Community Truth

24 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The word

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again,”Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. –John 20

Every Easter season we hear the same story. The tomb is empty. The impossible happened. Life wins. Every Easter season we are confronted by the absurdly hopeful idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Every year, we have to decide all over again if we believe. Unlike Thomas, we don’t get to stick our fingers in the wounds of Jesus for proof. We have not seen, but are asked to believe. At times, it can seem daunting, to decide what, in fact, I actually believe.

My spouse, who can read this text in it’s original language, pointed out something in this passage that offered me a sense of comfort this Easter season. Look at the differences between all the “we’s” and “I’s” and “you’s”. Look at the difference between what the disciples say and what Jesus says to the disciples, and what Thomas says. Jesus says “Peace be with you (plural). As the Father has sent me, so I send you (plural).” And the disciples say to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas, on the other hand, is all “I’s” and “me” and “my”: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Now, that may seem like a small detail. Thomas is one person speaking, while the disciples are speaking as a group; of course Thomas would use singular pronouns. But there’s something bigger going on here. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t rely on a singular person’s experience. It wasn’t just Mary Magdalene who saw the empty tomb; it was Mary and Simon, Peter, and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and then the others. And Jesus didn’t appear to just her or him. Jesus appeared to them.

The truth of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t rely on a singular person’s experience. In fact, the truth rarely does. Truth is communal. Truth is held by communities. What is overwhelming to me at times is having to speak from the I singular. It is wonderful to concentrate on speaking from the I plural. I enjoy thinking, talking, studying and discussing as a community, knowing the community leans on years and decades and centuries of thought. I enjoy having my thoughts changed or grown or strengthened by the stories and experiences of my neighbors and my community and people across the world who think differently than I do. That support, that accountability, that communal discernment offers me comfort on the way. So let us, this Easter season, continue to work toward articulating and living out what we together believe.

4th Week of Easter

21 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

 

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” – John 10.27

Good shepherds care for their flocks, or employees, or clients, or students as they do for themselves. They accompany their flocks through danger, drought, and dark valleys.

Hear what God’s voice directs you to do in your daily life. Be a caring friend and coworker this week, especially to those who seem outside the flock or in danger.

 

Prayer of the Week: Lord, you are my shepherd. Let me hear your voice.

Gospel Reflection for April 26, 2015, 4th Sunday of Easter

21 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 4.8-12; 1 John 3.1-2; John 10.11-18

“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and mine know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.”

(John 10.14-15)

As the good shepherd, Jesus reveals his Father’s continuing love for Israel and extends this love to all. God loves Jesus for freely laying down his life for the sheep because his action reveals the Father’s love for all.

Whom do you shepherd? For whom are you laying down your life?

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Spiritual Practice

17 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Loving Earth

Photo via Flickr user Loving Earth

I opened the closet door and lifted my turquoise mat out from where it was wedged in the corner. About ten feet from the bassinet holding my sleeping baby, I unrolled the mat slowly.

The last thing my nurse called out to me was No yoga for six weeks! as I left the hospital with Simon and Dan to go home. My mind wandered to that moment. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was time.

I put my feet in the middle of the mat, lightly kissing each other, picked up all ten toes and placed them back down from outside to in, fanning them wide to get a solid base. I noticed how the grid of micro bumps on the mat felt on the soles of my feet. My feet looked slender, my toes seemed long. It had been months since I saw the tendons and muscles flexing and relaxing. They had been swallowed up by swollenness for so long.

I straightened my spine, one vertebrae stacked on top of the next, until I was reaching the crown of my head toward the ceiling. My skeleton engaged, creating space for air and blood to flow. The correct alignment gave my muscles instant relief. Inhale. Exhale. I smelled like milk. Shining my palms forward slowly, the muscles hugging my shoulder blades seemed to creak, so tired and forgotten, used to hours of curling forward to feed, rock, hush, embrace a tiny person who needed me. I rolled my shoulders up to my ears and back, tucking my shoulder blades in and forward, balancing the movement with gently pulling my chin back. Inhale. Exhale. Kneecaps engaged, I swept my arms up toward the sky, my soft eyes glancing between my thumbs. Both shoulders cracked, the left, then the right. Standing tall, I could feel muscles in my abdomen and womb call my attention. I breathed into those places, taking note, reconnecting with my body. Worn, but strong.

This is what I love about spiritual practice. It’s repetition gets trapped in our bodies, our muscle memory, our DNA. There is comfort in the familiar, in the tangible. Whether it is the feel of prayer beads between our fingers, the ritual of lighting a candle before prayer, the chair that molds around you and your devotional, the action ties us to the past and the future. After wandering, which we all do from time to time, we come back to the practice. God is always there, awaiting our return with grace and love. The practice, like God, welcomes us home.

Gospel Reflection for April 19, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Easter

14 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 3.13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2.1-5; Luke 24.35-48

Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” His disciples were startled and terrified…He said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet, that it is I myself.”

(Luke 24.36-39)

In Sunday’s resurrection scene from Luke, some believe, some question, some suspend judgement. For his disciples Jesus’ resurrection recalibrates who God is and what God does in our world.

Our time also puts God in new contexts and stirs mixed emotions. Some cling to past certainties. Many disaffiliate from institutional religions. Church scandals have sent many Catholics into the ranks of the none-affiliated. Others retreat from doctrines built on worldviews people today no longer hold.

Some of us stay and seek fresh insights in dialogue with science, technology, and other religions. We recognize that evolution doesn’t conflict with faith but our image of God as fixed and static seems inadequate in an evolving world. God is more than we previously imagined. God’s creative love unfolds dynamically from inanimate to living and conscious creatures. It’s a wow and a wonder. God addresses us as much from the future as the past.

My own faith in resurrection rests not only on the gospel testimony of the first witnesses but my experience of being with my mother in her last days. Her spirit became increasingly transparent in her body. This and creation itself keeps me open to the impossible coming to be.

What is the mix of your feelings this Easter season — amazement, joy, disbelief?

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3rd Week of Easter

14 Apr
Photo via Flickr user AshtonPal

Photo via Flickr user AshtonPal

“Do you love me?” – John 21.17

Three times the risen Jesus asks his friend and disciple Peter the question, “Do you love me?” Perhaps Jesus asks three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Live your answer to Jesus’ question this week. Testify in your actions that you love those with whom Jesus identifies in this world.

Give a gift of attentive, uninterrupted listening this week to two people — the one you love most and one very different from you, perhaps foreign in culture. Remember each evening ways your actions said, “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Prayer for the Week: You know that I love you.

AND

10 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Sean MacEntee

Photo via Flickr user Sean MacEntee

Happy Easter to you! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

During Jesus’ lifetime, people believed that when the Messiah came there would be peace in all nations. The Messiah would usher in a Messianic Age filled with prosperity and healing. Wars would end, boundaries would dissolve, and all would be well. They expected a power that more closely resembled kingly power on earth– big, gloating, sparkling.

If Jesus was the Messiah, then with his presence there should have been peace. The world should have changed, but it didn’t.

The women who went to see Jesus’ tomb knew this about the world. They knew that Jesus pushed enough political buttons to get killed. They knew the reality of crucifixion, and they knew that once you died you stayed dead. Jesus died, and the world didn’t change.

Despite all of this, the women went to the tomb. They knew better, they knew the dead stay dead, but they went anyway. And something had happened. It wasn’t what anyone expected, but it was real. The tomb was empty. No body. Death did not get the last word. In Ben Cieslik’s Easter sermon, he reminded me that Matthew said the women left with fear and great joy. As he said, Easter is a mixed bag.

Like these women who loved Jesus, we are called in this season of Easter to live with that same fear and great joy.

We celebrate Easter year in and year out, praying for the Messianic Age, praying for peace, for the world to change. Like people in Jesus’ time, we want Easter to mean that the world will be a little bit less of a scary place. But it hasn’t changed. The world is still broken and hurting. There will continue to be people senselessly murdered, more planes will crash, violence will continue to escalate in age old conflicts. Tomorrow’s world will look eerily similar to today’s world. But there is fear and great joy. The tomb is empty. Death does not win. This place will not be our resting place. This Easter, in fear and great joy, we hold onto the promise of the empty tomb. We trust that in the end, peace and love will be all we know.

2nd Week of Easter

7 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Mark Sardella

Photo via Flickr user Mark Sardella

“Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!” – John 20.27

Most of us doubt at times in our lives. We doubt faith matters or can change the world. We sometimes doubt that we ourselves, or people we love, or religious institutions can respond to the renewing Spirit.

Identify a specific doubt you carry. Ask for the guidance of the Spirit to resolve the doubt or to live into a new insight. Seek insight by walking and observing creation awakening to new life.

Prayer for the Week: I believe. Help my unbelief.

Gospel Reflection for April 12, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Easter

6 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 4.32-35; 1 John 5.1-6; John 19-31

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

(John 20.21-23)

The risen Jesus brings his disciples two gifts — peace and new life. Jesus breathes the new life of the Spirit upon his disciples just as in the beginning God breathed the spirit of life into the first earthling in Genesis 2.7. The new life Jesus’ Spirit inspires is forgiveness. The gifts become a commission. Jesus sends the community out to make the lives of others whole as he has made their lives new and whole.

When have you found new life in forgiving or being forgiven?

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Are We Rome?

3 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

 

Happy Holy Week to you, one and all.

On Palm Sunday, we imagined Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We wondered what this procession of palms may have looked like. Was it to fulfill a prophecy? How many people caught the reference to Zachariah in the moment? Was it, as Crossan and Borg argue in The Last Week, a procession to challenge the Imperial Procession of Pilate and counter the dominating system? Pilate’s procession symbolized Roman military, theology and political might. Was Jesus reminding us that God’s kingdom counters that of worldly domination?

Did Jesus know what he would find when he got to the temple?

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers. –Matthew 21:12-23

We imagine Jesus turning over tables and try to reconcile his anger with our ideas of his perfection. What, today, is worth our righteous anger? Are we complicit in the dominating system of our day that Jesus was countering by riding in from the East on a donkey?

On Palm Sunday, the youth in our congregation make and sell Cinnamon Rolls in celebration of Holy Week and to raise money for our summer work trips. We pictured Jesus, having to pass our table where money was being exchanged on his way to the sanctuary for worship. Would he turn over our table and call our gallery a den of robbers?

“I’d like to think Jesus would buy a cinnamon roll from us,” a ninth grader said.

Yet the image lingers. Would Jesus turn over my table in anger? This Holy Week, I’m wondering what procession I am truly taking part in. If Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem to die was really about, in part, countering the violence, power and glory of the dominating empire that ruled the world at that time, how can I follow him more closely today?

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