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Archive for March, 2013

English: Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene

English: Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Sermon on John 20:1-18, with allusions to Psalm 30 and Matthew 5:4

No wonder Mary Magdalene just stood there weeping!  She was lost.  She didn’t know which way to go or what to do next.  When Jesus healed Mary back in Galilee, he had given her life a direction.  Jesus had reoriented, reshaped, and redirected her life.  From then on she had served in the company of women who traveled with Jesus and provided for him out of their resources.

On Friday, Mary stood close to the cross, watching the crucifixion, watching Jesus die, watching Joseph and Nicodemus take his body down from the cross.  What enabled her to get from Friday and through the Sabbath to Sunday was anticipating doing what loved ones do in those first days after someone dies: go to the grave.  As soon as the Sabbath was over and sacred law permitted, before it was even light, Mary made her pilgrimage.  What a shock when she got there: the grave was open, and the body was gone!

Mary hurried to report this news to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved.  These two ran to see for themselves, looking in, going in, and examining the linens that had shrouded the corpse.  The beloved disciple—who we think may have written this Gospel—began to trust that God might be up to something, though neither disciple yet understood the scriptures that said Jesus must rise.  They rubbed their eyes and went home shaking their heads, trying to make sense of it.  But Mary stayed.  She stood there, bending to look inside.  She couldn’t stop crying.  She was lost.  So were they all.

Which way do you go when everything falls apart?  The loss of loved ones in death can certainly leave you feeling disoriented.  So can a lost job, lost marriage, lost health, lost dreams, anything life-altering, anything that changes or even obliterates the future you had imagined for yourself.  Lost!  Which way to go now?

No wonder Mary Magdalene just stood outside the tomb, weeping!  Now that the body was missing, there wasn’t even a grave site to visit, some place to put flowers and remember.

But Mary was not alone.  When she bent down to look inside the tomb, she saw two angels in white, one at the head and the other at the foot where Jesus’ body had been.  According to John, instead of dropping the announcement of the resurrection on Mary, the angels simply asked her what was wrong.  “Why are you crying?” they asked, inviting her to tell them her story.  And she did.  “Because somebody has taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they put him!”

Turning away from the mouth of the grave, Mary then saw Jesus himself.  But she wasn’t able to recognize him.  We might expect Jesus immediately to say, “Don’t cry!  It’s me!”  But he did the same thing the angels did.  Jesus asked, “Why are you crying?  Whom are you looking for?  What’s wrong?  What’s hurting you?”

Jesus’ tone is gentle.  Jesus didn’t say, “What’s the matter with you?  Stop blubbering!  Don’t you remember what I said?”  Jesus’ tone is inviting.  Jesus asked Mary to tell him what’s wrong, and then he listened while she told him.

Understandably, Mary thought the figure before her must be the caretaker of the garden.  “Sir, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Sometimes we are not so gentle with one another or with ourselves, and we speak abruptly: “Stop crying!  Get over it!  Don’t you know everything’s going to be alright?  Christians shouldn’t grieve!”

But the angels and Jesus himself were gentle with Mary.  They listened to her.  And then Jesus revealed his identity to her in a very gentle way.  (more…)

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'shadows of a forgotten savior' photo (c) 2007, hillary h - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Here is a sermon from my archives as we begin Holy Week.

Father, Forgive Them
A Sermon on Luke 23:34

How could the soldiers pound spikes through the human hand and consider it all in a day’s work?   But that’s just what it was to them: a day’s work.  And why not have a little fun while they were at it.  They played dice, and the prizes were Jesus’ clothes.  They had a good time at his expense: “Since you’re the king of the Jews,” they laughed, “save yourself.”

How can people do such things to each other?  Recently our family watched a program about the allied agents who worked during World War II to track down German physicists and rocket scientists like Werner von Braun, and their work.  Twenty years later Von Braun was a big shot in the American space program, and newscasters were interviewing him about the Apollo moon launches.  But during the war, the physical work of the weapons programs Von Braun and his cohorts developed was done by slave labor on starvation rations from a nearby concentration camp.  How could the scientists not know?  And if they did know, how could they not care?

How can unspeakable acts get to be commonplace, so “all in a day’s work?”  How can human life be treated with such contempt?  This kind of behavior isn’t surprising when the people involved hate each other.  But how can people who claim to love God and love one another in marriages, families, churches and communities disrespect, demean and wound each other so grievously?

Some of the leaders of God’s people were also enjoying the proceedings.  They scoffed, “He saved others; let’s see him save himself if he really is the Messiah, the chosen of God.”  Even one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus got into the act: “So you’re the Messiah, eh?  Prove it by saving yourself, and us, too, while you’re at it!”  And he kept on taking digs at Jesus.

Saving himself was just what Jesus could not do and still accomplish his mission.  Yet it would be very understandable if his own pain was all he could see and all he could think and all he could feel.  How he had shuddered in the garden at the very thought of it!

Unlike the defiant criminal, Jesus uttered no protest.  But neither did he offer these cheap words that so often pass for forgiveness:  “It’s okay.  It’s no big deal.”  Or even, “I brought it on myself.”  Matthew and Mark make it clear that Jesus did cry out in pain.  But what’s the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth in Luke?

The first word out of Jesus’ mouth in Luke is “Father,” the One he counts on for everything.  The first sentence out of Jesus’ mouth is prayer.  The first concern out of Jesus’ mouth is for others.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing!”

Who is this “them” he’s referring to?  Right there at his feet were the soldiers, who certainly thought they knew what they were doing: doing their job.  Ridding the world of vermin.  Father, forgive them.

Nearby also were religious leaders, who certainly thought they knew what they were doing: protecting God’s interests and the national interests, and incidentally their own.  Father, forgive them.

And then there were the criminals who had preyed on others who were weaker than they in some way, one a mocker, and the other seeing a chance of some kind of future with Jesus.  Father, forgive them.

And only blocks away were Pilate and Herod, who didn’t pretend to be doing anything other than protecting their own interests.  Father, forgive them.

And somewhere out there was Peter, who used to be sure he knew what he was doing, but not anymore.  Not since he hadn’t been able to keep his pledge to follow Jesus even to death.  Father, forgive him.  And Judas the schemer.  Where was he?  Luke leaves that question unanswered until the Book of Acts.  Father, forgive him.  Somewhere out there were the rest of the disciples who only hours before had been arguing in the upper room about which of them was the greatest. Father, forgive them.  And what about the helpless onlookers who didn’t know what to do, or didn’t want to do anything—just gawk?  Father, forgive them.

Before Jesus placed himself in God’s hands one last time, he placed everyone else in God’s hands.  On the cross Jesus brought the world to the God who speaks the word that can heal the unspeakable; to the God with the power to forgive the unforgivable; to the God who refuses to let sin and death have the final word.

“Father, forgive them.”  No, that does not mean that this sin or any other is acceptable.  No, that does not mean Jesus’ wounds or any other wounds are trivial.  No, that does not mean the hurt will, must, or even can be forgotten.  Even after the resurrection Jesus still bore the marks of the wounds. What it does mean is that there is forgiveness in the heart of God.  God creates it.  God holds the power of it.  God’s forgiveness is the road to healing.  God’s forgiveness is the road to life.  “Father, forgive them” is not a surrender to evil.  It is a surrender to God. (more…)

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Church, Maui, Hawaii

Church, Maui, Hawaii (Photo credit: aimforawesome)

Imagining the Small Church by long-time small church pastor Steve Willis is an important new book for small churches and for the church at large.  Here is my mini-review that appears on the back cover:

“Are you weary of books aimed at ‘fixing’ the small church? Read this book instead. With deep respect, Steve Willis shows how healthy small churches simply and lovingly embody God’s upside-down wisdom. Long experience at the periphery gives us much to teach the larger church that now finds itself pushed to the sidelines of culture. Read, imagine—and hope!”

You can read my full review in The Presbyterian Outlook here.

Read an excerpt here, and another excerpt here on the Alban Institute website.

Small church friends, read this book and be uplifted and challenged.  Large church friends, read this book and be challenged and uplifted.

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