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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23:1-6, I John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

The news is dominated by the “bad” things of life—crime, scandal, disaster, etc.  That’s been the norm through much of the history of journalism.  It’s no surprise that The Christian Science Monitor arose as an alternative, their slogan, to this day, being, “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”  There is at least one exception that usually makes it into print or onto the screen—acts of selfless giving, of heroism and sacrifice.  Here in the Portland area a father recently dove into the river to rescue his drowning son.  He successfully saved his son but went under himself, losing his life in the process.  Less than an hour ago I saw footage of dogs attacking a boy in Washington, D.C.  A man intervened, suffering injury as he drew the attacking dogs to himself.

We are moved by such stories.  They represent for us the best in humanity.  It’s not that we should hide our heads from the evils of life, the injustices that cry out for attention, but we should not allow the media to define humanity through the sensationalism of some reporting.  We admit that the capability of such acts exists within us, but we are more than those acts..  I’m sure that millions of acts of self-giving occur every day without making the news.  A teacher takes money out of his or her own pocket to buy teaching resources that enhance her students’ learning.  A neighbor delivers a casserole to a sick friend.  A politician takes an unpopular and principled stand to see that benefits to the poor are not cut, even if it costs him or her votes.  Maybe it’s as simple as taking time from a busy schedule to listen, maybe even give a hug, to someone who is feeling down and unlovely or unlovable.

We see such things and say, “Ah, there’s love at work.”  We need the inspiration that stories of such acts bring.  Some of us are even moved by recent studies showing that even rats are capable of seemingly compassionate acts.  They work to free a brother or sister rat who is imprisoned in a cage.  They save food and share it with that imprisoned rat.  Who would have guessed?  Most of us, I believe, are moved when we see compassion at work.

At least two of this week’s lectionary readings speak of that love at work.  The reading from the epistle of I John says that we know love when we look at Jesus who “laid down his life for us,” going on to call us “to lay down our lives for one another.”  (I John 3:16)   Such love is in play when we share “the world’s goods” with “a brother or sister in need . . .”  (vs. 17)   Love is not an abstraction.  We are to “love one another” “in truth and action.”  (vss. 18 & 23)

The Gospel reading from John, chapter 10, draws on the imagery of the shepherd, known to many from the 23rd Psalm, which is another of this week’s readings.  The Psalm details the way the shepherd cares for his sheep, keeping them safe from evil and comforting them.  In John, Jesus is “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11, 15, 17-18)

Later in John we are told that this is the highest form of love known to humans.  It’s not just about Jesus, but about what we perceive in human experience and say, “I can’t think of a greater example of love.”  In John 15:12-15, he commands us to love one another, noting, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  I wonder if this inspiring love can even be extended to “enemies.”   Certainly Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  (Luke 6:27-36)   Paul, in Romans 5:7-8, writes, “ . . . rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

That’s the kind of love to which we are called.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection have had many levels of theological interpretation wrapped around them over the years.  (I have to comment here about a typo I made in attempting to write that last sentence—“wrapped” came out “warped.”  Think about it.  A Freudian slip?)   All deep, logically developed, formulations aside, the simplest interpretation is that he came to show us what love is, and the power of love, seen in everyday acts of self-giving, sometimes heroic and extreme.

There are other thoughts and questions of note in today’s readings.  Who are the “other sheep” Jesus has “that do not belong to this fold,” who are to be brought “so there will be one flock, one shepherd.”? (John 10:16)   How does that relate to Paul’s declaration about Jesus that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”?  (Acts 4:12)

The reading from Acts takes us into questions about healing, a troubling area for those of us who do not have a “magical” view of such things.  Healing seems to be much more complex than some who believe in “faith” healing imply, yet this story of Peter and John being questioned about their healing of a man lame from birth brings us up short.  Their answer: “ . . . let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”  (Acts 4:10)

Many of us come to scripture with many questions, even doubts.  Statements are made that seem to defy our experience.  We can stretch our definitions of health and healing.  I am married to a physically challenged woman with lupus, but her being is robustly healthy.  In stories like the one in Acts, I see another truth at work.  Those doing the questioning at looking for a magical human power that they think Peter and John are using.  (vs. 7)  They are looking to stop this young “Christian” movement in its tracks.  Peter and John refuse to take credit for the healing, making themselves either heroes or villains.  There is a higher power at work in the cosmos that wants us all to be healed.  Our compassion is not intended to make celebrities of us; it is an expression of divine love at work in us.  If we don’t see that, we’ve missed the only thing that matters here.

Perhaps there is something here that connects with our theme of self-giving love.  When we witness heroic acts of service, even the saving of a life, we gather and heap adulation on the “heroes.”  Usually the “heroes,” in contrast, are quite humble.   They don’t claim any deep presence of an altruistic spirit; they just did what they had to do.  It came from somewhere there in their human nature, some deep place of which they were hardly aware.

When we look at Jesus, we see the power of what can come from such deep places, and we are inspired to love one another, with whatever it takes.
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 cafĂ© 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!
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133:1-3, I John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Although none of this week’s readings focus on the image of “the Body of Christ,” very early many who experienced the power of the resurrection began to realize that they themselves were the visible body of the resurrected Jesus.  (See I Corinthians, chapter 12, and Ephesians, chapter 4, for the most complete development of this image.)  Conversations sometimes get into trying to describe Jesus' resurrected physical body, which was similar to, but also quite different from, what his followers had known before.  Whatever the shape of that body, it didn’t last long.  It disappeared into “heaven.”  What was left was a surprisingly animated community of people empowered by and demonstrating love.  Tertullian, a third century leader of the church, noted that “pagans” were known to look at the early Christian community and say, “See how they love one another!”

One wonders whether anyone looks at the Christian community today and says, “See how they love one another.”  The question, “What does the risen Christ look life?”, is more than a matter of scientific observation.  It is a challenge and call to faithfulness and mission.  Does Jesus’ resurrection live in us?  What would the Christian community look like if it were truly the Body of Christ?

This week’s readings offer some descriptions.  Three of the four readings are from the first hundred years of that community.  Although two of the readings bear the name of John, they probably come from nearly 100 years after the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  I’m quite satisfied to accept these writings as an expression of what was going on as those early Christians tried to understand and experience and live out the divine love they felt working in and among them.

The other reading, Psalm 133, obviously does not come from the early life of the church, but offers a memorable and oft-quoted verse that can challenge us in our life together.  “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”  (Psalm 133:1)   It can be taken as one answer to our title question.  Unity, although not necessarily uniformity, is a mark of the resurrection “body” of Christ.

That leaves the reading from the book of Acts, likely written earlier than either of the “John” selections.  Many see it as a continuation of the Gospel According to Luke, Luke having been present with Paul at various times in his ministry.  The sections of Acts where Luke is present always uses the pronoun “we’; when he is not present, it says “they.”  (Note, for instance, in Acts 16:4, it says, “ . . . they went from town to town,”, while in verse 11, it says, “We set sail from Troas . . .”)

The focus in the lectionary reading from chapter four is upon the amazing community that arose after the resurrection.  The most striking feature is the radical economics described.  The Bible more than once lifts up the ideal of a community that shares at a depth that feels invasive to those nurtured in a capitalist environment.  The Old Testament had the ideal of the “Jubilee,” a time of debt-forgiveness, freeing of slaves, return of lands.  (See Leviticus, chapters 25-27)   In the community described in the reading from Acts “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common . . . There was not a needy person among them for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold . . . and it was distributed to each as any had need.”  (Acts 4:32, 34, & 35)   A similar description occurs at the end of the second chapter of Acts, with this added note: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people . . .” (Acts 2:44-47)  Sadly, we must note that the experiment did not endure, in either the Old or New Testaments.  Indeed, in the very next chapter after this week’s reading (chapter five) begins with the story of a couple who held back some of their property with disastrous consequences.

The lesson to be drawn, however, is that a spirit of sharing was at work in the resurrected body of Christ.  Where we see people seriously sharing, caring about people in need, where people apply love when they meet those in need of justice, there we see the resurrected Jesus at work.  Are we among those doing that work?  Does the resurrected Jesus give us life, and come to life in us, so that the world knows and experiences his love?

The reading from the epistle of I John (remember we’re talking not about John’s Gospel but about one of three short letters near that end of the New Testament) repeats the word “fellowship” several times.  The Greek word, koinonia, may be translated, “community,” “distribution,” “sharing,” “partnership,” as well as “fellowship.”  Some of you may remember the Koinonia Community or Koinonia Partnership in South Georgia that gave birth to Habitat for Humanity.  It is known in part because of former President Jimmy Carter’s interest in and involvement with it.  Originally it was the vision of a group of Baptists and involved blacks and whites living together and sharing possessions in ways that stirred up of lot of resistance from the surrounding area.  They were trying to live out the ideals of the early Christian community.  They were an appearance of the resurrected Jesus.

In I John an identifying mark of this resurrection community is that it is made up of light-seeking members.  “God is light.”  (vs. 5) “ . . . if we walk in the light . . . we have fellowship with one another.”  (vs. 7)   Later in the same epistle, the writer identifies love as another mark, also rooted in the very nature of God.  “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  (I John 4:16)  It is a community in which there is love among brothers and sisters.  (I John 4:10-21) Where there is light and love we see the resurrected body of Christ.

At its best, it is also a community in which forgiveness is at work, mentioned in I John and further developed in the Gospel reading.  The epistle speaks of a God who forgives sins (I John 1:9), while Jesus, in the Gospel lesson, makes us a part of that forgiving process.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  (John 20:23)  All kinds of attempts have been made to make these words about early church structure, the role of priests, etc.  I’m willing to settle, this week, for seeing in it a call to be a community that practices forgiveness.  We see the resurrected body of Christ when people forgive one another.  Forgiveness doesn’t just come from on high. It is part of what makes relationships effective, productive, and fulfilling.

Other parts of the Gospel reading might add to our understanding of the marks of resurrection we might see in our life together.  When Jesus appears to this group of disciples, his first words are “Peace be with you.”  (vs. 19, repeated in vs. 21)   The risen Christ speaks of peace.  Can the community of those who bear his name do less?

A significant part of the reading is about Thomas, to whom the term “doubting” has often been attached in a derogatory way.  Notice that Thomas didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t already experienced.  He wasn’t present until another gathering a week later.  He simply asked to see as they had seen.  (vss. 24-26)   We might ask why he didn’t take the others at their word.  Aren’t we a community in which trusting one another is important?   But I hope it is also a community in which we are free to express the questions that come to us, to come to our own experience of the living Christ each in his or her own way.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas.  He says, “Here, take a look.  Touch and feel.”  (vs. 27)   In the end, however, Jesus says that, after all the questions are asked, it is a matter of faith.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (vs. 29)   We no longer live in a day when Jesus literally walks into a room so that we can see and touch him.  This Gospel was written to the early generations of those who had never known or seen the earthly Jesus, and yet they believed.  In fact, I would argue, they had become the only resurrected body the world would see.  What do people see when they look at that body today?  Do they see sharing, unity, light, love, peace, forgiveness, honest dialogue, personal commitment, faith, and belief?   To the extent that even the smallest glimpse of those things show through, the resurrected Christ is present among us.
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43 OR Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:1-11 OR Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 OR Mark 16:1-8

NOTE: There are many lectionary passages for this “Holy Week” leading up to Easter Sunday, and there are more for Easter Sunday evening.  I’ve chosen to list only those selected for “Easter Day.”

Followers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (among whom I count myself) often speak of “Keeping the Dream Alive.”  It is not sufficient to look backward, remembering and trying to reconstruct events and achievements of the past.  We should never forget, but the “life” of those inspiring past events values little if the fire does not continue to burn in the present.

So it is with the resurrection of Jesus.  Too often when we spend time wondering “what really happened,” we forget to look for and acknowledge his living presence, purpose, and meaning in the present.  We fail to pay attention to how he continues to shape our lives and the future.

To some extent I look at the telling of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection as a family reunion activity.  At reunions, we tell stories about “the good old days,” and discover that our memories diverge.  Whatever our memories, we all agree that we lived together through a time that has forever impacted our lives and our living.  After while, we also agree that looking backward is not enough.  Life didn’t end with those events; it hasn’t ended yet.  We are still living and still have living to do.  From all those memories, where are we going to draw sustenance and hope for the future?

This week’s lectionary readings are about story telling and keeping the story alive.  The two Gospel lessons end with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the story.  It is to a woman that Jesus appears.  “ . . . go to my brothers and say to them,” Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)   The next verse records that “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”  (vs. 18)   In Mark, it is “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome” who get the message, although Jesus doesn’t actually appear to them.  “ . . . a young man, dressed in a white robe,” speaks to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.”  (Mark 16:5-6)   Their job is to “ . . . go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him just as he told you.”  (vs. 7)

The events are remembered and the story told in slightly different ways in each of the Gospels and in Paul’s writings.  I picture those early followers getting together in various groups over time, some who had been to the tomb and some who had not, some who had known Jesus’ in his physical existence and some who had not.  I picture them around tables, walking along roads, gathered in homes, maybe in synagogues, asking one another, what just happened.  Were you there?  What did you see and experience?  And the stories vary, just like the stories at our reunions.  In John, Mary Magdalene first goes and gets some of the other disciples who come and confirm that Jesus is not there.  (John 20:2 and following)   Still, they do not understand, and it is only to Mary that he appears.  (vss. 9-10 & 14 and following)   I’ve always liked the emphasis in Mark that Jesus has gone on ahead.  (Mark 16:7)  We’re not going to find his life-giving presence by hanging around a graveyard, but by going where his Spirit is at work.

The readings from Acts and I Corinthians tell about some of the early efforts to keep the story alive.  In Acts Peter offers a summary which seemed to have become the “core” of the Gospel among the early evangelists—sometimes called the “kerygma,” from the Greek word for proclaiming or preaching.  The story he tells is of a man who preached and healed and did good, who was put to death on a cross and raised on the third day.  (Acts 10:34-38)   We are witnesses of that, Peter says.  We saw him, and he “commanded us to preach . . . and testify,” to keep to story alive.  (vss. 40-42)  What Jesus offers, he says, is “forgiveness of sins.”  (vs. 43)   Each teller of the story brings his or her unique angle.  I find it interesting and encouraging that Peter chooses to include the fact that “God shows no partiality” and that Jesus “went about doing good’ and offers forgiveness.  (vss. 34, 38, & 43)   It’s not just a burst of light blasting like a rocket into the sky.  It’s not just a sudden leap to a disembodied resurrection.  The Good News is about a life-giving presence in the experiences of everyday life, in the relationships of our daily living.

Paul, in I Corinthians, offers his version of the “kerygma,” covering pretty much the same ground.  What I find most significant in his telling is his inclusion of himself as a witness.  He never met Jesus during his earthly ministry, yet he claims to be a witness.  He reviews the appearances, “to Cephas, then to the twelve . . . to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time . . . to James, then to all the apostles.”  (I Corinthians 15:5-7)   Paul is not just telling the story of those people or the stories some of them have told him.  “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”  (vss. 8-11)

We generally assume that Paul is referring to the encounter with a flashing light from heaven on the road to Damascus when he was on his way to continue his persecution of the early followers of Jesus.  There is more here, though.  For Paul, Jesus was an everyday reality, an inner presence—that grace of God at work in him.  Jesus didn’t appear just once, many years ago.  All who open themselves to his grace and forgiveness are witnesses, keepers and tellers and interpreters of the story—including us.  There is no resurrection story without the stories we tell of how we experience the living presence of God’s Love at work in human life.

Most of the reading from Psalm 118 was included with last week’s readings as well.  It is most appropriately, I believe, a Palm Sunday reading.  I will simply note its call, in verse 2: “Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.”  It can be seen as another call to keep the story alive—and isn’t the heart of the resurrection story to affirm and continue to experience that his steadfast love endures forever?

Finally, lest you think I forgot the reading from Isaiah, I will suggest that it too is a story of resurrection.  Easter is not just about Jesus’ resurrection; it’s a time to celebrate the resurrections that happen in the life of individuals and groups and nations daily.  God is in the business of resurrection.  In Isaiah there is the promise of a people who have felt swallowed up by death being restored.  God’s seemingly disgraced people will have their tears wiped away.  (Isaiah 25:7-8)   There will be a big feast because it is an occasion to “be glad and rejoice.”  (vss. 6 & 9)

I like the imagery of feasting.  When people get together for reunions, to remember and tell stories, they often do so around a table filled with good food and drink.  It is another reminder that we are a story-telling people and that we have a story to tell to the nations—not simply about how God has worked in the past, but about how God is working in and through us and moving us into a future filled with hope.  May part of our Easter celebration include the stories of our own resurrections ending with the shout, “Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

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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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