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Thursday, April 19, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4:1-8, I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

Margie and I are big fans of Portland’s major league basketball team, the Trail Blazers.  Basketball, in general, offers some strained theological metaphors.  In basketball, what are called “second chance points” are particularly important.  Everybody misses a shot now and then; some, frequently.  The next thing to look for is someone who steps in, the shooter or someone else, and grabs the ball so the team has a chance to shoot again.

Now the strained metaphor!  Resurrection is about second chances.  In today’s reading, I see resurrection through the lens of forgiveness—forgiveness, another way of talking about second chances.  In fact, forgiveness may be at the heart of understanding what the resurrection means in our day to day living.  In reading this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, I noticed, for the first time, that this well-known post-resurrection appearance of Jesus moves quickly to a reminder that the disciples are witnesses to the power of “repentance and forgiveness.”  (Luke 24:47)

In a variation on last week’s story from the Gospel According to John, a group of disciples are together.  We are not told where they are gathered, only that two men to whom Jesus mysteriously appeared as they were talking to Emmaus, suddenly “returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.”  (vs. 33)   As was the case in last week’s story, Jesus’ first words, when he “stood among them” were “Peace be with you.”  (vs. 36)  

He is greeted with that same mix of emotions.  “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.”  He speaks of doubt and shows them his hands and feet.  “ . . . why do doubts arise in your hearts? . . . Touch me and see.”  (vss. 38-39)  “ . . . in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering . . .”  (vs. 41)

The story turns quickly from wonderment and talk of ghosts.  Jesus has already told them that “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  (vs. 39)   Now, like most human beings, he’s hungry and wants to have something to eat.  After all, it’s probably been a while since he ate, and he’s been through a lot.  Some would see in this another proof of a physical resurrection.   For me, it is a turning of attention to the only places the power of resurrection matter, in our daily routine, eating, sleeping, working, fishing, playing, entering into conversation, serving, etc. 

In John’s version of the story (separate from last week’s gathering in a crowded room), some of the disciples having gone back to work as fishermen, have been through a long night without catching any fish.  (John 21:2-3)   Jesus tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they pull in 153 fish, large ones at that.  (vss. 6-11)   And Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast,” after which, in a scene reminiscent of another recent meal with them, “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

Unless we meet Jesus at the breakfast table, whether it be in a gathering in a room or in our homes or in a café down the street or beside an open fire on a beach, all talk about ghosts and events two thousand years ago is empty.  In the reading from Luke, the story is so down-to-earth that the fish is described.  “They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  (vs. 42)   Wherever these original stories were remembered, the observers noticed every earthly detail—153 fish, broiled fish.  Their experience of the risen Lord included empty and full nets, broiled fish, etc.

As happens when we gather around meals, a conversation begins.  It is, in a sense, a continuation of the discussion Jesus had with the two men who have come running back from Emmaus.  On the road, when “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  (Luke 24:27)   In this week’s reading, he moves quickly to connect his death and resurrection to “repentance and forgiveness of sins . . .”  (vss. 44-47)   Whether these are actual words spoken by Jesus or an interpretive addition by the early church, in reading them again, I suddenly realized that forgiveness is very much a resurrection act.

To forgive someone is to offer them resurrection, a “second chance shot” at life.  To receive forgiveness is to be given that same second chance.  Forgiveness is an opportunity to leave behind anything that has been weighing us down—any regrets, any meanness of character, any “sin”, anything that has been gnawing away within killing our souls—and experience resurrection.  Maybe instead of saying, “Jesus died for my sins,” we should be realizing that “Jesus rose for our sins.”  It is in the experience of the risen Christ at the breakfast table that hope is renewed.  The disciples—and we, Jesus says, “ are witnesses” to that reality.  (vs. 48)

The other readings all have some reference to sin and/or forgiveness, with differing emphases and interpretations.  Here are just a few thoughts to prompt our self-examination as we consider the possibilities of resurrection in our daily living.

Acts 3:12-19 follows a healing.  Peter and John heaed “a man lame from birth.”  (vs. 2)   The people present were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”  (vs. 10)   So Peter stands up to preach, saying that they should not be treated “as though by our own power and piety we have made him walk.”  (vs. 12)   His sermon has what some have taken as an anti-Semitic tone, blaming the “Israelites” for Jesus death.  (vss. 13-15)   However this tone worked itself into the writings of the early church and has continued to influence many throughout the history of Christianity, it was, originally, simply a matter of differing interpretations among those who all considered themselves Jews.  Jesus was a Jew.  Peter, who was speaking, was a Jew.  It was some Jews in authority, along with Romans, who were technically responsible for Jesus’ death.  Theological interpretation over the years has said that we all act in ways that threaten to kill Jesus’ spirit of Love.

The point to which Peter moves is that we can all repent and get a new start.  “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”  (Acts 3:19)   If we were to follow as Peter moves on in the sermon, beyond this week’s lectionary reading, we would find him also connecting this new beginning with the power of resurrection.  “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Both the Psalm and the epistle readings seem to focus on avoiding sin to start entirely.  There’s a strain of perfectionism in Christianity.  I grew up with it.  There was a point at which one became “sanctified” and didn’t sin any more.  It never quite fit my experience.  I also noticed that people “went forward” to be sanctified repeatedly, having “backslid” in the intervening time.  It seems that most of us (all?) are human after all.

So what do we make of Psalm 4:4, which instructs, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”?  The Psalm is more about experiencing God’s grace and presence than about perfectionism.  “Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.”  (vs. 1)  “ . . . the Lord hears when I call to him.”  (vs. 3)   “Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!  You have put gladness in my heart . . .”  (vss. 6-7)   In terms of second chances, perhaps one can see the coming of the night and then the dawning of a new day as an opportunity to find inner peace and cleansing.  Such images are found in other places.  Ephesians 4:26 instructs us not to “let the sun go down on your anger.”  Psalm 30:5 speaks of weeping lingering for the night, with joy coming the morning.  This Sunday’s Psalm prays for peace even in the night.  “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.”  (Psalm 4:8)

The epistle of I John seems to take a hard perfectionist line when it says we are to “purify” ourselves, “just as he is pure.  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness . . . No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”  (I John 3:3-4, 6)   Underlying this seeming rigidity, however, is love and relationship.  God’s love binds us together in a family so that we are “called children of God.”  (vss. 1-2)  We partake of the very nature of our parent.  We are in the process of becoming “like him.”  (vss. 2-3)   Rich verses to be mined, full of images subject to varying interpretations.  For the moment let us take the ideal of loving family relationships embraced by God’s Love as the context in which all those things that might be called “sin”—those things I earlier called regrets, meanness of character, things gnawing away within killing our souls—find forgiveness, and, dare we say, our lives are resurrected day by day!

Let us celebrate second chance shots as we go through life!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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