Resurrection, Scars and Ghosts Luke 24:36-48

A couple weeks have now passed since Easter. Eventually, we get around to asking the question, “What now?” The news of Christ’s victory over death is fantastic! So how does that news translate to today? Do we go back to life as usual with jobs, soccer games, lawn mowing and Facebook? What is the day of Resurrection saying to us?

The risen Jesus met up with two travelers on the way to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke bread with them. Then he disappeared. The two travelers ran to the disciples and told the news of seeing the risen Jesus. All of a sudden, Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought he was a ghost.

The idea of an existence after death was nothing new. A common philosophy then (as well as today) was the body was limited and bad. The soul was eternal and good. Death meant the soul being set free from its bondage. A resurrected body would have seemed rather disgusting to such a philosophy. So when Jesus appeared, he made it clear he wasn’t a ghost. Ghosts don’t have bones, flesh and scars. He ate some food to prove his physical nature. Jesus went on to explain that his risen presence before them was a fulfillment of what had been written in the Law of Moses, Prophets and Psalms.

We state that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was the result his great love for us – this is absolutely true. His resurrection also declares that creation (declared good by God) would not be left to rot under the weight of our sin. The resurrection means that creation is being made new and restored to its goodness, no longer subject to decay and death.

After a couple thousand years, the opening question returns “What now?” Jesus said this to the disciples,

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:46-48

Repentance and forgiveness are necessary for relationships to flourish. We all know this from personal experience. Yes, it is important to hear it announced that our sins are forgiven and of our relationship with God. Yet, the risen Jesus had a physical body. Creation has not been abandoned. Everyday we learn of another mass shooting…Everyday the debasing of those from a different political perspective or race is heard…Everyday creation is subject to pollution and decay for no other reason than profit margin… Everyday we need to repent of our complicity of all the above so that forgiveness and relationships may once again be restored to goodness. This is what we do in light of the resurrection. This is the “What now?” as we wait for the work of resurrection to be completed in Christ.

Peace

Easter, Scary or Amazing? Mark 16:1-8

Growing up, Easter was never something I considered scary. The day included going to worship with the church building filled with one Easter lily after another. We had ham for dinner. Family gatherings were the norm. We ate lots of chocolate bunnies…lots of chocolate. The message that the risen Christ’s victory over death was wonderfully good news. This wasn’t scary. So this Easter, we read about women encountering the reality of the resurrection first hand at the tomb of Jesus. Their response was fleeing the tomb with fear and silence.

A week ago, the reading left Jesus’ lifeless body being buried. In him, God had taken upon himself our lies, our injustice, our abuse, our remedy for all trouble causers – death. Jesus put all our sin to death on the cross with him. So when some women went to the tomb with spices for Jesus’ body, the tomb was open and the body was gone. A young man dressed in white told them that the risen Jesus was not where death ruled. Told to tell the news to Peter and the other disciples, they fled and said nothing because they were afraid.

Why the fear? Jesus’ resurrection was the start of God establishing his reign over us and creation. So what does this mean for us? Our grab for power and glory – condemned. Our use of disinformation (lies) to further our goals – condemned. Our ease of denying each other the justice due a child of God – condemned. The casual approach to kill those with whom we disagree or see as opposition – condemned. The very things we surrender our lives for power and glory stand condemned in light of Jesus’ resurrection. God’s kingdom has begun. Everything we know has changed. A new world is at hand, no longer corrupted, defiled or subject to death.

Jesus’ ministry announced that the kingdom of God was at hand. He brought healing to the sick. Wholeness of life to the outcast. Abundance given to the poor and needy. Jesus’ resurrection was God’s declaration that his ministry was how the kingdom of God was to be perceived and made welcome. So when the sick are denied care, we allow hate and prejudice to fill our hearts and the needy are rejected, we stand condemned. This is scary.

This is not the end of the story. The reading also tells us the women were amazed. Amazement is a great description for Easter. The ultimate power of death is broken. A new day has begun with all creation on the way to being restored to wholeness. The neighbor no longer held bound and enslaved will be fully set free. This wonderful news isn’t reserved for some future day, it is for us now. In Jesus risen, God’s reign has begun now. It is at work now among us. This isn’t really scary. It is world changing. It truly is amazing.

Peace

Our Hate and God’s Response Mark 15:1-47

This is called Palm Sunday as we join in praise with those welcoming Jesus as a conquering king. This is called Passion Sunday as we join with those unjustly calling for his death. So how can today be two very different days? The two points may seem contradictory but in reality it is not because Jesus’ identity has changed. We have changed. We are two sided. The reading includes Jesus being put on trial by the powers of that day. Yet, in reality, we are the ones being judged by God. We and the world created by our hands has been put on trial. We were not innocent then nor are we innocent now. Our lives of injustice, abuse, debasing of others betray us.

The title begins, ‘Our Hate.’ Hate is the operative word and exposes what is going on around us. Oh sure, none of us claims to hate anyone. Yet the past couple years display the nature of how we look down upon and deny others their rights as created in the image of God. We fear “them” and so we lash out violently. We fear loss of power and so a mob invades the halls of congress. We fear the loss of privilege and so the rules are changed to protect what we have created for our benefit. Black Lives Matter is the outpouring from a long time of justice denied. Violence against the Asian community spiked beyond the usual because of anger at Covid-19.

There is no sugar coating this day. If we fail to honestly look at ourselves and how we recognize others and how we treat them, then we are minimizing what happened on that day of crucifixion and what led up to it. Jesus’ trial exposed our lies, deceit, acceptance of the innocent suffering, the mockery, protecting our position of advantage at the expense of others, etc. If we won’t look carefully at ourselves then we are admitting that what happened then is still acceptable today. The week ahead isn’t to be glossed over to prepare for Easter family events. This week is to examine how “hate” has taken hold of us just like back then. How we perpetuate it and allow it to continue.

The second part of the title is “God’s Response.” God’s response to our hate is found in Jesus Christ. In him, God entered into our humanity…our flesh and blood. In him, God took upon himself our denial of justice, acceptance of lies, violence against those different, etc and put it all to death on his cross. He put it all to death on his cross. This is love.

So this day leaves us at a crossroad. Will we glide through Holy Week comfortable with lives lived out in “our hate?” Or, will we put “our hate” where it belongs and that is on the cross of Jesus Christ? The reading ends with the lifeless body of Jesus laid to rest in a tomb. The world’s “hate” has done its work once again. However, God is not done responding which is for next week.

Peace.

Loving Light or Darkness John 3:14-21

These days we are constantly being forced to choose sides. The casualties of lost friends and divided family is a heavy heartache. The desire might be to find a happy middle ground because what is happening is painful. Yet, the times are a “winner take all” situation. You are either good or bad. You are either light or darkness. So how do we know the category into which we find ourselves? It all depends on whose ideology you agree with. If you agree, then you are light. If you don’t, you are darkness. The gospel reading has Jesus teaching that God loves the world (cosmos). Surely we can find middle ground here, right?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

John 3:16 has been called the Gospel reduced down to a single sentence. The emphasis is on love, God’s love. Without it, there would be no hope. God’s love extends to more than just us or this planet but to the entire cosmos. God’s love is for all creation. Jesus lifted up on the cross is for us all to recognize the enormity of that love and the extreme depth of our darkness.

A couple points to highlight. Eternal life is more than an endless number of mornings to get up and do what we want for the day. Eternal life is a quality and way of life that conforms to the ways of God which is endless. Belief is far more than agreeing with a few talking points. Belief is abiding in Christ Jesus which is doing the things he did and following the ways he taught.

In God’s amazing love for the cosmos, he gave us Jesus so that we would have the light that brings life to endlessly flourish. We nailed Jesus to a cross. This is our darkness. The light of God’s love would not be covered up in a tomb. Jesus was raised.

Jesus talked about loving light or darkness. His perspective isn’t about political power, winning and losing, or oppressing others for our benefit. Loving the light is to live in a way that conforms to him because his is a life that is eternal. How will we live in that light today?

Peace.

Selling Out Mark 8:31-38

This Sunday reading is striking when read in contrast to daily events. Namely, how the Christian faith is being played out in those events. Christian symbols were on display at the capital riot on January 6. Right-wing extremists are incorporating the faith in their propaganda. This past week an open letter was sent out by over two hundred religious leaders denouncing the linking of the faith with white nationalism. So how do these items relate to the reading from Mark? Quite simply, Peter was urging Jesus to sell out.

Jesus just had a conversation with the disciples about his identity. Peter got the answer correct by calling Jesus the Messiah. The disciples knew what this meant for them and the rest of Israel. The messiah would restore the nation. This could only mean the power, wealth, control, glory, etc., as God’s favored nation. Yet, Jesus ordered them to keep this news quiet.

Jesus began talking about the inevitability of his death. Peter called him on such a teaching. The Messiah would live and not die. Then Jesus gave the damning rebuke,

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Mark 8:33

Jesus bringing the kingdom and the world’s power were on a collision course. One was going to bring death. One was going to bring about the resurrection. Jesus would not ‘sell out’ for the world’s power. Jesus then gave a challenge to Peter, the rest of the disciples and to us as well.

What have we really gained if we have power, wealth, control, glory, etc., but had to sell out to get it? Is life really that cheap? Jesus’ insistence on bringing the kingdom to us shows that life matters. Our life matters. Life is valuable and needs to be kept for the kingdom where Jesus is Messiah and where through him the dead are raised.

So the Christian faith finds itself in daily events. It is being used to support extremism, white nationalism and the vain grasp for political power. Jesus’ refusal to give into Peter’s challenge shows what is valuable: our place, our lives, in the kingdom of God. Anything else just isn’t worthy.

Peace

Authoritative Speech Mark 1:21-28

These days with Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc., etc., there is no shortage of voices for us to hear representing the entire political spectrum. The big question to ask, is by what authority do they speak? Also, why do we grant them the authority to speak for us and command our attention? Does the authority arise from a charismatic personality? Does it offer easy answers to complex problems that we really don’t want to work on in life? Does authority come from affirming our cultural biases, racial fears or political leanings? What is authoritative speech?

Jesus entered a synagogue and began teaching. The people were astounded by how Jesus taught with authority unlike the scribes. A second response came from a man with an unclean spirit outing Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Holy One of God.” What was an evil spirit doing in the synagogue? The text doesn’t say but it could be a reference to the scribes. Anyway, Jesus commanded silence from and cast the unclean spirit out. The people were amazed at the authority of Jesus’ words over the unclean.

What made Jesus’ words have authority was that they spoke directly to the unclean in their midst. The scribes knew the Scriptures inside and out. My suspicion is they used the Scriptures to support the status quo and overlook the unclean spirit that resides in our human institutions, even the synagogue (church). Jesus spoke directly to the unclean and called it out. His word had authority.

Before us is the option to choose what is going to speak with authority to us. Will we opt for the words that allow the unclean to still remain? Will we hear the word from Jesus that calls out the unclean? If we choose the latter then we need to be ready because the unclean won’t leave easily as the evil spirit sent the man into convulsions. Yet, this is the only way for us to know freedom that is heaven granted.

Jesus’ authority calls out the unclean in us. He calls out our prejudice toward others, the noose hung to intimidate, threats of violence to political foes, the lies and deception, the list is endless. The result will be like those in attendance that day in the synagogue, we will be amazed. We’ll know Jesus’ authority to see us free.

Peace.

Where Heaven and Earth Come Together John 1:43-51

These days I think it is really difficult to not have preconceived opinions about others. This past summer BLM put before us the challenge of how we look at each other and the prejudice we carry toward those of a different race. We have had to look at how justice or injustice is being served on the same criteria. Mention someone of a different political persuasion and automatically the label “liberal” or “radical,” is attached. In the Gospel of John, Jesus had invited Philip to follow him. Philip went to tell Nathaniel that he had found the one they had all been looking for, “Jesus of Nazareth.” How did Nathaniel respond, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Obviously, Nathaniel had some preconceived ideas about the value of people out of Nazareth. The same affliction plagued the people of that day and today as well.

Jesus said that Nathaniel was a person without “deceit,” and that he had seen Nathaniel under a fig tree before Jesus called out to him. Apparently, this was enough for Nathaniel to declare,

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

John 1:49

How did Nathaniel jump from doubting Jesus, a person from Nazareth, to calling him “King of Israel?” Nathaniel’s reasoning isn’t described fully. However as a person without deceit, Nathaniel was a person who likely called reality as presented to him: a fact was a fact, truth was truth, etc. His encounter with Jesus caused his vision of reality to change in a dramatic way.

The reading from John concludes with Jesus saying,

Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

John 1:50-51

Jesus was telling that upon him heaven and earth have come together. He cited Jacob from the book of Genesis. Jacob was on the run from his past. Tired and exhausted, he laid down with a rock for a pillow and he saw the vision Jesus referenced. Jacob said,

“Surely the Lord was in this place but I did not know it”

Genesis 28:16

This is the indictment against us all. The Lord has come to us but we didn’t see the reality of it. Why? We have our preconceived ideas and prejudices that distort our reality. We are too busy with our politics. We are too set in our ways of understanding of how the world should work and the Lord’s involvement – toward my advantage. We are so busy with spin that we can no longer look at the facts for what they are. Yet, the Lord was and is in this place.

So how will we be able to recognize where heaven and earth come together? Follow the invitation that was given to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” Look at the things Jesus did: he invited the outcast, he brought healing to the sick, he lifted up those downtrodden and poor, he announced God’s favour to those hardly considered blessed by our standards. When and where grace has triumphed over power, look to see the Lord has come in that place.

The invitation to, “Come and See” is all that any of us can offer to others. All we do is invite others to do is come and see where heaven and earth come together.

Peace

A Word We Need Hear John 1:1-18

I love the snow. Folks look at me as though this is strange. The answer I usually give to their question “WHY?” is a simple “No allergies and no mosquitoes.” This response generally satisfies their question. This morning my love for the snow grows deeper for what it tells us. Where I live, the morning was greeted with a fresh covering of snow. The drab brown of dead grass and bare branches gave way to to a coating of white. The vision out the widow was simply, beautiful. A nice, fresh coating to start a new 2021 from a death filled and compassion barren 2020 was welcomed.

The opening verses from the Gospel of John are high Christology which tell us so much about Jesus Christ. Last week his birth was celebrated and today the reality of his coming has been described to us. The Word, the powerful expression of God has come to be with us. The living Word who brought creation into existence and to whom we owe our life has come to us. If we have any doubts about the nature of God, all we need to do is look upon Jesus and we’ll know the answer. The birth of Jesus means we are blessed in ways we truly cannot fully understand. God has come to be with us. This is grace upon grace.

The sadness of the reading is that we have been so blessed and we reject it. God has come to make beauty known and we refuse to see it. This is our darkness. Those who deny Christ are not those with a different political perspective. They aren’t those we condemn to make ourselves feel better or look more spiritual. The reading says the world did not recognize him and that means all of us. Grace and beauty have come in revealing God to us all and we collectively say, “No thanks.” We have chosen to live in the darkness we have made.

The reading from the Gospel of John isn’t about us. It is about the Word of God having come to live with us. We have been and continue to be blessed because of Jesus Christ. A new year began with the beauty of snow covering the drab brown of last year. The year, 2021, begins with the blessing of light that shines in our darkness. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in the Word, Jesus. Seeing the light for the blessing that it is, means we have the honour to be called a child of God. The year, 2020, was a difficult year but look at Jesus Christ and know that you have been blessed. Grace has come to 2021.

Peace.

A Voice Crying Out In Our Wilderness Mark 1:1-8

The Gospel of Mark starts out with these words,

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

I like that it starts with those words. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t reserved for some time in the past. The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t being set aside for some day in the future. We are told that the good news begins with Jesus Christ and that it continues on making it relevant for today as well. This year of 2020 is a year that we would all like to put behind us. The political turmoil, a raging pandemic and environmental impacts leave us with an urgent plea for good news to ring out, calling us to hope for today.

The reading cites Isaiah speaking of a voice calling out from the wilderness. The voice urges one and all to make the way for the coming of the Lord to be straight: take out the potholes and other obstacles in life that get in way. John the Baptist is presented as that voice. He wears clothing made from camel hair to bring to mind the prophet Elijah. He also ate a diet of honey and locusts which left him independent from others, except for his dependence upon God.

John the Baptist spoke from the wilderness and the people gathered from all around to hear him. The wilderness was a place considered inhospitable for people to live. Wild animals lived there and so did thieves and criminals. Demons dwelt there too. So why go out to such a place? The people had heard the speeches before from those living in mansions and places of political power but there was no good news to be heard, just the same old lines that kept the status quo. John the Baptist spoke in the wilderness news that was different. He told of the coming of one who will baptize not with mere water but with the Holy Spirit. The result is that we would be guided not by the edicts of the powerful but by God. Jesus was the one to whom John the Baptist pointed.

Jesus came preaching a word of liberation to those held unjustly in bondage by political systems. He fed the hungry and healed the sick: he paid special attention to the weakest of society. Jesus welcomed those cast aside by society. He spoke truth in the face of power. John the Baptist was that voice but he was pointing out to a greater voice; Jesus was and is the Word of God en-fleshed calling out to us in 2020’s wilderness which is good news to hear.

So what is John the Baptist telling us to do? He is telling us to repent. Repentance is more than simply saying that we are sorry. Repentance means to turns our lives around and take life in a different direction that Jesus lived out for us to see. Yes, we are living in 2020’s wilderness but a voice is calling out for us to take life on a new path. If we are willing to listen, then we’ll begin on a new journey that is good news for all in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Peace

Jesus and Taxes Matthew 22:15-22

Does anybody really enjoy paying taxes? As mid-April approaches, do any of us celebrate writing out a check to send off to the treasury? Are any of us filled with joy as another tax form needs to be filled out? Taxes are a part of life. So when Jesus is asked about paying taxes in the reading, the answer he gives is unexpected because he flips the narrative. Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus in a political trap. In the end, Jesus exposes them for their own hypocrisy.

Pharisees and Herodians were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Pharisees were against the Roman occupation and paying taxes was the equivalent of being considered a traitor. Herodians, as the name suggests, supported Herod who served at the leisure of Rome. So lets say a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican join forces to take someone down politically. Yeah, you get the picture. Something is about to happen and it doesn’t pass the smell test. A trap was being set.

Jesus was asked about the legality of paying taxes to Rome. If he said, “yes,” Jesus would be charged with betraying Israel and God. If he said, “no,” Jesus would be charged with sedition against Rome. How was Jesus going to respond? He trapped them in their hypocrisy.

Jesus asked for a coin. They had one readily available engraved with the image of the emperor. Owning the coin proved that they were fully involved with the economic realities of living in the Roman empire. Therefore, paying taxes was acceptable. However, God’s authority has a moral claim over our lives that cannot be negated by Rome. The answer Jesus gave was not the simple “yes” or “no” that they were hoping to hear and serve their political agenda. Life as a person of faith in this world is far more complicated than we imagine.

We live in a time where there is confusion over God and country. Do we merge the two together or keep them strictly separate? If we aren’t careful, then we are living out what the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to do with Jesus when he flipped the trap on them saying,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:21

There is a political claim that is made upon us because we live in this world. Yet, there is a claim that God has placed upon us as well. If we try to merge the two, we end up making the country into an idol. If we try to separate them, then one is chosen at the expense of the other. The answer Jesus gave about taxes seems to leave us in tension between the two.

The life of faith is not an easy one – nothing shocking here. So we are left with the great challenge of discernment. Where does the claim of politics begin and end? Where does God’s claim (as the One who gave us life) fit in? How we draw the lines is the way faith is lived.

Peace.