The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd – Easter IV by Mother Beth

Have you ever noticed that it can be difficult to figure out who has your best intentions at heart?  If you enter into a business transaction – say to purchase a used item – a previously owned vehicle or a refurbished appliance.  If the sales person says, “I am trustworthy” – it does not necessarily assure you that they are trustworthy.  We are suspicious of people who claim that we can trust them.

The gospel reading for today is commonly known as “the good shepherd” passage.  Although we hear this passage out of context, let me remind you where this occurs in the gospel.  In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus is responding to events that have happened in the earlier chapter.

Several weeks ago we heard about the man born blind – Jesus spit on some mud and put it on his eyes and told him to go wash.  You will remember that the man was healed but, because of that healing there was great discussion about who Jesus is.  The leaders of the synagogue were upset that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath – because they consider it work – and they interpreted God’s commandment about keeping the Sabbath as highly important and did everything possible to refrain from work on the Sabbath.  So who is this Jesus who heals and disregards the Sabbath – surely he cannot be from God – he must be a sinner – he must be evil.

There are many people who still have the same struggles today.  The Easter season asks the question over and over again – who is Jesus and what will we do with him – what place will we give him?

So right on the heels of all this discussion about who Jesus is and whether or not they can trust him – Jesus says, Very truly I tell you….

In other words, Jesus is saying, I am telling the truth – you can trust me.

He goes on to talk about the others – the thieves and bandits that find some other way to enter the sheepfold – not by the gate but by any other way.  Those people are up to no good – they do not have good intentions for the sheep.

But the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The one who is given permission by the gatekeeper – that is the one you can trust.  And you will know that you can trust him because he promises that his sheep know his voice.  He calls them by name.

One of the things that parents and children are encouraged to do today (especially in the city where there are many adults coming and going from schools and daycares) is to establish a “safe word”.  In the event that someone other than their parent comes to pick them up – that adult would know the safe word to say to them.  So if a neighbor is sent on the adult’s behalf then that adult must say the “safe word” so that the child knows the parent has sent them.

Jesus is telling those around him – you can trust me – I am the shepherd – the gatekeeper has vouched for me and let me in – I came through the proper channels – I know your name and I even know the “safe word”.   This is not a trick – I did not sneak in!

But the scripture goes on to say, “they did not understand what he was trying to say to them”.

So Jesus tries another approach – “I am the gate for the sheep” and “whoever enters by me will be saved”.  You may have heard that in some instances the shepherd acted as the gate for the sheep.

The sheepfold was built with a gap for a doorway.  In this gap the shepherd would stand, sit or lie and this would keep the sheep inside the fold.  More importantly though, the shepherd could provide protection against any attacks.  With the shepherd right there keeping watch it would be difficult for thieves and bandits to steal sheep.  It would also be difficult for animals to get by to hurt the sheep.  The shepherd protects against predators.

Whether we realize it or not there are still predators out there.  There are people who are not trustworthy.

It is important to know who you can trust.  It is comforting – in difficult circumstances and in the face of fear – to know that the Shepherd is trustworthy.  The protection of the sheepfold is that the sheep are huddled together.  In a group they are safer than they would be on their own and the shepherd protects the whole group.

The passage does not end there – it is not just about being huddled together in the safety of the fold.  The sheep “come in and go out and find pasture” – the Shepherd leads the sheep out to find pasture – to enjoy the sunshine and the fields – to be nourished by the grass – to have the freedom to run and play.  It is not a picture of the sheep cowering in the corner for fear but rather a picture of security, safety and freedom.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

And that is what he offers. Abundant life.  What does abundant life look like for you?  For the man born blind, abundant life is to be able to see – to be freed from disability.  What does abundant life look like for you?  To walk in wholeness – to be set free from emotional or psychological baggage?

In Isaiah 61:1 we hear, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [Isa 61:1 NIV].

This is the passage that Jesus stood up and read in the temple in Luke 4 – Jesus declares that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The abundant life involves freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression.

The Easter message has reminded us that we are saved from sin and death but this passage adds to that that we are saved for something – we are saved for abundant life – The good shepherd leads us from the safety of the sheepfold to the pasture of abundant life.

So do not be discouraged; imagining that the Christian life is one of restrictions and “thou shalt nots” – it is so much more than that.   The truth is – the shepherd can be trusted – he leads and protects.   Jesus says, “The thief comes to kill and destroy but I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly”.    O Lord, help us to trust you and to let you free us to live an abundant life.  Amen.

Life is a Journey

Life is a journey – We are all on a journey – Easter III – by Mother Beth

Reading from the Gospel of Luke 24:13-49 

The gospel reading for this Sunday is about two people walking along the road to Emmaus – they have been in Jerusalem and now they are headed home and as they walk along they are in conversation.  As they walk and talk, Jesus appears and walks along with them.  But they don’t realize that it is Jesus.  And as they walk he joins them in conversation.

There are a couple of wonderful things about this.  First, it is a lovely image of Jesus walking with us as we journey – whether we recognize him or not – Jesus is with us!

Second, as we journey, what are we talking about?  What are the things that consume our conversation?  Have we been so impacted by the things that God is doing – by the truth of the resurrection that we cannot help but talk about it??

Third, is our conversation appropriate?  Would we be ok talking about these things if we realized that Jesus was with us.

Think about the times that you are watching TV – if someone else walked in the room would you be able to keep watching?  If you told that joke in mixed company would it still be appropriate? Are we speaking words that are encouraging and helpful or not?

When Jesus asks the two what they are talking about.  They say, “are you the only one who doesn’t know about these things?”  Actually he is the only one who does know about these things – He is the only one who can explain these things!! AND He proceeds to do just that.

They are discussing the details of the events that have happened and in doing so they retell the various reports that they have heard – They tell their own perspective saying, he was a prophet – and we had hoped that he was the one –

The tell what the Women say  –         The grave was empty but they saw angels

Then we hear what the angels say – He is alive

The Disciples say – the grave is empty but they did not see Jesus

So as they journey along together these two followers of Christ have been weighing the testimony and examining the facts and trying to make sense of what has happened.  This is a lovely example of what we do in the church – we walk alongside each other and we share our testimonies about what we have seen, or heard or experienced and we try to make sense of it.  The good news for these two as they walk along is that they are not alone – Jesus walks with them and we need to remember that too.  We are not alone, Jesus walks with us and he wants to explain through scripture and the Holy Spirit how the pieces of this life fit together.

So as they walk along – Jesus says – don’t you understand and explains the scriptures to them.  This may remind us of the story we have heard of how he was explaining things in the temple when he was just a boy.  Jesus is able to explain how and why it is that the Messiah had to suffer

 

 

and die.  27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Notice that he is able to explain the whole of scripture and how it relates to what he had to go through.  Jesus is not God’s afterthought – his role was planned from the beginning of Israel’s history and the scriptures reveal that role right from the beginning.

All this time the two people have not been able to recognize Jesus.  Luke says, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”.   So what was it that kept them from recognizing Him?

What keeps us from recognizing Jesus?  We too have heard the story – we have heard all the things about the events in Jerusalem so what keeps us from recognizing the truth of who Jesus is?

Maybe we are disappointed – we were told that things would be different – changed – wonderful after we became a Christian –

but bad things still happen or we didn’t get “blessed” in the way we expected – our family is still struggling – our job is still difficult – we still have days when we want to pull the covers over our head and forget the world around us – Maybe this new life doesn’t look like we expected.

The two on the road – also say we had hoped that he was the one – Rome is still in power and the Romans put Jesus to death – therefore Jesus did not overthrow the government as we had hoped – we are still at the bottom of the rung of the ladder – our social status did not change – our economic status did not change – this is not what we were expecting

Every week we come and have the scriptures opened to us – we gather together – two or three – we journey along – we discuss what we have heard – what we understand – what we do not understand.

We break bread together – the Eucharist – communion – we share coffee time or breakfast or lunch together – what is it that keeps us from seeing Jesus.

Once the two invite Jesus to stay with them and they are having a meal together – we hear that, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;

So what happened?  Is there something about the way in which Jesus prays and handles the bread that is obviously his style?  Maybe but, I think there is more happening here.    Is it their willingness to sit and visit with the stranger – the act of hospitality?  We have heard the scripture in Matthew that says, “as much as you do it to the least of these you do it unto me” – perhaps their openness to listen to a stranger and to invest themselves in that visit.

The importance of breaking bread – what is it about eating together that helps us to know one another better?  There is something about taking the time to share a meal with someone that helps you to hear them in a new way. There are fewer distractions – you are attentive to them – your time is invested in being with them.  To yes to spending time with someone you are saying “no” to many other things and as such you are giving them value – investing in your relationship with them.

Maybe they finally saw Jesus because they stopped to listen.

Someone has said “The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand – we listen to reply”   We are so busy thinking about our answers we are not listening in the first place.

Maybe their eyes were finally opened because they stopped and actually listened.

Are we prepared to listen to what God has for us?  Are we prepared to lay aside our preconceived ideas about what God should be doing for us so that we can actually see what God is doing in and through us.

We all want to be used in big and miraculous ways – but faithful with little means faithful with much.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  Luke 16:10

When the followers finally recognized who Jesus was, he disappeared.  And they ran to tell the others what they had just experienced and how they had seen Jesus.

While they are telling their story – Jesus appears.  There is something really amazing about this – is our testimony such that it enables people to see Jesus?   May it be so.

Because Jesus does not want them to be confused about who He is and whether he is just a ghost – he again offers them the opportunity to see his hands and feet and he eats a piece of fish – a ghost can not do these things.  HE is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination – He is really in their presence.

And once again he opens the scriptures and explains how HE is and has been part of God’s plan from the beginning – that all of scripture is fulfilled in him.

Now they are sent out to continue the ministry of the gospel. He says,

“that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. “

As we journey through life, what is our conversation about?  Are we careful to speak words of encouragement and hope to those around us?  Does our conversation enable others to see Christ or are we so busy with our own thoughts and ideas that we have not yet taken the time to see who Jesus really is?  God wants to help us understand his Word and our role in these things.  O Lord, open our eyes to see you – help us to be willing to sit and hear from you so that we might go from this place empowered to be your witnesses.  Amen.

 

Second Chances

Second Chances – by Mother Beth

Do you ever wonder or worry that maybe you’ve missed it?  There was this one chance to do the right thing or to realize your full potential but that time came and went and you missed it.  So what is there for you to do now?   All of the excitement and adventure is behind you.  There is sometimes a feeling of letdown after a major festival.  We put so much of our heart and energy into preparing for that one big day whether it be a wedding, Christmas or even Easter.  We make all the arrangements and plan everything to a T and then when it is over there is a mix of emotions.  We are happy and pleased but also relieved that it all came together.   Sometimes we are disappointed because things didn’t go as planned and now it is too late.

As we age I think it is easier to look back wistfully at how things were when we were younger – the things we could do – opportunities taken or missed.

The good news on this second Sunday of Easter is that God wants to be in relationship with you – He wants to reveal himself to you – it is not too late – the journey is still ahead – you have not missed the boat.

The gospel reading for today picks up where we left off last Sunday.   Peter and the beloved disciple have been to the tomb and have seen that Jesus body is gone and Mary has encountered the risen Christ and returned to tell the disciples about her encounter.

We hear that the disciples are assembled together in a room with the door locked and they are afraid.  It is not clear exactly what they are afraid of – they may have been afraid of what would happen to them since Jesus was put to death and as followers of Jesus they could be next or they may just be afraid that now they will be put out of the synagogue and no longer allowed to worship with everyone else.

As they are gathered Jesus appears to them –speaks Peace to them and then he shows them his hands and his side.

By showing them the wounds in his hands and side – he is assuring them that he is in fact the bodily resurrected Christ – he is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination.  Once they realize that he is the Christ – they rejoice.  But the journey does not end with the resurrection – John goes on to tell us that Jesus says to them “Peace be with you as the Father has sent me so send I you” – Just as Jesus was sent to them so they are now sent to others.  They are commissioned by Jesus to go and to tell others about the forgiveness of sins.

You see they have been locked up in this room wondering what to do – afraid and probably more than a little disappointed — everything that they had hoped for and planned had ended and even once they realized that Christ had been raised, they were still left alone – Christ was gone but what did that mean for them?  There is no “this” without “Him”.

But now Jesus appears before them and gives them new instructions.  It is not over – they have work to do and they are motivated by seeing Christ – resurrected – in the flesh – but also his words of commissioning – sending them off to keep up the work of the ministry – to continue preaching the kingdom of God.

And then we catch up with Thomas.  Somehow Thomas has missed the meeting with Jesus and he is not content to just take the others word for it.  HE now he insists that he too must see with his own eyes to believe – he insists that he must put his hand in Jesus side before he will believe.

The church has traditionally given Thomas a hard time for not believing the word of the other disciples; calling him “Doubting Thomas”.  I am encouraged by his determination to see for himself.

So if you are disappointed today – if things have not turned out the way you had hoped or planned, be encouraged.  Thomas could have thought he had missed it – there was one opportunity and he was off doing something else.   But instead of giving up and assuming that he doesn’t need to know, Thomas insists that he see for himself.

Don’t settle for less than a real encounter with the living Christ – Thomas doesn’t – he is bold enough to admit that he is not interested in just taking the word of the other disciples – he wants the full experience himself – and why shouldn’t he get it – the others did

How badly do you want to know the truth?  Are you interested in a real experience or content to just take someone else’s word for it.  We hear a lot of things in bits and pieces now – the result of research and discovery is saved for those who are employed to do such digging or for those who like to do it.  We often want the quick fix – maybe we think, I don’t need to know how to get the answer – I just need to know the answer – think about calculators for mathematics class – there was a time when we were training to know how to solve the problem ourselves but now we use machines to do that.   Often it is the same with church, we want someone to tell us the answer BUT, the truth is to be sought after.  It is good to listen and learn from others but we should not check our brains at the door – we need to seek and find.

Thomas insists on a personal experience – and a week later, Jesus shows up and shows Thomas his hands and his side; allowing Thomas to touch and be sure that He is in fact, present in bodily form.  It’s not too late.  Thomas did not miss the opportunity.  Jesus takes the time to alleviate whatever doubts there are.

And the good news for us is that the encounter does not end there.  Jesus goes on to affirm those who will believe without seeing.  This is a word of encouragement for those who would read John’s gospel from that time to the present time and beyond.  It’s not too late!

Jesus is speaking to us – encouraging and blessing us – for believing without seeing him in the flesh – for persevering in faith even if we have questions or so called “doubts”.

Thomas was brave to voice his demands – to insist that he get his own opportunity to see Christ.

Are you brave enough to ask God for the assurance that you need?

Do you have doubts that need to be laid to rest?  It is not too late to have an encounter with the risen Lord.  It is not too late to believe.

God wants to hear your concerns and questions – HE can handle them.

And once you’ve had an encounter – the good news is – it’s not over – there is still more for you.  Christ comes speaking peace and breathing the Holy Spirit into and over you so that you might go out and tell others about the forgiveness that you have found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Easter Sunday may be over – the excitement and anticipation set aside but we are not finished – we have not missed the opportunity – there are still many opportunities to be taken and experienced.

This is just the beginning of our ministry – Christ calls us to take up his charge and to go and tell.  The words he uses here are powerful.

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

God gives us the responsibility to help others come to an understanding of forgiveness.

The good news is – it’s not too late for us – for God to reveal himself to us – for God to use us.  But it is also good news for those around us – in our homes – in our community – it is not too late for them – God wants us to go out and reveal his love to them – to show them the good news of God’s forgiveness.

Easter Sunday may be over – but it’s not too late.

 

Alleluia, The Lord is Risen!

Sermon Easter Sunday – Mother Beth

How do you respond in a scary situation?  When you hear that strange noise in the house, do you pull the covers over your head and just hope that it all goes away?  Or maybe you lay, wide awake but turn and face the bedroom door so that at least you will see someone enter the room if there is someone lurking around? (I have to admit that sometimes this is me – I want to see the attacker if there is one!) or maybe you are the brave soul in the horror film who gets out the flashlight and goes in search of the answers?  (When I am home alone with the kids – I figure I have to be brave enough to check out whatever is going on).  What is your style?  How curious or brave are you? How serious are you about finding the answers?

In the gospel reading today we hear about the disciples’ response following the death of Jesus.

Let’s not forget that they are confused and grief stricken – the one that they believed in and loved – the one that they thought would lead them to a new kingdom- his kingdom has hung a cross and died.

What does this mean for them?  What are they to do?  How can they go forward without a leader?  How can it be that they were so sure that he was the one – the Messiah – the bringer of peace and now he is lying in a cold tomb.  There seem to be different responses to what they find there.

Mary approached the tomb and discovers that the stone is missing and out of concern she runs to tell the disciples that all is not well.

Initially she believes that someone has taken Jesus’ body and she wants to know where he has been taken.

Peter and the beloved disciple start out toward the tomb to discover what has happened.  They run and the beloved disciple arrives at the tomb

 

 

first.   He looks in and sees the grave clothes lying there but does not go inside the tomb.  Peter rushes in and sees the grave clothes – the shroud laying separate from the other clothes.

The Beloved disciple now enters and when he sees the clothes we are told that he believes- the grave clothes are a sign to him and motivated by that sign he believes.

The two disciples then return to their homes.

Mary stands outside the tomb weeping and as she looks into the tomb she sees two angels sitting inside the tomb where Jesus had been lying.

They ask her why she is crying.  She responds, “They have taken him away and I do not know where they have laid him.”  With that she turns around and sees Jesus standing there.  She assumes he is the gardener and asks him if he knows where they have laid Jesus.  But when he speaks her name she recognizes him.

There is something wonderful about being called by your name.  There is powerful connection when you are addressed by your name.  And Mary responds by calling Jesus by his title “Rabbouni” and then runs to tell the others the good news of the resurrection.

So the question for each of us this glorious Easter Sunday is …Have you looked into the empty tomb?  Have you asked the questions?

Maybe we don’t want to know – Maybe we want someone else to explain it.

Maybe we are content to speculate about who Jesus is or maybe we think it doesn’t matter if he really died or was really resurrected.

But this is the defining moment for Christianity – this is what sets following Christ apart from following all other gods or religions – If he really died and he really rose then death has been conquered –

death does not have the last say.  If the tomb is empty then God has accomplished the impossible.

When we look into the tomb and see that the body is not there then we must acknowledge that something really tremendous has happened.

This is not just some figural resurrection – this is not the person’s soul leaving their body and going on to a higher plane or another dimension.

The lack of a body in the tomb speaks to a bodily resurrection – the body also has been resurrected – Jesus has been restored from absolute death to absolute life.  It is not just an analogy or a way of explaining what we do not understand.

And when Jesus calls Mary by her name – she recognizes him.

Mary through tears of grief and despair is startled to hear her name spoken by the risen Christ.   This is the moment that makes me weak at the knees.  Can you imagine?  Your beloved teacher and Lord whom you watched suffer and die; whose tomb you have kept watch at; waiting for the time when you can go and prepare the body for a proper burial – is standing there in front of you and calling your name.

Can you hear him call your name today?  Do you recognize the risen Christ?

Once you have looked into the tomb and found it empty, what are you going to do about Jesus?

Will you rush home and hide until God makes it clearer?

Will you like Mary hurry to tell others about the visitation of Jesus and how he is so much more than you realized – more than just a good man, more than just a teacher or a prophet – he is the one who has conquered sin and death?

Or maybe you will await the news from a sheltered home (like those disciples who did not go to see for themselves) – letting others check it out first?

Because once you have looked into the tomb, you cannot forget what you have seen there.  You cannot just go about your life – once you have looked into the empty tomb you must decide what you will do with it
Are you content to listen to rhetoric or intellectual arguments – the speculation about someone stealing the body or the disciples devising some complex conspiracy plan to fool the whole world?

And the good news is that God has accomplished this mighty act – the death and resurrection of his only Son on your behalf.  He loves you that much.  And no matter what your response has been – there is still time to respond differently.  God longs to reveal himself to you.  We will hear over the next weeks that Christ meets the disciples wherever they are.  Those who have questions are not left out.  Those who are scared or nervous, he seeks out.  There is still time to respond.  There is still time to witness the resurrection.  God wants to reveal Himself to you.  Christ wants to call you by name and draw you to himself.

The beautiful, wonderful and exciting news of the resurrection is that Jesus died for us but death could not hold him and he triumphed over death – sin and death have been overcome through Jesus Christ our Lord.  This Easter Sunday may God give you and I the grace and mercy to look inside the empty tomb, to hear Christ speak our names and to go rejoicing to tell others about the good news – Christ is risen – He is risen Indeed, Alleluia!  Amen.
 

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter – Mother Beth

I have noticed that some of my friends are now purchasing complete sets of TV series on DVD.  This is in some ways a dangerous proposition if you are given to indulgence of TV because you can sit through a whole year’s worth of a particular weekly TV program in one sitting.  Many others now binge watch shows on Netflix.  Thank Goodness I have not yet discovered Netflix for myself.  I will concede though that the fact that TV shows are available to watch online allows me the opportunity to go back and watch episodes that I may have missed.  Certainly one disadvantage of the fast paced writing of a TV serial program is that characters can change and develop quite quickly from week to week and should you happen to miss a week it might be confusing or frustrating to have missed a particular storyline.

There is something satisfying about watching or reading a particular story from start to finish.  Some are even worth experiencing more than once.

I do remember however, when Steve and I were going to see the movie Titantic, when it first came out at the theatres, and my Mother was dumbfounded by this.  Why would you want to watch that movie – you already know how it ends?  Still, even when we know how something ends it can be interesting to hear the rhythm and flow of the whole narrative.  Life of course, is more than just a beginning and an end – it is how we live it in the middle that is important too!

On this night we hear the great story of salvation.  If we were to hear all the readings scheduled for the Great Vigil of Easter we would hear 22 lessons that begin with Creation and continue beyond the Gospels.    It is an opportunity for us to hear the great over-arching story almost in entirety.

Former Bishop of Durham, England, NT Wright describes the story of scripture as a 5 act play.  I think this is a particularly helpful way of looking at it, especially tonight as we hear the larger story and prepare to renew Baptismal Vows.   According to Wright the first act is Creation.  The second act is the Fall, Act Three is the story of Israel as a chosen people, Act Four is the story of Jesus and the Gospels and the Final Act, Act Five is what we are in right now.  We are the Fifth Act.

God’s story becomes our story.  We are ransomed, redeemed, embraced, saved and marked as Christ’s own forever.   We have been admitted into God’s family and the benefit of being part of the family is that we are embraced into a safe place – a place where we can learn the lessons of those who have gone before us.  As we read, hear and participate in the great story of scripture we are taught how those before us handled this human life and how God revealed his faithfulness to them.

So what did we hear tonight that is hope for us?  In the lesson from Exodus we heard about God’s faithful deliverance – how the people are told to stand still and see God’s mighty act of salvation for them.

In the Isaiah passage we heard words of encouragement that God is the provider for his people and that God’s family is a witness to all nations and that salvation is extended to all people.

In Ezekiel, God offers transformation – he will take our heart of stone and restore it to a heart of flesh.

The Romans reading explains the grace extended to us at baptism; that dying with Christ and being raised connects us to Christ.   In baptism we turn away from ungodly things and turn towards God himself.  We accept his offer to be part of the family – part of the story.

The Gospel reading confronts us with the pertinent message for tonight.  We go with the women to the tomb, only to discover it empty and to behold a great mystery.  The body is, in fact, gone and we hear the witness of angels – that Jesus has been raised as he promised.

We are commissioned for the fifth act of the play – Go and Tell the good news.  This is where we come into the story after all.  We are witnesses to the empty tomb and we are sent out to tell others the great story of God’s salvation.

The whole story really is His Story but it is also our story.  Easter Eve is about the transformation from the dark of the tomb to the light of resurrection glory.  It is Christ being resurrected but it is also about His salvation of us – his empowering and embracing us – so that we might be transformed from the dark of this world to the light of Christ.  Amen.

Forgiveness/  Forgiven-ness – A Lenten Reflection by Mother Beth

 

I awoke the other morning to thoughts about seeking affirmation.  I was thinking about social media and how we want others to affirm what we post there.  We want others to like our political ideas and our recipes.  There is something almost intoxicating about having our post “liked” by a number of other people.  It reminds us that we are not alone – that others think like us.  The problem is that constantly seeking affirmation from others just leads us to the fear of humanity. We do not want to disappoint them – we do not want to do things that they would not do or affirm.  BUT, Seeking affirmation from God sets us on a whole new trajectory.

The 40+ days of Lent have given us time to return to God – to focus on his work in our lives.  “We seek to unlearn the destructiveness of the world and of our own lives as we learn the ways of God.” P.173  Embodying Forgiveness L. Gregory Jones

I have been thinking a lot about our disconnectedness and how this disconnect is the very thing that makes it so easy for us to commit violent acts against each other.   It is this disconnection that makes it possible for crime to flourish.   It is this disconnect that allows us to gossip, judge and fear each other.

On Sundays we have been listening to the stories of Jesus in the gospel of John.   We heard the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, then we heard about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.  We heard the story of the man born blind and his healing.  Last week we heard the story of Lazarus.  Each of these stories involves a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Each of these stories also involves a community – in Nicodemus’ case the community is one in which he holds a prominent position and significant status – perhaps he comes to Jesus at night because he is not sure if others will affirm his decision to talk with Jesus.

The Samaritan woman comes to Jesus in the middle of the day because she is not so welcome in the community – she keeps herself removed from the gossip and judgment that surrounds her life.

The man born blind is recognized by the community as long as he is blind and maintains the status quo.  Once he is healed the community has many questions for him and they’re not sure where he will fit.  Even his own parents do not want to answer on his behalf for fear that their response will exclude them from the community.

Lazarus is surrounded by community, even in death.  As he is raised to new life, it is the community that Jesus calls upon to return him and welcome him back to the community of the living.  We hear “Unbind him and let him go.”

It takes a community to include Lazarus back into life.   Jesus brought him out of the tomb but he calls on those around to unbind him.  We need each other – we need a community to welcome us back, to encourage us in new life – to speak encouragement and love and peace to us.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ shows us that God is not a disconnected God – HE is not a far off God – He does not dabble in the plans of humanity from his safety in heaven.  God comes into our time and space through His very Son Jesus Christ – He takes our sin and pain upon Himself – He acts for the welfare of you and I.  Not by a wave of his hand or by royal decree but with the very flesh and blood of His only Son.  God shows us what it means to be connected – to love and to forgive at great cost.

He doesn’t rain money down on a problem, He sends a human being to interact with the one who is having the problem – to love and show compassion – to speak, to cherish and to hold the one who has the problem so that connected together they can receive God’s solution to the problem.

When we are disconnected from each other, we can be easily deceived into thinking that the other person is against us.  If we have a good connection with the other then we are in a better position to believe the good about the other and resist the enemy’s lie (eg.  That they do not like us, that they want to harm us, that they are only thinking about themselves).

What does it really mean to live in community?

What does it really mean to live a cruciform cross-shaped life?

Think about the cross – a vertical and a horizontal member – the vertical as a symbol of God’s love for us and our love in response to him.  The Horizontal as a symbol of God’s arms outstretched in love for all of humanity and our calling to love those whom Jesus loves.

Jesus himself says the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself?

And this week on Maundy Thursday we will hear him take this commandment and make it new = not just to love our neighbor as we love ourselves but to love one another as He has loved us!

We need each other.

“The deepest truth about ourselves is neither that we are self-sufficient nor that we are weak, needy and fallible; The deepest truth (it) is that we are created for communion with God, with one other, and with the whole of Creation.  We need God and others both to discover who and whose we are and also because it is only through our life together that we can fulfill our destiny for communion in God’s kingdom.”  P.61 Embodying Forgiveness

Last Sunday during the service I began to think about forgiveness.  I have thought about it on many occasions but, for the first time it made sense to me.   In forgiving my neighbor, I am not acting on God’s behalf – I do not as an individual forgive someone for God – I am acting on my own behalf – I am choosing to unlearn the destructive ways of this world – the destructive ways of my human nature and choosing to learn the new ways of God and His kingdom.  That person is still dependent on making things right with God for themselves.   I am releasing the thing that keeps me bound. I am choosing to let God restore me to community and asking the other person to unbind me from those grave clothes.

We heard last week the passage from Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones.  God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones and command those bodies to come back together.  And once they were back together God breathed his life into them and restored them to life.  What if we began to speak to the bones of those around us?  What if we began to call back to life those who have been pushed out of the church?  Those who were written off by society?  Those who are blind and can’t find their own way to Jesus?  What if we remembered them.  What if we forgave them for whatever has come between us and in doing so we welcomed them back to the community.

Re-member – the opposite of dismember – to reattach to the body.

Romans 12

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12

 

“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.”  P. 301 Embodying Forgiveness

 

One of the options in the “What Color is your Lent?” activity was to pray the Prayer of St. Francis daily.  This prayer was written on a battlefield during the First World War.  IT was written on a card that bore the image of St. Francis and that is why it is known as the Prayer of St. Francis.

 

Prayer of St. Francis

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

If someone facing the horrors of the world war could write such a beautiful thing – challenging themselves and others to bring love, pardon, truth, faith, hope, light, joy, understanding and consolation to the darkest places then, surely we can begin to let go and forgive those things that have been done to us.

“Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can embody the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world that all too often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.” Embodying Forgiveness

As the song says, Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

It’s not too Late! Lent 5 – Mother Beth

Lent 5  It’s not too Late!

Recently I had the dream about being back in school and arriving late for class.  Many times I have had school dreams, sometimes it is exam day and I forgot to study.  Usually the anxiety that prevails in these dreams says,  It’s too late!  How many times have you thought or said that?  It’s too late for the Church – we’ve gone too far in a particular direction. It’s too late for the country – the time has come and gone for a simpler life – a holier life – a better life!  It’s too late for my family – they already made their decision about God, about faith, about how they will live their life.  It’s too late for me – I’m too old – I’m set in my ways.     Haven’t you heard how hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks?

And anyway ….If only God had been here then. If only God had done something at that time.  If only…

And then over time we just die to that dream – whatever we thought we were supposed to do – whatever we hoped for our family or friends. We resolve ourselves to the idea that it is too late.

Let me tell you about a story I read about last year – a true story from the newspaper in Lexington, Mississippi

LEXINGTON, Miss. — Workers at a U.S. funeral home say they found a man alive and kicking when they opened a body bag.

Coroner Dexter Howard calls it a miracle that 78-year-old Walter Williams is alive.

The coroner was called to Williams’ home in Mississippi, where family members believed he had died.

But Walter Williams was found alive and kicking when they opened the body bag at the funeral home.

Howard says Williams had no pulse and was pronounced dead Wednesday.  Early Thursday, workers at Porter and Sons Funeral Home were preparing to embalm Williams when he started to kick in the body bag.

Family members were called and Williams was taken to a hospital. Howard says he believes Williams’ pacemaker stopped working, then started again.  Family members say Williams, a farmer, told them he’s happy to be alive.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/funeral-home-workers-find-man-alive-and-kicking-in-body-bag-1.1708145#ixzz2y48IwFcnA

Scary?  Yes. Maybe Sobering?  Absolutely. But what if the family had said it was too late?  What if they had already moved on?  The man was declared dead and the funeral was planned so there was no going back.   Of course, no one is going to do that.  If a loved one is returned to you from death or even from a near-death experience, you will happily receive them back.  We would be happy to have our funeral plans interrupted.

This week in the gospel we hear the wonderful story of Lazarus being resurrected.  The God who created life out of nothing calls life back into a dead body. It is the ultimate do-over.

What if the word of God had the same effect on us that it did Lazarus?  What if hearing the word of God brought life and wholeness and restoration?  I believe that it does.

Isaiah 55:10-11 says,  “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

The word of God accomplishes whatever it is sent out to do.  By the word of God the world was created.

To those who are waiting and watching at the burial of Lazarus and to us here today the message is, “You belong to the God who delights in doing the impossible”  Bruce Smith.

No matter how broken your life – no matter how dead you feel – God’s desire is to restore you to life – to put you back together again – and to breathe new life into you.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

If you follow along in the gospel of John over several weeks you will discover various stories in which Jesus has been revealing himself as the son of God – as I am he – the fulfillment of all that is to come.  He is the one that the people have been waiting for; arrived at long last.  Here in the physical realm – no longer a future hope but now a present reality.  And the signs have been escalating in scale, as well.  We hear about Jesus offering new life to Nicodemus and about living water to the Samaritan woman.  Last week we heard about the healing of a blind man and now we are faced with the story of Lazarus.

We read the details of this story and we hear there was a certain man named Lazarus – and we hear the details of his family life – his sisters Mary and Martha and there is context to the story.  Every attempt has been made to help us realize that these are real people in a real community – this is not a parable – but a real event.  This is a family that Jesus loves.

And from the beginning we know that Jesus knows more about this situation than his disciples – he makes it clear that God is doing something, HE says, “it does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory”.

We hear that Jesus loved this family but he still decides to stay two days longer in another town instead of coming to them.  Do you ever feel like God’s time is out of sync with your time?  Why doesn’t He do something immediately when I call?    What is taking SO long?

Martha meets Jesus on the way to see Lazarus and says what we want to say, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

And when she says, If you had been here – She means “You are too late – This could have been different”

= DO we feel this way – things in our life went wrong – If God was there it could have gone down so differently?

But then she goes a little further and reveals how strongly she believes in who Jesus is.  She says, “but even now I know that your heavenly Father will give you whatever you ask of him”.

But what about NOW?  – Even now – Do we believe that Jesus can act on our behalf – Will God give him whatever he asks?

Jesus responds by assuring her, “Your brother will rise again”.

Martha seems resolved that although she knows Lazarus will be raised at the last day and she clearly believes that Jesus is the Christ – Lazarus days on this earth are over.

 

 

When she says, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection Martha is stating the assurance of the hope which is to come.

But what about now – right here and now in the presence of Jesus =  what is the present hope that Jesus promises us?  Is this only for the future?

I am the resurrection and the life.  Not in the future but now.  Not in some far place but right here.   In the presence of Jesus is life.

Now Mary approaches and echoes Martha’s words, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Again we hear not doubt in His ability to do something but rather a challenge on the timing.  IT IS TOO LATE!

So Jesus proceeds to the tomb.  He recognizes and observes the grief of those around him.  He weeps with those who are weeping.

Even those around who are watching are questioning …”Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

There is no question that Jesus could have healed Lazarus – they all realize that.  But he is not sick he is dead.  It is too late!

And then Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the tomb.  And as touched as they have been by his sentiments and his kind words, they are aghast that he would open the tomb.

Wouldn’t we be, if someone were to open up the grave of our loved one?  It’s a desecration.  It’s a violation!

When Christ wants to access some area in our life that we have hidden away – that we have let die, are we appalled?  Do we recoil or will we let him breathe his life into it?  Are there things that we have locked up inside – that we have hidden away because of wounds and pain?

Will we let Jesus have access to any and all of ourselves?   Will we let Jesus restore to life those who we have long thought were beyond redemption?

Can we make space in our church for those about which we have said, IT is too late?  Are we aghast like Martha and the bystanders – refuting his right to open up the tomb?

The tomb is opened and Jesus commands Lazarus to come out.

And despite all the complaints and sputters from those around.  Lazarus comes out of the tomb.

Jesus commands them – unbind him and let him go. 

It takes a community to include Lazarus back into life.   Jesus brought him out of the tomb but he calls on those around to unbind him.  We need each other – we need a community to welcome us back, to encourage us in new life – to speak encouragement and love and peace to us.

Let’s not miss a few things about this story…

Let’s recognize the irony that Lazarus is resurrected just as it is becoming clear that Jesus will be put to death. Jesus ability to triumph over death will emphasize the fact He is not just a great healer but He holds the power of life and death.  And it further emphasizes the fact that when he dies on the cross no one takes his life from him but he lays it down.

He did not die because he is weak but because he poured himself out for you and me.

In the African American church tradition there is the saying, “Where the world places a period, God introduces a comma – meaning that suffering does not have the last word!”

Or as my Mother has said so many times, “You shouldn’t count the score at half-time!”

Most of us here know a little something about waiting for things.  And to be honest there were times in the whole immigration process when I thought, “It’s too late! This is not the ways things were supposed to go.”  And I suspect that maybe there have been things in your life that have not happened as you had planned.  Maybe there are dreams you have died to OR hopes that you have given up on.  Today Jesus says to you and I, that it is not too late.  And while we may not know what Jesus will do in each particular situation, we can be assured that he is “the resurrection and the life”: he is the power of God to bring life out of death. And like Martha, we must trust, have faith and wait, to see what this man who calls himself the Resurrection and the Life will do next.  May we be willing to open ourselves to the breath of life that only Christ provides.  May we be ready and willing to unbind those who are restored to life around us and to receive them into the community of living members.  May we surrender to Him all the broken and hidden and damaged areas of our own lives that God desires to heal and restore. Amen.