Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus is disruptive

John 20:1-18

Jesus’ resurrection disrupts everything! Just when the disciples thought they knew what was what, Jesus changed things on them again. He’s alive, and not in the old Frankenstein movies sense of alive – when Dr Frankenstein declares of the monster, “He’s alive!” Jesus is alive, not in the raised from the dead but will die again Lazarus sense. Jesus is alive in the ascending to the oneness with the Father sense. But, I’m starting at the end of the story.
Starting at the beginning, Jesus’ presence is disruptive. When the angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the messiah, her life was disrupted forever. So was the life of Joseph, her fiancĂ©, and their families. 
The lives of the Magi were disrupted when they noticed a special star and chose to pack up their gear and follow it. Their lives were further disrupted when they discovered that the child for whom they searched had been born to humble parents, and not to Herod in a palace.
The lives of the closest disciples were ever changed when they met Jesus. I believe that they lived in Capernaum, and on most days, they still worked at their usual businesses. And so they usually made day trips into the various towns and villages of the Galilee from their home base. But these mission trips disrupted their working lives, and their also disrupted their understanding of God.
The everyday lives of people who were healed were disrupted. Because of their healing, they could earn a living and feed their families. They were no longer viewed as unclean, and were welcome in the temple again. Their lives were different after their disruptive encounters with Jesus.
When Mary Magdalene was healed of seven demons her old life was disrupted. She chose to follow Jesus and support him with her own money, as did several other women. Their lives, too, had been disrupted by their encounters with Jesus.
The lives of the leaders of the temple, the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and most likely many local rabbis were disrupted by Jesus as reports about him reached their ears. People were either pleased with him, or angry with him, and the leaders had to find ways to keep a close eye on him and respond to their people. All of the Galilee must have been abuzz with news of Jesus disrupting lives in good or bad ways.
As Jesus gathered followers, many believed he was the messiah, sent to gather an army and get rid of the hated Romans. Their hopes were raised as they watched and waited for Jesus to begin his rebellion. But their hopes were disrupted because Jesus was not the messiah folks wanted him to be.  Perhaps Judas was trying to force Jesus to be the messiah they were looking for. But this was not God’s plan.
The disciples’ plans were disrupted when Jesus insisted on going into Jerusalem, even though he knew it was risky. “How could they keep him safe?” they wondered. “How could they protect him when he was determined to disrupt everything?” 
Jesus disrupted the Passover meal by making strange comments, “This is my body; this is my blood.” These words disrupted the thousand-year-old ritual, and caused the disciples to wonder what Jesus meant. They would understand only after they had all the pieces to the puzzle, in three days.
All the disciples’ plans were disrupted when Jesus was arrested. They had warned him, but he wouldn’t listen. Now, how could they free him? How could they save him?
Peter’s life in particular was disrupted. The only way to free Jesus was to lie, and deny he knew Jesus. How could he get Jesus out of the clutches of the Jewish leaders and the Romans if he got caught, too?
Pilate’s life was disrupted as he was forced to deal with this revolutionary brought to him by the Jews. It was bad enough that he had to be in Jerusalem with extra troops to deal with Passover crowds. But now he also had to handle this man brought to him by the Jewish leaders. By some accounts, Pilate is quite ready to put the rebel to death; by other accounts he’s not so sure. In any case, his stressful life is made more stressful by having to interview Jesus.
Once it was clear that Jesus’ death was inevitable, the disciples’ hopes were disrupted – in reality, their hopes were shattered. The men ran, and went into hiding.
Only the women stayed with Jesus. Their love, their plans were disrupted by grief as they watched his beaten, tortured body lose its fight. They watched as Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and placed into the tomb.
John’s gospel says Mary Magdalene went alone; other accounts say other women went with her. Whether they went to anoint Jesus’ body, or simply to be near Jesus’ body as they grieved, even their grieving was disrupted. Instead of a tomb with the stone firmly in place, the tomb was empty. “Where is he? What have you done with him?” the women demand.
Angels declare, “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.” As Mary and then the other disciples wonder if Jesus really had been raised from death, Jesus disrupts their wondering by appearing in their midst, first to Mary and then to the rest of the group.
When we read further in the gospels, we discover that while the disciples would have liked nothing better than to have Jesus stick around and continue to teach them, Jesus disrupts those ideas. The disciples have work to do. He has taught them, he will give them the Holy Spirit, so they can continue his mission. Go and tell, go and share the good news. Heal, teach, disrupt other lives.
This disruption of lives continues to this day. If we pay attention, we will notice that Jesus is present with us all the time, disrupting our lives often in tiny ways and sometimes in major ways. Just when we think we have our futures figured out, Jesus disrupts our lives with a new plan. Just when we think we understand God, a new insight disrupts our thinking. Just when we think everyone we know goes to church, we meet someone who doesn’t know Jesus the way we know Jesus. And Jesus disrupts our shyness about sharing our faith, and puts his words in our mouths, and we discover we can tell others, “Jesus is risen, just as he said. And that has disrupted everything else that follows.”
Please pray with me: Risen Lord, come into our lives each day. Disrupt us, so we notice your presence. Disrupt us, so we know you more fully. Disrupt us, so we become more faithful followers. Disrupt us, so we are not afraid to go where you call us, give what you ask of us, and disrupt the lives of others with your love. Amen 

Surprise! God wants a relationship with us.

Easter Vigil
April 23, 2011

Tonight, we have heard 4 stories of our salvation history. There are many more we might have heard – the full plan for the Easter Vigil service is to hear twelve Old Testament readings, each followed by a sung psalm or other poetic responsive reading. These ancient texts remind us of how much God loves us and how much wants us to lead full lives in relationship with God.
In the reading from Genesis, God creates the world and everything that is in it, and everything is good. God made humankind in God’s own image, and made sure that the humans had everything they needed to physically survive. But God gave more than physical sustenance – being made in God’s image means we have a relationship with God shaped by God’s own being. We are designed to love and care for each other and all of creation.
In the reading from Exodus, we find the Israelites trapped between a rock and a hard place – literally between the water of the Red Sea – or Sea of Reeds – and the Egyptian warriors. They cry out to God for help, and God scratches the divine head and says, “Well, move on.”
As Moses stretches out his hand, the waters separate and the Israelites walk safely through the water. The Egyptians see the opening and plan to take advantage of it, but God says, not this time, and the waters crash in on them. God has saved the Israelite people from death. As a result the Israelites have their faith in God renewed, and the relationship between God and the people is strengthened.
The reading from Isaiah reminds us that God’s love is not for sale – it is available for free. Neither is God hard to find; God is very near to us, as close as our hearts. All nations should know what the Israelites know – that God provides. Even the rain and snow come from God to nourish the earth and make it flourish. We also hear that God is not like humans – God is merciful and offers pardon when we would not. This is a God with whom we want! to have a relationship.
The fourth Old Testament story is the familiar story of Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are among the leaders of Israel living in exile in Babylon, and trying to maintain their relationship with God. The Chaldeans are essentially court magicians and religious leaders, and they are jealous of the attention the Israelite leaders are getting from King Nebuchadnezzar. They refuse to worship the king, and the Chaldeans tattle on them. The king has no choice but to punish them.
Thrown into the fiery furnace, a fourth person is seen in the furnace with the three men, and they are unharmed by the blazing heat. We don’t know who this fourth person is, but it is likely an angel sent by God or God’s Holy Spirit. As a result of the astounding survival of the three men, King Nebuchadnezzar praises the Israelite God.
These stories plus the ones we didn’t read: Noah and the Flood, the Valley of Dry Bones, Jonah swallowed by the big fish, and five more texts, all assure us of God’s desire to do whatever is possible to have a relationship with us.
That doesn’t mean that God will cure any ill, or solve any problem, but God does act within history, sometimes in mysterious ways, sometimes through humans acting with God’s purposes in mind. These actions are designed to bring us into a closer relationship with God.
As we turn to the Gospel according to Matthew, we remember that even though Jesus told the disciples repeatedly that he would suffer and die and be raised from the dead, they found it impossible to think it would really happen. So, on the third day after Jesus’ death, as soon as possible, two Marys go to the tomb to grieve.
As they approach, an angel causes the stone to roll away from the tomb. It is such an astonishing sight that the guards – Roman soldiers! – are stunned into silence and stillness. They watch and listen, but they are powerless to act.
The angel speaks to the women, “Check it out. He’s not here. He has been raised from the dead, just like he promised you. Go and tell the other disciples, “He has gone to Galilee and will meet you there.” So the excited, amazed women run to tell the disciples. On the way back, they meet the risen Jesus. They fall to the ground and worship him. Jesus repeats what the angels said, “Tell the disciples to go to Galilee. I’ll see them there.”
Now, think about this. The two Marys have seen the risen Jesus and run to tell the others. They all pack up and head to Galilee, a trip of several days. Matthew’s story says they meet on the mountain. Matthew is not specific. Perhaps this is the familiar territory of their home town, Capernaum, on the hillside where Jesus preached the Beatitudes, the place where he knew everyone in town.
What do you suppose the conversation was like as they travelled? What stories did they tell each other? Did the other disciples really believe the women?  Did the women begin to doubt what they had seen?
When they reach the place where they would see Jesus, Matthew’s gospel wastes no time on the disciples rejoicing to be with Jesus. It’s told in half a sentence: “When they saw him they worshiped him.”
Then, in the very next sentence, Jesus tells them to go out and tell others, reaching the entire world with the message: God loves you; God forgives you; God wants to have a relationship with you. Baptize, teach, share the good news.
This message is for us, too, since we are also Jesus’ disciples. This is Easter, the time when we celebrate God’s power over death. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we know that we, too, can have a life with God after we die. This gives us hope. This gives us a connection with other believers. This is news worth sharing.
Today, more than in the past, there are countless people with absolutely no relationship with God. We can help them know Jesus by sharing our enthusiasm, our joy, in knowing God loves us and forgives us. We can tell others that God wants to have a relationship with us, and that God will go to great lengths – including the life and death of God’s Son – to let us know how much God wants this.
Please pray with me: Almighty God, we rejoice in your amazing love for us. Call us to yourself, fill us with your love, and send us out to share that love with those who don’t know you love them. Amen

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Serving in love

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday
April 21, 2011

Each year on Maundy Thursday, we read these same texts. We read about the Passover, as it has been remembered and relived for over three thousand years. It is the Jews’ story of their independence from slavery and of God’s mighty acts of salvation for an entire people.
We read the Words of Institution for Holy Communion as passed on to the Apostle Paul, and shared by him with the congregation in Corinth. The congregation had a practice of favoring the rich and powerful – each week they had a pot luck meal but by the time the least among them got there, there was no food left. Paul told them all to eat at home, and to come as equals to the Lord’s Table. The most important part of the celebration was not the good food for a few to eat, but the body and blood of Jesus to be shared by all, as they remembered together God’s mighty acts in Jesus’ life death and resurrection.
In John’s telling of Jesus’ story, the last meal Jesus shares with the disciples isn’t Passover. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Lamb of God, crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered. The main message in the gospel passage we read is that we should love one another so much that we are willing to be servants to one another. God’s mighty act is the servanthood of the Son, to the very giving of his life for us.
We resist this servanthood, both in the serving and in the being served. We substitute hand washing for foot washing because we don’t want others to see our feet – especially in a congregation where most of our feet have trod thousands of miles, and show it.
We can’t imagine ourselves being served in such a way, even if we wouldn’t mind doing the serving. Put rather bluntly, we know we could – and do – love others to the point of servanthood, but we can’t let ourselves be loved and served in the same way. Our independence, and yes, our pride, gets in the way. For most of us, it’s much easier to serve than to be served.
And yet, each week, we come to worship and to receive the body and blood of Jesus. We remember each week how Jesus has served us by giving us his very flesh and blood. We kneel, if we are able to do so, at Jesus’ feet to receive his gift of life, love, and forgiveness. We taste the bread and the wine; we swallow it and let it fill our bodies; as we digest it, it spreads to our very fingertips and toe tips.
If we are paying attention as we sip the wine, we can feel it tingle and excite every cell in our bodies. That’s how the love of Jesus feels; it excites every cell in our bodies. Can we take that same excitement and share it with others? Can we take that same love and share it with others?
Can we receive that same love as easily? “Yes,” is our automatic answer. But, let’s think about that. Too often, we believe we must earn love and forgiveness. Our societal system of checks and balances teaches us that unless we do something, we don’t get anything in return. If we’re not good enough, Jesus won’t love us. We are taught by society that some sins are too big to be forgiven. If we don’t confess and stop our sinful behavior, we deserve punishment, and Jesus can’t love us.
Too often we believe we don’t need to be served. We are not willing to receive the love and ministry of others. We prefer our independence, our self-reliance; we prefer to be in control. It’s hard for us to give up control and let ourselves be served.
But there’s no place for such thinking on this day/night, especially. Jesus lived and died and was raised so that we might know how much God loves and forgives us. So, come to the table and eat and drink and be joyful. Your sins, my sins, all sins are forgiven in the meal we have come to share. Eat heartily, drink deep, feel the tingle of Jesus’ Holy Spirit course through your body. Receive the body and blood of Jesus and rejoice in his love.
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, we come as we are. Sinful, prideful, not always loving, not always believing, not always willing to serve, not always willing to receive. Forgive us, love us, receive us, just as we are.  Amen