Monday, April 30, 2007

St. Ruth

Thanks for your prayers and concern. My grandma's funeral was on Saturday, and I've been spending time with family since. Lara and I are on vacation this week and Pat Edmonds will preach next Sunday. I heard that the youth did a great job leading worship--thanks youth! So, as you can guess--no sermons printed for a couple weeks. If you're hungry for one, try the Bible Study link at the side, or you can read one of my dad's at


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Softball games are here!

For all of you who have still not shown up to practice (every Wed. at 6pm at Okmulgee softball park), you should know that we begin playing games this weekend (weather permitting). Nathan is still working on his "The Natural" shot. (I go for the foul line lights, but haven't hit them yet.) Our game this weekend is on Friday at 6 and then again at 7:15 (doubleheader) If we have enough people we'll field one team for the 6pm game and one team for the 7:15 game. We'll be playing on the North Field. (Okmulgee park is behind the old public works building on Alabama--go like you're going to the fair grounds and make that left that kind of curves around and you'll be right there.) We'll be playing Preston Assembly of God.

the following weekend we have a rare double header on Friday and Saturday. Friday the 4th at 6 and 7:15 on North field vs. New Beginnings Church of God, and then on the 5th at 6 and 7:15 on South Field vs. Jubilee Christian Acadamy and Morris Assembly of God. Come and play or cheer us on!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Easter 3 Sermon: Dogpaddling towards Redemption

Philippians 2: 12-17
John 21

In John’s second narrative of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, we find the disciples back at their old professions. Instead of fishing for people, as Jesus had asked, they are here fishing for fish again. It is as if Jesus had never come to fetch them out of their boats in the first place. It is as if the last chapter, where Jesus spoke to them and encouraged them and breathed on them, commissioning them with the Holy Spirit, hadn’t happened.
I have a friend in Arkansas who preached that Easter Sunday is the ultimate “so what” event. We see in John’s story and in others that even the disciples who physically witnessed the resurrected Jesus didn’t immediately follow God’s vision for them to make other disciples and start spreading the good news.
For us, as inheritors of that tradition, Easter is a “so what” moment for us as well. Is it just a day of the year when in my friend’s words “its okay for men to wear pastel colored shirts?” (He actually had all the men in the congregation raise their hands if they were wearing a yellow shirt, and then a pink shirt, and then a mint green shirt. Then asked, “it needs to be more than this for us, doesn’t it?”)
Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted.
This beautiful story from John shows us how Easter is indeed “more than this.” At the beginning of the story, it seems that the resurrection has been met with a collective “ho hum” from the disciples. Peter decides to go fishing, he’s joined by the disciples, and then they get a little déjà vu. They are unsuccessful at fishing that evening, but the next morning they are met by someone who asks them, “Have you caught anything? No? Then throw the nets out on the side of the boat!” Then the text tells us they catch such a haul that they can’t even pull the net into the boat. The beloved disciple immediately recognizes “It is the Lord!”
Peter swims to shore, reminding us of the last time he had jumped out of the boat upon seeing Jesus. Though that time he walked on water a few steps and then started sinking, this time, weighted down by his soggy clothes, he swims with all his might toward the shore. Last time, he floundered, sinking, and called out in desperation for Jesus. This time, with no pretentions of walking, Peter simply dives in and swims toward his master.
Once again, Peter’s personality shines through the text. As John tells the earlier story, the beloved disciple and Peter race to the tomb upon news of his resurrection. John spells out very clearly that the beloved disciple makes it to the tomb first, but does not enter the tomb. But Peter arrives and immediately bursts into the empty tomb.
This time, in the boat, the beloved disciple is the first to say “It is the Lord,” but stays in the boat, rowing to shore with all the fish. Peter forgets about the fish and everyone else and flops into the water. Peter wants to get there fast, but yet wants to be adequately dressed for his master, so he puts on his clothes and then jumps into the water.
John points out twice that the other disciples were perhaps a little more level-headed about going to meet Jesus than Peter was. He mentions that they were not far off from the shore, and then says, the boat was only 100 yards away from shore. I would think that a boat full of men could row 100 yards faster than a man could swim, weighted down with clothing. So why does Peter swim, what does John have in mind by relating this aspect of the story?
I think it has something to do with what happens when they get there to shore. Peter is dogpaddling to redemption. Whereas he once floundered and sank, and called out for help, this day he does not call out for help—in the words of Paul, he’s “working out his salvation.” I can see Peter, full of “fear and trembling” as he gets to the shore to meet the man that he thrice denied. When he gets to shore, he and the other disciples are invited to eat with their master a meal of bread and fish—reminding us of the story where Jesus takes bread and fish and creates an abundance. Here, the abundance is symbolized by the fish—all 153 of them.
The symbolic relationship between the miraculous catch of fish and the disciples’ mission does not seem to lie in the description of the quantity of fish, however, but in Peter’s action in hauling in the net. The verb “to haul” is the same verb used in 6:44 to describe those who come to Jesus from God (“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me”) and in 12:32 to describe the power of Jesus’ death (“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”).
The use of this verb with reference to the disciples and the catch of fish suggests that they now join God and Jesus in drawing people to Jesus. The catch of fish, then, marks the extension of God and Jesus’ work into the disciples’ work.
The vast quantity of fish in the disciples’ net and the gracious meal of bread and fish show that God’s gift is available in the risen Jesus just as it was in the incarnate Jesus. Just as Jesus’ ministry was inaugurated with a miracle of unprecedented abundance (2:1-11), so, too, is the church’s ministry. John 21 is a story of celebration for the post-resurrection community, because it demonstrates for the community that its life is grounded in an experience of God’s fullness and unprecedented, unexpected gift.
So we have a failed fishing expedition, a miraculous catch because of the help of the stranger whom the disciples know is Jesus, an excited dash to the lakeshore, another gift of grace, and then what? Confession and commission…………
Jesus is relentless in his re-commissioning of Peter. The Gospels are clear about this. Did you notice in our Easter passage in Mark that the angel says “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” Peter, who symbolizes all of us, is being re-claimed by Christ even though he denied him. Christ asks him three times to match the three times Peter had denied him.
For me then, Easter brings back all kinds of great memories and elicits feelings of God’s glory and power, but at the root of it, I think the Gospels are telling us that Easter is about God’s persistence. God exhausts us with “Do you love me,” after “Do you love me?” It isn’t because God is insecure or co-dependant.
God is persistent because God loves us beyond our comprehension and wants us to mine deeper and deeper in our hearts for the love that we will give in return. Because God knows that as we mine deeper and deeper for our love of God, we will become more and more what we are created to be. God’s desire for us probes so much deeper than the surface salutes and doctrinal assent. God wants us to “know ourselves” so that we might more fully know Him.
As Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus three times gives him the same command. Feed my sheep, tend my lambs. Our responsive love of Jesus should manifest itself in servanthood. In serving others, we serve Christ. As we mine deeper and deeper into our hearts for the love of God, we will find a stronger and stronger impulse to love and serve others, because God is Love and Christ is “others.”
After Jesus helps Peter reacquaint himself with what it means to follow him, he gives him a little hint of what lies ahead for him. He lets Peter know that he will die on the cross—that his faith and his love for Jesus will lead him to the same fate. Jesus wants the best in us. He wants us to dig deep into our hearts to know for ourselves how much we love God. When Peter digs into his own heart and soul, he finds that his love of this man—once wavering, but now commissioned and blessed by Jesus, will gain him the privilege of dying the same death as his master. He will literally share in the death of Christ as he shares in the resurrection.
In these verses, Peter is enabled to move beyond his previous relationship with Jesus and claim the unity, intimacy, and mutuality with God and Jesus. These verses point to a future for Peter that is based on his relationship with Jesus after, rather than before, Jesus’ hour.
OF course, Peter also wants to know—“well, what about him.” I can see him gesturing with his thumb to the young beloved disciple tagging along behind. Jesus, swift to knock Peter off of his high horse, lets Peter know that one way of glorifying him is not privileged over another. Just because the beloved disciple will die of old age, that doesn’t mean that Peter is better or worse than John.
Peter and John are rivals. John is called the “beloved disciple,” and Peter probably resents him for it. Paul would later have words for this kind of discipleship. He wrote to the Philippians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life.”
“Holding out the word of life” is what Jesus did in his ministry, and it is what he commissions the disciples to enact as well. Peter has been broken down, emotionally and psychologically scarred by his own fearful denial of Christ—even though he puffed out his chest and said, “I will go with you to the death, Lord!” Did you notice that Peter was saddened when Jesus asked him for a third time if he loved him? Now, Peter has a second chance to hold true to his original commitment.
He will hold true to his original intention. Peter, and by extension, all of us, are dogpaddling to redemption. We’re being claimed and reclaimed and re-commissioned. When we forget our responsibility as disciples to “hold out the word of life,” Jesus doesn’t give up on us. We are given grace upon grace—God is persistent in giving us life and purpose. This is indeed good news! This is the news of the Easter story. And that is more than pastel shirts and egg hunts. That is more than family lunches and new dresses. God is relentlessly loving you. Not even death can hold Christ back from walking this life with you. Open your life to the probing love of Jesus. Mine your heart to find a deeper love and commitment. Out of that love will flow fountains of living water. Out of that love will pour the word of life. So that we might shine for our God and Maker like the stars of the universe.
Christ is Risen. And Christ is Rising! Amen

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

San Marcos Mission Trip this summer

Our church will be in mission this summer--will you be part of it? We will send a work team to the San Marcos River Work Camp from July 22-28. While there, we will have the opportunity to supply home repairs, painting, and roof repair for the elderly and poor in the San Marcos community. The focus of our project will be repairing a home that was damaged by a tornado. Included in the trip will be floating down teh San Marcos River, dinner at the historic Gristmill resturaunt, worship at a local UM church, and a day at Schlitterbahn Water park. Great outlet malls are there too!

IF you can't participate by actually going to San Marcos, then you can participate by helping the mission committee raise the funds to go. Mission committee met last night and thought of several ways to raise funds. May 20th we will have a potato lunch after church (be sure and invite friends so that we can raise more funds. Details will be in the paper. We're sure to need help with preperations for that lunch. Also on tap will be an Indian Taco Dinner in June, and the flamingo flock is also stretching their wings to visit people's yards--be thinking of who you'll want to "flock." Also, if you wish to make a special contribution to the mission committee, we will put it to good use! If you do wish to attend the trip, a deposit of $30 is needed by the end of April. You will be expected to pay up to $100 more as an individual.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Operation Understanding photos

Easter 2: The Constant Gardner

Colossians 1: 3-12
John 20: 1-31

I’ve always enjoyed this little tidbit about the resurrection story. Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus there at that tomb, she mistakes him for the gardener. I like the idea of the place where Jesus is buried having a gardener whom Mary would have mistaken Jesus for. But there it is, in the text. John doesn’t mention this to simply describe what happened there at the tomb, either.
Her mistake has meaning. None of thes seemingly trivial descriptions in the gospels is simply a trivial description. And to get to the root of this particular instance, we can use a Bible study method called the “Principle of first mention.” When you come across phrases that seem superfluous in the Bible, it is helpful to go to back in the Bible to see if that same word is used elsewhere.
This helps us see the writer’s intentions a little more, and if many references go back to a particular book in the Bible, we begin to see a pattern emerge that help us paint a picture of Jesus according to how that gospel writer may have seen him. Matthew, for instance, draws parallel after parallel to the Moses story in Exodus, because he wants us to see Jesus as the new Moses. Matthew is the only gospel writer who claims that Jesus and his family escaped to Egypt. This is probably because Matthew wants us to have Jesus literally coming out of Egypt like Moses did so we can see how Jesus leads us out of the slavery to sin and death much like Moses led his people to freedom and out of slavery as well.
John, on the other hand, makes numerous references to the Genesis story of creation. His gospel begins, “In the Beginning,” just as Genesis begins with “in the beginning.” He is painting his picture of Jesus and the good news using the colors found in the palate of Genesis. For what it’s worth, and for whatever reason, I see those colors as Green and Blues when thinking about Genesis and John and I see reds and golds when thinking about Exodus and Matthew. These aren’t the only instances of this kind of thing, but it gives us an idea of what is meant by the “principle of first mention.”
First mention of love is in John 3:16. First mention in the Bible is in Gen 22, God tells Abraham to take Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. John wants us to draw a parallel in our mind between the love God the father giving the world Jesus to the love of Abraham and his willingness to give his own son, whom he loved, as a sacrifice for God. John reverses the Genesis story—instead of God demanding a son for sacrifice, he gives his one and only son as a sacrifice.
In our resurrection story, Jesus is raised in a garden on the “first day of the week,” and is mistaken by Mary as a “gardener.” Clearly, John wants us to be thinking “garden.” Why? Genesis 2 is the first mention in the bible of a garden. It is the garden of Eden, where humans choose to live outside the way that God created them to live and death enters the picture and paradise is lost.
John wants us to see Jesus as the “new Adam” and the world with the risen Christ as a “new creation.” That’s why Jesus is raised on the “First day of the week.” It mirrors God’s creation story, which obviously started on the first day of the week! In fact, the “second Adam” is how Paul refers to Jesus in Romans and Corinthians. There is a new Adam on the scene. What happened in the first Garden, the curse of death, is now being conquered through Jesus. Jesus is renewing God’s plans for the world.
IF you go to Genesis, we see that the things God makes are Good. What does God do with God’s good creation? He endows them with the ability to produce plants and trees and everything else. God empowers creation to make more.
Back to John for a moment, what does Jesus do when he comes through the locked doors and meets the disciples face to face after the resurrection? He Breathes on them. This points to Genesis story. Here Jesus is endowing the disciples with the ability to make more! God’s Spirit hovers over the waters in Genesis, God’s breath hovers over the waters and gives creative potential. And in the story of the resurrection, God’s Spirit once again is blown directly into the disciples, giving them the ability to progress and grow and become who God intends them to be. God gives the same gift of breath in the garden story in Genesis, when he breathes into the nostrils of the human figure that he had fashioned, and the text tells us, “he became a living being.”
God doesn’t want everything the way it was, God’s vision grows and moves and progresses. You can see this in the first couple and the last couple chapters of the Bible. In the first chapters, we see God’s ideal as this peaceful, idyllic garden. IN the last couple chapters of the Bible, in the book of revelation, we see what descending from heaven to Earth? A city! And just in case we miss it, just in case we think John is speaking about something else entirely, what do we see there in the midst of the city? The tree of everlasting life! Yes, that same tree that God kicks Adam and Eve out of the original garden so that they don’t eat from it.
Just in case you’re confused, because our popular imagery of the Garden of Eden is that there is one tree that we eat from and therefore are kicked out of paradise, the story tells us that there are two trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which we eat from and disrupt God’s covenant, and then there’s the Tree of Everlasting Life, which God worries that Adam and Eve will eat from after having the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and will then become divine. See Genesis 3:22.
But the book of Revelation tells us that the tree of life is given for the healing of the nations, and that we are given the right to eat from the tree of life as those who have come to know the gardener. Yes, the gardener, whom Mary goes to the tomb and “mistakes” Jesus for. Indeed, Jesus is the gardener. He is the gardener who lovingly tends the Tree of Life, ensuring that tree is healthy and growing, nourished and watered. He is the gardener who ensures that the fruit of this tree is ripening in our lives! He is offering the fruit of the tree through his very words and through his words alive in the lives of his followers. It is Paul who talked about “bearing fruit” in our lives. Paul speaks about the good news “growing” in and through the disciples in Collosae. He describes his hope that they continue “bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God.”
So, what Jesus is doing by “breathing on his disciples,” is sharing his Spirit with them, he’s the gardener nourishing the tree of life that brings forth fruit in the lives of the disciples who will share his message of hope and redemption and life.
The peace that he shares with his disciples is the “first fruits” of what is to come. Through that peace shared with his disciples, he intends that “creation” to grow and change and take on a life of its own and eventually be the hope for peace over the whole world. Twice he says, “peace unto you” to the disciples. It’s like he’s giving them a second helping. It is like many of us who returned to the Easter banquet buffet for another go round. He’s loading the disciples full of creative potential just like God creates the earth in the Genesis story and then loads it with potential, saying, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”
God creates by endowing creation with potential to create. God sings, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation and animals, let the seas bring forth swimming things and birds.” After the earth and sea has brought forth these things, he rejoices in their goodness and then commands them to be fruitful and multiply. The living things should create as well. Jesus is making new creations, and is giving them peace so that they will multiply it in the world. He’s giving them the first fruits of the tree of life, so that they might bear fruit in their own lives.
This is also why Jesus does all he can to help the disciples have confidence in the truth and reality of the new creating creations they are. He comes back for Thomas, who had missed the first appearance, and offers his hands and side for Thomas to touch and believe.
We oftentimes think of this as a story about how Thomas’ faith wasn’t good enough because he needed physical evidence, but what I hear the story saying is that Christ meets us where we are and gives us reason to believe. What is important is the fruit, and Jesus wants Thomas to be a branch of his vine as well. He wants Thomas to multiply peace and life and redemption. So, he comes to Thomas and gives him what he needs to bear that fruit.
Thomas falls to his knees and says “My Lord and my God.” This is the first time in the Gospels where Jesus is addressed as the Divinity. And it also happens to be the same address that those living in the Roman world were expected to give to the Caesar. This proclamation of Thomas’ would have been heard as a bold political statement in the first century.
It shows us that the peace that Christ gives us is not intended to be a peace that we may tend to picture as simply the “absence of conflict.” Peace, or Shalom in Hebrew involves unfolding grace. Peace is not neutral, it is positive. It overcomes violence instead of simply waiting until violence dies down. It is creative, it is active. Peace, in the Roman times and in ours, does not wait on the powers and principalities. It boldly proclaims the truth in the face of the liars who masquerade as “My Lord and My God.”
I’m getting an HBO trial right now, so I’ve been recording several movies on our DVR that we’ll be able to watch when we get the time. One of the movies that I recorded is called, “The Constant Gardner.” I haven’t watched it yet, but the title reminds me of whom Jesus is in this passage and in the life of faith. Christ, risen from the dead, is now the constant gardener, endlessly tending the tree of life and the nourishing our lives so that we might bear fruit for the glory of God. Jesus Christ breathes on us with the same commissioning Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed on those original disciples in that locked room. Christ is alive and risen, nurturing our faith, presenting himself to us so that we might believe.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jesus and expectations

I read this in a recent Barbara Brown Taylor article in the Christian Century. Here's an excerpt I thought was thought provoking. enjoy!

Jesus is terrible at meeting people's expectations of him. He engages the sorts of people he should ignore and ignores the sorts of people he should engage. He accepts the wrong dinner invitations. He is rude to respected religious leaders. He scolds his own disciples, while he praises the faith of a Roman soldier. All in all, this is not a man you want teaching the first-grade Sunday school class (although he is crazy about children). He is impossible to manage. He will not stay in role. Every time his handlers think they have him handled, he vanishes from their midst.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tour of Houses of Worship

Have you ever wondered what it looked like inside a mosque or a temple or a Mormon stake-house? On Sunday, you will have the opportunity! we leave right after church for the Oklahoma Council for Community and Justice's "Operation Understanding." We will visit the Islamic Center of Tulsa, Temple B'nai Israel, St. Francis Xavier Catholic church (which is a spanish speaking congregation), and the Mormon stake-house. All you need is money for a fast food type lunch in Tulsa. We'll leave by 12:15 at the latest. See you then. (The photos are of Temple B'nai Israel in Tulsa and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. )

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Sermon: Unfinished Symphony

1 Peter 1: 3-9
Mark 16: 1-8

That’s all we get from the first Gospel written. If you were a Christian in the first century before Matthew or Luke or John wrote their versions of the story, that was the ending you had to build your faith on. “The women ran out of the tomb and they told no one, for they were afraid.” The Greeks would have actually read the last verse as grammatically unsatisfying as well. “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for…”
You will see more if you look at the end of Mark now, but you will also most likely see a bunch of brackets and down at the bottom, “earliest manuscripts end at 16:8.” That means that in the earliest written records we have of Mark, this is the ending. There is nothing more about handling poison or snakes and there is nothing more about spreading the message far and wide. What we are left with in the earliest recordings of Mark is simply “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the late Donald Juel tells the story of one of his students who had memorized the whole of Mark in order to do a dramatic, Broadway style reading before a live audience. After careful study, the student had decided to go with the scholarly consensus regarding the ending. At his first performance, however, after he spoke that ambiguous last verse, he stood there awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other, the audience waiting for more, waiting for closure, waiting for the proper ending. Finally, after several anxious seconds, he said, “Amen!” and made his exit. The relieved audience applauded loudly and appreciatively.
Upon reflection though, the student realized that by providing the audience a satisfying conclusion, his “Amen” had actually betrayed the dramatic intention of the text. So at the next performance, when he reached the final verse he simply paused for a half beat and left the stage in silence. “The discomfort and uncertainty within the audience were obvious,” said Juel, “and as the people exited…the buzz of conversation was dominated by the experience of the non-ending.”
Ever read a story or watch a movie that you just didn’t want to end? It might have been so beautiful, so thrilling, so involving that you felt a part of you died when you came to the conclusion. You found yourself paging back a few chapters to try and re-create that last hour or so that you were so enthralled by the story.
Or perhaps you’ve sat in a movie theater as the crowd files out hoping that the filmmakers will have rewarded you for sitting to the very end of the credits with one of those clever little “secret endings” that only the die-hards know about.
I am reminded of going to see the last installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with Lara at this huge theater in Hollywood called the Orpheum. As the movie neared its ending, I started feeling like I was watching a roommate pack up his things to move to the other side of the planet. I knew I would never again see a Lord of the Rings movie for the “first time” ever again. I sat in desperation through the entire credits, hoping for something more, some last “farewell.”
Our gospel writer, Mark, understands this feeling I believe, because he simply ends the Gospel without really ending it. Some mysterious guy in a tomb saying Jesus isn’t there? Women running out and telling no one, despite the promise of this mysterious man that Jesus would meet them in Galilee?
That is so unsatisfying! We want some face time with the newly risen Jesus, like in John…….when Mary goes to the tomb and Jesus appears to her when who she had mistaken to be the caretaker whispers her name—she recognizes his voice, sees him face to face, then goes to tell the others, dutifully—not running away scared.
Mark just gives us an empty tomb and an enigmatic promise met with….fear and fleeing. Why? The fact that we may find this unsatisfying was not lost on later leaders of the church, who added to Mark’s ending some semblance of a resolution. We have two such endings, in fact—one brief and poignant, one full of reprimands and high expectations.
Even though I want more, like I want to keep reading those beautiful stories or like I stay in the theater till the little symbols of the studios come up—hoping for something more to the movie—even though I want more from Mark, I’m also very attracted to his original ending to the story. I think I like it because it compels me. It is like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I recently pulled out of storage at my parents house and had a ball looking through. “If you run to Galilee to meet Jesus, turn to page 113,” or “If you run out with the women and “tell no one” turn to page 44.
This is the only occasion in Mark when the disciples (yes, the women are disciples too, of course) have been commanded to let the cat out of the bag, and they instead “tell no one.” In every other instance, Jesus has commanded the disciples to “tell no one of this” and they have promptly spilled the beans. Here’s the biggest event yet, and they’re given the green light to spread the word and instead they “say nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Clearly the later editors of the book were bugged by this incoherent ending because they add that “well, actually they did tell someone.”
Clearly they had told, because if they hadn’t, Mark wouldn’t be telling this story to anyone in the first place. The empty tomb would have eventually been filled by someone else’s body, the stone closed, and the movement begun by Jesus would have fizzled out and the only person to know the name of Jesus would be some ancient Judaism scholar working on his PH.D and writing a thesis on some obscure references to a man by the name of Yeshua who was crucified by the Romans for probably starting an insurrection.
Mark ends his gospel with a failed commandment because it is compelling. We want to tell the story to make up for the characters in the story who fail to do so. That’s exactly the kind of response that Mark is hoping for—the resurrection is in our hands. If we don’t share it, the Message will die out and be forgotten.
A pastor named Patrick Wilson in Ft. Worth Texas said, “Surely Mark must have felt tempted to end the story with such a soaring vision as Matthew or Luke. Most scholars agree that he wrote for a congregation that was marginal, expendable and suffering some form of persecution. Wouldn't these people come to Christian worship hoping for the blessed relief and consolation of a happy ending?
A conventional happy ending comforts us by its very conclusiveness. What was begun is finished. We are left feeling filled, satisfied and reassured about the order of things. The world is a reliable place after all: dramas begin and conflicts arise, but all is resolved in the final scene. Our hearts are lifted and the curtain falls. Mark advertised his story as "good news." But what kind of good news ends with devastating ambiguity: promises uttered from the shadows of a tomb, women rushing off afraid? Moreover, what pastor, preacher or teacher would dare flout the expectations and longings of vulnerable people?
The jagged edges of these final verses do, in fact, trace Mark's pastoral wisdom. He refuses to tie the loose ends of the gospel into a tidy bow of fleeting consolations. The final verses are ambiguous: a promise greeted by fear; a pledge that that we will "see him" swamped by our own uncertainty and dread. What Mark's ending lacks in romance it makes up for in sheer realism. Isn't this the world we live in? No enchanted world of thinly fabricated happily-every-afters, but a world in which we hold tightly to the promise and fearfully tread our way through a tangle of doubts and amazements.
This is the way Easter dawns upon us: with promise and apprehension. We can either heave the book across the desk in exasperation or mine for deeper significances. Mark's ending, or rather its lack of an ending, leaves us hungry and haunted. We forage back into the Gospel, ravenous for clues. What was it Jesus said in the 14th chapter? "After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." We ponder possible meanings. We do "not cease from exploration," as Eliot has put it.
Matthew, Luke and the anonymous authors of the longer and shorter endings understood: this story cannot end here. Mark hinted at the truth in his first verse: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The story goes on. His story goes on, and so does ours. We proceed with the promise that accompanies our uncertainty.
We live by faith, then, precariously balancing between the young man's promise and the women's fear and astonishment. We seek ending after ending, only to discover that every ending that we fashion inevitably disappoints us. Every finale forecloses the drama prematurely. An ending says too much too surely, and therefore it never says enough. Although it may satisfy us for the moment, we sense its failure and falsity.”
The young man who performed the Gospel learned that the last verse of Mark is better left as is because Mark didn’t need an ending. The story he was telling was continuing on in the lives of the people who heard about Jesus and believed. The life of the hero of our story is still going on in you and in me. The young man in the tomb understands that there is more to come. "He is not here," not in the tomb, not at the end of the story; "he is going ahead of you," always ahead of us; and "you will see him," in Galilee and in places we would never have expected. He is going ahead of us, and of his story; there is no end.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday Homily

Lots of scripture read today!
Luke 9: 28-40
0Philippians 2: 5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

The week that we call holy week—the week that begins today and contains the remembrances of the most important aspects of our faith—begins with a parade. And the parade begins with a detailed description of going to get a donkey.
Jesus clues his disciples into the perfect love that is about to be expressed in the coming week by giving them what seems to be a menial task. Why does Luke give us such a detailed description on the directions to get a donkey on the way to Jerusalem? Perhaps it is a counterweight to the delusions of grandeur that are being promoted by the disciples later around the dinner table later that week. In their mind, they are on the march to conquer Babylon, and they want to know who would sit on the right and left hand of their new Messiah. But Jesus gives these disciples a humbling task that reflects the humbling task he must undergo in the week that follows.
We oftentimes think that God’s love is expressed in power. What we consider power is usually coercive power. But what we find hard to stomach and even harder to imitate is the divine ideal of Love as totally and perfectly vulnerable.
Several years ago a beautiful movie came out called “The Green Mile.” Tom Hanks starred as the prison warden on death row in the 1930’s south, and came to know one of the inmates who had strange powers. This man was literally huge as an ox—a symbol of this character’s power—yet his real power was in his vulnerability. Through his love, he healed a mouse, a woman, and even the warden himself. Through his healing love, he became more and more vulnerable. The movie is called “The Green mile” because the hallway to the death chamber is painted green, and the inmates call it the mile because it feels like a mile when one walks it to their death. John Coffee, the character in the Green Mile, walks his path willingly even though he is innocent of the crime for which he is accused. Much like John Coffee, Jesus Christ knew that the green palms thrown at the feet of his humble donkey were paving the way to the cross. He goes willingly even though he is innocent of the crime for which he is accused.
Christ’s power comes through his perfect love. Perfect love involves a submission to vulnerability. Every welt on his back, every thorn in his brow happens because Christ’s love makes him vulnerable. He’d been telling his disciples it had to be this way for some time, and they didn’t understand. More accurately, they didn’t WANT to understand. Mark tells us in ch. 9 that they were afraid to ask him what he meant when he told them that the son of man must suffer and be killed. They were afraid to ask him because while they were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus was sitting a little child on his lap and saying “welcome this child and you welcome God.”
This terrible, beautiful passion of our savior says to us once and for all, “this is how to love—this is how I love you.” Christ was killed because he dared to love us as we are, he dared to love those who weren’t supposed to be loved. He died to show us that true power lies in vulnerability, it lies in submission, it lies in Love.
Can we learn this perfect love? Our Methodist heritage and the theology of the Wesleys say that we can. When we Methodists are ordained for ministry, we are asked by the Bishop, “Are you going on to perfection?’ To which we are expected to answer “yes.” The following historic question, written by Wesley, clarifies, “Do you expect to be perfected in love in this life?” Not just ministers, but all of us as inheritors of this tradition, should confidently answer “yes.”
This is the heart of sanctifying grace, as our five confirmands learned this past weekend. Being perfected in love involves vulnerability, it involves reconciliation. To learn it, we must pay special attention to the events of the passion story. It may involve fetching a donkey when we really want to sit by our King in glory. It may involve walking the path though we may be taunted and derided the whole way. Jesus looked with love on the world even as the very people he was being crucified with joined in the taunts and accusations. Can you imagine? Don’t those other guys being crucified have enough to worry about?
This radical, perfect, vulnerable love might involve reaching out in embrace when we really want to slap or punch. It might involve placing a great deal of importance on the creative efforts of a little child when what we really want to do is get back to fixing dinner or writing a report or watching a tv show. That action alone could be placing the welcome mat out in front of our heart for God. Don’t you imagine that the disciples would have rather been suiting Jesus up with armor and perhaps killing a mounted Roman so that Jesus could ride in on his horse? Don’t you imagine Peter would rather have been basking in the glory of his master’s fame and respect rather than denying him as his master was being tried?
And yet Peter would later come to know, and Paul would later write to the Philippians, that it is in the very events that drive the disciples away like scattered sheep that Jesus Christ is ultimately and spiritually glorified. Paul writes, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Showing that perfect love could mean letting go of anger or feelings of betrayal or mistrust and instead opening our lives to the future, opening our hearts to new possibilities.
Perfect love embodies vulnerability. What position is more vulnerable than open arms? It is in this action, when we go to embrace, that we mirror our creator and savior’s sacrifice. What we must sacrifice is our Ego, our desires, to the one desire of God---to building the Kingdom, to the authentic life that Jesus placed in the offering plate for us.
You would perhaps rather not focus in on the story of our Lord’s betrayal and beating and crucifixion this week and instead zoom right ahead to the Easter celebration. I challenge you to observe Holy week—to be here as we plunge into the stories of the Last week of our savior. If it is not your custom to be here in worship in the middle of the week, just imagine how out of custom it must’ve felt to the original disciples to hear about the path that their Messiah was going to take—not a path of glory and military revolution, but a path of vulnerability and spiritual revolution. Together we will observe the pain and the heartache—so that together we may experience the joy and the hope in a new light--The light that accompanies the resurrection.