Saturday, May 7, 2011

What gets us excited?

Luke 24:13-35

In today’s Gospel reading, this time from Luke, it’s still Easter Day – the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The women had told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. They had seen him on the road back to the place where the disciples were staying. But the other disciples still had not seen him.

As they waited and hoped for Jesus’ return, they must have expected him to appear in certain ways, perhaps a big “Ta-da!” as they opened the door to find him standing there. They probably expected him to look just like he always looked as they traveled from town to town in Galilee; or they expected to see the wounds from the beating and the crown of thorns, and the nail holes.

As the day drew to an end, the disciples in our story had given up hope of seeing him again. The three days Jesus had mentioned had come and gone, and they still hadn’t seen him. Cleopas and companion – perhaps his wife, perhaps a friend – walked dejectedly away from Jerusalem; they grieved as they walked, just as we all grieve when someone dies. Jesus was dead, and he was never coming back. The Romans had killed him, and that was the end of the story, the end of all they hoped for.

As they walked, a stranger joined them on the road. They didn’t recognize him; why they didn’t know him is a mystery to us. Perhaps he looked physically different; perhaps he prevented them from knowing him. Maybe Jesus wanted first to help them understand how his life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the promises in scripture. Once he had taught them, he allowed them to really see him. Just like magic, in the breaking of the bread, the disciples were suddenly able to see that the stranger was Jesus.

They finished their meal and headed immediately back to Jerusalem. They had about two hours of walking in which to reflect on what had just happened. They realized that their hearts burned with the passion of their faith in Jesus, even before they knew Jesus had been with them all along.

When Cleopas and companion got back to Jerusalem they found the other disciples were as excited as they were. Simon Peter had also seen Jesus and shared his story with the disciples in Jerusalem. As they all shared their stories of seeing Jesus alive again, suddenly he was in the room with them. Can you imagine the excitement, the passion they experienced? Can you feel the joy they felt?

Weeks later, Peter testified to the crowds that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lord God. Peter invited the crowd to repent, to claim the promise of God, and to receive the Holy Spirit. His passionate sermon brought 3,000 people to believe in Jesus. Can you imagine the excitement of these brand new disciples?

It’s hard, two weeks after Easter, when we have all returned to “normal” life, to remember the joy that our Easter celebrations brought. It’s even harder to maintain that excitement 2,000 years after the resurrection. Yet, this is what these stories are hoping to evoke in us – a sense of the excitement and passionate faith and joy of the first disciples, the eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

When something gets us excited, we can’t wait to tell someone else about it.

The re-opening of Mango Grill in its new location in Hernando got some of us excited. We talked about what it was like, and about how the service was, and the need for reservations.

Mike and I saw the movie “The King’s Speech” and told others how good it was, and recommended they go see it.

The latest Survivor contestant who is blindsided and voted off gets us excited.

New babies get us excited. Ask anyone about the newest baby in their life, and they will show pictures, and tell stories about how special the child is. The same is true for pets, by the way. Have I told you about our cats lately? J

Many – almost all – of us have grown up believing in Jesus. The news that God loves us and that God’s Son lived, died and was raised for us sometimes seems like old news, and fails to get us excited. It’s not something we rush to share with our friends.

But for some people, the resurrection is powerful news. At this week’s Synod Assembly, Ruben Duran spoke about his own experience. His boyhood was filled with teasing and attempts to bully him. He was born in Peru, so he was an immigrant, and he had an unusual name. Both made him the target of taunts intended to humiliate him. He was taught to see himself as a second class person, not the same status as his white classmates and neighbors.

This poor self-perception continued into adulthood, even as he followed God’s call to be a pastor. He described being in worship class at seminary. A fixed-camera video was made as he practiced the liturgy for Holy Communion. He began well enough, in the center of the altar, but for most of the video, he was not visible because he was standing at the edge of the table. He didn’t believe he belonged in the center; that place was reserved for white people.

It was when he studied the scriptures and theology related to baptism that he began to understand himself differently. We are all equals, all children of God, members of the priesthood of all believers.

For Ruben, this was astounding, life-changing news. Jesus lived, died, and was raised, even for someone like him. For Ruben, Easter is exciting news to share with all people, but especially with people who don’t think God cares about them, who have such low self-esteem that they don’t believe they are worthy of God’s love.

Ruben is passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone who will listen and come to have faith in him. And he makes his point with this joke: In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “Go, make disciples.” But Lutherans say, “Here I stand.”

I have a couple of questions for you, and they are the challenge for the week. Think about this. If we keep our faith to ourselves, how will anyone else come to have faith? If we are not excited about Jesus, about loving and serving him in response to his love and service for us, why would people want to join us?

We are not asked to help people believe. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But we have been called in baptism to spread the good news as if it really is good news, with excitement and passion and joy.

For now, let us greet each other with Easter joy. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thomas, passionate doubter and passionate believer

John 20:19-38
for Healing Service May 4 2011

In just these few verses from John’s Gospel, we see Thomas deny the possibility of the resurrection: dead is dead, and he knew it. ... And we see him fall to the ground and worship Jesus with just as much certainty.

How often in our lives have we been Thomas, demanding proof, insisting something just wasn’t possible? How often, also, have we declared our faith so strongly we fell to the floor to worship God, or at least imagined ourselves doing so?

A life of faith is often like that, moments of doubt or denial, accompanied by even stronger faith and trust in God’s power and presence.

Nettie had a rock-solid faith. She lived in a dangerous part of Chicago, on the south side near the hospital where I worked for a summer. Because there were often bullets spraying around the neighborhood, they rarely spent time in the living room in the front of the house. Mostly they spent their time in the back of the house, in the dining room and kitchen, where it was a bit safer.

Because of the way things were in that part of Chicago, Nettie had nieces and nephews and grandchildren living with her, because others were not reliable parents, or had been killed by stray bullets. She was always surrounded by a noisy, cheerful gaggle of family members. She and her strong faith brought sunshine to a dark neighborhood in a challenging time.

Nettie had diabetes, and had already had the lower portion of her right leg removed. When she wanted to get around she attached the prosthetic leg and went wherever she wanted to. She perched on a stool in the kitchen to cook meals for her family. She was slower than she had once been, but she was determined losing a leg was not going to limit her.

When I met Nettie, she was in the hospital because the left foot was infected. As I visited with her, she said, “I just wish they would cut it off, because it hurts me so much.” She said this even though it would really interfere with her ability to get around. Even if she moved slowly, with one sore foot and one prosthetic leg, she could still get herself up and down the stairs to her house. She could still go upstairs to the bedroom when she wanted to.

With both legs gone, it would be a different story. She would be much more dependent on a wheelchair, and she would need help getting into and out of the house. For the rest of her life, she would sleep in a room on the first floor. At least it would be in the back of the house, where it was safer.

At this point, the doctors had done all they could for her, and it was time for the leg to be removed. I prayed with Nettie before the surgery, and checked with her later in the day. She was sitting up in bed with her prosthetic leg on the right leg, and bandages on the left leg. Several members of her family were there, and they were all laughing and telling stories.

Nettie was always like that. Whatever she faced, she faced it head on, knowing she could manage it, with God’s help. I’m sure she must have had times when she wasn’t sure God was there, that God didn’t care that she lived in constant danger, both from infections and from the gangs in the neighborhood. But when I was with her, her faith was so solid, she just knew she would be all right, if the doctors could simply end her pain. She went home a day later, to heal and do therapy, and learn to live with two prosthetic legs. Her strong faith would get her through this new trial.

... Thomas’ strong faith would get him through all the trials he faced as well. We don’t know for sure what happened to Thomas, but traditions say he went to share the good news in India. I’m sure he took his certain faith with him, and brought others to worship Jesus just as passionately as he did.

Today, we can pray that our faith will remain as strong as Thomas’ faith, once he realized that God can do what seems to be impossible. Or at least as strong as Nettie’s faith, as she faced health challenges.

Please pray with me: Loving God, be patient with us when we doubt you, and  strengthen our faith in those moments. Lead us to such strong faith that we are able to declare with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Amen