Saturday, April 14, 2012

Finding peace in forgiveness

1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19-31

The Great Wall of China was first built about 200 years before Christ. A major renovation occurred during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. The essential purpose of the wall was to protect the Chinese people from invasion and bring them peace.
But the strength of the defense is only as good as the people doing the defending. In one section of the wall, those forced to build the wall actually rebelled. In the 1600’s the Manchus entered China through gaps in the wall and defeated the Ming dynasty. Military and structural defenses were not enough to secure peace for China.
Ben Franklin taught us all about saving money for a rainy day: A penny saved is a penny earned. And so we saved and invested and put our money in housing because housing values always go up. We thought we were finding peace of mind by having lots of money saved for our future.
But we weren’t counting on the greed of bankers and financial agencies, and even our own tendency to want more than we should have. We believed in the lies that we could have our cake and eat it too, and many of us lost a lot more than we could afford to lose when the market crashed in 2008. We discovered that there is no real peace in financial or real estate assets.   
Several times a day, we hear messages on TV and in the newspaper about healthy eating. Drink coffee; don’t drink coffee. Don’t eat butter; butter is better for you than margarine. Count carbs; count calories; count fat. Do yoga; do Pilates; swim; walk 10,000 steps a day. We keep hoping to find the magic way to peace through eating just the right foods, doing just the right exercise.
Our bodies do feel better when we treat them right. But every body is different, and responds differently to food and exercise. Every body has its own DNA coding for the tendency to have cancer or heart disease or diabetes. It’s important to take good care of our bodies, for physical and spiritual reasons; Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples. But just because we treat our bodies well does not mean we will not die; there is no real peace in healthy living.
On the evening of Easter day, Jesus pops into the room where the disciples are. They are all in a muddle, trying to piece together the mystery surrounding Jesus’ death and the report by Mary that she has seen the Lord. On that first night, Thomas the skeptic is not with them.
When Jesus appears, he seeks to calm them down, just as angels do when they suddenly appear. I imagine the pulse and blood pressure of the disciples is soaring, and the adrenaline is pumping. What’s going on here!  
“Do not be afraid. Shalom,” Jesus says. “Peace. It really is I, Jesus, the one you know, the one who loves you. See, I can prove it. You can see the wounds. Look at my hands, my feet, my side.”  
They look at him and calm down. And Jesus repeats himself. “Peace, shalom. Not the world’s kind of peace, the peace found in military might, or in wealth, or in self-care. But God’s kind of peace, the kind of peace found in eternal life with God. I want you to go into the world and spread my peace everywhere so all people may know their sins are forgiven.”

Martin Luther sought peace. He spent hours confessing every sin he could remember. Just when he thought he had named them all and was leaving the confessional, he remembered more sins, and returned to confess them so he could be absolved of all his sins. He physically abused his body in self-flagellation. He climbed the steps of St. Peter’s on his knees.
Luther hoped to find peace in forgiveness, but could never accept that God really does forgive us. His confessor finally directed him to teach the Bible to others. It was in studying scripture that he discovered Paul’s writings and realized that there was no need to worry.
“God is faithful, and just, and forgives sins. Yes, people sin. If people deny their sinfulness, they are lying to themselves. If people refuse to accept forgiveness, they are saying that God is a liar.”
Suddenly, Luther was on fire – he was forgiven, not because he confessed all his sins, not because he tore the skin off his back with a whip, not because he made a pilgrimage to Rome. He was forgiven because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! He was forgiven because Jesus promised us that God forgives sins, and God does not lie!
In the certainty of the forgiveness of sins, Luther finally found peace. And he could not keep it to himself. The Church (capital “C” Church) and the world changed because Luther discovered that God forgives sin when we simply confess that we are sinful people and ask for forgiveness for that sinfulness.
For us today, this is still true. There is no real peace to be found in having a strong military; there is no real peace to be found in having a lot of money or stuff; there is no real peace to be found in a certain style of living; there is no real peace to be found in dwelling on our sinfulness or the sinfulness of others.
This week, think about where you find peace. Do a reality check to see if the places where you think you find peace is really where you find peace.
How do you go about getting peace? Do you intentionally spend time with Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen your relationship with God?
When we fail to offer or accept forgiveness, it interferes with our ability to find peace. Do you believe in Jesus’ promises of peace and forgiveness? Do you ask God for forgiveness and then receive it? Do you forgive yourself? Do you forgive others?
The only real peace is found in a relationship with a loving and forgiving God. Jesus happily passes on this kind of peace, this shalom, to all of God’s people. And, he asks us to be his hands and feet and mouth as we share that peace, that shalom, that forgiveness with the rest of the world.
Please pray with me. Forgiving God, we find it so hard to forgive, and so hard to ask for forgiveness. We find it hard to believe that you really do forgive us. We often feel no peace, because we are troubled by this need for forgiveness. Grant us forgiveness and peace in our hearts so that others may be led to you through our own sense of peace and forgiveness. Amen

Children’s message
Sharing the peace in church is not just a time to say hi, or let’s have a cookie after worship. It’s a time to tell each other we want them to have God’s peace in their hearts. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Can we get a witness?

April 8, 2012
1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from death after three days in the tomb. Do you ever find yourself wondering if these claims of resurrection are true? Scientifically speaking, the resurrection is pretty unbelievable. We all know that dead is dead. We have buried a lot of loved ones and friends over the years, and we have never seen any of them walking around and talking with us three days later.
Yes, we all have heard of people being brought back to life after an accident or heart attack. Some of them tell us of a white light, a sense of peace, a vision of loved ones, and a few speak about a vision of Jesus or some being they just “know” is God. But these folks have been resuscitated after a short time, an hour or less, mostly, and they do die and get buried eventually.  Jesus was dead for days, and is still alive two thousand years later!
It is pretty incredible! That’s what the Apostle Paul is saying here. He began persecuting those who believed in Jesus, discrediting the witnesses who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. He said they were hysterical, grieving, could not possibly have seen and experienced what they claimed to have seen and experienced.
That is, Paul didn’t believe what the disciples and other believers said, until he had an experience of the risen Jesus himself. From that moment on, he became Jesus’ biggest fan. He never felt worthy to be called an apostle, but became passionate about serving Jesus in that role. Paul mentions as proof of the resurrection the faith and experiences Peter and the disciples, and many other witnesses of the risen Jesus. He is passing on what witnesses have told him, just as they have told it, and as he himself has experienced it.
As these early witnesses and Paul began to consider what it meant that Jesus was alive again, they determined five simple truths. Our theologians have elaborated on these truths, but some days, like Easter Sunday, it’s good to return to the basics.
Jesus is God’s Son; and not just God’s Son, but God’s own being with skin on. We know what God is like because of Jesus’ presence on earth.
God is more powerful than death. Therefore, death is not the final word of our lives. There is life beyond death, life in God’s presence.
God loves all of creation, including all humans, so much that God was willing to send God’s very own Son to die and be raised to life again for us.
God is passionately concerned about justice for all people. Jesus’ life, preaching, teaching, healing, and touching gave proof that we are commanded to love God with our entire beings and to show God’s kind of love to our neighbors as well.
This love of God for us has absolutely nothing to do with human activity. We are loved by God whether we like it or not, whether we think we deserve it or not, whether our neighbors think we deserve it or not. In this is grace -- undeserved forgiveness; and salvation – a covenant relationship with God for all of our days.
... Paul’s world was filled with those who could not believe in the resurrected Jesus. It was through the stories told by the witnesses that the good news of the resurrection spread, and spread, and spread, in spite of persecution and torture and death.
We are believers in Jesus today because our parents, grandparents, God-parents, Sunday school teachers, and neighbors have witnessed to us. They told us the stories of Jesus, and helped us meet him through their life stories. Without these witnesses, we would not be gathered here this morning celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.
Our world – our immediate community, even – is filled with people who may believe in the resurrected Jesus, but don’t know what it means for them. Our world – our immediate community – is filled with people who don’t even know Jesus loves them and died for them and was raised for them.
Such people need us to be witnesses, so they, too, can come to believe in the good news of God’s love for God’s people. It is up to us to tell our stories of faith to those who don’t believe, who don’t know, who are looking for something, but can’t figure out what it is they are looking for. It is up to us to say that we believe God loves us, forgives us, wants a relationship with us, and wants us to be instruments of justice for all people.
Those first witnesses were not afraid to tell others about Jesus, even though they risked their lives in doing so. In our society, we do not risk our lives when we tell others what Jesus has done for us. There are lots of people around us hoping for just such a story. Why not tell them yours and be a witness of this good news?
Please pray with me: Jesus, we are so grateful for your love for us, and for the courage and passion of all those witnesses who have gone before us. Grant us the courage to be today’s witnesses to all you have done for us. In your holy name, amen.

Mark 16.1-8
The Good News Continues

The women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the  mother of James, and Salome, spoke with the young man, and ran away, amazed and afraid. That’s it – that’s all there is to Mark’s resurrection story.

It seems to be a strange ending, but it matches the beginning very well. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The good news has not ended, it continues to this day.

Jesus has been raised from the dead. Death is no longer the final word for our lives.

The women and the male disciples were sent by the young man: go from this tomb to Galilee to tell the good news. The word of Jesus’ resurrection spread like wildfire. It continues to spread, as people everywhere need to share and hear such good news.

As Mark tells the story of Jesus, the male disciples don’t really understand what Jesus is doing. The female disciples seem to have a better understanding, but here at the tomb, they don’t seem to “get it” either. They run away, amazed and terrified. The only ones who supposedly get it are Mark, who tells us the story, and us, the readers of all time and all places.

Let us be amazed, this day, but let us not be silent, terrified to speak of the good news. The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God does not end when the gospel text ends, but it continues to this day.

Let us go from here and say “Jesus is risen! And that has made all the difference in my life. It can make all the difference in your life as well.”