Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wait for Power From On High

Luke 24:13-49 is a three scene story of the risen Jesus surprising his friends.

Scene 1
The story starts with two of the disciples walking towards Emmaus. They walked and talked together about what happened in Jerusalem. It must have been quite a conversation.
A man joined with them in the journey and conversation. They told this stranger about what had happened to Jesus, his crucifixion and the reports of his resurrection. The stranger told them what the prophets said and reminded them what Jesus said.

Scene 2
When the 3 came to Emmaus the 2 disciples looked for a place to eat. They asked to stranger to join them. He looked as if he'd head on down the road but they persuaded him to come eat with them.
When the stranger broke bread they recognized him. He was Jesus. And just as fast as they recognized him he was gone. The two friends were alone; but they both were sure they'd just seen their risen lord.

Scene 3
The two returned immediately to Jerusalem to share the news. The others had already heard the news from Peter. In the middle of their discussions Jesus appeared saying, "Peace be with youth." The friends pushed back in fear, but Jesus reached out towards them showing his hands and side offering his friendship not his condemnation for their fear and worry.
Jesus was there asking for something to eat telling them everything about his ministry and what he came to do. He opened their minds helping the see what God was up to in the resurrection. And he gave them an instruction: wait in the city until the Father sends what he's promised and you are clothed on high.

There are so many hooks and turns to this story that its always fun to tell. Experience teaches that Jesus is often present even if he's unrecognized. The promise revealed in the Emmaus Journey is that God's actions don't need our faith before they can happen; sometimes what God does moves us to believe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fear, Doubt, and Jesus' Faithfulness in John 20:19-31

Every year, the week after Easter, many churches (which use Revised Common Lectionary) traditionally read one story from John's Gospel about Jesus' friend, Thomas. And year after year seminarians, retired pastors, and associate pastors stand up to talk about their belief and unbelief.

To be honest I've been preaching about this one text on the Sunday after Easter for more years than I've been a pastor. There's something marvelous in this one story. Year after year this story of faith and fear just pops out right after Easter inviting us to look at the 11 surviving Apostles in their fear, Thomas in his doubts, and Jesus in his risen glory.

Thomas' story is so familiar that it's not hard to relate to him more and more over time. Last year in a post in this blog I pleaded for people to stop beating up on him. Its easy to accuse Thomas, but real faith involves doubts and outright disbelief.

We doubt God more often than we care to admit. We don't believe what our friends and the Word of God say is true about God's power and presence in the world in our Risen Lord Jesus. There's something greater going on than human belief or unbelief in John 20:19-31—God's, or more particular Jesus, is even when we are faithless. The wonder of Easter continues as Jesus reaches out for all his friends to show them that he has risen. The promise of Easter is life in the face of death; even when we fail to believe.

God is faithful. This promise is found in all the reading this Sunday after Easter. Its the news that Thomas (and all who doubt one day and believe the next) experience as true when they meet the risen Christ. Not all will believe in what they read or hear about God or even in their own experience of God in the world. John wrote simply,

Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of his followers that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you may have life through his name. John 20:30-31 NCV

There's a promise that's found in all of our readings today – God is faithful. It's the promise that keeps the church alive even when we doubt God is faithful.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Seeing Signs and Telling the Story John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Each New Testament writer emphasized different parts of Jesus' life and ministry. But two key parts of the story remain in all 4 gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelations: Jesus died and rose. There were many differences in how the story was told, even in the early church, but the elemental parts of the story, Jesus' dying on a cross and rising, are clear.

There's a great choice to make this week; which Gospel story do you want to tell, John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10. Both tell of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week; but then the stories diverge. Matthew writes dramatically of an earthquake striking when the stone was rolled away, of fear that paralyzed the guards, and an angel appearing like lightening before Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene and another Mary. John tells of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb and finding it empty. She ran to find Simon Peter and a the beloved disciple and tell them what she'd seen. Simon Peter came and saw the tomb and left. Mary stood behind weeping and Jesus met her and asked, "Why are you weeping?"

There are real differences in these stories. Matthew emphasizes the supernatural breaking into our world in powerful ways. John emphasizes God breaking in in more subtle, yet equally surprising and deeply personal ways. Knowing these differences its still clear that the basic parts of the story are the same. These primary details have been passed down for 2000 years in different retellings and remain the same today, "Jesus died and rose." 2000 years haven't made the story any more believable or practical; the foolishness of the cross and resurrection remain our hope and our life.

Each Christian's life is a unique experience of death and resurrection. We die daily with Christ and we are reminded in the church and through the Word of God's power over death. Last fall I attended a presentation Dr. Craig Satterlee Homiletics professor at some Lutheran school of theology in Chicago. He encouraged the preachers in his audience journal in preparation for Easter listing all the signs of the resurrection that we've seen in the past year.

In my other blog, Unlikely Banter, I've listed one in particular is the story of Shelby who has recovered much, but not all of her life, after her now deceased husband's attempt to kill her. There were prayers said in our church and others for her and today she is a sign that God is still in the death and life business.

In another post in this blog I wrote about working at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs Mississippi in support of those whose lives were upset by Hurricane Katrina. There are stories to tell about resurrection in our time. There are gifts to share that help reveal the kingdom of God not as a maybe could be someday reality but as a here and now reality. The church is at its best when we live like resurrected people ready to go out knowing Christ is with us every step of the way.

The story of Jesus is the center of being Christian. Some say its elemental to our culture; but I disagree. Our cultures celebrations of Jesus in Easter and Christmas have been lost under the veneers of a bunny and a jolly elf. Thats why telling the elemental story that Jesus died and rose is what matters. Don't fuss about the details and the differences between Matthew and John on Easter Sunday. Our kids are worried about eggs, bunnies and candy; so tell them and their parents something even sweeter and even better. Tell them the key story, he died and rose. And even better tell them where you've seen signs that it is really happening today.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Palm Sunday Preaching vs. reading the passion Matt 21:1-11, 26:1-27:66

Over the last two years the church I serve hasn't had a full on sermon on Palm Sunday and there won't be one this weekend either. Instead, for the last 2 years, there's been a small preface that precedes the reading of the passion. This year Isaiah's words about as servant who gave himself freely (Isaiah 50:4-9) will serve as our preface. We'll move straight into the reading from there.

This year's passion comes from Matthew. Augsburg/Fortress publishes a nifty Passion According to Matthew as well as congregational readings of the passion from Mark and Luke.
It might be too late to order them for this year; but the power of such a reading is to great to ignore.

Palm Sunday is one of the great moments to recognize and even emphasize the dialectic nature of our faith. We are at, the same time, the saints redeemed by Christ and the sinners who crucified him. This isn't a half and half kind of proposition. We are, as Luther put it simultaneously sinners and saints.

What happens on Palm Sunday is no simple juxtaposition of some joy with some suffering. There is real tension in each of us. We both cheer for Jesus arrival, waving palms and shouting hosanna, and cry out for his blood if we read the passion. There's not a half of me who cheers and a half who cries out "Let him be crucified." The whole me cheers, and the whole me cries out for the blood of the innocent.

In a reading of the passion we hear ourselves in the place of Peter promising to go to the end with Jesus and denying him 3 times in the same night. In the passion we see most clearly who we are. We want to meet Jesus, because in meeting him we have new life; and we dread the day when we do meet Jesus, because we must die to sin and to ourselves in order to live. Cheering with Palms in hand and reading the passion gives us the full opportunity to do both.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Life Comes from God Ezekial 37:1-14 John 11:1-45

Dry bones laid in a valley. The prophet Ezekiel was led by God back and forth among the bones. It would have been a haunting place to wander even if God had called you there. God asked the prophet a question,

"Son of man, can these bones live?"
I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Ezekiel 37:3 NIV
God asked the question and Ezekiel responded in faith. God alone knows the potential for life after death for anything in creation.

In John 11 two sisters grieved over their brother. They believed that if Jesus had been there their beloved, Lazarus, wouldn't have died but would have been made whole. Jesus came to weep with them; then he did a new thing. He called for the stone to be moved and he called for Lazarus to come out. And the man covered in grave clothes and smelling of decay got up. The power of life to come after death is God's alone to share.

God gave Ezekiel a new vision of bones rising and life returning where death had been in charge before. The prophet spoke for God a word of new hope and new knowledge of God's power,
They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. Ezekiel 37:11-13
There's a yearning to know the full power of God. Both in Ezekiel's vision of the bones and in Lazarus' death the only way to know the full power of God over death is to go through death and be brought to new life. We can't escape our mortality by our faith; but we believe that we will see our perishable bodies replaced with the imperishable ones.