United Methodist Brother and Sisters, I Have Traveled This Road

Partir en Vacances, Sur la Route

I am always excited to travel down a new road as a journey begins. The allure of beginning a trip to unknown places is enticing and intoxicating. Yet, every trip has a middle. The middle is the actual part of the trip, the liminal space that exists between the time of departure and arrival. I feel compelled to offer some observations from my recent travels on my new road, in light of the United Methodist quadrennial event called General Conference.

What I know for sure is, this road has been traveled before. In 1989, I witnessed an event at Cafe de Monde’ in the French Quarter of New Orleans that was a snapshot of the eventual schism that took place in my previous denomination, Southern Baptists. Fundamental leaders presented speeches and symbols of victory, celebrating the accomplishment of electing leaders who would only appoint like-minded persons to control boards and agencies. I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as winners were celebrated and losers were denigrated. I remember because I was one of the identified losers. Most importantly, I remember the feeling of not knowing what road I would travel in days beyond this D-Day.Open Hearts

Despite the usual feelings of anxiety that arise because of the unknown, I chose to lean into the feelings of anticipation that also existed because of the possibilities of a new day and way. The middle part of this new journey consisted of a few years of traveling down unfamiliar roads to explore new places. Along the way, came my new Methodist friends who welcomed me in ways that I would learn later were a bit unusual in our polity. Yet, I arrived at my destination, my first annual conference, and was received with a Wesleyan grace I could only fully appreciate years later.

Coffee-House-MeetingSix months ago, I began a new journey with the same excitement that accompanies the launch of any new endeavor. My energy for this new journey revved up my human spirit and the RPMs of my soul were red-lining. This level of exhilaration has sustained me for a period of months throughout the middle part of this journey. Like any trip, I have had to reevaluate and make changes in both direction and pace. The journey has been good. I would not trade what I have learned from my travels, it has prepared me for whatever is next.

As the General Conference of United Methodist Church comes to a close this week, it seems, once again, we will hear victory speeches and plans of secession made by the artificial winners and losers. Again, persons, like myself, will be thrust on a new road toward a new place. While I may be just a few steps ahead of some others on this road of change, I have yet to arrive, so my observations are incomplete.  Road Less Traveled

Personally, my soul and body say, it is time for me to arrive. I need to find stable ground where I can place my feet and enter into relationships with persons whom I can count on. Only fixed destinations can provide these necessary human commodities. Allow me to humbly share three lessons from this road I have traveled before and now. I share these simple platitudes with those who are ahead, beside or behind me on any road of uncertainty:

  1. There is more than one right path. Let’s not assume Robert Frost poetic plea to take the road less traveled is the absolute right road for us. We can confidently step onto any new road, trusting it will lead us to places that need who we are and what we have to offer. We need many persons traveling down many roads to fully complete and represent the Body of Christ in the world.
  2. Many good voices will beckon us to take differing routes. These voices are important. Some will lead us down the new road while other’s counsel will help us navigate our own journey, though these other voices traveled a different route. Our Voice must lead us to our path, there is no other authentic way. May all voices find a sounding board, a person(s), (per sonare“, a sounding through) that properly reflects the full and necessary call toward the new day needed for our times.
  3. We will arrive. Every journey has an end. No person has the energy to wander down roads without coming to a destination. The human spirit can only travel an unknown road for so long before it longs to land. The longing to land is a determinative force that will lead us to the next place. While we all may land in new places at differing times, new outposts will be established and the new ground shall be tilled, planted and harvested.

Message-in-a-BottleTo my United Methodist sisters and brothers with me on this road, I have nothing profound to offer. I can offer these few notes from my own travelogue to those who feel like they are being thrust onto a new road. I offer them to the Wind that blows where it will and trust like a message in a bottle they will wash ashore to the right place and the right time. Every journey has a beginning, middle, and end; the grace we so often speak is among all along the roads we travel.

 

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On the Other Side of the Cross Mark 16: 1-8

PilotTwo hunters go moose hunting in Canada, and hire a pilot to fly them to a remote region.  He tells them at the drop off point, “I`ll be back in one week, and remember I can only carry one moose out of here.”  A week passes; the pilot returns and the hunters have two moose.  The pilot says, “Hey, I told you guys no more than one moose.” One of the hunters replies, “Look, the pilot told us the same thing last year and we gave him a big tip to take both moose out.”  The three of them argue for few minutes; the pilot gives in, and agrees to take both moose.

They load up the moose and fire up the plane.  The plane shudders and strains trying to take off.  It finally gets the wheels off the ground five feet, ten feet and then runs out of runway and smashes into a tree.  The two hunters dazed and confused make there way out of the wreckage.  One hunter looks at the other and says, “Where are we?”  The other looks around and replies, “About 200 yards further than we were last year!Women at tomb

After Jesus’ death, the women who went to the tomb must have felt they weren’t more than 200 yards further than when they first encountered Jesus; right back where they started; without much hope; worrying about who is going to do the impossible and roll the stone away.  The tragedy of his death is compounded when they arrive by the fact it appears his body has been stolen.  They had to wonder if the short gain was worth this pain.

Any of us feel we’re about 200 yards further than we were last year?  We might have made some small gains and we’re thankful for those steps forward.  Some of us can speak of real resurrecting changes since last year.  My pastoral sense says a lot of us wish we could know greater change than being 200 yards further down the road.

The clerk at Men’s Wearhouse confirmed my hunch.  She learned I was a pastor, and asked, “What is the sermon about?”  I asked if she ever felt she wasn’t much further down the road than last year.  She said, “Yes, and I wish it could be different.”  I told her it could, and encouraged her to be kind to herself and don’t let go of a Loving Lord who is working in her, even now.  I wished her Happy Easter!

Our longings causes us to gravitate to this day of caterpillars turning to butterflies, grass turning green, eggs cracking open with little chicks.  These symbols are fine as long they’re reflections of the greater reality.  We must be careful with these metaphors and not allow them to reduce or trivialize the message; causing us to settle for less.  It’s too easy to think good thoughts and to try harder while reciting certain maxims.  While, our platitudes may keep us safe, they can’t fill the longings of our heart.

Easter SymbolsYou didn’t dress in your Easter best to hear an Easter history lesson that enlightens, yet doesn’t invite you to consider a category defying message that declares earth shattering change is possible.  You’re tired of looking for the living among the dead based on someone else’s Easter expectations.  Deep down you pray that Easter Day will confirm your hopes real trans-formative change is possible in your life and in this world.  Me too!

A minor character in the Easter story undergoes that kind of great change; the man sitting where Jesus lay in the tomb.  The text says he was dressed in white, but it doesn’t tell he’s an angel, though Mark makes him sound like an angel.  Mark also places a man in the garden the night of Jesus’ arrests.  In Mark 14:52, we’re told a man, wearing nothing but a linen garment was following Jesus as Jesus is seized, he fled naked, leaving his garment.  Now, in Mark 16 a man sits in Jesus’ empty tomb fully clothed saying, “Do not be afraid!”  Does Mark use this literary figure to make the point; Jesus is on the loose; transforming people in dramatic ways, like this man? Man at tomb

The leading roles in the Easter story are played by the women.  Their transformations aren’t as considerable as the man in the tomb.  But, at least they experience the news of resurrection; for their love of Jesus opens up a possibility that the other fear-ridden disciples missed because they stayed behind closed doors.  The women demonstrate what it is like to let go of fear, so they might be free to find out if Jesus is alive and offering life changing power.  They aren’t exactly sure what happened even after seeing the empty tomb with their own eyes; but, they are in position to consider what an empty tomb means to them and the other followers.

They tell the others.  The way the news is received reminds us that each person needs to have their own experience with resurrection to see beyond the land of the ever dying into the land of the ever living.  Each of us must be open to the Easter message; exercising a faith that behaves like Jesus is raised.  Resurrection news can only change the lives of those who choose to be in relationship with the Risen Savior.

Disciples after Jesus DeathI realize this is starting to sound like one of those Easter messages that suggests anyone who has experienced great Easter change is better off than those whose faith remain uncertain.  Let us be honest with each other and ourselves; none of us are any different than those disciples huddled in fear in that upper room, knowing they had abandoned Jesus after spending three years with him.  Death levels the ground and causes all of us to shudder.  It is likely we would have remained behind too when the women left, if we were not AWOL already.

Jesus told his disciples he would rise from the dead before dying.  So, we might think Jesus would chastise them now.  A careful reading of all four Gospels reveals Jesus doesn’t berate, blame, or call for retribution on these of little faith.  Patiently (Thomas) and forgivingly (Peter) he invites them to let go of their shame; works with them right where they are.  Later, he breathes forgiveness on the whole bunch; acting in the same manner he did toward his executioners.  Jesus will not let his disciples carry baggage from the past; because his resurrection sets them with the message that new life is possible for them and us, 200 yards at a time.

The risen Jesus is the definitive revelation of the heart of God; showing us love prevails over hate; forgiveness rules life, not blame; humble service is the way of world, not lording over those we cause to feel they are unworthy; and nonviolence is the way to confront hate, blame, power, and violent crosses.  The Risen Christ wants to release us from that same old tunes of the false self and invite us into a relationship and an open-ended future that develops our true self, not from the top down; but from the inside out. Thomas

The good reason we feel we’re only 200 yards further down the narrow road with Jesus is because inward transformation doesn’t happen easily.  Living to the rhythm of the empty tomb; dying little deaths so we may know little resurrection; continues to ask us to lay down our life; while remaining hope filled God knows what do with a life offered freely for the sake of others.  This is an act of passion that requires us to be open to a sense of mystery that defies full understanding, just like when you say I love you.  If we’ll remain before the mystery in wonder long enough, gradually the beauty of its truth unfolds and is revealed, 200 yards at a time.

The Easter story is more than an account of the miraculous ‘returning’ of Jesus’ body, we’re not here for a history lesson.  Neither is the raising of Jesus a showy miracle, we not here for a magic show.  Jesus’ resurrection assures us transformation is possible.

PotterTransformation happens as we live life one moment at a time, and little by little small changes build on other changes, day by day shaping our future.  We trust all those changes are dramatically transforming us for tomorrow.  As the true self grows, we realize all the ways the risen Christ has loved us, picked us up when we fell short, and freed us to mine the immortal diamond of our soul, which God stamped with divine DNA.  Jesus’ empty tomb is the reference point where our 200 yard resurrections are taking us.  For now, Christ is already alive; changing us, one resurrection at a time.

Mark’s gospel concludes without concluding.  You expect to hear how the women left dancing and everything changed.  We get a ragged non-ending as they run away in terror and amazement, talking to no one.  It’s as if there are three ellipsis dots at verse 8-more to come.  There is more to come, each one of us can supply our own ending; telling each other how far down the road we are this year because of Christ’s resurrection.  We are writing the rest of the story two hundred yards at a time.

Christ is Risen, what say you?

He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Resurrection

Choosing to Change Colossians 1:9-20

In Pat Conroy’s 1995 novel, “Beach Music”, Max Rusoff was a refugee who survived the brutality of the Cossacks, though his home in the Ukraine was rampaged in that early 20th century period.  Many Jews died during that time; but Max escaped and immigrated to the little town of Waterford, South Carolina.  There he met and married Esther, a Polish immigrant.  When letters from Esther’s relatives in Poland stopped arriving in 1939, they became worried.  They went to their congressman and asked for a search to be done.  The news was bad-all of her family was killed in Hitler’s holocaust.

The investigation revealed a curious thing; a girl was found whose name matched that of Esther’s niece: Ruth Graubart who was hiding in a Catholic nunnery.  It turned out only to be a coincidence-same name, no relation.  Max told the congressman they would like to bring that girl to America.  He was reminded it would cost $50,000 because she was not his.  Max insisted knowing her family was probably dead, and if he did not help, no other person would.  Though most people might think the life of one little girl doesn’t make much difference in a war this big.  Max thought it mattered.

Max and Esther Rusoff sold almost everything, mortgaged their house and business, and borrowed the money they needed to bring that orphan girl to America.  When the boat arrived in Waterford, a skinny, shy, hungry, looking little girl walked down the gangplank into a crowd of waiting people that came to see this extraordinary scene of this girl walk into waiting arms of the Rusoff family, who were there to embrace her.  The couple greeted her in Yiddish and welcomed her to her new home, family, and world.

Someone acted out of love for this powerless child that was trapped on all sides.  They treated her as if she was their own child, which required a costly sacrifice.  They delivered her by paying the price to rescue her and gave her new life.  Everything in the life of that little girl changed.

That story sounds like the gospel to me, for the essence of gospel is about change.  A powerful gospel metaphor is the redemption done for us in Jesus Christ.  That metaphor is spelled out in this scripture; suggesting we’ve been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s own Son; because of that we can undergo a great change.  Jesus Christ is the reason we have the power to choose to change.

We are more open to change as a possibility when passing from one period to another.  We are on the threshold of a new church year.  This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday; the finale of the church year and the precursor of Advent, the beginning of the new church year.  This is the day we celebrate the supremacy of Christ.  So, let’s consider how the power of Christ makes the choice of change possible and what choices of change we might need to make as we enter into this coming Holy Season.

Change is necessary for all of us because in some way we have fallen into slavery of this world or have been dragged down by some darkness.  This happens in our interior and exterior lives, psychologically and sociologically, in the inner structures of our self-awareness, and the bureaucratic structures of our corporate and political systems.  We put our trust in the created world; increasing the possibility for idolatry; whose by-product is enslavement.

The litmus test for the gospel is: Does this “Old, Old Story” contain the power to set us free from things which enslave us?  Let’s take the example of addictions, which can enslave the soul of any person and see if the Jesus’ story can give us the power to choose to change.  Does the good news have the power to help an addict make the choice to change?

Addictions start innocently enough, either with a substance (i.e. drugs or alcohol) or activity (i.e. work or gambling) that provides some relief or escape.  We make a choice to mask our feelings of being left out or we are looking for ways to displace the agony we feel because we are experiencing some form of vulnerability.  The substance or activity helps us cope for a time, but over time a switch happens and we don’t even know how it happens.  We are no longer using it, it is using us.  We have to have it, and will do whatever it takes to have it.  To see a person fixed on a substance or activity that reduces them to stumbling around with eyes that look like motel windows with vacancy signs, breaks the heart of God and the people who love them.  Believe me I know, and so do some of you.

We can become so enslaved we cannot see we’re entrapped.  We grow accustomed to the dark and view darkness as light, ugliness as beauty, lies as truth, and bad as good.  No normal person would allow themselves to be handcuffed, put in prison, and think we are free, though we are captive.  Yet, the cunning and baffling power of an addiction accomplishes that kind of enslavement while making us thinks we are free because we have lost our awareness of whose we are in God and how much we are loved by God.  We forget we are created by God to love and be loved, to work and play, to know the heights of joy and the creative agonies of deep passion.

We are stuck in our addiction and don’t possess the power within us to make the choice to change.  We will remain stuck until we encounter the Christ who is king over these addictive enslavements of biblical proportions.  We can make the choice to put our faith in Christ’s ways and connect our lives to a power made available to those who enter in a relationship with God’s Son.  We can know the life changing power that enables us to choose to change after making a choice to enter into this active relationship with the King of Kings.  Can I get a witness from a recovering addict who has connected to a higher power so you could make choices to change?

The choice to connect our lives to Christ’s always means setting aside self-interest that perpetuates enslavement.  Setting aside self-interest asks Christ to help us make choices that not only sets us free from our destructive self, but seeks to set others free who have been impacted by our previous choices.  We will know we have put our faith in the gospel story when we not only experience the power to change, but others in our lives are experiencing that same power too.  We know we’re free to choose change when we can say yes or no, for not only our sake, but also for the sake of others.

We can choose to casts away unhealthy activities that control us.  We can choose to say no to friends without fear of rejection.  We can choose to stand on our values; though the decision may be filled with fears of the unknown.  We can act in the best interest of all despite clamoring voices that beg us to cut ethical corners.  We do not have to remain captive to any force that destroys our own lives or hurts the welfare of others.  We can choose to change ourselves and in doing so change our world.

We need someone who has not fallen overboard to throw us a life preserver.  We need someone who has not been sucked into the deceit to announce the truth.  We need someone who has not strayed to call us back.  We need someone who has not been weakened to carry us until we can walk again.  We need a change agent in order to choose to change.  That is what God in Christ has done for us.  We declare the supremacy of Christ on this Sunday because he makes the choice of change possible.

Are you ready to make some changes in these coming days of Advent and Christmas?  This is the season we declare again the love of God is so great that heaven could not bear to see us enslaved.  Tis’ the season to trumpet that God defeated the power of enslavement by entering this world in the humblest of fashions, a baby placing complete trust in the supremacy of God.  We too can be set free by placing our trust in God’s Deliver, who activates the power within us to choose to change.  The Babe of Bethlehem waits for us to run down the gangplank and place our lives into the loving arms who makes the choice of change possible.

Changed by the Spirit Acts 10:9-20, 44-48

It’s mid-August on a Sunday afternoon, 1948.  Inside a modest farmhouse in Middle America, lounges a Methodist family devoutly observing Sabbath rest.  They’d been to church, but it is now mid-afternoon.  Dad’s feet are up on the worn out stool.  Mom and kids are resting, watching the dust mites drift through the shafts of sunlight streaming through the picture window.  Before long it will be time for Mom to re-comb the children’s hair as Dad will re-tighten the knot in his tie and head out for the evening vesper service.

Dad is finishing reading of the family’s fine Southern Methodist Episcopal heritage.  Suddenly and shockingly, the words on the page re-arrange themselves.  A message from God appears.  It says there is a new Cary Grant movie playing at the cinema.  The Spirit thinks they should take in the matinée!  Surely they would resist this cinematic command; thinking it was a mistake.  It would take great prodding by God for this family to change their fundamental beliefs, even though God said so.  This vision of change challenged these mid-20th century folk faith’s sensibilities.

If you think my illustration sounds absurd, what about the spiritual shock Peter felt when he received his vision.  There are few shocks to the system like a spiritual shock, which ask for change.  Peter’s vision comes as a holy surprise; asking him to realign his values.  Unlike some religious customs, God’s laws about clean and unclean foods are traceable to the Bible.  Blue laws about theater attendance and card playing were not derived from specific scriptures, but from principals in the Bible.  Peter could flip open his Torah to Leviticus and quote chapter and verse why they ate kosher, and didn’t eat other foods.  So, in this rooftop vision God commands Peter to break dietary laws from the good book and Peter is scandalized, his head is spinning as he considers making this change.

Despite their belief in Jesus as Messiah, Peter and the apostles still saw themselves as Jews.  Their Jewish identity was added to through the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son; their core religious identity had not been replaced.  Peter hears a knock at the door and a delegation of swarthy-looking Italians, representing a Roman centurion, Cornelius.  They say they are seeking Peter.  As a devout Jew, it was Peter duty to avoid Gentiles, or convert them.  It is unimaginable Peter would go with them to Caesarea, “Caesar-ville”, the name smacks of all that was loathsome to devout Jews.

Peter is ready to tell them to go away.  The Spirit whispers, “I sent them, go with them now“.  As Bob Dylan sang, “Change is a coming!”  When Peter enters Cornelius’ house, his first words are not the pinnacle of social grace.  He says, “It’s illegal for me, a Jew, to consort with you Gentile types?”  “I’m only here because God ordered me!  What do you want?

Cornelius shares his vision; Peter speaks the good news found in Jesus Christ.  To Peter’s wonder, a new day of Pentecost happens to the entire household; the Holy Spirit is poured out on these Gentiles.  No less change happens to them than what happened to the disciples in Jerusalem.  Peter can’t believe it, but he can’t deny the change.  He calls for water to baptize.

Peter’s change will not be complete for some time.  He will continue to believe Gentiles should be turned into Jews before they can be accepted as followers of Christ.  He will not make a complete change until Peter and Paul will have one of the early church’s most famous Donnybrook on this question at a later time.  Peter will insist Gentiles keep kosher and be circumcised, while Paul will insist such requirements are ludicrous.  Paul’s change will take as he comes to terms that “saved by grace thorough faith”. means God doesn’t wait for ritual before offering grace.

This is the Peter who walked the hills of Galilee with Jesus, saw Jesus heal Gentile children, though it was criminal for a Jewish midwife to birth a Gentile baby. It took him time to connect God’s grace with the times Jesus ate with tax collectors and spoke kindly to prostitutes.  Still, Peter had not been paying close attention to the activity of God.  In the end, Peter changes; realizing God has always sought all people; offering saving grace.

There’s a detail in Acts 10:5 that assumes biblically literacy; the city Peter receives his vision-Joppa.  There are two stories that involve Joppa: this one, and Jonah.  Jonah was prophet who fled to Joppa refusing to go to preach to no-good non-Jews in Nineveh.  Jonah believed salvation was only for Jews, he wasn’t going to be responsible if these non-Jews repented.  He flees and ends up in Joppa.  Years later, Peter ends up in Joppa, and the lesson for him is the same as it was for Jonah: God offers grace to all people.  Joppa is a changing place for both Jonah and Peter.

The primary change at Pentecost of the Holy Spirit showing up is a broader understanding of God’s desire is to offer grace to persons in all stations of life.  Everything God has done from the call of Abraham to the resurrection of Jesus was to extend God’s grace to the greater world.  As benefactors of undeserved grace, we are to partner in that process, not hindering it with our expectations and rules, which are rooted in a limited world view.  When the wind of the Spirit blows we are asked to change attitudes and actions to welcome folks who are indeed different.

The struggle to see our union with people different from ourselves in the 21st is no different from it was for Peter in the 1st century. In every age, we use our piety and practice as the yardstick; measuring others.  Listen to our words toward people who worship less reverently than we.  Hear how we speak of groups that associate with people we don’t understand.  We cynically wonder about churches that loosely govern themselves.  We relegate people who are different to being less informed; categorizing our differences with labels that suggest they are not as highly evolved.

In 1 Corinthians Paul teaches how are differences are necessary parts of the whole body.  He says if one rejoices, we all rejoice; if one suffers, we all suffer.  Paul once like Peter, but his heart changed; realizing if one has a problem, all have a problem.  The cliché, “It is not my problem”, has no place in the Body of Christ.  The whole body works together to bend and remove a thorn in the foot.  Paul asserts that happens in the Body of Christ.

What does the Spirit need to change in us as Pentecost approaches, so we may reach people who have not been included before this day?  What new sister and brother needs to be involved in our family: the migrant worker who builds our city and roads; the troubled teenager who is more trouble than they seem worth; the homeless schizophrenic who scares us; the young con who has never been told or told the truth; the licentious mother who struggles with things few of us can imagine; or the hard to understand African whose culture is utterly foreign.  If the grace of God through Christ can come to us it can come to any of these and others.

For some of these people who are different from us and others the Spirit will have to change some things in our lives, so we might be better vessels of God’s grace, just as Peter’s heart and mind had to change.  This kind of change is no different from the maternal love that adapts and changes to the different needs of our children at different time.  We, like Peter, can make these changes; so we, like Peter, can more clearly declare our one faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ who is this world’s hope.

Acts 10 concludes with something Peter could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.  After baptizing Cornelius’ household, Peter is invited to live with, these Gentiles for a few days: sleep under their non-Jewish roof and eat their non-kosher food; and he did.  The Spirit of Pentecost that converted Peter spurs us into many subsequent changes.  We should expect new revelations that bring about further changes; for the essence of God’s mercy is wider than our imagination and deeper than our thoughts. 

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!

Changes Come Ready or Not

Sometimes changes come at us whether we are ready or not.  My mom’s 11 hour surgery on Wednesday and the finding of what could be some additional cancer has brought some changes in our family that could require some real adjustments.  The most immediate change it has wrought is expressed by her grandkids who want to know, “What are we going to do for Christmas this year?”  Of course the answer is, “We don’t know“.

My sermon based on the gospel text for the Second Sunday of Advent, Matthew 3: 1-12 started me thinking what I might say when the subject arises.  Here is what I am thinking.  This unexpected change may be a way we can mark this Christmas as more than just another family gathering of great gifts done in the name of commemorating Christ birth long ago.  This is time of in our family and for our kids and this kid (me) to:

1. Clean out of some cluttered traditions.

2. Tune ears to the carols of the season words.

3. Think a bit more about giving to grandma than what we might       receive from her.

John, the Baptizer says to me and my house, if we will receive this gift of change, the Christ child can rock our souls and can give us the best gift we may have ever received on any Christmas.  So I am not out of line when I say to Advent people-“Repent, the Kingdom of God is near and getting us ready for Christmas!

Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 7:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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