Monday, April 16, 2018

Reflection on Luke 24:36b-48

The resurrected life has a lot to do with hands and feet.

After saying “Peace be with you,” one of the first things that our resurrected Lord does each time he appears to his followers is show his hands and feet. Showing his hands and feet comes before eating fish to prove that he is not a ghost. It is of more significance than that. Showing hands and feet comes before any other post-resurrection wonder that he performs.

Do not let the significance of Jesus’ hands and feet float by as your mind begins to wander to shopping lists or to do lists at home. Stay with me here because the gospel writers are telling us that there is something essential to Christian faith in Jesus’ actions. It is as if you cannot possibly even think of calling yourself a follower of Jesus Christ unless you first look at and consider his hands and his feet.

What do the resurrected hands look like anyway?

Are they still moist and seeping blood from the nails of the cross? Is Jesus still actively suffering for our sake?

Do they have large scars; healed, but still holding a reminder of what struggles had been overcome in life?

Are they completely healed, all pain and torture completely taken care of…all sins thrown upon Jesus’ body completely wiped away?

Surprisingly, he Bible does not actually describe those hands and feet. But, do not let that dissuade you. Those hands and feet still play a central role in the resurrected life. Just what is it about those hands and feet that are so essential?

The hands and feet of Jesus, no matter their state of being healed or lack thereof, always remind us of the cross. Apparently, one of the things that Jesus never wants us to forget is the cross.

You may react, “Well duh, we are Christians. How could we forget the cross?” But, there are many ways that people who call themselves Christians engage the world without ever considering the cross.

Some who call themselves Christians only focus on the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. They see in his resurrection the complete and total power of God to do anything and everything. And, if God can defeat death in Jesus’ name, God can do it for you too. All you have to do is ask! Are you poor? Ask God with a pure heart and the money will come to you as a shower from heaven! Just send a tax deductible gift of at least $25 to the address listed below on the screen, and you too will feel the power of God in your life!

Sarcasm aside, most honest Christians too believe that in the resurrection Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death. Most honest Christians too believe in the new life that the resurrection brings.

What honest Christians do not forget, that others who call themselves Christians often do, is that it all came with a price. God’s grace is not free. It cost God something. It cost the life of his Son. It required a sacrifice of love on the part of Jesus.

God is not some magician that just waves a wand and makes anything happen. Just look at Jesus’ hands and feet. Those are hands and feet of love. Those are hands and feet that would go to the point of death on a cross for you.

The resurrected life has something to do with those hands and feet. The resurrected life has something to do with Jesus’ sacrifice of love on the cross that cannot ever be forgotten.

By the way, in case you have never realized it, you live in the resurrected life of Jesus right now. This is not just some promise of heaven for the future when you die.

Jesus showed his hands and his feet to the disciples while they were still living.

As one of his disciples, you too are invited to consider his hands and feet in your life right now. You too live a resurrected life right now. You live a life that trusts in the resurrection, and does not forget that sacrifice is essential to that life. Teresa of Avila put it this way:

“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

The reason that Jesus shows his hands and his feet immediately to the disciples is because he wants to remind all who call on him as Lord that love is about sacrifice.

A number of years back, the bluegrass band “Nickel Creek” which is headed by Chris Thile of Prairie Home Companion (Love from Here) fame, performed a song written by one of its members (Sean Watkins) called “The Hand Song.” The song talks about sacrifice. The lyrics go like this:



The boy only wanted to give mother something
And all of her roses had bloomed
Looking at him as he came rushing in with them
Knowing her roses were doomed
All she could see were some thorns buried deep
And the tears that he cried as she tended his wounds

But she knew it was love
It was one she could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands

He still remembered that night as a child
On his mother's knee
She held him close as she opened the bible
And quietly started to read
Then seeing a picture of Jesus he cried out
Momma, he's got some scars just like me

And he knew it was love
It was one he could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands

Now the boy's grown and moved out on his own
When Uncle Sam comes along
A foreign affair, but our young men were there
And luck had his number drawn
It wasn't that long till our hero was gone
He gave to a friend what he learned from the cross

Well they knew it was love
It was one they could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands
It was one they could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands

Wounded hands. That is something we can understand. Jesus wounded his hands for us, and that is love. Little boys wound their hands to give their mothers roses, and that is love. Soldiers learn the lesson of the cross and give their lives, and that is love.

You can tell a lot about somebody by looking at their hands.

If they are smudged with grease, they are a mechanic.

If they are crusted with dirt, they are a farmer.

If they bear the marks of nails, they are Jesus.

If they bear the love of Christ, they are a follower of Jesus.

As one who calls yourself a Christian, what stories do your hands tell?

Here is what I hope. I hope that they tell the tale of Jesus’ sacrificial love…in their own way. May they tell the tale of one who would sacrifice time, money, home, food, and even life itself for the sake of another. May your hands and feet resemble the hands and feet of Christ who gave his life for the sake of the world, and for you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reflection on John 20:19-31

“It feels like I am completely lost,” a student once told me after one of his parents had died from cancer.

“It feels like I am just walking around, going through the motions; going to class and walking down the hall to the next class, but I’m not really there. It feels like I am completely lost.”

I suppose it would.

What if the grounding force of your life had simply just vanished? What if the one who fixed your breakfast, drove you to school, loved you when friends hurt you, and gave you a kiss at night simply disappeared in an instant?

In a moment’s time you would have to learn how to live a completely new life. You would have to cook your own eggs, climb onto the bus (which you have never done before), suck it up when there is trouble at school, and go to bed alone. Or, less dramatically, these things would come from elsewhere. In either case, it is an upset to your world that would send you into uncharted territory. You would feel lost.

Speaking of lost; just where is Thomas wandering about on that first Sunday when Jesus appears to the disciples? He is not there in that locked room with the other disciples to hear the words, “Peace be with you.” He is not there to see the scars where the nails drove through Jesus’ hands or feel the slash where the spear pierced Jesus’ side.

I can only assume that he is lost. Like any of us would be when the guiding force in our lives just disappears, he is wandering aimlessly in life from one place to the next, just trying to get by.

The disciples try to cheer up the guy. After-all, they had seen the Lord! They try to make their experience of resurrection his experience of resurrection. But, it just does not work.

Maybe, he is too hurt. Maybe, he feels too lost. Maybe, he just does not want to do that thing once again where he puts his whole heart and soul into someone only to be deserted and destroyed through grief once again.

"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,” Thomas fires back at the exuberant disciples.

You know what would help? Jesus actually being there for Thomas on that day.

The boy who lost a parent told me about how a friend had assured him that his mother still loved him and watched out for him from heaven. The good intention of the friend was not helpful.

“You know what would help me right now? If Mom was right here to give me a hug. That is what would help,” he shouted just a little too loudly. "I do not want her loving me from heaven. I want her loving me right here, right now, and it’s not going to happen, is it pastor?”

It is one thing to be told that you are loved. It is another thing to actually be loved with a warm embrace.

When Thomas missed Jesus’ visit to the disciples, he missed another thing. It is an essential thing, I think. We might simply gloss over the words because they seem to be out of place, but they are not. Thomas misses hearing the words, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Thomas misses hearing these words of promise from verses 22 and 23. But, they promise more than you might think at first glance.

Therefore, I want to take a moment to have some good old fashioned bible study right here and right now, because there is something important in these words that we are not able to see from the English translation.

Go ahead and pull out a bible and look up John 20:23.

The traditional way to translate this text is the way that the New Revised Standard Edition of the Bible translates:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.
If you retain [the sins] of any, they are retained.”

Take note of those brackets that I placed around “the sins” in the second phrase. Those words are not actually in the Greek text, which may have some relevance as to how we should appropriately translate this passage.

Before we look close at that, I would also like to point out that this phrase is not conditional when read in the Greek. By that I mean that there is no “if” in there. That is important to note because this is not a phrase that is intended to say, “Only if you do this, then something great will happen, but if you do not, you will miss out.” That is not the intention of the phrase.

Let’s go back to “the sins” that are non-existent in the second phrase. Translators put the words, “the sins” in the second phrase because the first phrase and second phrase are in the genitive clause. Me telling you that probably just put to sleep 98% of you who were never interested in taking a language class.

But, to get you back on board, you should know that most genitives are possessive. I could say that his paper sitting in front of me “is the paper of me.” In other words, “This is my paper.”

Since the second phrase is in the genitive state, it would seem to need something to posses. Seeing nothing in the immediate area, they assume that the object of possession is “the sins” from the former phrase.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.
If you retain [the sins] of any, they are retained.”

However, biblical scholar Dr. Sandra Schneiders smartly points out that you do not need to be throwing in extra words that are not there in the first place because a word in the genitive state does not have to be possessive. It can just stand on its own and be a subject in and of itself.

This changes the meaning a little bit. Her rough translation would read:

“Of whomever (possessive genitive plural) you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven to them;
whomever (objective genitive plural) you hold fast [or embrace], they are held fast.”

If you want that put into English that you can actually understand, it says:

“The sins of whoever you forgive, they are forgiven;
whoever you embrace, they are embraced.”

In the gospel of John, it makes sense that the disciples would not be able to hold back, or retain the sins that were already forgiven by Jesus through the cross. After-all, it is John’s gospel that says, “For God so loved the world…”

But, more to the point of Thomas' story in which he is lost in grief, we hear of a God who embraces. “No one will snatch them out of my hand,” Jesus says in John 10:28. And, here Jesus promises the same. Thomas may be wandering in his grief, but the whole time, he is embraced by Jesus.

The very next Sunday, Jesus appears to Thomas, and Thomas gets to see and feel for himself. He gets the warm embrace that is longed for when we are lost in grief. Thomas learns that he was held fast and embraced the entire time.

So are you.

You are embraced by our Lord, Jesus Christ, no matter the wandering, the doubting, or the “lostness” of your soul.

You may feel as if you are forgotten, but you are not. You are embraced forever. Hopefully, one day in your wandering, Jesus will come to you and allow you to see that truth.

Or, maybe, just maybe, one of Jesus’ followers, who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit, will embrace you. After-all, Jesus promises them, “Whoever you embrace, they are embraced.”

Now, that is the power of God.

Who knew a hug could have so much eternal power? Who knew that a hug could heal? Hug a lot this week, and do not stop! It has the power to embrace a life for life.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Reflection on Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

To draw you further into the reality of the resurrection, imagine that you are sitting on the bench inside Christ’s tomb. As you peer out the opening of the tomb, you see three women approaching: Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ devoted followers and a financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry; another Mary, who is the mother of James; and finally Salome.

As you gaze, you see the shock and fear on their faces when they see that the tomb is opened. They bend down and peer inside to see you. Yes, you, dress in holy, divine, white.

Now, before your mind even goes there, you are not the resurrected Jesus. He does not even show up in this resurrection story from Mark. Sure, he shows up in Matthew, Luke, and John, but not here. Nor, are you an angel as you might assume, white garb and all.

Rather, you are a young man.

Sorry women, you are a young man this morning.

You are just a simple, young man who was given a simple task: to give a message to the women who arrive. Not a lot is known about you except one thing: you have changed.

Had the women been present at Jesus’ arrest, they would have recognized you. You were a follower of Jesus toward the end of his ministry.

In fact, you make your notable appearance at the very moment Jesus was arrested. You appeared during the chaos of Jesus yelling at the soldiers and priests while someone else screamed that their ear had been cut off.

You were one of the last to flee, to run away, to abandon Jesus, all while the soldiers grabbed at your heals. One soldier was quick enough to grab the linen cloth that you had tied earlier around your waste for the hot day’s work.

You were the young man who was stripped naked in front of everyone, and fled.

And, that image pretty much describes quite a lot about your life with God: running away, naked.

It is one of everyone’s worst nightmares: to be standing in front of a crowd, naked. Except that for you, it was not just a bad dream.

When stripped naked, everyone can see your faults and inadequacies. And, so you run.

Everyone can see your scars; the reminders of your disturbing past exposed. And, so you run.

They were somehow able to take your bravery and turn it into cowardice, with just one swipe of the hand. They have exposed your real self, the self that you do not let anyone else see, the self that only God knows. Still, you try to run away.

Being naked before God, I have to admit, is just as terrifying as a crowd of people. It is so terrifying that some would rather not expose themselves to even God and search for some way to run away. Either they pretend that God is a distant God who cannot see them in the first place, or they deny God altogether. In thinking this way, they fool themselves into thinking that they have adequately covered themselves from anyone’s eyes.

What they never allow themselves to have a chance to understand is that there is something freeing about being naked before the Lord.

No longer do you have to run away.

No longer do you have to work so hard to hide, or deny who you are or what you have done.

You no longer have to paint on a face that is different than your own. You no longer have to act happy when you are devastated, or act courageous when you are terrified, or act smart when you are utterly lost and confused.

When you are naked before the Lord, you are finally free to be you, warts and all.

The Psalmist said expresses it the best in Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

You may have been stripped naked before the Lord, but you were not left behind.

You may have a mixed past, but that does not mean that you do not have a future.

You may have forgotten your purpose, but that does not mean that God does not have a task that is yours.

You may have gone down to the grave, but when you went down it was with Jesus.

He was at your side.

He was the light in your darkness.

He was the cleanser of the dirtiest parts of your life.

When you looked in the mirror and only saw an ugly face staring back, Jesus saw you as beautiful. God does not create junk after-all.

He was the voice that reminded you that you are a child of God; you are not forgotten; you are wonderfully made.

He was the one who clothed you, covering you with himself. You have put on Christ and now share in the gleaming whiteness of his grace.

You may have gone to the grave, but you rise up again with a heavenly message because your life is not done. No, your life has just started. You have a new life, and the first step in that new life is to talk to these three women.

You kindly peer into their fearful eyes and say, "Do not be scared; I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, right over there is the place they laid him. Now go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."

As they run away, fear mixed with hope still dripping from their faces, you exit the tomb. It is a new day. It is a new opportunity. It is a new life with the Lord.

The women turned left on the road, toward the disciples, but you turn right and head to Galilee. Jesus is there after-all.

With every mother-in-law who is too sick to serve, he is there to raise her up.

With every paralyzed person who cannot move forward in life, he is there to raise them up.

With every tax collector or cripple or sinner who have all been pushed into the dirt of loneliness on side of town, he is there to lift them by the hand, and give them a new shot at life.

He is out there, and you step out from the tomb to be a part of it.

You want your hands to serve while you sing the song, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

You want your feet to walk to the beat of, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

You want your voice to sing at every moment, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

He is risen, and so are you.

When people look at you, they will say, “Boy, I tell you, now that is someone who is like dough. They have risen.”

They will say, “Boy, that is someone who is like the carjack of life. Everything about them raises others up.”

They will say, “That one right there, that is someone who actually cares that I am low. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that one before. They look a lot like Jesus, because it is only Jesus who can rise up from the depths like that!”

So, go forth from here!

Jesus is waiting for you out there, O people of the risen life!

Jesus Christ is risen, and so are you!

Reflection on John 20:1-18

As Mary Magdalene panicked about the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb, Jesus appeared from behind.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

"Woman."

The first name that Jesus uses to reach out to Mary has no effect. Mary does not recognize him. She assumes that he is the gardener, and continues to plead for Jesus’ body, even though it is but feet away.

"Woman."

It certainly does not have the same effect as the second name he calls out to her, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

I too have similarly been unmoved by the generalized names given to me. Throughout my life I have voted both “Republican” and “Democrat.” I have to admit that when either of those labels were thrown at me with comments like, “You are just like the rest of those unloving, conservative Republicans,” or “You liberal democrats can’t even think for yourselves,” I was slightly offended. OK, to be truthful, my blood pressure went into edge of stroke zone.

The terms "Republican" and "Democrat," and the assumed stances that each of those names contain, did not fully match with my beliefs at all. I despised being dismissed for assumed beliefs that I did not fully hold personally. I despised being categorized. I despised being labeled. I despised the insinuation that I might be considered dead to someone, not worthy of even conversation, because of a label. I am me! Just talk to me!

As any other pastor can attest, being labeled “pastor” often does not play out any better. I can be at a wedding, see a group of guys laughing with a beer in hand, stroll up to the excitement, and when they see that the “pastor” has arrived, it is as if I am a living, breathing life sucker that can suck all the life out of any conversation. The laughter stops and suddenly no one has anything to say.

I always end up talking to cousin Charles who similarly is alone because he is the one in the family who, whenever someone complains about a hangnail, jumps in and says, “Let’s pray about it!” Now those are great conversations!

Labels! I hate labels. They are tombs.

But, people like to label others. People like to bury others away in tombs of categorization. People like to file people away into slots of liberal and conservative. Black and White and Latino and Asian and so on. Woman. White heterosexual male.

As if burying us away behind tombs of labels will help anything in the world. As if what the world needs is more separation, more darkness, and more hostility between people.

That is why the second name that Jesus says is so essential.

When she did not respond to his first attempt to get her attention, remember, Mary did not even recognize Jesus, he says quite clearly, “Mary.”

Her Lord knows her.

She is not just a woman, she is Mary. She is Jesus’ Mary. And, with that, Mary cries back in tears of joy, “Rabbouni!” or “Teacher.”

In a world that locks people away in tombs of labels, truly being known is a precious gift of new life.

In a world where woman still struggle to even have their voices heard, Jesus calls them by name.

In a world where rolling up a sleeve to reveal some black skin often brings with it an assumption of criminality, Jesus calls them each one by name.

In a world where making political points outweighs treating people with love, Jesus stops the assumptions and calls by each by name.

In a world where we are more connected then ever through our digital devices, but rarely have the opportunity for someone to actually hear us and touch us, Jesus calls us by name.

You are more than your labels. You are the one that God molded and shaped with God’s own hands. You are the one who Jesus knows as a friend.

Jesus knows your every gift and fault. Jesus knows your every love and every hate. Jesus knows all your potential and all your hesitation to be who God created you to be. Jesus knows it all, and draws you from tombs of death and dead ends and labels, calling your name, bringing you to new life.

He is arisen, and so are you. He has not been kept down, and neither will you. You are you, and you are a beloved child of God!

Whenever, someone tries to bury you in a tomb of labels and assumptions, you can stand up proudly and say:

“No, I am Jira, a child that Jesus wanted to redeem!”

“No, I am Chelsea, a child who Jesus wanted to redeem!”

“No, I am Susan…”

Susan could best be described as the black sheep of the family. Her brothers were lawyers and doctors. They made her parents proud. Susan was...well...just Susan. She bounced around in life and never did find a grounding. As I said, she was the black sheep.

So, she was not surprised when her mother died that most everything was given to the lawyer and doctor of the family. She, seemingly, was never on the forefront of anyone's mind.

All she received from the lawyer for her inheritance was a cardboard box.

When she reached home, she opened the cardboard box and found the large family Bible inside. When she opened the front cover of the Bible, she read through the names of written there of the list of previous owners. At the bottom of the list, inscribed in her mother's handwriting, was her own name, "Susan." And, next to her name was the simple note which read, "To the one who would actually appreciate it."

Susan has not been forgotten. She was known.

And, Jesus does not forget you. Jesus calls you from your own tombs of death into new life using your true name, the name that only your friends use.

You are beloved.

Your name is precious to Jesus.

The Lord calls you by name, drawing you from darkness into the light.

For that we shout with joy, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”