Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Really? The first word of the resurrection is “hello”? Of course it was said with an exclamation point and I’m guessing a pretty big smile, even so “Surprise!” might have been more fitting for the occasion. After all the two Marys expected to find a dead friend and instead are met by an earthquake and an angel and a very much living Jesus. There is no way to prepare for that and I’m surprised they didn't respond like the guards and faint dead away at the sound of his voice. But maybe in the familiar salutation the crucified and resurrected Jesus was not so surprising. That’s true for those of us who have been schooled in this story from birth and cannot remember a time when we didn't consider belief in the resurrection a matter of life and death. But for an ever increasing segment of our society this Sunday will come and go without so much as an Alleluia. That’s not to say the sale of Peeps and Chocolate bunnies will suffer but the real meaning of the day, at least the gathering that has defined Easter for you and me, has largely been lost. We can lament that fact, especially as it relates to our children, or blame someone, especially those who are not like us, or repackage the message in ever more creative ways, or preserve the status quo until the last one left turns out the lights. But then maybe the ancient story still has some life left in it and what turned the world upside down in the first century can shake up ours as well. It was not form or creed or convention that convinced people a crucified peasant preacher refused to stay dead and revealed the love of God for all creation. It was the conviction of two women who took hold of his feet and worshiped and then told the story to anyone who would listen, even disciples locked behind closed doors. As it was then so it is now. The first word of the resurrection is “Hello!” 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-4
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” that the law demanded but could not accomplish (even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient) but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human.  Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is like trying to live life in the grave which makes no sense. But since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not a way to escape wrath but the only way to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
“There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed” is spoken during the graveside service so that “I shall not die but live” might be true for the dearly departed as well as the “blessed are they that mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) That is the only way that the day you lay a loved one to rest could possibly qualify as “this is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it”. That is not to say our rejoicing denies the real loss we experience but that our hope in the chief cornerstone denies death the last word for us and for the one we commend to Almighty God. So we grieve, yes, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) I had the incredible privilege to witness such a death today as David Ball passed away peacefully surrounded by those who loved him. There was no denying the real grief of the last two days or the overwhelming sorrow as it became clear the only real option left to his family was to let him go. But it was the love of those who surrounded his hospital bed that turned a Baylor ICU room into a sanctuary, a sacred place, holy ground, where the saints on this side of the divide prayed and cried and sang David over to the saints on the other. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Shouts of exaltation? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” It is as radical a statement as a Jew can make, even for one who has been hanging out with the wrong crowd for three years. God showing partiality was precious to God's people for they were set apart by a law and a land and out of all the nations of the earth they alone were God’s own. But now Peter has the audacity to proclaim God has opened the exclusive country club to anyone in any nation and has waived the application fee. The trouble I have with this text is that Peter (or Luke working off the transcript of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) just redefines God’s partiality. God appeared, not to everyone, but to a few witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus. And God is partial to those who believe their testimony and fear God and do what is acceptable. And furthermore, if Paul’s recollection of Peter’s progress in not showing partiality is accurate, Peter himself pulls back from eating and drinking with Gentiles because James’s “people” exert peer pressure. (Galatians 2:12) Apparently even the first century church wasn't completely convinced that God shows “no partiality”. Of course partiality is precious to the church of our day as well and we define what is acceptable to God by our doctrine and practice by excluding brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus because their way of believing is less than Orthodox or Pentecostal or Calvinist or Lutheran or whatever. But if the chosen people were so wrong about God that they killed the anointed One filled with the Holy Spirit by hanging him on a tree maybe our vision is partial as well. What if the cross really does mean God shows no partiality, period, end of sentence? I know the stakes are high and eternal futures are on the line, but if we believed God showed no partiality we wouldn't either and without rewriting the rules I think that might be acceptable to God. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Passion Narrative According to Saint Matthew

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The passion narrative according to Matthew begins with a plot to betray. Conspiracy theorists not withstanding there is no need to speculate on what motivates Judas. He is after all human and motivated by the same demon that possesses the entire race. Judas seeks to turn his intimate knowledge of the prophet into profit. Matthew is the only Gospel that records Judas’s regret and even though he finds no satisfaction in returning ill gotten gain Matthew wants us to know Judas was sorry. Maybe when you betray a close friend, even if it doesn’t lead to crucifixion, nothing short of dying will do and so his tragic end seems to him the only way to pay, though given the chance Jesus who forgave his enemies would surely have offered the same consideration to one with whom he shared a meal. I hope that when the forever feast happens in the eternal future there will be a place at the table for the one who weakened by greed treated his friend with such contempt. Not because I am some sort of bleeding heart liberal who desperately desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but because if I am honest with myself (and by extension those of you who are reading this) I am more like Judas than Jesus and my only hope is that he will not treat me with the same contempt I have treated him.