Sunday, April 25, 2021

Phil Kniss: The Gospel’s expansive reach

New chapter, ancient story, same thread — Easter 4: Baptism without Borders
Acts 8:26-39

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In the Narrative Lectionary we’re getting near the end
of this first sweep through the biblical narrative.
Each year we go the whole distance,
from Genesis to the early church,
but with different texts each year.
Having finished Luke, we’re now in Acts,
watching this Jesus movement continue to cause trouble.

Resistance from the powers,
which Jesus met in his ministry,
is still a huge factor for the church.
Resistance, as I said last week,
that comes from various places—
both from external adversaries,
and from within their own discerning community.
The church carries the Gospel message forward,
but encounters circumstances they never had before.
Each time they need to figure out what to do next.

They ask, “What does a Jesus-shaped community look like,
and how do we behave?
How do we respond faithfully in a rapidly changing world,
with questions we did not see coming?”

Of course, we today don’t know anything about that . . . do we?
Well, you decide.

The push-back in the book of Acts comes from the fact that
the reach of the Gospel is expanding . . .
expanding into realms unimaginable a few years earlier.

[And keep in mind, whenever I use the word Gospel in this sermon,
and it will be a lot,
it’s a word that’s simply short-hand for “Good News.”
It’s joyfully sharing of a gift — the love and grace of Jesus.]

As the Gospel expanded its reach,
the church worked hard to keep up.
They were all—or nearly all—sincere.
They all took their faith seriously.
They all wanted to follow Jesus and share Jesus,
but they had different imaginations,
different ways of approaching dilemmas,
different levels of tolerance for change.

The model they started with played alright in Jerusalem.
But Jesus told them, before he left them, not to stay in Jerusalem.
He directly instructed them to take the Gospel
into all Judea, and Samaria,
and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
That spelled trouble . . . by definition.
Those were borders they were not used to crossing.

But Jesus envisioned a Gospel without borders.
God loved the whole world,
not just the Hebrew world.
God longed to see the whole world reconciled,
and healed and saved and redeemed.
And he wanted these particular people—
led by a band of Galilean disciples, now apostles,
to take the lead role in God’s expansion project.
Amazing, God’s level of trust.

Maybe you recall the border that was crossed in last week’s story.
The blue-blood Hebrew-speaking Jews in Jerusalem
held the power in this new church.
But when Hellenized, Greek-speaking, worldly Jews
complained they were discriminated against,
which they were,
the blue-bloods repented,
and turned over power to the Greek-speakers,
made them deacons, and gave them freedom to lead.

That courageous giving up power,
led precisely to the situation in today’s story from Acts 8.

We skipped over the first part of the chapter.
Read it when you get a chance.
After the stoning of Stephen,
another deacon named Philip did just like Stephen—
went beyond waiting tables and feeding widows.
He became an evangelist—a Good News spreader—like the apostles,
and headed down into Samaria,
another huge border self-respecting Jews rarely crossed.
But Philip went there, on purpose.

After causing a stir in Samaria (read about it),
Philip, we are told, turned south, at the direction of an angel,
and walked down a desert road to Gaza.

As he walked,
he met a man that Acts 8 describes as, and I quote:
“an Ethiopian eunuch,
an important official in charge of all the treasury
of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”).
(Funny who you run into on the road to Gaza)
And we get another interesting, and important, set of facts.
The man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,
and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah.
Whoa! Let’s break this down.

This was in all likelihood, not a pagan, but an Ethiopian Jew.
Jews were in Ethiopia long before the time of Jesus.
After the Babylonian conquest,
many Jews went into exile there.
We don’t know the genealogy of this particular man, of course,
but by the time of Acts,
it would be entirely reasonable that this man would be
from a multi-generational line of Jewish Ethiopians.
But not only Jewish,
also a powerful and trusted member of the queen’s inner circle,
in charge of her whole treasury.
A wealthy, powerful, chariot-driving, dignitary close to royalty,
who is also a Jew making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
and literate—able both to read and to own his own copy
of the scroll of Isaiah.
And, even more to the point of the story, yet not surprising,
is the fact he was a eunuch.
To say it plainly, and indelicately,
he was castrated at a young age—
sexually neutered.

That wasn’t unusual in those days.
The trusted inner circle of male aids to royal families,
not infrequently, were made eunuchs,
which prevented them from having offspring,
giving them zero chance of corrupting the royal blood line,
in case they got intimate with members of the family.

What makes this fact pertinent, and even essential to the story—
is that Jewish law (in fact many religions and cultures of the day)
did not look kindly on eunuchs.
The Torah—look it up in Deuteronomy 23—
says eunuchs are forbidden to “enter the assembly of the Lord.”
Whether eunuchs by choice or by accident,
they could not worship with the rest of the community.
They were excluded, for life.
Furthermore, as lifelong childless persons,
they were shut out of the economic and social benefits
of persons with families to care for them.

So this wealthy and powerful man,
simultaneously an insider and outsider,
had just come from the Jerusalem,
where he worshipped standing far off
in the outskirts of the Temple.
Now he was back sitting high in his chariot reading Isaiah.

Probably not a coincidence,
he was reading the “suffering servant” section.
Perhaps he could identify in some way with this prophet of God,
who suffered, and who was silenced.

So when Philip met this unusual traveler,
the Holy Spirit directed Philip to go up to the chariot and chat.
He saw the man reading Isaiah, and asked,
“Do you understand it?”
The man’s response was,
“How can I unless someone explains it?”
Now I grew up hearing this story,
and always thought that response showed the man’s ignorance,
and unfamiliarity with Isaiah.
But there are other possibilities,
especially if we assume he was a Jewish worshipper of Yahweh.
The way anyone understands scripture,
in good rabbinic Jewish fashion,
is with a conversation partner—
someone to be in dialog or debate with.
That’s how truth is uncovered—in conversation.
So maybe he just meant,
obviously I can find the truth better if you join me
and we discuss it together.
In any case, this passage from Isaiah gave Hellenistic deacon Philip
a perfect opportunity to connect some lines
in the biblical narrative.
He shared the good news about Jesus,
and how Jesus fulfilled the prophets’ expectations.
The eunuch then asked, when nearing a body of water,
“So what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Now, bear with me a moment as I point out a technical issue in the text.
Some of your Bibles have a verse number 37, but nothing after it,
only a footnote.
The King James Version I grew up with included
Philip’s answer to the question, in verse 37.
“If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
(be baptized, that is).
And the eunuch answered,
“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Then—in verse 38—they get out of the chariot for the baptism.

The reason verse 37 is not included in Bibles today,
is that the oldest and most reliable manuscripts don’t have it.
The verse was apparently added by a scribe around 500-600 AD,
to emphasize belief in Christ,
as a prerequisite for baptism.
Nothing wrong with saying that, of course.
Confessing faith in Christ is essential,
something we still require for baptism.

But I’m guessing that confession is not so much the point here.
The point is, there were all kinds of reasons
why Philip might have hesitated.
What is to prevent me from being baptized?, the eunuch asked.
Philip from Jerusalem could have said, “Well, where do I start?”
You are from another continent and culture I barely know,
and I barely know you.
You are not embedded in a Jewish faith community.
You are living in the Queen’s house,
and have your hands in all her wealth,
and are wielding her power . . .
what will you do with that power?
You have no community of Jesus-followers to walk with you,
and disciple you in the Way.
And on top of it all,
you are prevented, by our own Jewish law,
from even physically entering our worship space.

But instead of that kind of reasonable response,
Luke purposely recorded the story this way:
Without a word, without consulting Jerusalem,
the chariot stopped immediately.
Philip and the man went down to the water,
and Philip baptized him.

How did Hellenistic Deacon Philip,
newly appointed server of food to widows,
come to the conclusion that he had the authority
to baptize this Ethiopian eunuch?

It’s astounding.
But maybe not so surprising,
when you realize this was a baptism ordered by the Spirit,
and entirely in line with Jesus’ commission,
to go everywhere,
to the end of the earth,
spreading the Good News,
teaching and baptizing.

This Baptism Without Borders
was entirely in synch with the Gospel without Borders.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ then, and now,
has an expansive reach.
It is for everyone, bar none.
There is no one outside the love and compassion of our saving God.
All of us are in need of redemption and transformation—
the blue-bloods and the outsiders alike.
And once we turn toward Christ,
with open hearts and lives,
we no longer stand on the outskirts,
but are ushered into the inner courts of God’s love and mercy.

The Gospel of Jesus is far more concerned
about how we respond to the Gospel’s expansive invitation.
And seems not at all interested in playing hard-to-get.

Any border that prevents the Gospel from being heard
is a border we ourselves created.
It is not God’s doing.

The story doesn’t end here, of course.
And I mean that in two ways.
The story of Acts doesn’t end here.
Next Sunday is Acts 15, the story of the Jerusalem Conference.
This border-crossing problem will come to a head,
and they’ll call a summit,
to solve this thorny problem of border-keeping.
But the story continues today, as we all know.
We continue to wrestle with holding together both
the expansive vision of the Gospel,
and the human borders we live within,
that keep our social lives orderly.

I have no better way to conclude this message,
than with a poet’s words—which we are about to sing.

I want to read these words in their entirety,
as the conclusion of my sermon.

Go in grace and make disciples. Baptize in God’s holy name.
Tell of death and resurrection; Easter’s victory now proclaim.
Christ’s commission sends us forth to the nations of the earth.
Go in grace and make disciples, midwives for the world’s rebirth.

Go and follow Christ’s example, not to vanquish, but to heal.
Mend the wounds of sin’s divisions. Servant love to all reveal.
Roles and ranks shall be reversed; justice poured for all who thirst.
Go and follow Christ’s example. Forge a world of last made first.

Go in Pentecostal spirit, many tongues and many gifts.
Feed the hearts of hungry people. Spread the gospel that uplifts.
‘Til the day of Christ’s return, as disciples, teach and learn.
Go in Pentecostal spirit: let God’s flame of witness burn.

Let’s sing it!

—Phil Kniss, April 25, 2021

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Phil Kniss: It’s all about attitude. No, it really is.

New chapter, ancient story, same thread — Easter 3: The Ultimate Witness
Acts 6:1-7:2, 44-6

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I hope some of you are skeptical about my sermon title,
“It’s all about attitude.”
I would be.
Yes, it’s true.
A positive attitude can go a long way
toward having a positive outcome.
But attitude is overrated.
Motivational office posters notwithstanding.
The “power of positive thinking” is great for people with privilege,
with adequate means and few roadblocks.

But how does better attitude bring a better outcome
for traumatized and trapped children at our southern border?
Will a better attitude keep an abused spouse safe?
Will positive thinking give black and brown people
equal chance for good-paying jobs and big contracts?

Or more to the point of today’s story,
would a better attitude have kept Stephen
from being stoned to death,
or our Anabaptist ancestors from burning at the stake?

So how dare I say, “It’s all about attitude. No, it really is.”

Okay, I confess. I’m misleading you.
I speak of a different kind of attitude.

If geometry or aviation are your expertise,
you know another meaning of attitude.
In geometry,
attitude is the orientation of a line or object,
in relation to some fixed reference line.
In aviation,
your attitude, when you’re up in the air,
is the angle of your airplane in relation to the horizon.
In plain language, attitude is how you are tilting.

So, I suggest, that in the life of faith, it’s all about our tilt.
It’s about who or what is our reference point,
against which we measure tilt.
It’s about life’s orientation.

We can look at these biblical stories of Jesus and Stephen, and others,
and see their tilt, their orientation, their attitude.

So let’s look again at Acts chapter 6, looking for tilt.

And to understand Acts 6,
we need to peek back at Acts 2 for a minute, the Day of Pentecost.

Post-resurrection was a tense time for Jesus’ band of followers.
Anxious and afraid, the disciples didn’t know
when authorities might knock down the doors,
carry them off to prison, trial, and maybe crucifixion, like Jesus.
They were in their “upper room” hideaway in Acts 2.
when the Holy Spirit poured down on them.
It gathered attention of crowds.
Peter preached a powerful sermon.
And thousands joined their movement.

But if anything, that increased the pressure from the powers.
The early church built their own communal and economic life,
just to survive.
They stuck close together.
The end of chapter 2 describes their set-apart life.
They shared meals, daily, so no one would go hungry.
And as they gathered,
they learned about faith in Jesus from the apostles,
and practiced mutual discipleship.
They shared their money and possessions with each other,
so no one had need.

All of this reveals their tilt.
The horizon they used as their reference point
was something Jesus talked about all the time—Kingdom of God.
They now realized the Kingdom was not an abstract ideal.
It was, as Jesus said, near them.
It was available to them. Now.
And it was necessary for life.
They began to see that God’s kingdom emerges
in a community where Jesus and the Holy Spirit are present,
and where they discern life, in light of scripture.

An embodied, communal, living expression of the Risen Jesus,
still in the world, here and now.
That’s the kingdom.
And that was their horizon.
That was how they oriented themselves.
That is what gave them purpose, meaning, and direction.

Can you see why tilting this way might feel threatening to authorities?
like the occupying civil government, representing Rome?
like the religious authorities, representing the temple?

To have an independent, fast-growing community
out there unsupervised, taking care of themselves,
doing an end-run around the civil and religious establishment,
working out their own moral code of conduct,
acting as if they didn’t even need
the authority structures they already had . . .
that could be dangerous.
It could lead to the authorities losing order and control.

So back to Acts 6.
This community by now had their own social security system.
They developed a method of food distribution
to make sure the widow and orphans got enough to eat.

But now, predictably, being human, their attitude was out of alignment.
They were tilting against the horizon.
Instead of a kingdom where every person’s well-being was treasured,
and cared for,
they discriminated based on historical privilege.
Jewish widows that spoke Hebrew and held to Hebrew ways,
got the first and best portions.
And at the end of the line, sometimes not getting any food at all,
were the Jewish widows who spoke Greek,
the ones who had assimilated more into Greek ways.

When it was brought to the attention of the apostles,
they saw it.
They realized their tilt was skewed, not in line with the horizon.
So what did they do?
They not only corrected their tilt,
they turned the steering over to the Greek-speakers.
They appointed seven deacons to be in charge of the distribution.
Acts 6 lists all seven names.
And what do you know? They’re Greek names!

And that’s exactly how it goes today, right?
In government, community, business, church . . .
Marginalized people cry out in complaint
about injustice or unequal access,
and the powers respond by saying,
“You know, you’re absolutely right. It shouldn’t be that way.
You take charge, help us be more equitable.”
Oh wait . . . maybe that never happens.

This is a remarkable story.
A sure sign the apostles had a clear eye on the horizon,
they had the right “attitude.

And as the story unfolds in Acts 6,
these seven deacons were blessed and empowered
to do more than wait on tables.
They preached and evangelized, just like the apostles.
They all had the same tilt toward the Kingdom.

Deacon Stephen got himself in particular trouble,
and was dragged in before the religious authorities,
who accused him of subverting Moses and the law,
and threatening destruction of the temple.

The accusers weren’t altogether wrong.
Stephen’s horizon was a kingdom
embodied in a worshiping, discerning community,
not in a religious establishment, or temple structure.
So, yes.
The temple and rigid religious laws were on shaky ground,
if the kingdom was a living, discerning community.

But in his own defense,
Stephen gave a biblical history lesson,
pointed out the ways
God has always worked outside the temple structure.
He said, “The Most High does not live
in houses made by human hands.”
He quoted Isaiah, speaking for God,
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?”
To make matters worse, he accused them directly.
Called them “stiff-necked.”
Said they were just like their ancestors
who murdered the prophets.

This was not a strategy of someone oriented toward self-preservation.
No, Stephen was locked in on that horizon,
and spoke the truth that needed spoken.

Then in Acts 7, we get the most colorful description in the Bible
of authorities backed into a corner—
Let me read again, beginning at Acts 7:54.

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this,
they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven . . .
and said, “Look, I see heaven open
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and,
yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
dragged him out of the city and began to stone him . . .
Stephen prayed,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell on his knees and cried out,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When he had said this, he fell asleep.

What a remarkable story of one who knew his attitude,
and stayed the course.
That’s the sort of clarity in the face of resistance
that gets people into trouble.
That’s what put Jesus on the cross.

And we are called to the same kind of clarity.
In the midst of a social and political context
where injustice and privilege play themselves out
in dehumanizing ways,
where speaking out against those things
can be highly threatening to the powers,
we as a worshiping, discerning community
who align ourselves with the horizon of God’s kingdom,
can anticipate resistance—
strong, powerful, coercive, potentially violent resistance.
When our “attitude” (this kind of attitude) is like that of Christ,
we give loyalty to a kingdom higher than all earthly authorities.

We won’t always know where the resistance will come from.
It may come from adversaries out there somewhere.
It may come from within ourselves and our own community.

And we need good discernment.
It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between wisdom and resistance.
Some powers-that-be have aims that look appealing,
but are contrary to the Kingdom of God.
We must be alert to any forces that tilt us off the horizon,
and toward cultural values
that favor wealth and privilege and coercive power.

Being tilted toward Christ is never the path of least resistance.
For just a moment, in silence,
reflect on what that might mean for you, today.
In whatever pressures you are facing.
How is your tilt? How is your attitude?

[brief silence]

Now, let us ask God for the kind of faith that keeps us on course,
in the face of resistance.
And we will do that, while listening to our church choir,
from four years ago, sing,
“O for a faith that will not shrink, though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink of any earthly woe.”

—Phil Kniss, April 18, 2021

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mike Sherrill: Let Jesus be seen

New chapter, ancient story, same thread — Easter 2: The Road to Emmaus
Luke 24:13-35

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On April 11, 2021, Mike Sherrill, Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, preaches at a Park View Mennonite Church Sunday morning service on the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the Emmaus road from the Gospel of Luke.

Mike Sherrill is the recently appointed (Aug 2020) Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, our denominational mission agency. He is a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and holds a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his family spent a total of 20 years in church and mission work in Japan, working in research, in education and youth ministry among the Hokkaido Conference of Mennonite Churches, and later as a professor and chaplain at Aoyama Gakuin University in central Tokyo. He returned to the US in 2017 to be Asia Director at MMN, and has now moved into the Executive Director role.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Phil Kniss: Are we there yet?

God’s Great Re-Weaving
Luke 24:1-12

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Good morning, all you beautiful . . . real . . . people!
Even with masks covering your faces,
you look a lot better to me than when I look at you through
a little camera lens on the back wall of the sanctuary.
Isn’t it wonderful to be together, in the flesh?
And to be here in the sunshine, and rising temperatures,
is like icing on the cake,
especially after those snow squalls we had on Thursday.
A blessed Easter Sunday to everyone of you!

You know, 
it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from,
we all share something in common today.
We are ready for a change.
We are poised for entering a new season.
Spring? Bring it on!
A new baseball season? Yes, we’re ready.
A season of more direct human connections?
Definitely yes.
And a season of living with hope for the future?
Yes, we are absolutely ready for that.

The question is . . . “Are we there yet?”
Yes, that age-old question that all of us started asking,
as soon as we were old enough to talk,
and go on road trips with our parents.
“Are we there yet?”
And we usually asked it with a whine.
In fact, let’s all ask it together 
in as whiny a voice as you can muster—
Ready? 1-2-3 . . . “Are we there yet?”

See, we’ve been apart so long,
but we haven’t forgotten how to annoy each other.
But seriously, whether we realize it or not,
we, collectively, as a culture, as a society,
are whining just about like that right now.
Everyone has had enough of sitting in the back seat,
on this road trip called COVID,
buckled in,
unable to escape.
Actually, some people are trying to get out of the car,
while it’s still moving, if you know what I mean.

But it’s not just COVID we are weary of.
So much collective grief we carry.
We are deeply troubled by the recent uptick in violence—
the deadly insurrection and attack on our capital,
the mass shootings that have been happening 
at an astonishing rate—more than one a week recently.
We are pained by the continuing ugliness
we human beings are capable of showing to each other—
the random attacks on Asian-Americans,
just because of their ethnicity,
the systemic ways that white supremacy still
impacts and shapes our lives every single day,
and some of us still deny that it’s real.

And we should all take note,
that Easter Sunday in 2021 falls on the 53rd anniversary
of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr,
and comes while the nation watches a police officer on trial
for the murder of another black man, George Floyd.

So it should be obvious.
The social ills that weary us, 
that weigh us down on our journey,
are not about to disappear tomorrow—
COVID, white supremacy, abuse of power, gun violence,
political gridlock, the widening gap between rich and poor,
I could list many more.
But there is no need.
We carry this weight in our minds, our spirits, our bodies.
We feel it.

And that’s all on top of the very deep and personal losses,
that many in this community carry right now.
This has been an awful season of grief for this community,
and this congregation.
You all know it.
It just occurred to me the other day,
that so far in 2021,
I have preached as many funeral sermons at Park View,
as I have Sunday morning sermons.

So much loss . . . 
it’s only natural that we wonder, and ask the driver,
“Are we there yet?”
Is this tortuous season over?
Are we about to enter something completely new?

Easter prompts this question.  Every.  Year.
In the Christian calendar 
Easter follows a 40-day season of shadows.
Whether or not we fast during Lent,
or give up something we enjoy,
we are all thrust into a deeper awareness of our frailty,
our sin, our weakness,
we come to terms with life in the wilderness.
So on Easter Sunday,
the biblical narrative reaches a joyful climax—
sin and death lost the battle!
Light and life and love have overcome 
everything that works against them.

So what does that really mean 
for the world we walk into tomorrow?
Does this really mark the end of the shadow season?
Are we really there yet?

Well, yes . . . and no.
Yes, we have reason to hope.
The empty tomb is a sign—a resounding sign—
that death does not have the last word.
Easter almost sounds like the end of the book.
However, it’s not.
It’s a pivot point in the biblical narrative.

The story continues,
wherein the followers of Jesus,
get in just as much trouble as Jesus did.
Just as much persecution and suffering and resistance
by all the powers that be.
See, resurrection constitutes a threat to the powers.
So expect resistance.

Powers of evil maintain their grip,
with the threat of violence and death.
So the notion of a God who might transform 
death into life
undermines their whole way of doing business.
So they push back . . . hard.
The agony of the journey of Jesus to the cross,
matches the agony of the journey of those who follow him.

This is not a new idea, folks.
The Christian tradition has always known this,
and even organized the church year around it.
In the biblical narrative, and in the Christian calendar,
Easter is not the end, but the pivot point.
Did you know that one-fourth of our whole calendar,
is oriented toward this day?
There is a forty-day period that precedes it—Lent.
And there is a fifty-day period that follows it,
lasting until Pentecost.
3 out of 12 months we spend either looking forward to today,
or looking back and pondering the implications of it for life in a world that continues to be steeped in 
grief, chaos, violence, evil, and treachery of all kinds.

The hope of Easter lies not in some fairy tale wish
that we are going to be rescued from all our suffering,
and not have to walk where Jesus walked.
No, the hope of Easter lies 
in knowing where the story is headed.
The early Christians, 
and every suffering Christian community that followed,
including our own ancestors the Anabaptists, 
16 centuries later,
all found hope in the resurrected Jesus,
because it gave meaning to their suffering.
They knew it was true, like the hymn says,
that God is working God’s purpose out,
as year succeeds to year . . . 
and the time is coming,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.
That’s where the story is heading.

When Easter people suffer,
it is hard, it is agonizing, it can be excruciating,
but the suffering is not hope-less suffering.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in 1 Thess 4,
encouraging them that they do not grieve
as others do who have no hope.
Those are the words 
that John Martin wanted to be read at his graveside,
which is exactly what I did a week ago yesterday.

Because of this Easter day,
when suffering comes,
there are several truths that we can count on,
on which we can build a hope-filled foundation for life.

One truth is 
that God does not abandon us in our suffering,
even when we feel alone.
When we suffer, God sees. God knows. 
God moves toward us in love. Always.
Another truth is that death does not 
stop the forward movement 
of God’s love and life and light.

There is a trajectory 
that still charts the path of life in this world.
God’s purposes are to save, to transform, 
to redeem, to make whole.
The Hebrew word for all that is Shalom.
God is busy building shalom.
And we are invited to be part of that.

We have every reason to rejoice today,
although more of the same suffering lies ahead.
Because of Easter, we rejoice
that no matter what detours and roadblocks lie ahead,
the end point of our journey is not in doubt.
Our loving—and very patient—God 
turns around to us in the back seat and reassures us.
No, we’re not there yet. But we will get there, together.

In a way, that’s the message we receive
anytime we come to the Lord’s Table, in communion.
The elements of the table—
the bread and cup . . . the body and blood—
are tangible reminders of how costly this journey can be.
But resurrection turned the story of suffering on its head.
When we partake, when we ingest these elements,
we are claiming, by faith,
that just as suffering is part of us,
so the Lord Jesus Christ, is part of us.
We ingest hope, when we ingest the risen Christ.
We become resurrection people,
who don’t stop grieving,
but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope.
We are people of the empty tomb.

—Phil Kniss, April 4, 2021

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