Do Not Be Afraid Matthew 10:24-39

Fear is a strong motivator. There is a lot of fear these days. We fear getting Covid. We fear change and what is different from what we think is normal. We fear the loss of job and paying the rent. We are told to fear the immigrant and those of a different race. We fear the loss of privilege. We fear exposure as we lose that carefully developed facade of who we think we are. Of course, there is the fear of death. At the core of fear is loss and losing what we own. No wonder that fear is used so effectively in politics. The reading from Matthew has Jesus telling the disciples to not be afraid. If there were a group of people having a right to be afraid, the disciples would be that group. What Jesus was asking of them would lead to loss, a lot of loss. What Jesus also announced to them and to all willing to listen, was their value to God who is concerned about the insignificant sparrow. Obviously we are of greater value than a sparrow. What Jesus was stressing wasn’t just the recognition of what may be lost but the importance of gaining life – life that is found within the kingdom of God.

Jesus was preparing the disciples for a big evangelism effort. He was also warning them of the consequences and what they might lose. He warned that his coming was not for peace but will bring the sword, division instead. They will lose relationships with brother, sister and in-law. They will even face death itself. Why? The message to be proclaimed will bring exposure…what is done in secret will be revealed…the coming of God’s kingdom promises to cause tremendous change with the powerful brought down and the low lifted up. There will be fear.

Jesus repeatedly told them not to be afraid and that is for us to hear as well. The God who raised Jesus from the dead and who will raise us as well, cares for us to know even the number of hairs on our heads. This same Father knows even when a little sparrow falls to the ground and we are of greater value than a sparrow.

The final verse talks about what is gained and what is lost. Those who find their life will lose their life. Those who find life on this world’s terms with tear-gas bombs, photo-ops, violence and fear will lose the life they have in the kingdom to come. Who loses their life for Christ will find it. Those willing to speak to what is done in secret for it to be exposed in the light of Christ are the ones who find life

These days of rallies and protests are filled with fear and anger. Racism and its various forms which have been kept in secret are becoming exposed. As Jesus said,

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Exposure is needed because that leads to confession. With confession, comes the opportunity for healing to begin and for us all to find our life in the kingdom of God.

Peace

Our Vulnerability and God John 14:1-14

One of the things exposed about us in the past few weeks is our vulnerability.  We don’t like feeling that way.  The unemployment rate is rising causing the fear of losing health insurance and paying the rent to leave us feeling very vulnerable.  Wearing masks and continuing to social distance seems to be the best we can do for now to keep the pandemic at a further distance.  We still feel vulnerable because we can’t do more to gain control over our lives.  We don’t like feeling vulnerable.

One way we can use to chase away these unwanted fears is denial.  This is just a political hoax in an election year.  Somebody else will get sick, not me.  Somebody else will die, not me.  Denial in the face of a dangerous reality isn’t very helpful.  Another approach to gain control is violence.  We scream at those forcing us to shelter in place.  We walk around with our guns on display.  We refuse to wear masks.  These actions might help us feel more powerful and in control but reality hasn’t changed, we are still vulnerable.

The disciples were feeling vulnerable in the above reading.  Jesus had just told them that he would be leaving them.  He predicted their betrayal.  Jesus was speaking about his upcoming death.  Life for the disciples was going to change, drastically.

Jesus comforted them by saying that in the Father’s house there are many rooms.  Jesus also told them he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be with him.  These words of comfort are why this reading is often used at funeral services.  However, Jesus wasn’t going away to hang drywall and do landscaping.  The Father’s house is more than a condo.  Father’s house implied household, being part of the family.  The ongoing and anxious moments taking place were how Jesus was preparing the way for us to have a secure place in the Father’s house, family.  In their vulnerability and in ours, is the security of knowing we are a part of the Father’s house.

One of the disciples, Philip, still needed more reassurance.  He wanted to see God.  Jesus’ reply was that because of their unity, to see Jesus is to see the Father as well.  What does Jesus show us about God to us who are so vulnerable?  We see compassion…empathy…willingness to share our vulnerability…willingness to face death.  What we see about God, the Father, is love in action.  What we see in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the great lengths that the Father will go to bring us into his household and give us a resurrected life no longer vulnerable.

These days we feel vulnerable.  We don’t like it at all.  While we live in denial, yell at each other and put others at risk to claim some sense of control, nothing has changed.  We are still vulnerable.  This is why Jesus’ words are so important for us to hear.  Knowing that we have a secure place in the Father’s house, we can allow ourselves to feel vulnerable.  We can allow ourselves to see the vulnerability of others too.  We can emulate Jesus’ compassion and empathy.  We can point to Jesus so that others can also recognize God’s presence in their vulnerability.

Peace.

Jesus Is A Gate, Huh? John 10:1-10

There are many ways that Jesus has been described but here he is calling himself a ‘gate.’  Gates have two purposes.  They keep unwanted things out and they keep what is inside safe.  Comparing himself to a gate, Jesus is the means by which his sheep come and go to find pasture.   He is also giving a defining contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who only seek to kill and destroy.  So who are the ‘thieves and robbers?’

A point to remember is that the Gospel of John was written several decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It was also written following the Roman destruction of the Temple which left Jerusalem in rubble.  So the Gospel was written to those living in tumultuous times while also having heard the astounding news of Jesus risen.

In the Old Testament, shepherds were the kings and rulers of the people.  The judgment against them was how they were willing to sacrifice the people for their own personal gain.  Their pursuit of personal goals meant that people would end up killed and that hopes for justice and life were destroyed.  Attempts to claim a place in God’s kingdom exposed their true nature and Jesus’ sheep should listen and know the truth against their false claims.

Jesus called himself the gate by which people would come and go to find pasture (life that can only be described as abundant).  In contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who cared only for their own benefit, Jesus in the following verses described himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ because he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep.  The contrast couldn’t be greater.  Those who listen to the voice of Jesus…who follow his examples of bringing healing to the sick and invitation to the outsider…who announce the news of forgiveness where God welcomes us into relationship with him and each other are his sheep.  They are the ones for whom Jesus is the gate, the way, to life that is abundant.

The Gospel of John was written for people facing tumultuous times and we fit that category as well.  The message is still the same.  There are those looking for their own advantage and benefit.  There is Jesus who gave his life for us.  Only one is the gate, the way, through which life is going to be found for all.

Peace.

We Had Hoped — For The Past Luke 24:13-35

The past week has been a wild ride.  Some states are going full steam ahead with opening up the economy against the caution that too much too soon will only make things worse.  Crazy and deadly comments (sarcastic or not) were made about injecting disinfectants to get rid of Covid-19.  Protests are happening against stay at home orders.  After a few weeks of staying at home, we are all getting a serious case of cabin fever and as Spring is blooming the fever is only going to get worse.  We want to get back to what life used to be like: full bars and restaurants, sports stadiums filled with cheering fans, hanging out with friends and hair cuts.  There are a few voices that are saying we should just let the Covid-19 chips fall where they may and if it means some folks die as a result that is better than letting the economy tank.  I personally don’t want to believe that we have become that callous, lacking empathy to place money over the value of life.  We might want to hope for a return to what used to be but Covid-19 has happened and the future will be different as social distancing and face masks will be in that future.

The reading for this Sunday out of Luke has two people walking and talking about the events of the past couple days.  They had hoped…they had hoped that a prophet mighty in word and deed…Jesus of Nazareth would redeem Israel.  However their hope had been betrayed by the religious leaders who handed Jesus over to be crucified.  Women carried the news of an empty tomb and angels announcing Jesus was alive, the tomb was empty with no Jesus to be seen.  Hopes were reignited but were once again crushed because it was the third day – it was too late.

The risen Jesus joined them but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  Despair can do that to us.  We become so focused on what is bad that we can’t see the good.  We become so focused on the unfilled hopes of the past that we can’t see a new future coming into reality.  When Jesus joined them at the table and in the blessing and breaking of the bread their eyes were opened, Jesus disappeared from their presence.  Suddenly eyes focused on unfulfilled hopes were able to recognize a resurrection future.  They ran off to tell others that Jesus was indeed risen and that in the breaking of the bread he and a new hope filled future was revealed to them.

These days we’re hoping to bring back the past.  Our eyes and focus are on what used to be and our frustrations are the result.  There is another reality that invites us to look and see the risen Christ joining us in these days.  The resurrection reveals a new creation (where the death and despair that the likes of Covid -19 bring are no more) that is becoming in Christ and this is our new hope.

This new hope is not for the past nor letting chips fall where they may, but focused on life for the future.  Frustrated because we still must struggle with Covid-19 while hoping for what is to be in Christ?  Absolutely!  So we wear the masks and practice our social distancing because they are defiant acts against Covid-19 and what it represents.  So we protest not to bring back the past but appeal for Christ to bring the future to completion.  Our new vision is for what brings life to our neighbor and world that God so dearly loves.

This new vision is not easy to stay focused on but in breaking of the bread – Holy Communion – we declare a holy love so great that Jesus Christ would die for us.  His resurrection is our life and future.  This holy love lived out in Christ is our hope instead of despair.

Peace.

Resurrection, Doubt and Fear John 20:19-31

A week has now passed since we celebrated Easter behind the closed doors in fear of Covid-19.  Easter was different this year.  It was more introspective.  Without the usual activities surrounding the day and filled churches, we were left to wonder what does the resurrection say to us behind the closed doors?  If we are willing to allow the Spirit to speak in our wondering, we just might discover a greater depth to what we believe and a hope that goes far beyond hurrying to open up the economy and get life back to normal.

On that first day of the resurrection, the Gospel of John tells of the disciples hiding in fear behind closed doors.  They had good reason with fear of Roman soldiers wandering in the streets making sure peace was being kept along with the fear of what will the future hold with Jesus’ crucifixion.  However, earlier in the day Mary Magdalene had told them that she had seen the Lord and passed on the risen Jesus’ words to them.  Perhaps their greatest fear was facing Jesus whom they had abandoned and denied.  Then he appeared, wounds and all.  Their fear was suddenly changed to celebration with Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!”  The Lord who beat death and was ushering in the reign of God with the start of a new creation appeared to them, not for revenge or to judge but to forgive.  The disciples were sent out by Jesus with the Spirit and a message of forgiveness.

On that first day, Thomas was missing.  Even though he got the news, he wouldn’t believe until he had proof – he wanted to physically inspect the wounds for himself.  A week later he was present when Jesus appeared and this time Jesus gave Thomas the invitation to go ahead and even stick his fingers in the wounds.  Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”  I think that we would all like the opportunity for our doubts and fears to be replaced by physical proof and to have God stand before us and announce “Peace.”  What we do have in these days is the witness of others, the belief of parents and friends.  They tell us that God has not abandoned us and this world but has taken on its wounds and death giving forgiveness and life instead.  They show us that the statement “My Lord and my God” is more than a formula to be recited but an intense hope of healing as a new creation is brought into being.

Now we still huddle behind doors for fear of the pandemic.  Now our hopes may be on returning to normal and reopening the economy.  Now we worry about toilet paper shortages, masks and social distancing.  What Easter tells us is that God has shown up in this world and taken on our sickness to bring forgiveness and life instead.  What Easter instills in us is a hope of a new creation healed in Jesus Christ risen.

As Jesus said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Peace.

Confronted by the Resurrection Matthew 28:1-10

At a time when…

….researchers race to find a vaccine and treatments for Covid-19, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….we still are looking for the first signs that Covid-19 deaths are starting to decline, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….the hot debate is when to open up the economy while not risking a second wave, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….New York is digging a trench to bury the many bodies unclaimed, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….the many mourners are not given the normal opportunity to grieve at the funeral, we are confronted by the resurrection….

….churches are not gathering for worship in buildings filled with Easter lilies, we are confronted by the resurrection….

These past couple months have been anything but normal.  So much of life has changed that we are left with the question is what will the new normal be?  Yet, this Sunday is Easter and this is what the resurrection has done – it changes everything.  We may want to go back to what we consider to be normal but the resurrection confronts us with a new normal.  Our ongoing race for a cure, our mourning and our burying of the dead has come to an abrupt confrontation with the love of God in Jesus Christ.  He entered our death with his cross but his resurrection has opened up life for all creation that death no longer touches.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to Jesus’ tomb.  They were doing the normal act of grieving.  Don’t we also approach the grave of a loved one to remember and to grieve their important place in our lives that death has taken away?  Matthew tells us that guards were posted to protect against the “fake news” of Jesus being alive.  Do we really want to have our normal power structures upended by the news of love being stronger than death?  The two Mary’s were confronted by such love as an earthquake opened Jesus’ tomb and an angel told them that Jesus wasn’t there, he was raised from the dead.  They were to go to Galilee where they will see him and along the way the risen Jesus met them.  He told them to tell the disciples and go to Galilee.

A couple important items that Matthew highlights.  The two Mary’s came to the tomb on ‘the first day of the week.’  Creation began on the first day.   The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new creation.  The old ways of pain and grief and dying and Covid-19 will be no more.  They have been confronted by the love of God in Jesus Christ risen.

A second point is the importance of Galilee.  This is where it all started.  Jesus began his work in Galilee where he announced to turn life around because the kingdom of heaven was now at hand.  The same message is for us to hear as well – turn life around because the reign of God bringing life out of death has now begun in Jesus crucified and risen.  So whether we are ready for it or even if we prefer the old normal, the love of God is bringing life out of death.

So in our grieving…our struggle to find a new normal…the race for a cure…worshiping at home online, we are confronted by a love that entered into the old to bring a new creation that will be filled with life.  This good news of the resurrection is what greets us this Sunday.  Jesus Christ be praised!!

Peace.

An Unusual Palm Sunday Matthew 27:11-54

Palm Sunday will be very strange this year.  Instead of waving palm branches and walking into the church while singing, “All Glory Laud and Honor,” we’ll be watching the online version.  Instead of hearing the Lord’s passion read aloud with fellow believers, this too will be done individually online.  The day will definitely be different but if caring for your neighbor’s well being (health) is important, then this is what you do.  Yes, Palm Sunday will not be the same in terms of tradition but the drama unfolding will not change.  On display is humanity’s betrayal, politics, cruelty, attempts to control God and cry for death.  In contrast is the Lord’s outpouring of forgiveness and in response to his death, the whole earth was shaking.

The reading begins with Judas already having betrayed Jesus whom he called “teacher” at the Passover meal (note that all of the other disciples called Jesus, “Lord”).  Peter has denied his relationship with Jesus in the courtyard.  Pilate sits in judgment but he was no political hack.  The crowd was getting unruly so Pilate washed his hands of the events unfolding and declared his innocence.  The crowd wanted a known criminal released and for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads and the heads of their children (notice that Jesus declared at the Passover meal the wine was his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins). Up to the moment of Jesus taking his last breath was a horrid description of brutality and torture.  Palm Sunday’s unfolding drama showcases just how quickly our voices of praise can be corrupted with shouts for death and political power grabs.

When Jesus died, the Gospel of Matthew records that the earth shook and rocks split apart.  The Temple’s curtain was torn in half.  The curtain served to separate people from God’s holy presence.  The curtain torn apart now declares that nothing stands between us and God.  It also serves as a reminder that God cannot be held behind a barrier, regardless of our foolish ideas.  Matthew tells that saints who had died were raised to life as tombs were opened.  Also, the centurion and others standing guard at the cross declared, “Surely he was the Son of God.”

Palm Sunday is going to be very different this year which will be frustrating from our traditions.  However if you care about your neighbor’s health, this is what you do.  While the day will be different, the story of our Lord’s passion still remains the same.  Despite our claims of innocence, our rebellion, our sin is lived out each day in brutality toward our neighbor and creation.  Jesus’ blood shed on the cross was an act done for the forgiveness of our sin.  The torn curtain declares that God will not be held back from this world…not even by Covid-19.  The earthquake and opened tombs are a vivid declaration that the very foundation of our understanding of life and this world are about to undergo a dramatic change.  Next Sunday, Easter will announce that change.

Peace.

 

A Voice Against Death John 11:1-45

At a time when….

….the cases of Covid-19 (100,000 +) have made the USA the hot spot of the outbreak for the world and continue to rise while medical professionals cry out for supplies and equipment, comes the push to get back to normal for Easter and protect the economy…

….the elderly are considered expendable and should be willing to sacrifice their life for the economy (not a whole lot of support on this from the elderly or those who love their parents and grandparents)….

….the pandemic is declared to be God’s judgment…

….we need to hear a word filled with hope comes the reading for this Sunday from the Gospel of John.  While the above only support death, continued suffering and portray a God of wrath instead of grace, the reading from John tells of Jesus’ presence as the source of life.

Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus was seriously ill.  Even though Jesus was only about two miles away, he delayed a couple days before coming to them.  When Jesus arrived, emotions were raw because he came too late. Lazarus had been dead for four days to be exact which was significant.  It was considered possible for the soul to return to the body in three days but this was four days.  Lazarus was dead.  Jesus wept with the mourners possibly overcome with their emotion…perhaps seeing the pain of death inflicted…perhaps knowing that the opposition was already seeking ways to get him killed.  The taint of death was unmistakable.  Then Jesus said these amazing words, “”I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

The Gospel of John begins telling about the Word which was God and was with God from the very beginning.  The Word which called creation into existence.  Jesus is that Word now standing at the entrance of the tomb calling for Lazarus to come out.  Lazarus came out still wrapped in his burial linens.  Jesus commanded the linens of death to be removed and for Lazarus to be set free.

These days much of life is in crisis.  We worry about economic well being.  We worry about getting sick.  We worry about our loved ones getting sick.  The voices that minimize the risks to others and which tell of sacrificing life to another god (economy) are not voices speaking of life.  They are the voices of politics and power that have the taint of death.  Only one can stand at the door of the tomb and can call for the remnants of death to be removed from us and that is Jesus.

These days look to the one who is ‘the resurrection and the life.’  Listen to Jesus’ call to remove death’s covering.  Care for your neighbor and do what brings them life.  Remember that the Word which gave us life is the same Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead.  He is still present calling for us to come out of the ways of death and be set free.

Peace.

Are We Really So Blind? John 9:1-41

The past week has been a wild ride with the Covid-19 leading the way.  Millions of people are in a lock down type situation.  Traveling outside of the country is restricted.  Toilet paper, guns and ammunition are selling out (interesting how these are the items we consider the most critical).  Retired, I haven’t had the guts to look at my investments and savings.  Political leadership has ranged from bold to fault finding, denial and the usual lies.  A few senators have shown an uncanny ability to time the market sell off.  Depending upon your ideology, the virus is a great threat or nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things.  Conspiracy theories are making unsubstantiated claims about the cause of the pandemic.  Stores and business are closing down to reduce spread of the virus while people are partying on the beaches in Florida (only to increase the spread of the virus when they return home).  So the question for this morning is about blindness and having the sight to recognize the truth and ultimately perceive what God is asking and calling the church to be in these times.

The Gospel reading from John is heavily into the contradictions of light and darkness, blindness and sight.  Jesus gave sight to a man blind from birth.  The disciples wanted to know the cause of the blindness; what sin had he or his parents committed before his birth.  The focus quickly shifted to Jesus and his identity since only God could do this kind of miracle.  The Pharisees got involved because Jesus did this on the Sabbath which made him a sinner.  The healed man was questioned as well as his parents.  Insults were hurled and accusations of being a sinner were made.  The healed man was thrown out of the synagogue and lectured over who he called a sinner.  Jesus came to the man and revealed his identity as ‘Son of Man’ and the man worshiped him.  Pharisees questioned Jesus of their blindness.  He responded, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

So where does the church and the Gospel begin to fit in all of this?  In the reading, Jesus was revealed as a source of healing as well as the presence of God in the world.  He also drew a line between light and darkness, blindness and sight.  What catches my attention was how the people responded.  Rather than celebrate with the man what Jesus had done for him, they protected power structures and searched for a sin to label and discredit Jesus.

The church is a place where light shines on human darkness.  In the light, truth needs to be held up against the fault finding, disinformation and false conspiracies.  Truth needs to stand against ideology and politics.  Covid-19 is a virus that we need to work together as a nation and world to stop in order to reduce the number of people who will die from it.  Truth is what will allow this to happen.

The church is a place that keeps its sight on Christ who brings healing.  Healing needs to be brought to our divisions.  The focus of healing needs to be brought not just for the well connected but to the weak and powerless.  The biggest sin in the reading was refusing to see Jesus at work.  Today the challenge is to understand that we are called to be different from the world so healing may be allowed to happen and not stifled.

Last week was a wild one.  Next week will be the same.  So let the light of truth be seen.  Keep the focus on Jesus bringing healing into this world.

Peace.

Exposure That Can Heal John 4:5-42

Exposure is the topic for this week.  I’m not writing about being exposed to Covid-19 and precautions.  I am writing about how it has exposed our humanity and fear.  Covid-19 has reminded us once again of our mortality and our lack of invincibility.  High school sports are cancelled.  College sports are cancelled.  Professional sports are cancelled.  Church services are cancelled.  Store shelves are empty.  Scammers are selling their secret cure.  Sales of Corona beer are down as people fear getting the virus from drinking it.  Covid-19 has more than exposed us to a virus.  It has also exposed our humanity and fear.

Today’s reading has Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the community well and much was exposed about humanity in that day.  Namely, biases and fear and insecurity.  A God fearing Jew would avoid Samaritan land or find the fastest way through it.  They would not have held a conversation with a Samaritan nor drank water from the same cup.  A man would not have had a conversation with a woman in public.  What Jesus was doing would have raised the anxiety levels of the righteous in those days.  What he was doing also exposed our bias and fear.

There is more.  Jesus asked her to get her husband but she had no husband.  Then Jesus exposed her as having had five husbands.  She wasn’t unlucky in love.  Jesus exposed the insecurity of a woman in a society where wives were easily divorced (discarded) but needed men for protection.

While much was exposed, Jesus offered water but not water that came from the community well.  He offered water that bubbled up like a fountain rising up to eternal life.  He was the source of that water.  Eternal life is a quality and way of life lived out under Christ as Lord in the reign of God.  Jesus brought eternal life to a woman society had built walls around and raised up her dignity in a cast aside culture.  She went off to town to tell others and the Samaritan town believed and welcomed Jesus to stay.  They saw in him the Savior of the world.

The disciples showed up and were aghast that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman.  Jesus had come to do the work of bringing eternal life to this world and many others were needed both Jew and Samaritan to be a part of this work.  The eternal life that Jesus brings is a life where biases and fears of others are removed and those cast aside are raised up to dignity as children of God.  For this to happen, a lot of workers are needed.  The disciples needed to understand this.

Covid-19 is a reality that has brought much of the world to a stop.  It needs to be taken seriously.  The prayer is for all infected to quickly recover and know again the goodness of health.  At the same time, our humanity has been exposed with all its fears and insecurities.  This needs healing as well.  The invitation is to join in as one of the workers bringing the water that bubbles over to eternal life.  Jesus is that water.

Peace.