Monday, April 30, 2012

A Thought

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:13

“Love” is another of those four-letter words that is so casually tossed about as carelessly as the more obscene and vulgar words we sometimes use when we lack the fullest clarity of our thoughts.  “Love” is an important word and is central to our theology as it is expressed in our doctrines, yet we often fail to equate what “love” means with the essence of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.  We have mistakenly come to believe “love” to be an emotion when it is actually, and especially within Jesus’ context, an act of the will independent of emotion; a “willingness” to put one’s own life aside for the sake of another.  “Love” perfected (that is, “sanctified”) is that love expressed toward someone from whom we can reasonably expect nothing in return.

An interesting element of the old doctrine of “predestination” is expressed in such a way that the Lord would do what He did on the Cross while knowing many would not respond.  Yet He chose to go through with it anyway.  This is the fullness of what it means to “love”.  It has nothing to do with an expected or even hoped-for response.  “Love” acts for its own sake.

The sooner the Church embraces this reality and teaches and preaches it without exception and without compromise, the sooner the Church can go about its business “doing” that love expressed and perfected.  There will still be rejection from the many, but we will persevere because the Lord loved us first.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

To Know ...

1 John 3:16-24                                                                                                                                   John 10:11-18

Reinhold Niebuhr was an early 20th-century Protestant theologian who was arguably among the most influential progressive Christians who helped to shape what we might call “liberal” today, "liberal" being somewhat relative to the context of the time.  Niebuhr was experiencing and witnessing the distress expressed by labor unions coming of age in the industrial Midwest, the labor movement that preceded the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.  From what I have gathered so far about this man, it would seem that as much as he believed in the transforming power and necessary fellowship of the Church, he was not such a fan of the "institutional", social club he believed Christianity had become in America

The disparity between blue-collar workers and the unfair labor practices used against them by the industrial "lords" of the day was as acute in the Church as it was in society and in the work place.  The "institutional" church Niebuhr seemed to disdain actually encouraged, if tacitly bless this disparity, dependent as the church had become on the benevolence of the wealthy and powerful.  Niebuhr believed the true Church had overlooked its highest calling in favor of social respectability.

So the essence of "socialism" in Niebuhr's theology was the spiritual and social ideal of the Church itself irrespective of politics.  That is, how we treat "the least among us" ultimately defines us as a people of the Church.  How we treat the "least among us" will spare us the Judgment - or - subject us to the Judgment.

"Among the many weaknesses of the Protestant movement, surely its indifference to the social substance of human existence is the most grievous one.  In an industrial civilization and in an age of nuclear terror, the renewal of the church must certainly include full awareness of the fact that we are all involved in the virtues and the vices, the guilt and the promises of our generation.  In a sense it is true that we cannot be saved unless we are all saved." 

I can only speculate as to what Niebuhr actually meant by the term "saved", but within the context I sense a collective understanding of the doctrines of justification and grace rather than an abstract, apocalyptic, or even personal one.  It is a component of the "liberation theology" that speaks to the contemporary state of political, social, and economic oppression that hurts people NOW; a theology that offers tangible hope NOW rather than later.  So within this context, Niebuhr's theology puts us all into the same doctrinal boat which is to say that if we do not work to "save" people NOW, we should not expect to be "saved" later when the Day of the Lord is upon us.

This "collectivism", this sense of communal identity and accountability must be an element of what Jesus is teaching in John's Gospel in His role as the Good Shepherd for whom there can be only "one flock" (vs 16); not several.  And this "one flock" (not several) is defined in 1 John: "we should believe in the name of ... Jesus Christ AND love one another, just as He has commanded us.  Those who obey His commandments abide in Him, and He abides in them" (vss 23-24).

So the ideal of “collectivism”, as least according to how Niebuhr saw it, is the ideal of the Church itself.  It is not the social cultural standards that are brought INTO the Church; rather it is the very high and divine standards that spring forth from the Church, the standards by which the “flock” is defined not only as individual disciples but also as the collective Church that seeks to affect and transform society.  As Niebuhr seemed to see it, it was society and the dominant culture that was adversely affecting and essentially transforming the Church!  I would respectfully suggest not much has changed since then. 

There is a commonality within the Christian community, but it might be more accurate to suggest this commonality is not as clearly defined according to its relationship with the Lord as it is according to its relationship with the dominant social structure.  Rural people attend rural churches; urban people attend urban churches.  After this, of course, is a further break-down according to race and class.  This is not the ideal, of course, but it is what it is.  And what it IS, is what we are called to overcome – to transform from within! 

These social standards, in and of themselves, are not inherently bad, but to allow these social divisions to solidify according to human social impulses will always adversely affect the external, evangelical practices that are necessarily the essence of the Church.  That is to say, if there is no element of outreach that seeks to express outwardly what comes forth from the Good Shepherd inwardly is to defy what it means to be “one flock” under the tutelage of the Good Shepherd.  It is important for us to remember that the Lord is not only protecting us but is continually teaching us by the Holy Spirit.  This is what Wesley understood as “sanctifying grace”, the means by which we are continually perfected and become more and more Christ-like. 

Clearly Jesus is making a remarkable claim I think escapes no one.  The pasture is the “abundant life” offered to those who “know His voice” and follow Him.  Jesus is the One who will invest heavily – at the expense of His own life – in the care and well-being of the flock.  It’s hard to miss His point in this.  However, we cannot undermine what is further stated relative to what He expresses; that those who gather in Him are gathered in “community”.  Jesus even refers to “others” who are outside this community, this flock; but He also expresses just as clearly that these “others” will also be gathered to Him as well.

From this, what is there for us to “know”?  That Jesus “saves”, I think, is clear enough, but I also think Jesus is talking about something that transcends a popular notion of His being reduced, in many ways, to a “personal” Savior.  Not to disparage the “personal” relationship we may have with Him especially in our prayer time, but we must also clearly see that this “personal” relationship must necessarily broaden.  It is the relationship that brings us into “community” with one another and compels us to invite the “others” in. 

It is not some vague concept of community expressed in the “priesthood of believers” by which it seems inferred that we individually become a “church” unto ourselves, go our own way, and do our own thing.  Instead Jesus is expressing the reality of what He envisions not only in the world to come but – equally importantly – the reality of the world in which we presently live.  It is a reminder of the Lord’s relationship with His “flock” – the whole “flock” – including those not yet enjoined to the “flock”. 

It is this element of the relationship you and I must never overlook or undervalue because the community that is the Church – the “flock” – is established for this very thing.  It does not mean we will all think the same or believe the same, but it is the means – the ONLY MEANS – by which we can express our love of the Lord in a tangible and evidential way; “believing in Him – AND – loving one another … just as He commanded.”  Because the one thing we can know – and must know – is that we are all in this thing, this incredible journey, together … to the very end.

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Thought

“Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.  Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”  Psalm 119:17-18

It is a shame, actually, that since the Reformation “the law” has been given a bad connotation as nothing more than a list of “do’s and don’ts”; restrictions that do not allow us to be all we can be or to do all it pleases us to do.  Yet the psalmist regards “the law” – aka, the “word” of the Lord – as life itself from which he expects to “see wondrous things”.  The writer celebrates “the law” as the ultimate means of grace by and through which he draws nearer to the Lord.  “The law” reveals life, and the writer’s obedience to “the law” affirms his own faith and willingness to follow the Lord in spite of the world’s inherent conflict with “the law”.

It is true enough that we are “under grace”, but it is hardly a biblical fact that we are excused from that which defines us as a people of faith.  Jesus Himself said, “He who has My commandments and keeps then, it is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21)

Obedience to the Law does not save us; our obedience defines us.  Our obedience perfects our faith, sanctifies our lives, and acknowledges the Holy Father not only as “Savior” and “Redeemer” but as our “Lord”.  We must not dismiss the Law as somehow useless to us, for it is in our obedience to the Law by which we attest to the unbelievers what faith really can do.  Let our own prayer be that the Lord “open our eyes that [we] may see [such] wondrous things”, things not yet revealed to us but things which will become a permanent part of who we truly are – and who He truly is to us.


Monday, April 23, 2012

A Thought

“When [false teachers] speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allude through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”  2 Peter 2:18-19

I have long warned my children of the many “predators” that roam the earth and that come in many forms and disguises; and though our pride may convince us it is not true, the enduring truth is that those who are predatory by their nature (and there are many!) are much smarter and much more cunning and clever than those who do not spend their days trying to overcome people.  Predators know how to exploit weakness to their advantage, and they typically see no problems with what they do.  Human predators are not always trying to do harm to others; they are merely making sure they get theirs first at the expense of others.  They have no regard for your well-being or mine.

As Peter points out, these false teachers (predators within the Church) appeal to the “lusts of the flesh” (and no, Peter is not talking strictly about sex!).  They know what people like, and they know what the many will fall for.  These are the many who are actively engaged in rebellion against the Lord and His Church, and their favored “weapon” is that which the evil one tried to use against our Lord in the wilderness – the Scriptures!  By twisting and turning a few key phrases, they convince the weaker among us that there is no need for fellowship, there is no need for the Sacraments, there is no need for worship or other means of grace, there is no need to give financially, and there is no need for serious, contemplative prayer and Scripture study because either the Lord loves us – or – He does not.  And since “God is love”, they reason, this love comes freely, asks nothing, and expects nothing.

It has been said that “our strength is seen in the things we stand far; our weakness is seen in the things we fall for”.  We can believe predators count on our “weakness” because they roam as “ravenous wolves” and, as St Peter points out, “by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage”. 

Make no mistake.  “You are not your own … you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s(1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).     


Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Lord, One Cup, One Church

Matthew 12:22-30

"Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came ... Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained ... Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes [the Lord's] aid against the other ... The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses [will] come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.'" 2nd Inaugural Address excerpts, Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1865

President Lincoln's religious affiliation has been argued by many who question whether or not he was a professing Christian.  Well, I don't know if he was and, frankly, I don't care enough to find out.  What seems apparent by his writings, however, is that Mr. Lincoln had a firm grasp of biblical principles and what he supposed, if not a religion of Christ, was certainly a practical philosophy of Jesus as a useful doctrine for a nation clearly divided and at war with itself.  He supposed the war, if perhaps the result of the scourge of slavery, was the Divine Judgment imposed on a nation divided by prayers to the same God for different ends.

Such a concept should be compelling for thinking Christians today who are living in the midst of a culture war that has claimed and will continue to claim many victims as young people face unintended pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted - and often debilitating - diseases, people young and old alike continue a rather aggressive regimen of "self-medication" through drugs and alcohol, and homes (as well as churches!) are destroyed by pride and selfishness generally because of a dominant culture in which it is virtually "every man for himself". 

This may be a cultural reality in some circles, but it is far from what is ultimately truthful.  Clearly SOMEONE cares.  It may just take some time to find out who it is, but find out we must!  Along the path to this discovery, there will be many bumps and bruises - and even more casualties - before we finally realize the search for this truth outside of our Lord and the Lord’s revealed Word will be futile and fruitless.  We won't find anything or anyone outside of the Church that cares beyond what may be personally gained from caring.  And sometimes even the many churches seem only to care insofar as something for itself may be gained. 

Now this may sound shallow to Christians who gather faithfully for regular worship and it sounds even more ridiculous to those outside the Church who have been harmed by "church folk" but I think if we were to seriously and carefully review motive outside of service to the Lord, there will always be found "ulterior motives"; that is, "what's in it for me?"  This represents a “house divided” because the Lord’s purposes and humanity’s “ulterior motives” can never be reconciled; yet each will be pursued relentlessly by members of the same Body the Church.

I will grant there are good and decent people who are non-believers who might help if they have resources with which to help and I will grant there are the many non-believers who will not intentionally do harm to someone - unless, of course, they were harmed first; actually, just like "church folk".  This, however, misses the point.  It is not about who is "good" or "decent" or "harmless".  It's not even about those who claim to be "saved". 

It is about the Common Purpose, the commonality of our humanity.  This commonality was defined long ago, and it is the commonality to which we are called; into which we are created.  And according to our Lord, anything less than this commonality, this Common Purpose, is diametrically opposed to Him; which is to say, there is "good" and there is "evil".  There is no "gray" area. 

Now no Christian in his or her right mind would openly oppose the Holy and Almighty God, yet we must acknowledge that anything less than "good" IS active opposition to - and open rebellion against - the Lord.  If we curse someone, we defy our Lord.   If we deny someone bread when it is within our power to provide, we defy our Lord.  When we bless the "good ol' boy" who lives in open defiance against our Lord and His Holy Church, we “divide the house” by joining forces with the "good ol' boy", testifying to a lie.  And we virtually spit in the Lord's Eye when we live our own lives and pursue our own "thang" Monday through Saturday and then enter into His sanctuary on Sunday with no thought toward humility, repentance, or transformation.

At the risk of repeating myself, the Church's problem is not with the ungodly forces outside the Church; the problem is within the Church itself.  This has been true for centuries!  Lest there be any misunderstanding, the "Church" is the Body of Christ, the "priesthood of believers".  If a problem exists within a particular church or a particular denomination, there is a problem in the "priesthood" that will always adversely affect the Holy Church and turn that Holy Church into something substantially less than holy.  The subsequent and imminent damage is disastrous, as stated by 4th century church father St. John Chrysostom: "Wars abroad are not so ruinous as the civil wars".  It is as President Lincoln observed, some would "make war" from within while others would "allow war" within.  To each his own, indeed.

Jesus' words to the Pharisees cannot be dismissed as inapplicable to us simply on the basis of whether or not we "believe" as some loose affiliation with Christ in principle only.  No, the words are much stronger in that Jesus turns up the heat when He proclaims that "whoever does not GATHER with me SCATTERS [against Me]".  So if we are not actively engaged in the "harvest" which is the Mission of the Church, we are by our neglect letting the "harvest" rot in the fields and on the ground; we are not "gathering".  According to Jesus, we cannot have it both ways and there can be found no middle ground or happy medium.  If we do not “gather”, we “scatter”.

If the aftermath of the Reformation has taught us anything, it is that we miss the entire point of what it means to be "holy"; what it means to be united in Christ.  The dominant question of the Reformation, "What must I do to be saved", ignored the basic premise of our Holy Father's injunction toward those who would claim Him as Supreme God, Rock, and Redeemer; something that was "shown" to us even before the time of Jesus: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

These mandates, to "do justly", to "love mercy", to "walk humbly", call upon the faithful nothing less than "mission"; to "do", to "love", and to "walk" in active ministry to those who are searching in vain for meaning, for purpose.  These are not "personal", "internal", "private", or "emotional".  They are missional, purposeful, communally outward "defense" and expressions of the "hope that is within us"

These are the attributes of a "house united"; for if there is only One Lord, there can be only One Cup, the Cup Jesus says His followers will surely drink of: "You will indeed drink My cup [not CUPSSSSS]" (Matthew 20:23).  This is the Way of the Cross.  This is the Way of our Lord, for this is the Way of Life itself.  AMEN. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Defense of Ann Romney and other "working" moms

It’s not like Mrs. Romney needs me to defend her, of course, but I continue to be disturbed by the reality that “accusation” is the greatest and most effective tool in electoral politics.  The nature of the “accusation” is not nearly as important as the “accusation” itself (as long as the “accusation” gains media traction).  It is the reality that politicians seem to find it necessary to “accuse” an opponent – or in this case, an opponent’s wife – even though the nature of the “accusation” is not clear but is clearly political.

DNC chair Hillary Rosen has taken exception to the notion that Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney thinks highly enough of his wife that he actually respects, and depends on, his wife’s opinions and perspective on the things that affect women.  Does Mrs. Romney’s opinion not count only because she is a housewife and stay-at-home mom?  Does Mrs. Romney’s opinion carry no weight simply because she has devoted her life to making a home and raising her own children?  Does Mrs. Romney’s opinion not count only because she is married to a successful businessman?  What exactly is the nature of Ms. Rosen’s “accusation”?  That Mitt Romney respects his “non-working” wife’s opinion – or – that Mrs. Romney chose to make a home and raise children rather than to take a paying job and complicate her life by forcing her to make choices she otherwise would not have to make, such as working late vs. getting to the PTA meeting on time, etc? 

I think maybe if there is someone who does not “get it”, it is Ms. Rosen who has insulted every stay-at-home mom (not necessarily including the “Real Housewives” reality series “moms”) AND the husbands who respect them, support them, and love them.  I suspect if there is a “War on Women”, it is perpetuated by those who continue to use women as a means to a political end, ostensibly in the name of “defending” them while taking cheap shots at them.  Were it not for the insults, one might suspect Ms. Rosen and the Democratic “defenders” of pandering. 

Ms. Rosen is only partly correct in saying many women are “forced” into the working world because of tough economic conditions.  Yes, there are men who as primary breadwinners have lost jobs and there are many women who have been abandoned by their men and forced to make choices they may otherwise have not made, but it is patently unfair to dismiss an entire segment of the US population only because they have chosen not to take a paying job but to stay home and work there.  And it is the most profound insult to suggest these women have nothing useful to say! 

As Mrs. Romney correctly pointed out, it is probably THE toughest job there can be; made even more challenging by the many not-so-well-to-do moms who make their own choices according to their own sense of what is truly of value.  These many stay-at-home moms drive used cars, not luxury cars.  They live in working-class neighborhoods, not in gated communities.  They sometimes go to the Laundromat because they cannot afford even a used washer or dryer.  They use generic brands rather than name brands.  They watch flea markets and rummage sales for good value, not soap operas.  In short, they are real women with real lives and real values devoted entirely to the well-being of their families.  Unlike Ms. Rosen, they do not have to defend themselves for their choices; and they should not feel compelled to do so.

I have no idea what kind of mom Ms. Rosen is, but judging by her words I suspect she has an elitist mentality when it comes to women who forego paying careers – and outright disdain for wives of affluent men who do not struggle financially.  Or is it only her disdain for all things and persons Republican who would dare challenge her president?  One can only speculate, of course, but the tables are turned now.  It is Ms. Rosen who has been forced to defend herself and the ridiculous comments she has made.  Good luck defending that which is indefensible. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Thought

“You, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’  It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.  But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”  Jude 17-21

This passage makes me think of Jesus’ trial during which time He chose whether or not to respond to questions.  Often He remained silent, knowing there were no words that would answer reasonably to the scoffers whose “bloodlust” only made them more determined than ever to see Jesus crucified.  Sometimes we understand there are no appropriate words.

This means we are not called to “argue” the faith or the finer points of divisive doctrine with folks in OR outside the fellowship of faith.  We are called to “pray”, stay “in love” with the Lord, and “look forward” to the reward which will surely come to those who persevere in the faith.  In other words, we are responsible only for ourselves!  We are called to let the Lord handle these who turn their backs (and minds) on the reality of the Spirit who dwells within us.  The Lord will tell us to speak if and when it is time to speak.  Otherwise, let us be mindful of the “hope that is within us”.  It is enough.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Thought

“My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent … For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood … but they lie in wait for their own blood; they lurk secretly for their own lives.  So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owner.”  Proverb 1:10, 16, 18-19

The teachings of Jesus are informed by this basic wisdom of understanding that if we judge, we are bringing judgment upon ourselves.  If we seek to do harm, we are harming ourselves.  If we withhold charity from others, we are withholding charity from ourselves; for all these things done or left undone by our hands are those things we do against or don’t do for our Holy Father.

For those outside the Holy Covenant, these are the things that matter because these are the things unbelievers can see.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day demanded “signs” from Jesus so that He would prove to them who He is, but the signs of the Kingdom come near were best expressed by Jesus’ compassion for those around Him, those who begged for and received mercy.  These acts of charity are the “signs” still among us today, and they come by the gifts we are each endowed with so that the world may know the Kingdom has come near.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Sunday 2012

Acts 10:34-43                                                                                                                                     John 20:1-18

It has often been said - and observed - that bad news, particularly gossip, travels much faster than Good News, actually faster than the speed of light!  Somehow Good News is just not as exciting or as dramatic as what ol' so-and-so did when he thought no one was looking. 

I recall the story of a pastor who decided one day to stop at a local liquor store to meet the owner who was said to have once been a member of that pastor's church.  Sure enough the pastor stopped in one day, bought a soda, and visited with the man.  All went well since it was a slow day and they had plenty of time to talk without interruption, and the store's owner agreed he had been away from worship for too long.  "But", the owner said, "folks are not real pleased with my business.  They won't be so happy to see me return."  The pastor assured him everything would be ok.  The church is filled with wonderful people who will be happy to welcome a long-lost "prodigal".  Above all else, the pastor said, “remember it's not about being seen ‘at church’ - it's about offering oneself to the Lord”.

Sure enough, that very Sunday the liquor store owner's return was not the "hot topic".  What set everyone abuzz was the apparent drinking problem the pastor had, "judging by how often his car has been seen at that liquor store!"  The store owner shook the pastor's hand at the end of service and said, "You were right, preacher.  They hardly noticed me at all!"

Strangely enough, the first thing from John's Gospel that jumped out at me is Mary Magdalene's "assumption" - the same "assumption" people at the church made about how often the pastor's car had been seen at the liquor store!  The NRSV text says "Mary came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb".  So what does she do instead of having a closer look?  She runs to tell the others.  What does she tell them, though?  "They" have taken the Lord out of the tomb". 

It would be a reasonable assumption, of course, considering all that had happened before that dreadful Day.  "They" would be perhaps the Romans, but most likely the religious authorities who would just not leave well enough alone.  They had not only tortured this Innocent Man to death, but they had also mocked Him as well.  It would not be beneath them to desecrate His body as well.  Politically it would have made sense to do so because the authorities were well aware Jesus had a following that could continue to be a threat to the “established order”.  Removing and hiding His body would be a good way to put down this "rebellion" once and for all.

Matthew's Gospel says the Pharisees and chief priests tried to anticipate trickery by the disciples who might remove Jesus' body from the tomb in order to "prove" the Resurrection on the third day as Jesus had taught them (funny the Pharisees remembered this detail, don’t you think?).  So the religious authorities went to the Roman authority, Pilate, and requested that a guard be posted "until the third day" to prevent such a move.  According to Matthew, Pilate complied with their request. 

Peter and John arrived at the tomb to find it just as Mary had described, but they went inside the tomb to see for themselves that the body truly was not there.  Caution is required at this point in the text, however, because of the statement that John looked inside, "saw and believed".  What he "believed" was Mary's story.  By seeing the tomb empty, he "believed" what Mary had said.  The following statement: "for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that He must rise from the dead" reminds us that the only thing any of them "believed" at this point was that Jesus' body was missing.  That Mary had said "they" have taken the Lord's body suggests at this point that to the disciples, nothing less than foul play was suspected; "for as yet they did not understand ..."

"Then the disciples returned to their homes."  If it is true that foul play had been suspected - and by the hands of the powerful authorities who were able to convict and execute an innocent man - we could imagine Peter and John walking away from the tomb feeling completely dejected, confused, disappointed, and downright defeated.  Everything they had invested of themselves to this point had accomplished little more than to be reminded of who is really in charge.  The absence of Jesus' body - and the absence of their "understanding" - really did, for them, mean it was all over.  They killed Him, and there was nothing more to be said or done.

Jesus never taught about His Resurrection incidentally, and He never seemed to mention it only in passing as some minor detail!  It has always struck me as odd that this teaching did not seem to have occurred to them on this particular morning, but then I was not there and surrounded by such angry, hateful people who seemed perversely delighted at watching this Gentle Man be so mercilessly brutalized.  And Peter?  Well, remember he felt it necessary to run for his very life!  It could be easily "assumed" he would have told the others perhaps to warn them of potential danger if and when they were to be identified as disciples of Jesus.

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb."  She stayed.  Alone.  In spite of the potential danger.  Why do you suppose she didn't just walk back home with the others?  Why did she choose to stay back?  By the way the story is written, we could assume she had not really connected to the reality.  She needed to see for herself that Jesus' body really was gone (remember the text does not say she had actually "looked" inside until now; only that she "saw that the stone had been removed").   We can only "assume" that Mary had "assumed" by the stone's removal that Jesus' body was gone.

Luke tells of Mary Magdalene having had "seven demons" removed by the hands of Jesus (8:2), but tradition had named her a prostitute even though the scriptural text never says so.  Whether one of these "seven demons" had been that of a prostitute is not nearly as significant as the certain reality that Mary had been healed by Jesus; not simply "saved" or justified as we have come to understand the terms, but literally, spiritually, perhaps physically, but most certainly miraculously "healed".  Like modern-day addicts who are delivered from these "demons" of drugs and alcohol, Mary would have had a deeper and more abiding appreciation for what the Lord can do.  She experienced a genuine, life-changing moment.  She had not merely "witnessed" a miracle such as that of the loaves and fishes, or had just some “strange feeling”; surely in her mind and heart and soul she WAS a miracle!

Of course she stayed!  So would you.  So would I; because Mary had not been "given" a new job or a new car or a new home or any of those other, more material things you and I equate with "blessings".  Because she had enjoyed such an overwhelming experience, Jesus "owned" her!  Not only because He "redeemed" her, not only because He "saved" her ... but because she completely gave back to the Lord what had been restored to her - her very life! 

This is the true and genuine heart of a disciple, much like the leper in Luke 17 who was one of ten lepers who had been healed.  The other nine took their "blessing" and ran away to do their own thing and live their own lives, lives that had been restored to them.  This single leper was the only one who had returned to give his life - and all glory - to the Lord.  He, like Mary, realized his life had not been restored for his own personal use and his own personal goals and dreams.  They both realized their lives had been restored FOR THE LORD.  Of course Mary stayed!

And because she stayed, she was the one who saw the Eternal Reality that is Christ.  She saw not only the reality of faith but the fruition of faith when the Lord revealed Himself to her; yes, the perfection of faith that is Christ our Lord.  She truly had something to tell – not only that the tomb was empty … but that the Promise of Eternity has been fulfilled!  AMEN.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Thought for Holy Thursday

“I do not speak concerning all of you.  I know whom I have chosen, but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’ … When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’”  John 13:18, 21

The practice of Holy Communion has always been that we are mindful of the last gathering Jesus enjoyed with His disciples before He was betrayed by one of His own and handed over to the authorities that sought to kill Him.  We remember the bread “which is My body broken for you” and the cup “which is My blood poured out for you”, but we do not often remember that as the disciples questioned among themselves who could possibly turn on Jesus, He was looking into the face of Judas Iscariot and saying, ‘What you do, do quickly’.  The disciples only thought perhaps Judas, the keeper of the treasury, was being sent to buy things needed for the feast.

What is it we do “quickly” as having been sent by the Lord?  Do we “quickly” tell others of the Resurrection and the hope that is within those who believe, or do we “quickly” betray Him by pursuing our own interests?  Do we “quickly” seek to help those who cannot help themselves, or do we “quickly” seek only to help ourselves?

Move through this blessed day mindful of the continuing Journey.  We can read Scripture to see what happened so long ago, but we cannot know what the next hour will bring unless we become a part of the Lord’s story.  It is only by moving in His path that we can be assured it is the right path.  And yes, His path will take us all the way to Golgotha … but also beyond – if we follow Him faithfully.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Thought

“Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Jesus, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Jesus to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give Judas money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Jesus to them in the absence of the multitude.”  Luke 22:1-6

These are the choices we make in nearly every moment of each day.  Do we stand firm with Jesus when we are “in the world”, or do we seek ways to betray Him? 

Let us continue this Journey in prayer to determine which path we are on.  “Saved” ten years ago?  Twenty?  Yesterday?  It matters not; it matters only where we are today, right now.  Are we still with Him, or have we deviated from the Path of Truth for personal gain – in the name of “grace”?

Then we will gather tomorrow evening and share the Passover with our Lord.  Or dare we continue on?


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Thought

“As Jesus drew near, he saw the city of Jerusalem and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you, and close you in on every side, and level you; and your children within you, to the ground.  And they  will not leave in you one stone upon another because you did not know the time of your visitation.’”  Luke 19:41-44

It should be clear to feel the anguish Jesus must have been experiencing in this moment.  He had already entered into Jerusalem, and the joy that had greeted Him upon His arrival was now gone.  Reality was beginning to settle in, and Jesus knew what lay ahead for Him.  The city that should have received Messiah with joy and thanksgiving would very soon turn on Him.  And why?  Well, why is He rejected today?  I think these answers will come near to those of Jesus’ own day.

Let us not take this Holy Week for granted.  We can clearly see around us the problems we face as a Church and as a nation, and we have tried everything we can possibly think of to solve our problems – except one: truly give it over to the Lord AS A PEOPLE.  Oh, there are some individuals who try to set the world aside and connect with the Lord, but the Church must lead the way.  Not “a” church or “some” churches and not “some” individuals, but THE WHOLE Church; the Body of Christ.  The lament Jesus shares about Jerusalem could well be the same lamentation He would share if He were standing in the big middle of the USA! 

Attend worship this week wherever the doors are open.  Stop teaching children that it is ok to remove oneself from worship.  Stop teaching the community and your neighbors that it doesn’t matter … lest you find that the prayer Jesus shared then is the same one He shares now: that the things that would “make for your peace … are now hidden from your eyes”.


Monday, April 02, 2012

A Thought

John 6:54-56:  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day; for My flesh is real food indeed, and My blood is real drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him.” 

John 6:60“Many of Jesus’ disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’”
John 6:66, 67:  “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Jesus no more.”  Then Jesus said to the Twelve: ‘Do you also want to go away?’  But Simon Peter answered Him: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.’”

So if we reject Christ and all He has given and continues to give, where will we go?  To whom will we go?  Consuming Jesus’ blood and flesh IS a hard saying, but it is also the point of drawing closer to Him … to gain understanding.

So draw near.  Hear what He has to say.  Silence your world so that you may understand, and give to the Lord the time He deserves for the respite of the soul we all need!


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday 2012 - "Not what we expected"

Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 11:1-11

And so begins the Way of the Cross.  If I had to hazard a guess, I would be inclined to think the disciples believed Jesus' entry into Jerusalem would be the beginning of the end for the Roman occupation to make way for the reestablishment of King David's reign.  Though Matthew and Luke add "donkey" to the animal mix, it may still have seemed strange to them that the "king" would ride in on a colt instead of on a majestic chariot pulled by mighty horses, but the disciples had already seen many strange things.  The Master rarely did anything according to normal expectations, so why would this day be any different?

That day was clearly one of great expectation for those who participated in the celebrations by welcoming Jesus as they did, but it is much more likely that what they had expected - truly expected - did not come to pass.  Such a let-down, then, would help to explain why the same crowd that so eagerly welcomed the "Son of David" could so easily turn only a few days later into a lynch mob.  Jesus the Messiah, the anointed Son of David the great king, came into the city ... and nothing happened.  Nothing.  There can be no greater level of disappointment than to be led toward something with such great anticipation and expectation ... and not get what we wanted or expected.

Palm Sunday, sometimes referred to and commemorated as Passion Sunday, comes down to a difference of emphasis.  One seems more victorious (Palm Sunday) while the other is more sinister and bloody (Passion Sunday), when what we expected did not happen.  Both recognize important aspects of Jesus' life in His final days on earth, but each one calls to question where our own emphasis should be.  Each one demands our full attention as well as our full part in all of it because if we are to be disciples - students, followers - of Christ, they are both necessary components of the journey.  And both must be considered for this reason: BOTH acknowledge how easily humans can turn when they feel wronged or deceived.  We might like to believe we would not act so savagely, but we need only to look around to see that not much has changed in 2000 years. 

Each is a necessary component of the "Way of the Cross" where we must "contemplate the Sacred Humanity of Christ who - in His great yearning to come close to each of one of us - reveals Himself to us with all the weakness of [humanity] and with all the magnificence of God" (St. Josemaria Escriva, "The Way of the Cross").  So segments of Jesus' life must never be "either/or" but must always be "both/and".  This is why our Wesleyan tradition will not allow us to skip the blood-soaked trail to Golgotha.

St. Paul makes perhaps the best analogy of what our journey must look like in his words to the Philippians: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [for His own purposes]; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave ..."

Say what?  A "slave"?  Why, this is not reasonable.  In fact it is downright un-American!  This is entirely inconsistent with what we have been taught since we were children!  I think, however, this is the point St. Paul was making, and it was the point Jesus Himself was making when He rode in on a colt rather than on a war horse.  The "form of a slave" is the form of complete submission.  The "form of a slave" has nothing to do with what we want or what we think.  The "form of a slave" disregards self altogether for the sake of something much greater.  It is the most unnatural act a human can perform voluntarily.  Oh, humans can be beaten into submission over time as history has proved, but to voluntarily step into such a role without a fight?  Far be it from us!

I think maybe what we glean from these final days, in discovering at this point that Jesus' very life was no longer His own, is the totality of discipleship - not "segmented".  It is not about the American "pursuit of happiness"; it's not even about "life and liberty" with an hour's worth of church attendance sprinkled about here and there.  It is now - just as then - entirely about the will of the Holy Father and what will be called and expected of us - and not knowing what we will be led to next. 

This, I think, is what scares us the most because even though we pray it - "Your will be done" - we don't really mean it.  We know it must be "ideally" so, but we also know deep within that complete submission and the gift of the Holy Spirit will come with an "assignment"; an "assignment" that may well interfere with our own plans; an assignment that may have nothing to do with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  Contemporary theology refuses to believe that "personal" happiness is not part of the discipleship package - because we cannot discern the difference between "personal happiness" and "spiritual contentment".

So what about "personal salvation"?  Didn't Jesus endure these things so we would not have to?   Is the Way of the Cross not part and parcel of the whole "He bore our sins upon Himself" thing by which we would be spared?  How does The Journey of Christ, the Way of the Cross, the "Form of a Slave", fit into our lives? 

Clearly it doesn't.  And more is the pity because it is only in this submissive element of the journey in which we will find true fulfillment and not necessarily "personal happiness"; certainly not as we would understand it - and - certainly not as we would prefer to define it; because the "Total Package" is as expressed by UM Bishop William Willimon: "This means the Holy Spirit connects us not only with the creative Father but also with the suffering of the Son; not only with divine power but also with divinely humble service" ("Good News", Willimon, pg 21).  This is probably the VERY LAST THING we would expect - or even want!

I think Anselm, the 12th-century archbishop of Canterbury, may have been on to something when he tried to develop "rational" theology that would embrace both faith AND reason as to why Christ's sacrifice was necessary.  Atonement for sin was still the foundation of his reasoning, but he added a twist.  He removed the evil one from the equation altogether.  He suggested that Jesus did not enter into this final segment of His journey in order to pay a debt to the evil one for the redemption of humanity; He entered into Jerusalem "in the form of a slave" to pay a debt to the Holy Father on behalf of all humanity; a debt owed since the Beginning when Adam and Eve were ejected from Paradise!  Indeed how can the Almighty God and Creator ever come into debt to the evil one??

It is an interesting concept not entirely foreign to our own theology and necessary response.  Christ Himself did indeed pay a debt that was legitimately owed.  This is the foundational understanding of the "doctrine of original sin" and still speaks to the Wesleyan understanding of the predisposed inclination of humanity toward sin.  That is, we are by nature inclined toward self: self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment, self-sufficiency, self-survival.

Imagine, then, if this were Jesus' own inclination.