Sunday, April 24, 2011

Something New Under the Sun

John 20: 1-18

Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011

It’s not the first time it happens in the Bible, after all. Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus not too much time before he himself is crucified. That one was so that the people around him could see the glory of God, according to the Gospel of John. I understand this to mean power, maybe-God can do this.

But I think it is also a precursor, a prelude-the thing in the movie that seems insignificant at the time, but it instead turns out to be the device that turns defeat into victory.

Think about it from the people at the time’s perspective. Jesus has died. He was killed in an absurdly insulting fashion, bloody, messy and in a manner fit for people who are less than human-non-Roman citizens. He taught some great things, died nobly, having chosen to show God’s love for humanity by choosing to die at their hand rather than use the power available to him to free himself and lay waste to those hurting him. He chooses to stay. That’s a great story, but that was three days ago.

Pontius Pilate’s gone on to other administrative duties, making more morally dubious choices to try to keep both the people of Judea and his Roman overlords happy.

The disciples are at a loss, kind of milling around, mulling things over, still not sure about whether it is safe to show their faces, and feeling like it has been a great ride, but I guess the time has come to get back to their daily bread, which still has to be earned, no matter how many times they have said to God to give to them this day that bread. They still haven’t figured out why Jesus just didn’t deal with everyone all at once, with one wave of the hand. They all believed he could, so we must think about why he didn’t.

Peter’s down in the deepest well of despair, having done exactly what he said he would never do, in denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed. He has betrayed the one man he loved the most in this world, and what makes it sting even more, Jesus even told him he was going to do it. He knew he would.

The Marys and the other women are left to contemplate the harshness of the world again, and their role in it-sure, the story may be over for the men, but someone’s still got to do the ritual cleansing and dressing of the body, which was put in the tomb three days ago, now. It’s not going to be too pleasant when they go back this morning to do the job of caring for Jesus’ body. They’ll have to endure the eyes of the soldiers sent to guard the tomb, endure the catcalls and wolf whistles, and figure out a way to open the tomb back up. Another unpleasant task that the women have to take up. Who’s got the Myrrh?

We know Mary believes in the resurrection at the last day-she says so when Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. She says “yes, he will, on the last day.” He tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, and everyone who believes in him will not die, but live.

But she’s probably not thinking about that as she walks to the tomb, hands full of towels, spices and oils with which to properly dress the body that once was Jesus. She’s no Martha, but she’s probably still running thorough the to-do list, because, dreamer or not, as a woman this is still her role in that society. Remember not to make eye contact with the soldiers.

The prospect of dressing a body is already unpleasant. The discovery that there is no body to dress is probably worse.

It’s still dark, and the soldiers are blessedly, absent. Something else is clearly amiss, even from a distance. No soldiers, and the tomb is. . . open?

Oh dear.

What did those gentiles do with Jesus’ body?

So she drops her stuff and runs back to the gathered group of disciples and others, telling them the tomb is open and empty.

Simon Peter and the other disciple go into the tomb, sees this to be true, but goes home, not knowing what to do. Mary, in the meantime, has followed the two men back to the tomb, and is standing, crying, overwhelmed by all that has happened. She looks in again, and there are these two people sitting there. They’ve got smiles on their faces, like they know something she doesn’t. they’re not unkind, they just are in on the joy that she is about to realize, and, like parents that grin like fools just before their child opens a great present, are anticipating her joy.

“Why are you weeping?”

“They took away my Lord, and I don’t know where he is.”

She turns around, not wanting to talk to these two grinning fools dressed all in white, and bumps into the gardener.

He asks why she’s weeping, too. Didn’t these idiots pay attention to what happened on Friday? Men!!


And the light bulb goes off. She remembers what happened to her brother. She remembers what he said then, that he was the resurrection and the life.

And she gets it.
Then she runs and tells the disciples again. Two sprints in one morning!

God can overcome it all. God could indeed have saved Jesus from that cross, laid waste to Jerusalem, been the wrathful God everyone remembers from their Bible stories. But here, finally, there was something new under the sun. God was not wrathful when his son was killed by human weakness, greed, and ignorance. God chose the proper moment, and showed even greater power than if he had mowed down the city. He showed grace and restraint, and that translates to love, and then he raised his own son from the dead.

It’s better to have great power and to not use it. It shows your grace, and love.

It tells us that death is not the final word. It tells us that there is something after, something bigger, something beautiful.

Christ is Risen, Indeed! Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Don't Know Much About Atonement

Philippians 2: 5-11

What does it mean to say that “Christ died for us”? The ten dollar term for it is Atonement. The dictionary says that it comes from the middle English, “at-one-ment”, meaning reconciliation. There is no shortage, they say, of ways to think about why Jesus died on the cross. Most of the writers of the New Testament have some version, some understanding, of explaining or referring to why Jesus did it. Some say he is the last and final sacrifice God required, the last sheep thrown on the altar, and none need be sacrificed after him. Some say he is the price paid for our freedom from the ransom of sin. There are others, as well, and Paul alone makes reference to jesus death of the cross as a substitution for the death we deserve, a sacrifice in the Hebrew way, his death being the ultimate sacrifice of love for humanity, the way soldiers throws themselves on a grenade to save his brother and sister soldiers.

I wrestle with this, because I believe that God’s love is perfect, and all powerful, and I do not quite know why it is we need to have someone pay for the gift of that perfect love. So, take this with a grain of salt, but walk a little while with me, why don’t you, as I share with you where I am on this, on this Passion Sunday.

I believe in God. I believe that God loves the world. All of it. But the part he thinks about the most are it’s humans. They’re the ones he created to be his companions in the beginning. But because he created humans to have free will, so that they might choose him freely and not be housepets, he let go of a little control over humans. And because you and I have free will, we do not choose relationship with a loving God, always. God is always pursuing this relationship, however, and the Bible in it’s fullness shows us the different ways in which God has tried to reconcile us to him. There was the covenant that he gave to Moses, and that relationship took various forms such as the Ten Commandments and giving the people a king when they wanted it, though God didn’t think it was a good idea.

God’s people could not find their way back, over time, it got harder and harder for them to realize that they were moving farther and farther from God. So God sent Jesus, who had the perfect relationship with God-perfect in understanding, perfect matching of his will to God’s, perfect ability to show God’s love, though he was flesh and blood just like us. And Jesus’ life showed us that it was possible to live a life filled with the presence of God, even amidst the trials and tribulations of a human life, and in his doing so, both pointed to the existence of a loving God, and was a model for humanity to know that they could do it too. Humans could live in the presence and love of God, like him. Humans could live a life full of God. We would not have Jesus’ life, but our own lives would be soaked, drenched, infused with God. It was possible.

The problem then became people hearing this message and getting it, and dropping out of the existing religious structure. This became a problem to that structure, and the system it had set up to provide what was thought was needed. As so often happens, an institution set up for the benefit of it’s people soon turns it’s attention to its’ own survival, and it sometimes makes choices that are self-defending instead of choosing to serve the common good. Institutions are necessary mechanism to get anything large scale done, but as Mary Shelley wrote, the creation made with the best of intentions can sometimes go horribly awry, like Dr. Frankenstein and the synthetic human he created.

Presented with the existence of Jesus, the existing institution created for relationship with God did not choose to adapt and reconcile it self to God, it chose to destroy what threatened it. This is nothing against the particular people who were running the institution. There is nothing inherently evil in the priests in the temple-it could have been Ford owners, vegetarians, or Apple computer users. It just so happened that the people running the institution were Jewish priests, and their system was threatened.

And now we come to the instructive part. Anyone who speaks out, becomes a squeaky wheel, can choose to be quiet, to hush up, when confronted with the demand for their silence. To continue takes courage. A price will be paid for their continued agitation. As the threat ratchets up, it continues to take courage. When threatened, finally with the threat of your own death, it takes supreme courage to continue. Jesus chose to continue when it became clear that he was under threat of losing his life. Jesus’ bravery was itself evidence of a loving God. Jesus’ choices showed us that a relationship with God makes us perfect in this life-brave, loving, peaceful. Oh, he was not unaware of what was before him. He was scared, he was afraid of the pain, and there were moments of doubt. He was, after all, human. But he discerned that his death would be the best evidence for God’s love-here he is, the model of God on earth. It’s a crossroads; he could make himself be free, lift himself down off the cross, and demonstrate God’s power. Or he could stay there, and demonstrate God’s love and the courage of the people who are in God.

Well, we already knew about God’s power. There was much less evidence of God’s love in that world. So Jesus chose to stay up there, and to die.

We can show love to those whom we love through roses, through gifts, through support and through affection. But sometimes, what’s called for is sacrifice. I’ve already mentioned the sacrificial soldier. A loved one donates a kidney. A spouse accompanies their love through a final journey of disease, when they could very easily run and leave them to their fate, alone.

This is the love that Jesus showed us by submitting to the religious authorities and their silly little ways. God’s love was demonstrated to us one final time, in Jesus’ choosing to die rather than exercise the power available to him.

This is what we worship, this is what we honor, this is what we revere.

May it always be so.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Ephesians 1: 8b-10

We have this sense, in the world we live in, at least among people my age, because I can’t speak to the retired experience, that there is always more to do, there is always something left on the list, always another place to drive to. I think, however, that there are some retired people who run just as hard, do just as much, are committed to as many worthy goals.

We’re all doing our best, and we all really do climb some pretty tall mountains every day in our to-do lists. We’re all trying to be productive members of society, and we all seem to be doing pretty good jobs.

When Donna was sick, there were times I would drive down Demunds road and through The Cut three times in a day, headed to a hospital visit, then picking up Joe from school, and sometimes needing to stop to pick up something to cook quickly before an evening meeting. Now, as I continue to explore and construct what my new normal life is, I remember those days, and I wonder if, now that the time of extremity is past, if a day constructed by God wouldn’t look a little different.

Here’s a question: If you were to take your daily schedule and hand it over to God, physically put it in God’s hands, and say to God, “OK, you show me what you mean by proper use of time,” what do you think you’d get back?

Now, I think that there would be more time blocked off for family, and there would be less time blocked off for work. I think there would be more time for hobbies, and less time for TV. I don’t know if there would be more time for prayer, because I think personal prayer is a matter of intentionality rather than a calendar entry. I think it’s like breathing, or at least it is the goal. Praying with others, however, would take a calendar block

I think, but I’m not sure.

I am pretty sure, however, that there would be more time for rest. Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 says that: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

God’s sense of time is eternal and balanced. So as we seek to construct our lives, to be good stewards of the time we’re given, perhaps we should seek the same balance.

It’s been noticed that the life of monks was split roughly into thirds-one third rest, one third prayer, one third work. There’s a quote I read once, in a book of wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the people who went out into the Egyptian desert in the 3rd and 4th century that says (and I’m paraphrasing, here):

“If you are at manual labor in your room and it comes time to pray, do not say ‘I will use up my supply of branches for the basket I am weaving and then I will go pray’, but rise immediately and go to prayer. Otherwise, little by little, you will come to neglect your prayer, and your soul will become a wasteland devoid of any spiritual and bodily work.”

Can you imagine, in our culture, if you went to your bosses, say up at the P&G plant, and told them that, in order to keep your life balanced, it was not a good idea either to have such long shifts, or to work either night or swing? I have a feeling that that meeting would not go well. Production must be met, and if you weren’t willing to work the way that’s been set up, there are plenty of people who would.

The problem is, in God’s eyes, your request would be entirely proper. Corporations do not view the world the way God does. God has a sense of time that is eternal-he can see the whole scope of time, from beginning to end, the way we can see a grain of rice, one end to the other. Our struggle, as children of God, is to realize and keep that perspective as God’s children, and yet still be able to function in this world, keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

We can’t always control what demands are placed on us, by work, by children, by volunteer obligations. But we can grow spiritually to the point where we realize that the task that seems so urgent, really isn’t so important in the long view. Or maybe the urgencies start to change. We can begin to realize that times of rest, times of prayer, times with friends and family, are just as important, and perhaps more so to our souls, as times of “productivity.” Sabbath, the idea of a dedicated time of rest, and times of prayer, truly aren’t just quaint ideas. They really do matter. We need down time, we need time to restore our perspective.

So, if you were to hand your calendar over to God, and he was to apply his perspective to your daily routine, how would it change? If you were to apply the old monastic rhythm of 1/3 work,. 1/3 prayer, 1/3 rest, how would it change?

So, for this Lent, are you perhaps willing to try to change a few things?

And can you begin by realizing that most of the things in our lives are truly not worthy of the “urgent” flag we stick to it?

Will you take a step toward living in God’s time?