Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tell Us Plainly

John 10:22-30

Interesting that the Jews in the Gospel According to John should be saying exactly the same thing so many of us today are thinking. Why can't Jesus just tell them clearly and succinctly that He is the messiah? He says in his reponse in verse 25 that he has said this, but for the life of me, I don't know where it was ever stated that clearly. Jesus speaks to us in parables and through the way he lived his life. Jesus showed us repeatedly and often but doens't use the clearcut statement.

Messy thing faith. No wonder so many of us start trying to map out things that the Bible says to specifics in the world today and in history. As a former computer programmer, wouldn't life be grand if it were a series of clearcut if/then statements? There would be no ugly terrorist attacks without warning or explanation. Death would happen in its expected time and never too early.

I have heard so many people this week falling back to the Psalms - even did so myself. In response to the horror of the Boston bombs - Do not fear! I am guilty of fear and need to read these words over and over. Fear is exactly why terrorism works and why we want our bibles and scripture to be succinct and clear. If it were all laid out for us, we would understand. Wouldn't we? We could point to an action or experience that would cause evil.

What we have trouble with are the experiences where evil can't be explained away in our world. God is with me - I know this, but in times like these it feels much like a platitude. We turn to prayer, anger, we join together and honor the heroes. All of our responses to hurt and the fear of 'why' are realistic attempts to understand the why and overcome the fear.

In the valleys of life being angry at God is natural and healthy. Questioning and being there with one another is what faith is all about. Life as a series of clear if/then statements reduces the mystery of God. The wonder of miracles that surround us everyday shouldn't so quickly take a back seat to the horror when evil rears its ugly head.

'If/then' does not leave a place for miracles. It limits our God and tries to box God in to rules that we understand. We want to define the relationship. Wanting a God who announces that Jesus is messiah in a way we like and who doesn't allow terrorism is trying to not only force limits to a God we build - a mere idol who follows our rules. But it also is not acknowledging that we are a player in the relationship and given freedom of will by our God. God is not the author of disaster and terror.

God sits beside us and comforts us, mourns with us, struggles with us. But God is beyond our understanding and relates to us weak humans in ways that push and challenge. How are we stretching to meet God in that relationship? The Koinonia of our faith is working it out to be in relationship with those who hate as well as with those who love. How do we grow in the world to be in relationship together as God's tools  - as comforter, teacher, caregiver, friend to all? How do we work it out with one another to understand those who feel driven to desperate actions. How do our various religions work together to stop resorting to only a relationship of retaliation and action against one another?

This is a week of struggle and challenge with wanting clear-cut answers: Why did this happen? I picture a God who feels the same way of Her children. A God who is also asking - Why? God desires a relationship and love with all people. Rather than handing it to us on a platter defined for us, the mystery and wonder of our relationship with God is that it is genuine and something we have to come to with our whole selves.

God does not reach out and define our lives but gives us freedom to muddle or soar. Each of us in our own ways, working together in community in a mixed up world. Clear answers aren't always the best for us bumbling humans who are struggling through life with good intentions. Our journeys together are all about working faith out together. Working out how to live together in this world.

God does not cause the evil but cries and struggle with us as a dynamic part of the relationship with humanity. Koinonia calls us to table together, to life together to love one another in ways that explore and challenge rather than hand simple answers and coddle. We are still growing together in love.

Why didn't Jesus tell us exactly who he was? He did, just not in the crisp way I wanted to hear it and when I wanted to hear it. For after all if I look enough it is within the message: John 10:30 "The Father and I are one."

Look for the love, push ourselves this week to reach out in new and maybe uncomfortable ways. Expand the relationship in love, koinonia together as we struggle through difficult times with God
as the children of God. But bound together - always together.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First Breakfast

John 21:1-19

Breathing a sigh of relief last week I set about cleaning my desk to find the surface again, catching up on e-mails, cleaning laundry, shopping for food to actually feed my kids something other than fast food. Pastors are probably worse than anyone else in getting so caught up in Holy Week that everything else goes on hold. And, perhaps rightly, this week should get special attention and hold a prime real estate in our priorities for the year. Yet, here I am back in my routine.

Much like those disciples, when all else fails - it's back to the norm. The disciples had trouble recognizing Jesus on his first two appearances, but he spoke to them and charged them and sent them out into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit in John chapter 20 verse 21. This week, we are in the very next scene. Instead of doing something profound, inspiring and motivational to change the world, we find the disciples fishing.

Much like me, and I would guess many of you, after the celebration of Easter, not much remains to show the transformative power of this event in our lives other than maybe some leftover ham or Easter candy. The discpline of Lent is quickly thrown by the wayside or slowly being whittled back by the demands of daily life.

Take comfort in these passages from John. Here is Peter who is grilled by God but turns out okay in the end. Peter is that character in the plot who is enthusiastic, good intentioned, and jumps in with both feet - in this case quite literally. Maybe he should look before he leaps. He always seems to accompany that enthusiasm with awkwardness or to instinctively take wrong turns. He is the only disciple who is both charged to be the rock and foundation of the church and rebuked as Satan to get behind Jesus and quit tempting him.

I see us in modern society as Peters - bumbling along with good intentions but often taking the exact wrong actions. Our churches are perfect examples of this. We developped a system. It seemed to work for so many years. For us Presbyterians, if there is a problem we are willing to reform ourselves - yet decently and in good order with a few committees. That dreaded word change. Easter demands change of ourselves and our churches.

I would love to hide in my work with a task list, but Easter and the miracle of resurrection screams at me in its gruesome reality and amazing miracle to look at the world around me. We are sent into the world. Sent implies moving from my comfort spot behind my desk, or for the disciples away from their nets and boats. Jesus knows this is hard for us. His third appearance may seem tailored to Peter's need for forgiveness. Peter denied Jesus three times and is now asked if he loves Jesus three times. The parellelism indicates that this is an important place and necessary for Peter.

Yet, it goes beyond just Peter. In verse 12, even though Jesus asked them to join him for breakfast at the fire, the disicples don't join him there. The fish and loaves are like communion, followers feasting together. Yet, it has lost the comfort of the Last Supper during Passover. The disciples are no longer comfortable now that they are facing a resurrected Jesus.

Jesus sees our hesitancy after Easter and loves us still. Jesus asked the disciples to take a leap of faith, make a change and throw their nets off the wrong side of the boat - relying on left hands to drag in their catch. And they did, but the steps to the campfire on the beach felt longer and longer as the disciples approached. Jesus actually, in verse 13, comes to them. Jesus didn't abandon the disciples when their faith wasn't strong enough to carry them across the beach. He reached out to them.

Funny thing about Jesus coming to them - those Greek verbs in verse 13 are all present tense. Jesus comes to them, Jesus takes them bread, Jesus gives it to them. And again when Jesus is talking to Peter - there is lots of word play with the Greek words used for love and knowledge. Jesus stretches Peter to a new kind of love, a deeper love beyond just simple friendship. At the same time, he pushes Peter to a knowledge that is stronger and spritual rather than objective and basic.

We are comfortable with the simplified English translation that loses the depth of the original Greek, yet the message in verse 13 of active verbs is a powerful reassurance that regardless of where we are in our faith journey Jesus will meet us there. And then, the challenge - Jesus comes to meet us but doesn't stop there. He prods and pokes at our awkwardness and harnesses our enthusiasm. We are sent out of our comfort zones into the world to proclaim a deepened love and to share a spritual knowledge. We take comfort in the Last Supper, and
we are called to a First Breakfast - Jesus gives us sustenance to go out into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit to promote justice and change. He is Risen!