The Unknown God and the God who knows

Acts 17:22-31
It would serve us well to listen carefully to Paul today. Paul is telling us about a radical God that we don’t get to hear about very often. His words might have originated in Athens, from the place where Greek philosophers would gather to argue and debate ideas. But make no mistake, Paul is speaking directly to us. And there is a sadness in his sermon and there is a certain joy. The joy is the proclaiming the living God in whom we live – we move- and have our being. The sadness is in realizing that God is essentially unknown to most North Americans. 

The place and people to whom Paul was speaking was not much different than our world today. The Athenians were careful folks who liked to hedge their bets when it came to religion. Scattered throughout the city would have been statues and temples to numerous Gods. To Greek Gods, Romans Gods, Persian Gods, and many more. Newborns would often be dedicated at each temple, just to make sure that all the bases were covered. Zeus, Athena, Mithras, Poseidon were all honoured just to be sure.  

And just in case any gods had been overlooked, there was the statue to the unknown God. A coverall, so as not to offend any other gods out there that didn’t have specific statues or temples. 

When Paul was in Athens, his purpose wasn’t to preach or evangelize. He was just visiting, waiting for his friends to re-join him while they preached in a neighbouring city. Paul, was more like a tourist than a traveling preacher. Yet, when he saw this statue to the unknown God, he must have seen an opportunity. An opportunity to address a culture that was quite concerned with covering their religious bases by doing the right rituals and keeping the right rules. The Athenian philosophy of religion was, make the gods happy and they won’t bother you,  

The pluralistic religious system of the Athenians is not all that far off from our modern version of religion that is practiced today. In fact, sociologists have come up with a term for the most widely “practiced” religion in North America, and it is probably not the familiar name of a denomination. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This term was born out of study North American Teens and their views on religion. There was a surprisingly high level of agreement on what teens thought about God and the faith. There was no difference in views between those who were regular church attenders their whole lives to those with no church background at all.
These are the core statements of their faith:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

Good people go to heaven when they die

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is basically the belief that God sets out some ground rules for behaviour which is the moralistic part. The Therapeutic part is that God is a being who exists to make us feel good and solve our problems. Deism is belief in a God who just created the world and left it to its own devices, God does not have much bearing on the rest of our lives and doesn’t really engage us personally.   

The God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the God of Oprah, Hollywood and financial gain. It is the God of inspirational greeting cards, reality tv, music videos and consumerism. Making money, being self-centered and ignoring the big issues of life are also encouraged, because God wants to send us to heaven as long we are good people, which most of us are. 

This distanced, self centered approach to religion is precisely what Paul’s words address today. And this kind of religion is exactly what our sinful selves wish religion to be. The pluralism of the ancient greeks and modern day Moralistic Therapeutic Deism appeal to us at our basic levels. They are religions were we get to be in control, and God gets to be a divine therapist and butler. They don’t demand anything of us, and they don’t intrude on our daily lives in any kind of real way. They are the perfect religion for a curved in on itself humanity. 

As Paul walked around the Aeropagus, looking at the variety of statues he must have been asking himself, 

What about sin?

What about evil?

What about death?
What about hope?

What about grace?

What about love?

For Paul, all of the greek Gods would have been unknown. His are the questions that none of the unknown Gods could begin to answer. These are the questions that sit below the surface when life is going well, but that rise up and force us to consider them when things go wrong, when life begins to hurt, to be painful. The God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism seems pretty empty in the face of addiction, disease, divorce and separation, in the face of death. It seems pretty empty in the face love, beauty, sacrifice and wonder too. 
In fact, the unknown gods of the ancient greeks and of our modern world are not really gods at all when compared to the God who washes, names, dies with us and raises us to new life all in the one baptism. These gods not compare to the One who feeds, forgives, joins and loves in communion. The god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism does not compare to the God who was born, who lived with us, who died on the cross and rose on the third day in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Paul sees the opportunity with the statue of the unknown God, to show his audience that God is known. And even more so, that God knows us. As Paul preaches to the Athenians: 

What you therefore worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. God is known. 

What a radical difference from what the Athenians knew. Paul does not just re-interpret the unknown God, but re-interprets the whole religious system. The God that Paul knows is the one who created all things. The God that Paul knows is the one who gives us life and movement and being — and does not require petty sacrifices in order to show mercy. The God that Paul knows, know us — knows what it is like to be born, to live, and die as one of us. 

The who God knows us sees us — all of us. Sees our faults and failures, our imperfections and loses. Our confusion and blindness. Our intolerance and bigotedness. Our despair and frailty. Our successes and hopes. Our dreams and desires. Our joys and our loves. All of these God sees. 

The God who knows us hears us — our pleas for help. Our anger and frustration. Our sadness and sorrow. Our celebrations and thanksgivings. Our happiness and our wonder. Our normal and everyday words. All of these God hears. 

This God who knows us loves us — all of us. God loves all of us as a whole. All of us as individuals. All of us personally, intimately, completely. This God loves us despite our sinfulness and despite our faithfulness. This God who knows us simply loves us without condition. 

The unknown Gods of ancient and modern times promise heaven for good behaviour. 

But the God who knows us promises New Life to those that are dead. New Life for all creation. New Life for each one of us.

In a world that is often looking to cover its bases and for people whose best vision of what God could be is a divine therapist and butler, God offers so much more.

As Paul preaches to the Athenians and to us, the unknown distant gods that we try to make happy are not gods at all. The God of all creation, of all life, of all that moves of all that is. This God is known. This God is known because this God first knew us. As Paul preaches:

What you therefore worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. This God knows us. 

Amen. 

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Making Demands of Jesus

John 14:1-14

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Read the whole passage)

We are on the back half of Easter, heading towards the Ascension and Pentecost. To be sure, we are still celebrating the resurrection on this great 7 week long day of the resurrection, but as the day gets longer we are starting to look forward to what comes next in this world of the resurrected Christ.

Today, we begin hearing a series of conversations between Jesus the disciples, where Jesus prepares his disciples for the beginning of the church, Christ’s body on earth. These familiar words of Jesus begin, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

These words are the familiar words spoken at many funerals, words of comfort and assurance, at least the first 7 verses. But today, we get the bigger picture, the next 8 verses. These familiar words put in context become one side of a larger conversation.

Jesus begins by telling his disciples of what has been prepared for them by the father. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says, “For in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Jesus says that God has room for many, an idea foreign to the world disciples, where most believed that God only had time and space for the very righteous.

So naturally, the disciples aren’t entirely sure of this idea. Two of them speak up with doubts. Thomas is the first. Thomas asks a vulnerable and honest question. “How can we know the way.” It is a a good question. Thomas is expressing the doubt side of faith, the uncertainty of faith, the part of faith that questions our own worthiness. It is a question echoed through the centuries, asked by St. Augustine and which led to the doctrine of original sin. Asked by Martin Luther, which led to the Reformation and Lutheran doctrine of unconditional grace. Still asked today by many who wonder what the future of Christianity will be.

Thomas’s questions is a genuine one, one that desires to draw closer to, and understand God. It is a question that we all ask too, when our doubt it real, but also when we are open and honest about ourselves. When our doubt is about us and our role in faith.

Jesus gives an answer to Thomas, but Philip isn’t satisfied. Philip’s question is not so much a question, but a demand, an order. “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” If we are not careful, we skip past this statement, and focus only on Jesus’ words about how he and the father are one. Yet, if we pause to consider what Philip has said, we see just how problematic it is.

“Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” It is a command rooted in insecurity. It is comes from a place of discomfort, from a place that prefers not to sit with the uncertainty of Thomas’s first question. It is an order that wants to jump to answer, instead of exploring the question. Philip’s order to Jesus is one we know well too. We have moments when we make demands of God, when we want faith to be easy, simple and certain. Sometimes, like Philip, we just want to be satisfied instead of dealing with the real questions of faith.

We all have Thomas moments and Philip moments. Moments when we can honestly and openly ask genuine questions of faith like Thomas “How can we know the way?” And moments when we just want to jump to the answers, moments when we don’t want to deal with the struggles and uncertainty of believing in Jesus, like Philip, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”

These two contrasting statements by these disciples demonstrate just how fickle we can be when it comes to God, yet Jesus’s response to these two very different ways of asking the same thing shows us how God is with us.

Jesus doesn’t give either Thomas or Philip what they want. Jesus instead gives them what they need. To Thomas, Jesus responds with assurance. He doesn’t tell Thomas what the way is, but instead who the way is. Jesus tells Thomas that it isn’t about our ability to know the way to God, but about who will take us there. Jesus assures Thomas that Jesus is one taking us to the Father, that Jesus is the one who will guide us to the house of many dwelling places. Jesus will show us the Father.

And even though Jesus sounds almost hurt, if not annoyed with Philip, “How can you say show us the Father?” Jesus still responds. Jesus stays with Philip’s discomfort with uncertainty. So Jesus reminds Philip what he has seen and heard, he reminds Philip who he is speaking with, the Messiah, the one who comes in the name of Father, who reveals the Father, who does the Father’s works. This is not evidence or proof  that Philip can be certain of, that can satisfy. Instead, this is the promise of a relationship. A messy, uncertain, faith demanding promise made through relationship instead of through the evidence. Jesus reminds Philip having faith in the Father is not easy, nor something to be controlled and Philip is uncomfortable because he wants certainty.

Whether we are Thomas, open and ready for Jesus, or whether we are Philip, uncomfortable and impatient, Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus meets us in all of our doubts, no matter what they look like. And Jesus promises our troubled hearts that he is the way. They Way to God’s house, the the Truth revealed in flesh, the One who will bring us to New Life.

Amen.

The Good Shepherd or Good Sheep?

John 10:1-10Jesus said, “… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (Read the whole passage

Even, far away from the fields and pastures of first century palestine, far away from the shepherds and sheep that Jesus spoke of, the image resonates with us still. The promise of a shepherd who is with in the valley of the shadow of death, the shepherd who searches for the lost one in the 99, the shepherd who guards the gate. Somehow we know what it is to be gathered and care for, protected and loved. Or at least we like the idea…

Shepherding hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. Then, and in many parts of the world now, tending to flocks is done in the same way. When Shepherds come to town for supplies, they put their sheep in pens, guarded by a gatekeeper. After they purchase supplies, they return to the pen and call their sheep. The sheep know their shepherd and follow him or her out to pasture again. 

Out in the wild, Shepherds will gather bushes and rocks to build temporary pens at night. In the opening, the shepherds will sleep, using their own body as gate. This way the predators must pass over them to get to the sheep.

For the disciples, shepherds should have been common place, and the image of God as Shepherd was familiar. The psalms would have been well known by most people in Jesus day. 

And somehow, despite the fact that they know the psalms and shepherds, they do not know what on earth Jesus is talking about. 

The part that the disciples don’t understand isn’t the shepherds, or the sheep gate or the sheep pen. The problem is the sheep. The problem is that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples how to be good sheep. 

For nearly 2000 years, Christians have called God the Shepherd, have called the church the sheepfold and have called ourselves the sheep.Yet, we don’t have to look much past ourselves to know why the disciples couldn’t understand Jesus. We like the idea of a Shepherd that lovingly chases after us and cares for us. But we want to go into the pen on our terms. We want to be free to be sheep in our way. 

Like the disciples, we have resisted, or even been unable to see Jesus calling out to us. The Blind Man whom Jesus heals in the pool of Siloam does not recognize Jesus once he meets him later on. The disciples cannot imagine how 5 loves and 2 fish will feed a great crowd. Mary Magdalene cannot recognize Jesus near the empty tomb on Easter morning until Jesus calls her by name. Thomas will not believe, unless it is on his terms. 

All of these actions, washing the blind man, feeding the 5000, naming Mary, giving Thomas faith. These are the same actions that God does in the Church. This is how the Shepherd cares for the sheep in the pen. And this is what we resist. We do not want to arrive here empty, we do not want to be washed, and fed and loved. We come here, to the church, to the pen, hoping to earn our love. We want God to reward us. We want to be here on our terms. The Shepherd can stay here in the pen, and when we are ready, we will show up with our best face on… but most of the time we are out there in world and not really wanting a shepherd. We don’t want God to be a hassle in our lives. 

That is what the disciples don’t understand. That is what we don’t understand. Jesus gives us this image of the Shepherd and what the shepherd does, but there is no mention of how to be good sheep.  
And in the end, that isn’t the point. Good Shepherd Sunday is not about how to be good sheep. Today, is a reminder of who God is. Jesus is our Shepherd who calls us, who cares for us and washes us, who feeds us, and names us. 

Washes us in Baptism, and brings us to new life. 

Feeds us in the Lord’s supper, at the Lord’s table, with his own body and blood. 

Names us as his sheep who belongs to the Shepherd. 

Gathers in faith, gathers into this community, this family, this flock. 

These are the actions of God in Christ.

Here in this place, it is the shepherd who is good, not the sheep. It is the shepherd whose actions matter, not those of the sheep. Here in the church, here in this congregation, Jesus calls us home. Yes, we are sent out each week into the world. We go out to pasture to a world fraught with the danger, a world that tells us it is all about the sheep, and what sheep do. 

But in God’s church, in God’s sheepfold, Jesus reminds us again and again, that in washing, feeding, naming and calling that Jesus brings us to himself. 

Jesus’s sheep pen, Christ’s church, is not a place were we need to earn our way. It is not a place where we give of ourselves or where we offer something to God, to the Shepherd. It is a place where God gives to us. It is a place where we receive. It is place where we come to know the Shepherd by his voice. “I baptize you. I give my body for you. I forgive you. You are mine”. 

Wherever we have been scattered, or lost, whatever we cannot understand or are confused about, the voice of the Shepherd gathers us to him, brings us back into the flock. 

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Unrealized Hopes – The Road to Emmaus

While I am late in posting, thanks to a guest preacher Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, and her sermon from the 3rd Sunday in Easter. You can find her on twitter: @ReedmanParker

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. …34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear the stories of that first day. We continue to be placed back with the disciples. In their grief. In their sadness. In their un-belief of what has transpired.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear the story of resurrection. New life. Changed life – because the way it was is not the way it is. And everyone knows it.

Except for those who don’t. For those who stand in fear at the empty tomb, for those who wait to see Jesus for themselves, for those who are on the road between the death of Good Friday and new life discovered on Easter Sunday.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we continue to hear stories of the disciples encountering the risen Christ.

This first day, Easter day, is important. Three weeks in and we are still hearing about its impact. Today we encounter two disciples on the road to Emmaus when Jesus shows up along side them.

Only Cleopas and the other disciple don’t know that it’s Jesus – they don’t recognize him.

This detail is significant. But they aren’t special. Last week the disciples do not believe that Jesus is amongst them until they hear him speak words of peace and see and touch his wounds. The women, too, do not immediately recognize Jesus for who he is – instead thinking he is a gardener.

In their minds, Jesus has died. It’s done.

And this reality is heartbreaking.

This first day when the disciples are between Jesus’ death and knowing and believing that the resurrection has taken place reveals how difficult is for the human condition to move from the way it was to the way it is.

And it is when Cleopas is talking to Jesus – not knowing it is Jesus – that this becomes so clear. Jesus asks the two men what they are talking about, and Cleopas, surprised “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?”

Somewhat ironically he’s asking him, have you been living behind a rock these last few days? …. Well, yes, yes I have.

“What things?” Jesus asks very simply.

So the disciples tell Jesus about who he was to them, and how he had been handed over to death. We hear about who they had hoped Jesus would be – that he had come to redeem Israel – but instead he was put to death.

The way they thought the future would unfold did not turn out as they had hoped.

The person they thought Jesus was, the one they expected him to be, did not turn out as they had hoped.

The stories they are now hearing about Jesus being raised from the dead is not how they expected life would unfold next. It’s not how they anticipated God would act.

The disciples find themselves on a long road between what they had hoped for and exclaiming “he is risen indeed”. It is an uncomfortable place to be.

Perhaps we know a little something about what happens when the things we hope for don’t unfold the way we anticipate.

  • When our relationships are complicated or breakdown or break up
  • When our health or our bodies fail us
  • When our work takes a sudden turn
  • When our ministry doesn’t grow or take root in the way we thought
  • When God doesn’t act, look, or respond the way we had hoped for

Perhaps we know something about the discomfort of the in-between-ness between what has been and what will be. Even if things “will be ok” eventually, death of any kind stings. Death is still death. Our emotions are the same. Our grief is still the same.

It is hard to see Jesus when we are expecting one thing and another happens.

The disciples arrive where they think they are going, only to have their eyes opened in the retelling of the sacred stories – Jesus’ story… God’s story – and in the breaking of the bread. It’s then that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him”.

Like the disciples, it is hard to see Jesus walking alongside us when our expectations – our hopes of who Jesus will be, of how God will act or intervene or call us into relationship – blinds us to the real Jesus, who was there the whole time.

It is hard to see Jesus when we are preoccupied with life’s struggles. Hard even when Jesus is walking with us, telling us what’s what.

The good news is that God in Jesus walks the road with us. In doing so, God helps us let go and reframe our issues, and once they have been reframed, the fact that Jesus was there the whole time becomes apparent.

And, like the disciples, Jesus will walk with us down the wrong road, even while calling us in a different direction.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we too are experiencing an in-betweeness as a congregation. We know that life will not be as it was, but we aren’t yet sure of the way it is or will be.

What we do know is that God promises to be with us.

God in Jesus walks with us down all the roads of life.

God in Jesus walks with us in the in-between places.

God in Jesus walks with us when we are in the midst of dead ends.

God in Jesus leads us down new paths.

Three weeks into the season of Easter and we are still hearing stories of that first day, still with the unbelieving disciples, and when all we think we see is death, Jesus is still walking out of tombs in order to show us new life. AMEN.

Thomas and the Scars

John 20:19-31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

We always hear this parable on the second Sunday of Easter. It is always the same story. It is Easter Evening, the same day as the resurrection. The early church considered the whole seven week season of Easter to be like one great day, and so even though we are seven days from Easter Sunday, we return to that moment to hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on Easter evening.

Jesus speaks peace to the disciples. He joins right in the midst of them, he comes despite locked doors and windows, despite their fear and their hiding. He speaks peace and breathes on them the holy spirit. This is the very same peace we will share between us in a few moments, and the same spirit that is passed between us.

And then there is of course Thomas. Thomas who is called Doubting Thomas by western Christians. Thomas who is called Believing Thomas by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Thomas will not accept the stories of his buddies, the outrageous claims of resurrection. He wants to see for himself.

We hear this familiar story each Easter. We call skeptics doubting Thomas’s. We kind of know the routine by now.

And yet there is a piece of this story is we rarely focus on. Usually we hear about Jesus appearing behind locked doors, or Thomas seeing the evidence and believing. But what about the scars?

Yes, the scars.

The scars are there all way through. Jesus offers peace and then immediately shows the disciples his scars. That is how they know him. Thomas will not believe until he can touch the scars with his own hands. And knowing what Thomas needs, Jesus shows up and gives Thomas a view he cannot forget. Jesus offers his scars.

The scars are woven throughout the story, and yet they are troubling. The scars are how the disciples know who Jesus is. Of all the things that might identify Jesus it is the scars. Not how he looks, now how he talks, but the scars that his body still bears. His resurrected body still bears.

This can be hard to imagine. This can be hard to accept. Jesus resurrected body is a sign, an example of what our own resurrected bodies will look like. Our scars can often be parts of ourselves we would rather forget. Sometimes they are physical scars, sometimes they are emotional or psychological. Sometimes they are the scars of broken relationships, and unforgiven hurts, of ongoing pain, and untold suffering. Sometimes they are the scars of death.

We don’t want those scars to come with us. We don’t want to remember the pain that created them. We want all of it to go away. We want God to come and take away our hurts and pain, to make us forget all the ways in which we hurt others, and the ways in which we suffered ourselves. We don’t want our scars to come with us, we would much rather leave them and the things that caused them behind.

It was by the scars that the disciples recognized Jesus. It was because of the scars that Thomas could see who it was that was standing before him. The Risen Christ, the new reality ushered into the world by God where death is no longer the end, is too much to recognize, it is too much to be able to imagine or see. And so it is in the scars that the disciples and Thomas can see Jesus. The scars are reminders of what was before. They allow the disciples and Thomas to see Jesus as the same person who called them to follow. The same Jesus who taught in synagogues, who healed the sick and the lame, who cast out demons and angered the authorities. The same Jesus who was tried, beaten and then nailed to a cross.

It is this Jesus, this Jesus that they knew, that they followed and that they loved who is standing before them – Risen from the dead. This new reality that God brings into world through Christ can only be truly seen and understood when signs of the old reality come with it. And yet is still more than that.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Our scars are signs of experiences that have made us who we are. Our joys and our sorrows, our loves and our loses, our comforts and pains, our successes and failures, our happinesses and our sufferings. All of these things make us who we are. All of these things are what make us human.

And it is the same things that made Christ human.

And it is these same things that God loves and intends to resurrect.

It is not perfect, unblemished, perfectly unscarred versions of ourselves that God sees. It is the beat up, worn down, tattered, bumped and bruised versions of us that God is deeply in love with. It is all of us, good and bad, perfect and imperfect that God calls beloved children. It is the broken versions of ourselves that God is well pleased with.

For you see, it is in Christ’s scars that we see the Risen Christ. We see the Christ who came to be born among us, to live among us and to die among us. We see the Christ who took on our nature and our lot, who gathered all humanity to himself and who took all our sin to the cross. And it is on the body of the Resurrected Christ, that we see the scars still present, reminders that the one we would not accept and the one that we tried to kill is now alive. The Risen Christ, scars and all, is showing us that God is bringing life into this world, no matter how much death we wield.

But it is not just Risen Christ that is recognized by his scars. It is also us. Just as we see Christ in his scars, God see us in ours. God sees our hurts and our sorrows, God sees our bumps and bruises, God see our broken relationships and our unforgiven hurts. And it is by these things, that God sees us as beloved children. God does not promise to take these things away, the scars will remain. But God promises that they will not define us and they will not control us. Pain will not be the end. Suffering will not be the end. Death will not be the end. God promises that there will always be life. God promises that there is another side to sin, suffering and death. God will not remove our problems, but God goes through them with us.

And the Christ that we have now seen. The Christ that has come to us in behind locked doors, in fear and hiding. The Christ that gives us what we need so that we may believe.

This Christ has shown us the way, the way to the other side, the way to new life and he has the scars to prove it.


*** For 10 weeks I am on parental leave, and during this time my hope is to post sermons from previous years during this time. ***

And the Angel said to the women, “Do Not Be Afraid”

Matthew 28:1-10

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. (Read the whole passage)

Two women walking down a dusty road while the sun’s first wisps of colour begin to light the nighttime sky. Two women on their way to a tomb is an image that we remember from just two weeks ago. Martha and her sister Mary met Jesus on the road to the tomb of their brother Lazarus. It was the final Sunday of Lent, the last encounter in a series of encounters where Jesus wandered into someone’s life and the experience transformed them.

It began as Jesus wandered into the wilderness and met the tempter. And then Jesus found Nicodemus in his the darkness of his questions, the samaritan woman in isolation at the well of Jacob, the blindman who washed the mud from his eyes and could then see. And it finished with Martha and Mary grieving Lazarus.

But from then on, Jesus took a turn from uncovering the fears of these lenten people, and headed toward Jerusalem. Towards Holy Week, towards the confrontation between us, sin and death. And that detour ended on a cross… with God on the cross. And we finally realized what Jesus had been up to all along, even from the moment when the angels told Mary and Joseph that he was God’s son in Mary’s womb, the cross was where Jesus was headed.

But this morning, as these two women make their journey in the twilight hours to the tomb where Jesus had been laid 3 days before, they certainly did not know any of that.

All that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary knew was that Jesus, their friend and teacher had been put to death. But not just their friend and teacher, the person in whom they had discovered hope, in whom they discovered love and grace and mercy… love and grace and mercy from God.

Love and grace and mercy that was now dead. And along with it all hope.

These two women on their way to that tomb on Easter morning are the embodiment of all those people whom we have been hearing about all of Lent. They are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, but they are also Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the blindman and Martha and Mary from Bethany. All of them in their own have been making their way to Jesus’ tomb. And Jesus has unearthed their fears while showing them a new way to live… until Good Friday. Until Good Friday and this Jesus who had promised to transform everything was put to death.

These two women on their way to the tomb go knowing that they are putting that promise, that new hope to rest. They are carrying their last ounces of hope to add to the tomb. The only thing that have to look forward to on Easter morning is the possibility of having a few more moments with Jesus, even if it is just his corpse. They want to give him the smallest dignity of a proper burial after his undignified and humiliating death.

These two women on their way to bury their hope embody us too. Because we have been making our way to this grave as well. Because we too have had our fears unearthed and new ways to live shown to us by love and grace and mercy only to have them put to death. We too live a world where the powers that be love to kill off hope. It is hard to have hope in a world where nuclear war is now easily possible, where airlines can have passengers assaulted for sitting in paid seats and wanting to go home, where domestic shootings can rock close-knit communities, where the flood waters threaten to overwhelm, where jobs are dollars to be cut and hospitals are seen as wastes of money.

We live in a world where our sin, the sin of trying to be like God, to exercise control over everything around us brings death too often. Death to the hope that we try to carry, even if for just a while.

And then as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approach the tomb, suddenly the earth shakes and angel appears like lightening from heaven. The guards shake and fall to the ground and the stone is rolled away.

And the Angels says, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”

And when the women were supposed to be going to a grave side, supposed to be consumed by the final act of separation from one that they loved… a messenger from God interrupts and says,

“Do not be afraid”

And we know what the women do not know. That the story of Jesus began just as it appeared to end. Way back at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the very first thing that happens just as Joseph and Mary were looking at their own version of the death of all hope, the end of an engagement and the end of a future. And angel shows up and says to Joseph,

“Do not be afraid.”

And now again at what seems to be the end of story, an Angels shows up declaring the same thing.

And all those fears. The fear of Nicodemus who could only ask his questions in the safety of darkness, the fear of the samaritan woman who choose to avoid her community in shame, the fear of blindman whose community will not accept that he sees, the fear of Mary and Martha that their brother was beyond saving… the angel says to them, “Do not be afraid.”

And all of our fears. The fear of nightly news and the end of the world, the fear our humanity will be lost for the sake of corporate profits, the fear that our communities are not safe when tragedy hits too close to home, the fear that creation is far more powerful than we can handle and just might overwhelm us… the angel says to us, “Do not be afraid.”

And the ultimate of fears. The fear born in sin, that we are not enough, that we need to be more, that we need to be God in God’s place. The fear that we could not possibly be loveable, or given grace or shown mercy. The fear that we will lose control, that we cannot survive without power, that we are not safe, the fear of death… the angel says to us, to the the original sin within us,

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”

And just in case we have not heard it the first time from the Angel who spoke to Jospeh, or the second time from the Angel who speaks to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary….

Jesus meets the women, meets all the lenten people, meets us on the road to say,

“Do not be afraid.”

And like the women we take hold of and cling to the body of the very hope we were sure we had lost. We hold in our hands the Body of the One in whom all hope and life exists. We touch the One who makes all things new.

We hold Jesus on the road from that empty tomb.

We hold Jesus here at the altar rail as the Body and Blood of Christ are given to us.

We hold Jesus and the Body of Christ makes all fear to cease because the one who was crucified has risen.

This Easter morning, the most joyous of all mornings, the risen Christ gives us his very body to hold in our hands… and in our hands we receive the mysteries of God.

Mysteries like God’s love for unloveable, God’s grace given for the condemned, God’s mercy for the unforgiven. Mystery that along with Nicodemus, the Samaritan women, the blindman and Martha and Mary, has revealed our fears.

God’s love, grace and and mercy that died on the cross.

God’s love, grace and mercy that has risen from dead.

God’s love, grace and mercy that says to us,

“Do not be afraid”

Alleluia Christ is Risen. 

When the Old Thing was Finished

John 18:1-19:42

The journey to this moment, began with those first stories of Advent. The angels that told Mary and Joseph that they would have a son. We don’t think much about Good Friday while singing Christmas carols.

But we began to clue in to where Jesus was headed when he went down the mountain of transfiguration into the valley of Lent.

From temptation in the wilderness, to secret meetings with the Pharisee Nicodemus as night, to Jacob’s well and the woman who had had 5 husbands, to the blind man who didn’t know who had healed him, to Mary and Martha’s grief on the road to Bethany… as Jesus uncovered our fears and anxieties in intimate encounters week after week… there were signs, signs that something bigger than just our issues and personal sufferings was being confronted. Jesus was passing by the particularities of our humanity. Jesus passed by because he was headed somewhere else.

Jesus was going to contend with something much bigger, something that was not about us individually… but something that is about us collectively.

And by the time we stood with the crowds waving palm branches, singing “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”…singing “Save us now,  Son of David” there was no doubt that we would find ourselves here.

There was no doubt that the disciples would betray and deny him.
There was no doubt that the mobs would demand crucifixion
There was no doubt political and religious leaders would use the outrage for their own benefit.
There was no doubt that the empire would coldly and ruthlessly order execution.

There was no doubt that the place Jesus was going to was the cross.

We could see that today was where Jesus was going because Good Friday we have seen before.

We have seen the betrayals and denials of friends and family.
We watch the angry mobs crying out for vengeance on cable news.
We witness daily political and religious and business leaders use our outrage to turn a profit or gain a political win or entrench the power of religious institutions.
We see an empire that treats people coldly and ruthlessly even as we live and thrive because of that same empire.

We have no doubt that Jesus could end up on cross, because people like Jesus always do.

The ones who speak out.
The ones who risk themselves for others.
The ones who fight for goodness over self-benefit, justice over victory, compassion over power.
The ones who show warmth amidst coldness, who show love over ruthlessness.

We know today, we know Good Friday well, because in our world, there is also Good Monday, Good Tuesday, Good Wednesday and Thursday, Good Saturday, and Sunday.

Jesus’ journey to Good Friday is a common journey.

And it isn’t.

Because we remember the angels of Advent and Christmas, because we remember the voice of God thundering over the waters of Baptism and on the mountain of Transfiguration.

And then even though we have seen this story often enough, of betray and denial, of outraged mobs, and manipulative leaders, and cold uncaring Empires… beneath the cross we finally see the thing that Jesus has been pulling us towards all along.

The truth that Jesus tried to remind the tempter of.
The questions that Jesus explained to Nicodemus
The living water that Jesus gave to the woman at the well.
The sight that Jesus revealed to the blindman.
The buried  mercy that Jesus opened up for Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Today Jesus reveals to us not another person doomed to die on a cross.

Today, Jesus reveals God, willing to die on a cross.

For us.

And thus begins the new thing that God is doing.

The new thing in oldest of stories.

In oh so common of human deaths for the sake our failing humanity, our sinfulness exposed in every way imaginable…. in the ultimate hubris, our belief if we just killed God we could be God.

God shows us life by dying.

Jesus shows us the beginning accomplished through the end.

Jesus shows us mercy given by a God who simply won’t be pushed away any longer.

Jesus shows us the love and grace that will be born, and live and pass by and come close and be just like us. How this love and grace ties humanity and all creation together on the cross.

Jesus shows us the completion of the journey where God does the thing that we have refused to do since Adam and Eve left the garden….

God joins the fallen to the divine, joins the sinful to the forgiven, joins the finite to the infinite, permanence of death to constant renewal of life.

Jesus shows us a God that dies just like us.

A God comes to us and finds us in every place we can possibly go, even in death.

So that we will live, and death will not be our end anymore.

No… we don’t think about Good Friday while we sing Christmas carols.

But God does.

The cross was where the incarnation, where God come in flesh, was going from the beginning.

The cross is the place where God was going to redeem creation all along.
The cross is the place and Good Friday is the day when the old thing – the power of sin and death –

When the old thing was finished.

And Jesus made all things new.

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An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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