Saturday, May 12, 2018

Because He Lives.

Acts 1:6-11
May 13, 2018

I.

My favorite part of this passage is when the mysterious “two men in white robes” appear by the disciples as Jesus is taken into heaven.  And they first ask why they are standing there looking up into the sky.  Then they state that Jesus will return in the same way he was taken, that is, from heaven.

They are saying that, on the one hand, these disciples will be Jesus’ witnesses, and they can’t do that if they are spending all their time gazing into the sky.  On the other hand, they do say that Jesus will come from the sky.  So the manner of their waiting for Jesus to return is by committing themselves to the work that needs to be done down here.  

This is not going to be a faith that has to do with measuring or counting out “the times or the periods” before Jesus comes back.  That is a form of this fruitless and pointless “looking up towards heaven,” that these two men in white are critical of, and it is not the job that Jesus has left the disciples to do.  We are not like dogs who sit looking anxiously out the window all day until their master comes home.  Jesus has promised that he will be with us “always, even to the end of the age.”  

At the same time, this story does seem to be saying that he goes away to heaven, leaving us alone here on earth, waiting for him to come back the same way he went.  In the meantime, Jesus’ presence will be known in the Holy Spirit, who is about to come upon the disciples, empowering them to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”

So the disciples are implicitly instructed not to waste their time looking up into the sky where Jesus appears to have gone, but to realize that even though he is “lifted up” until “a cloud took him out of their sight,” which means that he is no longer visible or perceptible to their 5 senses, and his physical, tangible, mortal, temporal presence is no more, he is at the same time, by the Spirit even more directly present with them than he was before his crucifixion.  

His having gone into “heaven,” then, is way to say, not that he has abandoned the disciples.  For heaven is the place of highest and most inclusive and comprehensive vision.  From heaven everything is seen and known, inside and out.  Heaven is the eternity that is within, around, among, beneath, and above the time/space continuum that we experience.  There is, then, a sense in which “heaven” is everywhere, embedded in and penetrating everything, yet at the same time, because of our limitations, unknown to and remote from our perceptions and experience.  Therefore, to say that Jesus has gone into heaven is really to say that he has emerged into everything

The Holy Spirit is our interface with that eternity, the breath of God by which all things are created, which has left God’s imprint on and in everything.

The Ascension means that Jesus is with us, as he promised, to the end of the age, always, by the mediating power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is still here, with us in an even more intimate and direct form, than he had been when he was, for 33 or so years, with the disciples as a “historical” figure.

II.

So Jesus is actually closer to us now.  But, as we know, this creates other problems.  Jesus is so close to us that we often confuse him with ourselves.  That is, it is easy to imagine that the voice of our ego is actually the voice of God telling us what is best to do.  Discerning and distinguishing God’s voice in our hearts from our own becomes a primary task of Christian spirituality.  

This is why the church eventually came to rely on the gospels.  Let’s not forget that the church lived and grew for many years, perhaps even a century or more, before any of the written gospels were relatively widely available.  All of Paul’s letters are written to churches that did not possess copies of the gospels — because they hadn’t even been written yet.  Aside from the cross and resurrection, Paul almost never refers to anything Jesus does or says during his historical life.

This is because the church has always relied, not on people’s memories of the historical Jesus, but on his direct, living presence, with them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We, of course, have the inestimable benefit of the gospels.  But my point is that we should, in theory, be able to thrive in mission even without a New Testament, as the earliest church did, and just depend on the indwelling presence of the ascended Lord Jesus, by the Spirit.  That is, in fact, the story that Luke is about to tell in the rest of the book of Acts.

Before he does ascend, the disciples ask the risen Jesus if he is going to “restore the kingdom to Israel” now, a question which he ignores because it indicates stubborn cluelessness on the part of the disciples.  They still, even now, imagine that he is about something as small as bringing back Israel as an independent kingdom under Davidic rule.  Jesus is requiring them to expand their imaginations exponentially.  He doesn’t mention “Israel” again, but tells them to start their mission in Jerusalem, and “Judea and Samaria.”  Judea and Samaria were the two regions representing the old divided Israelite kingdoms from centuries before, but currently under Roman administration, whose respective peoples still hated each other.  

The Lord says that on the one hand this mission is to the whole world, but that on the other hand it has to start locally and spread from there.  If this good news of God’s reconciling love revealed in Jesus the Messiah can take root in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria — places of crushing oppression by a foreign power and bitterly divided internally — it will surely be able to work in other places as well.  If the disciples can bear witness to God’s love and justice in such an inhospitable place, then  It’s like Jesus is saying, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

The story of the church will be this spreading throughout an oppressed, conquered, colonized, exploited, divided, conflicted world, the Roman Empire.  And the message, the truth to which they bear witness, the basic, bottom line, essence of the good news, is Jesus: the Romans crucified him for sedition, but he did not stay dead.  He rose!  He’s still alive with, within, and among his people, which means that a whole new future, a future not under the yoke of a cruel empire, is now open to anyone who follows him.

III.     

Jesus gives the disciples instructions to be his witnesses in the whole world.  In other words, they are to retell this fundamental and very simple story.  It is the elevator pitch of the new movement, a brief summary easily memorized and repeatable by anyone in less than a minute.  

There’s this man named Jesus, the promised anointed King of the Jews.  The Romans crucified him for treason.  But he rose from the dead and now he lives forever with us.  Visit us on Sunday morning and we’ll show you!  

Anyone hearing this would have immediately understood that if there was someone the Romans couldn’t kill, their whole gig was over.  It’s a new world.  We’re free!  Jesus is Lord!  If we get together to follow Jesus, we don’t have be jerked around by Caesar anymore.  And there is nothing Caesar and all his wealth and power can do about it.  Because, even if they do kill your physical body, Jesus proves that that simply gets you closer to him.  Joining this movement is a win-win.

If we truly understand his cross and resurrection, the church is inherently and necessarily an alternative and subversive gathering loyal to Jesus Christ  alone, which means it is radically disloyal to any and all other political, economic, or social powers, people, or philosophies.  

And this whole movement depends, in the end, on the Ascension.  Otherwise, Jesus’ death and resurrection are interesting and perhaps very attractive stories that we remember, admire, and support… but they have nothing directly to do with us and how we live our lives.  There is no necessary “now what?”  

The real energy in the Jesus movement is in the knowledge that Jesus still lives and remains present with, within, and among his followers, who still participate in his life, ministry, blessings, and truth.  He lives, not just out there, not just far away in heaven, not just long ago, not just when he returns in the far future.  He lives now.  He lives here.  He makes a difference.

The early church understands and lives within the absolute connection between Jesus’ death at the hands of the world’s mightiest superpower, his resurrection negating and neutralizing that power, and his ascension by which he continues to live in and among his disciples, by the Holy Spirit.  The early church knows itself to be an alternative Way of living together trusting in Jesus and practicing his values of humility, non-violence, forgiveness, compassion, and equality, and in opposition to the demands of a regime based on arrogance, violence, selfishness, and inequality.

IV.

The church cannot be about standing around, looking up towards heaven.  We have work to do down here.  The Ascension means Jesus is with us down here.  His death and resurrection identifies him and therefore us with those who are real victims of violence and injustice, exclusion and colonization, exploitation and bondage.  And we start here and now, where we are, and move out to all the world.  

And it is only and because we in Christ identify with the broken and oppressed of the world that the words of William Gaither’s now classic song make sense as an affirmation of the Ascension:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, 
just because He lives.

+++++++

Love and Joy.

John 15:8-17
May 6, 2018

I.


The Christian life is about love and joy.  

That is something we often forget.  The church grows and thrives because people are attracted by the love and the joy we share among us and with the world.  People see the love and the joy, and they want to be a part of it.  The church contracts and implodes when we don’t express and reflect love and joy.  

Unfortunately, love and joy are not things for which Christians, Presbyterians in particular, are known.  That’s not what pollsters discover when they ask what people think about Christians and Christianity.  They don’t say, “Oh yeah, those people are definitely all about love and joy.”  It’s more the opposite.  Christians are more known for who they hate, these days.  We’re known for resentment, hypocrisy, closed-mindedness, and judgmentalism….  

That’s because for too long and for too many of us, Christianity was not about love and joy, and certainly not about Jesus, but about other things.  It was about nostalgia for a largely imaginary past, when everything was supposedly better; a time when we had status, privilege, clout, and money.  And it was all wrapped in Christian-sounding language.  Now that that isn’t happening so much, some are really angry about it.   

Jesus doesn’t care about any of that.  He rejects that kind of status, privilege, and power when the devil offers it to him.  He says: “Sorry, no.  What I am about, what glorifies my Father is not your throwing his Name around to justify your self-righteous, paranoid violence.  It’s love and joy.”  Unless we have a reputation for love and joy, people are not likely to show up here.  Who wants to waste a perfectly good Sunday morning being hateful, mad, and sad?     

Jesus says that we abide in his love when we keep his commandments.  That is, when our way of life, our behavior, our words and actions, is shaped by what Jesus does and teaches, we participate in his love.  And his love is also God’s love, for the whole world.  To share in this love is to find joy.  This is what Jesus means by “bearing fruit.”  It is when we act in the world according to Jesus’ example and commandments.

The gospel of John, unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, doesn’t actually have a set list of Jesus’ commandments in one place.  I suspect that John knows that, when presented with written commandments, people always find ways around them.  So in this gospel, Jesus has basically one big commandment that is supposed to cover everything:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And, in case that is a bit too general, the Lord follows it up with a clarifying statement.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  So Jesus shows his love for us by laying down his life for us, his friends, who do what he commands.  This is summed up in one, general commandment to love as he loves us, by also laying down our lives.  He is calling us basically to die for each other, as he dies for us.  Not be willing to do it.  Not to affirm it verbally.  But to do it.  To lay down our lives for him and for each other.  

II.

Now, laying down our lives is sometimes in extreme circumstances of persecution or war literally demanded of Jesus’ followers.  Christian history is populated by many martyrs called upon to suffer and die for the truth.  This still happens even today in parts of the world.  

But, just because we are not in those places or situations does not mean we are off the hook.  Jesus commands all of us to love one another as he loves us, which means laying down our lives for each other.  We need to set aside the ego-centric, small, false selves we think we are, in order to emerge into the vast, blessed, good, true Selves we are in him.  And that is where the love finally blossoms into joy.

In order to love one another as Jesus loves us, nothing less than our death, in the sense of letting go of everything that has come to define us and everything that we have come to rely on, is needed.  It symbolically happens in the Sacrament of Baptism in which we figuratively and ritually “die” with Jesus.  And it happens in the ongoing work of repentance, in which we come to see and think differently about ourselves and our world, and thus act differently.  

Rather than living out of ourselves and our own reason, self-image, memories, and feelings, we, because we are connected to him like a branch to a vine, come to live according to his energy and life.  We “bear fruit,” as Jesus says, according to his living Presence in us.  We obey his commandments and thus become his friends, his agents, his disciples, his apostles, and his representatives in the world.  He lays down his life for us, his friends, in order that his life may become ours.

It is essential that we remember that this is not something we simply do as private, isolated individuals.  Jesus says that love is not just laying down one’s life, it is laying down one’s life for one’s friends.  Laying down our selfish, ego-centric existence is something necessarily done as an act of love and obedience to him and therefore for others.  We cannot do this because of what we will personally or individually get out of it.  We cannot do it on our own initiative at all.

Laying down our life means laying down our false sense of independence and separateness from each other.  It means laying down, as in relinquishing and letting go of, our seeing others as adversaries or competitors, let alone as enemies.  It means identifying with them until they really aren’t even others anymore, but people whose pain, loss, weakness, and hunger we feel ourselves.  It is something we can only do in Christ, after his example.

Jesus loves us by emptying himself over us, giving himself to us, laying down his life for us, feeding us with his own body and blood, calling us up out of our own tombs, and declaring us his friends.  We participate in his friendship when that same life that animates him begins to flow through us, as shown in the way we keep his commandments.  That is, we are his friends when we in his name befriend the world over which he gives his life.

III.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;” “as I have loved you,”
“love one another.”  Jesus is doing nothing less than inviting us into his relationship with the Father and with the world.  This is what we have been chosen for, to abide in his love.  His love is not a static thing we possess or even pass around among ourselves.  His love is alive like light, or an electrical current, or the water rushing through a hose.  It is dynamic and always in motion.  We abide in it when we don’t block it but let it flow into and through us, into the world.  We abide in it when we bear the fruit of good, loving, sharing, healing, blessing, welcoming, forgiving actions.

This obedience is not a burden or an obligation in any negative sense; it is a profound joy.  It is the joy we experience when we are most alive, most connected to others, most truly ourselves, and most full of love. Jesus comes to complete our joy by revealing God’s love to us.  It is a joy that we will give everything to receive; it is a joy that we only receive when we express it, when we give it away, when we share it with others.

Christians need to be seen in the world as people of love and joy, who receive from God whatever they ask because their desires and longings, their hopes and dreams are already fulfilled.  Jesus Christ has already given us God’s life; what else could we possibly want?  We already know the end of the story and the meaning of every life in the glorification of God.  We already know that everything is working together for good, that the whole creation and everyone in it is precious and beautiful.  We already know what we belong to God, and if we belong to God then everything belongs to us.

This doesn’t mean that we live charmed and hassle-free lives.  Jesus goes on to talk about how the disciples will bear the hatred and violence of the world.  He himself will be crucified just a few hours after he says all this.  But he is asking us to see beneath and behind that to the ultimate and basic truth of God’s love pervading everything.  Even if the surface remains torn and broken by human sinfulness, in Jesus Christ we are in touch with Reality so deep that these disturbances cannot touch it.  And this will be revealed to all in time.  It is revealed to us now, and we are entrusted with this good news to live and to share in the meantime.

IV.

I am always reminded of that hymn from the 1960’s that has the refrain, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  The world will know we are Christians by our love for all.  They will know we are Christians by our love for our enemies and for those deemed unloveable.  By our love for the homeless and the guilty, the broken and the arrogant.  “For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse; and for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe,” to quote another song from that era.

Jesus’ message is summed up in the final simple call to love one another with the passion, patience, humor, acceptance, courage, honesty, and affection that fills our hearts, and our world, with joy.

+++++++

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"The True Vine."

John 15:1-8
April 29, 2018

I.

When Jesus refers to himself as “the true vine,” he means to distinguish himself from a particular false vine.  This was the elaborate image of a vine that was carved into the facade of the Temple in Jerusalem, which anyone who had ever been there remembered.  Apparently, it was quite impressive.  

Jesus is saying that true faith and real spirituality is based on him, not the accepted, traditional, established religious institution.  That fake vine was fruitless.  It did not produce the forgiveness it claimed.  It did not bear fruit in new, eternal life with and in God.  The Temple itself was a big, expensive tourist attraction, paid for by crushing taxes and forced labor imposed on the people by an evil king named Herod, who was installed by the conquering Romans.  Indeed, it had been reduced to a mere marketplace of swindling and profiteering.

But in the place of this barren monstrosity, Jesus presents himself as the true vine, the One planted by God.  It would be a ridiculously conceited and self-serving claim, if he couldn’t back it up.  If he can’t show that following and trusting in him actually does result in the new life of forgiveness and love he promises, then he is no better than the corrupt Temple.

That’s why the Lord has to talk about the pruning of the vine.  God removes and throws into the fire every branch that does not bear fruit.  When we look at Christianity and it doesn’t seem to be working very well in producing good people, it is because it has too many dead, fruitless branches:  Those who claim to be connected to him, who bear the name “Christian,” yet whose lives show none of the fruit of discipleship, who indeed, live in ways unrelated to Jesus’ teachings and life.  They are the ones who make Christianity seem no more spiritually fruitful than any other pompous, false religious institution.  It seems to be just another whitewashed tomb, like the Temple: All talk and spectacle, with no real results.

The church in our time has been too often reduced to a bloated, self-serving, rich, powerful, superficially attractive but ultimately empty institution.  Like the Temple, churches have been corrupted by money, power, and popularity.  Over the centuries, churches have been apologists for war, injustice, slavery, torture, and the authority of the ruling elite.  Thus churches lost nearly all their moral authority.  They became little more than the official, approved cheerleaders for nationalism, and particular economic and moral orders.  Like the Temple, the church was not a real “vine,” but a dead graven image, a counterfeit vine, standing more for the preservation of an unjust and violent status quo, than for any kind of new, transformed, redeemed life in God’s Spirit.  We fed people the empty calories of self-serving sentimentalities, while fearing and fleeing any talk of transformation, hope, liberation, or healing. 

II.

So when Jesus says that God “removes every branch… that bears no fruit,” he could be talking about the church in our time.  For God is indeed removing many fruitless branches from the vine these days.  Presbyteries spend more energy over closing churches than cultivating them.  Churches pay more attention to the members they are losing, than to feeding the members they have with the word.  Christians want things to stay the same or go back to what they used to know, but they see no need to deepen their connection to Jesus through Bible study or spiritual practices.  

Indeed, Jesus implies that it is the word itself that he has spoken that is doing the cutting!  Which is part of the dynamic here because Jesus’ teachings are alarmingly radical, demanding, and revolutionary; they challenge all our  establishment and conventional thinking; they undermine and reject every rationalization of the normal social, political, and economic order.  He wants this all replaced with what he calls the Kingdom of God, and its economics of sharing, its morality of forgiveness, and its politics of non-violence.  We knew that we were not living up to his word, so we tended to withhold, ignore, and water it down.  Of course we’re not going to preach that stuff, of course we’re going to prefer the fake, flashy, golden vine on the facade of the Temple to the true One who demands costly repentance and difficult discipleship.    

So we are left in a time when God cuts off branch after branch, and limb after limb, till we have to wonder where it will end.  Like when we prune the dead branches off of a tree, cutting it back until we hit living, green wood, we have to ask at this point if finally any productive, potentially fruitful part of us will ever be found.  

The point, for a grape vine as for the church, is not getting more branches and sprouting more leaves, it is bearing fruit.  For a vine this means good, juicy, sweet grapes that can be made into fine wine.  For the church the “fruit" is our actions.  Good fruit means good actions, actions that reflect and express the life of Jesus.  

Just as the wine it produces does not benefit the vine at all, so also the church cannot be about its own growth and survival.  A great deal of the energy we have sunk into the various techniques and strategies for church growth, right up to our present infatuation with being “adaptive,” has been wasted.  It has been about supposedly preserving the vine, while ignoring the production of grapes.  Which is to say, maintaining an institution while not changing our lives and behavior. 

The vinegrower may extend the vines and expand the vineyard.  But this happens because the vine is doing what it is supposed to do, which is produce good grapes.  The vine that does produce good grapes is one that the farmer will allow to grow.  The vine that does not produce good grapes will be cut back.  If necessary it will be uprooted and destroyed altogether.  The grapes are the point.  God wants the church to produce the good fruit of people whose lives express in their actions Jesus’ values of humility, compassion, forgiveness, and love.   

III.

This happens not when we seek to grow, but when we are plugged in to Jesus Christ, who is the true vine.  When his energy flows into and through us, and we are alive with his life of prayer and service, then we are bearing fruit and become branches worth keeping.  That’s how the vine grows.  Not by trying to grow.  Not by adapting to a changed environment.  But when our actions are based on and fed by the living energy of Jesus Christ.  We experience real growth when we receive the energy of God and let it shape and form our actions.

This is what the church has to be about.  We have to be a place where people experience the living Presence of Jesus Christ.  This is where we come to plug in to the true vine, the real source of spiritual power.  This is where we learn his life of acceptance and forgiveness.  This is where we come to see for ourselves that the new life he talks about, the joy and the peace of trusting in him, is true.  It is real.  It works.

We become fruitful branches by what are traditionally called “the means of grace,” which are the three main ways God’s energy comes to us and starts flowing through us.  All three of these are implied in this passage.  

The first is the Word, Jesus Christ, whom we know in Scripture, where he shows us his life and gives us commandments, summed up in the commandment to love one another.  

The second is the sacraments — Baptism and the Lord’s Supper — in which we are symbolically reborn and then actually fed with Jesus’ Body and Blood and so become him.  

And the third is prayer.  Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  Prayer is this asking, based on our following and identifying with Jesus Christ.

These three are like the prongs of an electrical plug.  Connected and engaged in these three conduits of divine power, we are charged and enabled to produce and bear the good fruit of changed lives.  For when we are reshaped and regrounded by God’s grace in these three ways, we are brought into touch with our true selves.  The false, ego-centric selves we think we are fall away, and we become awake and enlightened by our true selves, represented in the true humanity we share with Jesus.  Through his humanity we also come to participate in his divine nature.

Our actions change from an orientation towards selfishness to generosity.  Instead of being obsessed with consuming and gaining, we are all about shining with goodness and peace in the world.  Instead of being motivated by fear and anger, even to the point of hatred, we are motivated by the love God pours into our hearts, expressed in a deep trust in Jesus, and a certain hope in the future he gives to us.       

IV.

So we always have a choice.  We can keep trying to prop up, restore, fund, polish, preserve, and otherwise maintain the superficial, artificial vine on the facade of the Temple, representing a doomed religious institution.  We can keep pumping our resources into keeping things going, doing what we have always done, and wishing things could be the way they used to be.  We can keep sinking our energy into nostalgia and fantasy.

Or we could see how the life and energy of Jesus Christ flows into and through us by participating in those means of grace, and allowing the good fruit of God’s future to be produced in us.  

When we are inwardly formed by the Word, fed by the sacrament of his Body and Blood, and inspired by God’s living breath in prayer and contemplation, the fruit of justice and peace will be done in and through us.  And God’s goodness and truth will be realized with and within us.
+++++++


Too Good to Be True?

Luke 24:36b-48
April 15, 2018

I.

It is remarkable to me that in some of the accounts of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, some of the disciples do not recognize him or fully trust what they are seeing.  Whatever form Jesus is in, it is ambiguous enough that at least some of the people — and this includes people who have been hanging around with him perhaps for years — remain confused, even as he is standing right there in front of them.  They don’t completely get it.    

Luke reports that “in their joy they were disbelieving and wondering,” which sounds like he is trying to cover for their disbelief by attributing it to excess happiness.  Maybe they were not allowing themselves to let go of their suspicion regarding something that seems too good to be true.  Maybe they doubted because they were afraid of being disappointed and disillusioned.  Maybe they wanted to understand and trust what they were seeing, but there remained some part of them going, “What’s the catch?”  Like they were looking around for Alan Funt to show up and tell them it was really a gag, for those of you old enough to remember a TV show called Candid Camera.

The two things that Jesus identifies in his disciples here, which are giving them such trouble in accurately perceiving and recognizing him, are fear and doubt.  “Why are you frightened,” he asks, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Fear and doubt are blocking their view.

Fear and doubt are what tend to arise in our hearts when we are confronted with something that we don’t understand.  We often feel fear when something happens that is outside of our regular understanding and expectations, something we can’t explain.  We doubt our senses and our interpretations.  Things that don’t have a “rational explanation” put us into a state of unsettledness and confusion.  

I find that fear and doubt kick in most strongly when I am confronted with something that seems too good to be true.  Why is this lane empty when the lane next to it is jammed with cars?  Who is the Nigerian prince who sent me this e-mail and why does he want to give me 3 million dollars?  Why did my son clean his room without being asked?  Why is the scale telling me that I lost 3 pounds?  Surely it is a malfunction.  And so on.      

We doubt good news because we don’t want to appear to be idiots who just fall for every scam, who will credulously swallow everything, no matter how irrational, supernatural, or fake, who can be so pathetically swayed by obvious flattery or mindless wishful thinking.  We are used to doubting things until we have amassed the requisite proof that explains them.
So when the disciples are confronted with the truth that Jesus, their friend and teacher, whom they witnessed being gruesomely executed by the Romans three days earlier, does not stay dead, some do not trust it.  They do not understand what they are seeing.  Maybe they don’t even see it!  It does not fit into their normal ways of thinking and perceiving.  They try to cram it into familiar categories, even if fictional.  They tell themselves that he must be a ghost.  At least a ghost is something they have heard of.

II.

This is what can happen when we are dealing with the ultimate reality that Jesus reveals.  We do not necessarily see it.  Over the course of our existence, our minds have been trained to perceive and comprehend our world in a certain way.  But when we encounter experiences that do not fit into this pattern, we can get confused, and we explain them away in categories we can understand.

With the resurrection of Jesus we are dealing with something that does not compute, something for which there is no precedent.  Even here, when Jesus talks about how his death and resurrection is prefigured in the Scriptures, it is not prefigured in any obvious way.  There is no place in the Old Testament that says explicitly and in so many words that “the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  You cannot get that out of the text if you’re just reading it with your normal mind.  Just as these disciples could not recognize the living Christ with their normal minds either.

In order to recognize and know and experience Jesus, we have to get out of our normal minds.  We have to get beyond our regular way of thinking.  We have to open up our reasoning to accept something new and different.  If we stay in our regular mental processes, we fall into fear and doubt.  We have no clue what we are looking at.  We get confused, and we dismiss the experience as something else.

For us Modern people, our normal mind is conditioned by the literal, historical, factual approach in which we decide that only that which can be measured, quantified, and objectively verified is true for us.  Our normal minds will interpret this experience as just that, a historical event, something that is alleged to have happened at a certain time and place, long ago.  That is what we will accept.  If something can’t be authenticated by objective evidence, we will reject it as subjective and therefore unreal.  It is fiction.

This approach also has the added benefit of making it completely irrelevant to us and separate from us.  It gets reduced to an objective fact which we can have an opinion about, like any other historical event.  Did it really happen? we ask.  And invariably our normal Modern mind is led to conclude that, well, probably not.  It doesn’t fit any of the criteria we use for truth or factuality.  Dead people do not rise and mysteriously materialize in locked rooms.  That is not part of our common experience.  It cannot be explained scientifically.  Therefore, it is not true.  We remain comfortably ensconced in our doubt.

III.
  
But to believe in Jesus’ resurrection is more than merely having a cognitive opinion about something that happened a long time ago.  Faith is not objective knowledge but a personal trust.  We come to believe not by having an opinion about something “out there,” but by becoming someone “in here.”  To believe is not to prove by means of assembled evidence; it is to ourselves be the proof.  It is to witness to the effect of something in our own hearts.  The proof of the resurrection of Jesus is not a careful marshaling of historical testimony, but a changed and healed life.

This is why the New Testament talks so much about repentance.  Repentance means having a new mind, thinking differently, and therefore living in a different way.  It means letting go of our normal mind, and acquiring what Paul calls the mind of Christ.  We need to change our way of perceiving and reasoning, get out of the fear and doubt mentality, and see within a deeper truth.  

The whole point of the resurrection is that it is about all of us and each of us.  His resurrection is the revelation of who we really are.  It is our nature and destiny as human beings made in God’s Image that gets revealed in the resurrection.  

That is what is at stake here.  We don’t gather on Sundays to commemorate some past event.  We don’t gather so we can learn to be better people or to share common stories that bind us together like when we share memories in a family.  There are elements of all of that, of course, and this kind of remembering can be very good.  But the real point of the resurrection is that, in showing us who Jesus really is, it reveals who we are.  Jesus, the Son of Man, the truly Human One, is showing us our true nature.  Faith in him is trusting that in his resurrection he is revealing our own truest and deepest selves.    

In the Harry Potter books there is this magical mirror that reflects back a picture of one’s deepest desire.  The resurrection of Jesus is like this, except that when we look at him we see our true nature and destiny.  Like an X-ray reveals who we are under the surface, the resurrection of Jesus reveals us at our deepest place.  When God looks at us, God sees Jesus Christ, God’s own true and blessed and good Image, within us.  

It is realizing this that opens up the Scriptures for us, not the other way around.  This is what the Lord means by referring the disciples to the Bible.  The resurrection is not true because the Bible says so; the Bible is true because of the resurrection.  The resurrection, the revelation of new life beyond the power of death, becomes the lens through which we understand the New Testament, and then the whole of Scripture.  Once we realize this, yes, the Old Testament does indeed witness to Jesus Christ all over the place.

IV.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the ultimate and fundamental truth of human life.  And it has consequences.  Paul talks about walking in newness of life.  We cannot continue in fear and doubt.  Neither can we remain corrupted by ego-centricity that spawns violence, selfishness, greed, hatred, and lies.  We cannot treat the earth or people as inanimate objects to be exploited and used.  We cannot resort to retribution or punishment.  We cannot stand for injustice or inequality among God’s people.

To realize the truth of the resurrection as the revelation of our true humanity in Christ means living in his generosity and sharing, his forgiveness and healing, his peace and goodness, and his joy and blessing.
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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Liturgies for Resurrection Season


The Order of Worship for the Lord’s Day

The Second Sunday of the Resurrection
April 8, 2018
The Third Sunday of the Resurrection
April 15, 2018 
The Fourth Sunday of the Resurrection
April 22, 2018
The Fifth Sunday of the Resurrection
April 29, 2018
The Sixth Sunday of the Resurrection
May 6, 2018
The Seventh Sunday of the Resurrection
May 13, 2018



GATHERING

Gathering Music:
Welcome & Announcements
Entrance Song: “Be Not Afraid” (sung twice) ——/243 

Call to Worship 

The time is fulfilled,
the Kingdom of God has drawn near,
Repent, and believe the good news. Mark 1:15

Filling the Baptismal Font 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death? 
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, 
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 
so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3, 4

In baptism God claims us
and seals us to show that we belong to God.
God frees us from sin and death,
uniting us with Jesus Christ
in his death and resurrection.
By water and the Holy Spirit
we are gathered into the church, the body of Christ,
and sent out into the world 
with the good news of Christ’s love, peace, and justice.

Remember your baptism, and be thankful!

*Hymn:

4/8 “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” 423/265
4/15 “Bring Many Names” ——/760
4/22 “The Strife Is O’er” 119/236
4/29 “That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright” 121/254
5/6 “Because You Live, O Christ” 105/249
5/13 “Come, Christians, Join to Sing” 150/267

Prayer for Wholeness 

4/8, 4/15

O Christ our God:
You defeat death by death!
We clam up and say nothing.
You deliver us from death to life!
We scoff in disbelief.
You reveal the truth of your love for us!
We want proof.
You give us wings!
We crawl around in the dirt.
You make us whole!
We prefer the sour security 
of our fear, shame, and anger.
You make all things new!
We want things to be the way they used to be.
You make us one in you!
We would rather have competitors and enemies.
You set us free from sin and death!
But we like it here in this familiar tomb.
You roll away the stone crushing our hearts!
Open our eyes to your saving presence.
You call us out of the darkness, into your light!
May we respond with joy and delight,
risking all to dance in the glory of your love!

4/22, 4/29, 5/6

Great God of life:
you give us the key to new life,
you open us up to a new way of being.
Reform us, O God;
reveal our true nature.
After the time of our disintegration;
after all the losses and closings;
after all the cutbacks and costs:
You reassemble us according to the pattern of Christ:
the true Human and the true God.
You reveal our destiny and our origin
as people made in your Image.
What we used to be is gone forever,
and that is good!
Our true nature is emerging in us!
Who we will be is far greater than we can imagine!

5/13

God of Love and welcome:
you give us the “highest” and most inclusive vision of all.
In Christ we see our unity with all of life and all people.
In Christ we see that there are no “others,”
just different manifestations of blessing and glory.
In his Ascension he does not go away, but within.
He does not abandon us, but makes us participants in your nature.
Therefore, in Christ, we are people of compassion and empathy,
all suffering is our suffering,
all joy is our joy.
We cherish every life as a miracle of grace and love;
we honor every soul as a gift of light.
For in you we are one,
and we are lost in wonder, joy, and praise!

Affirmation

O Holy God, 
you dwell among us in all the good things that you have made,
and within us by the power of your Holy Spirit. 
You have brought everything out of nothing into being.
You breathed your breath into all that lives. 
You have created human beings in your image and likeness 
and adorned us with all the gifts of grace. 
You give us wisdom and understanding,
and have established repentance as the way of salvation. 
Master, accept our prayers  
and visit us in your goodness. 
Forgive all that we have done which is contrary to your will,
whether voluntary or involuntary.
sanctify our souls and bodies, 
and grant that we may worship and serve you 
in holiness all the days of our lives.
Amen.

The living God is an eternal dance of joyful love
we call the Holy Trinity.
We join in that dance as we stand and sing together:
“Sing we to our God above:” 

*Gloria: “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!” (verse 4) 123/232

TF *Procession of the Word

TF A child processes into the Sanctuary carrying a Bible, as the people sing the Gloria.
*The Peace

Christ is in the midst of us.
He is and ever shall be.
May the grace and peace of Christ our God be with all of you.
And also with you.

The people exchange words and signs of God’s peace.

*Response: “Halle-, Halle-, Halleluia” ——/591

Halle-, Halle-, Halleluia!
Halle-, Halle-, Halleluia!
Halle-, Halle-, Halleluia!
Halleluia!
Halleluia!


THE WORD

TF (Our young disciples depart to continue worship and learning downstairs.)

Prayer for Understanding

Enlighten our hearts and minds by your Word, O God.
Open our eyes to the truth of your saving love, revealed in Scripture,
Move our legs to walk in your way of peace.
Open our hands to do your work,
and our arms to welcome others in your name.
For you are the enlightening of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, 
and to you we give glory, now and forever.  
Amen. 

New Testament

4/8 Acts 4:32-35
4/15 Acts 3:12-19
4/22 Acts 4:5-12
4/29 Acts 8:26-40
5/6 Acts 10:44-48
5/13 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm

4/8 TF “Behold the Goodness of Our Lord”  Psalm 133   241
LW “O Look and Wonder” Psalm 133       397
4/15 TF “In the Night I Can Take My Rest”  Psalm 4 160
LW “O God, Be Gracious”   Psalm 4                     776
4/22 “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”   Psalm 23 172/803
4/29 “In the Presence of Your People” Psalm 22:25-31 ——/631
5/6 “New Songs of Celebration Render” Psalm 98 218/371
5/13 TF “God, Our Lord, a King Remaining” Psalm 93 213
LW “God, You Rule with Royal Bearing” Psalm 93       272

Gospel
4/8 John 20:19-31
4/30 Luke 24:36b-48
5/7 John 10:11-18
5/14 John 15:1-8
5/21 John 15:9-17
5/28 Luke 24:44-53

Sermon

*Affirmation of Faith, The Nicene Creed (Ecumenical, p. 15)

Prayers of God’s Creation and People

Invitation

O Great Healer:
let your Spirit swing 
around us and through us,
over us, under us, and among us,
with healing in her wings,
making us whole
and restoring us to our created goodness.

Intercessions

O Deep Mystery:
Bless all of us here today, 
as we offer our worship and praise to you,
and for all those baptized into your Name of every time and place
who have sought to trust and follow you.
We pray especially for disciples chosen for responsibility in your church….

And as we gather we also represent our whole community, especially: 
those chosen for responsibility in government and the courts…
all first responders…
travelers and workers… 
the aged and infirm…
the grieving and abandoned…
the sick and the addicted…
the poor and the oppressed…  
the unemployed and the destitute…
the prisoners and captives…
the undocumented, migrants, and refugees…
indigenous peoples…
victims of war and terrorism… 
victims of natural disasters…
victims of domestic abuse…
victims of slavery and human trafficking…
and all who remember and care for the needy among us…. 

As you commanded, O Lord,
we pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm.

We pray for all experiencing persecution for their faith…

We gather as well with all those who have died in the hope of resurrection,
and are now at rest….

Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord.
In the communion of all the saints, 
we commend ourselves, one another, 
and our whole life to you, O Christ our God,
and to you we render glory,
now and forever.
Amen.

THANKSGIVING

Offering   

The Earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof,
the world and all that dwell therein.            Psalm 24:1 

Offertory Music: “” 

*Doxology: “Alleluia, Alleluia!  Give Thanks”  (verse 1) 106/240

Invitation to the Lord’s Table

According to Luke,
when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples, 
he took the bread, and blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened
and they recognized him.
Luke 24:30, 31

This is the Lord’s table.
Our Savior invites those who trust in him
to share in the feast
which he has prepared.

Communion Preface

Gracious God:
we lift up our hearts to you in deep gratitude.
You raised Jesus from death to life. 
Because he is the One in whom we share true Humanity,
we also share in his victory over the grave. 
In him we are set free from the bonds of sin and the fear of death 
to share the glorious freedom of your children. 
In his uprising you promise eternal life to all who trust and follow him. 
For he makes us by grace what he is by nature:
participants in your divine and eternal life.
We praise you that as we break bread in faith, 
we shall know the risen Christ within and among us.

Sanctus 

And so we join our voices 
with those of all your people
in every time and place,
in the angels’ song of praise to you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he,
O blessed is he 
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna in the highest!

Eucharistic Prayer & the Lord’s Prayer (Traditional, p. 16)

God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer: 
You breathed the universe into being
and loved your creation so much 
that you gave your only Son 
so that whoever places their wholehearted trust in him 
should not perish, but have eternal life.

On that last night just before he gave his life for the life of the world,
he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, 
and gave it to his disciples,
saying, “This is my body.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

The celebrant breaks the bread.

And he took the cup of wine.  
After giving thanks he shared it with them,
saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood.
Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

The celebrant pours the wine into the cup.

And so we do remember him,
the One in whom true humanity was realized 
once and for all.
And in so doing we remember ourselves:
who and whose we truly are.
For he restores your Image in each of us,
revealing the blessing and goodness,
the joy and the beauty
at the heart of all that is.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us 
and upon these your gifts of the bread and the cup, 
making the bread we break 
and the cup we bless the true and full communion 
in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Remembering, therefore, 
this command of the Savior, 
we offer to you these gifts from your own gifts 
on behalf of all and for all.

O God,
like chicks fed by a mother-bird,
so our mouths are open to receive you.
And so we are bold to pray in the words Jesus taught us,
saying: Our Father….    

The Holy Communion of the People of God

With hearts trusting in an awesome God, 
come to the Table.  
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Receive the Body of Christ:
taste the fountain of immortality.
Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

The people come to the Table to share in Christ’s body and blood by intinction:
taking a piece of bread, dipping it into the cup, and eating it.
(The cup contains non-alcoholic juice.)
TF Those who wish to pray with the pastor before or after communion
may meet with him to the side.

May the Body and Blood of Christ our God bring you to everlasting life.  Amen.

Communion Music 

Closing Prayer

O God, your life infuses us and fills us,
energizing every part of us, 
empowering us to share together in your mission,
showing your love and justice in all we do.
Send us out into your world as bearers of the good news
of your saving love for the whole world.
Guide us in forming a community of peace
through which we may witness to and share your love
here and everywhere.
We have seen the True Light!
We have received the heavenly Spirit!
We have found the true Faith 
in the undivided and life-giving Trinity
who has saved us!
Amen.

*Hymn: 

4/8 “Hear the Good News of Salvation” 355/441
4/15 “When Peace Like a River” ——/840
4/22 “In the Bulb, There Is a Flower” ——/250
4/29 “Alleluia!  Sing to Jesus” 144/260
5/6 “Will You Come and Follow Me” ——/726
5/13 “Blessing and Honor” 369/147


SENDING

*Charge 

Brothers and sisters, 
Be at peace among yourselves. 
Encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 
See that none of you repays evil for evil, 
but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 
Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 
Do not quench the Spirit. 
Do not despise the words of prophets, 
but test everything; 
hold fast to what is good; 
abstain from every form of evil. From 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

*Benediction

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:13

*Choral Benediction: “Goodness Is Stronger Than Evil” ——/750

*Dismissal

*Postlude:


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