Friday, April 27, 2018

After The Homecoming

I wrote in my last post about how Jesus works to bring us home.  I believe that with all my heart.  I know it because it has happened to me.  I was sinking in my own sin and shame, and Jesus pulled me through.  Or, as the old hymn said

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Love lifted me
(the basses are supposed to sing "even me")
Love lifted me
(even me)
When nothing else could help,


When Jesus said, "Do you love me?" and I replies, "Lord you know I love you,"  He said, "Feed my lambs."

Feed my lambs

What lambs?

Mick Mulvaney is recommending cuts to school meal programs and after school programs.

Tend my sheep

What sheep?

Ben Carson wants to triple the rent for public housing to "motivate" poor people in these apartments to go to work.  

Feed my sheep

What sheep?

Again, Mulvaney wants to cut funding for Meals On Wheels.  

These are not the only expressions in our culture and our nation that speak to the dismantling of those programs designed to help those whose backs are already against the wall.  And it isn't just the federal government that is engaged in this behavior.  The point is that the needs are real and the threats to care are just as real.

This "feed my sheep," wasn't a throwaway line like "have a nice day."  It was a Commandment to a repentant disciple.  It was the place where Peter, and I, and maybe you too, were told that we would find our gratitude and our love expressed in caring for those whom Jesus cares for.

But you may say, "wait a minute, Jesus came to save sinners."  He did indeed.  And sinners need saving.  But two things worth thinking about in this conversation have to do with the words "save" and "sinners."  

The same word that is sometimes translated as "healed" is also translated "saved" depending on the context in the Gospels.  Jesus comes to heal our wounds and forgive our sins.  Both are part of salvation.  Our woundedness may lead to our sins; our sins may be the source of woundedness for others.  Jesus cares about both.  Jesus came to "save" us from both.

"Sinners" is a word that in Jesus' day referred not just to people who behaved badly, though it meant that.  It also referred to people in certain trades that made it impossible for them to maintain ritual purity.  They were "sinners."  Those living in poverty, often referred to as "people of the land," were also classified as "sinners."

It is not "either/or" it is "both/and" when it comes to Jesus' desire to save sinners.  We miss the boat when we ignore either.  

So Jesus' final words to Peter in this conversation are "follow me."  Do what I did.  Imitate me.  Even at the cost of your life.

House Chaplain Patrick Conroy was forced out of his job last week by Speaker Paul Ryan who had previously told him to "stay out of politics."  Conroy's crime, apparently, was in part a prayer he prayed at the opening of the House in which he said 

God of the universe, we give You thanks for giving us another day. Bless the Members of this assembly as they set upon the work of these hours, of these days. Help them to make wise decisions in a good manner and to carry their responsibilities steadily, with high hopes for a better future for our great Nation.
As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.
May Your blessing, O God, be with them and with us all this day and every day to come, and may all we do be done for Your greater honor and glory.

The task of individuals, and churches, and nations that claim the name of Jesus is to engage in the "care and feeding" of the vulnerable, of those with their backs against the wall. To advocate for equality. To fight against anything that demeans or diminishes.

Feed my lambs, Tend my sheep, Feed my sheep

This isn't an optional choice. It's part of how we follow Jesus. It's how we live out the words, "Lord, you know I love you."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Holy Set-Up

John 21 is an interesting passage.  First of all because it looks for all the world like the writer of John had ended his Gospel, then suddenly said, "I didn't tell about Peter and Jesus reconnecting!" then wrote this story down before once again closing his Gospel.

The whole episode looks to me like a Holy Set-Up.  Read it for yourself.  There's Peter, swimming in his own shame, not sure what to do with all this resurrection stuff.  Sure, Jesus is back...but what does that mean for him?  Last time he'd seen Jesus Peter was busy warming himself by a charcoal fire in a courtyard and denying like crazy that he knew anything about Jesus.

So Peter did what most of us might have done.  He went back to what he knew.  He went fishing.  His friends went with him that night and they caught nothing.  Then, from the shore, they are told to let their nets down on the other side of the boat...sound familiar?  They've been here before.  John looks at Peter and says, "it's the Lord," and Peter dives into the water.

Peter comes up on shore next to a .... yep, a charcoal fire.  That smell, and it is unmistakable, triggers a memory of that night before the crucifixion.  One of those shame memories that all of us have, and that we spend much of our lives scurrying around to try and avoid.  So Peter scurries; dragging in the net from the boat he had left behind when he dove into the water.

They add the fish they've caught to those already cooking on the fire.  Jesus already had fish and bread cooking there (once again, we've been here before, Jesus making meals of loaves and fish, asking folks to contribute what they have).  Then the conversation starts: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Nowhere in this conversation does Jesus deny what Peter has done.  But nowhere does He berate or rage or demean Peter either.  Instead, He offers Peter an opportunity to walk his way back into the relationship and then gives him a job to do.

Why do I call this a Holy Set-Up?  Because I believe this was personal for Jesus.  Peter was His friend.  They had a relationship that was deep and intimate.  Yes, Peter broke it.  But Jesus wasn't about to give up on him.  The same love that brought Jesus to heal the world was going to be expressed personally and individually with Peter.  Then Peter is going to be sent to show the world (tend my sheep) the same love that had been given to him.

I told a Bible study this week that the question I am asked most often in the individual conversations that people come to have with me as their pastor is, "How could God love and forgive me after this thing I have done?"  They are convinced that God's Grace works for others, but that they have gone so far over the line that there is no coming back.  And so they go fishing.  They go back to what has always been their fallback in life.  And they grieve the relationship with God that they wish they had.

God comes looking for us.  Jesus sets up the opportunity for us to reconnect.  Not by patting us on the head and ignoring what we've done, but by giving us the opportunity to acknowledge it in some way and speak the love for God that we have.  Then we're given a job to do.  One where the Grace we're given will be a major part of what we're doing.

Jesus wants us to come home.  And He'll do anything except force us to make that happen.  He'll set us up and hunt us down.  Because "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

I find that extremely comforting.  Shalom

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Resurrection Impression

I am impressed that Jesus could walk through the walls of a locked room
to meet his frightened disciples.
I am more impressed that He can, and does, walk into the locked rooms of my heart,
the ones where my woundedness and sins hide in terror and shame
saying, "Shalom, peace be with you"
in the places where peace has not come for a very long time.

I am impressed that Jesus could just vanish
after blessing bread and breaking it
leaving Cleopas and his wife
then flying down the road back to Jerusalem
( Luke doesn't say who the companion is, but who else are you gonna be with when you invite someone home?).
I am more impressed that He handled this, and other meals
blessing simple things in profound ways
in such a memorable way
that the minute He broke the bread
they KNEW

I am impressed that Jesus went to such great lengths to demonstrate His bodily-ness
touching scars and eating fish
But I am more impressed
with the intimacy and the humor of this moment:
"Touch me.  Touch me where I am wounded;
and trust that I will touch and heal your wounds as well."
And the humor?
Can you see Jesus winking as He took the fish?
Already he has broken bread with Cleopas, and they have seen it,
now, a fish.
"Haven't we been here before?" His eyes seem to laugh
"Another desperate moment
complete with loaves and fishes?"

And I am most impressed
that all of this
happened with the very ones
who had bailed like rats off a sinking ship
whose despair had driven them down the road for home
and whose fear had locked them in a room, quaking as they waited for the sound of Roman boots.
That Jesus shares His resurrection victory
with the neediest and the least deserving.

I am impressed that the resurrection Jesus
even has room for me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I Believe In The Resurrection

Jesus said to Thomas
"Blessed are those who have not seen,
yet believe."
But I have seen.
I have touched the wounds
the executioner thought was fatal.
I have seen the resurrection re-enacted day by day.
I have seen people walk out of the grave of addiction
I have seen women walk out of the tomb of domestic violence
I have seen men get up from the deathbed of cancer
I have known those who have risen from the dead and homeless to find life and shelter
I have seen legislators rise from the death of cowardness to vote for what is true and good
I have seen the resurrection acted out
In 1000 smaller ways
So yes, I believe the resurrection that happened in that Garden so many years ago,
And I believe in the One that will come in the future for me and all creation
And raise us up in a new heaven and
a new earth
I have seen the resurrection
So I believe, not only in these
But in the resurrection of the body
And the life of the world to come.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Scars Of God

I had a rather spirited conversation on Facebook last night about his response to the 60 Minute presentation on the Legacy Museum that is opening in Birmingham, Alabama.  The museum pays special attention to the history of lynching in America during the Jim Crow period.  Over 4000 black persons were lynched during this time; not just in the south, but all over America.

You can find a CNN story on this museum here:

My friend was maintaining that the story, and the creation of the museum, fanned the flames of hatred and anger in a way that was unproductive.  I disagreed.

As we messaged back and forth it struck me that many of the same arguments that my friend was making, and that others have made about the Holocaust well as conversations about racism and anti-Semitism, could be made about the fact that the resurrected Jesus came back complete with scars.

We humans are creatures that thrive on denial and avoidance.  We don't want to talk about school shootings because "it's too soon."  We don't want to talk about the Holocaust because it "brings up bad memories."  We don't want to talk about slavery, or Jim Crow, or lynching because we think that black folks should "just put that stuff behind you cause it's all over."  We do this kind of thing as a culture as well as in our private lives.  Tragedy, trauma, and pain get swept under the rug and never discussed....sometimes for generations.

Jesus shows the disciples His scars as a proof that it is Him.  But it is also a reminder.  A reminder of where we can go in our sin and our woundedness, of what we can do to each other.  And a reminder of the lengths that God will go to so that we can be healed and restored.

God carries the scars of God's love for us.  It is a doorway into the deepest part of God's heart.

A Trilogy Of Scars

Overheard On The Friday After Easter

Scars, He came back with scars.
At least that's what I heard.
It's just not right I tell you,
stirring up all that unpleasant memory.
I'm not denying that it happened,
but we need to put all that awefullness
behind us.
Sure crucifixions used to happen
back then
But I've never crucified anyone, have you?
We need to move forward.
The least He could have done
Is clean up those scars, replace them
with a cheerful glow or something,
a halo maybe.

And Jesus said, "If they do this
when the wood is green,
what will they do in the dry?"

God Has Scars

God has scars
the marks of torture and death
that put God in the company
of every woman ever drug off by Boko Haram
Every Jew or gypsy or homosexual gassed in the ovens of the Nazis
Every black who hung from a lynching tree.
When Jesus meets them on the other side of the Jordan
He holds out pierced hands
and they fall into one another's arms.
Weeping for the hatred that marked,
but could not destroy
the truth of the story their scars tell

Be Careful Who You Show Your Scars To

Be careful who you show your scars to
Jesus, apparently, only showed His
to that group of closest friends.
If you go around just showing them
to anyone, you run the risk
That their only interest will be
the sadistic pleasure of listening
to the story of your flogging.
Mel Gibson made that mistake
in Passion of the Christ.
He missed the truth
that our scars are often the doorway
into the deepest ache of our hearts.

But sometimes it happens,
in the Holocaust Museum in Washington
or the Lynching Museum in Alabama,
A basement room AA meeting
or an upper room in Jerusalem,
That we share our scars
and others there will roll up their sleeves
To show us theirs and let us know
that we are not alone.