Sunday, April 12, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Locked in, Locked out....Calm us, Lord

Easter 2: The Living Christ inspires faith
John 20:19-31

Watch the video:



...or listen to audio:


...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here


...or read it online here:

    Last week on Easter Sunday, (according to John’s gospel), we left Mary Magdalene rushing off to tell the disciples the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!”  What a roller coaster of emotions Mary must have felt in a relatively short period of time, ... amazement when arriving at the tomb and discovering a huge entrance stone was removed, bewilderment and fear that someone had stolen Jesus’ body out of the tomb (who would do something like that!), deep grief that Jesus’ body was gone, confusion about what all of this meant.
    Then Jesus shows up, in the midst of her tears, calls her by name, instructs her not to cling to him, but rather to GO-TELL, the disciples, the brothers, that he would be ascending to his Father.  Mary was to GO-TELL-PROCLAIM the good news.  Jesus was alive!  And with that Mary becomes the first Easter apostle!

    What is disappointing is that we don’t really know from John’s gospel what that exchange with the disciples was like.  We can imagine there was much excitement...with questions directed to her, “Well, what did he say, what did Jesus look like, where were you when this happened, you thought he was a what...a gardener? how did he find you, was anyone else around???”  But we don’t get to hear that conversation.
    Today we pick up the rest of the story, according to John’s gospel.  It is later in the day, evening time.  Did the disciples spend all afternoon, knocking on people’s doors with the message, gathering at local shops, visiting with families, sharing together the news of this amazing turn of events?  Well, what we read is the disciples were gathered together in a house, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.  Grown men, followers of Jesus, hiding together.
    Why are the disciples not filled with boldness, with excitement to proclaim that Jesus is alive, that Jesus has conquered death?  Did they lock themselves in for the night to protect themselves from what the Jews might do to them?  Were they afraid that those who plotted Jesus’ death might now come after them, his followers?  Remember Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, of being one of them, denying/disowning Jesus not once, but 3 times!  Were they fearful that they would be accused of stealing Jesus’ body?
   
    Fear makes us do strange things...like locking doors.  Fear causes us to live in a perpetual state of anxiety.  Fear is exhausting and depressing.  Lots of energy is used up when we try to stuff our fears, not face them, not talk about them, not acknowledge them.  We’d rather run away from them most of the time!

    We are familiar with the rest of this narrative and most often focus on Thomas on this particular Sunday. But as I studied this text, I kept coming back to the disciples, locked behind doors, and wondering what fears keep us locked up?  Do we keep people locked out because of our fears?  And what does Jesus offer to us in our fearful state?  So we are setting Thomas aside for now.

      My guess is that most of us deal with fear/anxiety at some time in our life.  So we are going to take a few moments to reflect on our experiences of fear.  I will offer a few questions for each of us to ponder, to reflect on, sitting in silence and then at the conclusion of these few minutes, we will join together in singing STS 45, Calm me, Lord..  I encourage you to close your eyes, open your hands in front of you, palms up.  At the end of our time, when Lisa plays through the song one time, then we will join in.
.
1.)  What are the fears in your life that keep you locked up?  fears that paralyze you, that keep you from living a full, healthy life, fears that immobilize you?
2.)  How do you keep people locked out of your life, held at a distance?
3.)  How does it feel if you are being ‘locked out’?
(Sing STS 45 - Calm us, Lord)


    Were you able to name some of your fears in the quiet moments, to hold them before God, to release them?  I wonder what fears came to your mind?
Fear of failure, fear of death or dying, fear of a terminal illness, fear of the dark, fear of rejection, fear of losing your job or losing your mind, fear of a tragedy happening to a loved one, fear of not making the final cut for the choir or baseball team, fear of an abusive parent or spouse, fear of a bad review in your job, fear for the church.  Can we stay together?  Are you feeling locked into an abusive relationship or trapped in addictive behavior, or bad job situation.

    How do we keep people locked out of our life and who are they?  Do we break relationships with people who come to a different understanding of abortion, the peace position, method of baptism, Biblical interpretations, same gender relationships?

    What does it feel like when we are ‘locked out’?  When people pull away from us, don’t invite us into their homes and life or small group.  When our votes don’t count and our voice isn’t acknowledged and heard.  When there is no place for us at the table or we volunteer for something and are never asked to serve.

    When the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors because of their fears, Jesus came, stood among them and offered them 3 gifts.  He didn’t leave them stuck in their heightened state of anxiety, worry and crippling fear.  He entered their inner sanctum, their safe room that they had created.  He came, not just for a visit, but came bearing gifts that he knew they desperately needed.

1st gift - Jesus offers Peace.  In the earlier part of John’s gospel, Jesus reminded his followers, before his death, “Peace I leave with you”.  He had made that promise to them.  Now he offers this same Peace to them as Risen Christ!  “Peace be with you.”  And he offers it to them, not once but 3 times!  Jesus offers this peace to us, as well. In the midst of your fears, PEACE be with you. We sang about that desire in our song, “Enfold me Lord, in your peace.”

2nd gift - Jesus brings purpose/ mission.  His followers are now sent out people,  The believers become apostles...sent ones....out into the world.  They have work to do, a responsibility to fulfill, a calling to follow.  They are sent out of God’s love for the world.  The now become Jesus’ representatives wherever they go...his hands...his feet.  We become his hands and feet.  We now have purpose and a mission.  Peace given helps us unlock the doors that we have hid behind because of our fears and frees us to be ‘sent people’,....’mission people’,..people with purpose!

3rd gift - Jesus gives power and authority to carry out this mission.  He breathed on them, he breathed into them the Holy Spirit.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Jesus gives them the power to fulfill their calling and mission and part of that is to offer forgiveness to others.  This is John’s version of Pentecost...no large rowdy crowd, no tongues of fire, but a resurrected savior with a spiritual body that didn’t allow some locked doors to keep him from passing through and breathing the Spirit into their fearful hearts and bodies.

When does Jesus come with this peace, purpose and power?  It seems like he comes when people are in grief, like Mary, weeping, distraught, confused.  He comes when people are locked in fear, like the disciples, huddled behind closed doors.  I think Jesus shows up, stands among us when you and I and many of our brothers and sisters are locked in darkness or locked out of churches and institutions.  I believe Jesus shows up and stands among us as we struggle to make sense of what is happening in our churches, conferences and denomination. He stands among us as we gather at tables and discern together, as we learn to listen to one another respectfully, and pray for wisdom from above that will help move us forward.

    We are called to leave the rooms we’ve locked ourselves in and go out, GO-TELL, the good news.  We have been empowered by the knowledge that we bear the gifts of Peace, Purpose and Power of the one who bears the scars of his own pain and can pass through any walls that lock us in or out.  When Thomas finally saw the those scars, the nail marks, the wound in Jesus’ side, he utters the most powerful confessional of the divinity of Jesus in the NT, “My Lord and my God!”
His darkness and his doubt have become light.  Thomas is now a willing follower of Jesus knowing whom he follows.  It is a new beginning for Thomas and it can be for us, as well.  As we open the doors and release our fears, the Peace of Christ rests with us, the power of the Holy Spirit empowers us and we go out as sent people, proclaiming the good news, that Christ is alive and Jesus is our Lord.

Christ is alive, and goes before us . STS 89 has a rich text that offers us hope
(read together verses, if time)

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Phil Kniss: Easter seizure

Easter Sunday morning
John 20:1-18, Mark 16:1-8

Watch the video:



...or listen to audio:


...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here


...or read it online here:

I think I say something like this
    at the beginning of almost every Easter sermon:
    “I am more than ready for Easter.”
Every year I can hardly wait for the church to proclaim
    loudly and confidently,
    death doesn’t win . . . life wins.
Have we ever needed such a message more than we do this year?
    That’s what I thought last Easter,
        after that winter of record cold temperatures,
        and what seemed like a record number of tragedies,
            some of which hit this community . . . hard.

And again, today, I could recite a litany of evidence,
    that we’ve never needed the message of Easter more than now.
    In world headlines just this week—
        more religiously-motivated violence kills 148 in Kenya,
        war erupting again in Yemen,
        plane accidents, mudslides,
            another typhoon slamming into the Philippines today.
    Domestically,
        a polarized and paralyzed political system,
        unable to address real crises of injustice with immigration,
            and a host of other important issues.
    A church deeply divided,
        and I’m not just referring to MCUSA.
        Churches of all kinds facing off against each other,
            and against the faithful of other religions.
    And on a personal level, more suffering
        from illness and abuse and brokenness of all kinds
            in our families and churches and communities
            than there ever should be.

In the midst of all this, we struggle, desperately, to hold on to hope.
    But then Easter comes.
    We have this amazing resurrection story,
        and we have reason to hope again.
    Good reason.
        For life triumphs over death.
_____________________

And I’m particularly grateful that the Spirit saw fit
    to leave us with more than one resurrection story in the Gospels.
We are in Year B—the second year of a 3-year lectionary cycle.
    Each year we focus on a different Gospel—
        Matthew, Mark, then Luke.
        The Gospel of John gets spread evenly across all 3 years.
    This is the year for Mark.

    And for the Easter Sunday morning resurrection story,
        we are always given 2 choices—
            either John 20, or the other Gospel of the year.
    At Park View we often go with the John option,
        because of its drama, its poetic power,
        and because Barbara has internalized it
            for telling so beautifully.
    But the Mark resurrection story also deserves attention,
        so I am going to attend to it now,
        along with the John story.

Strictly from a story-telling perspective,
    I find the Mark resurrection story perhaps the most compelling.
    It’s the shortest of them all—just 8 verses in chapter 16.
    A lot is left unsaid.
        So what is Mark saying, by what he’s choosing not to say?
    In the King James it’s a longer story, goes all the way to v. 20.
    But nearly every modern translation has a footnote after v. 8,
        telling you the earliest, most reliable manuscripts stop at v. 8.
    The NIV puts 9-20 in a small italics font.
        These verses were added later, by an unknown editor,
            probably to make the Mark story consistent with the others.
        Nothing wrong with that longer story.
        It’s just not the way Mark told it.

So, we heard already this morning the John story,
    where Mary stayed weeping outside the tomb,
        and met and spoke with Jesus,
        who instructed her to go tell the other disciples,
        and she went, bearing powerful witness,
            “I have seen the Lord!”

With that story in mind,
    let’s hear Mark tell it.
In Mark, Mary went with two other women,
    to anoint Jesus’ body with the required spices,
    and upon finding the grave empty,
        they spoke not with Jesus,
        but with a young man in a white robe sitting in the tomb.
    This man also gave the women instructions, and I quote:
    “‘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.’
        So they went out and fled from the tomb,
            for terror and amazement had seized them;
            and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

End of story. End of chapter. End of the Gospel of Mark.

It’s probably obvious why an editor wanted to finish the story.
    The question is, why Mark didn’t.
    We know from the other Gospels,
        that the women did not keep it secret very long.
    They told. Word got around. Jesus made more appearances.
        He talked to his disciples.
        And he ascended into heaven.
    Pretty much the way it says in verses 9-20.
        But the Gospel writer is a storyteller.
        And stories like this are told with purpose.

    Mark chose to have this story end
        with three women mute and dumbstruck by the resurrection,
        seized with terror and amazement.

Their world was turned upside-down.
We don’t have an accurate mental image of their walk to the tomb.
    We picture a Sunday morning walk in a garden,
        with lilies blooming,
        the sun peeking over the horizon,
            its rays forming a perfect sunburst against the sky,
        and three women sprinkling perfume and spices
            on Jesus’ wrapped up body,
        spending a few quiet and sacred moments in grief,
            paying homage to a dear friend.
    That’s an image that works on a Hallmark card.
        But it’s not true.

    This was no walk in a park.
    They were there to do a most unpleasant job.
    This was agonizingly difficult work,
        done on the first day of the work week,
        because it couldn’t be done earlier, on the Sabbath.
    The job of these women was to unwrap Jesus’ lifeless body,
        dead in the tomb two days,
            wash it,
            rub in the anointing oil and spices,
            and re-wrap it and put it back where it belonged.

    These women were intent on one thing –
        to do what had to be done to give Jesus a proper burial,
        and then to get out of there,
            and get on with figuring out what life would be like
            without Jesus in it.
    Now, they were presented with a whole new reality
        and it overtook them.
    I like the way Mark puts it,
        “Terror and amazement seized them.”
        They were seized by the resurrection.
        You could say, they had a seizure.
            An Easter seizure.
    The Greek word used there is ek-stasis
        It means, literally, a standing out of one’s usual mind.
            It’s a state of being out of your senses.
            In a trance.
        It’s the same word used to describe the people’s reaction
            when Jesus raised a 12-year-old girl from the dead.
        And to describe Peter when he fell into a trance
            on a rooftop in the book of Acts,
            when he received his vision of unclean animals.
    Mary and Mary and Salome
        were struck senseless by the news of Jesus’ resurrection.
        Because of their intense fear and amazement,
            they were unable to make any kind of rational decision
                at that moment.
        They were seized by this truth.

Being seized is unnerving.
    It can be a negative or positive.
    But it is always unnerving.
When you are seized, you are not in control.
    Control over yourself and your situation is taken from you.
When you are seized, everything else is secondary in importance.
When you are seized, it is impossible to be indifferent about it.

Whether you are being physically seized, or emotionally seized,
    or intellectually seized by some revolutionary idea . . .
        when we are seized with something,
            everything else fades in importance,
            and is viewed through the lens of that which is seizing us.
    I want to be seized by resurrection.
    This year, more than ever.
    When news of violence and suffering fills the air,
        when the brokenness of this world envelops me in darkness,
        when evil threatens to cloud my thinking or overtake my spirit,
    I want to be seized, again, with resurrection.

    I want to be like the two Marys and Salome,
        and walk into a situation where all appears to be lost,
            but there find resurrection.
        I want to see life, when confronted with death.

I want the reality of Jesus’ resurrection to so overtake me,
    that it’s impossible for me to see the world through any other eyes,
    that it’s impossible for me to be indifferent about it.

I wonder if that’s what the author of Mark wanted for his readers.
    I wonder if Mark the Gospel writer
        wanted those first reading that Gospel,
        the early Christians threatened daily with death,
            under the most severe persecution and suffering,
            to relive the experience of these women, vicariously,
                when their deep grief and despair settled in,
                and were seized by this new reality that Jesus was alive,
                and all the wonderful and terrible things that meant.
    I wonder if Mark wanted these readers to be left,
        after hearing this Gospel,
            wondering what that resurrection means for me,
                in my own time of suffering and grief and fear.

    I’m convinced the ending of this Gospel
        is not about these women being afraid to speak.
    We all know,
        the readers of the Gospel knew,
        that the women did, in fact, speak, and speak boldly.

But the question hangs in the air for them,
    and for us still.
    What are we going to do with this reality
        of life in the face of death?
    Will we let it seize us, too?
    Will we let it be the one thing that looms larger than anything else?
    Will we let it change how we see the world?

This year, I don’t want to hold either death or resurrection
    at arm’s length.
    I want the courage to go to the tomb when I need to,
        on the first day of my work week, if need be,
        to deal with unpleasant realities when I’m called on to do so.
    It’s only there, face-to-face with death,
        that I can be surprised and seized by resurrection.

This year, again, I need an Easter that will seize me.
    I need an Easter that will grab hold of me, and not let me go.
        That will remind me, every moment of every day,
            that death loses, and life wins,
            that violence loses, and peace wins,
            that despair loses, and hope wins,
            that depression loses, and joy wins,
            that oppression loses, and freedom wins,
            that disease loses, and wholeness wins,
            that the kingdom of Satan—
                and all who work for that kingdom,
                knowingly or unknowingly—loses,
                and Kingdom of God wins.

Maybe not today.
Maybe not in the way I want it to, or when I want it to.
    But it will win.
    Resurrection trumps crucifixion.

I believe it.
Today I celebrate it.
And tomorrow, and every day,
    I pray I will be seized by that good news.
And I pray that the church will be seized,
    and will boldly proclaim,
        even in the face of brokenness and sin and death,
        “Death has been swallowed up in victory!
            Christ is Risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!

—Phil Kniss, April 5, 2015

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Phil Kniss: Getting politically cross-wise

Palm Sunday: A second look
Mark 11:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11

Watch the video:



...or listen to audio:


...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here


...or read it online here:

Pardon my shameless boasting, but in 32 years of preaching,
    I think I’ve never had a more clever sermon title than today.
    Don’t judge me, I know you’ve all done it.
        You have a sudden flash of brilliance,
            and you’re so pleased with yourself,
            you just have to point it out to somebody.
    I just hope I haven’t exhausted
        my limited supply of brilliance on the title.

All joking aside,
    I know it will never be brilliance that makes a sermon do its work,
        mine or any one else’s.
    Preachers are at the mercy of the Holy Spirit, in community,
        to mediate the Gospel.
    We need the Spirit to breathe on us and among us all—
        to take the divine word of Scripture,
            as it gets processed through the filter of my mind,
                based on my experience, perspectives, and biases,
            then turned into speech,
            then fly through the air into your ears and thoughts,
                with your experience, perspectives, and biases,
        so that the Spirit somehow helps the word pass into your heart
            unharmed and uncorrupted,
            that it might give life, and bear fruit.
    If that happens today, chalk it up to a miracle of God.

    And as always,
        take my words as Part One of a conversation,
        not a final proclamation.
    So God helping us, let’s engage these Palm Sunday scriptures.
_____________________

This title phrase I’m so proud of—“politically cross-wise”—
    has multiple layers of meaning
        that may not be immediately apparent,
        but which, of course, I will point out.
    I may be breaking new ground with that phrase,
        because I Googled it.
    It shows up only 15 times on the internet,
        none of them in a sermon,
        none of them with my multiple meanings.
    Maybe some of you can already tell where I might be going with it.

Let’s start with the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumphal entry,
    which we retold this morning,
        in action, in song, in words from Mark 11.

I’m going to contradict something you’ve heard many times.
    You’ve heard it said Jesus was not a political Messiah,
        but a spiritual Messiah.
    You’ve heard me say something along those lines.
        But not in recent years.
        I’ve given up that line of thinking.
    Jesus was, most definitely, a political Messiah.

This march into Jerusalem was a political march.
    It was intended, from the start,
        to be a confrontational walk into Jerusalem
            to set things right in society.
    It was to be the beginning of a social and political revolution.

If Jesus did not see himself as a political Messiah,
    the story makes no sense.
    Not only did Jesus not stop this political march.
    He facilitated it. He initiated it.
        He sent his disciples to fetch his ride.
        He got up on the colt, of his own accord.
        He allowed people to spread cloaks and branches on the road—
            clear symbols of royalty.
        He allowed them to take up political chants—
            “Hosanna!”, “Save us!”—
                a familiar political chant for greeting a king
                    returning home from battle.
        They openly proclaimed him a conquering king,
            to save them from brutal King Herod.
        This was the chant of revolution,
            and he did not shush them.

If we try to claim that this public act of Jesus and his followers,
    which they orchestrated,
    was not a political event, but only spiritual, or internal,
        we are not being honest with the biblical text,
        and we are completely ignoring the historical context.

The savagery of Herod’s oppression can’t be overstated.
    It was in-your-face-barbaric. It was brutal and dehumanizing.
        ISIS has nothing on Herod.
The people were more than ready for a deliverer, a heroic savior.
    They found that person in Jesus.
    And it was realistic hope, in their minds,
        that Jesus could, literally, overthrow Herod,
        even if Herod had the whole Roman Empire behind him.

They had seen Jesus’ miracles.
    He fed five thousand with a few loaves.
    He healed people born blind and born lame.
    He even raised the dead.
Now, they were about to witness a miraculous coup d’etat,
    a wondrous deliverance from the world’s strongest army.    This political march into Jerusalem
        vibrated with hope and optimism.

Picture, if you can,
    East Germans marching through the hole in the Berlin Wall in 1989;
    Indians marching with Gandhi in the Salt March of 1930;
    Blacks and Whites walking arm-in-arm
        on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965,
            the 50th anniversary of which was earlier this month.
If you can picture those scenes
    and the hope, and determination, and righteous indignation
        of a people long oppressed,
    then you have an idea of what it felt like to the people,
        to be with Jesus on the march into Jerusalem.

If this sounds like a new idea, I assure you, I’m not making this stuff up.
    No, Mark 11 does not explain to future readers
        exactly how this procession was seen politically, at the time.
    But there is plenty of historical evidence to support this picture.
        Spelling it out wasn’t necessary to the first Gospel readers.
            They were living this reality.

    Now . . . did the people have the wrong idea about Jesus?
        Yes. Absolutely, yes.
    They were badly mistaken in their expectations.
        But their mistake was not
            that they proclaimed Jesus as a political Messiah.
        Their mistake was in misunderstanding
            the kind of politics Jesus stood for.
        They were wrong about the nature of Jesus’ kingship,
            about the character of his political kingdom.
_____________________

Let’s recall what the word, “political,” means.
    I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating.
        Human beings are political by nature,
            and we need to embrace that.
        The word has been ruined for us,
            by a very broken political system in our country,
            that seems to accomplish more harm than good,
                when it manages to accomplish anything at all.

    But politics, per se, is an important and noble thing.
        Politics refers to the way human beings organize themselves
            into a cohesive social entity.
        It comes from the Greek words
            for city (“pó-lis”) and citizen (“po-lí-tes).
        So the process by which people decide
            how to distribute power and resources,
            how to make decisions,
            how to live together harmoniously—
                that process is “politics.”

The church is political.
    That’s not a value statement. That’s a fact.
    We establish patterns of making decisions
        of governing ourselves,
        of living together in an orderly way.
    We develop shared practices and expectations.
    We mark our citizenship by the rite of baptism.

    Your S.S. class or small group is a political body of one kind.
    Park View Mennonite Church is a political body of another kind.
    Virginia Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Church USA
        are political bodies of yet a different kind.
    We all have practices and rituals
        that help us relate to each other in meaningful ways.
    In the church, communion is one of the most political acts we do.
        It shapes us deeply as a people.

When we in the church proclaim that Jesus is Lord,
    we are making a profound political statement.
    We are pledging our loyalty to the reign of God.
    We are affiliating, politically, with the people of that realm,
        and their sovereign ruler.

But God’s kingdom politics
    has a completely different basis
    than the politics of any human government.
National and civic politics is about exerting social control,
    reinforced ultimately by violence, or the threat of violence.
    It forms alliances strong enough to control the agenda.
    It ensures that the ideology of the most powerful
        gets exerted onto the whole of society.

A classic case was recent elections in Israel.
    And yesterday there were elections in
        a sharply divided, and unstable, Nigeria.
    And we ourselves are starting to enter a 2-year long
        presidential election season.
    The question is always,
        which vision of the future will “rule the day”?
    Whether a multi-party parliamentary system
        where you win the right to build a majority coalition,
        or a 2-party system like ours
            where a 50.1% majority is all you need—
        in human partisan politics you play to win, at any cost,
            because winning gives you coercive power
                to control the agenda and outcome.
        There is no wonder this kind of politics
            is rife with corruption, and negativity, and dirty tricks.
        There is no wonder that partisan politicians
            are allergic to anything that smacks of weakness—
                like listening, collaboration, patience,
                or God forbid, respectful yielding to an opponent.
_____________________

In Jesus’ day, the cause of the Jewish people was a righteous cause.
    They needed deliverance from oppression.
    Jesus was on the side of justice for his people.
    But his first allegiance was to an even higher cause.
        He came proclaiming God’s kingdom of peace and justice,
            a kingdom that would not be established by force,
                or by coercion of their enemies,
            but by the irresistible power of sacrificial love.

    The political platform Jesus identified with,
        during his march into Jerusalem as Messiah
            was that of hospitality,
            of orientation to the poor,
            of self-sacrificing love and compassion.
    Jesus rejected the politics of fighting violence with violence,
        of destroying others to save ourselves,
        of grasping for power in order to control our destiny.
    Jesus was a political Messiah,
        but with a kind of politics the people were not expecting.
        And that’s putting it mildly.

    The shouts of “hosanna” died away, quickly,
        and became shouts of “crucify him!”
    The first thing Jesus did upon entering the city of Jerusalem,
        was not to storm the king’s palace
        and confront Herod and his godless, violent regime.
    Jesus first went into the temple of God,
        and confronted his own people,
        those buying and selling animals for religious sacrifice.

That’s not to say Jesus wasn’t concerned about Herod and Caesar.
    Of course he was.
    But he had a deeper concern: his people were losing themselves.

    It wasn’t Rome that kept them from living into God’s purposes.
        They did that on their own.
        They forgot the two greatest commandments.
        They forgot to love and serve God
            with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
        They forgot to love and serve their neighbor.
    Their faith and identity could thrive even under brutal oppression.
    But it wouldn’t stand a chance if they destroyed it themselves.

They were forgetting justice and compassion.
    The wealthy were stepping on the poor.
    Widows and orphans were being left on their own.
    This injustice extended even inside the walls of the temple.
        The money-changers were making a profit off the less fortunate,
            right inside the temple, in the court of the Gentiles.
        Instead of making space for Gentile worshipers of Yahweh,
            they were extorting them financially,
            inside the place named a “house of prayer for all nations.”

Jesus looked on the city and wept for this people
    “lost and without a shepherd.”
    They were divided along party lines—
        Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Essenes, Herodians—
        and forgot completely what held them together.
    They were too confused about their identity
        to realize their biggest problem wasn’t Rome.
    The spiritual and ethical ground had eroded under their own feet.
        So Jesus confronted them with deeper, more grounded politics.

After his ride into Jerusalem, it was clear where the ride would end.
    At the cross.
    Where all the powers of the world converged,
        to crush the opposition.
    But the cross is also where God showed up,
        and began to fashion a new covenant people.
    This would be a people formed around a covenant
        shaped by the cross, not the sword.

And now you see the layers of meaning in my phrase,
    “politically cross-wise.”

Jesus’ political framework
    built on sacrificial love and non-violence,
    put him cross-wise with the political systems already in power.
    Both the religious political system,
        and the imperial political system,
        could not abide someone who stepped entirely outside
            their play-to-win politics that relied on violent coercion.
    Even the crowds were at odds with Jesus’ way of love.
        His politics were a big disappointment to everyone,
            including his own disciples who had other hopes for him.
        The people shouting “hosanna” during the march,
            now realized their hopes were badly misplaced.
        Jesus was cross-wise with his people and their politics.

    But Jesus’ posture was politically cross-wise in another sense.
        His politics were shaped by the wisdom of the cross.
        His politics called people into communities shaped by the cross.
            Sometimes we call these cruciform communities.
            Cruciform simply means cross-shaped.
                Shaped by the wisdom of the cross.
                Cross-wise.

Cross . . . wise . . . politics are no more popular today,
    than they were in Jesus’ day.

    We continue to be shaped by a culture of partisan politics.
    And yes, even the church is profoundly shaped
        by the partisan political culture.
    That becomes most apparent in times of church conflict.
        Let’s not fool ourselves that we are not being political.
        It doesn’t fly to accuse others of “being political”
            while claiming that we’re not.
    Rather, let’s just be honest about which political framework
        we use as we engage each other in the household of faith.
        Do our politics look like Jesus?
            Do we encounter the other with an open-armed posture
                of deep listening,
                honesty,
                integrity,
                respectful and vigorous engagement with the other,
                and sometimes, a willingness to yield,
                    for the sake of love.
        Or are we invested in a partisan play-to-win framework
            where we do whatever it takes to achieve our objective,
                and ensure our ideology comes out on top?

        Partisan politics are ultimately coercive politics.
            They are not cruciform.
            They are not, and never will be, cross-wise politics.

    So maybe the word to the church on this Palm Sunday
        is for us to accept the profoundly political implications
            of Jesus’ march into Jerusalem,
        to recognize the reality that we,
            as a community of belief and practice,
            are a political entity.
        And to accept that we need to sort out how we live together—
            how we make decisions,
            how we distribute power and resources,
            how we collectively discover the will of God.

    And, may we embrace a cross-wise character for our politics.
        May we vigorously reject the ways of our culture,
            and its political pattern of play-to-win-at-all-costs.
        And rather, adopt a cruciform political posture,
            to show love at all costs to
            to love our neighbor as ourselves,
            and to open our own hearts and minds and spirits
                to the possibility of dying to self,
                and letting the life of Christ transform our lives.

        That is what the cross does.
            It saves us.
            Maybe not in the way we expected.
            But it saves us.
                “Hosanna!”
                    “Jesus, the crucified one, save us!”
_____________________

I invite us now into the “second look.”
    We will hear read to us again, just part of the Gospel story,
        verses 8-10 of Mark 11.
        We will hear the “hosannas” again,
            but perhaps in a different light.
    And then we will observe a long moment of silence,
        to reflect on those “hosannas”
        and open ourselves to where they might lead.
    Following the silence,
        we will hear two more scriptures,
            one from the prophet Isaiah,
            and one from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
        These texts will complete our second look
            and help us turn toward the week ahead,
            a week to remember Jesus’ suffering
                and death and resurrection.
    Let us open ourselves now, to the Spirit and the Word.


Mark 11:8-10
8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
     “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
        Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


Isaiah 50:4-9a
4 The Lord GOD has given me
     the tongue of a teacher,
  that I may know how to sustain
     the weary with a word.
  Morning by morning he wakens —
     wakens my ear
     to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
     and I was not rebellious,
     I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
     and my cheeks to those
    who pulled out the beard;
  I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord GOD helps me;
     therefore I have not been disgraced;
  therefore I have set my face like flint,
     and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
     8 he who vindicates me is near.
  Who will contend with me?
     Let us stand up together.
  Who are my adversaries?
     Let them confront me.
9a  It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
     who will declare me guilty?

Philippians 2:5-11
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
     did not regard equality with God
     as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
     taking the form of a slave,
     being born in human likeness.
  And being found in human form,
     8 he humbled himself
     and became obedient
    to the point of death —
     even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
     and gave him the name
     that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
     every knee should bend,
     in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
     that Jesus Christ is Lord,
     to the glory of God the Father.



—Phil Kniss, March 29, 2015

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Phil Kniss: What God forgot

Lent 5: Letting the seed coats decay
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-2, 7-12; John 12:20-33

Watch the video:



...or listen to audio:


...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here


...or read it online here:

In our walk through the Old Testament during Lent, Year B,
    from Ash Wednesday, on the way to Easter Sunday,
    our pathway can be traced, looking back,
        by what we left lying along the road.
    Like the trail of broken breadcrumbs,
        dropped by Hansel and Gretel,
        our path, over the last five weeks,
            is marked by all the broken covenants
            scattered along the roadside.

Covenant is a major theme of Lent
    during this second year in the cycle.
    We started out with the covenant with Noah:
        the promise God made to all creation,
        never to destroy the earth again
            (after which, of course, Noah behaved badly).

    Second, there was a covenant with Abraham,
        although we just barely mentioned that one this year,
        due to being snowed out one Sunday.
        We could spend all morning listing the ways
            Abraham, his children, and grandchildren,
                engaged in all sorts of evil,
                including lying, manipulation, and murder.
    Third, was the covenant with all the Israelites at Mt. Sinai,
        when God gave them the law on tablets of stone . . .
        (twice, actually, because the first ones got smashed in anger,
            when the people bowed down to worship a golden calf.

    Last Sunday, we had what you might call a “covenant for healing,”
        when God told Moses to lift a bronze serpent up on a pole.
        Later, that same pole was smashed into pieces by King Hezekiah
            because the people started to worship it as a god.

Now, today, on the fifth Sunday of Lent,
    we are told of a whole new covenant.
    It’s a covenant written on the heart.
        Ah, this one will be different than the rest.

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah,
    God announces that a new covenant is coming—
        “is surely coming, says the Lord,” chap. 31, v. 31.
    And this new covenant is examined and compared
        to the covenant at Mt. Sinai.
        It does not, ultimately, undo the Sinai covenant.
        It enhances it.

At Sinai, the covenant was written on stones,
    and it was broken—literally and figuratively—
        because it was external to them.
        It was handed down to them.
        It had to be taught, by rote.
            “Learn this, people.”
    Or as Jeremiah described it,
        “[They had to] teach one another, or say to each other,
            Know the Lord.” (v. 34)
   
    By contrast, the covenant to come will be written internally,
        on the heart.
    For people of the new covenant,
        knowledge of God, and of God’s covenant,
            will be part of their nature.
        They won’t need to be taught in the same way, Jeremiah says,
            because they already have it in them,
            from the youngest to oldest, the least to greatest.
            They will know the Lord, by nature.
_____________________

Now, that gives us something to chew on.
    What does the prophet mean,
        that we will know Yahweh, by nature?
    And he uses that word, this named God Yahweh, this one God,
        humankind will know this God by nature.
    We Christians usually read this text from the Jesus perspective.
        And rightly so.
        Jesus did come proclaiming a new covenant.
            He preached a new way of life in the kingdom of God:
                “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you.”
            That new covenant was sealed
                by his suffering, death, and resurrection,
                which we’ll be celebrating over the next few weeks.
        And this new covenant is still with us through the Spirit
            that Jesus promised would dwell in us,
                and in communities of the Spirit.

        So I guess we could look at this text and say,
            “Done!”
            Jesus fulfilled this covenant. We’re in it now.

        Maybe.
            We do experience a bit
                of the internal dynamic of this covenant,
                because of the Spirit of Jesus in us,
                    making the covenant live,
                    making it sustainable.
        But who of us would claim, when it comes to knowing God,
            we’ve finally nailed it?
        Who is willing to say we no longer need to teach?
            The evidence says otherwise.
            We do not all, from the least to the greatest,
                “know the Lord.”
            We are not beyond the need for being taught.

No, there has to be another explanation.
    What did Jeremiah really mean?
        What kind of covenant does not need to be taught?
_____________________

I think we have to go all the way back to Genesis 3.
    The Fall.
    Ever since humankind fell into the sin of self-orientation,
        and turned away from God,
        God has been waiting for, and working for, our return.
    That’s what we’ve been looking at these first four Sundays of Lent.
        Covenant after covenant, God reaches for us.
    These covenants have not reached their full potential
        because of our failure to find a way to flourish within them.
    Sin keeps pulling us back,
        away from the life God has in mind.

Jeremiah, is prophesying about a restoration
    of how it was in the beginning,
    when all of creation was in harmony with itself, and its Creator.
    Jeremiah is prophesying a renewed consciousness . . .
        renewed will . . .
        renewed passions.
    And this will be nothing other than a gift of God.
        It’s not something we make happen.

Look again at v. 34. The Lord says,
    “They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest . . .
        for I will forgive their iniquity,
        and remember their sin no more.”
    It is God’s forgiveness that results in the knowing.
        “They shall know me . . . for I will forgive them.”
    That is a critical 3-letter word:  “for” . . . meaning “because.”

    It is because God forgives us, that we are able to know God.
        God’s forgiveness comes first.
        We seem to think it’s the other way around.
        We think we have to learn enough about God,
            muster enough belief and faith in God,
            so that we can say the right words to God,
            and present ourselves before God in the right manner,
            so that because of our humble, penitent, approach of faith,
                God will then . . . forgive us.
        That’s not what Jeremiah 31 says.
        God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and forget their sins . . .
            and then they shall know me.”

The forgiveness of sin by God is a done deal.
    What is left, is for us to open ourselves up to God.
    What is left, is to take the risk
        of experiencing a fuller knowledge of God.
    We human beings are the clog in the system, here.
        Always have been.
    It’s not that God is holding back his love and forgiveness,
        for some future age when we all get our act together,
        and then the kingdom will really come.
    No, the reconciling, forgiving work of God is a done deal.
        It is ours to open up to it.

    All that’s left, is for us to stand before God with an open posture.
        The same posture Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden,
            before the fall.
        Before they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil,
            Genesis says Adam and Eve were naked, and not ashamed.
            After they ate, they became aware and ashamed.
            There was a time I thought this had something to do
                with shame and human sexuality,
                that their nakedness suddenly became an issue
                    between them as human beings.
            I don’t think that’s the point of the story at all.
            The fruit did not suddenly make these lovers
                embarrassed to be seen naked by each other.
            The reason they sewed fig leaves together for clothes,
                was they didn’t want God to see them naked.
                At least, that’s how Genesis 3 plainly reads.

        When God called to Adam in the garden, “Where are you?”
        Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden,
            and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
        This man who once walked with God in the garden,
            in relational intimacy and openness,
            now was afraid to stand exposed and naked before God.
        That’s what sin does.
            It creates a need for cover.
            It makes us move toward self-protection.
            It causes us to settle for something less
                than full openness and vulnerability toward God.
            Sin makes us conscious of our nakedness before God,
                and we run for cover.

So what will restore that relational intimacy and openness with God?
    It is not our presentation of ourselves to God,
        that will convince God to forgive and restore us.
    It’s not that if we are remorseful enough,
        if we have enough faith,
            or enough knowledge of God,
            or enough holiness and purity of life,
                that God will finally relent and say,
                “Okay, now I forgive you.”

    No, God has already forgiven. It’s done.
        In fact, God already forgot.
    The prophet, speaking for God, says,
        “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
    God is all in with us—
        reaching out to us in pure, unguarded love,
        not holding back to see how we will respond.
    God is the lover who’s just laying it all out there,
        is willing to get hurt, if necessary, for love.

    We just need the guts to respond, to say “yes,”
        to reciprocate with a posture of openness to God,
        to accept the fact of God’s forgiveness and forgetfulness,
            and stand exposed before God, for love’s sake.
_____________________

That’s a bit disconcerting to those of us
    who’ve conditioned ourselves to think we must earn God’s favor.
    When we finally get up the nerve to approach God
        and beg for mercy and forgiveness,
        we think we ought to at least get a stern scolding from God,
        and a long list of things to do to get back in God’s good graces.
    But instead of standing before a faultfinding, finger-wagging God,
        we are standing before a forgetful God.
        A God who has, literally, forgotten our sin.

Maybe that’s why this new covenant written on the heart
    is taking so long to come about.
    It’s not because God is moving too slow.
Maybe God’s part is already done,
    and the covenant is not yet fulfilled
        because we are too stubborn, too proud,
            too afraid, too self-oriented, too protective.
    We’re back where Adam was, hiding in the bushes.
    We’re not ready to stand naked and vulnerable before God.
    If only we knew the kind of God we would meet,
        if we came out of the bushes.

And maybe that’s also what Jesus was talking about in John 12:24,
    when he spoke of his own impending death.
    “I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
        it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
        Those who love their life lose it,
            and those who hate their life in this world
            will keep it for eternal life.”
    God has not designed life and love to be locked behind a hard shell.
    The protective seed coat has to give way,
        for the life that is already there,
        to emerge resurrected, and bear fruit as God intended.
_____________________

This all puts a different angle on discipleship.
    When we accept God’s completed work of reconciliation,
        that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook.
        We still have a lot of work to do.
    When we are reconciled with this forgiving and forgetful God,
        it’s a doorway into a new life of holiness and obedience,
        it’s walking a new path,
        it’s a process of building on a new pattern for our lives,
            a pattern that is unlike much of the world around us,
            it’s an invitation into a life of non-conformity.
    We serve God, not ourselves.
    We are obligated to the agenda of God’s kingdom.
        Being a disciple is costly for us.
        But . . . being forgiven is not.

    And knowing God is also not costly and difficult.
        Knowing God is what naturally flows,
            out of a willingness to accept God’s love and forgiveness,
            and stand before God with an open posture.
        A stance like that, before a God like that,
            gives rise to a pure and whole knowledge of God,
                naturally, untaught.
        I think that is what Jeremiah meant.

    He did not mean we don’t have to work hard,
        and study the ways and character of God,
        and learn the stories of God and God’s people,
        and strive mightily to pass it on to our children.
    That we must do. And always do.

But the kind of knowledge of God the prophet spoke of,
    is the kind of knowledge that comes as gift,
        when we face God’s open and vulnerable arms,
        and in turn offer ourselves—
            open, vulnerable, surrendered in love.
    And we then, naturally, without the aid of a teacher,
        come to know this God as a God of infinite love,
        who is not out to harm us or oppress us or shame us,
        but only wants to bathe us in love and mercy and forgiveness.
    That’s what we can all come to know,
        from the least of us, to the greatest,
        from the youngest to the oldest.

    That is the knowledge we are given, freely, readily,
        when we can stand unashamed before God, and say,
        “I know my transgressions,
             and my sin is ever before me.”
        And God responds, “What sins? I forget.”
    That is the knowledge we are given, freely,
        when God “creates in us a clean heart . . .
                 and puts a new and right spirit within us.”

    That is the knowledge that is written on our heart,
        which we are not in need of being taught.

Now, with this picture in our mind,
    a picture of God our lover standing before us with open arms,
    wanting, waiting, for us to respond in kind,
    let us hear again the words from Jeremiah 31:31-34.

31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

—Phil Kniss, March 22, 2015

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Phil Kniss: Look and live

Lent 4: God amidst the shadows
Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

Watch the video:



...or listen to audio:


...or download a printer-friendly PDF file: click here


...or read it online here:

Snakes are in the Bible 37 times.
    Not one time in a positive light.
        They are either biting people, scaring people,
            being devious, or incarnating the devil himself.
    I don’t know whether my brother Fred and I should feel guilty
        about loving snakes as teenagers in Florida,
        and once keeping several quite large ones as pets in our home.
    If I should, I don’t.
        As the song goes, “All God’s critters got a place in the choir.”

Snakes have always disturbed people.
    If you have a fear of snakes, ophidiophobia to be precise,
        cheer up, you are just fulfilling God’s plan for your life.
    God cursed the snake in the Garden of Eden,
        said it would always be an enemy of Eve . . .
        and all her descendants.

And for disturbing stories of snakes in the Bible,
    nothing beats Numbers 21.
    It even disturbs me, a snake lover.
        But it’s not the snakes themselves, that disturb me.
        I am disturbed by God in this story.
            Or at least, I am sobered by God’s way of working.

Numbers 21 is one of many stories in the Hebrew scriptures,
    about the rebellion of the people,
        of God’s subsequent punishment,
        and the people’s repentance.
    It’s a common theme throughout much of the Old Testament.
        Understandably.
    The view of people in the ancient world was clear on this.
        When bad things happened in the natural world,
            it was God, or the gods, doing it to them.
            It was divine anger, or divine judgement of human sin.
        There was no reason to give a natural, or rational, explanation.
        That wasn’t how ancients thought.

    So what’s disturbing to me is not the portrayal of God’s wrath,
        in sending the poisonous snakes to kill the rebellious people.
    That’s how they understood it, and needed to portray it.
    I also realize Jesus moved beyond that way of thinking.
    Jesus advanced our understanding of God.
        He showed us that God doesn’t manipulate nature at every turn,
            to punish sinful people.
    About the man born blind, Jesus said,
        “It was not his sins, or his parents’ sins, that he was born blind.”
    About natural phenomena, he said,
        “The sun rises on the evil and the good,
            the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”
    When a tower collapsed, and 18 people died, Jesus said,
        “They were no worse sinners than others in Jerusalem.”

    Jesus moved us beyond a God who “gets even.”
    Jesus revealed a God who loves us unconditionally,
        even while nature take a course
            that sometimes causes suffering.
    He revealed a God who, when bad things happen,
        does not stand back and say, I told you so,
        but rather, a God who is with us in our suffering.

    So it’s not this primitive understanding of God’s wrath
        that bothers me in this ancient text.
        That’s an authentic reflection of the times.

    No, it’s how God responded to their repentance,
        that gives me pause.
        And we can’t easily dismiss that response
            as an ancient and primitive view of God.
        Because it’s reinforced in the New Testament,
            and in the life of Jesus.

So how did God respond, after the people repented?
    The people fell on their knees, and cried out to Moses,
        “We have sinned against Yahweh.
            Pray to Yahweh to take the snakes away from us.”
    So Moses prayed exactly that.
        The prayer was simple. Reasonable. Just.
            God sent the snakes to make them repent.
            They repented.
            God should send the snakes away.
        But God said, “No. That’s not what I have in mind.”
            The snakes stayed.
            They kept striking people, with their fatal venom.
        God had Moses make a bronze replica of a snake,
            and put it on a pole to look at,
            so when they were bitten, they could look . . . and live.

        Rather than remove the cause of their suffering,
            God provided wholeness,
                by making them face the very cause of their suffering,
                the very thing that threatened their life.

Why would God do this?
    God was not being malicious.
        This was not a cruel joke.
    God, in God’s wisdom,
        knew something about becoming whole
        that we often try to ignore.
    We don’t heal from life’s suffering
        by running away, or ignoring it,
        or having the suffering magically disappear.
    We face the source of suffering,
        with the promise of God’s presence and help.
    The path to wholeness involves
        looking into the face of what is causing our brokenness.

God wants wholeness in every part of our lives.
    God hates diseases that break down our bodies.
    God hates sin that separates us from God.
    God hates broken relationships and prejudice
        that separate us from each other.
    God hates violence that rips apart nations and peoples.

    God will one day crush evil and suffering forever,
        and create a new heaven and new earth.
    But until then, we must wrestle with it here and now.
        We must stare it in the face,
            and trust in God to be with us in it.

I don’t know any way around that.
    I’m not sure I want a way around that,
        if, in fact, that is God’s way of bringing us
            into a flourishing human life.
_____________________

We know, from the Gospel of John this morning,
    that God’s heart is for the salvation, not condemnation,
        of this world God loves.
    In fact, God so loved the world,
        so yearned for its wholeness and salvation and shalom,
        that God was willing, eager, in fact,
        to enter into the full experience of life in this world,
            including its pain, its suffering, its conflict . . .
        was willing to engage, be touched by, be hurt by,
            its sordid, self-oriented, and violent ways,
                 . . . all for love.
    If God, in Christ Jesus, was so ready to face suffering,
        for the sake of life and love . . .
        I have to believe that is our calling as well.

It puts new light on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane.
    “Father,” he prayed in such agony that he sweat blood, as it were,
        “Father, let this cup of suffering pass from me.”
    Sound familiar?
        “Yahweh, take the snakes away from us.”
    God’s answer, to the Israelites in Numbers, to Jesus in the garden,
        was not to remove the suffering,
        but to allow God’s beloved to stay right there,
            in the midst of the shadows and pain of suffering,
            and provide a way to move through it,
                to a deeper, more flourishing life.

If God’s intent was for us to avoid all human suffering,
    God would hardly have come up with this grand plan
        to show us how to live fully human lives,
        by becoming one of us,
        and letting Jesus live among us as he did—
            born in poverty,
            sent as a refugee to Egypt with a price on his head,
            raised in a family and town of low reputation,
            driven into the desert for 40 days of desolation,
                without food, tormented by the devil,
            roamed the land in itinerant ministry,
                with resistance at every turn,
                and violent threats by those in power,
            temptation, loneliness, fatigue, ridicule, misunderstanding,
                false accusation, arrest, beating, and public execution.

The notion that true faith
    leads to a blessed and happy and prosperous life,
    that God intends our lives to be free of misery . . .
        simply cannot be reconciled with the stark reality that
        the One we are called to follow in life—Jesus of Nazareth—
            experienced nothing of the sort.

The lives of the Israelites, in Numbers 21,
    of Jesus in the Gospels,
    of early Christians in the Roman Empire,
    of our 16th-century Anabaptist forebears,
    of the persecuted church today in other parts of the world,
    even our ordinary lives today, in the here and now . . .
        life is often overcast with the shadow of suffering.
    Brokenness of body, of mind, of spirit, of relationships,
        is always present with us . . .
    God’s priority is apparently not to remove us from suffering.
        But rather for us to live fully in the midst of the shadows,
            and God will meet us there.

    I sent a little video clip on Friday, which some of you saw,
        and it’s playing in the foyer today, if you missed it . . .
    In it, Parker Palmer says,
        “The only way to get out of it is to get into it.
            The only way to deal with the darkness . . .
                is to go deeper into it,
                until you start to see a little bit of light.”
    Glennon Doyle Melton, says,
        “Grieving with another human being
            is one of the most holy places to be.”
    Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities, says,
        “[We must] change our heart of stone, which is protective,
            to a heart where we are capable of being hurt.”

So here we are, half-way through Lent,
    preparing for a three-day Easter celebration.
    We must be honest,
        living the Christian life is not one big long Easter season,
        lived in constant high celebration.
        Yes, yes. Easter is always with us, in some form,
            even if an almost invisible germ, a seed of resurrection.
    But it should be obvious,
        the Christian life includes living in the shadows.
    When we find ourselves groping in the dark,
        having trouble seeing the light,
        it does not mean we are in a state of moral and spiritual failure.
    It means we are at a place where, if we are attentive, and open,
        God is likely to show up.

—Phil Kniss, March 15, 2015

[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]