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Archive for April, 2017

The Breath of Life

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.”  John 20:21-23 (NRSV)

The Sunday following Easter is traditionally “Doubting Thomas” day.  It’s when the majority of churches talk about Thomas the disciples who demanded to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hand and touch the wound in his side.  Thomas wanted “proof” in order to really believe that Jesus was resurrected.  Well, who can blame him!

But the passage hold so much more than the relationship between doubt and faith.  It also talks about the Holy Spirit, and it is the writer of this gospel’s type of Pentecost when Jesus “breathes on the disciples” and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.  If we want to see it as a metaphor, we can say that it was Jesus commissioning them to carry on his work in the world.  He breathed into them the breath of life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Look at the last sentence above:  Jesus reminds them that they have the power to forgive sins.  That is part of what the resurrection brings to all humanity.  God forgives us; therefore, we are to forgive others.  So, what does it mean when he talks about retaining them?

When we lack forgiveness toward others, we hold onto unhealthy feelings, stuffing them inside and creating a negative environment in our spiritual, mental, and emotional lives.  It doesn’t mean that we have the power to retain them; rather, Jesus is reminding the disciples (and that includes us) that forgiveness is the way of following Christ.  We have life because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, and love are all part of how we treat others.

Having new life in Christ means that we are transformed and then have the opportunity to find ways to offer hope and transformation to others.  We rise above the unforgiving world and offer life in the midst of chaos, fear, uncertainty, and worry.  The breath of life that Jesus gives even us is the imparting of the Holy Spirit who helps us to live in Jesus’ ways and to forgive others (and even ourselves).

This is hard work!  Yet, we aren’t alone in the journey Jesus has also breathed into us the breath of life, provided the companion for the journey, and given us partners in ministry to do the work we are called to do.

How will you share the breath of life with others?

In what ways has Jesus empowered us to BE the church?

Who do you need to forgive?

Ta Da!

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”!  John 20:18a

On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.”  I’m pretty much assuming that means the work of redemption was finished, but in many ways “it” had only just begun.  The resurrection changed everything – it changed the world!  It changes us!

One of my favorite pictures of the resurrection is of Jesus standing just inside the tomb door and looking out.  I half expect him to jump out the door and holler, “Ta da!”  We don’t know what he did, but we do know that his resurrection turned the world upside down and change millions of lives.

Easter is the primary focus of Christianity.  Christmas is a wonderful celebration, but without Easter, we might as well not celebrate it.  They go together.  Even in the birth narratives there are images and links to what is to come in the life of the infant Jesus.  The gifts of the wise men – gold, frankincense, and myrrh, are certainly indicative of his death and burial, as well as holiness and his title as King of the Jews.

Every year we hear the “old, old story” as one hymn tells us, and every year, I challenge myself to preach on the current lectionary story of the resurrection.  Mark is especially challenging because the original ending tells us that the women ran off and said nothing to anyone!

This year is my retirement year, so I decided to choose the John 20 passage for the sermon focus.  It’s is my favorite maybe because Mary Magdalene represents all of us at the graveside of loved ones:  puzzled, in pain and grieving.  To top it all off, she arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and jumped to the conclusion that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

Don’t we jump to conclusions, too?  We make assumptions about so many things, especially when it comes to reading the Bible or hearing stories from the Bible that we hear over and over again.  So often we don’t stop to really find something new and interesting that we may have missed before.

What’s new and interesting in the John 20:1-18 passage?  For me, I think it might be the contrast between Mary’s overwhelming grief and her own type of resurrection when she realized that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Where once she was weeping and accusing the gardener (she thought Jesus was the gardener) of taking away Jesus’ body, she realized when she heard him speak her name that, indeed, this was Jesus!

As much as she wanted to hang onto him, he had a task for her to do – be the messenger!  She was the first witness to the resurrection!  It was her job to spread the word.  Her life changed when she met Jesus but it was transformed when she became the first evangelist.  She was raised to a new purpose in life, in spite of the attitudes toward women during her day.

Where are our resurrection moments in life?

How do they change and transform us so we are witnesses for Christ?

What are our “ta da!” moments?

What’s So Holy about Holy Week?

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!‘” Matthew 21:9 (NRSV)

And so it begins.  The Christian year leads up to this week and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection all year.  Our liturgical calendar begins with Advent and follows the life of Jesus to the resurrection, ascension, and then Pentecost.

After watching a show on public television last week, I had a whole bunch of new insights or things to think about concerning Holy Week.  I suspect that we tend to read far too little into the Holy Week stories and don’t always consider the religious and political atmosphere in Jerusalem during that time.

But even if we take the stories as if they were chronologically in order in the four gospels, we would find inconsistencies.  What struck me the most about the show that I watched was how unholy this week really was; of course, it all depends on how you define “holy.”  It’s just that Jesus’ actions in upending the money changers in the temple was a deliberate act of defiance toward the temple leaders.  As the show asked, why wasn’t he arrested?  Normally, the temple guards would have had him thrown in prison within minutes, yet they did nothing.

And then there is Pilate.  Why didn’t he just have Jesus killed?  Pilate was known to be ruthless and heartless; yet, with Jesus, he hesitated.  In the end, he just handed Jesus over to someone else to do the dirty work, although he did have him flogged which was vicious all in itself.

Herod apparently was pretty wimpy in this case, too.  His political ambitions may have kept him from taking action because he was waiting to see what Rome would do and didn’t want to rock the boat.  It’s hard knowing.  He was pretty nasty, too, normally.

Jesus’ arrest and trial were hardly holy.  His crucifixion was excruciating, and his death was apparently a big “Whew!” to the religious leaders.  What was holy about what we call Holy Week?

Maybe it’s because of the outcome at the end with Jesus being raised from the dead.  When we consider how the horrible, evil things took place during that week, we can be sure that those who thought they had prevailed were quite smug and happy with the outcome.  The temple leaders probably thought they had saved the Jewish nation in God’s name – who knows!

But once again, God has the last word.  Good overcomes evil and life overcomes death.  Maybe that’s what makes the week holy – it’s the looking forward to the end result.

What do you think?

How have you viewed Holy Week?

In what ways have you studied what’s behind all the religious, economic, and political moves that were taking place?

How are you ready to expand your thoughts on them?

Being Known Completely

O Lord, you have searched me and know 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.”  Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV)

What is it like for someone to know us completely?  Is that even possible, really?  My husband and I often know what the other one is going to say, and when I can’t think of a word, he will fill in the blank for me.  But we still are learning about each other – still discovering things we didn’t know about each other.

And maybe I don’t want him to totally know all about me, anyway!  There are some things that we can learn as we go along.  Even if it was possible for a human being to know the other person completely, it would be influenced by their own perceptions of us as well as by the influences on their lives as they grew up, encountered people, and developed.

God, on the other hand, is another story.  God DOES know us completely.  When I was growing up, my best friend’s father owned the local pool hall.  In our tiny town, that was definitely frowned upon.  The pool hall was closed on Sundays, so my friend and I would go downstairs and pretend that we knew how to play pool.  It smelled of tobacco and beer, and it was dark and dingy, but we had a good time (never tried anything we weren’t supposed to have either!).

When I would arrive home, my mother would ask if I had been in the pool hall (she probably could smell it on my clothes), and I would say that we had just played a little pool.  Her question always was, “Where would you like to be when Jesus returns?  In the Pool Hall or church?”  The answer was obvious – church – but I would say that nothing happened, and we didn’t do anything wrong.

Now when I think about it, I realize that Jesus probably would have been in the pool hall instead of church since he reached out to those who were marginalized by society.  But the point is that God knew all along what was in my mind and in my heart.  As naive as I was, God was with me anyway and helped me to keep my head on straight.  God knew that I was pretty innocent and didn’t even realize what all the growing was all about.

We can’t hide from God because God is part of who we are, made wonderfully in the image of God, the spark of the divine planted in our hearts.  That’s why prayer is so wonderful.  We are but a breath away from God’s presence with us in all things.  Isn’t that a marvelous gift?

Where have you experienced God’s presence?

What were the circumstances?

How did you realize that God knew all about you and loved you anyway?

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