Maintaining community


We are all one in Christ by Wantabe

September 7, 2014

Matthew 18:15-20

15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

There are two times in the gospels where Jesus uses the word “church” and both are found in Matthew. A couple of weeks ago churches that were reading from the lectionary heard the first. Jesus responded to Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah by saying “On this rock I will build my church.” Jesus builds the church. That is a relief to all those who mistakenly thought it was a human effort.

And Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against the church’s advances. The church, sometimes by its very presence, and sometimes by more forceful means, opposes , undermines, and attacks the outposts of evil and destruction in this world.

But this week we find the word church again. This time the focus is not on the impact on the world, but the internal repairing of broken relationships. Our faith is used by Christ to build the church, but some of the maintenance is our responsibility.

So the church fights evil in the world, but it has a job keeping itself together.

In John 17 Jesus prayed for the church that we might be one “that the world will know you have sent me.” Nothing makes it less likely for folks to believe there is any supernatural involved in church than to see Christians unable to get along with each other.

I John offers this insight that if we can’t love the brother or sister we can see then it is questionable how much we can claim to love God whom we cannot see.

Of course it is the case that loving people is easier in our imagination than in real time. People are apt to see things differently, have a different schedule, vocabulary. The fact that people are not carbon copies of us is part of the richness and goodness of community, but also a potential source of friction.

But the text today is not simply about the tensions of difference. It is about serious injury we can do one another. About how we can sin against one another.

The secret of keeping a marriage together or a family or a church includes several ingredients. Doing fun things together that build up trust and good memories. Affirming the goodness of others; recognizing and commenting on the goodness in acts, attitudes that we appreciate; being able to laugh together, doing things for one another (chavarim).

But above all being able to process and put behind us the hurts and damages that will happen, sometimes we intended to hurt at the moment, but did not mean to destroy completely. We were just made. Sometimes we did not realize we were hurting the other person. But however it happens, the hurt can be the end of a happy relationship if it is not dealt with.

The overarching concern is reconciliation. How can the relationship go on,? How can it regain a positive footing?

The first thing to note is that if we have been hurt Jesus tells us to take initiative to fix things.

This is important. Our instinct sometime is that if Max hurt me, he ought to come and apologize and I’m not going to have anything to do with him till he does. But Jesus says don’t wait on him to come.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted the demands of the law with the initiatives of grace. You have heard it said, don’t kill. Grace requires that we refrain from anger, But then Jesus talks about initiatives, practices that dry up the source of sin to begin with.

Here again Jesus is offering a practice that has the potential to neutralize the damages that sin can do. Be the first to address the issue. You have been hurt. Dong’ let it fester. Don’t indulge in the luxury of being an innocent victim. Don’t talk about it; talk to the person.

Matthew 18 first talks about not harming even the least of these. Not doing anything that would damage the relation of a brother or sister with us or with God. Causing a brother or sister to stumble is taken very seriously.

But if they hurt us, we are not to let it go, but work to overcome the damage and restore relationship. We are to confront, not with some subtext of taking a superior moral position over them, but to bring healing so we can go on beside one another.

The confrontation needs to be as private as possible. It needs to be direct. If someone has wronged me. I should go to them and not to channel 18. If they mishandle to confrontation, take a committee, or finally the whole community.

There are five lessons in this section of Matthew 18.

There is no church free of conflicts and misunderstanding.
Conflict should be faced.
The goal of dealing with conflict is reconciliation.
We need the help of others to keep objective about the conflict. (take 2 or 3).
When you have faced the conflict and done all you can for reconciliation, left yourself open for change, drop it. There is only so much you can do to bring reconciliation.
The purpose of confrontation is not so we will have the goods on them.

Not so they will feel bad

not so we can pass judgment on them.

The purpose for telling them is so they can know what is going on inside of us

and be able to respond to that.

And change in ways that will make it easier to continue in relationship with them.

Privately. This I believe underscores the principle of not wanting to humiliate or embarrass someone. This is the opposite of gossiping– rather than talking about someone to everyone else we talk privately and directly to the person. If possible, and it often is, to get the matter settled at this level– there will be fewer rumors and suspicions floating around in the community. What often happens instead is someone talks to another person who we hope will get back to the person who hurt us. We expect someone else will confront while we are not around.

Two or Three. If the person refuses to acknowledge there is a problem, Jesus says tajke two or three and go. Why? I believe 2 or 3 serves as a reality check. Sometimes if we are the victim of a misunderstanding or hurt we may lose our ability to see in the other person anything but “the-one-who-hurt-me” And if so we may approach everything he or she does with our guns loaded and aimed and ready to shoot them down.

2 or 3 means we may need mediators to help serve as a objective witnesses, translators, referees.

The whole community. Frankly I consider it a rare solution to any problem to bring it before the whole community. And perhaps it is not with hope of a solution that this level is introduced.

Perhaps what is at issue here is: while an individual an forgive on the part of all– he or she cannot damn. Only a community as a whole can pass judgment. But even the community leaves avenging to God.

In forgiveness I am dealing with a serious hurt I have suffered. Community can not be created or sustained under those circumstances by pretending that I am not hurting. I need to be real about my pain. And if it is serious enough to get in the way of community I need to approach .

What I am looking for is repentance.

Admit the truth of the person’s perception, if it is true.
Acknowledging the pain that the other person is feeling
confess- tell the other person you see the problem need forgiveness
promise not to hurt that way again.
This heals a relationship on the side of the offender. But there is healing needed on the side of the offended. The last stage is letting go.

What happens when you want to forgive and there is no repentance? No perception on their part of a hurt given, no understanding of the feeling. No confession, that is, no admission on their part of any responsibility, and no promise not to hurt that way again.

Well, there is still a need for the offended person to forgive. To release their desire to hurt back, to condemn, to destroy. And if there is no repentance the way the hurt person is to handle it is to let the other person go. If we can’t have fellowship, we still can have goodwill.

This letting go which is our half of forgiveness, is not easy. We need to be under no illusion that it would be easy if the offender repented. But we are called to community.A task as well as a gift, our labor and joy.

Doubting like Believers



by Carrivagio

a sermon from April 15, 2012 (YearB Easter 2)

John 20:19-31

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

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt [be without faith] but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

What you expect affects your ability to perceive.1 The overall understanding you have of the way things are can prejudice your ability to understand what is going on right now.

The gospels consistently portray the reluctance of Jesus’s disciples to believe that Jesus had risen from the grave.

  • These words (by the women) seemed to the apostles like an idle tale and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:10-11)

  • Jesus said, ‘Why are you troubled and why do questionings rise in your heart?” (Luke 24:38)

  • Unless I see in his hands the print of nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

  • Put your finger here and see my hands. Put out your hand and place it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)

  • Jesus said to the two on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” (Luke 24:25)

  • The eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16-17)

Peter and the beloved disciple among others run to the tomb to check out the impossible report of the women. The beloved disciple sees the shroud and head covering lying neatly folded at the head and foot of the place where the body had been and believes the resurrection. The first in John to believe it. But we do not hear what Peter makes of it. Maybe he just doesn’t know what to make of this piece of information.

Mary Magdalene who seems to be the first person who saw the risen Jesus is not able to recognize him. Possible her tears, for Jesus asks her “Why are you crying?” But more likely it is that running into Jesus is just not something that is anywhere in her imagination or her mental list of possible matches with experience.

People can be so sure of what the answer is that they just do not see anything that does not fit that assumption. We have this pattern of how things are and we are prone to make things fit that.

Commitment can be a lens for seeing clearly or a blinder preventing reception of any information that conflicts with our stake.

Resurrection was something that was viewed as a possibility by many Jews in Jesus day. Particularly the Pharisees. It is based on prophetic words of Isaiah 25-26, apocalyptic writing of Daniel 12, the rabbinic reinterpretation of Job and psalms, and Hosea. Basically the hope sketched out was that this life is not enough for God to mete out punishment of the wicked or reward of the righteous. But there would be a Day of the Lord, a day of judgement and reward when the dead, at least the wicked and the righteous, would be raised so that God could send the wicked to face the natural results of their evil and the righteous would “shine as the stars” in the kingdom of God. On that day death would be destroyed forever.

Martha comes out to meet Jesus and confronts him,

If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

That describes the general hope of folks who believed in resurrection. It was something for the last day.

That is why the very followers of Jesus had so many other theories for the empty tomb or the reports of Jesus sightings. The tomb was empty because, well, maybe, the body had been removed by someone: thieves, Roman guards, the Jewish leaders, other disciples, Mary even suspects “the gardener.”– “Where have you put him?” You see resurrection was not the first thing that popped into their minds. It was not part of their theory about how things are suppose to be.

For the same reason the disciples say the women’s report was due to hysteria, or grief, fantasy – “an idle tale.”

Until they of course were accosted in the upper room by Jesus. And then their report just like the women, “we have seen the Lord.” Thomas was not there to experience the encounter so he does what the other have done– he looks for another explanation—Maybe, he says they had seen a ghost.

I need to mention that ghosts were also something that first century Jews thought were possibilities. To condense the investigation, when a person died there might be a kind of shadowy immaterial sort of existence for a while. You see people back then had experiences of running into a vision or dream or ghost or we might say a hologram of a dead person– just as some report today. But this was clearly not a resurrection. The experience of a ghost was confirmation of a death, not a testimony that a person was fully awake and alive again. Ghost were to living people what sleepers were to wide awake folk. There was sort of a veil between. For the hope of resurrection was very much having a real body. Granted it might be a transformed body, but it would be real and able to do things in the everyday real world others inhabited.

Thomas suggests that they had gotten spooked, telling ghost stories after what the women had told them about seeing Jesus. For him the cold fact was that Jesus was dead and he could not believe that the real Jesus, the one who was crucified, was alive unless he could touch the wounds. This is said a bit sarcastically.

Now we ought to appreciate the scepticism here. Folks get into a lot of trouble when they fall for whatever they are told. This is an election year and political advertisers are pretty blatant about exaggerating, distorting, bending the truth, scaring– if you are not a little skeptical, you will be duped. Miracle cures, diets, get rich quick schemes– be careful. A new book by Ross Douthat Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics argues that Americans have become less invested in traditional Christianity but in part because they don’t have a good grasp of Christian scriptures they fall for all sorts of heresies– they fall for the Da Vinci Code, or prosperity theology that God wants you to be rich, just as badly as you want it; or a kind of narcissism that rather than pushing us to be transformed gives God’s blessing to the impulses you already have, self-fulfilling rather than serving something greater than ourselves.

It is odd that I see at the same time atheists organizing against religion in the name of reason and yet doing it with the illusion that their position is not a leap of faith. I see people touting reason and yet falling for outlandish theories.

We ought to be sceptics. But doubt should be only one tool in our mental toolbox.

Galileo said , “Doubt is the father of Discovery.” “Galileo’s more accurate understanding of the structure of the universe was born out of his doubt of older understandings. But that doubt does not preclude faith.

To use doubt to lead to discovery, Galileo had to have faith: faith in his calculations; faith in his own reasonings. Doubt becomes the father of discovery only when it is matched by some sort of faith in the process by which doubt is resolved.”

It might be we should add if Doubt is the father of discovery, faith is the mother, for you will never advance unless you have some inkling that you are going somewhere.2

You never get to the truth if you don’t have a healthy hesitancy and a healthy confidence.

Back in September, 2011 CERN reported some neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than the 2.3 milliseconds taken by light between Switzerland and Italy and the. results that suggest subatomic particles have gone faster than the speed of light.” In physics-as-we-understand-them, it is the absolute and ultimate speed limit in our universe. We’ve tested and retested the speed of light, measured it in as many ways as we can think of, and much of modern physics is built upon the idea that nothing can exceed it.” So there was a lot of interest in seeing if the experiments could be duplicated.

Instead Scientists at CERN claimed that

In February, 2012 Science Insider said the “60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer.”

The data did not fit the theory. So there was a lot of resistance to accepting the data. As it turns out this was right. Einstein’s theory still stands.3

It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory.” 4

Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of the universe and Christians round him were using the Bible and quoting the Bible to prove that the earth was the center of the universe. His doubt of their reading of the Bible lead him to a larger and deeper understanding of the Christian faith.

Centuries ago, during the time of Columbus, certain Christians were using the Bible and quoting the Bible that the earth was flat and had edges and if you sailed too far, your boat would fall over the edge off the earth. Columbus doubted the Christianity he had been taught, and his doubts led to a deeper and larger faith.5

But that cannot happen unless along with doubt you have faith.

Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” — G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

And on the other hand faith comes to new truth very often by being disturbed by questioning and doubt.

Frederick Buechner has said: “. . . if you never doubt the certainty of your position, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith, they liven things up and keep us from falling asleep.”

When Jesus encountered Thomas he never chastised him for having questions or doubting the word of the other disciples. Here I was surprised to see our translations have let us down. We have been saying doubting Thomas so long that we miss the richness of the word in the gospel. Jesus never criticized Thomas for not crediting the disciples. Instead Jesus invites him to faith. “Do not be a-pistis,” he said. “Do not be without faith, but with faith.” You see, and I think this is an important distinction, Jesus does not say never doubt, but never be without faith. You can have doubt but still be open to faith.

The first definition of faith: “a confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”6

It would be impossible to act without faith. “Every aspect of our existence depends on faith reinforced by trust – between spouses and friends, parents and children, teachers and students, employers and employees, nations and nations. We even depend and trust in material things like cars, computers, and airplanes.” We are always take little leaps of faith.

Isaac throws himself in the pool or even off of playground equipment because he trusts one of us will catch him. He doesn’t doubt gravity or the danger of deep water. But in addition to those facts he has faith that we are there to catch him.

He does not doubt the possibility of falling, but he has faith in us.

Jesus is not asking Thomas or us never to ask questions. Even Mary asked, “how can these things be?” Jesus is asking us to trust him. To be open to the possibility that we can have a trusting relation to Jesus now.

There is an interesting parallel to this in the Odyssey. Odysseus has taken years getting back from the Trojan War and all the while his wife has held suitors off. They try to convince her that her husband must be dead. She is not willing to give herself to another.

Odysseus comes home in disguise. Even into the house only his old nurse, an old worker, and his dog recognize him. He lays a plan for wiping out the freeloading well-armed suitors who have been living off his estate.

At first Penelope doubts it is him, thinking it is someone posing to be her husband. The nurse who has recognized him alerts Penelope, but Penelope just tells her she is mad. But the nurse is insistent. Penelope gets a little hope, but still thinks there might be another explanation. The nurse is exasperated and finally tells her, that it is her dogged dread that her husband would never make it home that is keeping her from seeing that in fact he has.7 At last only when Odysseus tells her things about the building of their room that only the two of them could know does she finally realize that it must be him.

And weeping for joy she comes rushing into his arms. Penelope embraces Odysseus and asks forgiveness:

But be not now wroth with me for this, nor full of indignation, because at the first, when I saw thee, I did not thus give thee welcome. For always the heart in my breast was full of dread, lest some man should come and beguile me with his words; for there are many that plan devices of evil… But now, since thou hast told the clear tokens of our bed,… lo, thou dost convince my heart, unbending as it is. (0d. 23.213-30).8

Odysseus does not put her down for doubting, but praises her for being

a “wise and trustworthy wife, who is unwilling to hand over the bed and property of her husband to any other man.”

Some times what looks like doubt is really caution. Maybe even faithful.

The problem never was doubting, skepticism. It is whether you are able to doubt your doubts or whether you are uncritically critical. Whether you trust your doubts in such a way that you cannot trust faith.

Jesus did not say don’t have doubt he said don’t lock your heart to belief

The late novelist John Updike once said, that he knew all of the skeptics’ reasons for doubting the resurrection of Jesus, but he couldn’t quite make that leap into unbelief.

In our day and time we will hear much about doubting and not knowing. Can we believe anything? There are professional atheists whose works are bestsellers and whose talks seem rather fashionable.

But leave your heart open to trusting that this is true. That Jesus is risen from the dead and trusting that, as John says we may have life. Life that practices forgiveness as Jesus empowered those disciples. Life that is liberated to liberal sharing as we read in Acts. A community that has glad and generous hearts because Jesus is alive and present in our midst and in our world.

Peter Rollins speaks to what it might looks like to practice — or fail to practice — resurrection. Rollins begins with the intentionally shocking assertion that,

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think.

After a dramatic pause, he continues,

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

There are a lot of things I do not know. I do not know how the end will come or what heaven is like or how God’s kingdom will ever bring justice. But I know in whom I have believed. Faith is not about having all the facts, but trusting the right person. And trusting Jesus, which means following Jesus, stills this restless soul and confirms the purpose of life.

Doubt if you will, but as believers.

1 provides an extensive list of cognitive biases which affect interpretation.

2“Doubt, Faith, and Discovery” by Rev. Ron Knapp, September 8, 2002.

3“Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science, has shown how progress in scientific research is not, as we usually think, a series of “discoveries,” but rather a succession of different “paradigms,” that is, different thought-models imposed on the facts, the data, in order to sort out some order among them. For a while one paradigm makes sense, but then scientists notice more and more evidence the old paradigm can’t make sense of, so they create a new one. And if they are good scientists, they remain open to the possibility that their paradigm will in turn be replaced by a better one.” Robert M Price.

4Arthur Eddington

5Edward F. Markquart, Sermons from Seattle.

6American Heritage Dictionary

7My child, what a word has escaped the barrier of thy teeth, in that thou saidst that thy husband, who even now is here, at his own hearth, would never more return! Thy heart is ever unbelieving (άπιστος ).

8“Un-Doubting Thomas: Recognition Scenes in the Ancient World,” by Stan Harstine. Perspectives in Religious Studies, December 1, 2006, pp.435-448.


Out of Fear: Peace

a sermon from  May 1, 2011  (YearA, Easter2)

jesus appears

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John 20.19-31

All the gospels tell us that when news of the resurrection first began to spread, the main response was joyful surprise, but as Matthew put it “some doubted.” We are not shocked. Whatever hints Jesus gave before that his resurrection was possible, the disciples had not understood or retained through that terrible week. Indeed they had not fully got his predictions of the cross. The night of the last supper a dispute broke out among them– again– about who among them was the most important. In the afterglow of the reception on Palm Sunday they may have assumed this was the beginning of that revolt a Messiah was suppose to carry off. They were dividing up offices of authority in advance.

They had not expected the ambush in Gethsemane or Jesus would not have found them napping, repeatedly. They would have set guard. Caught by surprise and stopped by Jesus from armed resistance, they ran like rabbits.

Only Peter and the beloved disciples seem to have followed to the high priest. When Peter was fingered as a follower, he vehemently denied it and left, his heart breaking with the denial. And for all we hear of them, the twelve stayed in that upper room of their secret rendevous until word came he was dead. And then they stayed on trapped by fear.

The cross caught them by surprise, except maybe Thomas. Jesus had insisted on traveling to the Jerusalem suburb after the funeral of his friend Lazarus despite the knowledge that authorities were out to get him. Thomas reluctantly said, “well, let’s go die with him.”

Well “die with him” was exactly what they expected to be the aftermath of Jesus’ execution. “Locked in the room for fear of the Jews.” On Easter Sunday evening.

Of course they knew by now the tomb was empty. And Mary had reported she had met Jesus in the garden. But the sun is setting and they are back in hiding. Maybe they did not disbelieve Mary exactly, but her story did not make any difference. They were still afraid of death as much as before her story.

When Peter and the beloved disciple had raced to the tomb, we read that they believed–maybe simply they believed it was empty. But that they did not remember or understand yet the scriptures that talked about resurrection.

The world had changed but they had not.

So John tells it that it was hours after Christ rose that the disciples finally met him. When he walked through the locked doors, their first thought was that he was a ghost of some kind. Till he invited them to see and touch his body’s wounds. These two things: physical barriers were penetrable and he had a touchable body that bore the marks of earthly life say that resurrected bodies are not holograms yet transcend material limits. Jesus is alive and unhampered by locked doors or stones rolled over tombs.

Jesus said “Peace.” Twice he said it. The risen Lord takes away fear and gives peace. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”

Why should we fear? Death has been breached. The grave is not invincible. “I shall not die, but live.”

Why should we fear. Christ has come back to the friends who had all abandoned him. He comes to the failed friends and says, “Peace.” Despite our failures there is this second chapter. The gracious Lord who forgave sinners, ate with tax collectors, pardoned the woman caught in adultery, touched lepers, included women and children. This Lord who reached beyond respectability to include the “least, the last, the lost” (Capon) had forgiven them. “Peace.”

The peace of Christ which we pass, is it not the echo of this Easter greeting? You are forgiven. Christ is present in our midst. He pushes to one side our past and offers us present peace. You may stop persecuting yourself and receive grace.

Jesus says “Peace” twice. And peace has two meanings- the peace in our hearts when we no longer fear where we stand with God. And the peace which is to be the manner of our dealings with the world. Grace received becomes grace we give.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

He gives them/us the mission that had defined his life.

Every encounter with the risen Lord is a commissioning. “go tell the disciples” “go wait in Jerusalem for power” “go tell Peter”

Nowhere is it more eloquent than in Matthew

All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Therefore go on into the world and tell the good news, making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Tiune God, teaching people to live by all that you have heard me preach. And lo I am with you always till the end of the age.”

Power is given unto Jesus. A mission is given to us. And the promise of his abiding presence always

Jesus breathed his Spirit into them. He put his life in them, as the Lord had breathed animation into Adam.

Jesus gives his life to us so that we can carry on his life. “As the Father sent me.” Jesus said, “John 14:12:Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Each disciples becomes a little Jesus. Each of us given a share of resurrected life, undefeated life, to carry on healing, feeding, and above all forgiving–The most radical and challenging act of Christian life.

If peace is fundamental thing we receive from Christ. Forgiving is the prime act of our mission. We do it by the power of the holy Spirit, the abiding presence of the living Jesus that animates our soul.

Not up to us to set bounds, but rather the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus says what sins we do not forgive are not forgiven it is not to say that we decide on our own when it is too soon to let go of holding someone responsible. It is through guidance of Holy Spirit.

I Corinthians Paul speaks of people who refuse to change being handed over to Satan for a time. If someone refuses to change he suggests our only option may to give them up to the natural outcome of their persistent wrong doing.

We read about the unpardonable sin and the thought there is much the same. The only sin that cannot be pardoned is the one that will not let itself be pardoned, because it refuses all suggestion that it is sin or refuses to accept that grace could cover it.

If you will not renounce your wrong, if you stubbornly refuse the gift of pardon, then the sin “will have been retained.”

To receive grace is to accept that I have sinned, and to seek release from that burden, and to open myself to restored and right relationship with God and with God’s creatures.

If we forgive, Jesus says the sin will have been forgiven. We you finally accept grace you find that grace was there long before you opened to accept it. It shall have been already given. You were already forgiven but you had been blocking that from connecting with your soul.

The church has an awesome responsibility of calling sin, sin. Of calling sinners to live a new life, and announcing that forgiveness already exists for those who accept it – forgiveness in the heart of God and in the body of believers.”Those who once were far off have been brought nigh.”

It was a lot to happen that Easter evening. Thomas missed it. We weren’t there either.

It makes all the difference that Jesus really rose from the dead. The love of God is made real, tangible, in the world by that great climactic act. God changes the world and changes our hearts. And this is the beginning of changes that will not stop till all things are made new.

Thomas did not have to touch Jesus. Jesus spoke to him. Jesus acknowledged his questions. Jesus even knew what Thomas had said it would take to make a believer out of him. When Jesus spoke it was enough, and the one who spoke the most doubt, makes the most exalted confession of faith when he falls down and declares that Jesus is God.

This is the deepest mystery. That the identity of Jesus is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That all this time they have been encountering the human face of the God, who loves the world this way that he gives his only beloved that we might come to faith and live.

God comes to us. Jesus comes to us. We don’t have to travel back in time to that brief span of years. The Spirit who is God declares Jesus who is God who reveals the Father who is God and, we are invited to fold our life into his. Abide in him and he in us. And he breaths life into us and commands us to carry on his mission, to forgive, to confront, to live the peace he gives us. AMEN


A story in the some Augsburg sermon book says this about peace,” A little boy had a terminal illness. He knew he was dying even though his parents hadn’t told him, so one day he asked his mother,”Mom what’s it like to die? Will it hurt?

The mother thought for a moment as she searched for an answer to the question then said, “Charlie”, do you remember when you used to play with your friends all day? You’d be so tired that when we’d sit around and watch TV afterwards, you’d fall asleep in the chair with your clothes on. Well, that wasn’t where you belonged, but in the morning, you always woke up where you did belong–in your own bed. Your Dad carried you up the stairs, into your room, and tucked you into your own bed where you belonged.”

“Charlie,” she continued, “I think that’s what death is like. It’s like waking up some morning and finding ourselves in another room, in the place where we belong. safe in the strong loving arms of Jesus.”

Easter makes a difference because of this sense of peace, this sense of well-being, this sense of shalom, the sense of God’s blessing in our lives. It is this peace, this well being which enables a widow to go on living, which enables a person racked with pain and illness to still see joy in life, a young person searching for meaning and purpose to finally find, his/her place in life. A peace which enables a mother and father, husband and wife to overcome the difficulties of family and marriage in the peace, the forgiving power of Jesus Christ. Do you understand? The Easter experience, the Easter resurrection brings to life even in the worse circumstances, a sense that God is in control, that I, we, belong to him, that somehow life can and does go on in and through him.

The power that transformed the first disciples from fearful people into men and women who were

  • unafraid to speak to crowds of thousands, 
  • – unafraid to testify before the very authorities who crucified their Lord
  • ,– willing to travel vast distances and endure stoning, imprisonment, and poverty
  • – and able to convince men, women and children that something important hinged on their acceptance of their message concerning the person of Jesus Christ,

Such power was not the power that is unleashed

  • by their being reflective
  • – by their writing down their dreams in a journal
  • – or even by their praying a lot,

it was the power granted them by the one in whom we believe –the power that he gave to them in their locked room when he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them – and then again poured out that Spirit upon all believers on the day of Pentecost.

As Gene Robinson wrote;

That is the power of the resurrection. NOT in what happens AFTER death [ though we could agree that is true hope], but what the knowledge of our resurrection does for our lives and ministries BEFORE death. I am not worried nearly as much about life after death as about whether or not there is life before death! We are no longer prisoners to the power of the fear of death. We don’t have to be worried about how all of this is going to turn out. We know the end of the story. God reigns. Death is vanquished. We are given life eternal in the company of a merciful and loving God and all the saints. Believing that, knowing that, can and does empower us for ministry in God’s name.

The Victory of God

risen christ

Fresco by Piero della Fancesca

a sermon for Easter,(Year A)

from April; 24, 2011

Matthew 26

The Apollo 11 crew planted  a flag moon July 20, 1969. Only the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China — and now India (2008) — have sent missions to the moon. There are six U.S. flags on the moon planted by the Apollo astronauts (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17). These flags  stake our presence, our conquest, a claim.

We rejoice today in the Easter event, the cross that mark’s God claim upon all of his creation.

Most events could be told multiple ways. A football game looks different depending on whether you are the referee or the quarterback, the shortest person in the marching band or just there to meet a date. The newspaper man misses it all reporting numbers and names.

Some of those who were in the midst of that holy week and witnessed its terrors and climatic outcome were startled to realize that God had been in the very middle of it.

There was no doubting Jesus was fully human. None of them questioned that before, during or after their time with Jesus. Jesus had gotten tired, needed nourishment, sleep, he wept, he was moved by the suffering of others and aroused with righteous indignation by injustice and deceit. And in the end he bled and died .

But then there was this question “Who are you?” It could not be answered by comparing Jesus to prophets of old. Here is a greater than Elijah. Nor was it enough to say Jesus was a wise man, for here is a greater than Solomon. Here is a charismatic, spirit anointed leader, but he is greater than David.

There were moments–

  • when the storm was stilled
  • when their he told them to lower night long empty nets and lo they were filled to bursting,
  • when demons were cast out
  • when he said a man’s sin were forgiven
  • when a man blind from birth was given sight
  • When Lazarus came forth from the tomb.

In those moments something shone through.This world was altered. Lives transformed. Insight dawned. God moments.

  • And Nicodemus testified- “We know God is with you.”
  • And the Samaritan woman testifies “He knew all my secrets- could this be the promised Messiah?
  • Te blind man says, “Who is he? Well is name is Jesus…He is a prophet….God is with him…only God could give sight to a man who could never see… and the meeting Jesus again he worshiped him.
  • Lazarus comes forth and Martha realizes there is more to her confession than she dreamed when she said, I know even now you can ask the Father and he will give you your request.”
  • Thomas will say “My Lord and my God”

The awesome realization that somehow– who can explain it– God himself has journeyed into his creation, holding back all the glory and power and prerogatives, emptying himself and accepting the limits of a human life– even to the shame of a death like a convicted rebel.

I know there are some who make it all about substituting for us sinners on the cross. Who say that God became man in order to take our punishment in our place. But for me more powerful than the strange even scary idea of substitution is the atonement of identification. I am saved through the time God identified with me and you and all humanity. He joined us totally, to the point of living a human life.

Now the only way to be human is to be a particular human being. We can’t live a human life in general. We live in particular places, in a particular age of history, we don’t pick it and we cannot change it. We have a particular birth family. And we live and die as a particular body that has its own time of growing up and growing back down. We can alter it but we cannot exchange it. It is what it is.

The notion that God made everything and that everything that is created is completely distinct from God makes it so hard for us to imagine that God could or would step into creation as a part of it.

God loved the world this way– he stepped into it as a particular human in a particular era, living with the particular people God had chosen.

And as that human being Jesus God acted out his will, his way, his intentions for human society. Jesus healed, taught and forgave. He included people who felt there was not way they could be included. What Jesus did expressed the Father and made concrete his determination to heal and reclaim his world.

God did not appear in the world to condemn the world but to heal it. And this is the crisis. Will the world come to God or hide in deeper darkness? This is the judgement: if we run away from God’s claim on us, from the truth about who we are and who God is. If we live a lie about ourselves or about God, we sentence ourselves. It is not God who condemns us but we condemn ourselves. Offered healing we can choose to stay sick. Offered mercy we could choose to continue sinning.

This God-rejecting world, infected as it is with sin and worship of false gods of greed, lust, violence and anger, this world tried to silence the word. The one who was radically open to receiving people regardless of their past was made an outcast.

Corrupt leaders saw it as expedient. One he had chosen betrayed him. All the special twelve left him in the lurch. The religious leaders found religious reasons to be done with him. The representative of one of the most advanced civilizations in law and administration found a loop hole for executing an innocent man.

And this man Jesus did not stop it. He walked into it with eyes wide open. He did not let his follower take up arms and fight to stop it. He did not run away. Rather than cursing he forgave.

And he who had been sent from God and was God was cut down and strung up.

On the cross he faced the incompleteness of human life. Jesus faced the desertion by the very ones he had been preparing to carry his mission on.  Only a few, mostly family. are at the foot of the cross.

“It is finished.” “My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

God in his heart knew what it was to be without God in that awful moment.

God drank the cup of suffering, forsakenness, rejection, defeat.

Crushed, jeered, spent, alone.

The God who entered the world as a babe in a poor stable was the God groaning in death on that cross. He joined our life and plumbed the deepest deeps of mortal humanity.

He journeyed into the far country where we were.

And this cross is his stake planted to mark his claim upon it all -even the depths of human hell.

It is finished.

I have done it all.

I die and give back my breath to you Father

God so loved, God loved this way

Utter silent death

So even death is absorbed into the heart of God by radical identification with us.


Then… (Billings is right)

Then He rose and burst the bonds of death.

And did he rise? Yes he rose!

Hail O mighty God all triumphant. God beyond time and space. The Mighty Creator and true Lord and Master- raised this man from the dead in space and. And in that moment the world was changed. We saw revealed the destiny salvation intends for us.

God had planted the hope in human hearts.

  • He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; Ecclesiastes 3: 11

  • If a man die shall he live again?” Job

  • O mortal man can these dry bones live again?” – You know Lord, not me.

  • But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armieswill throw a feast for all the people of the world, On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;The shadow of doom darkening all nations.Yes, he’ll banish death forever.And God will wipe the tears from every face. He’ll remove every sign of disgrace From his people, wherever they are.Yes! God says so! ” Isaiah 25.6-8

Then things of dreams become here a deed.

A past event with power to bring present help, and future hope.

It ripples out in larger circles, the waves of power and life.

Grace sweeps over us from that cross and empty tomb

He lives forever that we may live.

This is the day, the moment that the Lord has made. It is God’s doing

God turned death to life and grave to glory.

Sins have been forgiven and our sinning overcome.

God in Jesus so wrapped himself in the web of history, so united himself to the flesh of existence that even as he shared our death now the tide is reversed and we share his life.

It is not up to you to figure it out, this swelling wave of the Divine, but to let it catch you up and lift you to new life.

At any grave we weep as those who hope. “I shall not die, but live!

The cross is God’s victory. We are God’s.


Out of a Tomb: Resurrection

Year A  Lent 5                                                 A sermon from April 10, 2011, on John 11


Th Raising of Lazarus–Tanner

We have spent this Lent with John’s gospel. Jesus encounters. To successful Nicodemus, Jesus offers new birth. To the woman at the well, living water bubbling up inside. To the man blind from birth, he gives sight. Now Jesus comes to a man in a tomb, or, should we say, to a family in grief. This deepest extremity of human helplessness.

We scarcely know what to make of a story of a dead man raised, just as we are unsure where to file stories of near death experience. The book so many of you have talked about lately, Heaven is for Real or Ninety Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. Or . Diane Komp’s Images of Grace, which reports her experiences as a physician with children facing death.

We wonder if such people were truly dead, or if as they neared death they were seeing heaven or only dreaming. We reason if they were resuscitated then it was not a death.

There’s an old tale that Pat fell from the scaffolding on a construction job and was knocked unconscious. Mike ran for the doctor. The doctor came, he took one look at Pat and said, “He’s dead.” Just then Pat came to and heard what the doctor was saying. Bleary-eyed, he said, “I ain’t dead.” “Lay down, Pat,” said Mike. “Lay down. The doctor knows best.”

And surely we do need to distinguish what happened to Lazarus from Christ’s resurrection. Lazarus is given a reprieve from death, but Christ when he was raised was raised to die no more. “Death has no more dominion over him.” Christ’s body was transformed into a resurrection body.

Nevertheless that does not diminish this sign. The implications are staggering. Jesus can breach the boundary of death. Heaven can trump death. This sign as all Christ’s miracles in John are called, points to something beyond itself. As the secret council saw it, “Now the whole world will follow this man if we do not get rid of him.” He who can give life to the dead.

The pivot text is Jesus encounter with Martha. “I am [for you] resurrection and life.( The breacher of death and the source of unending life.) Whoever dies grafted into me will live again, and whoever lives into me, even if they lose life in this world will live on. Whoever abides with Christ have unending life. Jesus years for us to abide in him.

This is what Paul is certain of after his own encounter with the risen Lord. “For me to live is Christ. (As long as I live my life has its meaning, source, definition, strength in the abiding presence of Christ.) But when I die I will have even more.” Death for a Christian is not some diminished state, but more life. (Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.)

John Bunyan pictured the death of a Christian in his great work Pilgrim’s Progress,:

“After this it was noticed abroad, that Mr. Valiant-For-Truth was taken witha summons… When he understood it he called for his friends and told them of it. Then said he, ‘I am going to my fathers.’When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to theriver side, into which, as he went, he said, ‘Death where is thy sting.’ And as he went deeper, he said, ‘Grave where is thy victory?’ So he passed over,and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

Jesus asked Martha “Do you believe?”

Well, that is the question when we face death, our own or the death of one we love. Can you believe, can you even imagine that death is not the last you will ever see of your dear friend?

Martha says she believes. Or rather, she says she believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. She believes if you die God can bring you back to life, and that is indeed much to trust God for. But it is not clear how much she trusts Jesus will do that now. Does the Lord give resurrected life to us in this world or only in the world to come?

When Jesus at the tomb asks the stone to be rolled from its entrance, she gets terribly pragmatic. “Not a good idea. He has been dead four days. His body will stink.” Keep tombs closed. Avert your eyes if you must. Some things in life are too far gone. “Can these bones live, son of man?” We are as unsure as Ezekiel.

And we have these unanswered questions.

First, why did Jesus wait till Lazarus was dead to come to him? God moves in a mysterious way not just in the methods God chooses, but in the timing. “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” Many is the time we wonder that God does not step in and intervene in tragedy before things go too far. It can be excruciating. If we had the power we attribute to God, we would stop the suffering of the world.

(Oh, grant that we do not know how much mess our wishes would create. The stories that are told of people’s inability to use three wishes so that the last one is that the first two could be cancelled. (Monkey’s Paw, e.g). )

Once things really reach death, we may believe that God is all powerful and still think that there is nothing God can do now. Time has run out for making a difference.

Actually it would have been safer if Jesus had healed Lazarus before he died, because what Jesus does now creates a crisis. The way John tells it the reason the council decides to pursue Jesus and kill him is because of this miracle. They feared he would become a leader of rebellion, mess up Temple,.draw fire from Roman occupiers. Better to kill Jesus to prevent losing their own power. In raising Lazarus from the tomb Jesus is destined for his own tomb.

“If you had healed Lazarus, Jesus, he would not have died then and perhaps you would have had more time as well.”

God’s mysterious timing. Why does God let things get so bad before acting?

But of this I am sure. The delay made the stakes higher. Would it not have been simpler for Jesus to wave his hand in the direction of Bethany and heal at a distance. He had done did it before. In John 4 the second sign Jesus performed was healing the son of a king’s servant just by his word. But as it is the cost of raising Lazarus will be his own death. “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Second, why does Jesus weep? If he had known he was going to raise Lazarus, why did he cry?

We should draw form this that even the certainty of resurrection does not stop tears at a funeral. Even if you know you will see them again, we can weep at partings. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow” even if we expetc a reunion. How much more when death separates us. Who can explain all their own tears?

Jesus weeps for Lazarus and all he has been through.

Jesus weeps because the others are weeping.

Jesus weeps because death is so real.

Jesus weeps because there is so much else wrong with the world.

Jesus weeps because he is immersed in the human condition with all its hardship, losses, suffering and incompleteness. Because the flowers fade and the grass withers.

The Latin poet Virgil coined a phrase that captures just this sense of what tears can express. “Lacrimae rerum”, “the tears of things”, suggests an image of the world’s tears, the sad wrongness of stuff. (Martin Warner)

We read in the NT of three time Jesus wept.

Jesus wept in Gethsemane as he faced his own death. Hebrews 5: 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. As Jesus drew near to the city of Jerusalem he 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 the days will come when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side and level you and your children 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 19:41f

And Jesus wept at the grave of his friend.

Jesus wept that he would die, that his friends would die, that Jerusalem had rejected to offer of peace and it would die. Jesus wept along with all the tears that had ever been shed. You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56.8)

Artist Makoto Fujimura has just finished illuminating the four gospels for Crossway publishing for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. To introduce the gospel he painted his mediation on “The tears of Jesus.”

For all the admirable qualities of Buddha here is one grave difference between Buddha and Christ. Buddha had compassion for the suffering but taught that suffering is not finally real. If we just think about it the right way we will be able to see it as an illusion. Disappearing into the blessed void. Buddah smiles. Jesus weeps.

The tears of Jesus show that our suffering is real to God and that God shares our pain. The tears of Jesus are sacraments of incarnation. We are saved by that incarnation which is completed on the cross.

To the crowd around the tears showed his love. “See how much he loved his friend.”

But if the tears tell us Jesus shared our human light, what happens next reveals something beyond the human. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we held his glory….”

These witnesses give testimony.

Nicodemus will say, “He taught me I could begin a new life.”

The woman at the well, “He knew all my secret sorrows and offered me joy.”

The blind man says, “Once I was blind but now I can see the light of the world is Jesus.”

Lazarus’ – well maybe Lazarus needs only say his name, for “Lazarus” means “God is my helper.” His names contains it: “Once I was dead and buried, but he called me out and death could not hold me back when I heard my name.”

It is not simply for hope after our physical death. Jesus calls us out to new life after deaths of all kinds.

And when we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Can these bones live?

Where is it life is over for you? Would you say with Nicodemus, can someone enter their mother’s womb or a fresh beginning at life? Can we turn back the clock and try life again? No, Jesus says, but you can receive life from above. Whoever believes shall never die.

Where is life over for you? The woman at the well who journeys alone, who has been abandoned by husbands or widowed and who has run out of joy. Jesus tells “If you knew who I am you would ask and I would give you a fountain of living water in your soul and you would never thirst again?”

Where is life over for you?

Maybe it is something that you never had and never expected to have. Jesus touches and says, “Wash in Siloam and see.”

Do you believe that Jesus can make you live right now? Not in some distant future beyond the tomb but in the midst of this world of tombs and crosses?

That the Spirit of God can blow into the dry corners of our soul and put flesh on bones and breath in your body?

William Barclay was asked once on the BBC about the miracles in the Bible. He defined them as symbols of what God can do today. He used as an example Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee. He said that in any storm, Jesus can give confidence and calmness. He stills the storms of our hearts. When asked where he was with this in his life, Barclay explained that years ago his twenty-one year old daughter drowned in a boating accident. He said God did not stop the accident, but he did still the storm in Barclay’s heart and restored his spiritually dried-out soul. (Dr. Wiley Stephens)

Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

The old has gone the new comes – even now, even here even in the tombs of our life. Heaven is seeping into the world.

1 Timothy 3:16 (New International Version, ©2011)

16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,

was vindicated by the Spirit,

was seen by angels,

was preached among the nations,

was believed on in the world,

was taken up in glory.

Still there is so much of death that sticks with us even as we begin new life in Christ

(See below on “unbind”)

It was nearly Passover a few days later when they made a feast in Bethany. Martha serving up a wonderful meal. Lazarus sitting next to Jesus, people ogling at the man who once was dead. Mary slips out and comes back with the precious box of nard and in a gesture of gratitude she pours out the most precious gift she owns on the feet of Jesus.

Jesus who poured out himself in tears for us and who would pour out the last of his life on the cross.

To such a gift as God gives, were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine.Demands my soul, my life, my all.


I love the thoughts of Rev. Samuel G. Candler:

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

“Unbind him, and let him go!” I like these words more than I like “Lazarus, come out.” Indeed, these words may be more powerful than the words “Come out!”

Because now, the community needs to assist in the resurrection. “Unbind him, and let him go.” There are some people yearning to live resurrection lives. There are some folks who have been born again; they have risen from the dead!

But they are still tangled up in burial clothes. They still have the sheets and coverings of death all over them. They are still bound up in something, bound up in old bondages, old arguments, old sin.

You know what that’s like. You know you are living a new life, but you seem somehow to still be in bondage to the old life.

This is where we need community. We need others. Often, it is the task of Christian community to complete the action of Resurrection. Jesus has called forth new life: Lazarus, come out!” But Lazarus still has burial clothes on.

So Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Those should be the words which are our orders every day, every new day. Unbind somebody. Where you find someone in bondage: your friend, your wife, your husband, your companion, even the stranger. Where you find someone struggling to be free, unbind them and let them go. Do not keep them tangled up in the old affairs of sin and death. Those clothes constrict and make us ill.

When we refuse to let someone go, when we refuse to forgive, when we refuse to see new life, it is we who are keeping them dead. The community has that power.

Jesus, therefore, proclaims to us, to all of us, to the Christian Church: “Unbind him, and let him go.” Those are really the powerful words of today’s gospel. Don’t hold on to the past. Don’t hold on to sin. Don’t hold on to death!

Let someone go today. Release someone!

Meeting the Risen Lord

Did you ever notice in the Easter accounts nobody finds the risen Lord? The risen Christ  comes to them! The most the women find is a rolled stone, an empty grave, and a messenger. The disciples  run but only see a used shroud in the vacant tomb. Left to our efforts alone, we only find the absence of Jesus, the empty tomb,   memories of the  used-to-be Jesus, or nothing more than doubts like Thomas.

But there is more.  The risen Lord comes to us.  He speaks forgiveness and sets a mission as to Peter on the shore. He knows our true identity and calls us by our name, as with Mary in the garden. He somehow gains entrance past the doors we’ve locked out of fear and gives us peace. He comes as to Thomas and we begin to doubt our doubts.

At Supper in Emmaus

At Supper in Emmaus

He opens Scripture and our hearts burn, as those two on the way to Emmaus.  Or, like those two, we recognize his presence when we’re showing hospitality.

Like all those to whom the risen Christ came, we may not  immediately recognize our Lord.  As Jesus told in the parable, in the final judgment the good and the selfish alike will ask, “When saw we thee?”


But Jesus left the promise. “Lo, I am with you always.”  Even when we don’t perceive the presence.

A Celtic Rune of Hospitality

We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often, goes the Christ
In the stranger’s guise.

God’s Plan

“God has a plan for your life.”  Well, what does that mean?

A “plan” can a blueprint, worked out  down to the number of nails needed. Or “plan” can be more general. “I plan to go to the beach vacation this summer.” “I want my child to go to college.”  In what sense does God have a plan for our lives? How flexible is it? Does he micromanage or does God guide things toward his purpose responding to our choices?

I590_GPS_Screen_driving_on_road punch  my selected destination into my GPS device. It finds a preferred route. If I miss  suggested turn, it ‘”recalculates.” It seems to me that  omniscience implies, not that God knows every detail of what is going to happen, but God knows every possible combination of misturns we could make and can still get us  to the destination. We may not get there in as good a time. We may end up taking rough roads. Our choices do have consequences .  But God can make a way to  the abundant life God wants for us, and for which deep inside us we yearn .  Even if  to get there we sometimes may just have to turn around.

In C. S. Lewis’ Narnian Chronicles more than once a character asks Aslan what would have happened if they had followed his advise. Aslan always replies that it is not for us to know or waste life speculating what might have been, but to deal with the way things are. It does no good wondering what the trip would have been if you had not made the wrong turn.

God’s promise in Jeremiah 29, “I know my plans for you” is not the declaration of a blueprint or   finished script for our lives, but the promise of a broad intention to bless. A promise roomy enough for several versions to be possible. A promise that leaves room for our freedom, our collaboration.

We may go through valleys of shadow to get there, but the shepherd goes with us and can always lead us home to the bright table spread with overflowing cups. “And I will  dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”