Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘resurrection’

Come Out & Come Spring Forth

Matthew 28:1-10

butterrain
The season of spring is one that many people point to as their favorite season–at least for those who live in places where winter cold is a reality and the arrival of spring’s warmth and sunshine is a welcome change. Even in other places where the weather doesn’t seem to change, like in Honolulu, Hawai’i where I once lived, one can sense the change. Though on the island of Oahu I never experienced cold weather and grey skies, I did experience a rainy season that eventually gave way to sunshine…and rainbows. I’ve also been to a place called the city of eternal spring or la ciudad de la eternal primavera, Cuernavaca, Mexico.

1280px-Cuernavaca_c274_oCuernavaca is located in a tropical region, but its temperature stays pretty much in the 70s Fahrenheit, because it is situated on the southern slope of the Sierra de Chichinautzin mountains. When you wake up in the morning in Cuernavaca, warm air flows up the mountains from the valley below. When you’re having a coffee in the late afternoon, cooler air flows down from the higher elevations.

Spring as a season, of course, is full of symbolism. Rebirth, new life, flowers blooming, etc, etc. Across religious traditions there is a rich tapestry of spring-like themes and expressions. In the Christian tradition we read a story each springtime about Jesus of Nazareth disappearing from a tomb where a body was supposed to be, and then varied experiences of people seeing or hearing Jesus alive. It’s impossible for me to address all of the nuance and history of the resurrection stories in the four Gospel accounts. For the sake of our conversation, I’ll simply remind us all that each of the four Gospel stories about Jesus’ resurrection are different. The original story, in Mark, is really short and contains no actual appearance of the risen Jesus. Luke and Matthew expand Mark’s story, and John has a different take. The fact that all four stories differ from each other tells us that there was no established narrative about Jesus’ resurrection in the 50-100 years after Jesus’ death.

We are looking at Matthew’s version, a story that includes Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb, but without spices and ointment. A great stone stood between them and the inside of the tomb. Matthew uses the word “behold” a lot in this version. Behold! A great earthquake! And behold! One lonely angel of the Lord [same wording Matthew uses when Jesus is born]. The angel is like the Incredible Hulk and thus able to move that great stone out of the way, and feeling quite pleased, the angel plops down on that great stone and takes a seat. The angel is wearing shiny, white clothes and looks quite like Jesus did in Matthew’s transfiguration story. A little resurrection bling-bling.

discoJesus

Kudos to the Disco Jesus creator.

Anyway, the Roman guards, symbols of power and strength and the military, are scared out of their minds and are shaken. They become like dead ones. Not so powerful now are ya? The angel, with a play on words, says to the women: Fear not! He is not here, he has been raised.

For the women, this would have been good news for many reasons. First, because they were all still upset about what had happened to Jesus. Also, the fact that Jesus had been raised to life meant that the work and words of Jesus would also not die, i.e. the way of compassion, gender equality, acceptance of the unclean, the sinners, and the marginalized being embraced.  The women are invited by the buff angel to look closer in the tomb to notice where Jesus once lay. But then, they are instructed to go right away and tell the others who followed Jesus. The angel must have a limited vocabulary in ancient Greek, because the angelic hulk keeps saying: Behold! He is going before you into Galilee, Behold! I have told you…and then Matthew adds one more in there: Behold! Jesus met them…

The women aren’t afraid and leave quickly to spread the news. And Behold! Jesus appears to them and greets them with xairete, a common phrase that was an everyday greeting. Funny, isn’t it? In spite of the earthquake, a great stone, an angel, and lots of Beholds! Jesus’ first words to the women are akin to: hey, what’s up, how you doin? The women are smart and go right for the feet of Jesus. And no, that’s not weird. You see, Matthew wants us to understand that this resurrected Jesus is not a ghost.

Okay, I get it. Each one of us will have a different take on this story and the whole resurrection thing. Just like the conflicting accounts in the Gospels, we won’t have the same view of it all. And that’s just fine, because the whole point of the resurrection story isn’t to prove something or disprove it, the point is not to claim that one religion is better than all the others because its prophet rose from the dead; the point is to find resurrection ourselves. That’s what each person who followed this Jesus were invited to discover–the resurrection in their own lives. This idea is all around us in nature with caterpillars, seeds, and eggs–going to dark places and seemingly lifeless–only to emerge reborn and beautifully alive. So no matter how you see this story, hear this:

Behold! You and I are invited to come out, to spring forth. It can be scary sometimes to do that, to be our true selves, to emerge just as we are. But we are encouraged to do so. We are encouraged with love and with healing to trade fear for emergence, for new life. Great stones and obstacles are moved to the side and we have room…to come out, to see this day [and every one after it] as a resurrection day, as a new start, as another opportunity to say and live: this is me. This is who I am. And I am loved. I am beautiful as I am. I may have scars and wounds and I may have felt dead on more than once occasion, but right now, in this moment, I am me. It is spring and I’m coming out, I’m blooming again.

And all around us are people with great stones holding them back and all around us are people who have been wounded and mistreated and pushed to the margins, and we have this chance, every day of this life, to say to them: Behold! I love you as you are; I accept you here and now and always; and you can come out and experience love and be who you are. This is resurrection. This is every day. Come on out. Behold! Your are loved, you are beautiful, and you are made to love, and to recognize the beauty in others, and in all life.

P.S. MUST listen to this song. It’s great. It says this better than I can.

 

Feeling a Little Dead?

Luke 7:11-17

Have you ever felt dead?

Do you think that people can be resurrected during this life on earth?

Resurrect
Do you think that people can live again after being dead? Like me, maybe you don’t. Maybe you reserve that type of event for shows like the Walking Dead or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Whatever the case, if you are at all interested in the Christian Bible, you at least have to address this question, because the Gospels tell various stories about Jesus healing people, and sometimes they were dead. And then they were alive. And, of course, three of the Gospels, in their original endings, have Jesus die and then rise to life.

So here we are in one of those Gospels, Luke.

This story follows the story about Jesus healing a Centurion’s servant and that should come as no surprise. Luke often pairs two healing stories together. Also, notice that Luke has a clear agenda to make Jesus a prophet. Check out 1 Kings 17 and the story of Elijah the prophet who also encounters a widow, at the gate of Zarephath. Elijah’s revives her once-dead son. Clear connection there, huh?

Jesus went to Nain, a town in Galilee. Jesus was followed by a large crowd, and as they entered, they encountered another large crowd of mourners, on their way to mourn the death of the widow’s only son. By being a widow and without a son, she would have been considered marginalized in their society—no money and no support. Well, Jesus “saw” her. Important, because would she be seen at all after this? After the professional mourners went away, she would be left alone. Who would see her? Then, Jesus was moved emotionally and had compassion for her. Finally, he talked to her: Don’t weep.

Then, the drama unfolds. Jesus went up to the bier, the portable frame on which a coffin was taken to the grave, and the people carrying it stopped in their tracks. Jesus touched it; now he was unclean. Jesus didn’t seem to care. He told the supposedly-dead son: Be raised! Those were resurrection words. The son stood up and he was “given” to his mother. The now-combined crowds were scared, excited, and all the rest. Luke’s author reminds us why: a great prophet has arisen among us! There’s that word again: arisen.

Okay, that’s a quick look at the story. Here’s my Twitter-sized take. I’m not one who believes in raising people from the dead. If that makes me a skeptic, so be it. I don’t think these stories are true or false either. I do believe in resurrection, but just not the kind that means zombies and stuff.

I believe that people can raise from the dead, even while their bodies are still alive.

Okay, what? Think about it. Have you ever felt dead, even though you’re technically alive? I know I have. You go through the motions—go to work, school, whatever. Wash, rinse, dry, repeat. But it’s all empty. You’re dead.

empty
And then, something happens. It’s different for everybody and it depends on where you are on your journey. For me, I have experienced resurrection at various times in my life. Once, it was because I realized that I didn’t have to please everyone all the time. That was killing me. I was dead. And then I was alive, because I was free to be myself and not worry so much about pleasing others. Another time, I was dead because I didn’t see any hopeful future ahead of me. I felt stuck. But then, I became alive again when someone entered my life and woke me up to the simple reality of appreciating the present moment and embracing each day. Before I knew it, I wasn’t thinking about a dead future; I was embracing now. I was truly resurrected.
Feeling-alive
So I think this Luke story [and all others of a similar nature] are about how Jesus helped people wake up to reality, to discover that they didn’t have to feel so empty and dead, that they had the ability to really be alive and renewed.

 

Every day we have a chance to redefine ourselves and start over. Man, THAT is life! What do you think?

Next week’s teaser: “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears,
it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling the secret of who you are, but more often than not of the mystery of where you have come from and are summoning you to where you should go next.”
Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

Do you cry easily and often, or do you struggle to cry? What do your tears mean?

Room in the Tomb, Room in Us All

Luke 24: 1-12
Empty-tomb

I’ll admit it. During this particular Holy Week and then, on Resurrection or “Easter” Sunday, I didn’t feel so up to painting eggs, eating candy, or singing hallelujah, Christ is risen! My role here is not to be a Debbie Downer–it’s just to be honest. I’m not up to it. Because, doesn’t it just seem like yesterday that people were changing their Facebook profiles and creating Twitter hashtags like #jesuiparis [i.e. I am Paris], after terrorist attacks?

jesuisparis
And then the attacks in Brussels. And then another attack outside of Baghdad, Iraq at a soccer game; a bomb in Turkey; and then, on Good Friday, bombs in a Nigeria mosque that take the lives of worshipers. And on Easter Sunday, a bombing in a park in Pakistan where Muslims and Christians [many of them children] mingled and played and enjoyed the outdoor festivities.

pakistanLike the Paris attacks, Brussels was trending on Twitter and on the news–along with some guy named Ted Cruz, another guy with a squirrel on his head, a Spice Girls reunion, and peeps. Lots of peeps.

peepsBut Baghdad? Turkey? Nigeria? Pakistan? Not so much. Really, I’m not bringing this up to bring you down. I’m just being honest.

So before I seemingly ruin your holiday, let me explain. This is not about despair, or pointing fingers, or whatever else.

This is about being honest and being connected.

We live in a world with many people in it, who speak different languages and practice different religions [or no religion] and who eat different things and wear different clothes. It’s always been like that. This is humanity. When we get into this kind of violence and fear is when we forget our humanity.

When we think that “our” way is the best way, or even worse, the only way, we impose that way on anyone who gets in the way.

And let’s not go down this road of accusing Muslims or Arabs for being the group of people that is doing this the most. It’s not true. Anglos in America have done it [and do it], Europeans do it, too. You can blame whole religions if you wish [though it’s misguided], because people kill others because they choose to, or are moved to by charismatic, evil-crafty leaders with authority, power, and money do it. Individual people decide to commit violence, and yes, some are desperate and destitute and coerced into it. But we can make no blanket statements anymore. When we accuse a whole religion [or cultural group] of something as terrible as these violent acts, we show our ignorance and unwillingness to embrace a difficult truth: we are all connected. So if we propagate hateful and prejudice rhetoric about ANY group of people, we are contributing to this awful mess.

So don’t do it.

This is why I refuse to stand by and watch while many people [whether religious or not] give into fear. This is the last thing we should do. Fear only creates more fear, and then more misunderstanding, less connection and cooperation, and more violence. In wake of such violence and tragedy, fear should not be an option. Understanding, relationship-building, and cooperation are the options. For as much as we move from hashtag to hashtag and headline to headline, we are not governed by these things. We choose whether or not we will know our neighbors and even those outside our neighborhood and community. We choose whether or not we shrink back in fear or whether we respond with love and empathy.

In this very moment, there is a Muslim refugee family from Syria that just arrived in the Warminster, PA area. The United Church of Christ in Warminster and other congregations and non-religious folk too will be involved in helping them get settled here via co-sponsorship, housing provision, transportation, language courses, job assistance, etc. So they feel welcome.

This is a choice.

And on resurrection Sunday, there is a story that presents a choice as well. Most of you have heard or read this story in the four Gospels, so it may seem familiar. This time, we’re in Luke’s Gospel, pretty similar to the oldest Gospel, Mark, but with its own nuances. The story begins as all the resurrection accounts do–without fanfare and quite gloomy. Women go to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed for burial [which is a cave] and they come with spices. They see, however, that the protective stone placed in front of the tomb has been rolled away. So they go in. To their surprise, the body of Jesus of Nazareth is missing. Luke offers no details here and leaves room for us to ask questions like: was the body stolen by fanatic followers of Jesus? Was the body removed by the Romans? Or the temple authorities? Was the body ever put in that cave in the first place?

As we are asking these questions, two men in shining clothes appear to the women and ask a different question: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised. REMEMBER what he spoke to you, in Galilee? It is necessary for the son of man to be delivered into the hands of sinful human beings, and to be crucified, and on the third day to rise.

And now, Luke’s author is making us do our homework. First, the two men in shining clothes are JUST like Moses and Elijah in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain that Luke told in chapter 9. So it’s an identity moment for Jesus. He’s on the same level now as those great prophets.

And then, the questions. The women are asked to remember. In Luke, remembering is a constant theme. Jesus asks his friends the disciples to remember, time and time again. Now, the women are asked to remember. The son of man [i.e., the son of adam, or son of humanity] is delivered into the hands of sinful people, and crucified, and then will rise on the third day.

Consider that for the entire Gospel of Luke, the sinners were always the ones who hung out with Jesus–the marginalized, the oppressed, the left out. Now, the sinners are the authorities who led to Jesus’ death.

The women choose to remember.

So they don’t stay in the tomb, crying out of sadness. They don’t shrink away from the situation out of fear. Instead, they leave the empty tomb and tell the disciples about it. They are named: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of James, etc. These courageous women are met with not only skepticism, but are considered crazy by some of Jesus’ closest followers. In fact, the only guy who considers their story is Peter. He goes to the tomb [running] and finds linen burial clothes [but no body]. And he leaves the empty tomb wondering what actually happened.

Here’s what I take from this story, and I don’t know if what I say matters, but I do think the story can matter, that is, if it moves you to do things in your life that matter. Ultimately, how we decide to act–how we treat people, matters the most. So here goes:

Why did Jesus die? A question we have to ask if we plan on talking about resurrection. Why did he die? I’m not one who thinks that he had to die. I know that many, many people will disagree, and that’s fine. But I don’t think his dying was the whole point. I think he died because he was a threat–not as a violent revolutionary, but because Jesus of Nazareth challenged the whole societal system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the reign of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.[1]

Ask yourself: what do violent religious fanatics, power-wielding authorities and fear mongers have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against certain groups of people, separating us and creating more chaos and less cooperation. Rather than raising our children to be peacemakers and to have friends from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, we are told to be fearful and to shrink back, protect our own, and to shelter children and youth from the world. What killed Jesus was indeed fear.

But this story tells us that we are not supposed to give into that fear.

The resurrection story isn’t flashy at all. Maybe that’s why the bunnies and baskets and painted eggs and peeps need to be there. Because really–the tomb is empty and we’re left to ponder: what happened? The real symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. No pageants, no lights, no trumpets or angels. Nobody is exchanging gifts under a tree or singing old songs.

The tomb.

Is.

Empty.

We are left with emptiness.

The emptiness makes space for us in our distress and sadness about what’s happening all over the world. The emptiness leaves space for us to ponder like Peter: what happened? The emptiness leaves space for us to make decisions. How will we react? Will we respond out of fear? Or possibility, promise, new life? Will we react like Mary Magdalene, the one who kept on searching for the face of mercy and love, in spite of the uncertainty and despair all around?

Friends, there is room in the tomb for your doubts, your questions, and even your despair. But there is also room for your dreams, your joys, your whole selves. What will we choose? There is room. There is room. There is ALWAYS room for you. Love is that big, that wide, that accessible. So make room in yourselves for new life, for love, for mercy, for empathy, for light. Find yourself and embrace your uniqueness.

And always make room for others–all others. Make the choice to work for peace and cooperation, and empathy. Speak life to the death of prejudice and violence.

May every day be resurrection day.

[1] Ericksen, Adam, Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance, March 25, 2016.

Seeing Butterflies

John 20:1-18

 

The monarch butterfly is an amazing creature.

lone_Monarch.jpegEvery year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies go on a great journey of up to 3000 miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

monarchswarm Once they arrive in Mexico, the monarchs congregate in the oyamel fir trees in the Mexican states of Michoacán and Mexico.

Monarch butterfly wintering colony 30MONARCH

 Along their journey, the monarchs travel at an average speed of 12 mph (but sometimes get up to 30 mph); they travel 80 miles a day. They fly at heights of up to 2 miles. How does this once-hungry-caterpillar-turned-monarch know how to find its way to its wintering grounds? Scientists still don’t know exactly how they do it.

It’s a mystery.

It is a resurrection story.

And that’s why more people go to a Christian church of some sort on Easter Sunday–for a resurrection story?
If you did do that, turns out you’re not alone.

According to the Pew Foundation and Google Trends data, more United Statesians search for the word “church” around Easter than at any other time.

While the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, the lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving each November. The second lowest search for “church” occurs in the summer months.

So if you went to an “Easter” service, did you hear a resurrection story?

Let’s revisit one—from John’s Gospel.

And who will be the main character?

Jesus?

It’s Mary Magdalene.

I guess this is reason # 12,124 why the church’s historical [and present] holding back of women is inexplicable and inexcusable. It’s clear in this resurrection story that Mary’s gender doesn’t hold her back. She is the first to go to the tomb, to see that Jesus’ body was not there, and she is the one who shares the important information with the other disciples.

Mary Magdalene is worried, though. After seeing the stone rolled away and the body gone—she worries if the body had been stolen and what would be the impact of such a thing?

Grave desecration; awful.

You see, Jesus’ followers had planned to make that Jesus of Nazareth tomb into a shrine. People would visit it from near and far and pay homage to him and pray, and remember his teachings. But now…?

So Mary goes and tells the others and then they go to the tomb and say that they believe; but what do they really believe? They don’t believe all that Mary said. They only believe that the body is gone and that this is a problem because then how will they make this place a religious shrine and now…great! What are they going to do about it? They don’t believe in resurrection. They are depressed.

So the story keeps following Mary. She’s outside the tomb, still crying, and two angels appear to her. None of the disciples with her have a clue that this is happening. Mary herself doesn’t recognize them as angels. And even after the angels tell her that Jesus’ body was not stolen but that he is actually alive, she doesn’t buy it. She cries and cries some more and still wonders who stole the body.

Then John’s Gospel gives us a literary treat. Jesus himself appears to Mary as a gardener; she still does not recognize him. Why? She is not looking for him. There is no way that Jesus her teacher could be alive, so why would she look for him? She’s looking for a missing dead body, remember?

Jesus calls her by name, [in the original language of the NT], calling her Mary, not merely woman. Hearing her own name, Mary realizes what’s up. She then calls Jesus teacher, a title of great respect. Mary is awake now. She is no longer thinking about a missing dead body but instead sees her teacher Jesus in a new way.

Do not hold on to me, says her teacher.

Go to my brothers, says her teacher.

And Mary goes and tells the others.

And the resurrection story ends—that is, if you only read it/hear it on Easter Sunday.

But I’m not convinced at all that story ever ended.
Consider: why do you think the risen Jesus says: Don’t hold on to me, Mary?
Was she clinging tightly to his feet, impressed and overwhelmed by the moment?
Or was she clinging to the Jesus of Nazareth she knew before—present in a body, limited to a time and place?

It was time for Mary to let go of the Jesus she knew.

He was indeed alive, but not the same.
And this was important and challenging news for Mary to take in.
It was important, challenging, and also good news for her to share.

It remains important, challenging, and good news for us to live.

The importance is there in the story of the caterpillar—this slow creature that travels only a few feet at a time, and then gets its cocoon on and becomes a butterfly. As a monarch, this new creature can fly thousands of miles. What a change.

A few feet to thousands of miles.

Crawling and inching on the ground and on leaves to…flying in the air.

This is change.
This is metamorphosis.
This is resurrection.

That is important, but it’s also challenging.
Because we often think that we cannot change even a little, much less a lot.
Perhaps its stubbornness or habits built up over time or just being jaded and conditioned by life experience.
Whatever the case, we’re not sure that we can undergo a metamorphosis.

We’re just not convinced that we can experience resurrection.

Maybe it is because, if you’re like me, someone rising from the dead in body and mind, is stuff for movies and science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

But not real life.

So the good news…

I don’t think you have to fully believe that a dead Jesus of Nazareth emerged from a tomb in bodily form and was alive again.

People keep arguing about what is doctrinally true about these resurrection stories, but no one gets it right.

In the end, friends, we should not push our brains to the side every time we read the Bible just so we can accept a religious belief.

Why?

Because resurrection won’t happen in your life because you buy into a doctrinal statement.

There is plenty of room for skeptics here.

We’ll have to see butterflies, though.

We’ll have to believe in resurrection here on the ground, on this earth, though.

We’ll have to see change in ourselves and in the lives of others. We’ll need to pay attention to the resurrection and new life in nature.

So pay attention to the important, challenging, and good news.

Do you think that you can go from squirming around slowly to spreading your wings?

Do you think that it is possible to break your routine, recharge in a cocoon, and emerge fully alive?

Each of us are caterpillars at some point, and then we’re butterflies. And then we die and then we live again. And then we’re caterpillars again. And then butterflies.

Each and every day that life cycle begins and ends.

So will you see butterflies all around you?

Will you embrace new life in the natural world and in the people you meet?

Jesus said: don’t hold on to me.

So don’t hold back.

Change, resurrect, live.

Freedom in the New Life!

Luke 20:27-38 NRSV

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

You may have seen this video before or at least heard about this story. Certainly, sometimes things can get too much media coverage. This is just one story of many around the world related to someone showing compassion to someone left out.

But today we are bombarded with a lot of negative thought and rhetoric. And I’ve seen firsthand that some have chosen to believe all of that trash; some start to think that they are not capable of compassion or empathy. These Olivet middle school students did not save the world from itself. They just ran a football play called the “Keith special” for this certain kid. Keith had touched their lives in a special way and so they felt compelled to touch his life in a special way.

As the kid Justice said at the end of the video, he used to just think about himself.
Players and their parents are obsessed with first downs and touchdowns. In football, you don’t take a knee at the one yard line when you could score a touchdown. You don’t keep secrets from your coaches. But what happens when the rules of football are no longer important—no longer relevant? What happens when a kid is isn’t “normal” becomes your friend?

What happens when life is less about rules and norms and just about acting out of love and compassion?

Luke’s Gospel tells us a story about an obsession with rules and norms and a tendency to not love others. But in order to understand this story, we will have to know a little bit about the Sadducees. Who were the Sadducees?[1] They were a group of priestly Jews, part of a religious sect, who opposed another group of Jewish leaders, the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the ones who insisted on the literal interpretation of scripture. They looked at the first five books of the Old Testament [the Pentateuch, often called Torah or Books of Moses] as the only legitimate holy text. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in the Oral Torah or the Talmud, which was all the traditions of Jews passed down from generation to generation since Moses received commandments on Mt. Sinai. So to sum up, the Sadducees rejected anything that was not specifically written down or literally applied from the printed text.

The Sadducees were also the elites. They had money, they had influence and power, and they had political clout. Which brings us to the conflict. The other Jewish sect, the Pharisees, believed that when a person died, he/she would be raised to life in both a physical and spiritual way. Jesus of Nazareth, however, taught that resurrection or new life was more than just a destination after death. Jesus talked about a resurrected life on earth. So the Sadducees were honestly testing Jesus to see if he aligned with the Pharisees, or if what he was teaching was something different. And always this question echoed in the Sadducee mind:

Is it consistent with what the scripture says?

The Sadducees’ example of a woman marrying seven brothers is a desperate attempt to hold onto what some call traditional family values.

You know where this is going, probably.

It is impossible to not find examples of this in our life today. The last couple of years, it seems that every news outlet, every political group, and many religious groups have used this phrase “traditional family values” to define their stance or to push an agenda. The raging debate about same-sex unions—legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples—has risen to ridiculous heights. Sadly, Christian denominations and sects have drawn theological, social, and organizational lines based on this issue alone. People leave churches; people start new denominations; people picket, write, and post hateful comments. What is going on?

And the most disappointing and embarrassing part is that there are still too many people who act in this way, all the while saying:

That’s what scripture says.

Really? Does it? Or are we making the same mistake that the Sadducees made? You see, they were convinced that their view of “family values” was scriptural. But in fact, their idea of “family values” and even marriage came from the Roman Empire—not God. Notice that Jesus referred to marriage as an institution of “this age.” Marriage was a practical solution for society. That way, when someone died, there would be a way to provide for any children still living. Marriage was not some kind of scriptural mandate that God ordained with a lightning bolt. Marriage and the cultural rules established by society were just that—cultural rules established by society. But some religious elites, like the Sadducees and like any today who obsess over a perceived “literal” interpretation of scripture—insist that Jesus would never approve of Bob marrying Jim or Sally marrying Kristina.

This story reminds us of how we can get caught up in theological debate or unwritten rules more than we get caught up in compassionate living.

The thing is, Jesus taught about a resurrected life on this earth.

The kingdom of God was not something to wait for or to discover when someone died.

The mustard seed, the yeast, the pearl of great price, the hidden treasures of God’s kingdom—they were here, in the flesh, and people were supposed to catch the spirit of that movement. And all were invited to the parade—not just an elite few.

But so often we are obsessed with dead debates and conversations that lead us to nothing but separation and hate. So I wonder: if we took this whole “following Christ” thing seriously, how would we reframe our thinking? And how would this affect our living?

I strongly suggest that the Sadducees were given an opportunity by Jesus. He was inviting them to find some freedom in the midst of their trapped and limited perspective. In short, stop being obsessed with the words in a book, and start living. And notice that the Sadducees didn’t argue with Jesus’ assessment. They stopped asking him questions after that. After all, what could they really say? Indeed, God is a God of the living!

So to reframe our perspective, we ought to act more compassionately and focus less on societal norms and written rules.

After all, aren’t people more important?

Keith is a kid with special needs. In many ways, Keith is an outsider. He’s not cool. He’s not someone you would expect to be hanging out with football players. In a society obsessed with competition, Keith doesn’t seem to have a place on a sports team. His hugs make people feel uncomfortable. But who is really “special needs” here? Keith inspired students who previously were selfish. Keith convinced parents, coaches, and players to care more about people than football. Keith is alive. He is a human being who deserves friendship, empathy, and compassion. He, above all the others on the team, deserves to score a touchdown.

But Keith is not the only one.

There are many left out of society just because we see them as different or not fitting into our rules or norms. There are many people who are marginalized just because of words in a book that we think we know how to interpret. We categorize people; we say who is in, popular, normal, and even holy. We see some as dead and dehumanize them.

But Jesus taught that God sees everyone as alive.

Chew on that for a moment.
God sees everyone as alive.

We should be speechless. Perhaps we can talk less and do more?

Friends, let’s reframe the conversation. Let’s stop arguing over literal interpretations of words or societal norms.
Let’s focus on real people—believing all of them deserve our compassion.

We have freedom to do this.
We have freedom to live as resurrected people.
For all of us are alive, too.
And we are capable of love, compassion, and grace.
We are capable of doing the kind thing when no one else will.
We are capable of forgiving past and even present hurts.
We are capable of embracing wisdom and then sharing it.

We are alive. And so, let’s live as resurrected, compassion-filled people. Amen.

 


[1] Tenney, Merrill (1998). Josephus Complete Works, Vancouver.

Still Living, Still Changing Lives!

Luke 24:1-12

jesuspeepsThe “Easter” sermon is the hardest one to preach.

No really–it is.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the tried-and-true, Christian-crux message with which you can’t go wrong. After all, how do I effectively relate Jesus, the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, and marshmallow peeps?

It is a story so misunderstood and so overdone. It is about somebody dying and then coming back to life. It is the Sunday when people who never go to a church service all of a sudden show up, expecting magic.

It is the resurrection story. And it forms the foundations for this religion called Christianity. There is this Jesus. Then, he is dying on a cross. Afterwards, he is dead and his body is in a tomb. And then his body disappears and this Jesus reappears to his friends.

And a religion forms.

And today we say: He is risen! He is risen indeed!

coolJesusAnd yet, each Gospel of the New Testament of the Bible tells its own story.

I know I say this a lot, but it’s worth remembering. Luke, a Gospel book, has a distinctive resurrection story. Remember that this is not an eyewitness account of the events, but a retelling of the story, with metaphors, references to the Hebrew Scriptures and prophets, and even references to the early Christian community. Yes, let’s remember—all four Gospels were written well after Jesus’ death and were penned within the community of this new group of followers of Jesus. In fact, Luke’s Gospel is even more unique because the same people who wrote Luke wrote the book of Acts. They are meant to be read in succession. So let’s do that.

The end of Luke’s Gospel reads like this:

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The beginning of Acts reads like this:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

It is important to note this characteristic of Luke’s story, because it does not end with an empty tomb, an appearance by Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and then Jesus blessing the disciples. Luke’s Gospel continues in the book of Acts. And as the title of Acts makes it clear, the story continues in the action of people—people from many different backgrounds, of different ages and genders, who were moved by God’s Spirit through the life, teachings, death, and resurrected life of Jesus of Nazareth. We must work backwards to fully understand the resurrection stories of the Bible. They were written with a context and a community in mind.

So that being said, let’s enjoy Luke’s story.

It was the first day of the week. This means the first day after the Sabbath [Saturday], so it was Sunday. They [women] went to the tomb were Jesus’ body was laid, burial spices and anointing materials in hand. When they got there, the stone that was supposed to keep people out of the tomb was rolled to the side. No body of Jesus anywhere.

So let’s pause for a moment. Luke’s resurrection story begins just as the birth story did. Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth with women as the central figures. Women are the first to know about Jesus’ birth. Here on resurrection day it is the same. Women are the first to know about Jesus’ rebirth.

The women, just like Mary the mother of Jesus, were perplexed by this news. And then, two men in dazzling clothes appear. Two men is a translation of the Greek words andres duo. Why should you care? Because earlier in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 9, you may remember a story about Jesus and the disciples on a mountain and something called a transfiguration. In that story this same phrase andres duo is used to refer to Moses and Elijah—dead prophets who appear to the disciples in a dream. So these two men were changed men. Were they angels, like in Luke’s birth story? We find out later in Luke 24:23 that the women at the tomb told their crazy story to the other disciples, saying that “they had indeed seen a vision of angels.” Ah, Luke is a great storyteller. So far, in just a few lines, we have been connected all the way back to Moses and Elijah, and even to the birth of Jesus!

The two men speak: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Fear is a factor. The women came to a tomb, expecting death. It was not a pleasant journey. Now, they were confused and fearful. I know that the Bible doesn’t mention zombies or ghosts [technically] but I pretty much think that the women had all kinds of weird thoughts about what was going on. What kind of strange vision was this? Who rolled the stone away? Who were these two men?

But their fear of any creepy, crawly dead things is alleviated when the two men direct the women’s attention away from the tomb. He is not here. He has been raised. Yes, grammar sticklers out there, another passive tense. But in this case, with meaning. Jesus has been raised indicates that Jesus himself did not gain superpowers, turn into a super Messiah zombie and throw the stone to the side. This was actually God’s doing.

Then Luke uses a word that appears a gazillion times in this Gospel. Remember. Remember, ladies, when Jesus was still in your homeland of Galilee? Remember what he taught you? The Son of Man [the human one][1]told you that he would be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and then on the third day rise again?

Remembrance is big in Luke’s Gospel. Earlier in the story, during the scene in which Peter denies Jesus three times, Peter remembers the word of the lord, before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.[2]

The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember me when you come into your kingdom.[3]

And of course, Jesus said to his disciples, Do this in remembrance of me.[4]

For Luke, remembering is important. The story [and the experience of it] is renewed with a refreshed understanding, added insight, and change of perspective. This story is told so that all who read it will remember and reinterpret it with the new information they now have.

And so, the heroines in the story, these women disciples, do just that. They DO remember Jesus’ words and return to where the other disciples were staying. Now we hear their names: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and even more women. They tell the story to the male disciples. They don’t believe them. In fact, the men think that the women are delirious! They are nuts! Insane! They don’t remember. Peter, the one who remembered Jesus’ words a little too late when the cock crowed, decides to go to the tomb. When he does, he looks inside and sees linen cloths by themselves. He is amazed and returns home.

Look, I don’t know what you think or believe about these resurrection stories.

I am honest and realistic about things. I use my brain [well, I try to] and I believe in science. I love stories and I have a great imagination. But I also treasure logic and observation. In short, I am a person of faith, but that doesn’t mean science, biology, history, culture, logic, and my brain get thrown out the window when I’m talking and thinking about Jesus.

Quite the opposite, actually. I believe in resurrection. Here’s the thing, though–so do atheists and agnostics.

Perhaps you stopped reading this  now, but this is true. You don’t have to believe that Jesus of Nazareth [who really was called Joshua] physically died and then physically rose from the dead, appearing physically to disciples to appropriately fulfill prophecy. You don’t have to believe that to believe in resurrection. If this makes me a heretic, I’m glad to be one.

I know many, many people who live as fully-resurrected individuals, giving their time, gifts, and lives to resurrect good in others and in communities. I am a follower of Christ. I believe in Christ and I walk that path with Christ. But what happened on the third day? Was there resurrection that fits nicely into our church’s doctrine? Or was there resurrection on God’s terms?

This heretic wonders if the resurrection stories are metaphors for you—pointing you to a resurrected perspective about your own life—how you have the chance each day to be made new and to do something kind, creative, wonderful, or merciful. Perhaps this story is more about the legacy of Jesus’ teachings, but not necessarily a factual, bodily raising of Jesus from the dead.

On the other hand, this heretic also wonders if the resurrection story, for some of you, is still a historical telling of the resurrection of a man who was killed and his body placed in a tomb, and then, miraculously, by the power of God, he was raised from the dead—and he walked and talked with his friends and disciples. Perhaps this belief moves you to believe in the impossible—that amazing, merciful things can still happen in you and in others, because God is still at work in this messed-up world.

What I experience is that most people see this story differently. But I also think we all can find a shared value here.

Luke’s story isn’t meant to end with folklore or some theological dogma or doctrine.

The story continues in the lives that are changed–in the people who are renewed, reshaped, transformed, encouraged, forgiven, healed, and moved.

We remember the story, not because it’s tradition, but because in  our remembering, we are inspired to move!

We remember resurrection, so we change. We remember so we forgive and show mercy and welcome the stranger and embrace everyone’s humanity and love, spread kindness, pay it forward, and widen the circle.

Otherwise, why remember at all, if the story doesn’t move us to loving, just action?

Why tell the story at all unless it makes us better human beings? Why even say Christ is risen unless we ourselves are resurrected, changed people who believe in unlimited mercy and that all people deserve love? Why remember resurrection unless the people around us see the fruit of what Christ taught and lived in our actions?

So…remember. All people have the opportunity to be resurrected and renewed.

No more guilt or fear that needs to grip your life. Let the healing come. Remember it.

You are loved, covered with mercy, and expected to rise up. So remember.

And do rise up. Rise to the occasion of mercy, love, and community.

And don’t just remember today.

Remember every day.

Be changed every day. Amen.


[1] The Common English Bible.

[2] Luke 22:61

[3] Luke 23:42

[4] Luke 22:19

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