Recognizing Jesus

donation bucket

Luke 24: 13 – 35 – On the Road to Emmaus

When was the last time you caught a glimpse of Jesus?  Our Easter stories are filled with Jesus sightings so this is a good time to try to be alert for Jesus at work in the world.

When I was at my first church in West Roxbury, one of my favorite signs of spring were the bucket men.  I’m afraid I don’t know what else to call them.  As the snow disappeared, there was a group of black men who appeared at the busy intersection of Rt. 1 and the VFW Highway.  They wore suits or dress shirts and ties, covered by bright yellow and orange vests.  Their colorful spring plumage was vivid against the not-yet-green of the still bleak landscape.

They carried large, plastic buckets that said, “Feed Hungry Children.” I didn’t know who they were.  I simply trusted there was a good purpose that had them standing for hours in the cold wind, the drizzling rain, and the spitting, sleety mess that we often call spring around here.

They would approach each waiting car with a smile and a cheerful wave, moving easily along the line of closed windows on either side of them.  I imagined person after person staring straight ahead in their comfy climate controlled cars waiting impatiently for the light to change so they could speed along their way.

I always opened my window as soon as I saw them so they would know they would find welcome along the way.  I scrambled for loose change in my cup holder or whatever bills I had stuffed in my wallet.  Then I waited for a man with a bucket to come to my window and give me a smile.

That particular day, as I dropped all the coins I had through the rectangle hole cut in the lid of the bucket, I said, “You are one of my sure signs of spring! Thank you for what you are doing for children in need.”  He grinned at me and said, “No one’s ever told me that.  I like being a sign of spring! You take care now! God bless you!”

Perhaps still raw from a hectic Holy week, some gush of emotion, some broken remnant of Easter Alleluia, came rising out of me all of a sudden, and my eyes welled with tears.  Around the lump in my throat I said, “I can’t remember the last time someone blessed me, thank you.”

Suddenly serious, he looked at me from the cold, drizzling rain as I sat in my comfy climate controlled car, and he said, “Ma’am, don’t you let anybody ever steal your joy.”  He leaned closer and smiled at me.  I smiled back at him through the rainbow of tears in my eyes.

And the world stopped for a moment.

And then, BAM! There it was! God’s kingdom!

Not in the handful of scrounged coins, or even in the bucket for a worthy cause.  God’s kingdom was, and is, in that silent place between strangers who have just recognized that they are related…that silent place where you suddenly feel connected to someone else heart to heart…that sacred place beyond words where you feel the spiritual threads that weave all creation into one living organism.

God’s kingdom is to be found in that consecrated space between heartbeats….that holy place of unexpected Blessing…

He leaned back and nodded to me. He tapped the back of my hand with his finger and moved on. I watched him through my rear-view mirror, shuffling down the narrow path between cars, waving and smiling.

I hoped to see another open window welcoming him along his way, but there wasn’t one.  I watched as he vanished from my sight, praying…open…open…open…

Then the light changed.

It was time to move on…..

As I watched him carrying out his ministry in the world, in the cold and wet, I thought, “He blessed me?”  And I thought, “Hosanna, blessed is HE…blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord with a blessing on his lips, healing in his words, and love for a stranger in his heart.”

I headed off realizing I was driving on the road to Emmaus that morning…

…and I’d just run into Jesus with a bucket in his hand.

 

A Candle Is Lit

Waterfire 4 (2)WaterFire – Providence, RI – Beacon of Hope

Night falls
A gong sounds
Soft celestial music plays
A man in black lights a candle
A journey begins

A candle is lifted
and with it, a loved one
a spouse, a child, a parent,
a neighbor, a friend
a community
is also lifted and carried along
gently, tenderly
we are all carried
together

One candle becomes every candle
ever lit against the darkness
each candle, is a life
every precious life ever lost
through each candle
for a moment
we are all connected
together
in spirit

A journey is shared
each journey a farewell
as a candle is carried
measured steps
marking the memories of a life
together we weep
and mourn
and remember
all those lost
but never forgotten

A pause
a crescendo of angel voices
the light is held up high
a beacon in the night
an inspiration for hope
an invitation to heal
some deep broken place
begins to mend

A journey ends
A candle finds its place
One among many
A life is honored
A spirit flies free
Our spirits are lifted

In the darkness
something is lost
and, something is found
peace and comfort
compassion and beauty
a moment of calm in the chaos
safe harbor in the storm
A journey ends
Home at last

Night falls
A gong sounds
soft celestial music plays
a man in black lights a candle
shining our way
through the darkness.

Thank you, Barnaby.

Thank you, WaterFire.

 

Humble Yourselves

foot-washing 1

James 4: 1 – 10

When I started Seminary, it had been almost 30 years since I had been in a classroom.  I was really excited about going to graduate school because I had always loved school.  I was excited about learning and being on a campus again.

I was also terrified that I wouldn’t “hack” it.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the reading.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to memorize for tests any more…I was filled with fear and trembling.

And I became obsessed with my grades.

I thought it was weird, actually, how much an “A” meant to me.  I joked about it with friends and classmates, and I finally accepted that for reasons I didn’t quite understand, I needed that acknowledgement, that re-assurance, those accolades, and that pat on the back.

James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask out of your own needs and desires, in order to spend what you get on your own pleasures….Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

Too often, We pray for the things that we want, that we desire, the things we enjoy, and the outcomes we prefer.  We work for the things that give us pleasure…rather than the things that give God pleasure.

As Christians, I think one of the greatest challenges for us is realizing and acknowledging that too often our desires for ourselves, and our churches, and our world, are NOT always God’s desire for us.  There is a war going on in most of us.  A war between our desire to serve God and our desire to succeed, to fit in, to accomplish, and to excel.

How can we reconcile these diametrically opposed desires?  How do we resist conforming and going along with what the world tells us is important?  How do we resist the devil that is our own ego?

 James says, “Submit yourselves to God…humble yourselves before the God, and God will exalt you.”  We must Humble ourselves.

And it’s surprising how hard that can be

…and it’s surprising just how rewarding it can be….

I recently heard an interview on the radio with a doctor that has volunteered for many years to work with the homeless here in Boston.  He talked about the first time he went to Pine Street Inn as a resident. He thought he was going there to ask questions about alcohol and drug use, to get family medical histories, to check blood pressure, take temperatures, and prescribe medicine.

When he got there, the young doctor was told he was there to help wash feet.  He was completely taken aback.  He thought, “What does washing feet have to do with practicing medicine?” But he said he begrudgingly got on his knees, and starting washing the first man’s feet.

He soaked and washed the caked and filthy feet clean.  Then he gently dried them.  Then he put lotions and unquents on the sores and blisters he discovered all over the newly cleaned skin.  He said that by the time he was putting clean white socks on the man’s feet, he was weeping.

He said that he learned in that moment what it truly meant to serve others, that kneeling before this unnamed, unknown man, completely changed the dynamic between them.  Kneeling, put the patient in charge.  Kneeling at his feet, gave his patient all the power.  And he said that for him, it was deeply humbling….

He said from that moment on, he never forgot that his patients were human beings…and that he was there to serve them.

It is challenging…to humble ourselves.  But we are not called by God to exalt ourselves.  We are not called by God to be great.  We are called by God to be good.  We are called by God to be faithful.  We are called by God to serve others.

 In my years since seminary, I have learned that,

 -Diplomas and grades don’t make a good Pastor.

 -Medals, citations, and trophies, can’t be fed to those who are hungry.

 -Promotions and advancements up the ladder, don’t rescue lost children.

 -Touchdowns, home runs, and winner’s circles don’t house the homeless or give succor to the sick. 

 James says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that God has made to dwell in us.. …God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”

When I interview with churches, no one ever asks me what grades I got in Seminary.  They know my grades won’t tell them anything about who I am or who I will be as their Pastor.  And for me, It wasn’t the A’s and B’s in Seminary, that deepened my experience of God.

It has been my service to my churches, and to my family and friends, and those I am able to help along life’s road, that has deepened my experience of God, and given me clearer glimpses of God’s intentions for how we are to be together, and how we can best be God’s kingdom here on earth.  It is through our service to each other and to those in need.

Jesus tells us, “Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all, and servant to all.”  James tells us where to begin…. “Submit yourselves to God…humble yourselves before God, and God will exalt you.”  Put your life in God’s hands, and God will lift you up.  Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.

Encouraging Words

thumbs-up blue

James 3: 1 – 10

Two weeks ago, James instructed us to “be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger, and to welcome with humility the implanted word.”

Today, James urges us not just to be slow to speak but to learn to tame our tongues.  He says the tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  This image of a venomous serpent, residing in our mouths, ready to strike and wound unsuspecting victims, stills seems very apropo in today’s world.

As little kids, when someone would make fun of us, we would often chant, sticks and stones, may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…but it’s not true!  Words do hurt us.  If there is anything mightier than the pen, it is the tongue.  What we say, and how we use our words, has tremendous power to harm or to heal.

James says, “With our tongue, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth, come blessing and cursing.  This ought not be so.

Our Words can build up or tear down.  Words can solve problems and words can create problems.  Words can be weapons…and words can be healing balm.  Words can be the wind beneath our wings, and, words can cut us into little pieces and leave us shattered and broken.

We get to choose our words – and James cautions us to choose our words carefully.  He warns us, “No one can tame the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

There are so many ways, words can poison.  Ill said words, angry words, thoughtless, harsh words, put downs, trash talking, and gossip, especially gossip, can wound in ways that may never heal.  Harsh words are like barbed hooks, they imbed themselves in our hearts, in our egos, in our self-esteem, and in our deepest psyche.

Hurtful words can fester and poison how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others, how we feel about God, how we feel about life, and how we live in and view the world.  It is difficult to dislodge harsh and harmful words.  Sometimes, we can forgive, but sometimes, it’s a lifelong struggle to overcome and let go of wounding words.

Part of our journey in becoming more deeply Christian is giving careful thought to how we use the power of our words.  Because words are powerful – God speaks creation into being – God says, “Let there be light, and there is light.”  Jesus was God’s Word made flesh.  Words carry great power and great responsibility.

To bridle our wild and insolent tongues, James encourages us, to take care to encourage others…to bless them and not curse them.  The power of our words must be taken very seriously, because we can shape and mold and influence the people around us with our words.

 There is a fairly famous study where two High School classes got mixed up and the “advanced” students were designated as the “remedial” class, and the “remedial class” was designated as the “advanced” students.

It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that the “remedial” class that was thought to be “advanced”, and told that they were advanced, got excellent grades and excelled, while the “advanced” class that was thought to be “remedial,” began having poor grades and they started displaying behavioral issues.

Study after study shows that if you tell students, that they are smart, gifted, hard-workers, they believe you and they perform well and get high grades.  If you tell students they are useless, stupid, and worthless, they believe you, and they flunk out.

This theory also applies to employees, co-workers, children, and even beloved spouses.  It applies to immigrants, prisoners, poor people, homeless people, all people are affected by the words we use with them and about them.  And the words we choose, shape our attitudes towards them, and how we treat them.

Words are so powerful.

I once heard a Ted talk given by a teacher named Rita Pierson.  She was an educator for over 40 years and was a champion of education reform for most of those years.  Rita tells of having classes so academically deficient, that she would cry.

Then she says, “One year I came up with a bright idea. 

I told all my students, “You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it….

…and I gave them a saying to say, “I am somebody.  I was somebody when I came.  I’ll be a better somebody when I leave.  I am powerful, and I am strong.  I deserve the education that I get here.  I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.”

You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you…

One day, Rita gave the students a quiz, 20 questions.  One student missed 18.  She put a “+2” on his paper with a big smiley face.

He said, “Ms. Pierson, is this an F?”

She said, “Yes.”

He said, “Then why’d you put a smiley face?”

She said, “Because you’re on a roll.  You got two right.  You didn’t miss them all….and when we review this, won’t you do better?”

He brightened up and said, “Yes, ma’am, I can do better.”

Rita said to her listeners, “You see, “minus 18” sucks the life out of you.  “Plus 2” says, “I ain’t all bad.”  Plus 2, gives you hope.

“You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you…”

That’s the power and the curse of words…you say something long enough, or someone says it to you long enough, and it starts to be a part of you, for better or worse.  That’s why choosing our words with care and thought and love and compassion is so important.

We each have the power to bless or to curse.

 James warns us, “the tongue is a fire.”  It can burn and torment, or it can warm and nurture.  Rita says, “start with the simple things.”  Remember the basics of ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘that’s great’, ‘I appreciate your efforts.’

As Christians, we are taught to say, “please forgive me my trespasses against you, as I forgive your trespasses against me.”  As Christians, we use the words: Forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, acceptance, welcome, peace, and justice…these are powerful life-changing, world-changing words.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, these words imbed in us, they become us, and we more deeply become these words.  We become God’s words in the world. We become words of hope, words of joy, words of faith, and words of love.  We become God’s encouraging words.

Blessing or curse.  Every time we open our mouths, we get to choose.  Let us choose wisely and well.

Remember, you are somebody… and you are somebody’s… ..you are God’s beloved child.  You are powerful, and you are strong.  You are becoming more deeply Christian each and every day. 

 You say it long enough, and it will never stop being a part of you.

You say it long enough, and it will become true.

Being Bread

breads variety

Gospel of John 6: 48 – 58

Jesus says, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood, my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  One young student who heard this passage for the first time said, “Yuck!!  Gross!”  Is Jesus really talking about ritual cannibalism?  We can understand why some of the disciples in the crowd ask for clarification, especially the Jews in the crowd.

The idea of eating someone’s flesh only appears in the Hebrew Bible as a metaphor for great hostility and the drinking of blood was considered an abomination, forbidden by God’s law.  So, when the Jews wonder, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  It seems a reasonable question even today!  What is Jesus talking about when he says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood?

One thing to consider is how the Gospel of John opens.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  Jesus is the Living Word, the Word incarnate, the Word made flesh, so Jesus wants his disciples to “eat his words,” to take them in, to listen to what he wants to teach them about God and God’s kingdom.

In the Hebrew scriptures, “eating the bread of heaven” is a metaphor for being taught the word of God, God’s statutes, and God’s laws.  Jesus wants his disciples to consume God’s word, and as the embodiment of God’s Word, Jesus is playing with words, to make his point.

Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  Let’s think for a minute…What happens when we eat? 

When we eat, we are sustained and nourished, and what we eat also becomes a part of us: nutrients, minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, and fats, are absorbed into our bodies and dispersed throughout us building up our muscle, nerves, our immune system, and providing energy for the creation and re-creation of cells, and all the other activities of the miracle that makes up our human be-ing.

There is an expression that “we are what we eat,” and we are learning more and more that what we eat can affect our health, our mood, our endurance, our brain function, our energy level, even how we think, and how we feel about the world can all be influenced by what we take into our bodies on a regular basis.

What we consume becomes woven into our very being.  It becomes an integral, inseparable part of who we are.  Jesus, the Word incarnate, wants us to feed on the Word of God, to ingest God’s word, to incorporate – take into our body, into our whole self – what he wants to teach us about being in relationship with God.

Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Through Communion, we unite through and with Christ and with each other, and become God’s Living Word, God’s Living Bread, and we are called by Christ to feed and nourish all those we encounter in our lives.  We are all bread, the multitude of loaves meant to feed a hungry world.  But being bread in a hungry world is a challenging call!  It’s scary to think about being bread!  In my house, fresh bread gets gobbled up until every crumb is gone!

So one fear is that if we are bread for others, there won’t be enough of us to go around.  Taking care of children, spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow parishioners, is daunting – pouring ourselves into all we do is exhausting and can leave us feeling depleted.

We can take heart because Jesus promises to nourish and sustain us.  Remember the miracle of the fishes and the loaves!  Jesus can take whatever we have to offer, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem, how inadequate for the task, and multiply it beyond anything we can imagine.

Our promise of help is also carried within the TrinityJesus replenishes us for the work we are called to do.  The Spirit inspires and revitalizes us.  God always meets us more than half-way.  With God all things are possible – God doesn’t hold us to impossible standards.  God accepts our offering, whatever it may be, and makes it enough, and more than enough.

Another fear of being bread for others is that we will be consumed and there will be nothing left.  When my kids were little – I would sometimes feel like a piece of bread floating in a pond with little fish nibbling and nipping off little bites of me.  I was afraid they would nibble away until nothing of me remained, or I completely dissolved away.

Do you ever feel that the demands and stresses of life are claiming little bits of you every day?  Do you ever feel that you are losing little pieces of yourself all along life’s way?  That you are leaving a little trail of bread crumbs behind you that are just being gobbled up?  And you’re not sure you will be able to find your way home when they are all gone?

Well, just remember Jesus promise to come look for us when we are lost, and to carry us safely home across his shoulders.  Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.  Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live with me…

and because of me.” 

That’s how we can dare to be bread for the world. 

Jesus reminds us that relationship is a two-way street.  When we receive the Bread of life, when we receive Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, Jesus’ life, Jesus’ essence seeps into our bones and muscle.

God’s Word becomes the meat of our bodies, courses through our veins, and flows into our Spirits, until God’s Word can no longer be taken from our lives any more than our breakfasts can be plucked from our stomachs.

When we receive Jesus, we become a part of Jesus sacrifice, that new covenant, that joyful union that promises us resurrection…each and every day a resurrection, each and every day, new life in and through Jesus Christ.

When we gather at Christ’s table, we unite with our Savior and we are saved, and through this union with Jesus we are led to re-union with God.

As we eat this bread and drink this cup, we become a part of Jesus and Jesus becomes a part of us.  And, together, all of us together, we become God’s living Word.

We become God’s living bread…living bread for nourishing each other…

….and living bread to feed a hungering world.

 

Wind and Fire

flaming dove

PENTECOST!  Acts 2: 1 – 21

We have spent our Easter Season in quarantine, hiding behind our doors right along with the disciples. Although their numbers have increased, they are still hunted and in hiding.  There is still a decree that forbids anyone teaching or preaching in Jesus name. They have gathered, in hiding, as a community to wait and pray together.

How did they feel? These people gathered in this dangerous place during difficult times of upheaval, uncertainty, unrest, oppression, and fear; waiting for something Holy to happen?  They were living in the vagueness of something coming. They were in a time of uncomfortable “unknowing”.

Just as we are living in an uncomfortable time of not knowing what lies on the road ahead for us. We are also living in times of upheaval, uncertainty, unrest, oppression, and fear.  And, like these disciples, we pray together, waiting and yearning for something Holy to happen.

The disciples are gathered together praying and the much anticipated day of Pentecost comes! Just as in the beginning of creation, when the winds of God swept over the face of the waters, the wind of God now fills the house.  And just as God declared, ‘Let there be light’, there were now tongues of flame as the spirit filled all those present.

The entire gathered community participates in this baptism of fire that doesn’t burn flesh, but instead ignites hearts, and sets their faith on fire.

I always look forward to the excitement and energy of Pentecost! After all these weeks, the disciples are finally driven by the spirit to go out, out into the world!  I love this day of noise and light, wind and flame….but today, today, as I read about the wind and flames of Pentecost, I can only see cities burning, and I can only hear a man begging to breathe.

We have been in quarantine while the disciples have hidden in fear all Easter Season. We have been living with communal fear in a way many of us have never experienced fear.  It is frustrating, and exhausting, and depressing, to feel we cannot move freely about the world without fear and extreme safety precautions.

But our Brothers and Sisters of color have lived in fear behind closed doors for all of their lives. Our Brothers and Sisters of color are unable to move freely about the world, without fear and extreme safety precautions, every single day of their lives.

We hope for the day we can resume our usual routines, and get back to business as usual, with a sense of safety and confidence. Our Brothers and Sisters of color have been hoping and praying for such a day for decades…for generations.

We are all yearning to get out, to burst free, and feel safe from Covid…our brothers and sisters of color simply want to feel safe…

…safe to jog down the street, safe to go birding in a public park, safe to express an opinion, safe to play in their own yard, safe driving a car alone at night, safe entering a restaurant or store, safe sleeping in their own bed or sitting on their own couch watching TV, safe, even when being arrested.

In his parable of the wineskins, Jesus says that new wine will burst old wineskins.

In our story of Pentecost, the disciples ARE the new wine – bursting forth to break old conventions, to break down the barriers between people, and to break old patterns of living and being together.

The Holy spirit drives the Jesus movement public – and finally, the disciples come charging out from behind closed doors – into the debate – speaking the languages of all people.  The spirit leads them out into conversation with the world, to be God’s new day dawning.

We are living in a new day and a new time when all people are realizing that we are interwoven, interconnected, and like it or not, interdependent upon each other.  The world is in a time of rapid change. We are all wondering what has changed in the world around us while we’ve been in quarantine.

We are have conversations about how church and worship and work and family life is changing…..the world is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up…

But this past week illustrates that it is long past time for change…. it is time for us to talk about what NEEDS to change in our world, in our country, in our own hearts and minds in order for us to build God’s kingdom of freedom and equality for ALL people...

What needs to happen for every man, woman, and child, no matter their color, their sexual expression, their immigration status, to feel AND, more important, to BE safe to live lives in peace and harmony, to be valued, and to know that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God.

What do we as Christians need to do to spread and live Jesus message of God’s love and justice for ALL people?

So many things are changing. And, it is time for many things to change.

It is Pentecost! The Spirit is loose! God’s winds of change are blowing! May they blow through our hearts and set our faith on fire.

On this Holy day of Pentecost let us commit anew to being active participants in creating a new way of living, and a new way of being together in the world.

On this day of celebrating the beginning of God’s message bursting forth to be carried to all nations.  Let us each do our part in helping God make something Holy happen.  May we become God’s winds of change.

That First Easter

Easter pulpit banner 2

Excerpts from Mark 15: 33 – 16: 8

“They ran out and fled, for terror and amazement seized them.
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Here we are, it is Easter morning!

But you know what….It doesn’t feel like Easter, not with all of you sitting silent, somewhere else….scattered across your various living rooms, dining rooms, offices, maybe even a porch or two.

It’s Easter but it doesn’t feel like Easter as I stand here trying to imagine all of you sitting in your favorite pews, talking to the unblinking eye of a single camera watching me unmoving and unmoved.

It’s Easter but it doesn’t feel like Easter. No pomp. no circumstance, no processional, no music, no trumpets, no voices raised in praise and thanksgiving, no organ vibrating in our body and bones…, Worst of all…..there are no smiling faces, no handshakes, no hugs.

It’s Easter. But it doesn’t feel like Easter, being isolated from each other, in exile, a modern diaspora, staying behind closed doors.  Many of us are worried and afraid…uncertain of what the future holds for us, for our families, and for our friends. We tremble, afraid and despairing…reluctant to go out into our shattered and disrupted world.

It doesn’t feel like Easter, but That First Easter, the disciples were hiding behind closed doors. The disciples were Terrified. Mourning. Despairing. Their world had been shattered, changed in ways they couldn’t yet contemplate, much less comprehend.

The only thing the disciples knew was that their world had changed forever. The only thing they were sure of, was that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. Their dreams for a better world, their dreams of beloved community, of building God’s kingdom, were buried with Jesus in the tomb.

All they knew, all they could see was death and darkness and an end to the world as they knew it. All they felt was sorrow, fear, and isolation.  All they knew for certain was that their lives, and their world, had changed forever, and they were left asking themselves,

‘What next?’ ‘What now?’ Who are we, and how are we to be in the world?

That first Easter morning, the disciples only know that Jesus is dead. They don’t yet know, that they are wrong.

Very early on that first day of the week, when the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb, expecting to face the finality of death…the victory of death over hope… death over peace…death over love… and the death, even of faith.

The women are overwhelmed by the belief that everything is over. Ended. Their hearts still reverberate with Jesus’ last words, “It…is…finished.”

They come, bent over by broken dreams, but what they discover is a tomb broken open. Where they expect the certainty of death, they find instead, divine mystery, holy presence, and the promise of something completely unexpected, unimaginable, unfathomable…..

They enter the tomb and discover an angel, a messenger of God awaits with news of great joy. He says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

But it’s too much, it’s much too soon for their grief-filled and exhausted minds to take in! Jesus has gone on ahead?….Jesus is somehow wandering the world?  Unable to process what is happening, Terror and amazement seizes them, and they flee! They run away as fast as they can. And they don’t say anything to anyone…because they are afraid.

You notice that even though Jesus predicted his death…and resurrection… time and time again throughout his ministry, no one runs into the empty tomb and shouts, “Praise God!”  No one sees the discarded wrappings or abandoned linens, and shouts “Hallelujah.” And even when angels announce the news that death itself could not hold Jesus captive,

No one says, “I knew it, I knew it – just like Jesus promised!”

The ending of Mark’s Gospel is disturbing and dissonant because it leaves us with a difficult choice. Facing the unknown, do we flee in terror or do we follow where Jesus is leading us, with faithful amazement.  In order to follow, we must first believe that Jesus has risen and waits for us. We must take that first step in faith, believing that Jesus is alive in the world, before we can join with Jesus where he is waiting.

It takes until Pentecost for the disciples to burst forth and carry Christ’s message out into the world. It takes until the Advocate, the Holy spirit comes upon them while they are praying together.  It takes encountering Jesus in unexpected places.

The good news is that Jesus doesn’t wait for the disciples or for us to show up but comes searching…

..he comes searching by the seaside and offers nourishment, he falls into step beside us and sets our hearts on fire, he even appears behind closed doors to offer peace and courage for whatever lies ahead.

It takes a full Easter Season for Jesus’ disciples to transform from fear filled individuals, into one body united in and through the Spirit.

Like that First Easter, we are living in fear filled times, and we don’t know much about how the world is changed….we only know the world is changed, is changing, ..will be changed, and it is hard to see what tomorrow will look like.

Now we are the ones asking ourselves, ‘What next?’ ‘What now?’ Who are we, and how are we to be in the world?

Mark’s challenge to us, is to believe first, to believe that Jesus is alive and at work in the world and within our own hearts.  Mark’s challenge is to believe that we will find light on the road up ahead if we go seeking Jesus.  Our Easter challenge is to step out in faith with the belief that Jesus goes ahead of us, and walks with us.

The choice is ours. Will we flee and hide in terror? Or will we follow with faithful amazement?

In these times of fear and uncertainty, What we do and who we choose to be as a people of faith, matters. It is why being an Easter people, a light and life people, a hope and peace people, a resurrection people, is so important.

It is Easter and as Christians, we are called to step into each new day, of an ever-changing and always changing worl…filled with fear and trembling, terror AND amazement…we are called to proclaim…”I believe….I follow….I witness…I have faith in the risen Christ!”

We are even called to stare down death, and live our lives of discipleship shouting, “Be not afraid!” “Fear Not!”

Jesus has gone on ahead, conquered death, and he waits for us to believe, so that we can see that our story isn’t over. Easter isn’t over….

Our Easter Season is just beginning. We don’t know where we are heading…but we know Jesus has gone on before us, and Jesus is walking with us…even though we are apart, we are walking together, united by the spirit.  We are walking together into what tomorrow holds. We walk as an Easter people, carrying the promise of light and life, peace and hope, comfort and healing, redemption and resurrection!

Our Easter season begins with Jesus beckoning us to follow where he is leading us…

-leading us beyond death into new life,

-leading us from darkness to light,

-leading us through the valley of the shadow of death,

-leading us into a world that is always changing.

We don’t know what lies ahead…But we do know that our Easter story doesn’t end with death. It begins with hope and the promise of new life.

And there is one thing we know this Easter morning, that the disciples did NOT know that first Easter…

Jesus LIVES!

Jesus finds us wherever we are!

Jesus is alive and at work in this shattered and aching world!

Jesus is Risen!

Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed!

Breathing Space In the Wilderness

Foxborough forest 1 (2)

Matthew 4:1 – 11

“Then Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted.”

Someone recently likened this time of quarantine to Jesus’ time in the wilderness.  Wilderness for me, is not crowded confinement and fear.  This time of quarantine is a time when the escaped chaos monster is freely prowling the world while we huddle behind closed doors.  This time, is the time for painting our doors with lamb’s blood, hoping the pestilence stalking our home town streets will pass over us and those we love.

For me, wilderness is free and deep; wind and rain; hot and cold; dusk and dawn.  Wilderness is a without and within space, an in-between place, where dark and light melt together, blurring familiar landscape until it becomes unknown terrain; blending shadow and light, muting sound, creating a hushed anticipation of something…

….something…

something

…coming…

Light on the way?

Or,

Darkness falling?

Wilderness is a place to be ‘me.’  Unveiled.  Curtain torn from top to bottom.  Revealing that God can’t be contained, only sought after, in our wilderness places.  Wilderness is where we wrestle through the long night, ponder God’s word in our heart, and face our demons while carried by our angels….walking wounded….and blessed.

My most cherished wilderness place is a mountain top clearing on the way to the Zealand Hut in the White Mountains.  It is a stopping place.  A breathing space.  A glimpse of God’s face.

Driven by the Spirit, I would visit that place in the bleak mid-winter, stopping and standing in the thigh high, unbroken snow.

Calmed by creaking birch trees,

Inhaling the intoxicating perfume of sun-warmed pine,

Soothed by the soughing wind in pine branches, a whispered lullabye.

No cars, no lights, no hustle, no bustle.

No people.

Just me.

Just God’s creation.

Just…

…God.

 

A Woman Comes

Labyrinth Cross 3a

Mark 14: 1 – 11

Jesus is dangerous.

He has ridden into Jerusalem in a procession mocking Roman pomp and circumstance as they were the only people who would ride in procession anywhere.  But worst of all, Jesus has stirred up the people and brought them into the streets shouting and daring to hope that the Messiah, their promised Savior, has come at last to liberate them from tyranny.

Jesus is a troublemaker….a rabble-rouser…an instigator. He creates mayhem with the moneychangers in the Temple. He has openly criticized and challenged the Pharisees and the Scribes, the religious rulers of his people, in town after town, and synagogue after synagogue.  Now he is in Jerusalem, challenging them on their own turf.

Jesus is a marked man. The chief priests and scribes are looking for a way to arrest Jesus quietly and kill him. They agree that it can’t be during this time of festival, because they are afraid the people will riot. This is a very real fear on the part of these Jewish leaders.  There were thirty-two riots during Pilate’s ten years as governor of Judea. He put down each one. And he would put them down brutally, with punishing repercussions.

So the religious rulers of the people of Israel, were trying to keep the peace, and maintain the status-quo. They were trying above all else, to please and appease those who ruled over them.  They were in a painfully, precarious position, sitting on a tinderbox…

…and they could see Jesus was a brightly, burning spark surrounded by dry, discontented tinder, just waiting to burst into raging flames.  So, they conspire with Judas to betray him.

It is clear in all four Gospels, that when Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is dangerous…

…and he is in danger.

Then, in the midst of the scheming, the plotting, the danger and intrigue, a woman comes…

Jesus is eating in the house of Simon the Leper, a place that would be considered unclean. He is eating with a person who would be off-limits, shunned, and avoided.

Leper’s were not to be associated with or even touched, much less someone you would sit and have lunch with. And yet, true to his heart, Jesus is at the table with Simon the Leper, sharing a meal.

And a woman comes…

Who is this unnamed woman?

Is it the woman from the well, who was shocked that Jesus even noticed her, much less spoke to her?

Is it the Canaanite woman who’s dying daughter was healed because she begged for crumbs from the master’s table?

Was it the crippled woman that Jesus claimed as a child of God, who grew straight and tall with the joy of being lifted up?

Or is it the adulteress who wasn’t stoned but sent on her way in love, to sin no more?

A woman comes and she could be any woman…and she could be every woman…

In the midst of the male machinations, and politics, and power plays, greed, and betrayal, a woman comes and she brings a priceless gift.  Not just the expensive perfume, but her loving devotion.

Powerful men around Jesus are planning his death. One of his chosen is collaborating with Jesus enemies.  And a woman comes with an alabaster jar, a fragile thing of beauty, filled with expensive perfume, and she honors him.  A woman comes to Jesus in love and faith and anoints him and offers him comfort.

And in anointing Jesus, who has blessed so many others,

…she now blesses him.

In the midst of betrayal, scheming, greed, desertion, fear, anger, and cowardice…..a woman comes with an alabaster jar.  And Jesus is tended and cared for, loved, cherished, and blessed….before he is to be broken.

I often wonder if that gesture gives him comfort and strength when he stands in a farce of a fixed trial, facing trumped up charges, accused of things he didn’t do.

Perhaps the rich spicy smell of the nard oil lingers on his skin, and in his hair and reminds him that love and compassion is possible…even as he faces all that hatred and endures all that pain….

I wonder if the feel and smell of that aromatic gift, helps him remember what it’s all about, why he came, what his mission and purpose is, even as he hangs in agony on the cross.

Perhaps it helps him remember he is dying to bring new life to what is good in people, and to shine light into the evil and oppressive darkness that can be found in every human heart.

I hope that it was a parting gift for him – a reminder that he made a difference in the lives of so many people, a reminder that he brought healing, and comfort, and love…

I hope it reminded him that his message and his ministry would live on…even after he was gone.

A woman came….

…and I hope that her touch and her tears were a gift that reminded him of all the best that human beings can be, a gift that he carried in his heart, through all the worst that human beings would do to him in the coming days.

This story of caring and loving generosity in the middle of plotting hatred and betrayal, reminds us that in the midst of the worst we can be, there is also the opportunity to be the best we can be…

Like this woman, whose life was clearly transformed by Jesus, what does Jesus healing and gift of salvation inspire us to do in Jesus name?

We get to choose how we respond to Jesus sacrifice and call to discipleship – will we respond with fear, reluctance, and resistance?  Or, will we work to transform our wounded world with loving kindness, generosity, faith and devotion, following where the Spirit leads us?

As we head toward the Last Supper where bread is blessed and broken, as we journey to the cross with Jesus, where his body will broken…we need to listen for Jesus calling us to be broken open like the alabaster jar, so that we can pour love and healing into all the broken places in this world, in Jesus name.

Jesus breaks our hearts so that we can bring love into the midst of hate; Joy in the midst of sorrow,

Peace into the middle of war; Justice where there is prejudice;

Radical welcome where there are closed doors; and hope where there is only despair.

Jesus breaks our hearts open, like the alabaster jar, so that we can pour out as blessings on the children of God, bringing love, being love, becoming nothing but love.

Jesus calls….a woman comes…a blessing is given…a body is broken…

…and our hearts and our world are broken open forever.

Never to be the same.

Hosanna.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is she who comes in the name of the Lord.

Our Sanctuaries Are Not Empty!

2020, Sanctuary

I Corinthians 3: 1 – 16

On Friday, our dedicated Associate Conference Minister of Communications, was soliciting pictures of empty sanctuaries. I started scrolling down the growing list of contributions thinking that looking at photos of empty sanctuaries would make me sad.

Instead, I felt comforted. I even felt inspired!

I began to think about how each of those places, each in its own unique and beautiful way, has not just been a sanctuary, but each has offered sanctuary, has offered safe harbor, and refuge from life’s storms, some for decades, many of them for centuries!

I thought of how each sanctuary has been a place where Jesus has invited one and all to come and lay our burdens down and rest for awhile. Each has offered the peace of Christ beyond human understanding.

Like snowflakes, no two sanctuaries were exactly alike!

As I scrolled through sanctuary after sanctuary, I was comforted by the different, yet familiar beauty of gleaming, aged wood pews and pulpits; bright brass and silver organ pipes; pianos – electronic, upright, and grand; dazzling stained glass; clear, arched windows framing budding trees and deep blue sky; and such a variety of colorful banners – bright and bold, faded and worn, small and large.

As I continued my virtual touring, I began to see that those sanctuaries were not empty. It’s true, the pews were not populated, but if I looked with my heart, I could see the clouds of witnesses.  I could see the saints who have filled those sanctuaries over centuries, hovering ‘round, hovering around all of us, whispering words of hope and encouragement across the ages.

Our Sanctuaries are not empty!

They are filled to overflowing! They are filled with the prayers of their people. They are filled with the echoes of songs of lament and gratitude, praise and thanksgiving. They are filled with the whispering of a multitude of voices young and old, reading, reciting, and enacting scripture.

Our Sanctuaries are not empty!

They are filled with the faint scent of the smoke from hundreds of candles lit and extinguished: Christmas candles lifted high to light the darkness of the bleak midwinter; memorial candles lit in honor and remembrance of those we love; Advent candles lit to mark the days until Jesus is born once again into the world; and Tennebrae candles, lit and extinguished to mark Jesus last days.

And in the midst of all things, the Christ candle, Christ’s light burning in our hearts, leading the way through dark times.

Our Sanctuaries are not empty!

Our sanctuaries might look empty but if you look and listen with your hearts, they are filled with memories of shared laughter and tears; joy and sorrow; ups and downs; trials and tribulations.  Our Sanctuaries are filled with the blessings of Baptisms, weddings, consecrations, dedications, confirmations, installations, and ordinations!

If you listen with your hearts, you will hear the sweetness of children’s voices shyly sharing stories of Jesus, and the crying and the happy babbling of beloved babies!

Our Sanctuaries are not empty!

They are filled with peace, hope, joy, and love. They are filled with forgiveness and grace and mercy.  They are filled with repentance, redemption, resurrection and the promise of new life!  They are filled with the hopes and fears of all our years.

Even if you can only see the emptiness, that’s ok….Do you not know that you are God’s living temple?

The Apostle Paul reminds us that WE are God’s temple. We are not carriers of viruses, we are carriers of God’s Word! We are carriers of the Spirit that unites us all as one!  Each of us carries all the prayers, songs, scripture, blessings, tears and laughter, broken and shared bread, in us, wherever we go, and wherever we may be. And our sanctuaries are holding all those things in safe keeping for us until we return.

As Christians, we are called to leave our sanctuaries and carry God’s Word out in to the world. We are called to embody and become God’s Word made flesh.  We are called to be God’s Words of joy, peace, truth, justice, mercy, gratitude, and compassion. Most important, in times like these, we are called to be God’s Words of Love and Hope.

Do you not know, that you are God’s temple? You are God’s Sanctuary? You are God’s dwelling place?

I have found myself turning to the Psalms during this time of crises and fear and isolation. I find comfort in those familiar words of lament and hope.  Those ancient songs help me remember we are not, nor will we be, the last generation to face trials, hardship, suffering, and death.  And, like generations before us, there is hope to be found in the small and precious gifts that life has to offer.

-The beauty of creation busting into bloom around us.

-The familiar voice of a friend on the phone.

-A smiling face, even though it’s grinning at us from our iPad or phone or computer screen.

Hard times help us to remember what it is we most cherish about this gift from God that we call life.

Do you not know that we, all of us together, are God’s temple? We are God’s dwelling place? We are God’s sanctuary…we are God’s building?

God’s greatest gift to us, is each other. God gives us each other so that we can build up God’s kingdom, each of us building on the foundation that is Jesus Christ.  God gives us the people in our lives, so we don’t have to stand alone.

As one body, as God’s building, we stand together.

We stand together on our rock of ages, our rock of all ages past, and all ages yet to come.  United, we stand as one body in and through Jesus. We stand as a world family, brothers and sisters, one in spirit.

We stand…together.

As Christians, we are called to carry the light and spread, not fear and despair, but unity, love, and oneness in spirit.  As Christians, we are called to be beacons of hope, beacons held high while we stand tall on the shoulders of the saints who have carried and proclaimed God’s Words before us.

We stand together, one body, bound through the spirit that connects all the created world.  With all our saints hovering round, we stand…together.

“And they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know that we are Christians by our love.”