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.

A New Day

What would it look like to start a  new church?  How would you go about this?  I am sure that many of us would simply say, “That seems like too much work!”  And to be honest, that was my first reaction.  And if it was up to me to make it happen that would be a problem.  The good news is that the new Episcopal church in Flagler Beach (Flagler Beach Mission) is not about me!   The good news is that Jesus loves the people of Flagler Beach and has called us to begin to gather a community to worship and serve God; sharing the good news about the love, grace and mercy of a forgiving Savior.

Would you be interested if I told you that partnering with this new church meant you could be a part of something creative and fun?  Or if it meant you could have some positive impact in and on a community?  What if it meant you could begin to build relationships that would transform your life and the lives of those you encounter?    Please join us as we begin to receive and extend the love of a great God in a great place. – Mother Beth Pessah

 

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I Once was Blind but, Now I See

The Gospel of John 9 – True Blindness (MSG)

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”  12 “So where is he?”  “I don’t know.”

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

17 They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”  26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”  28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”   30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.   35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.  39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”  40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”  41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

I Once was Blind but, Now I See

Lent IV – Year A – John 9

Science and medicine can do amazing things today and we are probably more likely to think in terms of scientific solutions to problems than to signs and wonders.  Both are gifts from God and miraculous.  The gospel lesson for today reveals God’s ability to bring healing to a blind man.

We catch up with Jesus and the disciples in John chapter nine.   The passage starts out stating that as they walked along they saw a man blind from birth and the disciples asked, ““Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

It was a common religious idea that sin caused physical defects and sickness.   The disciples have seen Jesus at work with others – doing other signs and yet they default to what they have been taught before.  They revert back to the old ways of handling things.  So instead of imagining that this person could be made whole,– they figure he is blind for a reason so they want to focus on what that reason is.  Don’t we focus more on the purpose of suffering than the suffering person?  We think “Why would this happen to someone? instead of thinking, – what can I do to help bring healing to the situation?

In this instance of healing, the blind man does not ask to be made whole – Jesus offers it.   That alone is pretty amazing I am sure for this man who is blind and is probably used to being treated as invisible.  Jesus approaches him and makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes and then commands him to go to Siloam and wash it off.  When he does – he can see for the first time.

The neighbors of this man do not recognize him now that he can see.

What is going on here?  Did they pay so little attention to him before or are they just so incredulous about the miracle? – there must be another explanation? – this is not the man this is just someone who looks like him.  Do the people think that because the man was blind he was not intellectually developed enough to tell the story of how he was healed?? Is this an ignorance and prejudice thing?

Or is the question about whether this is a legitimate healing?  Maybe he wasn’t really all that blind after all – maybe Jesus just fixed a bad vision problem but did not actually HEAL the blind man.

They do not listen as the man attempts to satisfy their curiosity – I am he!  – hmm sounds remarkably like Jesus when he answers his accusers – I am he!!!  They do not hear Jesus and like him they do not hear or, ironically, see this man who is now able to see.

They would rather talk about him then to him.  To speak to him – to converse which includes listening – is to open up and build relationship with him – relationship takes work and understanding.    I suspect that sometimes this is also the case for us. We want to know the news about so and so but we would much rather hear it from someone else than to go and hear it firsthand.  It might take effort – it make take relationship – it might take extra time or listening to them.   In what ways do we avoid building relationship with individuals in our community?  In what ways would we rather talk about the person than talk to them??

In the gospel the neighbours decide to take him to the Pharisees – they question the man who declares that Jesus is a prophet

Then they question the parents of the man – who are terrified to say anything – if they pronounce Jesus as the Christ then they will be put out of the synagogue and so will their son.

So they hand it off to their son – he is an adult ask him.  They do not want to be responsible for having him kicked out of the synagogue. What does this mean for them – their identity as parents –as parents  of the man born blind – they get a new identity too – now they will be the parents of the man who was healed by Jesus –  are you someone who likes attention or not?

I know my mother in law used to shrink back when my husband liked to stand up in the cart and sing at the top of his lungs – some people do not like to be noticed – they like to fly under the radar – what about you?

When the situation is difficult and your answer could result in dire consequences – what is your testimony?  What is your witness?

The Pharisees demand that the man, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.

And he says – One thing I know I once was blind but now I see  –

If these words sound familiar it’s because John Newton chose them for his hymn Amazing Grace.  John Newton had been a slave trader who had come to realize the error of his ways and repented of his activity in slave trade and through the experience with William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade became an outspoken force against slavery. His blindness was not physical blindness but of spiritual blindness to the sin of slavery and his part in it.

I have told many people that one of my favourite verses is found in Job,

“I have spoken things I did not understand”.  I have discovered in my

life that I have used pat answers or championed a particular cause only to have my “eyes opened” to the truth of the situation later.   When God opens our eyes to the truth then we realize how blind we were.  This is what Jesus is illustrating for those around him.  Although they think they can see clearly, they are in fact blind to who he is.

Our testimony can only be what we know –– it is not a theological treatise – it might not answer all the questions but we can speak what we have experienced – the blind man knows that however it happened – he used to be blind but now he can see – how can someone refute that?  This is the power of testimony.  This is a good reminder – we don’t have to have all the answers or know how it all works but we tell what we know – what we have seen and heard.

The blind man says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God

does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

He challenges the logic of the Pharisees – you don’t know but how can you refute this evidence? – I am healed and it has never happened before – therefore this man is from God!!!

Where have we felt blind in our lives? Where have we experienced a sense of new sight, new life, or new opportunity to be the person we have been called to be?  This is our testimony – this is our witness to others.  And if for some reason you question whether you have had that experience – if you feel like you are still blind and stumbling around in the dark, let me assure you that Jesus still comes to those in need to grant sight, faith, and life to all those who ask.  Let us be brave and inquisitive and call out to God when we need to see clearly – ask and  you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.  May we allow God to open our eyes to the ways that we have been blind and may we rejoice together as we say, I once was blind but now I see.  Amen.