Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's it like there? Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35

%th Sunday of Easter Year C
Salvation came into the world. He name is Jesus. When Jesus came, the timeless God who is always one with the father, entered into our world. Some people followed him. He healed, many rejoiced. He taught, others rejected him. He was crucified and rose from the dead. The story of God entering into our time and space teaching, healing, dying, and rising is the core of our faith.
As Christians we look back to the words passed on by Jesus earliest followers. We read the ancient words of the first Christians and have opportunity to hear their stories about Jesus and the things they heard him speak.
Listening today we hear a very real invition from Jesus to his first hearers, and to us today to live now, here on this earth in our time, acting out of love. Our human experience is always limited. We're mortals afterall and the very real boundaries of space and time are hard and fixed, for us. Any cemetary will testify clearly about human limitations. In Jesus we meet the very real God who chose to enter into time and space as we know it and who left our earth returning to the father.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:33-35 NRSV
I give thanks today because God's not limited by such simple boundaries like we are. Acting out of love doesn't make us into little gods. Loving as God love us connects us with our fellow creatures as God intends. When we believers act out of love for one another and act with compassion towards our neighbors everyone can see that we are Jesus disciples. I give thanks that God has a plan to make all things new.
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” Revelations 21:3-4 NRSV

May God help us to live in faith and hope and love until he makes all things new. AMEN.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jesus knows his own John 10:22-20

People in Jesus day were hoping and wondering if Jesus was the one. The people of Israel wanted the Messiah. Some came to Jesus boldly,

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10:24 NRSV
The question shows real chutzpah. Jesus healed and taught about a Kingdom; but he wasn't acting like the Messiah they wanted. The people had suffered greatly but still had hope. Living on hope isn't easy; but it can be done. Studs Terkel, a great observer of American life wrote Hope Dies Last and in many ways he's right: hope is fragile, but it sticks around. The people wanted to know if they could stop waiting for their day to come.

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, John 10:25-26 NRSV

Jesus is hope. But the people hoped he would take power. Jesus' actions and words convinced many God's kingdom had come. Others were unmoved. Jesus told them--they didn't believe. Jesus works, done in the father's name, didn't create faith in everyone. Jesus doesn't resolve the doubts. Instead he named the conflict. "You don't believe."

We mistakenly think that belief and unbelief are human matters. Bill Hybels' sermon on Ephesians 1 Who Chooses Whom (October 18, 2009) is a great walk through this issue. God's will and how we understand it is a theological minefield that's divided churches. Reading the scripture challenges our assumptions. Jesus spoke about the people as if they were sheep either chosen or left out of the flock. He said clearly,
...but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:26-29 NRSV.
Our place in the kingdom isn't that of the shepherd. We are the sheep blessed by God's protection not by our will to enter God's kingdom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conversion or Forgiveness Paul in Acts 9:1-20 and Peter in John 21:1-19

I've been pondering what it means to say that Paul had a conversion in Acts 9. For many years I assumed that Paul had converted to a new faith on the Damascus road. After all the word “conversion” appears as a heading for Acts 9 in many bibles. Then I heard a podcast by Mark Goodacre (I think he teaches at Duke).

Goodacre asks some provocative questions to start about the narrative form of Luke Acts that seemed off target; but as I listened he really got into the meat of the Damascus Road story and the times when Paul shares some about that experience in Acts 16, Acts 23, and Galatians 1.

Paul was not converted from one faith (Judaism) to another (Christianity). Paul, according to Goodacre, is clear in his writing and speeches that he remained a Jew. He didn't let go of that identity in order to follow Jesus; quite the opposite he clung to his Judaism as he declared Jesus both to Jews and Gentiles.

So if Paul wasn't converted from one faith to another or from belief in the one true God who spoke through the prophets then what happened to him?

Maybe you think Goodacre is just splitting hairs. Or maybe he's asking a vital question about how we explain Paul's experience, and, in turn Peter's experience and our own experiences of God. Both Peter and Paul found themselves in opposition to God. Peter denying Jesus and Paul openly fighting Jesus. And Jesus forgave them both (even before they asked or were properly contrite) and called them to new lives.

Maybe ther better word to describe what happened to Paul in Acts 9 and to Peter after meeting Jesus in John 21:1-19 is forgiveness. Rather than conversion to new faith I believe they experienced the radical end and new beginning that comes through God's forgiveness.

Gerhard Forde, one of the great theologians to come out of Starbuck, Minnesota wrote about the cross and resurrection as a radical experience of God in which the old Adam and the old human order dies. He asked simply, “Will I survive forgiveness?”1 Looking at Peter and Saul it seems like the two had to die to themselves in order to live in Christ.

Maybe we have domesticated the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps we have so disconnected it from the cross and resurrection that we don't see either the radical cost in Jesus body and blood and the radical end to self that comes in God's forgiveness. What does it mean to say that we must die to ourselves and rise anew in Christ? Dr. Forde wrote,

We fear such talk of death and resurrection because we fear the loss of continuity. Is there not continuity between the old and the new person? Is there not something to carry us across? It is a real and serious question. But it is the same sort of question that one should address to the cross. What was the death into which Jesus entered? Was he assured continuity? The question is of the sort one must ask about forgiveness. “Will I survive forgiveness?” I may take it, perhaps, as old Adam and abuse it, use it as license, presume upon it, preserving myself, my continuity. Forgiveness itself will turn into a poison if it does not bring that death and resurrection. It cannot be mixed with such continuity. Such talk of continuity may be used just to protect us from death. But we have no need to fear. He has died for us. To believe that means to believe that my continuity is now entirely in him.

So perhaps instead of calling this Paul's conversion I will now call Acts 9 God's Forgiveness of Paul. The old Paul didn't survive God's forgiveness. The old Peter in John 21 didn't survive either. Instead they rose to new life in Christ surrendering their own to offer everything up for God.

1Gerhard Forrde “Seventh Locus, the Work of Christ.” page 1-100 in Braaten & Jensen Christian Dogatics Volume II. (Philadelpia: Fortress, 1984) page 96.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The room where fear met hope John 20:19-31

Fear and hope met together in the same room 2000 years ago. Jesus friends were living in fear when they met hope embodied in the person of Jesus.

The fear was thick enough for everybody in the room to feel it that day. It was fear that brought them upstairs to a locked room. And Jesus inexplicably stepped into the midst of this fear bound gathering. God does the same today. He meets us in our fears. He meets us in the hopeless moments.

The disciples knew fear on Good Friday

  • they were afraid that they might be next to die just like Jesus had just died.

  • they worried that they might have followed the wrong guy

  • because they had given up their own lives and their own reputations to follow Jesus.

The Easter Sunday evening meeting Jesus was a meeting that could only be imagined in hope. Jesus met his friends and greeted them with a word of peace. They heard him and they had hope; but they were still in fear. They told Thomas the news but he thought it was simply too good. “...he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

The next week hope came again in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He came into a room locked because of fear. He again greeted his friends with peace and invited Thomas to touch him and know it was really him.

Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:27-29

Jesus was there for all to see. The marks of the nails gave evidence of his suffering and death; but his words and actions were proof that resurrection had happened. Jesus came with the evidence of death; but his life was contrary. His followers come with the evidence of fear, but in Christ we meet hope who overcomes our fears calling us from death into life.