Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Mercy That Changes Everything

April 23, 2017 –– 2nd Sunday of Easter: Sunday of Divine Mercy
Acts 2:42–47 / from Psalm 118 / 1 Peter 1:3–9 / John 20:19–31
A Mercy That Changes Everything

Last week I read of one man asking a second how his marriage was going. The second man replied, My wife treats me like a god.” “Wow,” said the first man, “you mean she adores and obeys you?” “No,” said the second. “She generally ignores me unless she wants something.”

Jokes sometime give a hard truth that is merely couched in laughter, but perhaps the worst part of this one is the analogy to many people’s relationship with God. Marriage is one way to understand our relationship to the Lord. But how is it going? We “believe” in the sense that we come to church. We say the Creed. Beyond that, do we truly adore and obey? Or could it be that we are like the second man’s wife––“she generally ignores me unless she wants something”?

As we go through this Easter Season and seek to enter more fully into the Resurrection I have been impressed with one question: How is my life different from a non-believer because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?

Scripture is honest. At first even the inner circle of disciples were doubtful and afraid. They locked themselves away, but locks cannot keep out the Love of God. Jesus came to them and his first words gave his assurance of Peace. Then he showed them his wounds––it really was Jesus.

All of this had a purpose. God had just released a heavenly cascade of Mercy on the world. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the source; the disciples and the Christian community that was about to be formed was to be the channel: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. The death and resurrection of Jesus is about God’s mercy!

Jesus was giving the Church, through the Apostles, authority over sin. Peter grew in his understanding so that he could later write: God… in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable…. kept in heaven for you.

There are two things there that every person on earth desires and seeks in some way: a living hope and an inheritance that is imperishable. What gives us the motivation to start a new day? It is hope that something good is going to come. What are we hoping for? Something good that is worth having and something that will last.

Yet the very things that we spend the most time and energy trying to acquire are the very things the early Christians actually gave away! They were donating their property and possessions so that no one had too much and everyone had enough.

How are we to understand this? I guess volumes could be written (and have been) on the implications of the just the readings for today. I would like to suggest one succinct idea that encompasses everything else: Those early Christians were so affected by the mercy of God that their greatest desire was to extend the mercy they themselves had received.

Let’s think honestly about our lives for a quick reflective minute (if that is possible). Before the many advantages of modernity, common people mostly lived “on the edge.” Immediate threats (especially by our standards) were common: simple illnesses could quickly turn serious; food supply was dependent on local availability and that was always affected by the variables of weather and harvest; life expectancy was often much shorter; extensive travel was unusual for most, and land travel was either two-footed or four-footed; staying alive was generally the single focus. Those who were relatively comfortable and secure had much to lose in a world where it was hard to maintain any luxuries. Those who had little had to work all the harder merely to maintain.

Here we are today, certainly with threats and worries, yet our lives are filled with what we might call “discretionary” pleasures. We have daily choices that would have dazzled people a few generations ago; just think of our menu options. On the larger front, a child does not have to do what his father did, and women have open doors to education and vocational opportunities. Our culture present us with so many options, and we have the resources to pursue them.

The downside to this is that we can live such distracted lives that we take the good things for granted and hardly know how process the truly hard things that hit us. This means that we can live our lives inoculated to mercy, and when we are not aware of the mercy that surrounds us it is very hard to extend it to others.

We gather and worship in a beautiful and comfortable setting. It is mercy. We go out from our gathering and, far from going hungry, have good meals with likely just the foods we particularly want to eat. Many of us have a “bucket list”; we often have a list of purchases we hope to make along with ideas of how to channel a bit of discretionary income to cover them. Having such options is mercy; one way to assess wealth is by the number of choices we have.

But there is a danger: The mercies which can enrich our lives can also have the counterproductive effect of an attitude of entitlement and a tendency to grasp instead of give. Those early Christians saw in Jesus a person who confronted a grab-and-grasp-world, surrendered to its anger of being exposed, and then made a reappearance that shouted “this world is not all there is.” When we can see that, it is the biggest mercy of all.

What is your heart’s desire? What is your biggest fear or your greatest hurt? What is your dearest treasure? Are those things tempered by the mercy of God or could it be that they are crowding an awareness of God’s mercy and the life of Jesus out of your life? Like the actually not-so-funny joke, do we often ignore God except when we want something?

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the basis of all we are as Christians. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has unleashed the mercy of God.

I’d like to suggest a prayer for this coming week (or maybe for the rest of your life): Lord Jesus, I open my life today to your mercy. Help me to adore and obey you. Give me the grace never to ignore you. Let me be a channel of your mercy to the people I meet today. Amen.

Then ask yourself regularly: How is my life different from an unbelieving world because I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Anger, Fear, and Inner Hurts

I copied (and edited slightly)  the following from a friend's post because it is so true.....
When a person is "always angry",  it is often a telltale sign that he secretly feels he is “never good enough”, and must use anger, exasperation and eye-rolling to shield this painful inner wound.

And while anger is not a bad thing by itself, it can quickly cross over into a pattern of unhealthy abuse of oneself and others, when it is also accompanied by a single, powerful factor: FEAR.

The fear that, “if I am EVER proven wrong or weak in any way, then I will NOT be worthy of love.”

In other words, the Angry One has a powerful and deep-seated feeling that he is loved only conditionally: that he will ONLY be worthy of love as a person, if he is totally invulnerable, perfect and “never wrong” - something which is impossible to attain, exhausting to pursue, and ultimately leads to the further wounding of oneself and the people around you - your loving partner, family and even children.

How to Heal It
The key to truly healing this deep wound is not to suppress the harsh inner voice of anger and fear of loss of love, or to forcibly numb it with alcohol, food, self-focused sex, or media, but instead to try and rescue it – this forceful inner voice is actually an integral part of you – a part of your deep inner self, which has been cut off from you, and it is wounded and in pain.
It is trying to come home to you, and it needs your help.

This is the true meaning of “recovery” – that you must recover this exiled part of you, so that you may become truly whole and healed.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Other Side of Death

April 2, 2017 –– 5th Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:12–14 / Psalm 130 / Romans 8:8–11 / John 11:1–45
The Other Side of Death

This past week my wife and I made a hurried trip to South Carolina and back. Libby’s father’s cancer of ten years ago recurred and “traveled”; he was starting chemo. Understandably, Libby wanted to see her daddy.

What happens to our faith when the hard things come (and they do!)? What happens when we struggle with the thought that God has not answered our prayers the way we hoped, or even assumed, he would. That is certainly what Martha thought when Jesus finally showed up four days after Lazarus was buried: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Martha did not lack faith. She told Jesus: But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.

Jesus affirms her basic faith: Your brother will rise.a

So Martha again shows her faith. And, using a word that is important to faithful Christians, Martha shows her orthodox faith: I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.

This was a growing realization in the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s prophecy is one of the early declarations of the hope God’s people have that extends beyond this world and life-as-we-now-know-it: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them….

That is a basic hope of Christian faith that we hold onto when death comes crashing into the inner boundary of our lives. We dare to believe that there is something good on the other side of death.

What is harder to understand is why such a horrible thing as death (and the pains associated with dying) are inescapable when contrasted with the even more basic confession that God is love  (1John 4:8). Why does Love allow us to suffer? Why does Love make us wait?

In the context of God’s love, there are many opposites. One negative list is the “seven deadly sins” (pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony––all are perversions of true love). Ultimately, rejection of true love leads to death.

There has been a rejection of God’s love. Death has entered our world and affected everything. We get desensitized and make “peace” with all but the worst expressions of the brokenness that has corrupted the creation that God first called “very good.” A blend of “good” and “broken” are so intermingled that we have a very hard time discerning the two. In fact, we are often mostly clueless.

God tells us things we would never otherwise know through the Church and the Scriptures. So in his letter to the Romans, St Paul gives this insight. He uses two words that can refer to our physical existence, but he gives them two very different meanings. One is “flesh” (Greek, sarx) and the other is “body” (Greek, sōma). “Body” means what we all assume––this material substance that we see and feel; “flesh”, however, carries a negative connotation in Paul’s writings––the brokenness in our existence that dims our spiritual vision and pulls us away from God. Our physical bodies have been affected by “the flesh” and the result is decline and death.We learn to cope with the decline until it becomes critical, and then we panic and wail and grieve.

The brokenness in our existence is so deep and pervasive that we hardly comprehend all the implications. With our limited understanding, we want a quick and surface fix. So often our prayer is: “Lord, make this horrible thing right––right now!” Life doesn’t work that way, and facing what true healing means is the reason God allows suffering and subjects us to waiting.

If Jesus had met Martha’s expectation, he would have arrived in time to heal Lazarus before he died. Jesus had healed others; Lazarus would have been one more (v37). Instead, Jesus waited, and so provided compelling rationale for two huge things:

In this final major miracle-story in John’s Gospel, Jesus sets the stage for the ultimate show-down between life and death. The closing commentary tells us: Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. This was a crisis that is explained in detail in the next section of the chapter:

….the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." ….So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death. 

So Jesus has set in motion the final stage of God’s plan to heal this world-of-death by his own death.

This is the Gospel: God’s love is bigger than death, which is proven in the power of Jesus to overcome death itself.

Ultimately, this is what Jesus himself has done. He was killed and came back from the dead. God’s love is bigger than death.

In this act of raising Lazarus––and waiting to do it, even though it caused Mary and Martha more distress––Jesus showed his power over death even before he himself went to the cross. Jesus did not merely heal a very sick man; he raised a man from the dead who had been in the grave for four days. There was no question of resuscitation. Lazarus was dead, and through the spoken word of Jesus Lazarus came back.

It has been noted that Jesus called Lazarus particularly by name; if he had merely said “Come out,” all the dead would have risen! A time is coming when Jesus will give that command. We all wait for it. In the meantime we may have to suffer. We may have to wait. Still it remains: Death does not have the last word. Our God is a God of life.

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