Resurrection

Trust the Process

The salvation of our souls is a process. Paul describes it this way, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). There is a death process, where we release our hold on the things of this world. There is also a mysterious life process, or resurrection. We have to trust that these two processes are linked. If we let go, we also take on. The dying can be an old selfish way of seeing the world. I might have been raised with racial stereotypes or with a competitive attitude about life. If I can let go, God has a process that will fill me with love for others.

I find myself thinking of a caterpillar spinning a cocoon and beginning their transition to butterfly-ness. The caterpillar has to trust the metamorphosis process. Why should he let go of his old life? He was happy feeding his face, munching across the magnolia leaf. Every butterfly that we encounter has made the same choice, to let go of their old life and trust the process. Do we have the courage of this little worm?

Often our default approach to life is to doubt and to be impatient. We know that there is a process for everyone to share the road. If we follow the traffic laws, we can arrive safely at our destination. Yet we speed. If we encounter a detour or construction, we swear. We start looking for ways to use parking lots and shoulder lanes to get ahead of everyone else. The opposite of trusting the process is to look for questionable ways to obtain our own ends. We break the rules. We circumvent processes put in place to help everyone.

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Pentecost 7

Friendship and Risk

Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane. 

I suspect that Jesus has known these people from childhood. I am currently working on a novel about this friendship titled “Bethany’s People” (look for it in Lent of 2018). John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ habit to stay there. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017
Lent 5

Accepting Mystery

One of my favorite paintings is Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”  Thomas is shown sticking his finger fully into the risen Christ’s side. You look closely at the painting (if you dare) and the finger is literally under a flap of Jesus’ skin. But, what I have sometimes failed to see because I am intrigued by Jesus willingness to be examined, is that two other disciples are leaning in, watching what Thomas is doing. Perhaps they, too, have incredulity.

 

That word, incredulity, is well chosen for the painting. We rarely use the word today. Instead we often say that a situation is “incredible,” that is, the thing itself lacks believability. It has a credibility problem. This can be said about a book by Steven King or a movie about Harry Potter. The work has a problem. We don’t trust it. Fiction is supposed to be credible. It is enough to make an author pull his hair out!

 

Sunday, April 3, 2016
Easter 2

The New Reality

There is strange contrast between Matthew’s telling of the first Easter and John’s. For John, seeing the miracles of Jesus requires faith. In each of John’s so called ‘signs,’ two people stand side by side seeing the same thing, and one believes and the other doesn’t. Like the wedding of Cana, the servants who pour the water that has become wine, believe and see. The master of the feast doesn’t see and thinks that some strange trick has been done, causing the best wine to come last. So John tells every miracle, dividing the seeing and believing from the merely confused. But in Easter, which is the grand conclusion, John gives us two people who see nothing, and yet, both believe.

 

Sunday, April 20, 2014
Easter Day
Holy Week

Really Believing

We don’t know when Jesus begins his friendship with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. I suspect (and have written it into my novel, “Bethany’s People”) that they’ve known each other since before Jesus was in ministry. John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’habit to stay there. 

    This is a poor village, and Lazarus’family connects with Jesus on a gut level. They know the disparity between the rich and prestigious, in their upper quarter of the city, and those who live near the dung gate or out on edge of the Negeb in Bethany (House of Poverty). Jesus did his ministry in Galilee just outside the posh Tiberias, but never going inside the place.

    Such friendship precedes faith. You have to believe that Jesus shares your pain before you can believe that he is Messiah. Many people have a fact-based, I-believe-it-because-I-was-taught-it, belief in Jesus. The Gospels never show Jesus asking for this kind of belief. He instead, looks for those who will be intimate with him. The reason we have communion as frequently as we do, is because friends eat together. Wedding services have ritual to represent this fact, both in the cutting of the wedding cake and in the serving of communion. Martha cooks, and Jesus eats there as often as he can.

Sunday, April 6, 2014
Lent 5
Communion

What's It Like Not to Die?

+ Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... + + Therefore my heart is glad... because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead +

The good news is, death has been conquered! We shall not sleep away into dust and forgotten-ness. We shall share the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament provides some good places to reinforce the Easter message that people forget long before the dog days of summer. My favorite is Job 19:23-27:

 

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!”

 

Then, there is the story of Elijah being carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-14). Because Elijah does not die, he is allowed to make a cameo appearance in the New Testament. I feel it is my duty in preaching to stitch the New and Old components of the Bible back together. Many in our churches have fallen into the Marcion heresy of dismissing the Old Testament and its, supposedly, wrathful Hebrew god. Such Gnostic gibber-jabber is running amok in today’s church and preventing people from grasping the full joy and mystery of the Gospel we proclaim.

 

Sunday, June 30, 2013
Pentecost 7

How do I get to Heaven?

The Lord is my shepherd..

I did it again this past week. I quizzed a class of lifelong Methodists (average age 67) on how to get into heaven. One said she didn’t know, but hoped she that was doing OK. Two or three others nodded, as if to speak of our blessed assurance would be a sin of pride. One woman ventured to give the answer that she had been taught, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Yes,” I said, “But does that mean believing anything in particular, like the color of his eyes?” 

 

We had been studying Psalm 23, how the Lord is our Shepherd. I wanted them to see how deeply relational this favorite scripture is. It begins by saying that our relationship with God is not based upon believing certain things. We don’t have to say the Apostles’ Creed to get into heaven. Instead the relationship is what it is. No sheep ever thinks too deeply about how he ended up in this particular flock. Each believer speaks of a grace that they did not earn. The Lord is my shepherd, don’t ask me how I lucked into it. I wanted my class of good Methodists to answer that getting into heaven was a matter of having a relationship with Jesus.

 

Sunday, April 21, 2013
Easter 4

What's in it for God?

What gain is it if I go down to the pit. Can the dust praise God?

Psalm 30 asks The Question, bluntly. If God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:27) and we experience our relationship with God as an interaction of respected individuals, then how would it benefit God to simply let us die? The whole of the Bible, and particularly Psalm 30, describes the human condition as a series of strange, beautiful, and often painful events, which only receive meaning when we gain spiritual eyes. When we are able to see, we look back on each moment of trouble and see how it connected us on a personal level with God. Life is a tale told by an idiot, unless God whispers into our ear the translation of each word. 

 

So in verse 1, David is suffering exile, defeat, and humiliation. The only thing that allows this wilderness to have meaning is the fact that God hears and lifts this measly struggling individual out of the muck. In verse 2, David is sick and God doesn’t just mumble a prayer for all who are on beds of affliction. God, in a specific action, heals David. In verse 5, David has done something that offends this friend. Like any tiff between two closely related persons, there is a period of disfavor. David is sleeping in the spiritual dog house. But in the next morning, all is forgiven. David sings, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.” Not every depressing event is solved by a miracle, but every downturn of life is given its meaning by the way it builds David’s on going relationship with God.

Sunday, April 14, 2013
Easter 3

What would Lazarus say to Thomas

The disciples said to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” John 20:25

The day after Easter and everyone is talking about somebody who broke their leg and baseball’s opening day. What have you been talking about this week? I have to confess that I have been meandering through the mundane, mostly. Mary Magdalene has been on my mind, however. She doesn’t ‘bury the lead,’ like one Easter sermon that I heard. She doesn’t talk about the little resurrections that we experience every day or how spring feels Easter-like. She says, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

 

So let’s talk about the dead that we have seen. We should start with Jesus. How have you seen him alive in our life? Name the time that you knew that you knew. Name also the people, officially dead, but you know to be alive and plan to see again when you get to have your own resurrection. 

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Easter 2
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