On The Road Again-Luke 24:13-35

This is not like Luke, the careful writer and precise physician because the particular details of this story make it difficult to know who and where.  First, we are told there are two travelers on the road to Emmaus, one named Cleopas and the other nameless; both who were probably with the eleven in Jerusalem.  Some think the other was Peter, because of the reference to Simon in v. 34.  Some think it was Cleopas’ wife, since women in the Bible are often left unnamed.  Luke was better than others at giving women their due, it seems unlikely he would have slighted that detail.

In Israel, there are three towns that claim to be Emmaus; Chambers of Commerce marketing religion.  No one is sure where the town of Emmaus was during Jesus’ time.  Manuscripts don’t help, even they differ over the whereabouts of Emmaus.  One text says Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem.  Other manuscripts say one hundred and sixty stadia, about eighteen miles.  Yet, there is no such place seven or eighteen miles from Jerusalem.  Perhaps the word Emmaus is the name of the other person, not the town.  This kind of reporting is not like Luke.

I’m not sure Luke is reporting facts, but reporting how the resurrection is a present event in the lives of people of every generation and in every land.  After all, Luke’s gospel was primarily written for the Gentile world.  The challenge of the next generation of those first believers is the same in every subsequent generation, will the story remain believable.  The details missing in the story work in favor of insuring the resurrection will remain relevant.  The resurrection happened with no witness, save women and the disciples who only see an empty tomb and angels.  On that same day, Jesus show up to two travelers, one of them unnamed, who are leaving Jerusalem for no named reason to a named town no one can place.  Jesus; reveals to them and us since he’s no longer confined to a dead body, tomb, or the past, he can show up to whoever, wherever, and whenever.

These two are trying to go on with their lives despite tragically losing the one who they had trusted their lives.  They are talking about him and the things that have happened, they can’t talk about anything else.  They had known him in the flesh, but they don’t recognize him as walked up beside them.  They don’t know him because they can’t know him as they once did.  They will have to come to know him as he is and will be always; showing up in their lives whether it be at the communion rail or family table.

I think Luke leaves the person unknown so each of us can be with Cleopas; filling in our own name in the blank.  The unnamed traveler is no one; the unnamed traveler is everyone.  I also think he also leaves Emmaus indistinct to say Christ will find us wherever we are headed and whatever road we travel; walking alongside us whether we recognize him or not.  Emmaus is nowhere.  Emmaus is everywhere.

All of us are on a road from somewhere, literally or figuratively.  The exact details of the roads we travel only matter inasmuch as they could be the road Christ finds us.  We may be traveling from marriage to singleness, gladness to grief, or work to retirement, or even life to death; but Christ can find us.  Whether we think our lives are significant or not, we’re to pay attention to what is happening in our lives.  The Risen One shows up to both the anonymous loner or notorious achiever.  They both need the kind of saving love Christ offers from above to make them whole.

Some Christians suggest God’s plans are laid out, so when we come to a fork, there’s a road Christ will go with us, or we can choose to travel the other road alone.  This text shows whatever road we choose, God will meet us: sometimes blessing, other times chiding; sometimes urging us down that path, other times standing ahead; begging us to retrace our steps.  God knows who we are, and finds us wherever we are.

The most common faith story I hear in these times, is how a person grew up in a church where being good was the message.  Eventually, they grew tired trying to be good enough, so God will love them.  In fact, they knew they could not be good enough, and they weren’t sure they wanted to be.  So they left the church to explore different worlds.  Over time, the faith they thought they had left, had not really left them.  Or, the God they thought they had left, kept reappearing in places and faces they hadn’t anticipated; often outside the confines of the church.  They are now crafting a faith that is their own, instead of accepting what everyone tells they should believe.

This same theme is played out by people will tell of a past life of faith, but they gave up on God because of fallen leaders, people, or institutions.  It is unfortunate no one ever told them every biblical character had character problems.  Yet, despite their biblical flaws God didn’t give up on any one, at anytime.  Thus, for any of us to give up on God because of other people’s failures is too easy of a cop-out; and it prevents a person from experiencing the depth of the grace of God learned in walking the long road of faith.  

We mistakenly think the Bible is an account of our search for God, and a report of our findings.  Genesis’ first story sets the tone for the nature of the Good Book.  God goes for a walk in the cool of the evening, and calls out  to the hiding sin-ridden humans looking for them despite their failure.  Nothing has changed from that day to this day in our relationship to our Creator.  Faith is not the product of our own discovery.  It’s the product of being discovered by God on the road we are traveling.  God specializes in looking for us.  Sometimes that happens when we are looking and sometimes when we are not looking.  Any impulse to search for God is a homing instinct God placed in us to make us more open to being found.  The only place God works is right where we are.

We don’t pray, read scripture, or come to the Communion table to discover Christ.  These spiritual disciplines are simply the arenas of grace that put ourselves in better position to see and experience the presence of Christ in our lives.  It’s Christ who makes self known most clearly and more dearly along these well-walked roads.  We also see two other places that are fertile ground to become more acutely aware how the grace of God compels Christ to come looking.  It happens when we walk with others who are talking about spiritual things; opening ourselves up to gifts from above.  It happens when we break bread with other hungry souls; acknowledging all of us are needy.  These are places we come to know Christ as our companion and host, who wants us to experience him in all moments.

We  all need a constant grace filled boot in our backsides sometimes to open us up to the amazing grace of God so we might realize “Someone” is standing next to us along.  When we do realize Christ has never left our side we realize Christ will be with us on every moment and everyday.  There is a “Someone” who finds us in all the places and times of our lives.  It happens from who knows where, to God knows where.  Look for the Risen Christ walking beside you on your road of discovery.  Listen carefully to the words from Fray’s song, “You Found Me” and hear the  voice of God looking for each one of us in the same way.

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Keeping it Young

Brandon Lazarus is one of our many emerging faith leaders bubbling out of Perkins School of Theology.  He is thinking very thoughtfully about generational issues as they relate to our future.  Check out his blog that features not only his thoughts but others from various generations who weigh in on this important matter.

He invited me to contribute.  Here is my submission http://lenguadelaz.blogspot.com/2012/04/lets-walk-down-that-street.html   I have included an excerpt from my thoughts,

“The key to this model is the preferential tendency, which empowers persons on the leading edge of the learning curve to make real decisions that impact course headings.”

I and Brandon would love to hear your thoughts

Russell

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 7:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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What Do I Know for Sure! Romans 8:26-39

On days like these it feels like we don’t know enough.  When I sat with Bonnie, Robin and Jessica on Sunday they honestly wondered, like the rest of us, why Gary died so young. Logan marched in my office after Sunday School and asked me a very similar question.  Feelings like we have today sometimes makes it hard to say what we know of sure.  The family asked me to speak to some of Gary’s favorite words from scripture, considering what can we know for sure on days when we feel grief-stricken.  These are words that speak of certainties that fuel our confidence in our faith in God and provide great comfort, particularly on this day.

Paul writes to the church in Rome to tell them what he knows for sure as they experience frequent and severe persecution.  Paul wants them to know, God had and would not, abandon them.  He speaks words of assurance that no dangers; physical, spiritual, or cosmic could separate them from God’s love in Christ Jesus.  His certainty is based on his belief that God loved them and all humanity before time.  This divine love offers abundant life as we fulfill God’s purpose on earth, and promises eternal life for those who respond in faith to Jesus by loving God and neighbor.

Gary unashamedly staked his confidence in God on that same belief and practice.  Like Paul he choose to live according to God’s purposes because he believed real life was made possible by the resurrection of Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God, not as our accuser, but as our advocate and champion.  What Paul knew for sure,  what Gary knew for sure and what we all want to know for sure is that faith in Christ assures us of a purposeful life on earth and final peace in heaven.  God has given us the gift of faith to receive the bountiful and undeserved mercies, which Christ offers to those who by faith accept this gift and enter into relationship with our Loving Lord.  If you want to know for sure it starts by receiving that gift.

Paul’s certain relationship with Christ caused him to say, “We know all things work together for good.”  Before we think he to be Pollyanna, he also wrote, “Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I received a stoning.  Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, I was in danger from rivers, from bandits,  from my own people, from Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.  I’m under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”  Paul thought all those things fit into the call of God to enable the world know God’s love, so despite the hardships he was confident all things would work for good.

Paul doesn’t say everything that happens is good; he knew of the power of evil and trials of hardships.  For “good” doesn’t mean things turn out the way he wished.  For “good” is not magic thinking that immediately turns our bad things for the better.  What he means is: We don’t always know what is good for us, nor when the timetable when good will come.  God is patiently working out the good in our lives by God’s redemptive grace.  We can count on the faithful hand of God because “God is for us!” (v. 31)

The confidence Paul has that “all things work together for good” is not based on a willy-nilly notion the universe is full of goodness.  This promise isn’t reserved for the goody two shoes who do this good or that good.  Paul’s certainty is based on God’s love for all creation and that God intends nothing but good, and particularly for those who love God and neighbor.  Loving horizontally and vertically fulfills the purposes of God, freeing us to live confidently God will work things out.  Being caught up in the stream of God’s purpose enables us to see more clearly the good work of God in all that happens to us and others, and even on this day.

Gary’s life was a testimony to this truth.  We might think after graduation from high school Gary’s was a bit aimless. Gary remained confident God would see to him.  Despite a brief time of trying to find his place in this college and serving his country he loved; a thirty plus, going on forty-year, consistent career as a service engineer demonstrates God’s certain hand in guiding his life. Gary’s spent the first decade of his young adult years looking for a partner.  Bonnie faced her own challenges in her early adult years.  God intended all things to work out.  And, that good come when the two of them met at a FUMC singles event and were married a short time later.  God has been up to good and good to them for almost thirty years.

If you look back over Gary’s life you can point to his confidence God intended good throughout every stage of his life.  His simple commitment to his family, his church and working and teaching children, youth and adults are all rooted in his faith that God intends that good comes about to those called according to God’s purpose.  Why else would Gary rise each Sunday, sometimes even on vacation and without question march his family off to church to offer themselves to God and those whom they could serve.   Gary was sure God was for us in this life and beyond this life!

If Gary was so confident in this life that God was for him, then it follows he would be confident even after his life ends in such an untimely manner, that God still intends to work out all things for good.  God is at work in the good, bad, and the ugly to redeem it for God’s purposes.  While we experience good and bad at the same time; the key to perceiving how they coexist is to be confident that in the unconditional love of God, the hand God is always working out good in our lives, even on a day full of sorrow and grief.

The family asked me to invite those attendingGary’s service to think about their relationship with Christ who is God’s active agent in bringing about good in our world and in our lives.  These questions are for both those who have an assigned pew on Sunday, as well as those who prefer the porch to pew on Sundays.  When do you pray, in good times or tough times?  When do you feel the greatest need for God, in times of celebration or times of sadness?  When do you most trust God, beside the still waters or in the turbulent seas?  When do you see the good work of God, in the present time or the past tense?  When do you desire grace, when you are rolling in it or when you have been rolled?  Do you know for sure you can see the good work of a faithful God in the midst of all times?

We have gather to celebrate the life of a husband, father, friend and co-worker who passed much to prematurely.  We assure ourselves with these words we claim to be certain, “Nothing in life or death will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We maintain this to be true and will not be seduced by the illusions of this world.  So, we join Gary in affirming our faith that God is for us and intends good in all things.  In doing so, we redeem our grief; allowing the Holy Spirit to shine though the window of our lives, so we might become signs of hope to a world that needs to know for sure God is at work doing good in all things .

What good work do you see God doing in your life today?  What good work do you need to be doing for God beyond this day?  Answer the call of God to live according to the purposes of God by increasing your faith in Christ so you may see and do the good work of God.  Receive, refresh, renew, or refocus your life on the one who first loved you, so you can say like the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of our lives”.  Gary wanted anyone within the influence of his life to know for sure, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.”  I believe that is the word of God Gary would want us to hear on this day.

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Easter is Over, or Is It?

It is days like these when we are physically exhausted and emotionally dissipated by pain or loss that we wonder in silence, where is resurrection power a week after Easter.  This weekend has been a test of our spirits at FUMC, Irving.  We have lost three people from our family, two people much too young.  My family has faced personal trials, which I will share later in the message.  But, our hearts are heavy from these events.

The supposed text for the morning was to be the Doubting Thomas story.  We were going to talk about how our faith is strengthened even by our doubts if we keep our heads up.  However, my spirit was drawn to some of the best words of comfort found anywhere in our Holy Writ, Isaiah 40 as I have experienced these last few days.  I was particularly drawn to those words at the end of the chapter, which point out the different ways resurrection power manifests itself in any and every circumstance in life. 

The key to knowing the power of the Risen Christ in every moment is learning to accept what God gives rather than demanding what we desire.  Disappointment is born when we decide ahead of time what is to happen; making the mistake of causing God to over-promise what God does.  This is a surefire way to disillusionment.  God’s help comes with different gifts for different moments.  Trusting in God’s adequacy and accepting what God offers is the key.  It is easy to say God helps in times of need; it is harder to distinguish the manner which help is provided.

First, there are times when we experience resurrection power as moments of ecstasy.  This is what Isaiah means by, “mounting up like wings of eagles”.  This is the experience of exuberance.  It is present from the very beginning because it can be found in the very nature God.  God looked at what was created and thought it was so good that God day off to celebrate the wonder of it all.  We experience this kind of ecstasy when we are caught up in the joy of creativity that is seated in the “child within us”.

First United Methodist, Irving has known many times of ecstasy throughout her life.  If we took a handheld microphone out into the congregation many people could tell stories of ecstasy that would be endless.  In my short tenure, I recall the joy of gathering food for Irving Cares, the warmth of the 11:00 p.m. service on Christmas Eve, the delight of offering hospitality and ashes at the train station to new friends, and celebrating Christ’s resurrection in a grand way.  We will continue to celebrate a great many joys together as pastor and people, such as the Wilcox’s 70th anniversary.

This isn’t the only way God gives strength; and woe to any person who absolutizes this form of God’s help saying, “If there is no ecstasy, God is not with us.”  This is a formula for disillusionment.  There is a moment when that is totally inappropriate.

There are times when we experience the power of God’s energy through activism.  Isaiah meant this saying “we run and not grow weary”.  Inspiration to rise to a challenge is an authentic experience of God.  The thyroid of the human spirit motivates women and men to heroic, problem-solving activity.  If we will look at history, we see schools, hospitals and other institutions born of individuals with an active impulse.

Anna Kirkland lived with great energy and activism she learned from birth.  Anna was the only child of Adolph and Elise Walker, both of whom served this church.  Anna had one son, Sean, born with cystic fibrosis.  He lived a full life until his body wore out at age 23.  When his father left after he was born, Anna pressed on with energy that could only come from above.  Anna was an art teacher at MacArthur High was always available.  Anna left a mark wherever she went because she was a person who knew strength from within to run and not grow weary.

I am sure the Ditterline family can give testimony to this reality as God provided them with the energy this church needed during their season of service to Christ’s church.  The gift of running without growing weary comes with having a purpose that sees beyond the horizon; not getting bogged down in the messy times of life.  The energy for activism is only one way we experience the resurrection power of heaven.  But, it is not the totality of divine experience for there are times when activism cannot change a thing.

There’s another way we experience the power and provision of God’s resurrection power.  God comes at times of trouble to give the gift of endurance.  This what Isaiah meant when he wrote: “we will walk and not faint”.  This may look like the least of these three forms of divine strength.  When we have “to keep on keeping on” while being surrounded by immensities we cannot change and there is no occasion for ecstasy or activism; endurance is not only significant gift, it is God’s best gift.

Temptation is acute when we experience difficult moments.  Sometimes, when we are up against it, we’re tempted to be more than we are-helpless, finite creatures.  This is the temptation of presumption; I can handle what comes my way.  The other temptation is to sink into despair; giving up and with a sigh of resignation exclaim, “Stop the world; I want to get off“.  These are real temptations that come to us in these kinds of situations.  In times such as these we can know a climactic form of God’s resurrection power.  When nothing else is possible, the strength to endure is given.

I sat with Bonnie Jones and Gary’s family yesterday as the impact of losing a man much too young sunk in throughout the entire family.  Gary’s dad, Norman and his sister Debby’s grief was apparent as they did not know what to say.  Reality regarding our own mortality shouts back at us when we experience the loss of a person 58 years old.  I did my best to assure them you and I will walk with them during these days of grief.  We will offer them outward gifts love, support, kindness, prayers, advice, etc.  These are needed gifts, but we cannot offer the best gift that comes from within.  God’s best manifestation of resurrection power is God’s enduring grace; providing what we need in dealing with our pain or loss.

Our son, Blake, was in a serious car accident early Saturday morning.  Your expressions of concern have been very much appreciated.  Terri is inTexarkanawith him and we are very confident the doctors are treating his injuries and he will recover, though the road will be long.  The longer road ahead of him is spiritual, as he must come to terms with his alcohol addiction.  We have provided for him throughout this battle and we will continue to provide him the support he needs to overcome.  Yet, he continues to make choices that allow that beast to defeat him.  There are limits to what we can humanly do for him until he is ready to receive God’s gift of endurance he will need to make it through recovery.  Terri and I covet your prayers that his heart will be opened to God’s gifts endurance, so he will not only recover from his injuries from the accident, but his wounds that drive his addiction.

My mother was with us Easter Sunday.  I shared a picture with you that may have gotten me removed from the will.  I also shared with you how we were celebrating clear scans after a long six year battle with cancer.  She can tell stories of God’s enduring grace throughout her courageous battle.  She had an episode on Thursday of unbalance and confusion.  I took her for an MRI on Friday and we await that report.  It was good to celebrate her 80th birthday yesterday at her church with family and friend from every stage of life.  However, haunting her and us is the outcome of Friday’s tests.  Yet, she remains a testimony of God’s certain help that raised her up, even when she feel hemmed in on all sides by her cancer.  God’s enduring grace not only sustained her in those days, it will do so in the days before her and us.  This may not be the only way God comes to us, but God’s resurrecting power may be the most appropriate way.

We have heard people hollowly declare that if we simply lift up our eyes and turn to God, every darkness will be caught up in light and we will soar above our difficulties as if they don’t exist.  The life of faith is not about God giving one ecstatic experience after another.  The journey of trust in a God who gives us what we need for the moment is not about a God  coming to us with practical suggestions how we can muster up enough energy to do good.  Life is about learning how God gives what we need when we need it.  There will be times when the gift of endurance is just what we need to walk the present road we travel.  Cherish this gift in these days of loss and grief. 

God still sends the Risen Son to our upper rooms like that first Easter evening to give what is needed.  This happens in our varied worlds and in each of our lives, in whatever moment we face.  God shows up with real resurrection power.  At those times when that power is just enough to get us through the next moment, that is not only just what we need, but it is everything we need.

New Identity John 20:1-18

This is a story of mistaken identity.  Last Friday, I took my mom to have her chemo port removed.  It was a significant day that culminated her battle with cancer; which she has valiantly fought since 2005.  I shared the news of this day with many family and friends via a social media platform called Facebook, maybe you have heard of it?  Here is what I wrote; “For those of you who have been following this long five-year journey with my fight with cancer; today is a monumental moment as the last vestiges of the battle are removed-so long chemo port, you been useful, but no longer needed according to the recent clean scans.  Thank God!

I realized omitted a word, when an outpouring of support poured in from people who thought I had suffered a very private battle with cancer.  I later posted, “I am extremely sorry for the confusion of my earlier post, details have not ever been my strength.  I left out a key word ‘my mom’s fight with cancer’ Sorry for confusion”  I had Facebook egg all over my face!  I sometimes have troubles with who is who.

The essence of Easter is God knows exactly who is who.  This series asks: Who am I?.  It has been leading up to this day of celebration that declares our mistaken identities are cleared up in the light of Resurrection.  Paul declares, “Your life is hidden with Christ.  When Christ is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”  John’s Easter story is about a mistaken identity that gets cleared up in the light of Jesus being raised.

Mary Magdalene goes to where Jesus’ body was laid on the first Easter.  Shutters are closed and light hasn’t dawned.  She must have a lump in her throat and heart full of sorrow.  The space which separated her from Jesus was infinite.  She was comforted; sitting by herself near his earthly form.  She could treat his lifeless body with spices; providing the care that wasn’t possible as they hurriedly placed him in the tomb before sundown commenced the Sabbath.  On this morning, she didn’t worry what others might say of her love, she is there to recall good feelings that didn’t hurt.

Mary’s heart raced when she saw the stone rolled away and his body gone.  She interprets this surreal scene using the framework of the past; assuming a mistake-someone moved his body or it was stolen.  She leaves to tell Peter and John.  They run to see, and they see enough to make them wonder as they wander back.  Mary stays, which tells us something.  She had not only go to mourn for Jesus; but also to mourn for herself-wondering if who she had become because of Jesus had a future.  Mary stays!

In her tears, she looks back into the tomb and sees two angels, which the text inexplicably does not indicate Peter and John saw.  The strange beings ask her why she is weeping.  She horribilizes the scene, she can’t imagine anything but a same old sad story. Jesus is lurking in the shadows of dawn.  She thinks he is the gardener.  When she hears his voice say, “Mary” she recognizes him, in the way we do when Jesus calls our names in sermons, songs, nature, nurture, woe, or weal.  Mary understood or did she?

Mary says “Rabbouni!”, and then throws her arms around him holding him tight, as if to say, I’m never going to let you go.  Jesus replied, “Don’t hold me“, though the text does not say she was holding him.  Perhaps, he didn’t mean physical embrace.  He may be speaking of the reality that human love cannot love enough so to prevent a person from leaving us, which we know too well.  Jesus is instructing her to let go of the way they were.  Jesus can’t stay with Mary.  He had others to beckon to let go of the past, so they might follow him into a world he is making new.   Others were mourning; needing hope only his resurrection power makes possible  The Spirit of the living God walks among us; offering an intimate relationship that brings daily strength and a visible joy.  Can I get a witness?

Scholars debate whether Mary was trapped in a promiscuous lifestyle.  There is no debate that Mary lived a very unstable existence.  We know Jesus cast seven demons from of her.  We cannot say what seven demons meant in her day.  We can say this is woman who many questioned the content of character in her day and in our day, you read the Da Vinci Code.

There is no debate Mary Magdalene, who many cast shadow on, was first to see Jesus after he was raised.  Mary, who others whispered about is commissioned to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord!”  Mary, who some looked at with disdain is the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.  Mary, a person marked by suspicion stays when other disciples flee.  This is God’s way of correcting her mistaken identity.  Whatever Mary thought of herself, and whatever anyone else thought of her, in the eyes of Jesus, Mary was a case of mistaken identity was corrected by her spiritual relationship with Jesus; imparting on her a new identity.

No matter how welcome a change, it’s hard to let go.  We want our lives to be predictable; the older we get the more predictable we want.  Yet, this can cause us to feel stuck doing the same old thing as we bury ourselves in a tomb of safety and comfort.  Our culture can kidnap us; fooling us into thinking our past defines our future.  Our old identities, branded on us by our own action are others by expectation dig us into graves called routine.

I fantasize of dispensing a Jesus pill, so to free people from a past that holds them down.  I know that would be counterproductive; causing people to think they only need a little dose of Jesus.  Don’t fall into a trap of making the Easter message a “self-help” book.  That kind of cultural thinking distorts the faith.  We can’t realize our new identity by simply appreciating Jesus.  Resurrection power is real and can make a new identities possible.  We are to trust in a sway that can correct the mistaken identities that beset us.  Everything can be different if we allow our new identities to find meaningful expression into our future, so that our imagined limitations transcend human constraint; all because of the power of the risen Christ.

This happens quietly most of the time.  The Biblical Arts Center painting by Ron DiCianni is 12’ high by 40’ wide; portraying Jesus bursting from the tomb in dazzling white, flanked by two angels, Moses and Elijah, other biblical figures, a dove, rainbow, and religious symbols everywhere.  I appreciate the artist intent to capture the big moment.  But, with all due respect, that’s not the report of the biblical text.  Jesus is resurrected in the same way he lived; his dead body was transformed humbly, quietly, and out of sight.  We may wish it was more obvious, Jesus comes out of the tomb the same way he left the garden to go into the grave; a humble willing servant of his Father. 

We usually realize resurrection power in an unassuming way.  Something quietly dies, which was preventing our new identity from springing forth.  Slowly but surely, we engage with the risen Christ.  Little by little our imaginations are ignited; growing more confident the living Christ walks with us each day.  We hear more clearly the still small voice of the Risen Lord calling us to put on our new identity.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

An imperfect church tenderly cooperates with God; correcting mistaken identities.  She does so by loving others as Christ loves us.  Persons realize their life is hidden in Christ.  They allow Christ to be more revealed in them, new identities shine forth.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

I invite you to begin your journey to a new identity; speaking boldly the traditional Easter greeting.  When the leader announces from the chancel, Christ is risen, the people declare in one voice, Christ is risen indeed.  Join me; responding with the same humble self-assurance you will carry from this place to live into your new identity.  This is not a mind game-God knows exactly who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next.

Christ is risen!

He is Risen Indeed.

Then live like it my friends.  This is not a mind game-God knows who we are and who we are meant to be in this life and the next, Happy Easter!

Backward Identity Matthew 21: 1-11

Backward Identity Matthew 21: 1-11.

Published in: on April 3, 2012 at 8:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Backward Identity Matthew 21: 1-11

Palm Sunday is day of mixed feelings in the church.  It’s a mini-Easter as we join the excited crowds who lay their cloaks on the ground and wave palm fronds as Jesus enters the holy city.  The reason we are confused is we want to travel a straight path from this day to resurrection day, without all the suffering and sacrifice that comes later in the week.

For three years, Jesus taught, healed, and worked wonders on the northern front, the hinterlands, among people who longed for a person who would help set them free from foreign invaders.  Jesus had many sympathizers and disciples who would pilgrimage with him to David’s City for high holy days.  They would pass through Jericho, which sits notably below Jerusalem; it is lowest city on earth-800 feet below sea level while Jerusalem is 3,000 feet above sea level.  It is a long and rocky road that is very hard to travel by foot or beast.  They followed Jesus with hopes up that hill into the city of David.

Jesus’ entourage picks up steam as it enters into Bethpage and Bethany, which sits on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  He gives instructions about the colt and his plans to enter the city.  Nothing would happen until it happened in Jerusalem.  So, when he enters Jerusalem is asking, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee’.

It was Passover, the taste of liberation was in their mouth; they wanted to return to their old identity.  They paid homage to him like king ready to start a revolution; causing his entry to look like a royal military processional and campaign.  They wanted Jesus to organize this army of Jewish pilgrims so they might march on the Temple.  These folk who had been on the bottom sang Jesus’ praises; hoping he would put them on top.

His followers should have been tipped off; Jesus wasn’t coming to chase out the reigning regime.  He doesn’t whip the people into frenzy of war by taking up arms; he symbolically takes a knee.  Jesus presents himself as a backward king; refusing to receive glory of a conquering ruler.  He rides ingloriously into Jerusalem on a common colt instead of a seasoned steed; hardly a symbol of power.  This challenges their wrongfully placed expectations; pointing to the futility of defining their identity based on how much power they possess or positions they may hold.  Jesus is absolutely true to his backward messianic identity.

This parade will diminish and five days later and there’ll be another parade.  Jesus will carry a cross in this parade; leaving the city to be crucified and identified as a common criminal.  This time there will be no hosannas; instead they will jeer and spit on him.  They call him the king, but only in mocking ways.

Jesus shows in this first parade that our backward identity roots in God’s love for all who are God made in God’s image.  This parade is not about how others adored or hoped in him.  Neither is our status is dependent on the love of others and/or our pious demonstrations, which show others how much we love God.  Our identities cannot be connected to accolades we receive and feats we accomplish, as virtuous as they may be, nor how they may cause others to feel toward us.  This primary marks of following Christ are not signs of success; defined by what we do to impress others or God.  Jesus’ rides humbly into Jerusalem, regardless how loud the hosannas.

This story begins by looking like a victory to be claimed, and the story ends in victory over sin and death.  However, soon after the parade is over, things start to look like a real rout.  The victory won on the cross appears to be a defeat.  The way Jesus conquers the forces of evil and the grave is to become a victim to the forces of evil and the grave.  This is not what anyone expected when he rode into the city.

Leonard Cohen caught this idea when he wrote these lyrics in his song Broken Hallelujah: “Love is not a victory march/It’s a cold and broken hallelujah”.  The phrase “broken hallelujah” haunts me; but it describes the way love wins.  Love does not abandon another caught in the depth of the crises; it simply will not let us go.  So, while we may sing alleluia, a cousin of hosanna, pure joy all the time is never possible.  Cohen knows every alleluia sung has been touched by some coldness and brokenness.

We don’t sing “alleluias” during Lent because we are paying attention to the coldness and the brokenness in the world and in ourselves that gave cause to Jesus’ act of self-sacrificing love for us.  We may want to pretend every Sunday is Easter Sunday, with unbroken hallelujahs, so we don’t have to labor with the duplicity and dejection of this Holy Week.  This tempts us to leap from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to Hallelujahs of Easter; acting as if these harsher realities are not nearby.  So we stay busy with our little lives during this Holy week avoiding the stories of suffering and the services of shadow.  Eventually all bliss is touched by circumstances beyond our control.  Why not walk this road all the way with Jesus, so we may sing more clearly our own broken hallelujah on resurrection day.

God’s backward ways is emblemized by this unusual entry; Jesus going to the Holy City claiming no special privileges as the Son of God.  He simply displays God’s humble compassion; riding atop of a beast of burden, willing to pay the cost of great suffering and even his own life.  This backward way that saves, humbles self; exhibiting a different kind of power that offers self for the sake of others, rather than advancing self for the sake of self.

A relationship based on exchange of getting something out of the person isn’t love; it’s infatuation!  This happens because it is humans tendency to “get more” than “give more”, which turns relationship making into business deals based on a cost-benefit analysis.  Love descends into the depths of hell for the sake of love; infatuation takes the elevator.  A backward relationship with Jesus isn’t about what we want in exchange for our love for Christ.  It’s about what Christ gives in love for us without regard for what we do for him.  What we see in this parade is our king beginning to lay down his life out of love for us; this is God’s backward way.

The backward mission of following Jesus enables us to find our identities by humbling ourselves as he did on that first Palm Sunday.  We too are to be willing stoop low enough to show every person how much they are loved for who they are.  It may not make sense, but the way to find our identity is to receive and express this backward love.  We do that best when we can give ourselves away; trusting God knows what do with a life lived backwards; a life that freely offers self for others.  The hosannas may sound different, but the backward way is the way to find our true identity.

Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frankenstein in the movie Young Frankenstein. In one scene, he asks to be locked in a room with the monster.  He says to his aides: “Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature.  I am going to convince him he is loved even at the cost of my own life.  No matter what you hear, no matter how cruelly I beg, no matter how terribly I scream, do not open that door or you will undo everything I have worked for.”  A minute later, he is begging to be let out.  

This backward way of love is not easy and becomes more difficult if we are only infatuated with the role Jesus played in the love story of Calvary.  This is more than just a great love story.  It is an invitation to love Jesus for who he is, instead for what we want him to be.  It is a call to allow Jesus to love you as you are; even in the cold and broken places in your life.  The way to join in the parade of love for the world is to sing you own broken hallelujahs in this broken world.  It’s Holy week, friend; let us make it HOLY!

Published in: on April 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment