It’s not too Late! by Mother Beth

The First Reading from I John1:1-2:5

We declare to you what was from the :beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.  5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  3Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

It’s not too Late! – John 20—A homily by Mother Beth

Some people believe everything they hear or everything they read.

When you stop for groceries and you’re waiting for the cashier, it’s sometimes interesting to read the tabloid headlines.   Some of the claims are so outrageous and it often causes me to chuckle about how ridiculous that form of media is.  The other day though I saw a headline that made me wonder.  It could have been true – maybe it is true and so that sent me in a search for some information to verify the story.    I asked a few friends if they had heard anything and then I went on a little investigation around the internet.  As yet, no other source has verified the story.

In the gospel reading today we hear the story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ.   First of all we should notice that the disciples are locked up in a room because of fear.  Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene (as we heard last week in the gospel lesson) has seen Jesus and has reported that back to the disciples – they are not convinced – they are afraid.  I point this out because we have often singled out Thomas as the only follower who doubted the resurrection but here we see the group of disciples locked in a room.

Jesus appears extends Peace to them and shows them his hands and feet.

When the disciples relay this information to Thomas – he is leery and declares that he will only believe if he sees for himself the hands and feet of Christ.  But is this really all that surprising?

Mary did not recognize Jesus in the garden – probably because she did not expect to see him there.  The other disciples did not declare the resurrection until they had had a personal encounter – then they said “We have seen the Lord”.  Many people still question the finality of someone’s life until the can see the body and know that they are gone.  Thomas wants to be sure.  He will not put his faith in someone else’s say-so – he needs to know for himself.

It sounds like a tabloid headline – it could be true but, it’s also pretty sensational.  They watched Jesus die a bloody and horrific death on the cross.  Thomas knows that was no slight of hand, it was a brutal and torturous way to die and everyone was there watching.

But Thomas’ need for further proof is good news for us for a couple of reasons.

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 significance of Jesus showing them the wounds in his hands and side – is that 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?

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 insists that he too must not only 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, however, 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.  In the last year we have heard a lot about “Fake News” and we have been inundated with poorly researched information through social media and the internet.  Don’t settle for someone else’s opinion.  Don’t just believe everything you see or hear.  Don’t just pass along or forward those cute little sayings.  Many times we are just too lazy or too tired to do the work of researching to find the truth.    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 to 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.  Thomas is not content with the reports of the other disciples nor is he content with seeing Jesus.  Thomas wants real connection – he wants to touch the very scars of the Lord, himself.    There is something really interesting about this level of intimacy – touch is an important connection.   Thomas is determined to really prove that this is the same Jesus – the–bodily resurrected Jesus – not some memory or vision but the real thing.

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 and feel 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.

One commentator put it this way, “Jesus is not giving his disciples some special power to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. Rather, he is further specifying what it means to be sent, to make known the love of God that Jesus himself has made known. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” (aphiemi) from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held onto” (kratéo). The stakes of this mission are very high indeed.”

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.   To make space for them to have a real encounter and connection with the living Christ.

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

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.