Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter - Is it all symbolic?

John 20:1-18

Why do we as pastors look at this week and scratch our heads? Perhaps it is the challenge of saying something 'new' at the biggest Holy Day of services in our year. Seasoned pastors struggle not to repeat, huh? Weird, but there it is. Even our Bible study this morning had some awkward pauses of 'what to study'. Don't we deal with this same story every year? Leave it to the inspiration of an honest friend in our midst to start the conversation rolling. Not - what new can we say, but - how do we really understand resurrection? And, more importantly, what does it mean to us?

Okay - so the way she worded the question was, "My friend is an intellectual who just can't believe in a bodily resurrection, but she still identifies herself as a Christian. How do we see this? Symbolically, literally? Are you still a Christian if you don't believe in bodily resurrection?" There was a collective sigh in the room as 20 people began to struggle with the elephant in the room. Is Christianity an outdated religion that has been proven wrong by science and is only believeable if you suspend intelligence? I firmly believe NO!

Sooo is everything in the Bible reduceable to symbolic fluff that has a good intent on teaching us through metaphors and loose stories? Gee - I have no bias there, NO again! It is not totally symbolic. Something must have happened after the death of Jesus on the cross that was so amazing that it captured the attention of the world and has held it for so long. We weren't all dupes in the largest scam around. Nor are we all doubting Thomases who have to touch to believe.

So where do we stand. Was Jesus resurrected in a physical body? Some in the room in my study said absolutely. Some said absolutely not. Some fell in between with a resurrection in a 'heavenly' body. Some were silent or perhaps fell into a gray area somewhere in the middle. What I find amazing and proof in itself that the resurrection exists and is powerful and at work among us is that the room still sat together and discussed/debated/analyzed despite our differences of understanding. In respect and love together struggling with God's Word.

The conundrum of proof, literalism vs symbolism vs some compromise. I dare say it doesn't matter. I firmly believe that God is capable of bodily resurrection, and I also believe that it wouldn't be required for the miracle of Jesus' resurrection to hold the same power. My intellectual meets my faith in that I believe God stands outside all rules and understandings of science. I believe in the miracle and in the limitations of understandings of humans. Time and again our hard and fast rules, our knowledge, facts have been proven erroneous.

Our gospels don't describe a physical body. In John, Mary who one would assume should recognize Jesus mistook him for the gardener and is then told not to touch Jesus. Luke tells us He is risen, and then the disciples' "eyes were kept from recognizing Him." Matthew has women grasping a 'raised' Jesus' feet, but some of the disciples doubted. Mark simply says He has been raised, and the women run away in fear.

Wouldn't it be easier to have hard and fast answers in black and white about why Jesus might not have been recognized? Woudn't it be better if we could all touch the nail holes like Thomas? EEuw, perhaps not. (Gross in physical repulsion and fear of daring to demand such.) We live in a world of gray. God has presented us with many ways to understand creation and love and to grow closer to God. Certainly not the least of these is Jesus who proved that even the largest limitation placed on humans - death - has no power over God. All gospels have an empty tomb in common.
How we want to see God - physically, symbolically, whatever is far less important than the fact that God came in human form, overcame death and is Alive!

The empty tomb is the point! Like our divisive denominations who get caught up in side issues, I think we tend to have an eye slip. We are diverted from the main point because it doesn't fit our rules/our norm. This messiah wasn't what we would think of as kingly! This messiah didn't defend against all enemies and instead went to death on a cross. This messiah didn't follow our scientific rules and stay put in the tomb. We think and want so much to understand our world and to define our God. I want every t crossed and every i dotted according to the established decorum of my time. But God is outside of our understanding. My eye slips to the argument and piece I can try to define and hold in my hand. God can be and do in ways that are beyond anything we can begin to grasp.

Instead of giving us up for a lost cause, God came in human form. My personal understanding is that the 'body' that was raised was a body like that in whose image we are made not necessarily a normal physical human body. But after death and resurrection, our eyes too would have trouble recognizing Him. I'm okay with not fully being able to describe that because it still shows a God not afraid to get down in the dirt with common man and live in order to understand us fully. And to then triumph over death. It gives me hope for what is beyond. It gives me hope for a vision of a future earth where all are welcomed in love and the door is barred to none. Nothing can separate us from this all-powerful, extravagant love. Nothing - not even our own lack of understanding or judgments of ourselves or peers.

That, that is the amazing gift of Easter. A grace from which none are turned away. What an incredible love so vast it encompasses all our understandings and keeps going, knowing no bounds. He is Risen!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

You Like Her Better

Luke 11-32

Studying this text in various groups this week has allowed me to glimpse a shared theme of family expectations. Family is so hard and so vital! One of the main cornerstones of my faith is koinonia - relationship. The tangled web of interrelatedness among friends and family and our connectedness to God. And, isn't that what we are all about as Christians anyway?

The complex way we influence each other in biological families is just the tip of the iceberg as we extend that to our church families and the dynamics within the church. How do we relate, interact, love and worship together?

Teaching confirmation last night, one of the youth asked for clarification on grace and what it means. Struggling with that with her and then continuing on my own meditations has led to some insight on family. I explained to her that an easy illustration comes to us from Romans 6 - we can't be sin free. But that does not give us carte blanche to go about lives like we want relying on Jesus forgiveness and not trying to live following His example to the best of our ability.

Think of it like this I continued - Do you always behave in a way that your parents approve of? No. Do your parents get angry with you and sometimes not like you very much? Yes. But do they ALWAYS love you? Yes. (I'm sorry for groups where that is not true of all parents, but I knew it held with these particular kids) That is something like grace. Grace is the gift we receive through Jesus Christ - an invitation into the love of being in relationship and in the Christian family.

In Luke's story of the prodigal son, the story is similar. The younger son is surprisingly welcomed back with feasting. The son who remained and 'did what he was supposed to' is disgruntled and doesn't understand. Our God is a mysterious yet gracious God. It is not for us to decide who deserves the love of family, nor is it for us to try to earn that grace.

It's easy to put myself in the shoes of the sibling doing what I was supposed to - I am big on following rules. But, being human, I have fallen short. Iamgine yourself in the shoes of the prodigal son. How was I received in family and friends when this happened? I don't know about your experience, but when I was welcomed back or forgiven, it was almost harder than facing expected consquences. We have trouble with gifts.

How many times has someone asked if you needed help and you said no when the answer was really - YES! Most of us get tied up in our pride and don't take money handouts or help. We are taught that we should earn things. We should be independent and not burden others. Even in our Christian family, we prefer to be the giver than the recipient. Think on the words of the scripture today - the prodigal didn't come back for a handout. He came back because he thought that his father's servants had it better than where he was serving. He completely abased himself and expected to be a servant instead of welcomed in as a son.

That grace thing - even though we know we should expect it, we grapple with the concept of something competely undeserved, unearned. We want to rank, justify and prioritize. American society certainly teaches that we should be like the older son in this story. And, Jesus does not turn this son away. The father tells the older son that everything I own is yours. He pleads with the older son to come back inside. That nigling feeling in the back of our mind that gets out the scales and measures what we are worth,and what others are worth, and worse that assesses what we are worth by looking at others - this feeling need to be set aside.

The parable is not saying one son is better than the other or more deserving. But, I can't think of even one family where I at least one if not all of the siblings have said/thought the famous - 'but you love her/him better' when measuring how they rank up in family. The grace of the Father is offered to all His children. We are not in a position to judge and rank. God is the great flattener -the equalizer who give us an undeniable gift. When even the least one goes astray, they are welcomed back. Grace is favor, kindness, love extended to all. God's saving grace is extended to all through the faith of Jesus Christ. There is abundance and plenty.