right music, and just the right ideas, we will be granted immunity for the difficult work of redemption.  The men discovered that strategy would not work.

The work of God broke into their closed circle.  Jesus broke down their barriers, and met them with the mystery of faith – he is Risen!  The grave cannot contain the mystery of God.  Locked doors cannot keep it out.  Hardened hearts will be shattered by it – and lives will be changed.

Our task in worship – the work of faith for every generation – is not to make others believe; it is to make ourselves vulnerable to the work of God, that meets us in the mystery of grief and joy – or sorrow and celebration.  God has done the work.  We need only put ourselves in God’s path.  And so begins our new journey.  Amen

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Power

November 6, 2016

More questions for Jesus – this time, about a point of ancient law.

“Whose wife will she be?”; a dispute designed to draw attention away from the real question here.  But more on that in a moment.

First – to be clear; this is not a condemnation of re-marriage, nor is this episode an argument for some kind of “holy celibacy” because of the notion that “those who are considered worthy of a place… neither marry nor are they given in marriage.”  Jesus words are meant to challenge the image of resurrection life that these Sadducees present with their hypothetical case.  These people “say there is no resurrection”, and they try to prove their case using the law.  The law makes provision for righteousness in this life that would make for utter confusion in the “next” life.  Take that, Jesus…

‘The way we’ve always done things’, here becomes an argument against the reign of God;  these learned, faithful people are suggesting that the rules of life make the reign of God next to impossible; what you propose is too complicated, too hard to understand, too far-fetched.  Take that, Jesus…

But the real question here – the question behind this little scenario is, very familiar to us:  What is it like?  How does it work?  Explain this resurrection – this new life –  to us, Jesus, because the very idea makes no sense.

Jesus teaching, if we’re honest, is an offence to the natural order as we have come to understand it; the last shall be first – the weak shall be strong – inconceivable!  What’s more, this ‘kingdom’ that he proclaims, seems to be everywhere and no where – it is both a promise for the future and an immanent event.  God’s kingdom is one that shall never end, but it is also very near to us.   Can it be both?  What if it’s neither?  Jesus words challenge our concept of history, of tradition, of time and space.  We need something we can cling to – something concrete.  So, in Luke, an appeal is made to the law.

It doesn’t go well for the lawyers…

But this is not about divorce law…it is about power; who has it and who doesn’t; what are the limits of human power?  What are the limits of the power of the law?  What about the power of God…?

In this seemingly practical discussion, Jesus presents the utter impracticability of God; “God is God, not of the dead but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.” (Luke 20: 38) – God, it seems, does not approach these questions from an human perspective (of course not!) so human solutions draw disdain (at best) from Jesus.

The  woman in question could easily represent every woman of the time – indeed, she might represent all those who find themselves powerless; without identity unless accompanied by a husband or son; without rights because of their perceived differences; denied education, or vote; cheated by the invader, whose power is evident in force of arms and the determination to conquer.

We see this struggle far too often; at Standing Rock North Dakota; in the residue of our own Residential school atrocities.  We see it when the established culture lashes out against immigrants when jobs are scarce and political capital is at stake.  The struggle to define power and legitimize it – through cultural narrative or for political gain – is very much alive in the current American election (and in recent Canadian political maneuvering).  No one is immune from the lure of power and the desire for influence – and that includes people of faith.

In the Sadducees’ question is the troubling suggestion that powerlessness and inequality are eternal; in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?  Who will give her legitimacy in the presence of God, whose kingdom spans time…?  Jesus argues from an odd angle, but his is an argument for equality – because if God sees no difference between the living and the dead; if time cannot change God’s perception of us, then neither can gender, or race, or political affiliation, or…anything.
God’s reign – this resurrection that arouses our curiosity and causes us to act out in strange and faithful ways – is terribly impractical when considered by our limited understanding of things.  We imagine that God organizes the universe just as we do – indeed there is diversity and opposition in much of what we observe around us; male and female – strength and weakness – light and dark – good and evil  living and dead: this binary sorting comes naturally to us, and we assume that is how God works.  But God is not bound by such crude distinctions.

God’s reign, when considered from our current chaos, seems like something to be achieved only once the troubles and trials of mortal life are past.  But the resurrection of Jesus shocks us to a different awareness – the limits of time and space – life and death – have no effect on the love, mercy, justice and grace of God.  The distinctions and divisions we make for (and amongst) ourselves are not part of God’s vision for creation.

Jesus doesn’t say that we must be feminists, or freedom fighters, or social democrats, or fiscal conservatives to experience resurrection and enjoy the reign of God, but Jesus does ask us to consider the source and use of power and privilege in the world around us – to imagine what that would be like if all power and privilege was rooted in God’s own self – and then he calls us to live out the consequences of a world – a society – differently imagined.

“Who’s wife will she be?”  What will it look like?  How will power and influence be recognized?  Well, since with God, there is no distinction of time and space, between life and death, “…they neither marry nor are given in marriage…” – our crude divisions of power are eliminated; the power of God – the power of love, mercy, grace and peace – these are the things that matter.  This is the key to the kingdom

Easter 2016

March 26, 2016

What did they expect to find, I wonder?  A body, certainly – Jesus body, in fact – bloodied and broken.  That is the situation for which they have prepared. Their task was one of affection; to anoint their friend for burial.  But the continuing cruelty of Jesus death is that it occurred on the eve of Shabbat – and in the midst of Passover. No work, of any kind, was permitted to the observant at such a sacred time; not even the necessities of grief.

Adding to their confusion are these dazzling strangers, absolutely out of place.  “remember how he told you…” they begin – but Galilee was so long ago, and so much had happened since.  But yes, they remember, and slowly hope spreads; first through the gathered women, and then, more slowly, among the remaining disciples…The women are ready to believe.  The others, less so.  Peter must see for himself, but no confirmation waits for him except the scraps of cloth that had been used to hurriedly wrap Jesus body.  Peter’s amazement is incomplete.  All he knows for sure is that Jesus is not in the tomb.

What do any of us expect to find on Easter morning, I wonder?

Saviour of the world rides into town on a giant rabbit to offer chocolate and forgiveness…of course not, but what DO you expect?

Gifts arrayed and food prepared; family gathered and good times shared; Churches (mostly) full and malls (mostly) empty.

Two thousand years of preparation have given us some clarity, I think, and Christians generally agree on the facts of the matter:

Jesus, who was dead, has been raised.  Hallelujah!  It’s when we try to make sense of this glorious event – when we look for meaning in things like crucifixion and resurrection – that things get…complicated.

To some, it is GOSPEL – Good News, and that can mean only one thing; sinners saved and promises kept, and particular freedom meant for those who “accept Jesus into their hearts”; death undone by righteous blood, that’s the majority opinion.  Others find it an idle tale and cannot credit it; that God somehow required this murderous miracle to “make things right” seems a dangerous representation of Divine love and justice.  Still others within the Christian family find it comforting that God knows the pain of loss and even death, having experienced both at the hands of those ‘…created in God’s own image…’

And there are those who would dispute that God could live or die according to mere human terms…

Luke’s gospel doesn’t care about such things – not yet.  There is no attempt to turn this new state of affairs into a theological treatise.  The author’s job is to drive home the mysterious reality that met the women and then Peter: “He is not here!”

The women are challenged by a simple question; “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Had they not been left speechless, they might have answered ‘we didn’t know he would be raised’ – except Jesus had told them (more than once, according to Luke’s account); the Son of Man betrayed, dead, then in three days, risen!  The truth is, they didn’t believe – they couldn’t believe – that Jesus might be raised from the dead.  They had seen it all – the brutality, the finality, the terrible truth of the tomb cut from stone.

True, some of them had been present for Lazarus’ miracle; but Jesus had come to Lazarus’ rescue, and so far as they knew, there was no one who could return the favour fro Jesus.  There was nothing in their lives that prepared them for new life.

What did you expect to find this morning?  Good news, to be sure – especially in light of the story that has unfolded in our worship over the last three days.  Good news, considering the horror and terror that has been the only word from Belgium and Iraq and countless other places.  Good news for lives touched by sadness and fear and no shortage of doubt.  Good news is not a whitewash of certainty – all negatives somehow transformed instantly and magically into positives – rather it is the promise that God is intimately acquainted with the worst this world has to offer, and still, God prevails.

You want certainty?  What I know for certain is that Jesus is not in the tomb.  As the morning grows into afternoon, Jesus friends will find him; along the road, behind closed doors, at the head of the table, breaking bread. This is the true mystery of resurrection; that Jesus will find us; that we will meet him where he is least expected; and the truth of his empty tomb stands as a permanent and constant reminder of the power of God’s love to overcome our deepest fears and our darkest days.  Thanks be to God, Jesus is not where we expect him to be – not among the dead, but among the living.  He is risen; he is risen indeed.

Alleluia!  Amen.

More muttering about miracles.

August 9, 2015

Once again, a familiar story; the disciples take to the water – off to Bethsaida on Jesus instructions.  This time, Jesus stays behind to pray.  Earlier in Mark’s gospel, in the coming and going across the sea of Galillee, they were in a boat, caught in a storm and Jesus calmed their fears (and the waves) with a word.  This time they are far from shore – and Jesus was alone on the land.   The rowing is difficult; the wind is contrary; and Jesus “comes toward them, early in the morning, walking on the sea…”

Matthew’s gospel describes a conversation and a challenge – Peter joining Jesus on the water; a test of faith that Peter fails.  For Mark, the conditions are different.   The disciples forget their struggles with the weather at once – Jesus may have intended to encourage them by his presence, but they are terrified!  Jesus speaks – identifies himself – “Do not be afraid.” – and climbs into the boat.  The weather is calmed, but the disciples are not.  Astounded – agitated – completely mystified, they continue on to the shore.  Mark’s comment is important: “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

A miracle, says a friend of mine – and I will not argue that.  A miracle full of important images, and difficult truth.  And in a week where an “atheist minister” makes the news, I will say, for the record, that what we call miracles in Scripture are miracles indeed.  In every case the author is giving evidence that God has intruded on our reality in an unforgettable manner.  Multiplying loaves an fish – water in to wine – healing – reconciliation and restoration; all these are extraordinary works of God, offered to help us imagine the true capacity of God to save us and satisfy us.  So this episode – in either gospel account – is miraculous.  But just as with the loaves and fishes, the real miracle is not in ‘headline story’ (the walking on water, in this case).  The miracle is the desire of God to reach out to those whose hearts are hardened.

Mark’s gospel is full of quick exchanges and rapidly changing locations – immediately is the most common connector between episodes in Mark’s gospel – and things happen so quickly that we don’t always notice the details.  Jesus meets them, on the water, in the early morning.  He tries to clam their fears; reminds them of who he is – does any of that sound familiar?  For as much as the gospels try to give us insight into Jesus life and work, their true purpose is to call to mind the greatest of all miracles; Jesus crucifixion and resurrection – the ultimate revelation of God’s capacity to love and redeem.

Early in the morning – that is when the women come to the tomb.  there is a confusion of identity; there is terror and doubt until Jesus calls to them and reveals himself.  We cannot forget that the account of Jesus walking across the lake is told (and heard) through a post resurrection perspective.  To those who have encountered the Risen Christ, every other miracle seems ordinary.

It is true that we have become cynical – not just as a society, but as the people of God.  We have developed sophisticated (and detailed) explanations for things that our ancestors found impossible to describe.  Our ‘knowledge’ has dulled our sense of the miraculous, and that is unfortunate.  Like those people in the boat, our hearts are hardened, and we do not (will not?) understand or accept the miraculous, even when it  comes marching across the surface of the water to meet us.  But surely we are not too proud (or too cynical) to recognize the gift that Scripture does offer us.  To a generation whose imagination is compromised by centuries of discovery and rapidly changing technological marvels, Scripture says “Look at this!”   “God is HERE!”

Over and over again, we are challenged to see the world through the eyes on a generation that saw God’s grace and God’s activity in every facet of human existence.  In the generosity and hospitality of a hungry crowd; in the soothing presence of a faithful friend; in the quiet hours of grief and fear, miracles abound.  The presence of God takes many forms even now, and when we are grounded in the Scriptures – when our search includes the traditions of our ancient ancestors – we will discover ample evidence of God’s capacity for love; God’s ability to redeem; God’s desire to bring us back to right relationship.

One of the definitions of faith is the confidence or trust in things unseen.  Miracles are the evidence that we don’t want to believe – the power of God made visible; the glory of God seeping into our line of sight.  It can be unsettling – terrifying, even – and we are always going to have work to do to reconcile the miraculous truth of God with our desire to have everything explained and well ordered.  But the truth of God will not be ordered or easily contained.  Resurrection cannot be ‘undone’ – we are living in a world that has seen death defeated.  That’s the miracle, and the truth – it’s our story to tell as the church, and our gift to a world without hope.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

To believe the impossible – 1 Corinthians 15.

August 24, 2014

It has been a bit of a lark – this dash through first Corinthians. Not that I consider this frivolous, but that I realize, here at the end of the ‘project’, I have not devoted nearly enough time to properly examine the intricacies of Paul’s arguments, and their significance to the church of our generation.

I’ve intentionally worked around the biggest problems in this letter; the supposed “silence” of women, Paul’s inclination to moralize his arguments; his absolute insistence that his words are to be considered genuine revelation (on his authority)…except in those places where he says “this is only my opinion”…

The most famous section of this letter – chapter 13 – I leave to the wedding liturgy; that’s where we want to hear it. It is about more than “love” as we understand it, of course; – love is the word we use in modern translations because we can’t think of a better way to translate the Greek word AGAPE. Paul was concerned that the believers, eager for recognition of their Spiritual Gifts (seen as indicators of their righteousness), had forgotten the principles that first bound the disciples to Jesus – and which Jesus encouraged in all who sought the promise and peace of the kingdom in their lives. Out of concern, Paul counsels love (agape) in, with and for one another as the lasting and most effective mode of being what we now call the church – what Paul called the body of Christ. So it is that at the end of his rant on the passing nature of spiritual gifts (and following a very Presbyterian sounding plea for things to be done “decently and in order”1 ) Paul returns to the basics of the gospel.

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received…”2 Paul is among those who have come to believe; not an eyewitness, but a committed convert to the revelation in Jesus. It is a fantastic story, and the magnitude of it still astounds him. He is still trying to affirm his authority with them; still working hard “harder than any of them…” and it is clear that he knows that this is only the beginning of much rhetoric, and dissension. The last section of the letter deals with his assertion of the impossible; resurrection from the dead.

The gospel is not just resurrection – but without resurrection, the story of Jesus is nothing more than just news; love the Lord your God; love your neighbour; judge not lest ye be judgedthese are all sound ideas upon which to build a just society, but the GOOD NEWS makes demands on our logic. The Gospel of Jesus Christ proposes certain impossible assertions. And it is the business of religion to affirm those impossible assertions. That has made religious groups the source of suspicion and ridicule in this thoroughly modern age. But it seems to me that the test of faith should not be “can you prove it?” Faith should provoke human imagination.

If, on the testimony of Paul, and Peter and others, we can imagine a world in which love can raise the dead – then faith has made the world a better place. If the story of Jesus comes to us with the conviction of faith, and with the support of a tradition of reverence and devotion, but without statistical support, is it any less true? Yet Paul makes claims, and tradition and the churches statements of faith support him, that not only is Christ raised from the dead (our Easter miracle), but so too will all the faithful, then, at the end, the Kingdom entire (all enemies having been defeated). In short, Our hope in in an incredible series of events and battles fought for, by and among the living AND the once dead.3 The real strength of Paul’s argument and ultimately, the power of the gospel of Christ, is that death will not just lose its power over us; it will be rendered completely irrelevant in the kingdom of God! That is more than a bold statement; it is something impossible to imagine.

Think of it – an existence without death, but more than that, without fear of death – without the pain of parting, without any of the misery that we associate with our mortality. THAT is good news, and that is what Paul has discovered in Jesus, and then been bold to share with everyone he meets. Whatever else you learn from Paul; whether you revere him or scratch you head at his logical brilliance, Paul, in his correspondence, has put the miraculous on centre stage. His encounter with the impossible has changed the way he sees the world, and he invites us all to be changed with him.

I’ll admit, it is a difficult thing to consider faith in new ways. We no longer live in a world of ‘mandatory’ church attendance. Parents prefer other entertainments for their children; Scripture is, for many, just another ancient book with no modern meaning; many who do still consider church an important part of their lives are hard pressed to remember why it means so much to them – the magic / the mystery is gone, or assumed, or so deeply buried in our history and tradition, they can no longer sense the excitement of it. But for Paul, the mystery remained fresh and amazing until the very end. Christ is risen, he says, and you can imagine him jumping for joy or punching the air with his fists in triumph – because this improbable statement changes everything for him, and for us. Listen again to his enthusiasm – his amazement – his faith…

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?’

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. 4

Amen, and amen.

 

 

11 Cor 14: 40 (NRSV)

21 Cor 15: 3 (NRSV)

3Apostles Creed: “and then he shall come to judge the living (the quick) and the dead”

41 Cor 15:50-58 (NRSV)

Jesus is for real. Easter 2014

April 19, 2014

Heaven is for real.  That is the bold declaration of young Colton Burpo –now the subject of two books and a movie.  The movie is all the rage – cleverly released during Holy Week; one of the rare times that religion is an acceptable subject in the mainstream press.

It is an interesting book – though I confess I’m in no hurry to see the film – the story of a minister’s son who has a vision of heaven during surgery.  Heaven is everything that a four year old can imagine, and more, and his plain and persistent descriptions change his father’s faith.

I read the book at the request of a friend, who was dying.  He wanted to know what I thought…it was a request I couldn’t refuse, but oddly, we never got round to discussing the testimony of young Mr Burpo.  It turns out that we were already convinced that our eternal destination was in God’s hands, and that knowledge, as it turns out, is comfort enough.

But this week, amid the rave reviews (and careful critics) of a movie unashamed of its Christian convictions, I was struck by an odd thought.  The message that “heaven is for real” may offer comfort to those who are afraid of death, but the gospel entrusted to the church, and the truth about God revealed by an empty tomb, is for those afraid of life.

This morning we gather to celebrate resurrection!  Today, the message of the church has little to do with heaven.  The good news contained in our statements of faith; our hope and our joy; our prayers and our praise; all are founded on our discovery that Jesus is for real!  The mystery of faith concentrates on this life, redeemed by resurrection.

Remember how John’s gospel describes the moment: people gathered in sorrow, preparing themselves to live with their grief, are met with the unthinkable challenge of an empty tomb.  In time, the risen Jesus – no illusion, no ‘spirit-man’; “I have not yet ascended to the Father”, Jesus assures the startled Mary  – Jesus ‘for real’, speaks to Mary and turns her grief to joy.  The risen Jesus leads his disciples to life renewed!  Because Jesus is real, his friends find new purpose, new energy, new life.  Fear is forgotten; faith is the fuel for their lives from this point on; heaven is an afterthought.

Because we know that Jesus is for real – a risen and living presence even now – our lives are guided by faith, not fear.  Heaven may seem like the prize for all our devotion, but the real prize – the point of Jesus teaching and suffering, and dying, and rising – is life!  Abundant, present, and (like everything touched by the love of God) Eternal.

Those who have been touched by this love, and drawn to this life have no time to contemplate heaven; once and for all it is clear that “the home of God is among mortals…”[1]  The promised “new Jerusalem” comes from heaven to earth ; heaven has found us!  The gift of God that meets us in the Risen Christ, is a gift for the here and now.  Claim the gift.  Live as a people redeemed in real time.  Tell the world that Jesus is for real.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

 

 

 

[1] Revelation 21: 3

God’s gift of life.

April 21, 2013

It’s not just about life after death.

Our devotion to the power of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus

is not just to provide us hope for the inevitable conclusion of our earthly life.

We are not “studying for our final exam’

as one gentleman observed while we talked over coffee this week.

Faith for some is a life or death matter,

but I have always understood that the teachings of Jesus

and the promise in his resurrection concerned real life; abundant life; THIS life!

So I am encouraged, rather than mystified, by this morning’s reading from Acts.

 

We are rather suddenly introduced to Dorcas/Tabitha – a disciple of Christ living in Joppa.

Joppa (now Jaffa, within Tel-Aviv) is a port city, some 70 kilometres from Jerusalem.

A fair distance to travel in the time of Jesus,

so it serves as a good indication of the level of influence

that Jesus’ life and teaching had on the population.

Dorcas has died, and her friends have gathered to mourn her.

There is weeping, and reminiscence, not unlike the rituals we have today.

Her work was celebrated, her goodness remembered –

but in the midst of this, someone puts out a call for Peter.

Peter has been in a neighbouring town, sharing the gospel of Jesus – both in word and deed –

and residents of the surrounding towns were “turning to the Lord” as a result of Peter’s witness.

 

What prompts the mourners to send for Peter, we will never know.

These were already believers.

They had Dorcas’ example of good works and charity – she is named a disciple –

The friends of Dorcas had everything necessary for real faith, and soon they would have a miracle.

It is possible that the miracle is not for them – it is for the rest of us.

Peter prays; Dorcas lives – and Peter goes on to the next town; just another day at the office.

 

As odd as this single story may seem,

it is no accident that God chooses resurrection as a reminder of the great promises of the covenant.

Not only Jesus, but also with Lazarus, the Widow’s son (from Nain in Luke 7)

and now Dorcas (aka Tabitha) –  To paraphrase Marshal McLuhen, the miracle is often the message.

And the message that is sent is always the same – live!

 

Now, and immediately – in the strength of this gracious Spirit that will not be dulled by death;

For the sake of every promise ever claimed by God’s people,

Live in love and grace to (and for) one another.

 

These miracles come as interruptions to our expectation of “the way things are” –

because our expectations are not high enough.

God would have us raise our expectations of this life (not just for some life-hereafter)

and so “our friend Lazarus is only sleeping” – and Jesus “is not here, he is risen”

and now Dorcas is presented as being very much alive,

all because God’s intention is that we too might live.

 

So how have we received this message?

 

For the most part, it has been relegated to the place of “future glory” –

Religion has become our armour against the ills of the world;

a passport to another country that is accessible only once this life is ended.

Many of our favourite hymns express this sentiment – though that’s not why they are our favourites.

Our hymns, our poetry, our popular theology,

All speak of troubles in this life that can only be endured because there’s glory in the next –

it is our cross to bear, we say, without conviction.

But the message of life persists.

Resurrection is the medium for God’s message of hope,

and we need to believe that through this miracle, God calls us to life.

 

What this new, abundant, resurrection life looks like depends on us.

 

For Peter, Dorcas, and the disciples of those early days, their new life was one of proclamation –

this was a story that must be shared, of God who urged us beyond the ordinary.

Death has lost its sting – the grave has no power – because God’s promises encourage life in us;

life that reaches out and rejoices; life that embraces the gift of the day, and reveals the glory of God.

That life begins today.  Once again we have been confronted by the message in a miracle.

The people of God, though bound for future glory, are offered the glorious hope of life.

 

It would be easier if we could simply accept the promise and wait.

Wait for Christ to return – wait for death to claim us so that we might “be with Jesus”

But Jesus is raised –among us, even now.   God has made a home among mortals.

The gift of God that we celebrate in the church is a gift of the present; offered for the here and now.

Our church buildings were not meant to be heaven’s waiting rooms;

this is the place where people hear the promises of God and celebrate those promises.

We are here to be encouraged in this new life that is defined by Resurrection

 

Our struggles continue – physical, emotional, financial –

that’s what makes God’s message so hard to accept.

Life renewed without problems resolved doesn’t seem like much of a gift.

But where once we struggled alone –

apart from the love of God,

ignorant of the peace that might be ours,

Now, in Christ, we have a companion –

one whose resurrection proves that the love of God has no limits.

The challenge for us, then, is not the church budget – nor the repairs needed to the steeple,

neither the insurance bill, nor the poor attendance, or apparent indifference of the general public –

these things need to be addressed, but they are not meant to consume us as they do.

the challenge and purpose of the gathered people of God – and for each one of us –

is to claim the gift that God has placed in our hands.

Life is ours; new life, abundant and full of promise.

Eternity is assured, but today is waiting to be lived.

Accept the gift.  Live in God’s grace.  Amen

Easter 3C – preached in Sutherland’s River & Thorburn NS – April 14, 2013

April 13, 2013

The events of this past week remind us of the difficult nature of our existence.

We have been brutally reminded that many young people in our time

are forced to deal with issues that are beyond their power to master.

As a result of her despair, a young woman has taken her own life –

despair should not be in the inventory of emotions for anyone, never mind our children.

 

Our traditions and our institutions have not kept pace

with the changes in our behaviour towards one another.

There are calls for change, for justice, for compassion –

all of which will fade into the distance; that is our habit.

It is all well and good to call for a “…return to traditional family values…” –

However, since we’ve come to the point in our history

where some teenagers become predators,

and others are haunted to death by their inability to find comfort,

perhaps we have gone too far to be rescued by a return to a time of black and white television (with only three channels), stay-at-home mom’s with compliant children, and all the other typically wonderful memories that we imagine might be our salvation.

We maintain an image of ‘the good old days, when none of this ever happened…”

 

Except that it did happen.

Sexism, and abuse; opportunism and indifference –

each of these is a part of our human character – as old as time.

We name these traits (and others to numerous to mention) SIN.

 

The powerful have always terrorized the innocent –

the weak have been advised to “stay strong”.

And the church has not been part of the solution.

We think that we have tried – we rail about the “loss of values” –

we bemoan the fact that no one listens to us –

but because we are afraid

(and because we are affected by the depravity and the misery

that meets us in our daily experience),

we really don’t know what to say, or how to say it.

 

We are still celebrating the great festival of God’s victory over human stupidity –

we call it Easter – and yet we can’t bring ourselves to address the needs of our neighbours, the fear of our friends, or the despair of an entire generation.

We have been largely silent in the face of the tragedies that surround us.

We don’t need to be.

 

Our Scriptures are full of examples of our sin,

even among those who would call themselves the children of God,

But the purpose of the Bible is not to remind us of our sin;

we need no reminding, to tell the truth.

The purpose of Scripture is to reveal a way through the brambles of our sin.

In these pages we find sin overturned, and God revealed in brilliant glory,

in spite of and in aid of those who cannot bear the constant state of human depravity.

 

Sometimes that revelation comes in an unexpected way –

and through one whose path seems bent on something contrary to God.

 

Saul had a commendable background.  He was a disciple of the man who counselled patience and prudence where the followers of Jesus were concerned, remember?

38So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him…”[1]

 

Saul does not share his mentor’s conviction,

and becomes a persistent persecutor of the followers of “the way”.

He is granted authority to actively pursue and punish those who follow Jesus –

you know what happens to Saul.  He meets Jesus.

 

Against all odds, and in a remarkable fashion,

Saul is confronted by the presence of God in the world Risen and Glorious.

Not just the practice of the law – not just the tradition of the covenant –

Living, acting, life-changing God, in the person of Jesus, the crucified,

appears on the highway and Saul is struck blind.

Blinded to all that he is or was,

his eyes are opened only when he understands

what he could be/what he will be in the power of the Spirit.

 

I have always believed that a little religion goes a long way –

so I tend to be moderate in my evangelism, and cautious when it comes to doctrine –

but in this case, I am comfortable is saying that while it may be possible (even preferable)

to accept “a little religion”, there is no such thing as “a little resurrection”.

 

Where resurrection is concerned, as Saul discovered, it is all or nothing,

And this is a truth that can save us; does save us.

 

The Risen Christ can drive us from the wrong path

because there is no mild acceptance of this incredible truth;

in Christ’s rising, the former things are cleared away,

and God has done and is still doing a new thing.

This new thing drains the fear from our fearful lives –

and offers us a hopeful response to those who would tell us that the world is going to Hell.

In Christ, we may boldly declare that even the world as we know it is being redeemed.

Christ stands as the sign of the redemption of all things –

even during a week full of sadness and despair –

and opens our eyes to Creation as imagined by God.

 

Let us, even here – even now – remain bold in this hope that cannot fail.

 

 


[1] Acts 5: 38-39

Amazed at what happened – Easter 2013

March 30, 2013

His friends have seen to his broken body.

The preparations are made; the Sabbath, observed,

there was only one thing left for them to do.

But here on the first day of the week, these most faithful women are left in confusion.

The stone has been moved – Jesus body is gone!

 

Though Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for this, they cannot grasp it.

“Remember what he told you…” say those men in shining white,

and gradually, the good news dawns.

The men, of course, don’t believe what the women have seen.

Peter, being Peter, must see for himself,

and he comes away “amazed at what had happened.”

 

That, for me, is the best description of the Resurrection.

If this story; our involvement with it and, our devotion to it,

do not leave you in a state of continual amazement,  then I’m unsure of what might excite you.

For if you are an interested citizen of the planet,

The resurrection of Jesus -whether or not you believe in him or claims made about him –

has captured your attention at some level.

 

Whether or not you trust in the various gospel accounts;

whether you are a devoted and faithful member of the body of Christ,

or a casual visitor to your local service of worship,

you have been changed by the significance of this enduring tale of death defeated.

I would go so far as to say that the Resurrection is the most influential event in recent human history.

 

It has affected our calendar, our early exploration, and patterns of conquest.

It has spawned protest movements

and helped prepare the way for other methods of religious expression to gain momentum.

 

The church propped up governments and hauled them down again.

Christian thought developed new ideas about government, ethics, morality, commerce, education – you name it – all because the tomb was empty.

 

From my position within the faith, within the institutional church,

and as someone personally invested in the gospel message and its wider meaning,

I am still amazed at what had happened.

For on that morning, so long ago,

deep devotion to a murdered friend

blossomed into faith in a merciful God,

and all because the tomb was empty.

 

If it were just about the principal of “love justice, do mercy and walk humbly with your God”,

the movement that had grown around Jesus

would have faltered and settled back into the Galilean dust.

If it were only a matter of a new philosophy of religion, as proposed by Jesus the rabbi,

his name and his teaching would have been added to the volumes of rabbinic work

that continues to sustain the Jewish faithful to this day.

 

But this man of God – faithful and fearless – was dead and buried;

And suddenly; painfully; amazingly, the body is not where it should be,

and neither are our expectations.

 

For if God, in faith/through faith can conquer death,

what else might be managed in that same faithful spirit?

Amazed at what had happened, Peter returned from the tomb to a world up-ended.

Amazed by the work that God would do in spite of their grief and all they had witnessed,

the disciples of Jesus became the first witnesses to a new reality.

Jesus is raised – he is not here.

 

The love and the promised kingdom

that had been his message since the crowds first gathered ‘round him,

have now been given flesh and breath in a world desperate for hope.

 

It was amazing then – it is amazing now.

Not because it is the magic solution to all our ordinary problems – it is not.

We must still untangle the messes of our social relationships;

we must face the damage we have done, are doing, and will do to ourselves and the planet –

Resurrection or not, our redemption is always a work in progress.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is amazing

because it forces us to see the world differently, whether we want to or not.

Death is a different kind of mystery now.

Faith contains a new component.

God has made an indelible mark on human society,

and it is up to us to deal with that.

 

It is a mark of profound beauty and grace – a mark that has nothing to do with our privilege,

and everything to do with the height and breadth of God’s great love for all Creation.

It is a mark that we all bear, to some degree –

the baptized and those who are not – the faithful and the pagan – apostle and agnostic

no one escapes this statement that God has made.

Christ is Risen, and we remain amazed by what has happened.

Alleluia!  Amen.

Let’s get this party started: Party tricks from the Gospel of John.

January 19, 2013

John’s gospel offers nothing accidentally.

The famous prologue draws heavily on images from Genesis – tying Jesus beginnings to the opening notes of Creation.  The first chapter then moves rapidly through a series of encounters between Jesus and disciples of John the Baptizer, who, through these encounters, become the earliest disciples of Jesus.  John’s gospel rushes through these meetings: “the next day…the next day…the next day…,” one after the other the disciples are gathered.  And just like that we come to chapter two. “On the third day…” begins the narrator, and we are suddenly and significantly connected to the Easter story – this is no accident.

John wants his audience to know that everything that happens hinges on the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The purpose and mission of Christ is not a secret, like in Mark – there is no mystery to unravel except the mystery of God’s faithfulness in the face of human indifference and sin.  The wine from water trick, if you will, is easily understood once you understand the glorious power of God being revealed in the Christ.  But there are those in the story who don’t notice this – the main characters are ignorant of the real significance of Jesus supposed party trick.

John’s gospel pretends Jesus is indifferent; “what business is it of ours?” he asks his mother.  But this is John’s point to make, and he’ll do it his way.  The guests (and the host, for that matter) are only aware of an impending shortage.  “They have no wine…” is a prelude to a scandalous breach of hospitality, one that would surely stain the reputation of any respectable person – who throws a party and then fails to provide the “basic necessities” for the celebration? – the absence  of a thing was likely to be the front page news ; the wine deficit their primary concern.  Until a mother insisted that her son might be of assistance.

Notice that the focus for most of the people – the wine steward, the bridegroom, and eventually the guests – is the fact that the party has been saved.  New wine.  Good wine.  The best wine, in fact, has been brought out in the moment of need.  The day has been saved, and no one seems to know (or care) how it happened.

The servants know.  The disciples know.  And that seems to be John’s point.   There is a very limited audience for the real miracle – the revelation of glory of God in the person of Jesus.  What John’s gospel calls “this first of his signs” is an event that has no real meaning in and of itself; it points to something else.  Jesus could have done anything – turned sawdust into sourdough, or sewage into sweet water.  It really doesn’t matter – because the stories John tells about transformation are  to only told to remind us of the power and glory of God.

So on a day when the lessons remind us of our giftedness, and our unity in those gifts, it is no accident that we are given John’s account of Jesus first ‘revelation’ to consider.  For what are we (on most days) but guests at a fantastic banquet, gathered together once a week to remind ourselves how privileged we are, except we are keenly aware that the wine is running out, and we don’t know what to do. We talk, when pressed, as though we want (and NEED), a miracle; a sign; a reminder of just how privileged and gifted we are, but would we recognize it?  Would we find that we are just like the majority of the guests at this Canaanite wedding – relieved that the party can continue for a while longer, and ignorant of the real reason?

The Scriptures offer other “banquet” metaphors, which cast us as the invited guests, but I am reminded by this morning’s gospel lesson that if we understand our call correctly, we take a different role first.  We stand with the servants and the early disciples, and watch as, with a word, Jesus calls wine from water jars, and offers us the chance to believe that God’s power and glory has come close to us.

If we are merely guests at this party, then the news that the celebration might end prematurely is of no consequence; we can always find another party.  But we are not guests – we are disciples of Christ.  We have witnessed the glory of God come close.  We have been touched by the miracle of resurrection; tasted the new wine of the covenant, and as a result, we can’t just wait for the “wine” to come round again – we are the stewards, offering the gifts we have been given so that others can experience what we have experienced; God with us.  Love made manifest.  The word made flesh.

The lesson for us in the water made wine is one of intentionality.  God’s gift to us transforms the ordinary and opens us to the extraordinary.  It is a sign for us, who have forgotten how eager God is to reach out to us.  It is a challenge to us, who have too long taken our places at the party for granted.

The celebration continues, and we know the reason;  the holy one – Jesus the Christ – was crucified, died and is risen that we might never be parted from God’s presence.  What we do with that knowledge will determine our path, as individuals, as congregations, denominations, as the whole body of Christ.  The gift has been given – the wine will not run out – what will your reaction be to this work of generous grace?  Amen.