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Reflection on the Easter Narrative

Reflection on the Easter Narrative

Double_Take
Self-Reflection

As I was sitting and listening to the passion narrative read during the Good Friday service. I began to realize that I am not as familiar with the story as I should be. There were points where I thought; that’s not how I remember it or is that in the wrong order. Of course, the four gospels have different narratives of the Passion but it got me to think. How often do I speak about or refer to the Bible with what I think I know, or from what I remember? How often do I take the time to actually deeply know how each gospel portrays the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. I have to confess that I do not read the Bible as much as a should. I often rely on what I think I know. The sin of relying on the memory of Christ’s story is that we can turn the story to fit our needs. We can fill in the blanks spots of our memory with our own version.

As Christians were claim the narrative of Christ but do we really know it? Do we deeply contemplate this story and make it a part of our own story and lives?  I don’t think we do. Throughout the Old and New Testament we are reminded to remember, the Passover is a reminder of God’s grace and mercy on Israel and their deliverance. How often did Israel forget and have to be reminded by Prophets. (Anyone know what that number is? I guess the point is that is was a lot.)

As we celebrate Easter we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That his death as an act of love bought us freedom from sin. We should not relegate his story to mere myth, We should make sure that this story is authentic and accurate. We should not only refresh our hearts of the Salvation Christ brings to the world but also our minds. In the first half of Duet 11:18 it says “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds.” Human memory fails. If the story of Christ shapes and forms our lives, we should know it. It should be the one story we cling to and want to know as accurately as possible. So take a deep look at the Story of Christ, at this death and resurrection. Maybe you’ll find something that surprises you, maybe you’ll have a double take.

I wonder how the world would change if us Christians actually knew the Gospel story rather than assuming we did?

Inner Turmoil and the root of Violence

Inner Turmoil and the root of Violence

Accusations
Lee
Accusations

I am reading a book called “To be known as we are known” by Parker Palmer. It describes how we have taken the spiritual task of knowing and knowledge out of the learning process. We’ve turned it into facts and power rather than a journey of self-discovery and discovering the world around us. One quote really stuck with me

“The self creates the world by means of projection. Much of the world’s violence, for example, is an acting-out of the violence we find within ourselves, an effort to get rid of our inner demons by projecting them “out there.” We help create the outward enemy (be it russians or asians, blacks and WASPs) to distract us from the inward enemy who always threatens to overcome us.” 

Parker Palmer

I find it so true. As a Chaplain, the more I learn about myself the more I am at peace with others. I think in today’s society because of vague spirituality and lack of community there is so much inner violence. The world needs community and resources to help us understand and confront our own inner demons.

Jesus for me is the source of strength and guidance in the journey. He dealt with temptation. He calls us to look inward and see the inner violence and how it affects the world around us. The Christian community although not perfect should strive for peace within ourselves so that we can give it to others. The heart of the Gospel is that God loves  us. Much of our inner turmoil is from a self-hatred or low value of our place in the world. God values us and has a place in his kingdom. When we realize that we can share that awesome message to others.

So far this book is pretty good. I’ll keep you posted as a read more of it.

Christmas Sermon 2011 “Our Hope is Christ”

Christmas Sermon 2011 “Our Hope is Christ”

Detail of the Christ Child
PrillyCharmin
The Christ Child

Grace and Peace to you from Our Father in Heaven and Our Lord Jesus Christ whose birth and incarnation we celebrate today. Amen

Our lives are filled with Hope and Expectation. We hope the economy will get better. We hope for Christmas and birthday presents. And we hope for a better future. There are a million things we trust and hope that will happen. As Christians our hope rests on Jesus Christ. On Christmas morning we celebrate with all the saints before us who trusted and hoped in Jesus. Christ is our hope from the dawn of creation and now through his incarnational presence. Christ is the fulfillment of Hope both as his presence on earth in human flesh and through his presence as the church, his body, working in and through us to redeem the world. Christ is the fulfillment of future hope when he will come again to complete his redemption. Hope is in the “Word made flesh and dwelling among us”.

John’s Gospel points us to the very act of creation, and to the God of Creation. “In the beginning” John writes echoing Genesis. He reminds us of how God, by just uttering a word created both light and life. God said “Let there be Light and there was Light.” When God speaks, amazing things happen. God’s Word is Alive and Active. It is through Word that all things come into being. This word was with God and was God. We are reminded in the book of Hebrews how God, in his steadfast love and faithfulness gave hope by speaking and acting through the ancestors and prophets of Israel but that now God gives us hope and speaks directly through the “Word made flesh” in Jesus Christ. This is the hope we find in Christ, that God the “Word made flesh” is here making things happen. Throughout the Gospels, this Child we celebrate every Christmas grew up to the fed the hungry, heal the sick, freed the captives, and restore relationship. He brings light to the darkness and restores life from death.

Jesus of Nazareth did not just appear as a human. He came into this world as Child, as all human beings do. We affirm, remember and celebrate Christ’s humanity. That Christ lived, and died as human, a mortal being. In Jesus, The author of life becomes flesh so that we might see, touch and know hope through his life and light.

John reminds us later in the Gospel the purpose Jesus’ incarnation and his dwelling among us in the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus came to save us from death and corruption cause by sin. Jesus’ gift of life and hope comes to us by way his death on the Cross. Christ’s birth receives its significance and meaning in the shadow of the cross. God’s ultimate plan for salvation is made known in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christ had to die so that he might raised in new life. Christ had to be human to die. So just as Christ shares our human death and in Christ we share his resurrection. We receive Salvation, which is sharing in God’s own life through Jesus Christ. On Christmas we celebrate the hope found in Jesus’ coming into the world as Child, a human Child, who is light in the midst of darkness and life in the midst of death. “God with us” Emmanuel.

How is that we experience this Jesus who was born 2000 years ago? Jesus is “the Word made flesh” who dwells among us and so through the promised Holy Spirit we are made part of his life. Through Jesus’ death on the cross we are made Children Of God. That is our Hope. To be restored with God and share in his life as he intended. As the Church, the body of Christ we live the reality of Jesus dwelling among us everyday. We are the incarnation of God’s salvation in the world. When we live in Christ, his life and light are given to others. When we hear the Gospel read and preached, Christ is incarnate there. When we feed the poor and hungry Christ is there. When people are Baptized, Christ incarnated. When we worship and share a meal, Christ dwells among us. As the Church, we are the incarnation of Christ in a world that longs to know “Where is God in all of the this?” We speak the word that is Christ and fill the darkness with his light.

Jesus the light of the world stepped down into darkness. Jesus our life, lived and died so that we might live in him. Jesus, our hope, fulfills our expectations both now and in the future. Until Jesus comes again and restores all of creation completely. We proclaim in the words of that the Christmas carol “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Indeed Our Hopes and our fears rest in Jesus. Amen!!!

A Sermon on Reaching out to Thomas

A Sermon on Reaching out to Thomas

Florence Verrocchio's Doubting Thomas
Ed Petrick
Florence Verrocchio’s Doubting Thomas

Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed! Amen!

We’ve all heard or seen things that we didn’t quite believe. The call of a loved one’s unexpected death, hearing that your mother has breast cancer, seeing the aftermath of the plane hitting a building where people you know work. The day I heard my grandfather died, the day my mother told me she had cancer and the day in 2011 seeing the aftermath of the plane hitting the Pentagon, the events were very vivid for me. My initial response to all these events was shock and disbelief. I wanted to hide and escape from their reality. There were moments when nothing could break through the fear and doubt.

The disciples in the upper room where no different. They had witnessed Jesus die. The had seen Christ crucified and buried. And now they were overcome with grief. They had heard the story of the empty tomb, of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple seeing the risen Christ. But for the disciples in that room fear and grief prevented them from believing. Which is understandable, when you see somebody die you don’t expect them to just be resurrected as if nothing happened, Do you? They had locked themselves in that upper room not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. At that point, the disciples were more concerned about themselves than whatever else might be happening. They were grieving for their beloved teacher. They were fearful of what others might think, what might happen to them. They could be mocked, beaten or killed.

In the midst of this fear and grief, Jesus enters among them. Despite locked doors, He enters and shows them his hands and his side. They see Jesus their beloved teacher, who had died, Alive with them! What Joyous news! Jesus enters that room and says “Peace be with you.”

Peace in Hebrew is Shalom. However, it means more than the stereotypical end of violence, hippy peace. The kind we often casually say I hope for Peace on Earth. It means more, It means reconciliation, restoration, and completeness. Christ’s peace for me came in the witness of my mother. The shock of hearing the word Cancer from my mother was frightening. You expect the worst when you hear that word, Cancer. Despite my shock, my mother was calm. How could she be so calm? It was Cancer, that thing other people got not my own mother. It was puzzling to me. I asked if she was afraid and she responded, “Of course I’m afraid, but Christ is with me.” There in the midst of her pain and fear she was able to see Christ’s presence. To experience Shalom. Hearing her witness I began to see Christ’s presence as well. I began to believe.

Fear and Doubt are real. You may feel like you can’t have faith if they are present but Jesus enters despite our fears and doubts. Jesus comes past the barriers, the locked doors, and the tough questions. Out of fear and doubt, Jesus gives us a faith that becomes even more real.

Jesus offers his peace and he also gives us a task to share that peace with others. Breathing on the disciples, Jesus offers his presence through the Holy Spirit. Jesus then gives his disciples a command. “As the father sent me, I send you” He sends the disciples and us with his peace and his presence to others, for the forgiveness of sins. He says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus desires that his peace be made complete. He offers forgiveness that makes us complete with God but also with others. He offers himself.

The disciples were so excited. Jesus was alive after all, The one who was crucified and buried had conquered death and was with them. The first person they tell is Thomas. Thomas, the disciple who was missing. The friend that was missing. In this excitement Thomas responds to the news that Jesus is alive with “unless I touch and see the holes in his hand and his side I will not believe.” Why couldn’t he just believe? We all know someone like Thomas. The person who questions what people say and is a skeptic. The person who doesn’t quite know what to do with all this religious stuff. They are all around us. It is the homeless person who walks by the church but doesn’t enter, It is the friend that doesn’t understand the whole church thing, it maybe, even yourself. Despite Thomas’ doubts, his unbelief and his conditions for belief, the disciples welcome him among them. That next week, they are in the upper room and Jesus enters again. Jesus again says “Peace be with you” Before Thomas can ask anything. Jesus offers for Thomas to touch and see. Jesus is the only one who can offer Thomas what he needs. The other disciples can’t. Thomas sees Jesus and believes saying “My Lord, My God.” The one who doubted believes when he encounters the risen Christ. In the midst of doubt and unbelief, Jesus comes and offers Thomas the Gift of Faith. In midst of questions, Jesus offers answers. In Thomas’ unbelief, Jesus offers him what he needs so that he can be a witness with those other disciples. When I first talked to my mother about her cancer, I couldn’t help but have some doubts. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen. Faith could only get you so far I thought. But her perseverance proved otherwise. My mother’s faith was a gift in the midst of my own doubts and fears. It got me through doubt as my mother went through treatment. It drew me closer to God and to my mother. Through her witness, I became a witness to the risen Christ.

The gift of faith Jesus offers is meant to be shared. It was through my Mother’s witness I saw Christ. Christ sends us to welcome the Thomases in our lives, to the bring them to witness the risen Jesus. Christ asks us to include those around us. Those Thomases in our lives. Christ encourages us to live beyond our fears and doubts to include others, those right outside our comfort zones, so they might witness and believe in Christ. We can include them in a hope that Jesus will show up. We can give them a place to ask questions and to share our experience of Christ with one another so that all may believe and have new Life in Christ. We can’t make Christ appear like a magic trick, but we can believe Christ will show up. We can come to together in this place to share Christ’s promises, to remember his Life, Death and Resurrection in our own lives through Baptism, to share his presence at the table in bread and wine and through worship. Christ is here among us. Let us open our doors and our hearts like the stone is rolled away from the tomb so that those who want to see the risen lord may see him.

Sermon the Temptation of Jesus

Sermon the Temptation of Jesus

Temptation-of-Christ

Here is my first sermon for my preaching class. It was well received. Feedback would be nice.

Gospel Text: Matthew 3:16-4:11

Sermon:
It is the first day of class. We have heard various rumors or information about what the class is like and especially what the professor is like. Is the professor mean, scary or nice? How do they teach? What are their expectations? However, you do not really know until you actually meet the professor. As you begin to dialogue with the professor you get a better idea of who they are and their expectations for you.

The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is like that first day of class, full of expectation. We hear the story of Jesus’ birth and his genealogy. There are a lot of expectations about who Jesus is. Has he come as a king or a conqueror? No one really knows for sure. But there are expectations.

Jesus is named and claimed as “The Son of God” at his Baptism. He is then lead into the wilderness to be tempted. As Satan begins to tempt and ask questions of Jesus, this is the first time Jesus speaks for himself. The first time Jesus finds his voice and tells us, who he is. This is where we find out if this Jesus, meets our expectations about who God is.

Jesus is no doubt very hungry from fasting. Satan asks him “Turn these stones into bread if you are the Son of God?” He is the Son of God so sure we expect him to be able to do it. But NO! Jesus replies using God’s word “Man is not fed by bread alone but by every word of God” Jesus’ response takes this offer to satisfied physical need and defies our expectation with the promise of something greater. He offers to satisfy our spiritual need. The kind only God can give. Soldiers in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan deal with a variety of needs, physical, emotional and spiritual.

In a recent, article about Army Chaplain Brian Kane. He notes that there were often long lines outside the chapel with those needing prayer, confession, and spiritual guidance. Although overwhelming, he said, “The source of strength comes from knowing that God called me to be a priest and that Jesus promised that he helps us to carry our crosses and do very difficult things.”

We often settle for less. For the here and now. For the physical and not the spiritual. However, Jesus offers us more.

Satan then asks, “If you are the Son of God, thrown yourself down for the psalmist says God will save you.” Jesus responds with God’s word again, “Do not test the Lord your God” The Jews were expecting a miracle worker and magician. They wanted signs to prove who he was. Even during his Crucifixion, it is echoed. “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.”

Have you ever tried to bargain with God? , “God answers this prayer and I’ll go to church more?” or “If I don’t sin for a week, God will you bless me?” We put conditions on God. God does not want that kind of shallow faith. He wants our obedience. He wants our trust. Trust and faith are given, not bargained for. Trust and faith come with relationship. Joe Kapolyo a Zambian pastor writes “We can trust God for safety as we serve him obediently but, sometimes his will is best fulfilled by having to undergo suffering.” When we put conditions on God we forget about his unconditional grace. A grace so great he went to the cross to show us an example. Not because we asked or deserved it but because he loves us.

Satan then asks his boldest question yet “Look at all the kingdoms of the earth. You can have power over all of these if you just worship me.” The Jews were expecting God to save them and show his mighty hand here on earth. We often expect our politicians to use their power as well, to strong arm and make the world the way they want it.

Jesus rather forcefully tells him to get lost and with God’s word states, “you shall only worship the Lord your God.” If you know any history at all, you know that great leaders and empires come to power and fall again and again. Jesus rejects the devil’s offer of earthly power. A power that will fade and wither away. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus offers us something better than we expected, his kingdom, his reign over heaven and earth. One that is eternal. After all Jesus is the Son of God.

I think the hardest part of temptation is choosing whose expectations we will follow. Will it be our peers, our own, the media or our God? When I was younger and did something wrong, I often thought, “My Mom and Dad are going to kill me?” I knew they were not going To,. But I knew what they expected of me. I knew I had missed the mark. I had let others expectations affect what I did. Jesus being God’s Son knew his father intimately. My parents know me better than anyone else. I want to make them happy and I want to meet their expectations because I love them. I sometimes forget that unlike my human parents, God’s expectations come with a grace that is abundant even when I do not measure up.

However, is not the end of the Jesus story. It is not the last we have seen of Satan. This is still just the first day of class. The beginning. As we get to know Jesus more, I wonder how he is going to change our expectations yet again?