Tag Archives: Jesus

That’s not how faith works

*As I am currently on vacation, here is a guest sermon from Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, whom you can find on Twitter @ReedmanParker and on Instagram: creedmanparker

Gospel: John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed:] 6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (Read the whole text)

Here we are, the end of the Easter season. Seven weeks later, many stories and experiences of new life – unexpected life. These stories begin with grief and loss: death, an empty tomb, and no body. They do not begin in a place of joy or jubilation, or even peace. They begin from a place of fear and anxiety. From a place of not knowing what the future will hold.

In this season of Easter, these 50 days between the Resurrection and Pentecost, we spend a lot of time within the setting of that first day of the week. And the starting place for most of the these stories is so far from what the worship committee plans. The faithful women, the disciples, those who followed Jesus, are in a state of shock and disbelief. They can’t see Jesus when he stands before them, they don’t believe the testimony of others – at least not at first.

Like us, the early followers of Jesus, the faithful women, the disciples, have ideas about who God is, and how God acts in the world, how God acts through us. And what they were seeing and hearing didn’t match those expectations. Those ideas. Their long held beliefs.

Like the disciples, the faithful women, the early followers of Jesus, it’s hard for us to see, to understand, to follow Jesus, God, even when God is staring us right in the face!

But these stories don’t stay in a place of disbelief or lack of sight for long. Because God stays with those people – God stays with us – until they see. Until they believe.

Seeing what was previously un-seen. Believing in what previously was un-thinkable, un-heard of, un-imaginable.

Jesus lives. Alleluia!

New life, it turns out, is full of unexpected, unanticipated realities. Ask any new(ish) parent, and they will likely tell you, “this was not what I expected”. New life is hard work. Navigating these new realities, navigating not only the new life, but the new life and role as parent not easy. Not by a long shot.

And for all the planning, all the reading, all the advice and preparations, the most accurate version of what to expect when you’re expecting is to get ready for the unexpected. It would be a short book.

And maybe that’s part of the problem, part of the challenge for us – the un-expected. the un-planned.

Like it or not, we like to know what to expect. We like to know what’s ahead of us. We like to follow the rules. Or at least know what the rules are, so we know what the consequence is of breaking them!

We see this throughout scripture – how rule-bound the Pharisees become, not being able to separate the rule of law from the spirit of the law. Good and faithful people become so rule-bound that they are unable to see how God is at work in and through the ways and means and people that were above or beyond the rule.

Today is no different. In our first reading from Acts, we encounter the disciples taking up the task of choosing who from their community will fill Judas’ spot as a disciple after Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

This community, and this group of people in particular, has already been through a lot! They want, and probably need, someone who they can trust. Someone they can depend on. Someone who won’t betray them the way Judas betrayed Jesus. They want to ensure that they “get it right”. As though getting it right will somehow ensure that they will not be disappointed again in the future. Or worse, that they will disappoint God in their decision making. That not getting it right, will somehow reflect upon their faithfulness.

But we know that even when we follow all the rules, when we follow the letter of the law, when we attend to every detail – it’s still possible to be disappointed. It’s still possible to not get it right, not all the way anyhow.

And that’s the rub. When we’ve done all the things we’ve been taught to do, and still find ourselves wanting… waiting… hoping for things to turn out in a way we can predict and anticipate. And then disappointed when they don’t.

But here’s the thing: that’s not how faith works. It’s certainly not how God works.

Note how the disciples put so much time and effort into choosing the correct candidate to take Judas’ place. Note the “rules.” Has to be a man, has to be someone there from the beginning, has to be someone who has witnessed the resurrection. [Only] two qualify. We learn their names. Lots are drawn. A man was chosen. And we never hear from him (or the other guy) again….

Because God was busy calling Paul. And Lydia. And the Ethiopian Eunuch. And so many more who weren’t in the narrow subset of ideas about who could be God’s messengers.

This is who God is. And this is who God reveal’s God’s-self to be over and over and over again. When God’s people become so rule bound that they cannot see God’s unconditional love and mercy, God chooses Mary to mother God’s son. Jesus arrives in a lowly stable and leaves the world by a procession on a donkey and hanging on a cross. And in his life, Jesus chooses the least likely candidates to help him proclaim God’s message to the world. He hangs around with the weirdos and the misfits, the outcasts and the strangers no one wanted – or by virtue of following the law – ought to be hanging around to be ritually clean. Jesus does all the things the law, the rules, tell him not to do. Talk about unexpected. This is who God is. Unexpected.

God does the unexpected. That’s what new life is – unexpected. The way God uses us is unexpected. How we get to live out God’s love and mercy in the world usually unexpected.

And so too, for us here gathered at Gimli Lutheran Church, maybe wondering how on earth is God working in and through us? Maybe you are feeling like you’ve followed all the rules and are still coming up short. Maybe you wonder where God is in the midst of this time of transition – between pastoral leadership, as the place and prominence of the church – not just here, but towns and cities, in families and communities changes.

Like the faithful women and the disciples on that first morning of the resurrection, we might feel like we are staring into an empty tomb. Like the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, we too might wonder how to find a leader to help us grow in our faith and equip others to know about Jesus and this great love God has for us.

But God does not wonder about us. God knows us inside and out. God knows our deepest desires and longings. God knows our fears and our dreams. God knows both what we want and what we need. And just like the early disciples, God is already out in the world calling forth new life, new leadership for this community. God is already stirring in us new life, new ideas, new ways of being that we can expect will be completely unexpected to us. This is who God is. Unexpected in the grace extended. Unexpected in the mercy given. Unexpected in the ways God continues to bring about new life in us and throughout the world.

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Good Shepherd Sunday – An Easter Let Down

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them…. read the whole passage

Today marks the half-way point of the seven week season of Easter and the fourth Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear images of the Good Shepherd on the 4th Sunday. 

And in some respects this Sunday represents a departure from the urgency and immediacy of Easter that we have been hearing for the first 3 weeks of Easter. We first heard the story of the women at the tomb fleeing in fear and telling no one. We followed it up the next week by going back to the day of the resurrection and the fearful disciples hiding out as Jesus appeared in their midst, and how Thomas missed the whole thing. And then last week, we again returned to the day of the resurrection as Jesus appeared to the disciples, this time according to Luke, where they thought he was a ghost. 

Three weeks of immediate urgent experiences of the resurrection. 

Honestly…today can be a bit of a let down. 

While these words are familiar and much beloved… I serve a church named Good Shepherd after all… they don’t seem to carry that same earthiness of the resurrection stories that we have been hearing. Jesus giving one of his wordy speeches found in John’s gospel isn’t as exciting as appearing to the disciples who think he is a ghost. 

Yet these familiar words about Good Shepherds are not really about the hard and unheralded job of being a sheep tender, and Jesus isn’t really talking about the job of tending sheep out in a literal field. 

We have a habit of taking this good shepherd passage out of context… we name churches, we make idyllic pastoral art work of Shepherd Jesus, we compose sanguine hymns about “The King of Love my Shepherd is” all clinging to the sweet and cuddly of image of Jesus gently caring for little lambs (the lambs are us by the way). 

The image makes us feel good, Jesus the Shepherd is like a warm blanket we can wrap around ourselves to keep our faith warm and comfortable. 

And to be certain, there are times in our lives when we need that image of the good shepherd loving and caring for us. 

But this passage is a little more complex than we tend to make it. 

This monologue delivered by Jesus doesn’t happen in isolation, nor are these words intended to provide comfort to the disciples or the crowds following Jesus. Rather, we have to go back to a story that we usually hear during Lent – the story of the blind man. Jesus heals a man born blind and moves on. Then the blind man’s community question his healing and declare that he is still a sinner and eventually send him away. Jesus finds him again, reveals that it is Jesus, the Messiah, who has healed him and then says that it is the religious leaders who are blind. 

Nearby pharisees overhear and challenge Jesus. 

And this speech about the Good Shepherd is what results. 

So imagine Jesus, with a man whose blindness has been healed yet has been sent away by the religious leaders of his community, standing in the bustling streets just outside the synagogue. And there is Jesus and the pharisees are arguing about sin, arguing about the responsibility of leaders to tend and care for God’s people. And Jesus says this, 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand sees the wolf coming and runs away…”

These words of Jesus take on a very different meaning and character. 

They are fiery and bold. They are words that condemn rather than comfort. 

They condemn the leadership of the pharisees. The religious leaders of God’s chosen people who have been given the responsibility of making God’s love and mercy and forgiveness accessible to all. The religious authorities of Jesus’ day had turned this responsibility into a commodity, into a withholding. They withheld righteousness for the privileged few, only for those who could afford its great cost, only for those who could afford to keep the law of Moses. They had turned their call to serve, into selfish ambition and benefit.

They had let their self-concern, their desire to seek their own benefit, get in the way of this task given to them by God. 

And Jesus was calling them on it. 

Of course this tension and conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is what eventually leads to the cross, but by the end of this particular speech about the Good Shepherd those listening in were divided into two camps. Those who thought Jesus was nuts, and those who thought he might have a point. 

And while the church has been guilty of the same kind of letting our own selfishness get in the way of our call to make God’s mercy accessible -remember Martin Luther’s central issue in the reformation and the sale of indulgences – we probably find ourselves somewhere the middle those two groups of listeners. 

Somedays we probably think that Jesus and his habit of turning everything we think makes sense upside down is infuriating. 

And other days we can see that Jesus has a point. 

And we know we have the same habit of letting ourselves get in our own way as the pharisees do. We know that we can make things more about ourselves and what we want or fear or desire or detest or prefer or abhor. We know that we get in our own way when it comes to our relationships with others, with our families and friends, with our work and vocations, and of course, even here at church. 

We cannot help it, we are human. We get in the way of God’s calling to share God’s mercy with God’s people. We make things about ourselves and we know it. 

Yet, as Jesus calls out the the pharisees for their selfishness, for self-centredness, he also proclaims something else. 

Something deeply tied to this resurrection season that we are in. For you see on Good Shepherd Sunday, half way through the season of Easter we pivot from the urgency of the resurrection to trying to figure out with the rest of the church, just what we are to do next. 

And heard in context, this Good Shepherd speech of Jesus’ retains some of that resurrection urgency. 

As Jesus calls out the pharisees for getting in their own way of proclaiming God’s mercy for the world, Jesus also declares that God is doing what we cannot. 

The Good Shepherd is laying down his life for the self. 

Jesus is laying down the self – God’s self – for the sake of the world. 

Human beings just cannot get out of our own way. 

So God does what we cannot do, and gives up self. 

God gives up God-like power and God-like control, in order to give us mercy. In order that we may be shown forgiveness. In order that we can hear good news in our dying world. 

God gives it all up for our sake. 

And Jesus know that this will take him to the cross. That selfish humanity will kill God in order to take God’s place. 

But as we have been hearing for the past three weeks, God’s selfless act incarnation, of coming in flesh to live and be among us combine with God’s triumph over death on the cross…

That leads also to empty tombs. 

To empty tombs that frighten Mary Magdalene and the other women who loved Jesus. 
To resurrection appearances in locked rooms that remind Thomas that the one he loves lives. 
To resurrection callings to make us witnesses of all that we have seen and heard. 

And the empty tomb leads us to the Good Shepherd. 

To the Good Shepherd who lays down his life, his self for our sake. 
To the Good Shepherd who gives up the self for the sake of the world, for our sake. 

So that God’s love and mercy is given to us in the Word of God that hear. 
So that God can clothe us with forgiveness, life and salvation in the waters of baptism. 
So that God can give us God’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, so that we can be shed our selfishness and become God’s Body the Church. 

The Good Shepherd does what we cannot. 
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for us in order that we might have new life. 

Life given by the resurrected Christ, who is shepherding us into this new  resurrection reality. 

And so today, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded that this is not about being sheep and God being our heavenly shepherd. 

But rather, that the Good Shepherd Christ is leading us, the Body of Christ, into a new resurrection world in order that we become Easter people. 

Clinging to the Ghosts of the Past

Luke 24:36b-48

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Read the whole passage)

Today it is the still the day of the Resurrection. Even though this is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, in keeping with the tradition of the church we treat this whole 50 day season as one great day of celebration. And so we go back once again to the day the resurrection, and we hear a similar story to last week’s story of Thomas… yet, this time it is Luke who tells it to us. 

It is situation that can be pretty hard to identify with. We may know the Easter story and believe that we encounter the risen Christ here in this place each time we gather for worship, but how many of us have witnessed the death of a close friend and teacher, only to have that person show up in our house a few days later? Don’t answer that…

Jesus’ moment with the disciples today comes as the third such moment where the disciples struggled to understand their encounter with the risen Christ. First it is Peter who runs to check the empty tomb, after the women from their group report back that the tomb is empty. And Jesus walks with other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who cannot see who they are walking with until he breaks bread with them. 

And now, with all the disciples in one place, Jesus shows up again. 

But of course, the group thinks he a ghost. 

And so Jesus goes through elaborate ancient tests to demonstrate that he isn’t a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet, invites the disciples to touch him, to see that he walks on the ground and doesn’t float in the air like a ghost. And he eats a meal with them, because ghosts don’t eat, people do.

Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what is going on. 

They are stuck, they are stuck back on Good Friday, back in Holy Week, back in the wildness of Galilee, back on all those dusty roads, small town synagogues, back among the crowds of people clamouring for a piece of Jesus. 

It us more than seeing Jesus as a ghost, they are clinging to the past. They still have not moved on from what once was, from the way things were, from the pre-crucifixion Jesus that they knew and loved. 

They are holding onto the ghost of what was before because they are afraid to move on. Peter was more than willing to run out into the world when he thought Jesus was dead, but once he found an empty tomb, he and the others are hiding in fear. 

They hide because it is easier to hold on to the ghosts of the past then to begin new life with new purpose. And so when Jesus shows up, they would almost rather that Jesus were a ghost than risen from the dead. 

The disciples are not much different than we are. 

Like the disciples, we too cling to the ghosts of our past. 

As our country continues to feel the pain and loss, the grief for the lives lost outside of Tisdale Saskatchewan a week ago Friday, we might have some insight into what it means to be in a mental and emotional state that can’t quite get past what has taken place. Because we know what it is to be driving on rural highways. Because we know what it is to send our kids, our loved ones, out into the world that we know is unsafe, where accidents happen everyday.

And so we we grieve and pray, we wear jerseys and put hockey sticks on porches. We cling to one another searching for hope and peace, much like those disciples after the tragedy that they had encountered. 

Yet,  ghost our pasts come in many forms not always rooted in grief and loss. They may have to  do with church, and with our memories of the past and wanting things to be like they were. To bring the young people back or perhaps really to ourselves the young people that we remember sitting in the pews. 

But the ghosts of our past can also be personal. We might cling to relationships that ended long ago, to times in our lives that we wish never ended, to jobs we once held, to youth we once enjoyed, to eras that we once understood. 

The ghosts come in many shapes and sizes, and the desire to cling to them is not anything but a normal human response to grief, loss and even change.

Yet, we know that refusing to accept change will not work. Staying stuck in the past, clinging to things as they once were, holding onto the ghosts of what once was, in the end, is impossible. 

Because the more stuck and unwilling to move on we become, the more like the ghosts we cling to we become… Like the disciples who found the tomb of Jesus empty, their response was to hide away from the world in a tomb of their own making. A tomb where they could stay at Good Friday, cling to the Jesus they once knew refusing to imagine to new life, the new Jesus that they sense is coming. 

And again, Jesus comes into their midst offering peace. 

Peace to the troubled hearts of the disciples. Peace to those who are stuck in the tense conflict of holding onto a past that is slipping away. 

Peace to our troubled hearts, peace to our grieving world, peace to those unable to let go. 

But Jesus doesn’t end with Peace. 

Once Jesus shows the disciples that clinging to ghosts is not possible, he takes things a step further. 

And all of a sudden the Easter moment, the resurrection moment extends beyond the empty tomb of Jesus and reaches into his hide away of the disciples. 

Jesus begins to transform these stuck and hopeless disciples clinging to a ghost of the past. 

“Everything you know, everything you believe in” Jesus says, “From Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms” or in other words the whole Hebrew bible, “has been fulfilled.”

And Jesus opens their minds, Jesus begins to transform these disciples giving them a new understanding and a new experience of their world. 

Everything that they thought they knew about God, about religion, about meaning and purpose in the world has been changed. The Messiah’s death on a cross and resurrection from an empty tomb changes everything. Everything moment in the story of God’s people that has come before has been leading to this moment… to this Easter moment. 

To this moment of the disciples’ Easter, to this moment of our Easter. 

“You are witnesses of these things.”

A witness is more than someone who saw something or experienced something. 

A witness is someone with a story. 

A witness is someone with a story to tell. 

Jesus transforms the disciples, transforms the world, transforms us. Jesus brings us into God’s story. Into God’s story of new life, new life given for the sake of the world, new life found in empty tombs where there should only be death. 

By making us witnesses of the Messiah, by making us witnesses to this story of God bringing new life into the world… we are given new life, we are given new meaning and purpose. 

Everything we thought we knew, everything we thought we understood has been changed by Messiah, by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And every week, every Sunday, every Easter morning, Jesus reminds us of this again. Jesus reminds us that that ghosts we cling to will not root us in past, and we no longer will be stuck. 

Jesus has made us witnesses. People tied inextricably to the story of God. People whose purpose is to tell that story to world. 

And Jesus continues to make us witnesses in the word of God that is proclaimed here, in the holy waters that we are washed and claimed in, and in the bread and wine, body and blood of Christ that we share together. Jesus makes us resurrection people, free from the ghosts and the past and given a story to tell. 

Today, Jesus says to us,

I have made you witnesses to resurrection and new life. 

Thomas, Fake News and Resurrection

John 20:19-31

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 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!” (Read the whole passage)

It has been a week since we released the alleluias from their captivity, since we gathered around the story of the empty tomb and pronounced that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed! Easter has come after a long time spent in the wilderness of Lent, after a Holy week where we did holy things like wave palm branches, share in the eucharist and lament at the foot of the cross.

And even though we are now a week into the Easter seaason, we a reminded today of that first Easter day…. the whole 50 days of Easter have been long held up as one great day of celebration of the resurrection.

So we go back to day one, we hear a story from that first Easter day. And it is a familiar one.

Thomas… We always get Thomas on the second Sunday in Easter.

There must be something about this story that we hear it every year.

It begins on the day of the resurrection, the disciples have heard the news of the empty tomb so they are naturally hiding away in fear. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they did watch their teacher and master be executed by the state and now three days later to hear that he has risen from the dead. This probably seems like too much to handle.

So while they are hiding away, Jesus shows up in their midst. He offers them peace… peace after of the chaos of the previous week. He then blesses them and sends them out, reminding them of the mission that he had been preparing them for.

But Thomas wasn’t there.

Perhaps he wasn’t afraid like the others, or maybe he drew the short straw and was sent to the grocery store for some milk.

Regardless, when Thomas returns he hears the news, the story from the others. Jesus has appeared to them. The rumours are true, Jesus has risen from the dead.

But Thomas will not believe.

So often we portray Thomas as some kind of skeptic… almost scientist like. Thomas the crime scene investigator who needs some evidence, some DNA to put under a microscope, some unassailable proof that Jesus is indeed alive. But those are 20th century concerns… not 1st century ones. And in some ways our 21st century world has moved much closer to the Thomas’s 1st century one.

Thomas lived in a world much like ours. Political leaders or dictators ruled cruelly and with fuzzy relationships to the truth. People were desperate for hope, for salvation, for quick fixes. Jesus wasn’t the only healer and miracle worker around. They were a dime a dozen, messiahs on every street corner collecting followers with promises of salvation, promises of revolution, promises of a better life. And most were fake news.

Thomas had heard the crazy stories before, his world was full of them. He knew what fake news sounded like, stories or conspiracies or promises too good to be true.

And after the week that he had just lived through, one where his beloved teacher and friend Jesus had been crucified because of fake news, because of false claims brought against him by the religious authorities and mobs, because of the heartless Romans who knew very well that the charges were false yet executed him anyways… because of all the events of the previous week…. this news that Jesus was alive was probably too much to deal with.

Thomas wasn’t a scientist or crime scene investigator. He was a hurting human being. Someone who was too wounded and grief filled to get his hopes up again for story that was too good to be true.

Because what if he did believe that Jesus was risen from the dead and it turned out to be another false hope…

We have been living in Thomas’s world for a while now. Despite all our technological advancements and progress, we find ourselves in a society where truth and facts are largely irrelevant. Fake news is everywhere. Just the other day I saw a news story about a group of people in the United States who believe that mass shootings are conspiracies. Fuelled by internet conspiracies, this group travels around the country to confront the families of victims of mass shootings… to tell them that their loved ones were not killed and probably never existed in the first place.

Horrific

Of course, not all fake news is so extreme.

A recent survey of Canadians and their perception of climate change revealed that one third don’t believe that human beings have contributed to climate change, and only about half believe that addressing climate change should be a government priority.

And who among us hasn’t received a spam email from a Nigerian prince offering to give pass on a fortune to us.

Christianity isn’t immune from those who peddle fake news or false hope either. Turn on the tv and find any number of prosperity gospel preachers offering miracles, health and wealth all for a modest contribution to their ministry.

We know what Thomas’s world was like, we know that we cannot trust every story we hear out there. We know what it is like for those in power to twist the truth for their advantage, we know what it is like for those who lead our world to lie to us.

It is easy to see that Thomas might be distrustful of a story that seems too good to be true.

And we also know what it is like to have a lot invested in Jesus, to have all our hope and all our faith in the Christ.

Especially having just come through Holy Week ourselves, having been gathering together week after week proclaiming the importance of this story of Jesus’ resurrection… we too know the heartbreak that would come if it turned out to be just fake news.

That heartbreak is exactly what Thomas is guarding himself against. He knows that he just wouldn’t be able to handle getting his hopes up, only to have them crushed all over again.

So when Jesus shows up again, he does so to give Thomas exactly what he needs. Just as he came and stood among the disciples, he comes and stands before Thomas.

And both times, Jesus does something that is so opposite of how our world would choose to spread the news of someone back from the dead.

Jesus begins with peace.

So often Fake News declares, “Look at me!” “Be surprised!” “Be enraged!”

Yet Jesus speaks, “Peace.”

Peace, so that the disciples can see their Risen Lord.
Peace, so that Jesus can break through Thomas’s guarded heart.
Peace, to calm our troubled hearts that need to know Jesus.

And then Jesus offers Thomas his hands and his side.

It is easy to think that it is holes that are important for Thomas to see. The holes in Jesus hands and the holes in Jesus’ side.

But it is the hands that have shared bread with Thomas for years that reach out.
It is the body that has walked and sat and slept next to Thomas that is offered.
It is the flesh of the one whom Thomas loves and follows who breaks through to Thomas’s guarded heart.

Thomas wasn’t looking for evidence of crucifixion and death, Thomas needed to see that Jesus was alive.

And that is what Jesus gives him.

And is what Jesus gives us.

Because Jesus does the same for us. Jesus continually breaks into our fake news world offering peace and life.

Peace to our troubled hearts.
Peace so that we can be calmed down in order to hear God’s promise given to us.
Peace so that we see.

Jesus breaks through to us, through all the stories and people of our world that we are suspicious of, that we know are too good to be true, that we cannot unguard our hearts for.

And Jesus reaches out to us in the hands that share peace with us,
the hands that place the bread and wine into our outstretched hands,
the hands that welcome us here.

And Jesus offers his side,
his body given to us in the bodies of our brothers and sisters
who sing and praise and pray next to us,
the bodies who come to table and receive next to us,
the body of Christ that we eat and share,
the body of Christ that we become.

Jesus has been breaking into our world over and over again, from the empty tomb, to the upper room, to the waters of font, to the table of the Lord.
Jesus breaks through to us in order that our guarded hearts might know Peace.
Jesus break through in order that we see the Christ, God in flesh.

God in wounded flesh, Risen from the dead.

Do not be afraid… Christ has been Raised!

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

This is not the ending of the story that we usually tell. In fact, nothing about the stories from the Gospel of Mark is usual. The Gospel of Mark has never done things the way we expect. Of all the Gospels, Mark is the shortest and perhaps the strangest, expecting things of us, expecting that we will put the pieces together and be moved to a deeper discipleship.

Mark’s Easter story is perhaps the strangest of all.  In the 3 other gospels, we normally here about Jesus appearing to the women and disciples at the empty tomb. Jesus speaks with Mary in the Gospel of John. He bring greetings to all the women in the Gospel of Matthew. In Luke, Jesus meets two of his disciples on the road of Emmaus.

But in Mark there is none of that. And it makes us uncomfortable. And not just us today, but Christians for centuries have been so uncomfortable with Mark’s ending, that they added to it. Hundreds of years later, shorter and longer endings to the Gospel of Mark were added just to try and wrap things up.

So what is it about the Gospel of Mark and his ending that doesn’t sit well with us?

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Failure.

Easter isn’t suppose to be a story of failure. The women hear the good news, they are given clear instructions to tell people about Jesus being risen, and they tell no one.

In fact, this is the story all the way through the Gospel of Mark. The disciples, the ones who are supposed to know and understand who Jesus is what he is about never do. And the people who do know are unreliable. It is unclean spirits and demons who recognize Jesus as God’s son. It is the blind man who never actually sees Jesus who knows he has been healed by the Messiah. All the way through the gospel of Mark, not a single reliable soul figures it out.

But here is the thing, Mark knows that we know that it didn’t end with the women being afraid. We all know the story of the resurrection. We are reading it in Mark’s gospel. We proclaim that Christ is risen from the dead every Sunday we gather for worship, Christians all over the world have been doing so for 2000 years!

So Mark expects that we can figure out that the women didn’t run from the tomb afraid… but Mark is also including us in the story, in the command to go and tell the world of the resurrection. Because if the women are too afraid to speak, that only leaves us, the reader. We are called to be ones who are not afraid to speak.

It is a big calling.

Because it was only on Good Friday that we stood below the cross and we proclaimed that this instrument of torture and violence, of humiliation and death is God’s transformed tool of life.

Because now today at the empty tomb with the women who are too afraid to say anything that we are just as afraid as they were. Afraid to announce this news to world. Afraid of that no one will believe our incredible, unbelievable story.

But this Easter morning and Easter story reminds us something else more than our fear and failure.

We are reminded that it is always in our fears and failures that Christ meets us. It is when we are too weak, too afraid, too focused on ourselves, when we are too much intent on our sin, on our selfishness, that Christ comes and meets us.

There is no Easter without sin and death, there is no resurrection without humanity’s greatest failure, without our trying to be God in God’s place.

And in the midst of our failures, big and small, the Risen Christ meets us. The Risen Christ reveals himself to us and brings us into the new reality of a world where sin and death are no longer the end. Yet still, our fear overcomes us and this new world that God is creating is too much for us. And like the women at the tomb we are too afraid to speak, too afraid to act, too afraid even look at how things are different.

“Do not be afraid, you are are looking for Jesus for Nazareth, who was crucified. Has has been raised.”

Do not be afraid.

Across the old and new testament, these words always precede good news.

Do not be afraid.

And even still the good news can be terrifying.

We stand before an empty tomb today, on this day of the Resurrection. And even when everything is supposed to be perfect, and when death is finally defeated, and Christ is raised from the dead. We are reminded that we still fail. We are reminded that we are still imperfect, sinful and selfish people who are frozen in the face of God’s amazing work in our world.

And we are also reminded again, that it is in our frozen failure that we are met by the Risen Christ.

The Risen Christ who has overcome the cross.

The Risen Christ who has conquered death.

The Risen Christ who has entered in our lives, our joys and our sorrows and has made our life his own.

The Risen Christ who has shown us a new reality, where death is no longer the end, where we are no longer defined by our failures, and where our sin no longer has control of us.

We are met today by the The Risen Christ and we are shown that God’s love for us is alive and there is no place we can go to escape it, and there is no way that would could fail and make God stop loving us.

Even when are afraid to speak a word to anyone, the Risen Christ meets us with the words “Do not be afraid!”

Looking for Jesus in the wrong places

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, …And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (Read the whole passage)

This is our final step along the way in our wilderness journey. We have heard the story of Lazarus, watched as Peter objected to Jesus watching the disciples feet, and then we spent two weeks with Jesus on trial. Today, we hear again a story from Holy Week, but we are not so deep into the story this time. We preview what is coming next Sunday on Palm Sunday. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. They are there for the passover festival. They are there on Sunday, the first day of the week, first day of Holy Week. This piece of John’s gospel takes place just after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It should really be told next Sunday, sometime in the afternoon. But we hear it today, on the last Sunday of Lent, for a reason.

It begins with Greeks. Greek who are from elsewhere. Jews who speak greek because they live in greek lands, far from Jerusalem. And they have come for passover, they have come to have their sins forgiven, they have come to see the great spectacle of Jerusalem at festival time. But the way these greeks approach Philip suggest they are looking for something more, something that is more than entertainment or show.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.

Sir they say to a lowly fisherman. Sir they say a pilgrims wealthy enough to travel far just for a festival.

We wish they say. We hope. We long. We Yearn. We desire. We need. They express their want to see Jesus as wishing. Wishing which implies a need for change, a hope for something different.

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. They want to see and know Jesus. The man who’s name means God Saves. The man who has been healing people, exorcizing unclean spirits, who has been teaching and preaching. The man who raised someone from the dead in Lazarus.

The greeks have come looking for something, someone. And maybe they don’t know what or why or who. But Jesus might fit the bill, fit their need for something deeper, something mysterious, something bigger than themselves.

The polite request by the Greeks to see Jesus is a feeling we know well. We too long for something more. For things to be different. We hope that our lives could be other than the way they are.

As human beings, we have this longing deep within us. We want to know that there is something bigger than us out there and we want to know where we fit in the cosmic order. Churches try all the time to bring this sense of “more” to worshippers.

Some churches search for that sense of euphoria, that spiritual high. Praise songs and hand raising, long sincere prayers and wonderful fellowship.

Others try to bring people closer to God by serving others. Soup kitchens and food banks, giving money to far way countries and for starving orphans.

And still other churches try to show the mystery and grandness of God. With big stone cathedrals, powerful organ music and reverent liturgy.

And indeed all are ways in which God is experienced. We see God in these places.

But that desire to see God also expresses itself in other ways. We look for the divine in buying and consuming things. We look to make ourselves secure and safe from the the things that would harm us or that make us fearful. We seek out power and control over our world and others.

We look for God in all the wrong places. We look to be like God. We look to be God in God’s place. And we do it because of original sin, of that desire within us to ourselves first.

When the Greeks and Philip and Andrew finally get to Jesus, he doesn’t answer their question in a way that any of them expect. He doesn’t offer himself to the greeks, he doesn’t say, “See I am here!”.

As we pass through this final week of Lent, we have been prepared for what is to come. Jesus has gone into the wilderness, Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, he has reminded Peter that there is no share in him unless Jesus washes us clean, Jesus has stood firm in the truth while Peter denied him, and Jesus has confronted the powers of the world in Pilate and in death. Now, after 4 weeks of preparation, four weeks of wilderness, four weeks of having our failing and faults revealed, we are finally ready to ask that question that the greeks ask, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”.

And Jesus points us to a time and place. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It takes a while, but Jesus does answer our longing, our hope, our desire for something different, something bigger than ourselves. But it is not at all in the way we expect. We are longing and hoping for a glimpse of the divine, to see past the veil. We want to see the world as it should be, as we would like it to be. We want the spiritual high, the feeling of gratification after helping someone, the reverence of divine mystery. And instead Jesus gives us a cross. A cross where we will see God.

Imagine if someone came here looking for a church home, looking for some truth bigger than themselves, looking for a place to belong, a place to be fed, a place to meet God, a place to see Jesus. And instead of doing all the things we normally do when a visitor comes seeming interested in us, like giving them a newsletter or a mailbox or pointing them to the pew we know isn’t unofficially saved by a regular… Imagine if we instead simply pointed to the cross.

Imagine if someone said to us,

“We wish to see Jesus.”

And we just turned and pointed at the cross on the wall.

It is absurd.

The cross is an absurd place for God to be found.

Yet the cross is the place where God is revealed.

Yet the cross is the place where Jesus reveals God to the world.

Yet the cross is the place where God is visible to us in plain sight.

And the cross, the place of suffering, humiliation and death is the very place where God gathers all people to Godself.

The cross is the place where we see Jesus.

In just less than two weeks, on Good Friday, the glory of God will be revealed on a cross and no matter what we are looking for, no matter the places the we search, churches, shopping malls, schools, places of work, places of power, places of escape. And on the cross God is making room for all of us beneath it arms. God is gathering us all up to show us that in the least likely of places, God is revealed.

And we will see Jesus. We will see Jesus in all his glory. We will see God changing the world. We will see God changing us.

All we have is a man hanging on a tree

John 18:28-40

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Read the whole passage)

It has been quite the journey through the lenten wilderness. We began not in the wilderness of temptation, but the wilderness of grief, loss and death with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And then we skipped forward to Maundy Thursday with Peter as objected to Jesus’ washing of his feet. Last week, we saw the parallel stories of Peter and Jesus as each was put on trial – where Jesus stood firmly rooted in the face of the moving target of truth, and Peter denied his master and teacher to save his own skin.

These stories have not been the usual stories of Lent – the Narrative Lectionary that we are exploring this winter is taking us through a different lenten wilderness than normal. And today we skip ahead again to that chaotic time between the Last Supper and Crucifixion as Jesus is arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

Today, we go along with Jesus to see Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The crowds and temple authorities demand that Jesus be put to death for the crime of heresy. And the interaction that follows is one we will hear again on Good Friday… as part of the passion. We know where this is heading, each trial, each set of questions marches Jesus and us forward to the cross.

But it is not Good Friday today, we are still in Lent. There are still a few weeks left in our lenten journey. So we hear this story not as just one step on the way to the cross, but rather with lenten ears listening out in the revealing wilderness.

As Pilate and Jesus’ speak today, their exchange is unusual. Unusual in the sense that Pilate’s approach and reaction to Jesus is unlike what has come before. From the moment that Jesus processed into Jerusalem on a donkey, to his arrest and questioning before the temple authorities, the anger and rage against him builds. The crowds and mobs are out for blood, and the temple authorities are stoking the rage in order to rid themselves of a threat to their power.

So when Jesus finally ends up before Pilate, it is the top of the food chain. There is no one in Judea with more power than Pilate. Pilate might answer to Caesar, but Caesar is far away in Rome.

Knowing his power, Pilate seems nothing more than mildly curious about Jesus, if not annoyed by having to deal with someone the local religious zealots call a heretic. Pilate tries to figure out who Jesus is,

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

Not a question of religious doctrine, but a question of political power. Pilate’s concern is whether or not Jesus might represent a threat to peace in Judea. But Jesus turns the question back on Pilate and steers the conversation back to matters of doctrine and faith. Jesus states he is has come into the world to be a king but not an earthly king, and not king of an earthly Kingdom.

Certainly listening to Jesus, Pilate must have wondered why he had been woken from sleep to deal with this guy. Pilate could care less about Jewish religious beliefs, yet here he is dealing with some zealot who claims to be the King of the heavenly kingdom of truth. Pilate probably thought that Jesus was nuts.

“What is truth?” he asks.

Pilate, a good son of the empire, would have been schooled in greek philosophy. He would have believed that truth is not something found in flesh and blood, in the abstract unknowable things of the universe.

But Pilate isn’t debating philosophy. He is dismissing Jesus.

Pilate isn’t asking what truth is, but pointing out Jesus’ predicament,

“What does the truth really matter here buddy, you are about to die.”

It is often the case that we can see ourselves in the people around Jesus. Whether it is disciples who sometimes struggle to get it, people who are in need of healing and reconciliation encountering Jesus, or religious folk who get upset with Jesus as he upsets our ways to doing things.

But Pilate’s apathy and dismissal of Jesus is probably not something we easily see ourselves in. Yet, there is something familiar about it.

As Pilate seems to be asking Jesus, “Why does any of this matter, what good will it be to you when you are dead?” we know what it is like to be asked that question.

As 21st Century Christians, our world has been pushing back on us with that question for a while now. And just as Jesus appeared like a nut to Pilate, Christians too have begun to seem a bit nutty to a lot of the world.

Whether it is the culture wars over morality questions that the rest of the world seems to have settled, like gender roles, abortion, same-sex marriage and so on. Or whether it is our propensity over the past decades to condemn and judge non-believers. Or whether it is how many Christians these days have abandoned all those strongly held beliefs in order to cozy up to power…

And while we as Lutherans night not identify with that kind of Christianity, our credibility is equally challenged when it comes to the core parts of our faith, like Jesus being God, and the resurrection and salvation.

The world is saying just as much to us as any Christian group, “Why does any of that stuff matter, what good is it to you when you are dying?”

It is easy for us to wonder what our role in the world is anymore. It is easy for us to feel as though this faith of ours has no impact, that we are gathering together in order to proclaim things that no one cares about.

And all of a sudden, this lenten wilderness journey of ours, the one that strips back all the covers that hide our flaws and failings finally reveals to us our own questioning, our own doubts, our own apathy. If the world says that our message, our truth doesn’t matter because we are dying… maybe all the trouble we go to believing this stuff isn’t worth it. Maybe Pilate is right.

Pilate tries to send Jesus away, to make him disappear, to suggest that those overly religious jews should stop caring about this guy who claims to be king of a heavenly kingdom.

But mobs and religious authorities won’t allow it…. they want blood. And they will have it.

Jesus doesn’t respond to Pilate’s question, but they both know that this situation is leading towards one end.

Jesus’ silence is an answer to Pilate’s dismissive comment,

“What does this truth matter if you are going to die.”

It is as if Jesus is saying,

“The truth matters precisely because I am going to die.”

In fact, it is what Jesus has been saying all along.

He is going to die for the truth.

And Jesus is going to die because everything is going to die.
Pilate, the mobs, the disciples.
The Jews, the Romans.
All humanity and all creation.
All of it is going to die.

The truth matters precisely because Jesus is on the way to the cross.

The truth of God’s love and mercy and grace given to dying people, given to a dying creation.

The power of death that the mobs and temple authorities cry out for.
The power of death that Pilate holds over Jesus’ head.
The power to kill that is humanity’s greatest power… isn’t really power at all.
The power to kill isn’t truly power when we are all dying anyways.

But God’s mercy.
But God’s forgiveness.
But God’s love.
But God’s life.

That is the truth that matters.

Because, as Martin Luther said, all we truly have is a man hanging on a tree.

Because the only thing that means something to the power of death, is the new life that God brings into the world.

So what is truth, even when we are dying?
It is truth of empty tombs and terrified women.
It is the truth of fearful disciples meeting their master behind locked doors.
It is the truth of lost and lonely followers recognizing the risen One in the breaking of the bread.

And on the days when we almost might agree with Pilate, when we feel like giving up to a world that doesn’t think we matter.

Jesus reminds us that the church is dying indeed.
And that we are dying, and the world is dying.

But Jesus reminds us of the only truth that matters,
The only truth that means anything to a dying world,
The truth revealed to us in the Lenten wilderness.
The truth of God’s mercy and absolution given to sinners like us.
The truth of God’s Word of life proclaimed to the walking dead like us.
The truth of Christ’s body given to a dying a church like us.

What is truth?

Christ crucified and dead with us, with all of creation.
And Christ risen and alive with us, making all creation new.