The Wrong Way May be the Right Way

great-reversalThere are two approaches to spiritual life. We can exclude and triumph over the negative parts, leading us to a kind of heroic spirituality based on willpower and achievement. But if we are honest, what we are really doing is excluding the dark side that we don’t want to look at, or the people we don’t want to deal with.

Instead, we can integrate the negative–forgiving and accepting the imperfection, agreeing with Paul the supposed inferior is “the most indispensable.” We won’t strive to remain “innocent (the word means “unwounded”)  because the way toward resurrection and universal life is through Christ’s grace that is always sufficient.

Grace is Sufficient

Thanks R. Rohr!

Easter Passion Revealed Luke 24: 1-12

IMG_0999When we die; we’re dead or that’s what the women thought as they went to the tomb on Easter morn to mourn. They went expecting to find a cold hard cadaver, but upon arrival they were perplexed for the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. They were terrified as two men in dazzling white clothing reminded them that Jesus spoke of this day. They run to tell the disciples.; the disciples call their story an idle tale. Peter runs to take a look; it says he was amazed or dazed, I say; unsure what happened.

Many of us are like them when it comes to Easter, unsure what really happened. We go along with the customs; we like new ties and wearing hats, and the ham after church. So, we give the Easter message nod, and relegate it to simpler categories we more easily understand like: caterpillars turning to butterflies and grass turning green. Yet, those ideas leave us only with good thoughts; inspiring us to do what we can. In my humble opinion, people are tired of moral lessons that implore them to hold on and keep hoping. That version of the Easter message is religion-lite; domesticating the truth with a homey service of rising to our destinies. I pray the words I speak resist any reduction of the mystery of our faith.tired

The mystery of faith that declares Christ has died and Christ has risen implies Jesus really appeared after dying. When we look at the accounts many seem to feel those appearances were deceiving as the cliché goes; they weren’t quite sure what really happened. Yet, without his appearing, we would be scratching our heads about an empty tomb; thinking someone stole the body and his soul flew away. That would leave us with a religion of trying to be good enough so our soul can too fly away and be with Jesus. The appearances of Jesus declared what appears to be over isn’t over; things aren’t as they appear. The Risen One’s appearances aren’t deceiving; they are conceiving, new life; that’s an Easter message!

Embracing Easter involves setting aside some of our self-enlightened human logic. The essence of Easter includes some unknown. It’s not a riddle to be solved. It’s a mystery to be gawked at, like the morning sun. Easter invites us into the mystery of how Jesus who could do nothing for himself when they nailed him to a cross, could trust God knew what to do with a life offered in love. Let’s not recoil from declaring it’s anything less than mystery of how God brought Jesus back to life from the dead.

Known unknownAn experiment chose one hundred and sixty names randomly from the phone book. For one month, a group prayed for eighty of them, but not the other half. They asked God to open up the first eighty to spiritual things. After a month, they called all 160 and didn’t tell them about the experiment. They asked a variety of questions including, if there was anything in their lives they could pray for with them. Sixty-nine from the group of eighty that were prayed for said yes; sharing a concern. Only one of the eighty not prayed for responded positively. What is that? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That is precisely the point, it is a mystery.

Our metaphors can’t conceive the incomparable claim of Easter: Jesus was raised from the dead. Thus, our inconvenient rituals that express faith in resurrection power can get in the way of our Burger King style religion of having it our way. Self-made religion settles for less than what can be known. The unknown of Easter invites us to step to the rhythm of the mystery of faith that plays the tune of laying down our lives, so we might know God can raise up a life offered out of love for the ‘Other’ and others.Be-Real

There’s a 900-pound gorilla in our “I’ll do it myself culture”. It lives in the life’s living room, yet we’re reluctant to talk about it. It’s taboo to say our ego constructs; positions that identify us, powers we hold, and people we know, don’t contain what we need to make meaning out of our lives. So, we keep pretending, rarely speaking of our frustrations of trying to make life work out as we wish. It’s refreshing to meet a person who acknowledges it’s hard propping up ideas they hope are right, chasing success they rarely achieve, and seeking approval that never fully satisfies. If we could be real, and let the parts of our lives that don’t offer real life die, counting them as a loss, God could raise up a new life in ways we’ve not imagined.

Easter asks us to place our faith in this mystery, Christ freely gave his life for you and me; trusting God would raise him from the dead and make him Lord all life, including our own life and everyone else’s life, too. If Jesus is Lord of all, that makes his resurrection power available to all. There is no partiality in God’s love, one group or person being favored over another by our witness. Jesus is Lord over all persons and creation. If our resurrected King is in charge (and not us) then we can love what God loves, which is both the good and bad of the human condition and human history. We can partner with Christ in paying the price, so others may know this same love God found in Christ Jesus that makes real life possible.

PopeFrancis-washing-feet-young-people-The Roman pontiff, Pope Francis, continues to inspire. We’re thankful he’s a person who models Christ’s humility in powerful ways. Many of the things he has said and done are like Christ appearing after his resurrection. Last Maundy Thursday, he did as all other popes have done, washed the feet of others as a gesture of service. Though previous popes only washed the feet of Christians, Pope Francis went to a prison for young offenders and washed the feet of 12 persons, ages 14 to 21. Among them were, for the very first time, women and Muslims. When he stooped to wash the feet of a young Serbian Muslim girl who was a criminal, we see the risen Christ afoot in our world eating and cavorting and washing the feet of sinners.

We don’t have to be the pope or pastor make appearances of the Risen Christ that conceive new life. The Risen Christ counts on us to keep up appearances. The Risen Christ appears when we reach out to persons dug in hole of addictive behaviors, giving them a hand up from their grave. He appears in the touch offered, conceiving new life. The Risen Christ appears when we give a push to persons stuck in a predicament; feeling there’s no way out. He appears in the nudge, conceiving new life. The Risen Christ appears when we sit beside persons who have wandered far from who they are; and repeatedly tell them they’re a person of sacred worth. He appears in our words, conceiving new life. As we offer ourselves to persons in need of new life; Easter passion is revealed; showing again God knows what do with a life offered in the name of the ‘Other’ for the sake of others.Russian Priest

The Russian Orthodox Church employs the ancient liturgy of “Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed“, like we do the “Amen” in a Protestant service. At the end of the 70-year reign of the communist in Russia, a state lecturer concluded an address: “There’s no God. Jesus Christ never existed; there is no such thing as a Holy Spirit. The Church is oppressive and out of date. The future belongs to the State, and the State is in the hands of the Party.” After he sat down a priest asked to say two words, three words in English. The lecturer not wanting to look off guard granted permission. The priest shouted that ancient piece of liturgy: “Christ is risen!” The people roared back: “He is risen indeed!” They’d been saying it for a thousand years, why stop because certain intellectuals and politicians claim God is dead.

Even in the midst of unrest in Russia on this Easter Sunday, we can be sure the words “Christ is risen” will be declared by an orthodox priest to the people of God gathered in the great cathedrals of the former Soviet Union. What do you think followers of Christ in Russia will echo back when that bearded priest says, “Christ is risen?” “Christ is risen indeed!” Let’s join their voices in Irving, TX on Easter this morning; declaring to live the mystery of our faith:

“Christ is risen!’

What say you?

Christ is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Happy-Easter-in-sand

On the Other Side of the Cross: Making Peace with Ourselves John 20:19-23

ArnoldSome of our sisters and brothers thought a bumper sticker that read: Jesus is coming soon and he’s mad as ‘?&%$#@$’ was a good idea.  I see why we might think Jesus would do a Schwarzenegger and march into the palace of Pontius Pilate to say, Big mistake, Guv!  Who can blame him for busting in the Sanhedrin saying, Payback time, boys!  But, he didn’t.

Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to maybe 500 people.  None were his enemies; unless we count disciples; with friends like them who needs enemies?  Jesus has unfinished business with them but, it’s not what we think.  The first thing Jesus says to his unfaithful friends was Shalom or Hello.  These are words of comfort and assurance, not words of anger and vengeance.  Jesus says “peace be with you” three times; offering a peace they would need before offering it to their world.

We’re not accustomed to peace Jesus offers.  Our familiar peace tries to end conflict with blame or defeat.  We keep the peace by building good fences.  But, there’s no lasting peace if there is resentment and lives are segmented.  Peace of Christ doesn’t grow naturally in the relationships of our divided world.  So, when we see peace in a person or situation it can seem strange, for we’re not accustomed to this gift from God.  Yet, when it is intentionally offered and experienced, we know it taste good. Fruit of Peace

The peace Jesus offers is a peace that passes understanding and lives in unity by offering forgiveness based on the gracious rule of God.  We’re made new creatures when Christ’s peace falls on us, not distracted by daily challenges or worldly havoc.  A person who has made peace within can fulfill what Jesus grants when he offers the “power to forgive or retain sins”.  We aren’t sure what that means, so we move to a subject we’re more familiar, Doubting Thomas.  That way we’re not challenged by these words that question some of long-held beliefs: 1. We have direct access to God; 2. We don’t need a human agent to aid us in the forgiveness our sins.

First, these words challenge the idea that every person deals directly with God.  Lone Ranger Faith, which thinks it has direct access to God, tends to warp the image of God to the world and distort the activity of God in our lives.  So, God invites us into a relationship through Jesus, our mediator, the definitive revelation of God in the world.  Jesus shows through his death and resurrection that scapegoating, violence, exclusion, desertion, doubt, and all human frailties are forgiven.  We see in Jesus, how far God will go to show God’s love; making Jesus our direct conduit to God.

Bridge to GodOur access to God comes by investing ourselves into the rhythm of Jesus.  We know God if we’re willing to bury our smaller selves; so God can raise up our new selves.  We will make peace with God and ourselves as our lives mirror the life of Jesus; living his resurrected life, like he.

Second, his words defy the idea that all we need to do is to ask forgiveness and we’re forgiven.  Protestants have reacted to the church’s past role in offering forgiveness; believing God doesn’t intend for the church to be God’s judge on earth.  Our overreaction to prior abuses miss the mark of what Jesus meant; perhaps hindering people from making peace; fooled into thinking they alone can secure their own forgiveness.Forgiveness

We don’t have power to coerce heaven.  God doesn’t wait for us to repent before we’re forgiven.  God took the first step in Jesus; so in one sense every sin is a forgiven sin.  But, the church is to speak this good news that God doesn’t hold our sins against us, and we’re to invite people to cross the bridge to new life God built by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What Jesus means by the power to forgive sins is we enable people to make peace within when they realized they’re forgiven.  The people of the church are God’s mouthpiece, along with hands and feet, of forgiveness.

The strictly spiritual view of forgiveness says, God forgives me, and that’s all that matters?  The spiritual life is connected to flesh and blood.  So, forgiveness is realized through humans who speak up and make amends.  We don’t grant forgiveness; but we assure each other (every chance we get) our sins are forgiven on earth; sins don’t happen in heaven.  We validate what God has done in Christ when we act as priest to each other; speaking words of assurance and prodding to each other to let go of what weighs us down, until we’re free to live in peace with God and ourselves.

AmendsThere’s nothing like the miracle of forgiveness.  Michael Carlucci was in his Connecticut apartment after a two-day bender of drinking and drugs.  A 24-year old neighbor Scott Everett came home from a night of drinking too and found his apartment had been burglarized.  In the commotion, he locked himself out.  Scott pounded on Mr. Carlucci’s door yelling, “Let me in!”  When the door was opened, Carlucci thought the young man had a knife.  He ran and got a gun, and in the struggle that ensued, he killed the boy.

Scott’s father is Rev. Walter Everett.  He and his grief-stricken wife huddled in the courtroom as Carlucci was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years.  At first, the preacher thought it was too light of a sentence for the life of his son.  He listened to the apology of the man and was moved by his sorrow.  The minister forgave the man, and in doing so, he lost his marriage.  Later, Everett officiated the wedding of his son’s killer.

Carlucci told of the first letter he received in prison from Everett.  He told me he had forgiven me for the love of God.  Tears were coming down my face.  It made me feel like I wanted to live, where before that I didn’t care.  Carlucci may never have known what Christ had done if he had not known it through this man who made it real for him. Everett

Our appetites are teased when we see a sign that reads Fresh Bread for Sale.  We would be disappointed if we go inside and learn it’s a sign store that doesn’trep sell bread.  When we spend more time pointing out sin rather than offering forgiveness for sin, we throw into question the sign out front.  People expect the church to be forgiving, so souls can find a place where they make inner peace with God.  Christ’s peace is made possible when the church regularly offers God; by breathing on each other and our world a forgiveness that comes from the live giving breath of God.

It sounds unchristian to think about refusing to forgive sins in Jesus’ name.  That is what Jesus seems to mean upon giving the power to retain sins.  We might understand better what that means if we remember how we don’t always know or engage in what forgiveness entails and just want to be excused.  Forgiveness is hard work; requiring confession and change; admitting we’ve hurt God, ourselves and others.

act of compassionWe’re privileged to announce the good news of forgiveness through Jesus, but we are also responsible to not change its terms, so it remains good news.  If someone would rather be excused than forgiven, we can only painfully and lovingly retain their sins and suffer along with those who remain burdened with unforgiveness   If forgiveness cannot be offered, we’re responsible to God and each other to continue to offer forgiveness; knowing there will be no lasting peace until all of us know the peace of God from within that comes through the power of forgiveness.

Who do you need to offer the peace of Christ; assuring them of the forgiveness of God?  Some of us need to start with ourselves and sit with a mature and loving friend who can point us back to God’s forgiving ways.  Some of us know a name right now that needs to be assured they are forgiven.  Someone may cross our path and surprise us; needing to hear the good news of God’s forgiveness.  Be bold in speaking of God’s forgiveness to yourself, each other, or stranger.  After all we’re exhaling the peace of God into the world.  The Peace of Christ be with you!

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

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.

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!

“After Easter”

We went and saw Tom Shadyac’s new documentary “I Am” on Easter night.  He is the director of cult comedies like “Ace Venture”, “Nutty Professor”, and “Bruce Almighty”.  This film is much different!  It’s powerful message capped off our Easter Sunday.  Check out the trailer by clicking here or below.

Shadyac documents the emerging story of our interconnectedness which technology is starting to describe in quantum like ways.  Science is starting to acknowledge our DNA is wired to cooperate not compete.

Then on this (Monday) morning, I listened to what Peter Rollins, a new social media acquaintance, had to say on Easter morning.  So poignantly he speaks of all the ways we deny the resurrection when we act like what we are separate from others.  Check out his message  by clicking here or below.

I wondered yesterday in my message what would be different “After Easter” this year.  Shadyac and Rollins put it together for me-I deny the resurrection every time I deny my connection to every living creature fashioned by the hand of God.

So, I laid my head down last night and asked myself the question, what would be different “After Easter” this year.  I experienced a simple revelation.  What would be different “After Easter” this year… ME!

Your Sunday Name

When I hear someone yell, “SIR!” my attention is not roused; they’re calling an older man.  Then I hear again: “SIR!”  To my surprise, he comes toward ME with my keys.  “Hey, sir, you left these,” he says.  I wonder when did I become “sir?”  I see myself as a “hey”; but not “sir”.  When did I say bye to my carefree days of being a “young stud.”  I don’t want to accept I have entered the “hey sir-hood” of my life.  My name has changed.  A name change speaks of a new stage marked by a new identity because of a change in our lives.  No matter how welcomed the change, it’s hard to let go of the old name that describes a previous reality.

Mary Magdalene was still holding onto Friday names of sorrow, despair, and death when she returned to the Jesus’ tomb to spread spices on the deceased body.  Mary knew the space separating her from Jesus was infinite; yet sitting a near Jesus’ familiar earthly form was comforting.  She came there to relive “good old memories” that didn’t hurt or “good old feelings” experienced with him.  Yet, she was stuck in that old reality.

The stone was rolled away and the body was gone when Mary arrived.  She interpreted this surreal scene using the old reality.  She assumed it was a mistake; someone moved the body; or it wasn’t a mistake and his body stolen.  Never mind Jesus clearly said he would be raised after three days.  Never mind the angels sitting in the tomb clued her that something marvelous had occurred.  Even Jesus could not break Mary out of that old reality. she thought he was the gardener.  Finally, she got it when Jesus said her name.  He said, “Mary,” and she understood.  Or did she?

The first thing she said was “Rabbouni!”; means “teacher.”  Jesus said in reply, “Do not hold on to me.”  It’s peculiar since there is no evidence Mary was holding him.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical embrace.  Perhaps he was referring to her calling him, teacher; his Friday name.  Maybe he was saying let go of the way we were.  “Teacher” meant limited, fallible, and vulnerable.  Sunday had dawned; new life was possible.  Old categories no longer fit because Jesus Sunday name was “Risen Lord”.  The event of Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally transformed those limited, fallible, and vulnerable Friday names. 

I have trouble sleeping on the night before a big day; a lot stewing in my subconscious.  That often equals weird dreams.  Some dreams are so real we check to see if there is evidence they happened.  Dreams can become realities if we allow our limited Friday names to be changed to a Sunday name by a resurrection power that transcends it all and is real and available when any or everything needs to change.

Is this your story?  You knew Jesus; respected for his teachings; yet you had your arguments with the church.  There came a day when you realized something was missing.  So, you enrolled in a class, attended a Walk, participated in a spiritual activity and encountered the power in knowing the risen Christ.  You were transformed from being an agreement with a set of beliefs to being in a living relationship that brings daily strength, power, and joy that is visible in all you do.  Everything, including your name changed when you met the Christ of Easter.  Do you know that person?

The church equips people; providing tools needed for serving the world.  We offer classes, model ministry, and point to examples.  I fantasize about passing out a pill of theology or of waving a wand of biblical lessons so people can experience fully Jesus’ resurrection power.  However, if I led you to believe all is well if you are acquainted with the teachings of the Jesus; I would be do harm-misrepresenting the faith by reducing Jesus to his Friday name, ‘Rabbouni’.  The essential idea of the Christian faith is on that first Easter, Jesus the teacher, underwent a name change.  Jesus’ Sunday name became “Risen Lord” so our Friday lives might experience his Sunday resurrection power and our names may be changed.

The Stockholm Syndrome is when captives identifies with captors.  It’s the reason Patty Hearst assisted in robbing banks; Elizabeth Smart denied she was the missing and claimed to be a daughter of her captors.  Captives identify with their captors assuming they are less likely to be harmed if they fade into the background or mouth their ideology.  Citizens of liberated nations prefer previous despots rather than new-found freedom.  We want life to be predictable, and the older we get, the more predictable we want.  The spiritual version of the Stockholm Syndrome occurs when we can choose to remain in the tomb of an old predictable and safe life, rather than step toward new life because it seems unknown and risky.

Thanks be to our God who comes to us in surprising ways to disrupt when we are stuck in our same old ways.  God’s love never fails to call us from the tombs of our own making.  Our response to a God who surprises us with a persistent call is not to adopt or relearn teachings from a good teacher to get us to the next place in life.  Easter requires a vivid spiritual imagination to be in relationship with the risen Christ.  People with an Easter imagination walk with the living Risen Christ into all parts of their lives knowing in Christ they can experience the power to break loose from any grave entombing them in their old reality.  Resurrection changes everything; our name and our identity as we are reborn and remade.

This sermon was inspired by Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, who told of a man who changed his middle name to “After.”  After experiencing Christ, he reasoned, everything was different; so he added this reality to his name.  After we encounter the risen Lord we move past our Friday names to something infinitely better as we are changed in the process.  We get Sunday names that describe a new power in our lives that defines us as a whole new person AFTER encountering the Risen Christ.

An operator whose job was to assist airline passengers in making calls began her day quite routinely.  At 9:45 a.m., she received a call from a passenger on United 93.  The passenger told her the plane had been hijacked.  He asked her to call his wife.  He said, “Promise you’ll do that for me and let her know how much I love her and the boys.”  Then he asked her to pray with him.  The operator was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him.  After he was sure she would talk with his family, he told her they were going to try to stop the hijackers.  The phone dropped and she did not hear any more from the passenger.  In a matter of minutes, that woman’s name changed.  She went from “operator” to “minister.”  Her Friday name was “work as usual”; her Sunday name was “God’s instrument.”

Call Jesus by his Friday name, “Teacher”, and you can get by because he was a good person with good advice.  Call him by his Sunday name Risen Lord, and you will be changed.  Your Friday name may be “Business As Usual”, but your Sunday name can become “God’s Instrument”.  Your Friday name may “Sadness”, but your Sunday name can become “Joy”.  Your Friday name may “Prejudice”, but your Sunday name can become “Openness”.  Your Friday name may be “Weakness”, but your Sunday name can become “Strength in the Lord”.  Your Friday name may be “Despair”, but your Sunday name can become “Hope”.  Your Friday name may be “Fear”, but your Sunday name can become “Peace”.  Your Friday name may be “Death”, but your Sunday name can become “Resurrection”.  Friday is over.  Don’t hold on.  Let it go.  This is Sunday you have a Sunday name because Jesus Christ is Risen Indeed!

Christ the Lord is risen today!  He is Risen Indeed.

Happy Easter

Lingering a Little Longer in Holy Week

Some words needs no improvement.  Instead, the rest of us should just shine the light of Christ on them so they may live.

Richard Rohr is such person whom few could improve on his inspiring words.  His writings speak of the Christian way in the midst of suffering; reminding us of the dark side of passion week.  I need to hear words which remind me of the shadows of Good Friday; so I may more resiliently sing the bright sounds of Easter on Resurrection Day.

I feel deeply that much of our expressions of Christ’s way are watered down because of our proclivity to move quickly past the reality of darkness experienced on that Good Friday afternoon.  Rohr’s words, like Rembrandt’s painting, help me stay long enough to ponder what makes our redemption possible; love offered in the midst of awful hate, and light shone into the real darkness.

I share them with those who need them, like I.  They can be read in their entirety in his book Hope Against Darkness, p. 38.

You alone, Lord Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified.  You never play the victim, you never ask for vengeance, but you only breathe forgiveness.  While we, on this fearful earth, murder, mistrust, attack and hate.  Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates; we hate ourselves, but mistakenly kill you.

I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters, and in every form of life, whether innocent or guilty, worthy or unworthy.  We are all your blessed Body, and you have always loved me precisely in my unworthiness.  How can I not do the same to others?

Give me courage to practice these Jesus ways to all I encounter on this holy week.