The Summons II

24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[a] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 10:24-39 NRSV)

Last week, Jesus summoned us to the harvest.  He announced that the “harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:37b-38 NRSV)

Be careful what you pray for.  You just might be the solution.  As were the disciples.  The news that we’re the laborers for the harvest is uncomfortable, indeed.

Our names are called along with those 12 motley disciples who Jesus commissioned to be Apostles.  Simon Peter, the denier.  The one who specialized in Public Relations — what we do must not look bad.  Eventually Jesus has to tell him, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Andrew, James and John. fishermen.  Two of them left their father behind in order to join up with Jesus.  They understand what it means to love Jesus more than family.

Matthew, who had colluded with the Romans as a tax collector.  Simon the Zealot who fought against the Roman Empire.

Judas.  The one who betrayed Jesus.

These are the people Jesus chose.  And we’re the ones he chooses today.

Last week he began his Apostleship 101 Class.  Pack light.  Bring healing and grace with you.  Let God provide what you need — don’t get wrapped up with matters of safety.

Today, Jesus continues his teachings on discipleship and apostleship.  The student is no better than the teacher any more than the laborer earns more than the boss.  Be like the teacher, though.  But, don’t expect more than the him.  People have berated Jesus for 2,000 years.  Don’t expect anything better.

What Jesus is teaching in his small class will be out in the light of day.  He warns them, and us, that we’ll be bullied and booed.  But, remember.  They may hurt you.  They may even break your heart.  But, they can’t break your soul.  Only God is capable of that.

But, that won’t happen.  Just look at God’s love for His creation.  Sparrows abound and we sell them for pennies.  Yet God knows each and every one of them.  Not a one dies that God doesn’t know about.  How  much more is your worth to God?  God’s got your back!

Life isn’t nice and easy.  Life is made up of choices and consequences.  Evil exists.  People do bad things and make poor decisions.  Stand up for Jesus.  Stand up for that which is Christ-like, even though it may be unpopular, even costly.

Take courage.  Jesus has your back!

So, if life is difficult, know that Jesus’ way is not easy and comfortable.  Loving Jesus more than family is part of the summons.  As important as families are, Jesus must come first.

Everything else comes second to God.  Family, career, money, life itself.  When we chase after these things, we put up barriers to God and we lose ourselves.

Can you hear the master’s voice calling you?  It’s a firm call but one that must be heard over the noise of life, despite our restless hearts.  A summons to allow worldly treasures to take second chair.  A summons that speaks to us in spite of joys and sorrows.

Yet, when we hear his voice and follow, something happens: an indescribable joy that our lives and our talents and gifts are useful, even necessary, to God’s purpose.  An awe inspiring joy when we realize that we can make a difference in the kingdom.

That joy remains with us, even when we are questioned, bullied, or even martyred.  Joy at serving Jesus takes precedence over everything else, even bringing salt and spice and perfume to our lives because we find our authentic selves.

We live and move and have our being because Jesus called and we listened and followed.

So, disciple of the Master.  When you are “sent out,” to where and to whom do you bring grace?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


The Summons I

Matthew 9:35-10:23

So much work. So little time.

Jesus moves through one city or village after another. All he sees is need. He heals one and five more get in line. Life is hard under Roman rule, especially for the occupied Jews. Tired and ready for rest, Jesus looks up and sees trouble and sickness.

I can hear him commenting to some of his disciples near by, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray for help.”

I think I know what he means. And I wonder if you also understand.

The church has seen decline since 1965. Mega Churches have stepedping into the breach; new faith communities have begun to reach out to a variety of needs; some of the mainline churches have managed to remain relevant in this new age. Still, we see too much poverty and disease; the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor; rage and antagonism that leads to hurt, even killing.

Jesus hits on a creative solution.  His disciples have been watching, probably helping.  It’s time to send them out.  So, he designates 12 men, and promotes them to apostles (“sent ones.”)  He commissions them, possibly with a laying on of hands.  He gives them authority over unclean spirits and to heal disease and sickness.  No mention of evangelizing.  No plan for growing the church.  No altar calls.  Just get out there and heal.

First, they’ll need some training.  Start close to home, by working only with the house of Israel.  Don’t pack a suitcase.  You won’t need it.  Time is of the essence, so get to work.  God will provide folks to feed and house you.  And remember.  No matter how great the job and the awesome works you perform, some will come after you.  Others will reject you.  Shake it off.  Move on.

I believe we’re summoned today to do the same.  We are commissioned to heal and cast out demons and set people free.  Though I’ve heard that exorcists and faith healers exist, I’m not one of them.  All I can do is pray and reach out, depending on the Holy Spirit for words to express healing and love.

Can we do more than that?  Yes, prayer is powerful.  More powerful than we can imagine.  But, Jesus needs us to be out there, as well.  Where do we begin?

Maybe by pointing out that which is toxic.  Rage that leads to killing.  Hatred of those who don’t look like us.  Lies and deceit.  Point to it while affirming that God is already at work, healing and curing.

Maybe by being aware of those who live in the tombs of illness, abuse, and pain. Of depression and anxiety and worry.  Affirm God’s resurrection power.  Allow the Holy Spirit to speak through you.

Maybe we can connect with the untouchables: those in poverty, who are mentally ill, who are diseased.  Remind us that God intends for all of us to be in community, not just a few.  There are no outcasts in God’s kingdom.

Most of all, be aware of evil and its power, even as we sing praises to God who is more powerful than any evil we may encounter.

Sound easy? No, it’s hard.  It requires us to travel light and keep alert.  It means that we focus on those who God causes to cross our path and we say or do what we feel compelled to say or do.  After all, those may be the words and actions of the Spirit.

Don’t be surprised at who crosses your path.  None of us can say that we don’t ever feel toxic rage or hate or feel anxious and depressed.  Many of us have been struck with an illness that kept us separated from others for long periods of time.  And we need only turn on our TV’s and radios to know that evil and its power exist.  Sometimes we are the ones who reach out and some days we need someone to reach out to us with the reminder that God’s got this.  Whatever it is.

Jesus calls us and sends us out.  That’s the heart of Christianity: that we are saved by grace through faith and then we go into the world to proclaim it.  We are disciples who sit at the Master’s feet and we are apostles, the “sent ones” who see illness and evil and abuse and pain for what it is.  And we state with utter confidence that, “God’s got this!”  Even this.

Now here’s the question and the charge: Jesus is summoning you.  Yes, you.

How will you respond?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


God, the Creator

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

As the year 1968 came to a close, it was with deep sadness and grief.  It had been a difficult year for Americans: the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the escalation of the Vietnam War; and civil unrest across college and university campuses.  The gift on Christmas Eve that year was unlike any other.

If you were alive on Christmas Eve, 1968, you may have heard the Apollo 8 astronauts’ (Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders) live broadcast from lunar orbit.  We viewed pictures of Earth and the moon as seen from lunar orbit and Jim Lovell remarked, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” And then the crew took turns reading Genesis 1.

As we attended Christmas Eve worship to celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace, many of us felt hope and awe and peace.

Dr. Edgar Mitchell became the sixth human to walk on the moon’s surface as part of the 1971 Apollo 14 mission.  This is what he reported back,

“Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery.  It takes more than moment to fully realize this is Earth…home.”  (http://friendsofsilence.net/quote/2009/03/suddenly-behind-rim-moon)

When God created the heavens and the earth, God had a plan.  It was a plan that required creativity, imagination and love.  Because, this was a special project.  God’s breath hovered over the waters, like God’s Spirit overshadowed Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus.  Creation occurred in steps, not at one time.  Not even in one day.

First, the habitat was created: light and dark; day and night.  Then the sky to separate waters above from the waters below.  And finally, land and plants.  God stood back and said, “Yes!  That’s good!  Now we’re ready.”

Light appeared in the form of stars and sun and moon.  Not static light, though.  Light that  would assist us in knowing seasons and days and years.  Then the birds and creatures from the sea.  And finally, God’s ultimate triumph: animals and humans.  “Yes!  That’s good!  Now we’re ready.”

It must have been an amazing sight.  God’s breath hovering over the waters; the crashing noise of water separated from water; the booming movement of water to expose land; the silence of night; the eruption of the sun.  Fish swam through the beautiful blue waters or thrashed their way up the rapids to spawn.  Birds flew overhead looking for nesting material; larger birds dive-bombing for food.

Did God laugh with delight?  You bet ya!  God laughed and delighted and spent time enjoying each day of creation.  Without God there was no life.

Did God create a rigid and mechanical world?  Not at all.  God had a plan based on love that is flexible.  This creation would be sustainable and strong and delicate and fragile all at the same time.

God spent three days of eternity designing and plotting and organizing a place for stars and sun and moon and animals and plants of every kind.  God’s ultimate creative activity, though, was you and I.

The Psalmist writes in the 8th Psalm, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Ps 8:3-4 NRSV)

Edgar Mitchell said it just as eloquently as he stood on the moon watching the Earth rise: “It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth…home.”

This is creation.  The beginning of us.  The beginning of covenant with God.  In that covenant we were told to be fruitful and multiply and to take care of God’s lesser creatures.  We were given dominion, not domination.

And here’s where the debate begins.  We have numerous theories: that creation happened in exactly six days; that the earth isn’t billions of  years old but only 5,000 to 6,000 years old; that Jesus’ return is imminent therefore we don’t have to worry about how we care for the earth; that we are evolved from chimpanzees; that the earth was formed from the Big Bang Theory; that someone had to be there to light the match.

I know what I believe.  And I know that others disagree with me.  At the same time, I wonder if we might agree on this: that God created an amazing world with amazing creatures that we’re still discovering today.  That God formed all of this in order to be in relationship with us, who keep getting it wrong even as we continue to receive God’s cup of grace.  That God isn’t done, yet.

God isn’t finished with the creative process.  God isn’t finished with us.  God is still at work surprising us with revelations of beauty and laughter and new things available to us every day.

So, whether the world ends today or thousands of years hence, don’t be shy about loving and caring for this planet in any way you can.  Don’t be afraid to listen to others before making an informed decision.

Most of all, embrace this God who is still active in the world.  And look at those pictures of earth from space and wonder in awe about this “sparkling blue and white jewel…” The one we call home.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Who Do We Worship?

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[a] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[b] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”  (Acts 17:22-31 NRSV)

He wandered through the streets of Athens gazing upon one statue after another.  He was amazed and distressed.  These weren’t simply works of art.  They were idols.  They represented the gods that the Athenians proudly worshiped.  Some of them represented the best in humanity.  Others the very worst.

Perhaps he saw Aphrodite’s likeness, goddess of love, desire and beauty.  She represented sex, affection and the kind of attraction that binds people together.  Or Apollo, god of music, healing, light and truth.  Then there was Ares, the god war represented by raw violence.  His companions were fear and terror.

These gods that were worshiped came from dysfunctional families.  They did harmful, even disgusting, things to each other.  They were more human than divine.  They cared only for themselves.

Paul had had enough.  Wandering from one statue to another, he felt disgusted.  Daily he argued in the synagogue and the marketplace.  He talked to anyone who would listen.  When he stumbled across some highly respected philosophers, they took him to the Council of Aeropagus, also known as Mars Hill.

How should he defend himself?  No.  He won’t defend himself.  Instead, he’ll share what he knows about the one true living God of heaven and earth.

How should he begin?  By meeting the people where they are.  They are polytheistic, worshiping many gods.  Start there.  And he begins by noting how religious the people are.  Why they even have an altar dedicated ‘to an unknown god.’  Great place to begin.  And he shares with them who this god is.

Who do we worship?  Strolling through our culture, we see worshipers of sex and desire and beauty.  We meet up with raw violence and terror and fear.  There are gods and idols wherever we go.  Ever felt fear that you might run out of  money despite a bulging bank book?  Welcome to the god of the fear of scarcity.  Rooting for someone’s demise?  You could be flirting with the god of power.

Who we worship is the one true living God.  Paul describes God in a way no earthly god could ever come close to emulating.  God is God of not just earth but also heaven.  This is our creator.  Not content to recline in temples and holy structures, God accompanies us wherever we are.  This isn’t the God who demands to be taken care of.  Rather, God takes care of us.

This God is inclusive, creating all of humanity.  We are the ones who can search, even grope around, and find God right there.

We worship the God of love who packed a suitcase and moved out Eden behind Adam and Eve; who marked the murderer Cain so that he wouldn’t be killed; who accompanied Judeans in exile to Babylon; who sent his only son to be with us and die for us.

We worship the God of justice who stands tall and announces that he loves us so much, that he won’t stand for our misbehavior any longer; who tests us like iron; who allows us to fail so that we can eventually succeed; who yearns for our repentance; who creates in us a clean heart for life made new.

We worship the God of power.  Power greater than any human could dream of.

We worship the God of healing and peace.

Our God isn’t involved in some dysfunctional life, thinking only of himself.  Our God is waiting for us to grope around and discover that he’s been there all along.  God isn’t our cosmic bell hop but God provides for our needs.

You can’t run from our God, but you can ignore him.  You can’t hide, but you are free to make your own decisions.  And this God is waiting for you.  Loving arms ready to enfold and provide.

If you haven’t tried it lately, go ahead.  Grope around.  You’ll bump into all kinds of grace.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


Living Eternally Today

14 1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

9-10 “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

11-14 “Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. (John 14:1-14 The Message)

How do you say goodbye? Perhaps with a hug or a handshake and a few words like, “See you later,” or “Good seeing you again.”

How do you say goodbye for the last time? The feelings run a whole lot deeper. Memories with the dying loved one sweep across your eyes. You feel the pain, perhaps anger, because you haven’t had enough time. There’s never enough time.

How do you say goodbye?

Jesus sat at the Passover meal with his disciples, knowing it was his last meal; his last time alone with his friends. According to the writer of John’s Gospel, he washed their feet. Like a servant or a slave, he took their dirty, ugly feet into his hands and washed them clean.

“Wash each other’s feet from now on,” he told them. “Love one another just as I’ve loved you.”

It must have been an awe inspiring moment for them. Until the bad news arrived. He’s going to betrayed. Not by an outsider, but by one of his own. Peter announces that he’ll follow him into death.  “No, Peter.  You can’t come with me.  Yet.  And don’t get ahead of yourself.  You’ll deny me three times before the cock crows.”

Oh my.  This is bad news indeed.  The air is somber; filled with grief and confusion.  Jesus has given the disciples TMI: Too Much Information.

Their situation is no better than any other Messiah wandering the hills of Galilee and Judea.  He’ll be betrayed just as others have been betrayed.  He’ll be killed as others have been killed.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  Not to Jesus!  He was different.  His ministry was different.

Betrayal and denying and death weren’t supposed to happen to Jesus.  This news is a crushing blow.  Jesus’ next words are important, because they are words of comfort.

“Don’t let this throw you.” (John 14:1 The Message)  It’s going to be okay.  You see, there’s hope. We’ll meet again.  Not just in three days, but in eternity.  There’s a place for you there and I’m going to prepare that place for you.  I’ll be back to take you there.

Thomas, the inquisitive one, asks a good question.  “We don’t know where you’re going.  How are we supposed to get there?”

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6 NRSV)

These words have been used to comfort and to guide.  They’ve also been used as a reason to hurt, even to kill.  But, look at the context.  Would Jesus share bad news and then tell his disciples that some people are “out” while they are “in”?  Or was he trying to comfort them with words they could hang onto through the ordeal to come?

What is Jesus’ “way?”  To find it, we must look at the broader view.  Jesus healed the sick, ministered to the ill at heart.  He built relationships, met people where they were.  He taught and he listened.

And so shall we.  We heal the sick by the miracle of conversation and connection in the presence of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  We minister to the ill at heart when we sit and listen and offer prayer.  We build relationships wherever we go.  We teach and are taught.

We learn about those who aren’t like us: the poor, the wealthy, the middle class; people of color, Asians, Anglo; Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu.  We offer peace when we build bridges instead of walls.

Are we in and everyone else out?

One answer to is to look at the end of the Gospel of John.  Peter turns and sees the beloved disciple whom Jesus loved.  He asks Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come what is that to you?  Follow me!” (John 21:21-22 NRSV)

In other words, “that’s none of your business.”

The other answer I offer is later in our reading.  Jesus concludes this part of his farewell, by advising the disciples that, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”  (John 14:12 NRSV)

In other words, “there’s work to be done.  Get moving!”

For Christians, we call our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For Christians, the only way to the father is through him.  Jesus says that he has other sheep.  It not up to us to judge.  Our only possible way, is to follow the way of Jesus and keep working for the kingdom.

The rest of it is none of our business.

I find that statement restful.  I don’t have to worry about others.  That’s God’s job.  Mine is to follow in the way that Jesus walked, praying constantly for guidance and the right words to speak.

That’s how we live eternally, today.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Keep Up the Good Work: Part 2

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  (Luke 24:13-35 NRSV)

Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

Cleopas and his unnamed companion were thunderstruck at Jesus’ question.

“So, what’s going on?” Jesus asks them. “What are you discussing?”
“Really?” they respond. “You have to ask? Where have you been hiding out?”

Ask a silly question…
Or is it?

When have you been asked a simple question that led to serious, even helpful, conversation? Ask the recently widowed how they’re doing seems a ludicrous question. You know the answer, already. They’re doing pretty awful. But, the question is meant to open up the conversation; to say that you care enough to ask and that you may even be willing to listen.

Jesus asks them a question to open up the conversation. Their answer is telling:
Not, “Our hero is dead. Poor us.”
Not an expression of uncontrolled anger.

Rather, they make a statement of faith:
Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed before God and all the people;
he was arrested, tried, convicted, and was crucified.
This is the third day and word is out that he’s risen.

And with that answer, Jesus knows where to meet them and he begins to interpret their faith statement in light of scripture. Jesus “came near and went with them.” When have you come near and gone with someone?

Chuck McCarthy doesn’t walk dogs. He walks people. In an article posted at “TheGuardian.com” author Rory Carroll writes that Chuck is trying to make a few extra dollars while he gets his acting career off the ground. He advertises to walk with people. He says it takes an ability to “walk, talk and, above all, listen.”

He charges $7.00 a mile. He has homemade flyers attached to lamp posts that read the following:

“Need motivation to walk? Scared to walk alone at night? Don’t like walking alone at all? Don’t want people to see you walking alone and just assume you have no friends? Don’t like listening to music or podcasts but can’t walk alone in silence, forced to face thoughts of the unknown future, or your own insignificance in the ever expanding universe?” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/14/los-angeles-people-walker-chuck-mccarthy)

Chuck McCarthy walks and listens. He says it’s mostly surface conversation, nothing all that deep. Still, it can be therapeutic. People are slipping their smart phones in their pockets and going for a walk AND talking. They’re engaging in real conversation.

Ask a silly question, you may end up in a deeply satisfying conversation that touches your very soul.

On the other hand, asking a silly question may build a bridge.

Let’s go back to Jesus’ question.

“So, what’s going on? What are you discussing?”

In addition to an Affirmation of Faith, they provide a clue to how they’re feeling:
“But, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  The disappointment drips off the page.
“Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning… they reported back to us about a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”  Their confusion runs deep.

Jesus knows where they are and knows where to take the conversation.

As Jesus talked with them, their hearts burned within them. This so-called stranger who joined them out of nowhere opened their minds and hearts to a new way of thinking. He connected with their disappointment. He linked scripture to the occurrences of the past few years.

Most of all he gave them hope.

This wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.

God hadn’t died. God wasn’t deserting them.

So, good for you…
When you stop in your tracks to listen. Really listen.

Good for you…
When you share a bit of yourself because someone needs a good word.

Good for you…
When you use your words to build a bridge instead of a wall.

Good for you…
When you ask a silly question that leads to healing conversation.

Keep up the good work. Because you’re traveling the Way of Jesus.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Keep Up the Good Work: Part 1

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But 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.”

26 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.” 27 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.” 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 20:19-29)

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Or so the saying goes. If that deal is too good to be true, check the fine print. Very likely, there’s a “gotcha” in there somewhere.

Christ is risen from the grave. Christ is alive. It’s way too good to be true. We need more than one witness to testify to his resurrection. And we get them: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter, the Beloved Disciple…

We also have Thomas. In fact, we need Thomas. Thomas is us. Sometimes Thomas was courageous, sometimes confused, and today, he doubts. Yet, these are the things that brought him to believing.

We need Thomas to point the way through courage and confusion and especially doubt.

Remember when Jesus left Judea because the people wanted to stone him? His good friend Lazarus died, so he announced his intention to go to Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. His disciples tried to hold him back. When they were unsuccessful, it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16b NRSV)

He was a mix of courage and foolish. Unwilling to leave Jesus’ side, he voluntarily accompanied Jesus into potential danger.

My mother demonstrated courage the day she decided to stay in a Sunday school class despite the fact that her teacher behaved like a jerk.

They were studying a book by a progressive theologian, Marcus Borg. In his book he stated that in his extensive reading and study, he disagreed with the concept of the virgin birth among other things. The teacher presented the material as matter of obvious fact and anyone who questioned it was obviously ignorant.

I explained to Mom that this was one person’s opinion; that the Greek word for virgin meant “young woman.” I left it up to her to come to her own conclusion.

A few weeks later we talked about her class some more. “Why don’t you find another class?” I asked her.

“Because, despite the fact that teacher is doing a lousy job, I’m engaged with some of the concepts the author offers.”

“Do you agree with him?”

“No, not necessarily. But he’s helping me understand what I do believe.”

A courageous moment could be a foolish decision, but it’s an opportunity for incite to see, “my Lord and my God.”

Bible reading is confusing. That’s probably why there is such a low Biblical literacy rate. Does Genesis have one long creation story or two shorter ones? What’s the deal with God telling Abraham to sacrifice his only son?  Is the Bible a factual, scientific document or a series of stories that seek to reveal God to us?

When I finally engaged with the Bible I discovered a lot of things that disturbed me. The more I studied, the more I changed.  My views on life changed; my politics changed.   And it scared me.  Every time I learned something new or viewed a beloved scripture in a new way I was afraid I’d lose my faith.

It would have been easier to give up. It would have been less faith shattering; less unnerving; less courageous; less confusing. But, I learned to embrace and look forward to new ideas and new concepts in interpretation. I learned that doubting is good; that skepticism is good. It led me to moments of fresh incite where I fell to my knees saying, “My Lord and my God.”

Courage. Confusion. Doubt. They are who Thomas was and we need him to point us in the right direction.

Thomas is often referred to as, “Doubting Thomas.” When you read this text you see that Jesus appeared two times. Once without Thomas present and once with him present. Both times he displayed his wounds. Both times he said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus didn’t chastise.  Our brains are wired to be skeptical without proof. We can’t help it. In fact, we need it for survival.

So, for us to believe, we need the witness of Thomas and the disciples. They saw the wounds; they saw the risen Jesus. They report it to us so that we can believe without seeing.

That’s the “Way of Jesus.” Being a disciple of Jesus, we find ourselves moving through the messiness of courage and confusion and doubting and believing. We can’t really help it. It’s a part of who we are. It’s our faith journey. We need courage to move forward when we’re in doubt and confusion. We need doubt and confusion to deepen our faith. When our faith deepens, God comes closer and we have those oh so awesome moments of incite.

That’s when we fall to our knees, saying, “My Lord and my God.”

And we fall in love with the Master, again.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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