Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sermon for April 12, 2009 Mark 16:1-18

April 12, 2009 Scripture: Mark 16:1-18
Sermon Title: “Mystery of the Resurrection”
Rev. George N. Miller

If anyone reads the newspaper, you may know the comic strip “Mutts.” Created by Pat McDonnell it is for anyone who has ever loved an animal.

It’s also the kind of comic strip that people like to place on the refrigerator or send to a loved one. My Mom usually sends me one every month.

Yesterday’s strip was rather existential. A kitty cat comes up to a bulldog and says “I think I’m lost.” The bulldog says “Who’s doesn’t.” To which the cat responds “Somehow-I find that very comforting.”

“I feel lost” says the kitty. “Who doesn’t” says the dog. Their shared thought provides comfort.
That’s appropriate for today, for who doesn’t feel, in the big scheme of things, a bit lost?

Think of all our upcoming graduates. Next month high school and college seniors will leave classes behind. Some will be saying “Yes, I am done!” but how many are also thinking “What now?”

What happens after years of education, comforted by the world of academia? Do you get a job, move out, stay in town? The world is all yours, but a big world is easy to feel lost in.

How about our unemployed? Many years spent comforted by the assumption of job security. A set schedule of days and pay. Now it’s anyone’s guess. Where to go, what to do, how to survive. Job opportunities have shrunk, and it’s easy to feel lost.

And those who have experienced the death of a loved one? Death is perhaps the greatest loss of all. Not only does a person lose their life, but we who are left behind lose that person’s uniqueness.

At the hospital I worked at, death was a daily reality. What amazed me was that no matter what state the person was in when they were alive, they had a personhood, a uniqueness about them. But the moment they died?

The moment that last breathe escaped their body something unexplainable changed. They ceased being who they were. Whatever it was that made them “them” was gone.

Suddenly that person went from having a name, having an identity, to being a body. A thing.

Death is about loss. Death is about losing the person who has died. It’s also about us feeling lost without them.

Spiritually, that’s part of what the last 3 days have been about: feeling lost.

Jesus has been betrayed. He was deserted by the disciples, arrested, stripped of his clothes and nailed to a cross, mocked by passers by

To make it clear just how lost Jesus feels, Mark tells us his last words are “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”

Have you ever felt lost? Have you ever felt like everything that made the world good had been taken away? That’s what Jesus was experiencing.

With a loud cry, Jesus takes his last breathe, and dies. The uniqueness, the personhood that made him “him” is gone. Jesus is dead.

To make sure we do not miss that fact, Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. Pilate grants him the body, Joseph takes it down, wraps it in clothe and lays it in a tomb. The women see where the body laid.

Note the words that are used. Jesus’s name is mentioned only once. Most of the time the word “body” is used.

There is a sense of loss and lost. Jesus has lost his life and those whose life he touched are at a loss.
Saturday comes and goes. The women go to the tomb which has been designed to hold the dead. They carry spices to do to with a body what one does when it has lost it’s life: anoint it.

“I think I’m lost” says the kitty cat. “Who doesn’t” says the bulldog.

Who doesn’t feel lost indeed? Those who are graduating, those who have lost their job, those who have lost a loved one. They all know what it is like to feel lost.

So did the people of Mark’s time. When Mark wrote his Gospel, the earliest Christians were living in turmoil. Comfort was not a reality. They knew plenty about loss and feeling lost.

They faced poverty and persecution. Threats came from outsiders. Leadership was out of control. And the Temple, the central place of worship, was either about to be destroyed or had been destroyed already. Mark is writing for them.
For fifteen chapters he shares the stories of Jesus and the glimpses of God’s Kingdom: the healings and miracles, the teachings and shared meals. But it all seems to come down to this: feeling lost.

Jesus has been killed. They disciples have run away. The women move towards the tomb.

But wait, something is amiss. The stone has been rolled away. How can this be?

Inside the tomb is a young man dressed in white. “Don’t be alarmed,” he says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.”

Did you hear that? He didn’t say “You’re looking for the body” but “You are looking for Jesus.” A sense of personhood has crept back into the story.

“He has been raised, he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. Go, tell the disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him just as he told you.”

In other words, the young man in white is saying “All is not lost. All has been found.”

And the women flee from the tomb in amazement and fear. Interestingly enough, if you look at your Bible, you’ll discover that this is the original ending of Mark’s Gospel.

It’s a unique way to end a story, but Mark is a unique storyteller, providing more questions then he supplies answers.

Mark goes to great lengths to let us experience the Jesus we thought we have lost. But he does not provide any information on the Resurrected Jesus that is found. Only that we are to go and find him.

Why would Mark do that? I think one reason is that he wants us to think. He understands that people who feel lost, and have lost, are not easily comforted by easy answers.

No, he knows that often what they need is the chance and time to think, to meditate, to ponder.

Mark doesn’t want to make this easy for us. He wants us to experience the great loss that comes from having Jesus die. By leaving us hanging, he wants us to discover for ourselves just how it is the Resurrected Christ can be found.

Other authors did not feel so comfortable doing this. Matthew, Luke and John all made sure to include stories of how the Resurrected Jesus appears. And someone or someones, uncool with Mark’s original ending, created at least 5 different endings to his Gospel.

But that wasn’t Mark’s original plan. He’s chosen not to limit the Resurrection experience for us. Like the cat in “Mutts” he is aware of the many ways we can feel lost, so he knows there are many ways in which the Resurrected One can be found.

Let’s think about it. What are ways in which the Resurrected Christ can appear to you?

Some folk would say they’ve experienced the Resurrected One in books, like “The Shack.” Others would say it was through a miraculous healing or through a shared meal.

For others the Resurrected One appears in acts of social justice and missions. Some will claim that when they assist someone in need they feel as if they were reaching right out to Christ. Others will recall a time in which someone was helping them and they felt it was Christ reaching out to them.

“Go,” says the man in the tomb, “And you will see him.” Not that we will see a body, or we will see “it”, but we will see him: Jesus Christ.

And how we will see, how we will experience, how we will know it is Christ is as limitless as the stars in the sky and the sands on the shore.

When we go and see, we embark on a journey, in which we will not feel so lost, and we discover we are not so alone.

In conclusion, it is OK to feel lost from time to time, but it’s important for us to remember that the Mystery of the Resurrection promises that no matter what, in the Resurrected Christ we will always be found.

And in the Resurrected Christ we will find our true comfort.

Blessings and honor to God whose wonderfulness can not be limited, to the Spirit that is always full of surprises and to Jesus Christ, who was born, who died and who was raised to save us all from being permanently lost..


Friday, April 24, 2009

Wanderings for April 26, 2009

Greetings to everyone. Have you been able to enjoy and appreciate the weather? My poor cat keeps looking outside, meowing to go out. He'll have to wait until tomorrow.

This Sunday's reading is taken from the Gospel of Luke 24:36-49. It is Luke's account of the resurrection. It's a very sensuous account. By sensuous I mean that it uses the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste. Very different from the original ending of Mark in which we are told Jesus has been resurrected but we don't see, nor hear, nor touch let alone experience him asking for and eating a piece of broiled fish.

In fact, I have come to realize just how sensuous a gospel Luke is. After all, he features one of the two birth narratives, and unlike Matthew's account, the baby Jesus is someone who is wrapped in cloth, placed in a manger, circumcised, held by Simeon. Throughout Luke there is clearly a body, mind, spirit connection. Just look at Luke 1:40 and 1:52. Jesus doesn't just grow, he becomes strong, he becomes filled with wisdom, he receives divine and human favor. Body, mind, soul.

There is no separating the three. And if the three are not separated for Jesus, nor should they be for us.

More and more our doctors, psychologists, teachers, social workers are realizing how strong a connection these three are. When one aspect suffers or is hurt, it can cause the other aspects to suffer as well.

A child who does not get to eat breakfast before school, not only does their body become week, but so can their ability to focus, learn and retain, as well as their ability to maintain a stable mood or be in a good mind-set.

A child who is teased in school may have difficulty focusing on their classes, and they may neglect or abuse their bodies. Sadly, there have been two recent incidents in which teased children saw suicide, destruction of their body, as the only way out of the pain their spirit was encountering.

A child who struggles in school to learn or falls behind may take on a poor or suffering spirit, in anger they may act out through their body, hurting or hitting others, or overcompensating by what their body can do.

It's like a delicate dance that we do: how to keep body, mind soul in balance, in check, working together. That's been a key to our Little Star Program, both the Summer Vacation Bible School part and the After-School part. First, we make sure the children are greeted with warm, friendly welcomes, to let them know they matter. Next, we make sure they are fed. A snack to begin with, a meal a few hours later. This takes care of their body.

Then we spend time doing academic activities: math, geography, logic, language. This develops their mind, and is done at each child's level in a way to encourage and reward them with affirming praise.

Then we take care of their spirit. This is done through worship, scripture, prayers, song, a chance for children to ask questions about God and Jesus.

Body, mind, soul. They are all reached. Each child who comes to our Little Star program is nurtured in this way.

We thank everyone who has been supportive of us, and we also encourage you to continue volunteering your time and to continue bringing in food for Leah's Kids Corner, as all that food goes directly to the youth, allowing them to care for their body, which allows them to care for their mind, which allows them to continue to care for their spirit.

May God bless your day. May the Spirit take you to new heights. May Christ continue to reign in your hearts.

Peace, Pastor G

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wanderings for 04 12 09

Wanderings for April 12, 2009
Mark 16:1-8

Greetings everyone. Before I get into today's Wanderings, I want to remind you to continuing bringing in your food donations for Leah's Kids Corner. The wagon is only about 1/4 full and in two weeks Bella and Ethan will be taking the offering and bringing the donated food up to the altar.

Also, Ann is continuing to sign people up for the Hunger Walk. That will be May 2, and sign-ups are in the Fellowship Hall.

This Sunday is Easter. We celebrate the Good News. When I wrote that on my Facebook wall, I had a friend write back "What's the good news?" I knew she was being silly, so I said "That I still look good!"

But what is the Good News? This Sunday we search for that answer as we read Mark 16:1-8. Do you know there are at least 5 different versions of the way Mark ends? But most scholars agree that the original Gospel of Mark ends with verse 8. It's a rather odd way to end a story.

I invite you to go ahead and read it in your Bible. As you can see the original ending to Mark 16 does not feature a glimpse of the resurrected Christ. What it does feature is an empty tomb, a young man announcing that Jesus "has been raised; he is not here" and the three woman fleeing from the tomb in terror, amazement and fear.

Odd sounding good news, isn't it? Why would Mark end his telling of the Gospel in such a way? There are various reasons possible, one I have been playing with is that Mark wants us to embrace the mystery. The young man tells the woman to tell the disciples that Jesus is "going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him..."

But they are not told how they will see Jesus, or what Jesus will look like. They are just told that they will see Jesus. As I get older, I like mystery more and don't need everything spelled out as much as I used to. I like to think that by Mark not telling us any more, by not actually showing us what a resurrected Jesus would look like or how he would appear, we are invited to use our imagination, and more then that, we are allowing ourselves to be surprised.

And surprises is a great word to describe the work of God, the Spirit and Jesus: just when you think you have it all figured out, the Trinity finds a new way to speak to us, to reveal abundant love and to surprise a world that is often too cynical and all too often full of hopeless despair. How does a resurrected Christ look to you?

Have a blessed Easter and embrace the Good News.
In abundant grace and love,
Pastor G

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon, April 8, 2009

April 8, 2009 Maundy Thursday
Scripture: John 13:1-17, 31-35
Sermon Title: “Resplendent Love”
Rev. George N. Miller

A few weeks ago we introduced a new word: resplendent, meaning to shine brightly from within. To be resplendent is the opposite of being in darkness. And yet darkness it what we seem to be in.

As a nation, these have been dark times. Many forces are trying to extinguish the light we have. Not just one war, but two. An economy that is either in recession or depression, depending on who you talk too.

Many have lost their jobs, hours cut, paychecks slashed. Unemployment sky high. Hopes real low. Everyone just trying to get by.

But this isn’t the first time. Nor will it be the last. For every culture faces a challenge to the light they carry. Will they continue or will their light be put out forever?

The earliest Christians dealt with this reality on a daily basis. For centuries many of them lived in poverty and persecution. While their cities were being attacked, while they were being taxed for all they had, they had various options.

One option was to cease existing. The other was to find some way, some how, to be resplendent.
Thankfully, for their sake and for ours, resplendency is what they chose. They held onto the Good News of the Easter Story and recalled not only what Jesus said, but what he demonstrated: “Love one another.”

Love was the mark of the very first Christians. And love was not merely a sentiment: it was an action. After all, love is a verb.

No matter how poor they were, no matter how much they were persecuted, our religious ancestors were known for opening their homes to anyone who was in need.

As one ancient writer stated “See how these Christians love one another.”

We see this in tonight’s reading. It is night time. Darkness has covered the land. Jesus is gathered with the disciples to share their last meal. The hour has come. Jesus will betrayed, arrested, and nailed to a cross.

This is Jesus’ last day alive. And what does he have to show for it? He has no job. No wife or kids. He has no house, furniture or belongings.

As far as we know, all he has in this world, is the clothes he is wearing.

And yet, even though it appears he has nothing to give, Jesus shows that even in the darkest of times, we can still find ways to demonstrate how the Kingdom of God is breaking through.

In the middle of supper, Jesus stands up, takes off the one item he has, his robe, and he then takes the most basic thing in all the world: water.

Devoid of anything he can give, Jesus does.

Naked and vulnerable, he uses the water to wash the feet of each and every person present. All of them. Even the one who will betray them.

He has found a way to be resplendent.

“I have set for you an example,” he tells them. “Do as I have done for you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them...Just as I have loved you, love one another. That’s how others will know you are my disciples- by the love you have for one another.”

Love. That is what Jesus is talking about. Love is what he is demonstrating.

Did you know that in the first twelve chapters of John the word love is mentioned 12 times. But in the last nine chapters, as Jesus draws closer to his death, love is mentioned 44 times?

44 times the word love is used.

This passage shows just how deep, how fully Jesus loves those around him. With no worldly possessions, he loves as much as one possibly can.

And he is showing us that no matter what, we too are capable of expressing love to one another.

Even when things have seemed to reach their darkest. Even when it seems like all has been lost. Even when it seems like you have come to the end of the road: love.

Find some form, some way, to express it.

If it means removing the one thing you have left so you can care for another, remove it.

If it means offering something that costs nothing, offer it.

If it simply means simply washing someone’s skin, wash away.

Darkness fools us into thinking that we have nothing to offer. But light reminds us that as long as there is breathe left in our body there is always something we can do, something we can say, something we can offer that ensures God’s Kingdom is present and in view.

“Do what I do,” Jesus says. “Show love to one another.” That is the heart of the Gospel. So easy and yet so difficult to do.

And the reason why Jesus died.

In conclusion, in the dark of night, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, when it seemed like he had nothing left to offer, Jesus still found a way to reach out, to express his love, even if all he could do was wash their feet.

2,000 years later we are called to do the same. No matter what happens to the economy, no matter what happens to our nation, no matter what happens in our now, we can still find a way to reflect God’s love.

Even if the entire world has grown dark we can still find a way to be resplendent. Like Christ, we do this whenever we fearlessly offer even the littlest of what we got to those who are around us.

In the darkness of night, we thank God for the gift of love, for the Spirit as it empowers us to share and for Jesus who lead by resplendent example.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sermon for March 29, 2009

March 29, 2009
Scripture: John 12:20-33
Sermon Title: “Between Now and Death”
Rev. George N. Miller

(this is a sermon that is acted out)

It was getting warmer. School was out of session. I didn’t feel like working at Dad’s law firm, so Tony, Joey and I did the one thing any college age kid does: Spring Break!!!

We packed our bags, convinced our parents that it was good for us to see the world, and off we went. Just the guys. We had a blast. No idea where we were going, every night a party.

We tried to see who could drink the most, sleep the least and score with the most girls.

That’s what Spring Break is all about; each day was adventure. There was the night Joey raided a harem by sneaking past the guards dressed as the ugliest looking concubine you’ve ever seen.

Or when Tony almost lost all of our money on cards until he won double or nothing on the dice.

I found out where and when the best house parties were. We partied all night, slept most of the day and then traveled until we found the next party.
It was the Spring Break of Spring Breaks.

We got wind that something big was going down in Jerusalem. People were traveling from all over for this Festival of the Passover, the biggest blow-out of the year that celebrated something or other that their God Yahweh had done a long time ago.

Being Greeks we didn’t know much about this Yahweh or what he supposedly did, but we knew there’d be plenty of food and wine, so we said “Heck yeah!” and made our way towards the city.

It was as if the entire world was on Spring Break. Along the way we began hearing stories about this Jesus guy, how he was some kind of healing magician who was riling up the authorities.

Well, healing magicians are the biggest scam going in Greece, so we didn’t care about that, but as college students we admired anyone who’s anti-establishment.

We also heard some of how people thought he was Wisdom incarnate. Now we may not be Jewish, but if there’s one thing Greeks like and have admiration for, it’s Wisdom.

So we figured we’d check out this Jesus guy and see just how much wisdom he was full of. Who cares if he worshiped a different god then we did. Wisdom is wisdom, right?

We got into town, booked a room. Tony used our winnings to get the top suite and we had it all: room service, wine, girls.

We kept hearing about Jesus and one night in a tavern I’m talking to the guy next to me. His name’s Philip and he turns out to be one of Jesus’ disciples. So we began asking him questions, and Philip is telling us all the crazy things they’d been doing and how much Jesus had changed their lives.

We wanted to be part of the action, so we asked Philip to introduce us to Jesus. Philip said sure thing, and he comes back with his buddy Andrew and together they take us to go see Jesus.

He wasn’t the best looking guy I’ve ever seen, a bit homely actually. He wouldn’t have gotten any girls back at school. But yet he was surrounded by people listening to and watching everything he did. There was a magnetism about him.

So Tony, Joey and I tell Jesus it’s nice to meet him and we wait for him to lay some knowledge down, when he looks away from us and says the oddest thing “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Then he talked about grains dying to bear fruit and losing life and how his soul was troubled.
Thunder comes rumbling out of nowhere and I couldn’t help but to shake the fact that he was talking about his death.

We went back to our rooms. We didn’t feel like partying, so we talked; we were confused and our impressions about Jesus was divided.

That night I dreamt of someone planting a grain into the earth. The grain produced forty new grains, and kept going until there were far too many seeds to even count.

I woke up that morning feeling both inspired but also strangely fearful. Tony said I was just being a wuss.

Then we got the news: Jesus had been arrested. One of his own crew snitched on him. He was rough housed by the cops and given a mock trial.

Tony, Joey and I were totally unprepared for what happened next. We saw them march Jesus past us, wearing a purple robe, and a crown of thorns, from which I could see he was bleeding pretty badly, and he was carrying a cross.

I had heard stories from my father about the barbarian ways in which they exacted justice in this part of the world, but I didn’t believe him.

We should have left there and then, or spoke up, did something, but I guess we got swept up in the crowd and the happening of things. They led him to a place called Golgotha and nailed his hands and feet to the cross. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He didn’t yell or scream.

All around us people are shouting “Crucify him!”, and we’re just watching in disbelief, and there was something about his eyes: they were the eyes of someone who was innocent. After years of working with my father I could tell when someone wasn’t guilty just by their eyes.

His eyes said something else: “Love.” I can’t explain it any clearer then that.

Before his cross knelt his mother. She was sobbing hysterically “not my son, not my son,” and reaching out to him, while three people consoled her.

And he just hung there. He said something to them, which I couldn’t hear.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The blood thirst of the crowd was reaching a crescendo. It was absolute mayhem. I turned to the guys and said “We have to leave. Now!”

We moved swiftly to our hotel room, gathered our stuff and high tailed it out of town; we didn’t stop moving until our feet couldn’t go another step. I threw up everything that was within me.

We traveled the rest of the way in silence, as quickly as we could. We agreed not to tell anyone when we got home. Not a word. We’d stay silent: if we never mentioned it, it never happened and it would never bother us.

Trouble is, by staying silent, the events became louder. So loud we could barely handle it. We resumed our lessons at the university. But Tony one day up and disappeared. Left no note, everything in his room gone.

Joey ended up finishing his studies, found a nice girl to marry, had two kids and set up a local shop selling veils and head ware. We tried to stay in touch, but couldn’t. Memories of that day were far too real.

I poured myself into my studies. Graduated top in my class, worked at my dad’s firm.

And then came the guilt. I kept replaying in my mind the day Philip and Andrew took us to see Jesus and how he said “The hour has come.” I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we were the ones responsible for his death.

Maybe if we hadn’t gone on spring break, if we hadn’t gone to Jerusalem, if we hadn’t asked to see him, the time would have never come and he would still be alive. I drove myself crazy thinking about this.

I visited Tony and told him what I thought and he said, point blank “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and went right back to work.

Guilt ravaged my soul. Guilt that in some way, some how we had brought about Jesus’ death.

I stuffed myself with wine and women. But none of it lasted, none of it felt good, none of it took away the horror of what we had experienced.

Food stopped having any taste. At night, when I slept all I could see was the nails driving into his limbs and that innocent look in his eyes.

For all intents and purposes I stopped living. Nothing I did produced fruit. No seeds were planted.

At my fathers firm I took a special interest in those who appeared to be innocent. I vowed that no innocent person would ever be punished under my care. With no wife or kids or personal life to go home to, I poured myself into my work.

I became the advocate for the innocent. I got more people off their charges then anyone else. Those were the brief moments I felt a sense of liberation and any kind of happiness.

Life continued for decades. Tony stayed forever gone. I’d see Joey on the street and nod. I never attempted talking with him about what happened that spring break in Jerusalem. He was getting older, his kids bigger, he became a grandpa. He seemed happy, but I knew differently.

College was so long ago. Dad died. I was now head of the law firm. Then one day a parcel landed in my hand. It was a collection of scrolls. A note said, “You should read this.”

With trepidation, I opened it up. Across the top it said “The Good News According to John.” I didn’t know who this John was, but I could sure use some good news. It started off well enough, in rich Greek poetry about God and light.

Then there was a mention of someone named Jesus Christ. I felt a pit in my stomach. Could this be the Jesus that we had met oh so long ago? I continued to read. Feelings I had long suppressed were stirred up inside.

The Gospel writer got some things right, some things sounded a little off. His Jesus talked a lot different then the one I met, and it was missing some of the parables and wisdom we had heard.

Then I got to the part where some Greeks were said to have come to the festival. When Philip and Andrew were mentioned I stopped right there.

This was us. Not just some Greeks, but Tony, Joey and I, Michael.

This was us.

After a deep breathe I continued reading. The Gospel recounted what Jesus said about seeds and being lifted up. And then there were things about an advocate coming in the form of the Spirit of Truth, and I thought: well a lot good that advocate did for Jesus!

And Jesus stated that people will weep and mourn, but rejoicing would come.

I thought about how I didn’t weep at all. I didn’t mourn or feel pain. I just felt numb. For decades, I felt nothing but numbness and nightmares.

Then I got to the part in which Jesus was crucified. I could barely make my way through it. How was this Good News? It was scandalous, horrific.

I expected the story to end with his death. But it continued. How two men took his body and gave him a proper burial. Then the shocker: one of the women we had seen at the cross came to Jesus’ tomb only to discover the body was missing. I was outraged. This was not Good News at all.

I slammed the scroll done. Cooled off. Then went back to reading. As the rest of the gospel explained, Jesus appeared to Mary and asked why she wept. It claimed that Jesus appeared to the disciples. He spoke to them words of peace, and then gave them the gift of the Spirit and the ability to forgive people of their sins.

He had breakfast with them, encouraged one of them to tend his sheep and the writer stated that those who believed in the resurrected Jesus would receive new life.

Being a man of logic, it all seemed too far fetched. Being a man of culture, I knew of other Greek tales featuring famed men returning to life.

It’s all made up, I thought, but strangely enough, for the first time in a long time I felt an odd sense of silence within my soul. I spent the rest of the day pondering what I had read.

That night, for the first time in decades, I had a new dream. Instead of Jesus being nailed to the cross, I dreamt that he was walking towards me. Except I wasn’t me. I mean, I was my old me, like back in the college days.

“Michael,” he said, holding out his hands. I could see fresh wound marks. His eyes were filled with love.

“Jesus,” I said.

I let him embrace me.

We were in silence, until I spoke. “I am so sorry.”

“For what? “ he asked.

“That you died. For what we did. I feel like it’s all my fault.”

“All your fault?”

“For coming to visit you. When you saw us you said the time had come and then you were killed, and I just feel like, like, like if we hadn’t gone on spring break, if we hadn’t asked to see you, it never would have been time. That you would have been OK. That you would still be alive.”

“But I am alive,” Jesus spoke.

“But they killed you,” I said, feeling tears welling up in my eyes for the first time since ever.

“They were going to kill me no matter what,” Jesus said. “I was going to die. We all die.”

“But not the way you did, that was so unfair,” the tears trying to break though my eyelids.

“But they did nothing I wasn’t prepared for,” Jesus spoke. “Michael, I knew what I was doing, I knew what was going to happen. I chose that path for myself.”

“But we caused your death,” I said. “We did: Tony, Joey and myself by coming to see you. We are responsible for you dying.”

“No, no, no,” said Jesus. “You don’t understand, it was not because of you that I died, but it was for you that I died.”

“For me?,” I said, “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to understand, Michael, just believe. Believe that what I did, I did for you and for Tony and for Joey and for all the people of the world, the Jews and Gentiles together.”

“I don’t understand,” I repeated. “ I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. But know this: that I love you. And Michael, I forgive you.”

“So it was my fault.”

“No,” spoke Jesus, “No it wasn’t your fault. What I am forgiving you for is how you have allowed your sin and misplaced sense of sin to control you and take over your life.

“My Father and I release you from the past and whatever you think you may have done wrong, and we fill you with grace. You have stopped living for far too long. It is now time for you to reenter the world of the living.”

Even though it was a dream, it felt so real and the next thing I said was “I love you Jesus.”

And he said “I love you too,” taking me within his wounded arms and hugging me. All the tears I never shed came coursing out of me, tears I had kept buried for far too long, tears I did not know I had, tears that had been stifled unsuccessfully by wine, women and song.

“And Michael,” Jesus said, “Thank you for taking care of my sheep.”

Next thing I knew, I was waking up in my own bed, alone, but not feeling so lonely. My pillow case was covered with tears. I got up, just as the sun was just starting to rise, and as the tears dried away, I felt two new sensations inside of me.

The first was joy. Joy of seeing another day. Joy that I was freed from something I didn’t even know was trapping me.

The second was hunger. I felt hunger like I had never felt before. I cooked up two eggs, toast, grits, fish and a strong cup of coffee and scarfed it all down while watching the sun continue to rise, and it tasted soooooo good.

“He has risen” I heard myself say, “He has risen indeed.”

I went to work with a new energy. By the third client I had realization: that these were the sheep Jesus was talking about in my dream.

The Spirit of Advocacy and Truth had been active all along in my practice without my knowing it.

I came back home and after a fantastic meal I sat down and reread the scroll. This time, it was indeed Good News, from start to finish.

Weeks later I came across what they call a house church, a group of people who not only knew about Jesus, but also believed in the Good News, and they didn’t have one Gospel, they had many.

All this Good News from people like Matthew, Mark and Luke. Each with slightly different views, sayings and versions of the events.

The other gospels reminded me more of the Jesus I met. But the Gospel of John will always have a special role in my life. Not only did it make reference to me and my friends but it’s also the means by which God’s grace found a way to free me from guilt I thought I had done.

Looking back over my life, I realize there is so much I have done wrong, so much I wish I could do over. There’s so much I may never have, like a wife and children and grandchildren. But instead of dwelling in the past, I am living in the NOW.

NOW is what I have. NOW is where I live. NOW is where my seeds are planted and reaping fruit for the future.

Because of Jesus Christ, I am no longer the living dead focused in the past, but I am in the present living between NOW and death.

I sometimes wonder who sent me that scroll. Is Tony still alive? Should I stop by Joey’s to share the Good News I have received? Perhaps it will set him free and we can go back to being friends, like we once were.

That spring break was so long ago. It was the best of times and the worst of times. But today I am living in the NOW, releasing the hold the past has played in my life, embracing each moment I have until I will die.

Let me end by telling you this: last night, I had a new dream. Each and every person I ever defended in court came to me, giving me thanks for what I had done. Proving again that Jesus’ death was not in vain, and that he does live on in ways none of us could ever fully comprehend.

Every moment we live is NOW, and I give thanks to Yahweh, the true God of the world.

I give thanks for the Spirit of advocacy and of truth.

And I give thanks for Jesus Christ who died to set all of us free.

His love and grace is abundant, his love and grace is forever NOW.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wanderings for April 5, 2009

Greetings everyone. This Sunday is Palm Sunday and we have two special treats: Rev. Judith Youngman, our Interim Conference Minister is preaching, and Karen Messick, COO of Pilgrim Manor is giving the Mission Moment. And mio gets to be the liturgist (does that make it 3 treats?).

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Mark 11:1-11 (Jesus' triumph entry into Jerusalem) and Phillipians 2:4-13.

Read them both and revel in the joy they ring.

Since I am not preaching, I thought I'd take our Wanderings into a different, well, wandering. Mark tells us how Jesus makes his way into the city, and those who go before him and those who follow sing loud "Hosannas" and say "Blessing is the coming of the kingdom..." Victorious, joyful, full of God.

On May 2 we too have a chance to walk before and to follow Jesus. It is the annual Hunger Walk. For years, our family and friends have participated in this activity. Again, Ann Winkle is organizing our church's involvement. The Hunger Walk is a wonderful way for us, as reflections of Christ, to triumphantly walk into the city, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom- the good news that in God's kingdom people do not starve, people do not go without food, all people are graciously fed. And by raising funds and walking together, we are certainly going before and following Christ, making the good news of a kingdom a reality.

Think about signing up. Think about donating, either your time or your money.

Also, remember that we here at BCUCC continue to support Leah's Kids Corner. For two months you have unselfishly stocked the red wagon with food for our neighborhood youth. Don't forget to bring in your food item this month. We are all working together to show how the Kingdom of God is already here and already active in our church.

Have a blessed week.

Pastor G