Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Patterned by Grace: How Liturgy Shapes Us

My good friend, and former GBOD colleague, Dan Benedict has written a wonderful book that was recently published by Upper Room Books. Patterend by Grace: How Liturgy Shapes Us is a great resource for teaching Christians about the importance and power of liturgy. For more about the book from the author, read this interview with him at UM Portal:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ben Witherington on "What Have They Done With Jesus"

Check out Ben Witherington's talks about his latest book, What Have They Done With Jesus: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible. This presentation of his responses to the various theories and conjecture about Jesus, "lost" Christianities, and gnosticism. He made this presentation at City Church of San Francisco on April 15, 2007:

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Peace be With You

John 20:19-31

Anyone who has experienced the sudden death of a loved one can appreciate the condition we find Jesus' disciples the evening of day some of them discovered an empty tomb.

Let's recall the story: Their leader and friend as been crucified by the Romans; with the cooperation of the religious authorities. Some of them, the women, witnessed his agonizing death on the cross. Some saw his dead body taken from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. They saw him dead; deader than a door nail.

The disciples were suffering from shock and grief. Shock probably not unlike that experienced by the people of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia today. That community experienced the sudden, inexplicable murder of 33 innocent school men and women. Many of the students have left campus. I won’t be surprised if some refuse to return to their school because fear. Their world has been turned upside-down. The world and life they once knew is gone. And they will find it painful and difficult to get on with life in this new world of lost innocence and trust. The disciples who locked themselves in that upper room in Jerusalem suffered from the same kind of shock grief, fear and pain after the death of Jesus.

Yes, many of them had heard Peter and John's story of an empty tomb that morning. And they had listened to Mary tell them how she had seen and talked to the risen Christ. But, while Peter and John's story of an empty tomb could be believed; after all grave robbing wasn't an uncommon occurrence in those days. They found Mary's tale of a risen Jesus to be utterly unbelievable. They were afraid. They were grieving. And, they were probably feeling guilty for the way they abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

So, you can imagine their surprise when the risen Christ appeared to them. He came to them, in spite of the locked door; the door they had locked out of fear. The risen Jesus came to be with them in spite of their fear, their grief, and their shame. More than that, he came to comfort them and to strengthen them. He came to give them peace; the shalom that is wholeness. The risen Jesus came to his friends to restore their brokenness and dis-ease to shalom. Peace.

To prove that it was really him, Jesus showed them the wounds of the cross in his body. He was, indeed, the crucified one. The wounds of state-sponsored torture and murder proved Jesus’ to his disciples. There could be no mistake about it. It was really him!

Then, he breathed on them. He gave them the gift he had promised them on the night he washed all their feet. He gave them the Advocate and Comforter. He gave them the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their grief and to set them free from fear. He gave them the Holy Spirit to help them get on with living the life he had given them in his life among them; the life of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation; the life of Shalom. This is the life they were, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim to and for the world.

As suddenly as he had appeared among them, he was gone. Enter Thomas. We don't know why Thomas wasn't in the room. Maybe he had gone for a walk to clear his mind. When he heard the news, Thomas refused to believe. After all, he didn't have the benefit of his other buddies who had heard his voice and seen his wounds. How could they expect him to believe such a fantastic tale?

A week passed. Thomas remained in his grief and fear. Also probably not a little fed up with the conversations of his friends as they talked among themselves about their experience with the risen Jesus.

Then it happened! Again, in the same room, behind the same door (shut but no longer locked), the risen Jesus appeared to his friends again. This time, Thomas was there to see for himself. Jesus came this time expressly for Thomas. He went right to Thomas and showed him the wounds in his hands, feet and side. Jesus invited him to see for himself and to touch his crucified and risen friend. But Thomas had seen all he needed to see. He didn't need to touch, he only needed to hear his name and see his friend and the marks of his suffering and death. He fell to his knees and cried out, "My Lord and my God!" He then was able to accept and receive the same peace, the same shalom, given to his friends by Jesus a week earlier.

In his appearances to his friends, the crucified and risen Christ came to set them free from the paralysis caused by shock, grief, fear, and unbelief. He came to set them free from grief's power to make us live in fear. He came to give them the faith they needed to get on with living the life he had given them before his death.

That is the point of this story for us today. In the midst of grief and fear, God comes to us in the crucified and risen Jesus to give us God's peace. In times of crisis and doubt, Christ meets us at our point of greatest pain and gives us what we need to get on with living.

And, because we don't have the benefit of the flesh and blood Jesus, Christ comes to us in other ways. He comes to us in our time of need through the lives of faithful people in his church.

He comes to us in words and actions that give hope, comfort and encouragement; in hands and hearts extended in love. Christ comes in the many acts of compassion and caring of faithful disciples.

In the story of Thomas, Christ is giving us good news, especially in times of loss and crisis. He comes to assure us that the good news that because death could not hold him, hatred, fear, and death do not have the final word. In Christ God comes to tell us that even when the world around us is wracked with senseless violence and death, his life and love will emerge victorious.

It's OK to have questions, to get angry, to doubt. The story of Thomas’ visit from the risen Christ tells us that in the midst of all our unbelief, all our questions, all our anger, Christ meets us at our point of need to set us free and to give us what we need to get on with living. It tells us that Christ offers himself to us to help us get beyond the pain and get on with living and loving as he lives and loves.

Friday, April 06, 2007

O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done!

O Love divine, what hast thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father's coeternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th'immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
Ye all are bought with Jesus' blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

Behold him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Savior die,
And say, "Was ever grief like his?"
Come, feel with me his blood applied:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

[Charles Wesley]

This is, for me, the most powerful passion hymn in the UM Hymnal. In it Charles describes the sacrifice of God for all of humankind in the death of Jesus. The only appropriate response to such sacrificial, self-giving love is repentance and obedience. Repentance from sin that alienates me from my loved ones, my neighbors, and God. Obedience to the teachings of Christ summarized in the commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love those whom God loves (your neighbor) as God loves them. Christ's death and resurrection set me and you free from the power of sin and for the power of love.