Thursday, April 26, 2018

Cyber Christianity: Bane and Blessing

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  
1 John 4:7-9

Had it not been for the invention of the printing press the Reformation would never have happened.  Specifically, Martin Luther's followers made extensive use of this new piece of technology and spread the new understanding of the Gospel through its use.  The Bible was printed and placed in the hands of the people.  The Church was transformed by this explosion of information now available to the masses.

We live in a similar day.  That you are  reading this via the internet is a marvel.  It is a blessing.  But it could also be our undoing as Christians.

A blessing.  Our small congregation of Peace Lutheran Church has a few dozen people in worship on Sunday mornings.  But by posting our sermons on the internet through Facebook hundreds more are able to read, and hear the Word.  Each one is in a unique situation.  Some are deeply faithful members of their own congregations and simply enjoy yet another opportunity to hear God's Word.  Others may have no congregation that they belong to, but find the internet a welcome place to  connect with the Body of Christ.  

Our belief is that when we engage in God's Word, we encounter Christ, and that whether one sits in the pew Sunday morning, or reads about Jesus Tuesday evening on Facebook, the Holy Spirit is at work.  The blessing of the internet is that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can work through it in the same way they work through the printed or spoken word.  It is truly a blessing.

One of the things I believe that is especially good about it is that it gives us the opportunity to share our faith without intruding on people's private lives.  No interrupting.  No unwelcome knocking on doors.  And if people don't want to take the time to read a post on Facebook they can simply scroll on by.  But many do read.  Many do engage.  You have!

But there is one glaring weakness to this technology, and the prospect of a cyber-Christianity emerging.  It's hard to love online.  It's easy to connect to many thousands of people online, but it is hard to truly love.

Can we come to know God, apart from the experience of love?  And can we love one another as Christ first loved us via Facebook or a blog post?

I'm Pastor Dave Olson, and have been posting on behalf of Peace Lutheran Church in Otis Orchards for over a year now.  I've thoroughly enjoyed the feedback I've received.  But you know what I miss?  I miss getting to know you in the process.

I'd love to sit down over a cup of coffee and hear about your faith and your journey in life.  I love to have the opportunity to get to know you, personally.  And in the Spirit of the reading from 1 John above, I'd love to be able to love you in Christ's name for that is how we both come to know God.

If the internet and social media can help to connect people with the love of God it is a wonderful blessing.  If it becomes a substitute for real encounters with other human beings, real love, and real knowledge of God that comes through loving-- then it will be a bane for us.  

And yet there is so much to gain through this technology.  It is part of our life today.  And I believe that it can be used to connect with the Body of Christ and the love of God.

Here's a bold invitation to those of you who've read this far.  I'll gladly buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks or Jack & the Bean Shop in Otis Orchards.  I'd love to do so, and to learn about you and to share with one another our faith, our questions, and our hopes.  Just message me and I'll contact you and set up a time.

If hundreds of you take me up on that offer, well, I'll figure out a way of dealing with it.  But I offer this in all sincerity and in the name of Jesus.  

Pastor Dave

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Year B, Easter 4, Psalm 23, Surely Goodness, and Mercy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
When I was in grade school we went camping one summer in the Bighorn Mountains near Meadowlark Lake, in Wyoming.
One morning we awoke and looked out over the meadow next to our campground, a light dew had covered everything, and it was a pastoral scene, if ever there was one.  Interesting that the word “pastoral” means both: “land used for or related to the keeping or grazing of sheep or cattle;” and also refers to the work of a pastor, “concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance.”
As we were getting our breakfast, the woods around the perimeter of the meadow came alive.  One by one, and then, in a giant wave, a flock of sheep emerged from the woods, thousands of sheep, and then the dogs, about four of them, doing their thing keeping the sheep together, each one tending to its position around the flock.
Finally, mounted on one horse, and followed by a pack horse, there came the shepherd.
As the sheep began to graze across the meadow the shepherd took up his position at the campsite next to ours, where he would remain throughout the day, keeping watch over the flock, and occasionally whistling commands to the dogs.  It was a magical thing to see, for a young boy.  Especially the marvel of how the shepherd and the dogs worked together, the dogs immediately responding to each and every command, making sure that none of the sheep strayed from the flock.
He was a grizzly man, probably looked a lot older than his years.  A bed roll, and provisions to supply his needs.  He slept under the stars with the sheep.  His sheep wagon was located some distance away, where he would return when needed to gather more provisions.
Predators abounded in the woods.  A rifle was on the one horse, ready when needed.  And yet, we were told, that over the course of the grazing season each summer, very few sheep were lost, a testament to the skill of the shepherd and his dogs.
Finally, after the meadow was thoroughly grazed, the thousands of sheep and the shepherd disappeared back into the woods from which they came, seeking out other meadows to graze in. 
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The Lord’s my Shepherd.
This is for us a profound statement of faith, and speaks very specifically to the fact that we simply are not alone, left to fend for ourselves, throughout the course of this life.  God is with us.  God watches over us. 
Our very lives depend on the watchful eyes of the Lord, for there is much in this world that could and would destroy us, except for the pastoral care of the shepherd we call “Lord”.
I shall not be in want.
We think we are in want.  We live in a time and a place where our entire nation’s economy depends on cultivating “needs” for all manner of goods, and we want it.
Remember when we grew up, what a simpler time it was, and how we lived well, actually, with much less?
One of the things that strikes me is how technology has come to dominate our lives, at least mine.
I recall the disbelief that I experienced when we toured the computer lab at the University of South Dakota during my school years.  Their computer filled a large room, and I was astonished to hear that one day they envisioned that there would be a computer in every home.  Not possible, I thought.
We have three, not counting our cell phones that are far more powerful than that computer at the University.
Another technological advance.
A cell phone.  Common place today.  Both Karla and I have one.  Land lines are becoming a thing of the past.
This is the amazing thing.  A cell phone, a smart phone, in your hand, anywhere in the world, has  more power to communicate, and provides greater access to information, than Ronald Reagan had aboard Air Force One, not so many years ago.
All these things our culture believes we need, we want.
But an iPhone 10 is not what the psalm refers to when it declares that we shall not be in want.
God will provide.
There have been many times over the course of my life, that when I looked forward to the future it was with fear in my heart.  How would we make it?  How would we pay the bills, and care for our needs?  Would we lose our home?
Fear looking forward, yet gratitude looking back.  We’ve faced difficult times, a plenty, but we have never been in want.  Two times I have experienced unexpected unemployment, but you know what?  Never has a bill gone unpaid.
God provided.
This is what David means when he writes “The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”  We will have what we need.
“You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.”
I have had to fight “my demons” over the course of my life.  Alcoholism was one of them.  Depression has been a recurring problem. 
And though I am a pastor, facing these struggles it would be easy to lose faith, and be destroyed.
You restore my soul.
Note that here, David is no longer addressing his comments to us, but to God. 
David’s prayer to God begins with the acknowledgment that God rights what was wrong, and guides us into the future that we might do right.
We will have enough battles to face in this world, without having to battle with ourselves.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
A shepherd’s rod is actually a club of sorts used to protect the sheep from predators.  The staff, with the distinctive hook on the end, was used to protect the sheep from themselves.
Though I walk through the valley. . .
I imagine those sheep, wandering through the woods, with wolves, cougars, and bears lurking around.
One of the harsh realities of this life is we have enemies, like it or not, we have enemies.
But we also have a protector.  And the Lord will not abandon us to those who would destroy us.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
The greatest enemy we face is death itself.
I cannot read this Psalm without thinking about all the times I’ve read it we people who were dying, and preached on it at their funerals. 
And then there is this verse.  “you prepare a table before me. . .”
Two Christmas Eves come to mind, one at the beginning of my ministry in Sandpoint, the other near the end.
In the midst of those holidays, I visited the home of two parishioners.  Mr. Stagland was dying.  That was the first Christmas in Sandpoint.
And then one of the last was when my doctor Brad was dying.
And both times, we gathered with the family, and heard the words, “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you.”
We have the audacity to celebrate the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus, even while the battle still rages around us.  This meal we share is a foretaste of the feast that is to come.
Faced with our own deaths, we receive his body, we drink his blood, simple bread and the fruit of the vine, and by so doing unite ourselves with Him, and our lives with his.
As he died, so will we.
But as he lives, we live also.
And this meal that we will share is the foretaste of that victory over death itself.

And then finally, the promise:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Life is good.
Dare we say that?
I grew up in farming communities where one of the unwritten rules was you never proclaimed “life is good”, but rather always prepared yourself for the next shoe to drop, the next crisis to come.  A bumper crop in the field could be destroyed in a moment by hail or fire.
Goodness.  Gratitude.  Living in today, and letting God worry about tomorrow.  This is the life of faith.
And understand that when we face hardships, either because of our own actions or forces beyond ourselves, God will respond with mercy.
Paul writes in the 8th chapter of Romans that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the  love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.
We will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
Children of God.  Called.  Redeemed.  And Restored.
That’s who we are.
Gathered from all the corners of the earth and led by the One Shepherd of us all. 
There will never come a day that God will not provide for us, care for us, guide us, and protect us.
There will never come a day that we will be lost and alone in this world, for we are his.
Forever is a long time.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Year B, Easter 3, 1 John 3.2-7, Sinless Sinners

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Life is more complex than we sometimes imagine.
And what is true, often involves two things that are mutually exclusive, but which are both true, and remain in tension with one another.
We live within a “dialectical tension”.  There’s your new concept for today.  Dialectical tension.
“Dialectical tensionsdefined as opposing forces that people experience in their relationships, are important for relational development. Predictability-novelty, for instance, is an example of a tension manifested by partners simultaneously desiring predictability and spontaneity in their relationships.”
And so in this example, people can at one and the same time desire to know what to expect, and yet want to be surprised.  “Expect the unexpected”. 
One example of a dialectical tension comes from the Gospel lesson today:
“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,  .  .  .”
The disciples were at one and the same time, overwhelmed with joy at having seen the risen Lord – and yet still disbelieving.
Another example of a dialectical tension is the old adage:  “doubt is the handmaiden of faith”.   The two things, doubt and faith, are held together, in tension.  Not only that, but I would suggest that you cannot have one without the other. 

John writes about what is probably one of the most powerful dialectical tensions with which we live, one that defines the very nature of the life of faith.
Luther called it “simul justis et pecattor”. 
Simultaneous “Saints”, without any sin, and “Sinners” that are entirely sinful.
John writes in the first chapter of his letter:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
And then, over and against that John also writes in our lesson for today:
“You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
If we read on in the letter he says:
“Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.  Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.”
Saint and Sinner.
Child of the Devil, and Child of God.
Both and.
Simul Justis et Peccator.

This tension between being both a Saint and a Sinner really hit home during our debates over homosexuality.
One example of this came to me via a person who I got to know as a young woman.
She had shared with me that she was transgender.
Transgender is the “T” in “GLBTQ”.  “Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer.”  Variants of human sexual identity that we often struggle to understand, and, I will add, often condemn.
Well, she ended up having “sex reassignment surgery” and became a “he”, whom he would tell you is who he always had been.
OK, now I have to admit that it is easier for me to understand gay and lesbian, than it is to understand transgender, the condition of being a man in a woman’s body, or visa versa.
But that’s not the point.
What happened is that this woman, who became a man, asked us about becoming a welcoming place.
“The congregation wants to grow.  I know that there are all sorts of GLBTQ people out there longing for a church to be part of that will welcome them.  Could we become a “reconciling in Christ congregation” and go on the record saying that GLBTQ people are welcome here?”
So I asked that question of the congregation council.
The response of one member of the council was “of course everyone is welcome, but if we have to say “gay people are welcome”, we will leave the congregation because that would condone their sin.”
We are all both sinner and saint.
The woman who raised the question of welcoming GLBTQ people is both a sinner and a saint.
And the woman who objected is also both a sinner and saint.
Simultaneously children of the devil, and children of God.
As Christians we are often viewed by those outside of the Church as being guilty of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.
And indeed, we often say one thing, and do another.
But what those who would accuse us of being hypocrites don’t understand is that what they are seeing is not hypocritical, it is part of the dialectical tension of being both saint and sinner.
As children of God we are called, even commanded to love one another, to, as we confess in our congregation’s statement of purpose, “welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.”
As children of the devil, we fall way short of that.  We are often not loving, and we tend to welcome those who are most like us, and exclude those not like us.  Certain sinners are acceptable, other sinners are not.  And in making that judgment we are sinful, ourselves.
Oy vey, the tension.
How do we resolve this tension?
Well, first of all, “WE” don’t resolve the tension.
Christ does.
Paul writes in Galations the 3rd chapter:
“Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Again, from John’s lesson today:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
We are “in Christ”.
We are “clothed with Christ”.
“We will be like him.”
We are sinless, because Christ is sinless and his righteousness has become our own.
“All of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
That’s why we do not judge one another, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.  One.  The same.  Holy and pure in God’s sight because Christ is holy and pure in God’s sight.
We are perfectly obedient children of God, even unto death, because Christ was perfectly obedient even unto death.
We are loving, because Christ is loving.
One of my favorite passages from 1 John is found in the fourth chapter:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God's love was revealed among us in this way:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Perfect love, in us.
Think about that for a moment.
Can you believe that God’s love is perfected in you, that because you love with Christ’s love you are sinless and righteous in his eyes?
And yet we are sinful.
There we are, back to the dialectical tension.
Another woman, a dear member of my first congregation once said, “The more I grow in my Christian faith, the more sinful I become.”
What she meant was that the more she understood how perfect God’s love is, the more she recognized how imperfect her love was.
And yet, in God’s eyes, she is Jesus.  His righteousness is her own.
You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins.
As Lutherans we are used to beginning our worship with the confession of sins.  And there is good reason for that.
But one could also argue that what we should do is begin our worship with the declaration that we are in Christ, and as such, without sin.  Now there’s an absolution.  “You are now in Christ, and your sin is no more.”
In Psalm 103 it is written:
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.

We are sinful, yet those sins have been removed from us.  That’s the tension of faith.  We are sinners without spot or blemish, because Christ has redeemed us.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Year B, Easter 2, John 20.19-31, “I can’t believe it”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
I love Thomas.  I can relate to him.
First of all, because Thomas was one to state the obvious.
For example, when Jesus was speaking about going to prepare a place for the disciples, he says to them:
“You know the way to the place where I am going."
Then Thomas responds, stating what was probably on everyone’s mind:  "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
Then there is the sarcastic side to Thomas.
After Jesus had narrowly escaped being arrested in Jerusalem, and had gone over beyond the Jordan, he heard that Lazarus was sick and dying.
Hearing that he decided he would go right back to Jerusalem, in spite of the risk.  The disciples warned Jesus that the Jews had nearly stoned him to death the last time he was there, still Jesus persisted.
Thomas’s response, offered in a biting tongue is:  "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
And then, of course, there is this scene following the resurrection. 
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
Seeing is believing.
That’s the old adage.
Jesus says:  "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Actually, I think that the struggle for Thomas was not what he hadn’t seen, but what he had seen.
Thomas doubted because he had seen the nails driven into Jesus hands, he had seen the spear thrust into Jesus side, he had seen Jesus breathe his last, he had seen him die.
It’s what he had seen, that was the problem.
I think that faith often requires us to believe, in spite of what we have seen.
Would it be easier to believe in Jesus if we could see him face to face?
I think that most of us would absolutely love to have seen Jesus.  Wouldn’t we?  I have to admit that I’m a bit envious of those who had the rare opportunity to live at the time of Jesus, and to know him on a personal basis.
There’s a part of me that says it would be so much easier to believe if I had been there with him, if I had witnessed the miracles, sat at his feet as he taught, and followed him wherever he went.
But I think the truth is that were we given that opportunity, we would struggle to believe.
Most of the people who did witness Jesus’ life and ministry, DID NOT believe in him. 
It is actually easier for us to believe in a Jesus of our own imagination, than it is to believe in a Jesus that is a specific person.
It is easier to imagine Jesus, than to see a human being, and believe that this one, in all his particularity is the Son of God and our Lord.
Familiarity breeds contempt.
It was hard for the people in Nazareth to believe in Jesus, because they knew him.  They knew his mom and dad, and his brothers and sisters.  They had seen him grow up.  Some of them may have even changed his diapers. 
“Son of God?”  No, that’s just Jesus.
Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?"
Those who knew him the most, throughout his life, had a hard time believing. 
When Nathanael first heard of Jesus, his response was "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
What if Jesus came to us today, and was in fact a farmer’s boy from Endicott?
Would that make it easier to believe in him, or harder?
 And then there is this matter of the authority with which he taught and ministered.
He was not part of the institutional Church.
This is a hard one for pastors, I think.
“As a called and ordained pastor. . .”
That’s my authority.  That’s what sets pastors apart from their congregations. 
I went to seminary.  I passed the tests.  I was called by the Church to this ministry.  I was ordained.
“By what authority do I do what I do?”  By the authority given to me by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and currently, a call issued by the Synod of our Church.
But Jesus wasn’t like that.
He was not a priest.  And though he was often called a “Rabbi”, or a “teacher”, he had no official status within the religious hierarchy of his day.
He wasn’t “ordained” in any sense our modern use of the word.
Could we believe in such a person, a self appointed prophet that was not part of the institutional hierarchy of the Church?
And then there is the problem of Jesus being a specific person.  It’s easier to imagine Jesus, perhaps like so many of the paintings we have seen.  But most of the paintings that have portrayed Jesus, have not portrayed him as a Palestinian Jew. 
Glen Funk was an elderly gentleman in my first parish.  He was an accomplished artist.  And one of the things he did was to paint for our congregation a portrait of Jesus.  He actually used the face of a local logger that he had sketched.  Most of the members of the congregation did not like his portrait of Jesus.  “Not my Jesus.” Was the response.
What if Jesus came to us today as a real human being?
What if he were black?  Or Hispanic?  Or, ugly?  Could we believe in such a Jesus?
For that matter, what if Jesus came to us today, and his name was not Jesus, but Jessica?
Emma Gonzalez. 
This young woman, a survivor of the Parkland Florida school shooting, has emerged onto the American scene in a big way. 
Her crew cut.  Her youth.  Her standing against the predominant culture and politics of the day.  Her speaking ‘truth to power’, and saying more with six minutes and twenty seconds of silence than many say with all sorts of political rhetoric—what if Jesus was like her?
And then there is another problem about Jesus.
“This man eats with tax collectors and sinners.”
Imagine Jesus coming to us today, and instead of being found in the Church, he was associating with the undocumented migrant workers in our country.
Or what if he spent much of his time with the Gay Community?
Or what if he spent more time with drug addicts and prostitutes than with religious people?
Could we believe in such a Jesus?
And finally, what if Jesus was lying in a pool of his own blood on a hotel balcony, like Martin Luther King, Jr did that day in Memphis fifty years ago?
Would it be easy to believe in a dead Jesus?

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Faith actually believes in spite of what you see.
One of my favorite lines from “Jesus Christ Superstar” is “You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?

If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”
If seeing was believing, and God wanted us to believe in his Son, Jesus, it might have helped to wait until we had video cameras.  Then on Sunday mornings we could all sit around and watch Jesus ‘do his thing’.
Instead what we have is a Word.  Written in a book.
It’s an unlikely tale about an unlikely Savior.
Yes, he came from a village like Endicott, the son of a carpenter.
He had no earthly, institutional authority whatsoever.
He probably didn’t look the way we imagine he looked.
He was in many ways, more like Emma Gonzalez than we dare to admit, speaking an uncomfortable word to those in power, and captivating a nation.
He offended the religious leaders of his day by associating with all manner of sinners.
And most of all, he died.
He hung from a cross covered in blood, his side pierced by a sword.
But over and against all of this we have a Word, a spoken Word that declares that this one particular person was God’s Son.
Seeing may not be believing.
Hearing is what brings us to faith.
As we have heard the Word, the Spirit gives us faith to believe.
 I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
These are the words of Martin Luther in his Small Catechism.
We do not believe because we have seen.
We believe because we have been called by the Spirit.
We believe because we have been enlightened with the Spiritual gifts God offers.
We believe because we have been set apart for God.
We believe because God has kept us in the one true faith.
We believe, not because we know who Jesus is, but because he has known us, and claimed us as his own.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

So We Too. . . An Easter Meditation

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

So we too. . .

Resurrection.  Jesus.  A historical event.  An eschatological hope. 

Death's dominion clouds our vision.  It's coming.  That we know.  No exceptions.  The years pass quicker now.  Tragedy strikes too often.  Life is fragile.  But resilient. 

Death is real.  The Greeks were wrong to speak of the immortality of the soul.  We die.  All of us.  Completely.  Not just part of us.  Our souls are not spared the stark reality of death.  The world  can exist without us.  It did before we were born.  It will after we die.  The cosmos does not depend on our experience of it for its very being. 

Yet there is God, the Author and Giver of life.  And a promise.  You are dust and to dust you shall return.  But dust filled with possibility.  "Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being."

Breath on O King Eternal, Breathe on.
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
(Amy Grant)

Resurrection is real.  More real than death.  Resurrection is not the avoidance of death, but a shedding of death's dominion.  One breath.  Life restored.  Not resuscitation.  To be resuscitated is to return to life, yet to remain under death's dominion.  We will die, again.  Resuscitation merely delays death's dark day.

They wanted to try.  The paramedics that is.  Dad had died.  "What do I do?" Karla asked.  Call 911.  "It may not be too late."  "No that is not what Dad wanted."  DNR means that one hopes for resurrection not resuscitation.  Dad looked forward to his own Easter.  

And yet resurrection is also a reality now.  Dying before death, and rising in this life.  "Keep you in eternal life."  Having once died through our baptism into Christ, we no longer need fear that breathless day.

"You almost died."  Or maybe I did.  But I was there to hear the words.  New life now meant sober living.

Resurrection.  Awakening.  Passing through the darkness.

Heart surgery.  Breathing stopped.  Lungs empty and deflated.  The heart's persistent beat now stopped.  Hours passed by.  A robot's arms stitched away under a skilled surgeon's gentle control.  And then the restart.  And the wait.

I remember her eyes looking into mine.  Her face but a few inches away.  "You're doing just fine.  You made it through surgery."  A few years later Dad had surgery in the same hospital.  The same nurse recovered Dad.  I recognized her.  It was those eyes.  And the assurance that I lived through it.

I wonder now whose eyes will welcome me home.  I think it will be much the same.  Except there will be no breathing tube.  The Breath of God entering in.  Death destroyed.  

Aging brings with it questions.  Are your best days behind you now, or yet to come.  Yet to come.  That's the resurrection hope. 

 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

It is darkest before the dawn.  And then the grating sound of rock against rock, as the stone is rolled back.  The grave opened.  Perhaps it was opened not for Jesus sake, but for the sake of those who came that morning.  The stone would have obscured their view.  And now they saw what was not there.  Him.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?

This Easter morning I keep my vigil.  I hope and pray.  One of the prayers I offer is for my congregation.  Small.  Declining in size.  Fearful.  And struggling to find hope that their ministry will continue.  New life, new members, and a renewed sense of purpose and being are difficult to realize.

Easter services.  Might there be visitors?  That would mean much for the congregation.

Resurrection or resuscitation.  Would a few new faces represent a resurrection of the congregation, or merely a resuscitation?  New life?  Or merely prolonging and delaying an inevitable death, the consequence of a world becoming secular.

I wonder what consolation that people will find at the time of their death in the knowledge that while they were able, they played soccer well each Sunday morning.

"Breathe Oh Breathe your gentle Spirit into the heart and soul of this congregation.  Do not let our voice be silenced, or our praise fade away."

It is dark now.  The vigil continues.  I write in the place that my father died.  More importantly, the place from which he was resurrected.

One final thought.  Gladys was her name.  95 years old.  "Pastor, I have one last question.  When we die do we go immediately to heaven, or sleep until the day of resurrection at the end of time?"  "What do you hope for Gladys?"  "Pastor, I'm 95 years old.  I've lived a long time.  I'm tired.  I want to sleep awhile."

I've slept enough.  When that day comes, I hope that the sleep is short lived and that the dawn comes quickly.  In the meantime, I'm thankful for the meantime.  The Bread and the Cup.  Is it not the Body and Blood of Christ?  And as we receive it we participate in his resurrected life.  Now.  That is sufficient.  I will wait in hope, knowing that Christ is present now, though my vision is obscured.

Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen, Indeed!