When God Calls Your Name

X MARY APPROACHES THE TOMBX PETER BELOVED DISCIPLE COME RUNNINGX MARY TALKS TO THE GARDENERX JESUS CALLS MARY BY NAMEX HAVE YOU HEARD GOD CALLINGX GOD LOVES US PERSONALLYX MAYBE WE HAVEN'T BEEN LISTENINGX MAYBE WE AREN'T RECOGNIZING OUR NAMEX WE DON'T WANT TO HEARX LISTEN IN SILENCEX GOD WANTS TO REASSUREX WE NO LONGER NEED TO BE AFRAIDSLIDE 3: MARY AT THE TOMB
John’s story of the resurrection begins with a lone woman, who was devoted to Jesus going to the tomb. Everyone else was afraid and still in hiding. Jesus and Mary Magdalene shared an important emotional attachment that compelled Mary despite danger and fear to venture alone to the tomb, and why the Risen Christ first appeared to her.
SLIDE 4: PETER AND THE BELOVED DISCIPLE COME RUNNING
Alone and afraid, when Mary found the stone rolled away from the tomb, she returned to the Upper Room to inform Peter of her discovery. Peter and “the disciple Jesus loved,” ran to the tomb. The unnamed disciple was younger and swifter and outran Peter. He stooped and looked in and saw the grave clothes lying in the tomb, but he did not go in. When Peter arrived, he went right in to the tomb. The placement of the napkin that had covered the head of the body was different from the rest of the shroud. But finding no other evidence of what might have happened to the body, the two men returned to the Upper Room.
SLIDE 5: MARY TALKS TO THE GARDENER
Mary, however, inconsolable in her grief stayed at the tomb. And here the narrative in John parallels the resurrection accounts in the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Looking into the tomb again Mary saw two beings of light, who had not been present, when Peter and the unnamed disciple had investigated the scene. Thus, the vision of angels seen by Mary, was there specifically for her benefit. They were not present just for anyone who happened to drop by the empty tomb that morning. In addition to appearing, the angels spoke to Mary asking her why she was weeping and whom she was seeking. Of course these questions provide wonderful dramatic effect for the story. The reader or listener already knows the answer, and the only question is how long it will take Mary to figure it out.
Mary answered the angels, and then without waiting for a response from the beings of light she turned around and saw Jesus standing there although she mistook him for the gardener. This detail suggests the possibility that however the Risen Christ appeared, he was not as plain as the nose on your face. And so Mary began imploring this “gardener” to tell her where he had transported the body.
SLIDE 6: JESUS CALLED MARY’S NAME
The moment of recognition in the story was when Jesus called Mary’s name. Perhaps this is the larger truth of the story. Hearing her name pronounced by the “gardener” Mary recognized the Risen Christ – the Christ who constantly appears in disguise. The Christ who often appears to us today, but remains unrecognized, because we cannot see him in the neediness of others – the hungry, the thirsty, the sick or imprisoned. We do not know the length of Mary’s encounter with the Risen Christ, or how the encounter broke off. Mary subsequently returned to the Upper Room to announce that she had indeed seen the Lord, a claim most of the other disciples dismissed until later that evening.
SLIDE 7: HAVE YOU HEARD GOD CALL YOUR NAME?
The larger truth of the story is that we are changed, transformed forever, when we hear God call our name. Have you heard God call your name? What does God want you to do? What does God want you to become? When God calls our name we know God is real and not even death can separate us from God’s love. This heart knowledge is ultimately empowering, for we no longer need to fear and no one can take our joy from us.
SLIDE 8: GOD LOVES US PERSONALLY
God calls us by name because God loves each one of us individually and personally. God doesn’t love us as a group as a lump of humanity. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your heavenly father knowing about it already. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, for you are worth more than many sparrows.” Even the hairs of our head are numbered. Of course for some of us that task becomes easier and easier. That’s why some of us have thrown in the hairs of our beards.
It is sort of like the little girl who mis-prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Sunday School, “Our Father who art in heaven, how do you know my name?” God loves us individually, and that is why God calls us by name.
SLIDE 9: MAYBE WE HAVEN’T BEEN LISTENING
Now maybe this morning we are wondering about the resurrection. We feel unsure of the claim someone could be killed, dead and buried and yet live again. Maybe we have never heard God call our name. The first question we might consider is, have we been listening? We live in a very noisy world. We turn on our radios in the car, our televisions at home. We have computers, ipads, iphones, and video games to distract us. Maybe we haven’t been listening.
SLIDE 10: MAYBE WE AREN’T RECOGNIZING OUR NAME
Maybe we aren’t recognizing our name. God is calling we just don’t recognize God is calling us. I am reminded of the young man from the South who joined the army. And like some Southern boys he was given initials instead of a full name. He was R.B., R.B. Jones. His first day his drill sergeant had him filling out forms, and the first thing he had to navigate was one of those forms where you have to input your name all in capital letters in boxes – first name, middle name and last name. So R.B. started filling in the boxes very carefully. For his first name he wrote R and then in parentheses he put down the word only. For his middle name he wrote B and then in parentheses “only.” And then he entered his last name “Jones.” Fifteen minutes after filling out the form R.B. almost missed hearing his name called, when the sergeant called out, “Ronly Bonly Jones.” I can see that, it’s an honest mistake. I mean God has a couple of times called me using my secret divine name, “Hey Stupid.” But in fairness to God, she didn’t mean anything by it, she was just trying to get my attention.
SLIDE 11: WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR
Now another reason we might not be hearing God call our name is we don’t want to hear what God wants to tell us. Like the man who fell off the edge of a precipice, and on the way down he grabbed this scraggly plant growing out of the side of the cliff. As he was hanging there he looked up to heaven and started yelling is there anybody up there? After a minute he heard a voice from the sky say to him, “let go you are in my care.” The man thought about it for a few seconds and began yelling again, “Is there anyone else up there?” Sometimes we just don’t want to hear what God has to tell us.
SLIDE 12: LISTEN IN SILENCE
Let me suggest then we take time each day to listen, listen deeply in prayer in silence. Turn off our radios, our televisions, our computers, our ipads, and our phones, and listen to the silence. No facebook, no twiiter, no e-mail just silence. At first, silence is difficult, for all of our internal drunken monkeys begin to chatter. If we persist, however, the internal voices will finally quiet and then God might get through.
SLIDE 13: GOD WANTS TO REASSURE US OF HER LOVE.
Then become open to the possibility that God doesn’t want to tell us what we want to hear – sort of an inconvenient truth. And remember no matter how much we don’t want to hear what God has to say, it’s for our own good. And most of time when God speaks she wants to reassure us of her love. Like with Mary and the other disciples Christ wants to assure us that though the Empire can kill our bodies, they cannot kill our spirits. Though we may die we will live again, and then nothing can take our joy from us.
SLIDE 14: WE NO LONGER NEED TO BE AFRAID
When God calls our name God wants us to know we do not need to be afraid. Easter empowers us to become the people of faith Jesus beckons us to become. The promise of the resurrection empowers the followers of Jesus over against fear. The forces of Empire threaten, cajole, penalize and if necessary will kill those who stand up for love and justice. The celebration of the faith of the martyrs reminds us that those who want to protect the wealth and privileges of the Empire fervently guard and defend the status quo. Overcoming our fears of the penalties the Empire can level against the followers of Jesus is the most important factor holding back the community of faith. Embrace the resurrection, believe, have faith and go forth to feed the hungry, care for the poor and advocate for the oppressed.

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Finding Ourselves in Holy Week

X HOLY WEEK CENTRAL DRAMA OF CHRISTIAN FAITHX TEMPLE MOUNT FROM MOUNT OF OLIVESX MOUNT OF OLIVES FROM TEMPLE MOUNTX DEMONSTRATION OF SUPPORTX FACE TO FACE WITH OUR HUMANNESSX SOMETHING DIFFERENT CAPTURES OUR ATTENTIONX MORE TIME WITH THE STORYX MAUNDY THURSDAY  TENEBRAEX DEATH AND RESURRECTION IS TRANSFORMATIVEX FAITH IS EMBEDDED IN NEURONS & GENESX INFUSING OUR FAITH WITH HOPESLIDE 3: HOLY WEEK CENTRAL DRAMA OF CHRISTIAN FAITH
Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. This is the central drama of the Christian Faith. We are at the beginning of an emotional roller coaster that will take us from the high point of the crowds hailing Jesus as King, through the intimacy of the Last Supper, the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane to the low point of the crowd demanding Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. Then we wait at the foot of the cross sinking ever deeper into despair, until we take his poor dead body off the cross and place it in the tomb. We travel through the emotional wrench of Holy Week to arrive at Easter Sunday, when the Empty Tomb proclaims the joy of resurrection. But we can’t get to the joy of Easter, without experiencing that roller coaster of Holy Week. And so we begin at the beginning with the Palm Sunday Parade.
SLIDE 4: TEMPLE MOUNT FROM MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Mount of Olives is a large hill/small mountain that lies to the East of Jerusalem opposite Mt. Moriah that was the high place where the Temple was located, and today is the location of the Dome of the Rock. The Mount of Olives is somewhat higher than Mt. Moriah, so the view from the top of the Mount of Olives looks down upon the Dome of the Rock, and in the time of Jesus as he crested the top of the Mount of Olives he was looking down on the Temple.
SLIDE 5: MOUNT OF OLIVES FROM TEMPLE MOUNT
The Mount of Olives is the peak of a climb from Jericho up to Jerusalem. This is a considerable incline that rises from about 1400 feet below sea level to approximately 2700 feet above sea level. So over a distance of about 20 miles the road rises over 4,000 feet. The Mount of Olives was home to two villages Bethphage on the Eastward slope of the mountain facing away from Jerusalem and Bethany lying almost on the crest of the mountain.
SLIDE 6: DEMONSTRATION OF SUPPORT
Jerusalem was crowded for Passover. Many Passover Pilgrims camped on the sides of the mountains surrounding the City. As Jesus and his disciples came over the Mount of Olives creating a “demonstration of support” for Jesus, thousands of other Passover Pilgrims may have joined the parade, if for no other reason than to see what was going on. This enthusiasm then created a kind of circle of protection for Jesus as he proceeded to challenge the authorities in the Temple itself. They could not arrest him for fear of the crowd. This also explains why he left the City each evening to spend the night with friends in different undisclosed locations on the Mt. of Olives, so he could not be arrested without a crowd around him.
SLIDE 7: NON-VIOLENT CONFRONTATION
Jesus’ purpose appears not to have been to foment violent rebellion but to engage the people and the Temple authorities in honest confrontation about pressing issues of justice, the future of the Jewish people and their faith. Did he know when he led the Palm Sunday Parade that his effort would result in his death? Very possibly, after all he had the example of the execution of John the Baptist. But maybe he still had a glimmer of hope like so many other non-violent heroes after him that peaceful change might still be possible.
SLIDE 8: FACE TO FACE WITH YOUR HUMANNESS
The Story of Holy Week is one of the most compelling dramas of history — idealism, aspiration, confrontation, treachery, disloyalty, betrayal, despair, death and then against all odds new life, hope. The last week of the life of Jesus brings us face to face with our humanness.
SLIDE 9: SOMETHING DIFFERENT CAPTURES OUR ATTENTION
Every year we travel the same journey of Holy Week, but each time if we keep our eyes and ears wide open, God can reveal something we have never seen or heard before. Maybe this is the year we finally understand Peter’s fear, when he was accused of being a follower of Jesus, or the anguish of his guilt and shame, when Peter heard the cock crow. Maybe on Maundy Thursday we will recognize ourselves arguing about who is the greatest at the Last Supper, or standing around embarrassed with the other disciples because only Jesus was willing to wash the feet of the guests. Or possibly we can see the screaming unwashed mob from the point of view of the more established leaders, who were afraid things were getting out of hand. Maybe we finally come to an appreciation of the man who lent Jesus the donkey for the ride into the City, or we find ourselves at the foot of the cross rolling dice for a dying man’s cloak.
SLIDE 10: MORE TIME WITH THE STORY
We need to spend more time with the Holy Week Story. Liberal Protestants too often have abandoned the reading of the scriptures, because we don’t want to be like those Bible thumping fundamentalists. Many children grow up in church without any appreciation of the principal Bible Stories. On one Easter Sunday a story teller asked the kids during a children’s sermon, if they knew what “resurrection” meant. The young people looked bewildered until one little boy raised his hand and volunteered, “I don’t know, but I think if it lasts more than four hours, you are supposed to call a doctor.”
SLIDE 11: DEATH AND RESURRECTION IS TRANSFORMATIVE
I want to encourage all of us to take some time and imagination during this next week to project ourselves into the Holy Week Story. I don’t know what will grab you, or what will catch my attention as I relive the Holy Week story, but I do know that this narrative of the arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus is transformative. We can read the story by ourselves, but the most powerful way of experiencing the Passion narrative is in the context of worship, where scripture, hymns and prayer — liturgy, bread and wine, combine to speak to our spirits.
SLIDE 12: MAUNDY THURSDAY COMMUNION AND TENEBRAE
I know we are all very busy people. We are lucky if most of us show up for Sunday morning worship much less coming in the middle of the week. But let me encourage you all to come experience the Holy Week story on Maundy Thursday evening. We have actually conflated Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, by having the Tenebrae Service, the Good Friday portion of the story after celebrating the Last Supper communion on Thursday. So we are saving you time!
SLIDE 13: HOW GOD CHANGES YOUR BRAIN
Why am I encouraging, some might even say, “nagging,” you all to spend time with the Holy Week Story? I have picked up a book entitled: How God Changes Your Brain – Breakthrough findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. Even as adults, our brains are constantly being rewired. Mental activities, spiritual activities and physical exercise all contribute to changes in our brains. Let me share with you a paragraph from this book:
SLIDE 14: FAITH IS EMBEDDED IN OUR NEURONS AND OUR GENES
As a neuroscientist, the more I delve into the nature of the human brain, the more I realize how mysterious we are. . .
. . . I’ve learned that behind our drive to survive, there is another force, and the best word to describe it is faith. Faith not just in God, or in science or love, but faith in ourselves and each other. Having faith in the human spirit is what drives us to survive and transcend. It makes life worth living, and it gives meaning to our life. Without such hope and optimism – synonyms for what I am calling faith – the mind can easily slip into depression or despair. Faith is embedded in our neurons and in our genes, and it is one of the most important principles to honor in our lives.
Some people put their faith in God, while others put it into science, relationships, or work. But wherever you choose to place your faith you must still confront a deeper question: What is your ultimate pursuit and dream? What do you truly desire in your life – not only for yourself, but for the world as well? And how will you begin to make that desire a reality?
SLIDE 15: INFUSING OUR FAITH WITH HOPE
The Holy Week Story can infuse the faith embedded in our genes and neurons with an ultimate hope. Yes, there is injustice in the world. Bad things happen to good people. Reformers who dream of a better world are often martyred. But in the end after wealth, power and evil have done all they can do, love wins. Love triumphs over death. And that hope is transformative. You need some of that transformative hope? Then come with me on a journey through Holy Week. Go home and read the story. Then come back on Thursday and gather around the Sharing Table. Come share the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, and then as we extinguish the Tenebrae Candles remember the last twenty-four hours of the life of Jesus. And then return next Sunday and experience the hope and joy of resurrection. The Story of the Passion and the Resurrection is the hope that can fill our genes and neurons with life – a life of hope that transcends death.


Bible Study for March 25 for Worship April 14

X HOW GOD CHANGES YOUR BRAINActs 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.
4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting;
6 but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
8 Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,
12 and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;
14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized,
19 and took food and was strengthened. For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus.
20 And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

COMMENTARY

We have two immensely important stories in our scripture today: the Story of the Transformation of Saul to Paul, and the Story of Ananias. The Conversion of Paul has been a classic of Christian Faith. Most of us have not had a dramatic and blinding spiritual experience. But our recent study of Near Death Experiences and how God can change our brains should give us a perspective on Saul’s sudden and dramatic conversion experience. The brain can be flooded with chemicals as a result of illness, fasting, seizure, near death, concussion, injury, and sometimes just spontaneously, perhaps divine intervention. This flood of chemicals can permanently rewire our brains. Paul appears to have had such an experience. Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts contain tantalizing hints as to the source of his conversion experience. His “thorn in the flesh,” may have included seizures, or migraines. He may have been disciplining himself with severe spiritual exercises including prayer vigils and fasting. From a distance of 2,000 years we cannot be sure what brought on his stunning experience, including temporary blindness on the Road to Damascus. We can only say for sure his life was changed forever.

Even if we have not experienced such a sudden and dramatic event as Paul, the spiritual practices of faith over time can rewire our brains. And so I would direct our attention to a quotation from the book How God Changes Our Brains.

As a neuroscientist, the more I delve into the nature of the human brain, the more I realize how mysterious we are. . .
. . . I’ve learned that behind our drive to survive, there is another force, and the best word to describe it is faith. Faith not just in God, or in science or love, but faith in ourselves and each other. Having faith in the human spirit is what drives us to survive and transcend. It makes life worth living, and it gives meaning to our life. Without such hope and optimism – synonyms for what I am calling faith – the mind can easily slip into depression or despair. Faith is embedded in our neurons and in our genes, and it is one of the most important principles to honor in our lives.
Some people put their faith in God, while others put it into science, relationships, or work. But wherever you choose to place your faith you must still confront a deeper question: What is your ultimate pursuit and dream? What do you truly desire in your life – not only for yourself, but for the world as well? And how will you begin to make that desire a reality?

Paul was changed forever and we can be transformed as well if we are willing to honor the faith that is embedded in our neurons and genes. Like any latent ability, the gift has to be developed through spiritual practices. We are admonished to prayer regularly and seek the community of faith around the Sharing Table of Jesus.

The story of Ananias is as important as the story of Paul. Paul had been struck blind by his spiritual confrontation with the Risen Christ. Just in case he didn’t get the message, spending three days unable to see brought him to his senses. He was in need of healing. He was in need of the healing power of Christ, and just to reinforce that message God needed a follower of Jesus to bring that healing to Paul. So God called on Ananias.

Note that Ananias was praying when God called. I suppose God can get through to us, even when we are not praying, but spiritual practices open us to the presence of God. God called Ananias by name. Ananias responded with the prophetic “Here I am Lord.” So God told Ananias what to do. But there was a problem. Ananias was afraid. And this story is a good illustration of “just because we are afraid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get us.” Saul was coming to Damascus with warrants for the arrest of any “followers of the way,” he might find there. He was authorized to bind them and bring them to Jerusalem to be tried before the Temple Court. There is considerable scholarly controversy about Paul’s mission to Damascus. It seems hardly likely that the Temple authorities could commission someone to go into a different Roman Province and kidnap people to bring them to Jerusalem for persecution. It also seems hardly likely that the Temple authorities would have been send abroad for followers of Jesus to persecute, while there was a church in Jerusalem. Perhaps Paul was going to Damascus to organize local Jews in Damascus to terrorize potential followers of Jesus. And Paul may have organized such a mission on his own without the authorization of the Temple authorities. After all Paul and his thugs had broken Stephen out of jail and stoned him to death without the authorization of the Sanhedrin. Again from a distance of 2,000 years we cannot determine exactly what was going on.

For the purpose of our story we just need to know that Ananias had good reason to be afraid. And so we are confronted by the question once again, what would we do, if we were not afraid? What Ananias does is incredible. He loves. He goes to Paul, and he calls him “brother.” Through faith he overcomes his fear and anger toward this person and loves him. As a result of the love Ananias extends to Paul, the very healing power of God was able to restore Paul’s eye sight. Love wins!

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. How did Saul gain authorization to go to Damascus on a mission?

2. What was the nature of the commission given to Saul in the text?

3. What were the elements of the vision Saul experienced on the Road to Damascus?

4. What was Saul’s response to the vision?

5. What did Saul’s traveling companions experience?

6. What was the aftermath of the vision?

7. According to the text how did God select Ananias to go to Saul?

8. How did Ananias know where to find Saul?

9. What was God asking of Ananias?

10. What was Ananias’ objection to God’s request?

11. How did Ananias heal Saul?

12. How did Saul’s behavior change as the result of his experience?

Week of April 8 – April 14: Third Sunday of Eastertide – Acts 9:1-6, 7-20 – The Way Forward – Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19.


Something New

X I AM DOING A NEW THINGX RUN TO CATCH UPX SOMETHING NEW IN JESUSX SOMETHING NEW IN THE MONASTERIESX SOMETHING NEW IN THE REFORMATIONX SOMETHING NEW IN DEMOCRACYX SOMETHING NEW IN FREEDOM FOR ALLX WHAT NEW THING IN 21 CENTURYX GREAT EMERGENCEX CELL PHONES INTERNET PAPAL RESIGNATIONX GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENTX CHANGING WORLDVIEWSX PREMODERN UMPIREX MODERN UMPIREX POSTMODERN UMPIREX REVOLUTION OF THOUGHTX NEW THING ANCIENT SPIRITUAL PRACTICESX DISCERN WHAT GOD WANTS US TO DO AND BECOMEX OVERCOMING NOT MUCHSLIDE 3: I AM DOING A NEW THING
Our scripture this morning comes again from Second Isaiah. Remember he was a prophet writing to the Jewish exiles in Babylon approximately 550 years before Jesus. His purpose was to give hope and inspire faith in a people being held captive far, far from home.
“I am doing a new thing,” said God according to Isaiah! The new thing God was up to was bringing the Jewish captives in Babylon home to Israel. The military might of the Babylonians had been crushed, and God was going to do a new thing by making a way in the desert for his people to return to their homeland. Many of the Jews were afraid. The journey would be long and arduous across mountains and deserts. And when they did arrive they would find their homeland in ruins. Isaiah had to offer encouragement and hope for the exiles to return home.
SLIDE 4: RUN TO CATCH UP
God is doing a new thing today! God is always doing new things. We are almost always lagging behind where God is moving in the world, and we need to run to catch up. God is offering us hope and encouragement if we will undertake the journey into a new and uncertain future.
SLIDE 5: SOMETHING NEW IN JESUS
In the First Century God was doing a new thing in Jesus and the church. You have heard that it was said, “and eye for an eye, but I say to you love your enemies.” God was doing a new thing in Christ to show us the way to the Commonwealth of God.
SLIDE 6: SOMETHING NEW IN THE MONASTERIES
During the middle Ages when books and learning were disappearing and faith was sinking into superstition in Europe, God was doing a new thing in the monasteries where books were copied and the faith was preserved.
SLIDE 7: SOMETHING NEW IN THE REFORMATION
During the Reformation when the Church had become powerful and corrupt God was doing a new thing through people like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli spreading a new expression of faith based upon the written word of God.
SLIDE 8: SOMETHING NEW IN DEMOCRACY
And then as the people known as Congregationalists migrated to the New World God did a new thing by establishing participatory democracy in those early congregational meetings. And that notion of freedom and democracy advanced during the American Revolution to include representative self-government.
SLIDE 9: SOMETHING NEW IN FREEDOMN FOR ALL
And then through the American Missionary Association born out of the desire to free slaves, God was doing a new thing seeking equality for all people, men, women, blacks, whites, native Americans, Asians, even gay and straight. God has been doing a new thing among us.
SLIDE 10: WHAT NEW THING IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
The question we must face in the church now in the 21st Century is what new thing is God doing in our time in our world? Almost all churches are hemorrhaging membership. Church budgets have been stretched to the breaking point, and many congregations will be dissolving in the next twenty years. The new thing God may be doing is saying: “change or die.” Become faithful in following the way of Jesus, or your institutions will collapse. Something new is not necessarily good news for the institutional church. Learn, pray, seek humility and faithfulness like St. Francis, adapt and grow or die.
SLIDE 11: GREAT EMERGENCE
Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, seeks to document the tremendous cultural upheaval all around us, and how that is affecting the church. Her theory is that about every 500 years or so Western Culture experiences a massive displacement, and after about a 100 years of uncertainty and upheaval new cultural forms and new expressions of faith emerge on the other side. The last great upheaval according to Tickle was the Protestant Reformation. She claims that we have now entered into another great cultural upheaval, another great reformation, and we cannot even begin to predict in what form our social institutions especially the church will emerge from this cultural transformation.
SLIDE 12: CELL PHONES, INTERNET, PAPAL RESIGNATION
In case anyone is not clear we find ourselves in the midst of dramatic change think about these questions. Forty years ago, who would have predicted most of us would be carrying around phones in our pockets and pocket books? Thirty years ago how many of us had heard of the internet? Fifteen years ago who would have imagined we would be surfing the internet on our phones? Three months ago, who would have predicted a Papal resignation?
SLIDE 13: HIGH BAR FOR GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENT
Speaking of Papal resignations one Cardinal was heard saying to another, “Benedict certainly set the bar high for giving up something for Lent!”
SLIDE 14: CHANGING WORLD VIEWS
We live in the midst of changing worldviews. The Reformation and Enlightenment were the shift from a pre-modern worldview to what we now look back upon and call the modern worldview. This was the world of Newtonian Physics — the predictable world of mechanical laws of nature – the shift from the established authoritative revealed truth of tradition to observed experimentally verified scientific truth. The shift to this objective worldview was powerful and gave us the wonders of science and technology that gave humankind flight, sent us to the moon, multiplied the yields of our crops, an explosion of medical technology that has lengthened our life spans and completely transformed our communications and media.
SLIDE 15: POSTMODERN
We are now on the cusp of a new emerging worldview, sometimes labeled postmodern. One of the first signs of this new emerging worldview was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the subsequent development of Quantum Physics. Einstein told us that everything is relative to the position and velocity of the observer. The only constant is the speed of light in a vacuum. Quantum Physics discovered that at the level of sub-atomic particles there are no objective observers, because the act of observing, consciousness, changes the outcome of the experiment. And the study of elementary particles now suggests there are no “solid objects,” but everything is made up of vibrating patterns of energy.
SLIDE 16: PRE-MODERN UMPIRE
An analogy that tries to express the difference between pre-modern, modern and postmodern world views uses baseball umpires. The pre-modern umpire would say he calls balls and strikes as they are – according to universal and accepted revealed principles handed down from tradition.
SLIDE 17: MODERN UMPIRE
The modern umpire would say he calls balls and strikes, “as he sees ‘em,” based upon objective observation and experimentally established rules.
SLIDE 18: POSTMODERN UMPIRE
The postmodern umpire, she would say, “they ain’t nothin’ ‘til i calls ‘em.” Everything is subjective. The umpire is a participant and not simply an observer. We are changing how we see and think about our world, and that will change how we respond to faith.
SLIDE 19: REVOLUTION OF THOUGHT AND CONSCIOUSNESS – RESHAPING THE CHURCH
We live in the midst of a revolution of thought and consciousness. If we refuse to recognize how those changes are affecting the church, then we are dooming our congregation to irrelevance and eventual extinction. One of the technological innovations that made the Protestant Reformation possible was a revolution in media — the printing press. Today once again we are experiencing a transformation in media brought about by computers, mobile devices and the internet. How these changes in communication will reshape the church we can only begin to imagine. How congregations choose to respond will determine their futures.
SLIDE 20: NEW THING – ANCIENT SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
God is doing a new thing! Verse 18 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” It always helps to know where we come from, how we are connected to our roots. Indeed, the Great Emergence, seems to be calling many congregations to renew their connections with ancient liturgies, symbols of faith and spiritual practices. There is a renewed interest, even a hunger, for ancient spiritual practices, meditation, prayer, chanting, prayer beads, walking the labyrinth, but always adapted in new ways and new forms. God is doing a new thing!
SLIDE 21: DISCERN WHAT GOD WANTS US TO DO AND BECOME
The call to a re-visioning process at United Church is our opportunity to figure out what God is calling us to do and become in the Twenty-first Century. We need courage and faith to step into a planning process that will seek to discern what new thing God is doing among us. I hope everyone in the congregation will respond and participate in this planning process. And remember our task is not to just talk about what we like and want, we are being called to a process of discernment, where through prayer, discussion, more prayer and study we seek to discern what God is calling us to do and become in the future.
SLIDE 22: OVERCOMING “NOT MUCH”
It would be easy for us to say, “Oh, well, I’m not concerned about that, because I may not be here in ten years anyway.” Beth and I were talking the other day about the potluck this congregation put on almost 13 years ago on the Saturday evening before my candidating sermon, just before you voted to extend a call to me.
I was asked to make some remarks, and I talked about how important the next years would be in determining the future of United Church. As a way of offering a challenge, I said, “How much would you be willing to give of yourself to pass on this unique legacy of faith to a new generation?” Then someone, in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard in the back of the room, said, “Not much.”
It is time to move beyond “Not much.”
It is time to invest ourselves in discerning what God wants us to do and to become as United Church. When you receive a call to attend one of the small group meeting, attend and participate. Sometimes God speaks through the least expected member of the community. Join us in helping to bring United Church into a New Future!


Bible Study March 18 for Worship April 7

Bible Study March 18 for Worship April 7

Acts 5: 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
17 But the high priest rose up and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and filled with jealousy
18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison.
19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said,
20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and taught. Now the high priest came and those who were with him and called together the council and all the senate of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and they returned and reported,
23 “We found the prison securely locked and the sentries standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside.”
24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.
25 And some one came and told them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,
28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.
31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

COMMENTARY

In Luke’s account of the early church this story occurs after the Pentecost Experience and before the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The Apostles were still attending daily prayers in the Temple, and they thought of themselves as good Jews, who were preaching the way of Jesus as an expression of Judaism. No gentiles had yet been converted. The Deacons as officers in the Jerusalem church had not been selected. The Temple Authorities, however saw these upstart, uneducated, common ordinary Jews forming their own religious community as a threat. This was Jesus coming back to haunt them in a way they had never anticipated.

The ministry of the Apostles began to take off, when they discovered that the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had bestowed upon them the gift of healing. Preaching is all well and good, but healing really attracts a following. In chapter three of the Book of Acts Peter accompanied by John healed a lame beggar at the gates of the temple. In response to the commotion created by the now formerly lame beggar celebrating his healing, Peter, John and the beggar were all arrested and brought before the ruling council the Sanhedrin. Peter claimed boldly that the healing at been performed in the name of Jesus, and that really ticked the High Priests off. But since the formerly lame man was standing right there the Priests were unable to railroad a condemnation through the Sanhedrin. Peter and John were simply instructed not to preach or perform any more healings in the name of Jesus.

Now we need to remember these Apostles were the same people, who at the first sign of trouble, when Jesus was arrested, they all went into hiding. They boasted and talked a good game at the Last Supper, “Lord, we are ready to follow you to prison and to death,” but when the chips were down the Apostles were gone. Something new had happened. They had been encouraged and empowered by their experience of the Risen Christ. The Holy Spirit had bestowed spiritual gifts upon them, and one of those gifts was courage.

In defiance of the orders of the High Priests, the Apostles returned to the Temple preaching the way of Jesus to anyone who would listen. So the Sadducees resorted to intimidation. The Temple police rounded up all of the Apostles and put them in the common jail over night. “Let them spend some time in the cooler, and then we will question them.” The strategies of intimidation are distressingly common – threats, intimidation, low level punishments to begin. People who abuse power count on exploiting the fears of others. Shoot a few in the head, send a bunch to the Gulag and the others will fall in line.

In the middle of the night, however, an angel came and let the Apostles out of jail. We do not know if this was a heavenly angel or a sympathizer among the jailers. And the time behind bars did not deter the Apostles, for the next morning there they were in the Temple courts preaching in the name of Jesus again. The escape of the Apostles must have become a favorite story in the early church, for the Temple Police come out looking like the keystone cops. 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the sentries standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside.” The Temple Police re-arrested the Apostles but did not rough them up out of fear of the crowd that had gathered.

Again the High Priests tried to resort to intimidation: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

When people are no longer afraid, however, intimidation does not work: “We must obey God rather than men. . . we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The question I hear this passage asking me, and I think other people, “what would you do, if you were not afraid? In a recent “Still Speaking Devotional” Anthony Robinson spoke to this very question.

A friend says, “When you’re at the end of your rope, let go. There’s a reason you’re there.” She is not saying give up. I think she is saying stop trying to do it all by yourself.

“Sooner or later . . . some event, person, death, idea or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources.”

It happens. We get to end of our rope. The end of our own private resources. What then? Let go and put all your trust in God who is able, says Paul, “to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.”

The Apostles had been led far beyond their own private resources of courage and faith that had failed them so miserably on the night Jesus was betrayed. We they learned on Easter morning and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was that God can give us new resources of courage and resilience far beyond our poor powers. When we let God see us through, we will not yield to intimidation, and we can be bold witnesses to the way of Jesus over against the powers of fear and death.

So what would you do, if you were not afraid?

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. What began to attract the common people to the ministry of the Apostles?

2. How did the High Priest respond to the increasing popularity of the Apostles?

3. What sign of deliverance did God give to the Apostles?

4. When the Apostles got out of prison, where did they go?

5. Who came looking for the Apostles?

6. What did they find?

7. Who told the High Priest, where the Apostles could be found?

8. How did the Temple Police handle the Apostles on their way to the appearance before the ruling Council?

9. What did the High Priest say to the Apostles?

10. Who responded on behalf of the Apostles?

11. What did he say?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. When confronted by the Temple Police, why do you think the Apostles did not run away?

2. How would you feel if the authorities locked you up over night?

3. How do you think the Apostles got out of the jail?

4. If you had escaped from jail, would you have gone back to the Temple Courts in the morning?

5. If you had been a member of the crowd listening to the Apostles in the morning, what would you have done, when the Temple Police came to arrest them a second time?

6. If you had been one of the Apostles in the morning, when you saw the Temple Police coming, what would you have done?

7. What is the most intimidating situation you have even found yourself in?

8. How do you feel, when you allow yourself to be intimidated?

9. When are you most susceptible to your fears?

10. What would you do if you were not afraid?

11. What do you think is the relationship between your faith and your fears?

Week of April 1 – April 7: First Sunday of Eastertide – Acts 5:27-32 – Resurrection Witness – Psalm 118:14-29, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31.


Embracing Love

X THE OLDER BROTHERX RESPONSIBLE HARDWORDING DUTIFULX HIS OWN REPRESSED DESIRESX LESSER VIRTUESX HOT SINS COLD SINSX BIRTH ORDERX WOUNDEDX SHE KNEADS YOU UNTIL YOU ARE PLIANTX SHE KNEADS YOU UNTIL YOU ARE PLIANTX SACRED FIRE TO BECOME SACRED BREADX FEARX GIVING UP ALL PRETENSE OF SELF RIGHTEOUSNESSX ANGER AND RESENTMENTX COME TO THE PARTYX TAKE THE CREDIT CARD AWAYX IN THE END LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERSX A TEAR AND A SMILEX YEARNING AND LONGINGX THE LIFE OF THE FLOWERX THE LIFE OF CLOUDS IS PARTING AND MEETINGX TO THE OCEAN OF LOVE AND BEAUTY5: THE OLDER BROTHER
We like to focus on the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We all long to be welcomed home by the Father. We are forgiven and the party is in our honor. And indeed, as the church reaches out to people outside the church we need to understand that God really, really wants to welcome everyone to come home. But where we in the church can really be helped is if we focus our attention on the elder brother.
SLIDE 6: RESPONSIBLE, HARDWORKING, DUTIFUL
The older brother has always done it right. He is responsible, hardworking, dutiful, and when God gives a party to welcome his worthless, irresponsible brother back into the family, the older brother refuses to join in the celebration. This worthless scum of a brother needs to be punished, made to shape up and become hardworking and responsible. Of course the older brother objects to the father’s misplaced generosity. Let’s see if we can understand the older brother, and maybe we will begin to understand how we need to change, if we are going to follow the way of Jesus.
The older brother feels badly for the way his younger sibling has treated his father. Verse 12 should probably be translated: “old man why don’t you just drop dead, so I can get what’s coming to me when you kick the bucket!” How could this younger son treat his father so? Surely the poor father was cut to the quick by this kid’s behavior, and the older boy feels badly for his father.
SLIDE 7: HIS OWN REPRESSED DESIRES?
The older brother probably also resented his younger brother for wasting the father’s resources. That no good scumbag took a third of the family fortune and went out and squandered it. Now we can ask how did the older brother know the younger brother blew his money on prostitutes? Was he there? Or is the older brother projecting some of his own repressed desires?
SLIDE 8: LESSER VIRTUES
Frugality and dutifulness are virtues, but for Jesus they tended to be lesser virtues than generosity, love, faithfulness and forgiveness. In another passage Matthew 23:23 where Jesus engages with the self-righteousness of the law keepers he says: “Woe to you, law keepers, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but you have neglected the weightier matters of the law — justice, mercy, love and faithfulness; your minor virtues you ought to have done, without leaving the major virtues undone.”
SLIDE 9: HOT SINS – COLD SINS
A clergy colleague of mine used to suggest that there are “hot sins” and “cold sins.” The hot sins are sins of the passions or of the flesh: lust, anger, gluttony, addictions, even sloth. The cold sins are sins of the spirit: greed, envy, pride, self-righteousness, gossip, excessive business. This colleague noted that “good” people like the older brother make a big deal about the “hot sins” of others, but they don’t even recognize their own “cold sins,” that Jesus thought were more problematical than the sins of the flesh. One way to explain Jesus’ attitude is that the hot sins tend to get us into trouble. We know we have sinned, and the consequences can drive us to our knees seeking forgiveness and change. People who commit the cold sins usually aren’t even aware of their self-righteousness and so they seldom if ever seek forgiveness. Sin is sin, but the cold sins often go un-repented and un-forgiven, because they are un-confessed even unrecognized.
SLIDE 10: BIRTH ORDER
How do we help the elder brother come to the party? First we can understand that self-righteous people have a hard time embracing love. Why? Well sometimes it might be a birth order problem. We know that many, not all, but many first borns and onlys are perfectionists. They strive to be perfect. They want to do everything right. This may have something to do with parental expectations. You know with the first kid Mom and Dad have these high expectations, and then when the others come along they relax a little bit. I often hear oldest children complain that their parents let the younger children get away with a whole lot more than they ever thought of even trying. First borns are often the inheritors of the family mantle expected to achieve far more than any of the goof offs who come after them. So birth order may be a factor. Maybe that is why Jesus’ story with a younger sibling who messes up and a super responsible older sibling seems to ring so true.
SLIDE 11: WOUNDED
Another group who experience difficulty embracing love are people who are wounded. Wounds of course come in all different shapes and sizes, and many of our hurts are hidden from the eyes of others. In fact many of us have done such a good job of hiding our wounds, we may not even be consciously aware of them ourselves anymore. And so we compensate for the pain by trying to be right, and pushing away from love out of fear we will be hurt yet again, and then punishing those we consider unworthy or not measuring up.
SLIDE 12: PARADOX OF LOVE AND WOUNDEDNESS
The paradox of love and woundedness is that love heals wounds, but we push love away, because we are afraid it will hurt. Remember when we were children and we fell down and our caregiver had to clean the wound? Oh God not the mercurochrome! Accepting God’s love can be like cleaning a wound in order for it to heal properly. It hurts! Therapy often hurts. Counseling usually isn’t getting anywhere until the tears appear. We can’t come to God’s party until are willing to become vulnerable. Like a part of a poem from Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet:
SLIDE 13: SHE KNEADS YOU UNTIL YOU ARE PLIANT
Like sheaves of corn love gathers you unto herself.
She threshes you to make you naked.
She sifts you to free you from your husks.
She grinds you to whiteness.
She kneads you until you are pliant;
SLIDE 14: SACRED FIRE TO BECOME SACRED BREAD
And then she assigns you to her sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you
that you may know the secrets of your heart,
and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only
love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
SLIDE 15: FEAR
So besides anger and resentment, fear prevents the older brother from coming to the party. Fear of love. Fear of the father. Fear of God. If we listen to the older brother’s complaint maybe we can hear the fear as well as the anger and resentment: “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me even a goat, that I might make merry with my friends.” The older sibling has done his duty. He stayed on the farm and served, not out of love for his father, but out of the fear of losing his inheritance – fear of what might happen if he left home.
SLIDE 16: GIVING UP ALL PRETENSE OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
As I have admitted, I am a coward. I think I am like the older brother for on more than one occasion I have avoided sin not because I didn’t want to, but because I was afraid — afraid of getting caught, afraid of the consequences. Some people claim that fear of consequences is wisdom or prudence, but in my heart of hearts I know the truth it is cowardice. So I cannot stand in judgment upon those who have done what I have merely been too afraid to do. Embracing love means giving up all pretense of self-righteousness.
SLIDE 17: ANGER AND RESENTMENT
So how do we bring the older sibling into the party? How do we help the self-righteous embrace love? Jesus gives us a clue. The older sibling cannot even begin to hear the message of the father’s love until he has had an opportunity to express his anger and resentment – clear the air. Jesus left the Parable unfinished. We are allowed to imagine an ending for the story.
SLIDE 18: COME TO THE PARTY
In my imagination even after the father says: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours,” the older brother probably still has some choice words to share with the old man. I know in my own relationship with God, I have had seasons when I have expressed anger. And God never struck me dead. God never said, I was not longer welcome. Because even in spite of my anger, maybe because of my anger, God loves me. God says, come home. Come to the party.
And then in my fantasy the father offers to give the older son the same opportunity as the younger boy. He says, “Look I’ll sell everything else and give you the money.”
SLIDE 19: TAKE THE CREDIT CARD AWAY
And then the older son, because he is still basically a chicken says, “awe Dad, I don’t want to leave, I’m sorry, I didn’t appreciate how much you love me.” And then just because he is the older brother he says, “And by the way Dad that credit card you just gave him, take it away, OK?”
SLIDE 20: IN THE END LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERS
The lives of the self-righteous can be redeemed, if they can learn that in the end love is all that matters. And if you doubt that wisdom, just try to image the last days or hours of our life, and tell me what matters more than love? At the ends of our live our regrets are never about material things, even taking the relative measure of success or failure in our lives. It’s usually about relationships, and in the end love is all that matters.
Let me close then with another piece of poetry from Kahlil Gibran about love – a tear and a smile.
SLIDE 21: A TEAR AND A SMILE
I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart
For the joys of the multitude.
And I would not have the tears that sadness makes
To flow from my every part turn into laughter.
I would that my life remain a tear and a smile.
A tear to purify my heart and give me understanding
Of life’s secrets and hidden things.
A smile to draw me nigh to the sons of my kind and
To be a symbol of my glorification of the gods.
A tear to unite me with those of broken heart;
A smile to be a sign of my joy in existence.
SLIDE 22: YEARNING AND LONGING
I would rather that I died in yearning and longing than that I live Weary and despairing.
I want the hunger for love and beauty to be in the
Depths of my spirit, for I have seen those who are
Satisfied the most wretched of people.
I have heard the sigh of those in yearning and Longing, and it is sweeter than the sweetest melody.
SLIDE 23: THE LIFE OF THE FLOWER IS LONGING AND FULFILLMENT
With evening’s coming the flower folds her petals
And sleeps, embracing her longing.
At morning’s approach she opens her lips to meet
The sun’s kiss.
The life of a flower is longing and fulfillment.
A tear and a smile.
SLIDE 24: THE LIFE OF CLOUDS IS PARTING AND MEETING
The waters of the sea become vapor and rise and come
Together and become a cloud.
And the cloud floats above the hills and valleys
Until it meets the gentle breeze, then falls weeping
To the fields and joins with brooks and rivers to Return to the sea, its home.
The life of clouds is a parting and a meeting.
A tear and a smile.
SLIDE 25: TO THE OCEAN OF LOVE AND BEAUTY
And so does the spirit become separated from
The greater spirit to move in the world of matter
And pass as a cloud over the mountain of sorrow
And the plains of joy to meet the breeze of death
And return whence it came.
To the ocean of Love and Beauty—-to God.


Bible Study March 11 for Worship March 31

Bible Study March 11 for Worship March 31

John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.
4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first;
5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying,
7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb;
12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.
13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
18 Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

COMMENTARY

John’s story begins with a lone woman, who was devoted to Jesus going to the tomb. John’s Gospel considered by some scholars to have been written as a foil to the Gospel of Thomas seems to support the contention in the Gospel of Thomas that Mary Magdalene and Jesus shared a “special relationship.” Consider these last verses from the Gospel of Thomas:

114. Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.”
Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

We do not need here to speculate over much about the “special relationship,” but clearly in understanding this passage, to know that Jesus and Mary shared an important attachment is helpful in understanding why Mary would venture alone to the tomb, and why the Risen Christ might appear first to Mary.

Alone and afraid, when Mary found the stone rolled away from the tomb, she returned to the Upper Room to inform Peter of her discovery. Peter and “the disciple Jesus loved,” ran to the tomb. Church tradition has claimed that “the disciple Jesus loved” was John. Closer examination of the text suggests that this disciple was not one of the twelve, but instead was a member of a high priestly family, who had access to the home of the High Priest, and he was the author of a tradition of a Judean ministry, since so many of the stories that are unique to the Gospel of John take place in Judea rather than Galilee.

The unnamed disciple was younger and swifter and beat Peter to the tomb. He stooped and looked in and saw the grave clothes lying in the tomb, but he did not go in. When Peter arrived, he went right in to the tomb. The placement of the napkin that had covered the head of the body was different from the rest of the shroud. The unnamed disciple interpreted the placement of the grave clothes as an indication that the body had not been stolen, even though they had not yet made the connection to resurrection. Finding no other evidence at the tomb the two men returned to the Upper Room.

Mary, however, inconsolable in her grief stayed at the tomb. And here the narrative in John parallels the empty tomb account in the synoptic gospels. Looking into the tomb again there were two beings of light, who had not been there, when the men investigated the tomb. Thus, the vision of angels seen by Mary, were there specifically for her, and not just for anyone who happened to drop by the empty tomb that morning. In addition to appearing, the angels spoke to her asking her why she was weeping and whom she was seeking. Of course these question s provide wonderful dramatic effect. The reader or listener already knows the answer, and the only question was how long it would take Mary to figure it out.

Mary answered the angels, and then without waiting for an answer from the angels she turned around and saw Jesus standing there although she mistook him for the gardener. This detail suggests the possibility that however the Risen Christ appeared, he was not as plain as the nose on your face. And so Mary began imploring this “gardener” to tell her where he had transported the body.

The moment of recognition in the story was when Jesus called Mary’s name. Perhaps this is the larger truth of the story. Hearing her name pronounced by the “gardener” Mary recognized the Risen Christ – the Christ who constantly appears in disguise. Verse 17 has an odd sound, when Jesus tells Mary not to “hold” him, for he had not yet ascended to the Father. A couple of explanations have been offered for this statement. One possibility is that this is a message to the early church that they could not “hold onto” an earthly Jesus. Just as Jesus would ultimately have to ascend and leave this world, so the church would have to “move on” from the earthly ministry of Jesus to building a movement based upon the lessons and example of Jesus. Another explanation is that the author of the Johannine tradition was especially concerned with denying the heresy that claimed a spiritual rather than a bodily resurrection. The comment about not holding on to his physical body may have been considered a proof of the physical resurrection.

We do not know the length of Mary’s encounter with the Risen Christ, or how the encounter broke off. Mary subsequently returned to the Upper Room to announce that she had indeed seen the Lord, a claim most of the other disciples dismissed until later that evening.

The larger truth of the story is that we are changed, transformed forever, when we hear God call our name. Have you heard God call your name? What does God want you to do? What does God want you to become? When God calls our name we know God is real and not even death can separate us from God’s love. This heart knowledge is ultimately empowering, for we no longer need to fear and no one can take our joy from us.

Easter empowers us to become the people of faith Jesus beckons us to become. The promise of the resurrection helps to empower the followers of Jesus over against fear. The forces of Empire threaten, cajole, penalize and if necessary will kill those who stand up for love and justice. The celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday reminds us that those who want to
protect the wealth and privileges of the Empire fervently guard and defend the status quo. Over coming our fears of the penalties the Empire can level against the followers of Jesus is the most important factor holding back the community of faith. Embrace the resurrection, believe, have faith and go forth to feed the hungry, care for the poor and advocate for the oppressed.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTION OF THE TEXT

1. What time of day did Mary go to the tomb?

2. What did Mary see, when she arrived at the tomb?

3. What did Mary do next?

4. Who came to the tomb to check out Mary’s report?

5. What did these people find at the tomb?

6. What was their interpretation of what they saw?

7. After these persons left the tomb, what did Mary see?

8. Does the text tell us whether or not the other people saw this?

9. What do the angels ask Mary?

10. Who did Mary subsequently encounter outside of the tomb?

11. How did Mary know who this was?

12. What did Mary do after this encounter?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Have you ever done something special for a friend of loved one’s funeral or burial?

2. Have you ever made a special journey to visit a grave?

3. Have you ever experienced a surprise when attending a funeral or in visiting a cemetery?

4. Have you ever encountered someone who you thought was supposed to be dead?

5. Have you ever asked someone else to examine something, because you couldn’t quite believe what you were seeing?

6. What has been your most startling experience of hearing someone call your name?

7. Why do you suppose the angels appeared to Mary but not to Peter and the beloved disciple?

8. If had been one of the disciples in the Upper Room, when Mary arrived and said, “I have seen the Lord,” what would you have thought?

9. Do you believe there can be life after death?

10. What “proof” would convince you one way or the other?

11. How do you think the story of Easter influences your spiritual life?

Week of March 25 – March 31 Easter – John 20:1-18 – Resurrection Joy – Acts 10:34-43, Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12.