Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Second Chances

Second chances 041413
Psalm 30; John 21:1-19

Last week we entered into that profound Jesus encounter in a meeting of a motley crew of believers and doubters (a bit like us on a Sunday morning, I thought!).  We shared their incredible resurrection experience as Jesus shared his wounds…then he breathed his empowering Spirit on them.
And what happened to them?  They went back to exactly what they’d been doing before….fishing.  Back to business as usual.  Maybe they also just didn’t know what to do next.  Isn’t that often what happens to us?  When we don’t know what else to do, when we’re uncertain about how to live resurrected lives, we fall back on the tried and true, the safe, unthreatening business as usual.
But business as usual failed them.  They caught nothing.  The emptiness of their nets revealed the emptiness of their lives.  

You see the connection with us? How often we retreat from something new to stay in the familiar, even when the familiar isn’t producing anything?

This text challenges us to be open to Jesus’ instructions, open to new ways and methods, so we don’t persist in old patterns with nothing to show for it.*

The disciples who’re actually named in this story all have something in common: they’ve all had their doubts about Jesus…Peter denied knowing him; Thomas doubted his new life; Nathaniel was cynical about anything good coming from Nazareth…….yet all three at one time or another have also made clear statements of faith—Peter once called Jesus the Holy One of God…Thomas said ‘My Lord and my God’ and Nathaniel called him ‘son of God, king of Israel’.  Isn’t that just like us….sometimes denying, doubting, or cynical, sometimes full of praise and insight!

New reality show: the moment.  Advertising for it says what if you had a second chance?
The scriptures are full of second chances: last week Jesus came back for Thomas and gave him a second chance.  Today Jesus comes back to Peter and gives him a second chance.  We’re not forgotten in God’s eyes!!
But we don’t always recognize God’s appearance.  The stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances have lots in common….they have a mystical quality, and disciples don’t at first recognize who it is:  when they do, it’s in an incredible variety of ways:  

Mary recognized him by how he spoke her name                                                             Thomas recognized him by a his sharing his woundedness as we heard last week                                                                                                                                 the beloved disciple recognized him by the miracle of the fish and Peter recognized him by taking someone else’s word for it 

What does it take for you to recognize the presence of the Christ?

Of course, we’re such literal and earthbound people we’re not very good at recognizing anything that is mystical, or a mystery, or a new way of seeing or thinking.   It makes us uncertain, as it did those disciples: even though they ‘knew it was him’, ‘ none of them dared ask’  if it really was him.  When we are uncertain, we can be fearful; even in the midst of an  encounter with the eternal, with the Force, with Jesus, our gut response can be fear—why? 
We talked about this in our heart listening group on Friday: maybe because we don’t understand with our minds what is going on                                                                and because any encounter with the divine is what the poet Rilke calls terrifying  -        …..because we know that it will change us and demand something of us….

And indeed that’s what happens….to all who answer the call to follow Jesus.
By the comfort of a beach campfire—a charcoal fire like the last one Peter stood near when he denied Jesus—comes this life changing encounter between Jesus and Peter.
Do you love me (agape-unconditional Love)
Yes I love you (phileo-love like brother)
Do you love me
Of course I love you
Then Jesus accepts where Peter is and asks once more:
Do you love me (phileo)
You know I love you (phileo)
We don’t all always get it; we don’t always love the way we could, but Jesus STILL entrust us to a task:
feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, follow me wherever it takes you.

Feed and tend and follow, you who are weak and who are strong, you who doubt and you who deny, you who are cynical and you who are faithful
The second chance comes for all of us, not through some penitential act of ours, but through the grace of God…..Jesus persistently pursues us
 Do you love me, he asks?  If we do, his ministry becomes our ministry: feed tend follow* wherever it may take us.
Like with the miracles of feeding the multitude, and filling the nets with fish, God will do great things through us and with us….what we need to do is keep our eyes and ears open to recognize new possibilities, and our hearts ready to feed, tend, follow.
*from web: Lee Koontz at First Look weekly commentary on upcoming gospel.

Monday, April 08, 2013

shared wounds and doubts

(Chris Jewell)  I work in an environment where I see—sometimes in dramatic fashion—how negative thinking or doubt about the reality of Resurrection or a New Creation can lead to very sad results. But I also, once in a great while, get the chance to see how grace can lead one of these doubters to a face a face encounter with a New Reality. It is so common, despite the testimony of the faithful, of those who have come to believe, for the many doubting Thomas’ I have known to simply refuse to believe—they refuse to believe in the reality of the New Reality, in the reality of the resurrection. When the disciples say to them “we have met the risen Christ, we have experienced the New Creation”, the doubting Thomas’ say, yeah, ok, I’ll believe that when I see it. Aren’t many of us like this? When people say “the resurrection is real, really, we have experienced it”—don’t we doubt? Maybe we even think they are lying to us—or its time to pass out meds? Do we have faith—the kind of faith that says “yeah, I believe it, I can experience the resurrection—Christ is risen indeed!”
I first met Tyler about a year ago—he was not in good shape—kidney problems, liver problems, malnourished. He had been sent to us from one the detox centers in town, where he had spent a couple of weeks coming off alcohol and cocaine. Needless to say, this was a guy whose old way of doing things was not working.  He needed a long term program so he showed up at the Salvation Army. In spite of the beating he had been through, he sat across from me with a very angry look on his face. In the first month or so he was at the center he refused to believe that anything—including the program—and especially the AA meetings he needed to attend—could bring about any kind of real change in him—in short he doubted the reality of resurrection—he doubted the New Reality had shown up—he couldn’t get beyond the old way of doing things—beyond the old reality.
Verses 19-23 of our text say, 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 (an unfortunate word there), Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you. After he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, peace be with you. As the father has sent me so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “receive the holy spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
John’s description of this meeting of the disciples reminded me of several rooms I have been in. In fact I suggest the story of doubting Thomas is really a story about grace, resurrection, and the power of an open and loving community. As I have mentioned many times, as a part of my full-time job, I get the chance to attend AA meetings. For many people who participate in these meetings, they are powerful.  Richard Rohr says God regularly attends AA meetings and I agree with him. The verses I just read make it very clear—the resurrected Christ appeared to “them”--plural—he appeared at a meeting, he appeared in community. And there he said, “peace be with you” the greek word used here, eirene, means wholeness—that all the essential parts have been joined together. That is what the twelve step programs are designed to do—bring about wholeness—through the members working steps and attending meetings. And in the meetings themselves you find another kind of wholeness. A remarkable sense of unity is to be found there. They are truly communities—for they are looking for a shared spiritual reality. This sense of unity allows the members to share openly with one another—and the sharing then leads to greater unity.  I have seen many alcoholics exposing their wounds to one another just as John says Jesus did to his disciples. Doesn’t something miraculous happen when we open ourselves in this way?  The admission of brokenness, of wounded-ness, is often very disarming—all the false piety and pretense can go out the window and we have permission to admit the truth. NO HUMAN BEING IS WOUND FREE. When we expose our wounds, our brokenness, the Christ is there sharing his.  Lives are transformed in remarkable ways through such gatherings. The new creation, the new reality, the resurrected Christ walks right through closed doors and is a palpable presence in the room. In verse 22 jesus tells the disciples to receive the holy spirit—in ancient jewish thought the holy spirit—or ruach hakodesh was a term pointing to what we might call enlightenment—if god enlightened or conveyed a message to human beings those people were said to have received the holy spirit. AA members will talk about revelatory moments they have experienced while sitting in a meeting—through listening to another person’s story their own story is revealed.  Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA said this about the first time he shared his wounds with Dr. Bob, the other founder-“I told him of my present peril—I told him how much I needed this conversation and I think we began to get to the essentials of it—FOR SOMETHING PASSED BEWTEEN US; SOMETHING HAPPENED. I think AA began right there on that day in 1935”—and a new life became possible for millions of people. Wilson’s comment sounds like what I have witnessed. Maybe that’s why Richard Rohr says God is regularly present at AA, maybe he has seen what I have seen in those rooms. The resurrected sharing their wounds—while the Holy Spirit is received—while sins are confessed and let go. Jesus tells the disciples that just as he was sent to them—he now sends them out into the world—AA members are told to carry the message to others. If someone is not there to experience it it is easy to dismiss—it is easy to doubt.

In verse 24 we hear, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them, when Jesus came—Thomas didn’t go to the meeting that day—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”. Thomas—the individual ego still stuck in the old creation, in the old self.  He refuses to believe in any possibility of the new self participating in the new creation.
Tyler balked at any suggestion that AA could help him. In fact for a while he was refusing to go. The AA central office sends a group of recovering men and women into our facility. These are people with several years of sobriety under their belt. They often share with our residents what AA has done for them. They tell the men and women,  “I was where you are now—I couldn’t stop—it was a living death—but these meetings and God gave me a new life”. And Tyler would tell me, “Ah, that’s b.s. all they do is whine about their problems—I don’t buy it”.
A week later the 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”.  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. Thomas answered him, my Lord and my God”
After a while, Tyler started to go to meetings and participate—this happened by the grace of God. And the resurrection walked in through closed doors. And he said to him, “reach out your hand and put it in my side” this is a remarkably intimate kind of sharing—this time the Christ is not just showing his wounds he is saying get in there, feel it. This happens in the meetings. Members tell their story—a story of addiction and New Life. Tyler and others get inside one another’s wounds—and then experience resurrection. they identify with each other—they walk a mile in the other’s shoes—they honestly say to each other, I feel your pain and I feel the New Life—the reality of the resurrection. It is often that kind of an experience that begins to bring about a change—one goes from doubter to believer. By getting inside your experience—by identifying with your story—I get outside myself and really feel not just your pain—but the reality of your new life as well. And this is the grace of God—the Christ came to Thomas—at the meeting. The resurrection came to Tyler—at the meeting. And this kind of an experience brings about ecstasy and adoration—“my Lord and my God”. Many of the AA members I have met have a deep faith—a deep trust--one that is born out of relating to one another so intimately—through touching the wounds of another, through touching the wounds of the resurrected.
Tyler, as we speak, has a deep faith that he found in those meetings—behind closed doors the New reality came to him as he sat in a room with others. And as long as he keeps it up he can continue living in the new reality, knowing that resurrection is real.
In verse29 Jesus says blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. John knew that holding doubting Thomas up as a model could be dangerous. Being where he is in the beginning of the story is to be in a precarious position. John is writing to real people. And some doubting Thomas’ don’t get from doubt to faith. For this same reason I tell guys “you don’t have to push it like Tyler did—go ahead and take his experience as proof—the divine shows up in these meetings—you can experience the resurrection there. I suspect John is asking us to do the same here.
Like Thomas and Tyler, we all can experience the reality of the resurrection in community, by sharing our humanness, our wounded-ness, our marks of the old creation—we can show people that in spite of this, we have new life—we are risen. Then we can have the kind of faith that exclaims, “Yes, I believe it, I have experienced it, Christ is risen indeed”. AMEN.

Monday, April 01, 2013

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”

Dead or alive?  033113    Luke 24:1-12
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”
Nobody expects resurrection either….2000 years ago or now.
Those women came looking for the dead, they assumed, expected, that’s what they’d find.  And when the unexpected happened they were told
He is not here.  He is risen.
Not here?  We weren’t expecting that.   Of course Jesus should be here—this is where we left him….. last time we were in church.  What do you mean he’s not here?
Those first disciples of Jesus came looking for the dead…..and sometimes I think we do too!   We enshrine the dead Jesus in the tomb of history.   But history isn’t the faith story….the faith story is Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed)
Not relegated to  a church either, where we can visit occasionally when we feel the need to check in, then leave him behind there…
No!  Risen means  alive, right?   A life force that we take with us, a force that fills us with  meaning and purpose, and well, Life!
These women in Luke’s version didn’t see Jesus, any more than we do.  They had to take someone else’s word for it until they could experience it for themselves
They had to be reminded of Jesus’ words and God’s promises, but then they caught on and remembered for themselves.  
So we too come again and again to be reminded, and again and again we begin to remember for ourselves what much of the time we’ve forgotten – that our faith is based on Life, on movement.  Forget thinking that the church is an institution—it’s meant to be a movement!    He is not here.  He is risen!  Alive.
they got a message that flies in the face of everything they know about life and death.   And so do we, every time we come to church, for this is a counter-cultural message, a spirituality that defies death-thinking and fear-mongering.
Even Peter wondered enough to check it out for himself, and when he saw the signs of resurrection he began to think and wonder, could there possibly be something to this resurrection stuff?  What signs of resurrection life do we see?   What kind of resurrection signs are we?
Ah that’s the question.   I don’t think we can ever explain or understand resurrection, because head understanding isn’t the point.   Resurrection is to be experienced, not explained.  And we can only experience the risen Christ’s life force if we see the signs of it for ourselves.
We live in a world that runs on fear and death, where people look for life and meaning in all the wrong places, places that cannot possibly provide it.
So how can the exploding life force be seen, if not through us? This cosmic energy is all around us, in us and beyond us, yet we barely tap into it, because we’re mostly observers.
Many of us say we’re Christian, only if we’re asked of course, or we describe ourselves as spiritual but not religious.  But we’re really just observers.
What the world needs is not observers but participants in the Life movement of Jesus, exploding with force into lives of purpose, missions of justice, communities of compassion, living places, like this congregation where the living Jesus transforms us, gives us meaning and purpose, and empowers us to take life into the world and transform it into the creation God intended it to be.
Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed)
Say it like you mean it
Now live it like you mean it.
Amen?  Amen