Everything old is new again

24 Apr

The reading from Acts for Sunday is the proclamation of those same disciples who were locked in the room on Sunday morning.

Peter, after his Pentecost experience, starts loudly telling people about who Jesus was and is in Acts 2:14a,22-32.

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight.
22-28 “Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him. David said it all:

I saw God before me for all time.
Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I know you’ll never dump me in Hades;
I’ll never even smell the stench of death.
You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
with your face shining sun-joy all around.

29-36 “Dear friends, let me be completely frank with you. Our ancestor David is dead and buried—his tomb is in plain sight today. But being also a prophet and knowing that God had solemnly sworn that a descendant of his would rule his kingdom, seeing far ahead, he talked of the resurrection of the Messiah—‘no trip to Hades, no stench of death.’ This Jesus, God raised up.

I am sure someone has done the statistic, but I wonder how much of the New Testament is taken from the Hebrew Scriptures. OK, I just Googled it and found that about 1/3 of the New Testament is taken from the Hebrew Scripture. You might say, “Of course, because Jesus was Jewish and he was the fulfillment of the prophecy about a Messiah.” Yet, how often do we think that God was doing something new, just for Christians.

Jesus was restating, and embodying what God has always asked of the chosen people. The classic statement is “reformation is just recollection” That is, the people who have done the most meaning reforming in our world, are simply calling us back the the truths we know. Or, as Robert Fulghum wrote, “All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”

Yes, Christ has risen from the dead. Yes, God’s love is more powerful than death. Yes, God creates new hope and life and possibilities each day. Let’s try living these truths. Peace.

Proof of Resurrection

22 Apr

Perhaps you noticed that I did not talk about the entire passage for this coming Sunday in yesterday’s blog. It is a long passage with a lot going on, so I decided to break it up into pieces, as I will for the reading on Sunday morning.

John is the latest gospel written. The author has a lot of agenda he needs to get through to the Christians of his community. Probably more than any other gospel, it was written to a specific community of faith for specific reasons. One of the realities that the gospel writer is dealing with is that no one he is writing to knew Jesus of Nazareth or saw the resurrected Jesus. So, you get a passage like these verses in Chapter 20.

24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Doubting Thomas has gotten a lot of press throughout Christian history, but I think the whole story is written for the punch line; “29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” The Gospel writer is telling his community, and us, that we need to believe without proof and we will find blessings given to us.

I often imagine the frustration of these early Christian communities who were convinced that Jesus, the Christ was coming right back in glory to ‘fix’ everything that had been left undone. Such as their oppression under Roman rule. The house of Israel was to be the big power in the land with Christ on the throne to insure its dominance. But, instead to get Jesus of Nazareth with a very different agenda.

Since we have always understood that we have to behind in the Christ without the benefit of seeing him during his life, earthly or resurrected, what does this passage say to us. There are many who want proof to believe in God and the work God did through Jesus. And where does that leave us? Those of us who believe??

I wonder if we are the one who are to be the living proof of the transformation power of the resurrection. We don’t need the proof, but we are the proof. Have you been convincing that your life is empower by the Divine; by a different set of energy and agenda than the world clings to? I believe that if we empty ourselves before God as Jesus did, be willing to surrender ourselves, we can be raised with Christ, transformed to be living proof to the power and love of a God who dwells among us.

Well, that an easy assignment, don’t you think. . . Perhaps not easy, but it is a worthy goal of a life time. Maybe we can add to the gospel’s God-revealing.

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Peace

Alive again

21 Apr

Hello Friends,

The evolution of blogging on the scriptures for the coming week is something that is easy and helpful for me. So, you can read and enjoy my meandering.

On the Sunday after Easter the gospel is always the same; John 20:19-31. So, if your counting that’s about 30 reading of this text over my ministry!! The one I remember most was trying to prepare a confirmation class to lead worship on Sunday after Easter. I was trying to teach them what this text meant and had them repeat it until it started to dawn on them what was going this first day of Jesus’ resurrection. I have had the text stuck in my head ever since.

The thing that has always amazed me about the passage is that Jesus’ first words to the ones had deserted him and betrayed him was, “peace be with you”.

19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

This is the ‘Pentecost’ event for the gospel of John. It is here that the disciples are empower with the Holy Spirit. The disciples are to be sent by God as Jesus was sent. It seems as through that would have been fairly scary since where God has sent Jesus had gotten him killed.

Then, the disciples are given the power to forgive sins as Jesus did – forgiving people with God-power. So, not just a, “O, that’s OK,” but, “You are forgiven and made whole by the power of God.” That’s big time. It is interesting that the second half of verse 23 in the New Revised Standard Version says, “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Which I was thought was a little harsh and too much power for a human being. But, The Message paraphrases it as, “If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” Which is a really good question. It also leaves me with the feeling that any un-forgiven sin has no place in the world; at least not around the one who are following in Jesus footsteps.

So, I think that is our assignment for the day. Consider any un-forgiven sins that are hanging around your heart and mind and ask God to take them. Now, these are not things that you need forgiveness for – that’s just a you and God thing. These are un-forgiven sins that involve others. People who need your forgiveness; because, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” Peace.

What’s Next?

19 Apr

I have blogged all through Lent, which is kinda amazing for me. I caved to the not eating chocolate a couple of weeks ago. But, now the question is, should I continue to blog? I finished the psalms and have been doing the lectionary for the coming week, but. . . well. . I am not sure. I have written over 200 posts which is just incredible to me.

Well, as I failed to answer what’s next about the blog, let me just say, I never know ‘what’s next.’ I think that is the point of Easter. No one could ever have imagined what God would do on that first Easter morning. Even if Jesus had told them, and our myths story are full of rebirthing concepts; until Christ passed through death to conquer it and come back to greet his friends/deserters with “Peace” we had no idea. The cross seemed like the final statement of the world, but God had a new ending – or rather a new beginning. With God the idea of ending and beginning are always in flux.

So, that’s my life. What’s next? I never have any idea. I could have never predicted the life events that have happened to me – ever. The only thing that is consist is that since I was 16, my deepest desire has been to be on a journey with God. But, the location and details of living are always changing. I have given up on planning.

This is just one small story of why I surrender the idea of planning the details. I knew my younger son was graduating college in May and I wanted to be there to support him at his graduation. So, months ago I arranged with my brother who is out-of-town to come for the week of my son’s graduation to be with my parents. I made some plans for the drive north, told my church that I would miss a Sunday, got all the details planned. THEN, my son calls to say he is graduating, but not going to attend the ceremony and wants to spend the week after his finals here with me and his grandparents. YEA, of course, I would love it!! All those plans . . . oh well . . just something I thought would work. One more time in my life I have sworn off planning.

I pray as we come to the celebration of the big cosmic game-changer of Easter you will enjoy and be present in the moment. If we plan too much, or think we know the way things should go, then we miss the beauty and novelty of the unexpected. As I finish this blog entry I have thought of a Jimmy Buffett song that I love in my twenties and reminded me that life is unpredictable, but you can always have fun with it. Enjoy.

“Cowboy In The Jungle”

There’s a cowboy in the jungle
And he looks so out of place
With his shrimpskin boots and his cheap Cheroots
And his skin as white as paste

Headin’ south to Paraguay
Where the gauchos sing and shout
Now he’s stuck in Porto Bello
Since his money all ran out
So he hangs out with the sailors
Might and day they’re raisin’ hell
And his original destination’s just another
Story that he loves to tell.

With no plans for the future
He still seems in control
From a bronco ride to a ten foot tide
He just had to learn to roll.

Roll with the punches
Play all of his hunches
Made the best of whatever came his way
What he lacked in ambition
He made up with intuition
Plowing straight ahead come what may.

Steel band in the distance
And their music floats across the bay
While American women in muumuus
Talk about all the things they did today
And their husbands quack about fishing
As they slug those rum drinks down
Discussing who caught what
and who sat on his butt
But it’s the only show in town.

They’re tryin’ to drink all the punches
They all may lose their lunches
Tryin’ to cram lost years into five or six says
Seems that blind ambition erased their intuition
Plowin’ straight ahead come what may.

I don’t want to live on that kind of island
No, I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea.
Too much for me, too much for me
I’ve got to be where the wind and the water are free.

Alone on a midnight passage
I can count the falling stars
While the Southern Cross and the satellites
They remind me of where we are
Spinning around in circles
Living it day to day
And still twenty four hours, maybe sixty good years
It’s still not that long a stay.

We’ve gotta roll with the punches
Learn to play all of our hunches
Makin’ the best of whatever comes your way
Forget that blind ambition
And learn to trust your intuition
Plowin’ straight ahead come what may.
And there’s a cowboy in the jungle.

Last Hours

18 Apr

The record of the death Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion appears not only in our faith story, the Bible, but also in the testimony a 1st century historian called Flavius Josephus. He wrote:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Throughout my ministry there have been folks who have questioned the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead. The one I remember most was a young man who said during a confirmation class, “OK Mary, you had me right up to that resurrection part.” His challenge was a gift to me because, it caused me to really think about how to explain why it was sensible to believe in the resurrection story of our faith.

Here’s what I came up with. The story of Jesus life is recorded in a number of ‘voices’, but all agree that everyone ran out on him in the end. [the women to sit at the foot of the cross, but they had no power to change the reality of that horrible moment.] Yet, with everyone running out, gathering behind locked doors, going to another town; Jesus was there standing among them again. AND, these people who had run out on Jesus as he was commended as a criminal where now standing in the center of Jerusalem stating loudly, for anyone to hear, that Jesus is Messiah and alive again. They were arrested, beaten, and some were killed, but it never stopped them from telling the good news of what God had done through Jesus who became our Christ.

On this Good Friday I challenge you to think about how to explain to other why these days of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are real enough to make a difference. A difference in your life and a difference for our world. I also encourage you to walk through this day slowly, considering what God may be asking to to sacrifice for God’s glory. Peace.

From Seder to Supper

17 Apr

Talking about an Easter text doesn’t seem right on Holy Thursday, so I am going to tell you a story. It is the story when I had my ‘aha’ moment about what was going on during Jesus’ Last Supper.

I was in my senior year at University of Maryland and a good friend, Mary Rombro, invited me to her home for a Passover Seder. [A Catholic boy and I were the only two gentiles in the room that night.] Mary’s family had pushed a number of tables together in a big downstairs. About 30 people had a place to sit and a copy of the Passover service, the Haggadah. And the meal took about three hours.

You might know, that a seder is a memorial meal of the house of Israel journey to freedom through the sea. The language to God’s provision and protect of God’s people permeated my brain that night. The use of food as symbol brought new meaning to the bread and juice used for the meal. This central story of salvation for the Jewish people came alive as we remember the hardship of the people of God in slavery, as we recited the plague God used to convince Pharaoh to release the people, and as we once more walked with the people of God through the water of the sea to new life. The images became vibrant and alive as I sat stumbling along through the meal that Mary’s family repeated year after year.

The night after this wonderful experience was Holy Thursday. I went to a service offered at the United Methodist Church on the edge of the college campus. I had been to this holy week service before, but this time there was a new and deeper understanding of that night in Jesus’ life. Each word and each symbol seemed to draw from the depths of creation God’s desire for freedom for the people of God. The bread that was broken, the blood that was split was to path to wholeness, and liberation.

I think what impressed me that night, and has continued to resonate with me throughout my life, is that God is always calling out to the people. A call to lead them out of a life of slavery, pain and broken, and into healing, wholeness, and hope. God has used the ordinary objects and experiences of the people of God to create an extraordinary opportunity of a relationship with the eternal and everlasting Divine.

Tonight you have an opportunity to draw close to the power of God. You have the opportunity to remember not only the meal that Jesus shared with his friends, but the meal that brought freedom for the people of Israel. It is a meal immersed the deepest desire of God’s heart for our freedom and our life grounded and rooted in God’s love.

Peace

I owe you my life

16 Apr

Have you ever seen one of the those movies where one person saves the life of another and the person who is saved says,”I owe you my life, I am yours to command.” I have seen them and usually the person who has been saved the fairly annoying until they can do something equally important for the other person.

I wonder if we ever consider Jesus in that way, that literally, Jesus has saved our lives. Not only in terms of our eternal life, but the life we have here and now.

The reading from Colossians on Easter Sunday is straight and to the point.

3 1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

Isn’t this passage great, particularly how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it. Christ is the one who has saved our lives and we owe him our lives and we have the honor/joy/hope of living it for God.

I think of the truly beautiful things in our world – not just nature – but things like Handel’s Messiah, or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or Gandhi’s work to free India. These are incredible things that were done with a focused on Christ perspective.

Now, I know I will never do anything great like people I mentioned, but I can do small things that reflect the Christ-life here and now. Being kind, even on a bad day, working for peace – if only between church members-, helping to feed the people around me – if only for a day.

I know you can do God-inspired things too. Things that you have gifts and graces for and that God has made real to you. Mostly, as the passage says, don’t look down at the ordinary life around you; look up to the extraordinary life in Christ. Enjoy your resurrection life to the fullest. Peace

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