Saturday, April 29, 2006

April 3 sermon---Food for Faith

Sermon Text:
Luke 24:36-48

This past week, I went to South Carolina with some college friends. We had intended on driving straight through—but instead we decided to “crash” with some of our friends who lived in Nashville, and effectively cut the trip in half. Before we left, we had Salmon croquettes and macaroni and fruit provided by my family in Little Rock. We arrived at my friend Will and Carrie Churchill’s (Bill Churchill’s great nephew) house around 12:30 to find him picking his banjo on the front porch. After enjoying a beer on the porch, we hit the sack, then woke up a few short hours later to the smell of omelets and coffee. After enjoying a breakfast and a first sight of Will’s 6 month pregnant wife, we got on the road again for the remainder of our trip to Columbia.
Isn’t it amazing how a meal can energize us and open our eyes to the beauty of the friendships in our midst? What do we most often do when reuniting with friends we haven’t seen in a while? We eat a meal together! Should we be surprised to find the same kind of thing in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection?
Gospel accounts of eating
Craig Satterlee, a homeletics prof. at the Lutheran school of theology at Chicago, guided my attention to the fact that Easter, as Luke presents it, is not so much about an empty tomb as it is about food. Jesus spends Easter day eating. His followers celebrate Easter not at an empty tomb but a table. Here we experience resurrection by eating.
Have you ever been in the midst of a family meal and noticed the presence of Christ with you? It is probably a little harder to catch this vision if we are eating our meals in front of the television. Munching our meals in collective silence while the TV pumps us with entertainment like a gas pump fills our cars with gas. However, if we perhaps face each other and have conversation with our meal, it has the potential to turn into something very life-giving and life-changing. One of Lara and my attempts to give our life together some support and enhancement has been to take our meals at the table with Wesley’s high chair pulled up with us. We’re not perfect at it. Sometimes we just instinctively sit in the den when our show comes on—but slowly and surely, our life is enriched when we remember that we have a commitment to raising our son with a good tradition.
We enter Jesus’ dinner party between two of the courses. The 11 are discussing the first of these courses, bread served to Cleopas and a companion. In Emmaus, Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Cleopas reports that thy talked a lot about scripture, and experienced Jesus as the risen Christ.
What is the point of all this post-resurrection eating? Some New Testament scholars believe it has a very tactful purpose. In the early church, there was a debate among two different groups about who Jesus was and how he was resurrected. Some believed that Jesus didn’t have a bodily resurrection, and some even believed that Jesus never had a physical body at all. The reason that this group, called Gnostics, didn’t believe that Jesus had a body was because they thought of the physical world as being corrupt and bodies as unclean. They didn’t believe that a divine being such as Jesus would or even could dwell in something so unholy as flesh.
Certainly John and probably Luke and Matthew as well were aware of this group of people. John’s gospel was written for a community that seemed to either have these believers present or as competitors in the same community.
So, in order to prove to the “misinterpreters” of the Gospel message, Luke and John made many references to Jesus eating after the resurrection. A purely spiritual being would most likely not need to eat, you see, and Luke tells us that “even in their joy, some of the disciples still did not believe.” John singles out Thomas as the one who does not believe, and actually has to put his fingers in the wounds of Christ because many of these Gnostic Christians traced their tradition to the Gospel that bore his name: The Gospel of Thomas. So, one reason we have so much “lunchroom discussion” in the Gospels that we read is because they were written to convince the world that this man we call Jesus had a physical, a bodily resurrection. If Jesus didn’t have a bodily resurrection, the early Christians did not see any hope for the world being redeemed. Christ’s body being made new was a symbol and a foretaste of the whole world becoming new, as is told in the Book of Revelation.
But back to the story that Luke tells us—Right before the passage we read today is the Emmaus passage, when Jesus joins two disciples on the road to Emmaus and they don’t know it is him until they invite him to have dinner with them and he breaks the bread. They see him as they knew him, and he vanishes. “They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” The story we read today connects the dots in our minds between the meal in the upper room and the Emmaus meal and the meal that we share with one another that we call communion. The story told is not just about “ghost-busting” and refuting the Christians who believe Jesus wasn’t physically raised from the dead.
Chris Satterlee writes in a recent issue of “the Christian Century,” that Bread and fish are not much of an Easter dinner. Why bread and fish, loves and fishes? Our minds race to other meals that appear to be courses in Jesus’ resurrection feast. Jesus served the first of this pairing in a deserted place when he blessed bread and fish and gave them to a multitude. All ate their fill, and there were leftovers to boot. This meal served as a foretaste of the feast that Jesus will serve when the reign of God comes in all its fullness. Surrounded by people of every time and every place, surrounded by all of creation, Jesus will serve up the great and promised feast, the final course of Jesus’ resurrection banquet. No one will be hungry: all will be satisfied. The last will be first and the first will be last, and the feasting will continue forever!
What about all those other meals Jesus attended and served? Could Jesus’ eating and drinking with the poor, the outcast and the despised also be courses in this resurrection feast? Jesus certainly raised people to new life at those dinner parties! People were given a new chance as a follower of the new covenant—to love and live in a new way with a new purpose. And if resurrection happened at those tables, does that mean that Jesus, risen from the dead, is present and bringing new life to every table at which the hungry are filled, the despised are loved, the outcast are welcome and the poor receive the reign of God?
Dare we allow our minds to wander to still other meals? What about Abraham’s feast with angels, manna in the wilderness and the cake that the angel of the Lord provided Elijah—were they also courses in Jesus resurrection feast? What about the family dinner, the business lunch, the snack shared between classes? Are they part of Jesus’ Easter feast?
We are called back from our wondering by Jesus, who confirms our musings. Jesus has finished eating and is talking about scripture. We are not surprised, since scripture seems to be the topic of conversation at this Easter feast. Jesus gives those gathered a panoramic view—the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms—all in one sitting. Jesus points out that he—and with him death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness—can be found throughout scripture.
It may be easier to testify to the risen Christ by making a trip to the empty tomb than by eating around a table. A trip to an empty tomb confines Easter to very early morning on that first day of the week when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body. We know when, where and how resurrection happened. We know Easter is over.
Celebrating Easter by eating means that Jesus could show up, that resurrection could happen, at any table, at every table. We have no way of knowing when, where and how the risen Christ will bring new life. Rather than being confined to one day, or to the 50 that we observe in the church, Jesus’ Easter feast continues as one meal leads to another, and tables get larger and larger, and closer together.
Only time and space separate all the courses in Jesus’ resurrection feast. Overcoming time and space does not appear to be a problem for our risen Jesus, who can be in Emmaus for the bread course, Jerusalem for fish, and at every table around which people testify to Christ from the scriptures, preach repentance and forgiveness in Christ’s name, and share bread and wine in remembrance of him.
Rather than making an annual trip to the empty tomb, we celebrate Easter by eating together and sharing scripture until that day when Jesus, risen from the dead and standing in our midst, overcomes time and space and everything else that separates the tables around which we gather.
So take the Easter message to your tables. Take the Good news with you to your Sunday lunch. Take it in a sack lunch to work. I know that our sister Nadine takes it every day to McDonalds where she has a breakfast sausage biscit and shares the word of her church with anyone there who she decides to converse with. Like Nadine, we all have the ability to bring Easter into our daily lives and conversations. We all have a mouth, and we all have to eat. In doing so, the Christ is resurrected all over the world. People find new hope, people let go of old grudges, people believe in a love that is so broad and powerful that even they can be within the Love of God. This is how Christ comes into the world! Think of it as practice for that heavenly banquet.
Our communion liturgy asks God to “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that WE MAY BE FOR THE WORLD THE BODY OF CHRIST, REDEEMED BY HIS BLOOD. Have you ever really heard that? It means we are the physical resurrection of Jesus in this day and age. We can be bread for the world. To do so, we must open our mouths and share the Good News.

Monday, April 17, 2006

communion banner detail

communion banner detail

processional cross detail

Easter saw three new additions to the chancel area: a processional cross and two banners

The Avilas took vows of membership on Easter

Have you found anything yet?

Nathan, Lara, and Wesley stand next to the Easter cross covered in flowers

Young adults watch the Easter egg hunt

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sermon

Mark 16:1-8
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

After finishing MARK 16:8—The end! That’s all we get from the first Gospel written. If you were a Christian in the first century before Matthew or Luke or John wrote their versions of the story, that was the ending you had to build your faith on. “The women ran out of the tomb and they told no one, for they were afraid.” The Greeks would have actually read the last verse as grammatically unsatisfying as well. “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for…”
In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the late Donald Juel tells the story of one of his students who had memorized the whole of Mark in order to do a dramatic, broadway style reading before a live audience. After careful study, the student had decided to go with the scholarly consensus regarding the ending. At his first performance, however, after he spoke that ambiguous last verse, he stood there awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other, the audience waiting for more, waiting for closure, waiting for the proper ending. Finally, after several anxious seconds, he said, “Amen!” and made his exit. The relieved audience applauded loudly and appreciatively. Upon reflection though, the student realized that by providing the audience a satisfying conclusion, his “Amen” had actually betrayed the dramatic intention of the text. So at the next performance, when he reached the final verse he simply paused for a half beat and left the stage in silence. “the discomfort and uncertainty within the audience were obvious,” said Juel, “and as the people exited…the buzz of conversation was dominated by the experience of the non-ending.”
Ever read a story or watch a movie that you just didn’t want to end? It might have been so beautiful, so thrilling, so involving that you felt a part of you died when you came to the conclusion. You found yourself paging back a few chapters to try and re-create that last hour or so that you were so enthralled by the story.
Or perhaps you’ve sat in a movie theater as the crowd files out hoping that the filmmakers will have rewarded you for sitting to the very end of the credits with one of those clever little “secret endings” that only the die-hards know about.
I am reminded of going to see the last installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with Lara at this huge theater in Hollywood called the Orpheum. As the movie neared its ending, I started feeling like I was watching a roommate pack up his things to move to the other side of the planet. I knew I would never again see a Lord of the Rings movie for the “first time” ever again. I sat in desperation through the entire credits, hoping for something more, some last “farewell.”

Our gospel writer, Mark, understands this feeling I believe, because he simply ends the Gospel without really ending it. Some mysterious guy in a tomb saying Jesus isn’t there? Women running out and telling no one, despite the promise of this mysterious man that Jesus would meet them in Galilee?

That is so unsatisfying! We want some face time with the newly risen Jesus, like in John…….when Mary goes to the tomb and Jesus appears to her when who she had mistaken to be the caretaker whispers her name—she recognizes his voice, sees him face to face, then goes to tell the others, dutifully—not running away scared.
Mark just gives us an empty tomb and an enigmatic promise met with….fear and fleeing. Why? The fact that we may find this unsatisfying was not lost on later leaders of the church, who added to Mark’s ending some semblance of a resolution. We have two such endings, in fact—one brief and poignant, one full of reprimands and high expectations. Even though I want more, like I want to keep reading those beautiful stories or like I stay in the theater till the little symbols of the studios come up—hoping for something more to the movie—even though I want more from Mark, I’m also very attracted to his original ending to the story. I think I like it because it compels me. It is like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I recently pulled out of storage at my parents house and had a ball looking through. “If you run to Galilee to meet Jesus, turn to page 113,” or “If you run out with the women and “tell no one” turn to page 44.
My father pointed out to me as we compared notes for this “most important sermon of the year” that this is the only occasion in Mark when the disciples (yes, the women are disciples too, of course) have been commanded to let the cat out of the bag, and they instead “tell no one.” In every other instance, Jesus has commanded the disciples to “tell no one of this” and they have promptly spilled the beans. Here’s the biggest event yet, and they’re given the green light to spread the word and instead they “say nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Clearly the later editors of the book were bugged by this incoherent ending because they add that “well, actually they did tell someone.”
Clearly they had told, because if they hadn’t, Mark wouldn’t be telling this story to anyone in the first place. The empty tomb would have eventually been filled by someone else’s body, the stone closed, and the movement begun by Jesus would have fizzled out and the only person to know the name of Jesus would be some ancient Judaism scholar working on his PH.D and writing a thesis on some obscure references to a man by the name of Yeshua who was crucified by the Romans for probably starting an insurrection.
Mark ends his gospel with a failed commandment because it is compelling. We want to tell the story to make up for the characters in the story who fail to do so. That’s exactly the kind of response that Mark is hoping for—the resurrection is in our hands. If we don’t share it, the Message will die out and be forgotten.
We live by faith, then, precariously balancing between the young man's promise and the women's fear and astonishment. We seek ending after ending, only to discover that every ending that we fashion inevitably disappoints us. Every finale forecloses the drama prematurely. An ending says too much too surely, and therefore it never says enough. Although it may satisfy us for the moment, we sense its failure and falsity.
The young man who performed the Gospel learned that the last verse of Mark is better left as is because Mark didn’t need an ending. The story he was telling was continuing on in the lives of the people who heard about Jesus and believed. The life of the hero of our story is still going on in you and in me. The young man in the tomb understands that there is more to come. "He is not here," not in the tomb, not at the end of the story; "he is going ahead of you," always ahead of us; and "you will see him," in Galilee and in places we would never have expected. He is going ahead of us, and of his story; there is no end.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Waldron UMC celebrates Palm Sunday with Donk-Donk. The Avilas and Oaks live out the disciple task of "going to fetch a donkey."

Palm Sunday Sermon

Sermon Texts
Mark 11: 1-11
Mark 15: 1-39
The week that we call holy week—the week that begins today and contains the remembrances of the most important aspects of our faith—begins with a parade. And the parade begins with a detailed description of going to get a donkey.
Jesus clues his disciples into the perfect love that is about to be expressed in the coming week by giving them what seems to be a menial task. Why does Mark give us such a detailed description on the directions to get a donkey on the way to Jerusalem? Perhaps it is a counterweight to the delusions of grandeur that are being promoted by the disciples on the way to the city. In their mind, they are on the march to conquer Babylon, and they want to know who would sit on the right and left hand of their new Messiah. But Jesus gives these disciples a humbling task that reflects the humbling task he must undergo in the week that follows.
We oftentimes think that God’s love is expressed in power. What we consider power is usually coercive power. But what we find hard to stomach and even harder to imitate is the divine ideal of Love as totally and perfectly vulnerable.
Several years ago a beautiful movie came out called “The Green Mile.” Tom Hanks starred as the prison warden on death row in the 1930’s south, and came to know one of the inmates who had strange powers. This man was literally huge as an ox—a symbol of this character’s power—yet his real power was in his vulnerability. Through his love, he healed a mouse, a woman, and even the warden himself. Through his healing love, he became more and more vulnerable. The movie is called “The Green mile” because the hallway to the death chamber is painted green, and the inmates call it the mile because it feels like a mile when one walks it to their death. John Coffee, the character in the Green Mile, walks his path willingly even though he is innocent of the crime for which he is accused. Much like John Coffee, Jesus Christ knew that thegreen palms thrown at the feet of his humble donkeywere paving the way to the cross.
. He goes willingly even though he is innocent of the crime for which he is accused.
Christ’s power come through his perfect love. Perfect love involves a submission to vulnerability. Every welt on his back, every thorn in his brow happens because Christ’s love makes him vulnerable. He’d been telling his disciples it had to be this way for some time, and they didn’t understand. More accurately, they didn’t WANT to understand. Mark tells us in ch. 9 that they were afraid to ask him what he meant when he told them that the son of man must suffer and be killed. They were afraid to ask him because while they were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus was sitting a little child on his lap and saying “welcome this child and you welcome God.”
This terrible, beautiful passion of our savior says to us once and for all, “this is how to love—this is how I love you.” Christ was killed because he dared to love us as we are, he dared to love those who weren’t supposed to be loved. He died to show us that true power lies in vulnerability, it lies in submission, it lies in Love.
Can we learn this perfect love? Our Methodist heritage and the theology of the Wesleys say that we can. To learn it, we must pay special attention to the events of the passion story. It may involve fetching a donkey when we really want to sit by our King in glory. It may involve walking the path though we may be taunted and derided the whole way. Jesus looked with love on the world even as the very people he was being crucified with joined in the taunts and accusations. Can you imagine? Don’t those other guys being crucified have enough to worry about? This radical, perfect, vulnerable love might involve reaching out in embrace when we really want to slap or punch. It might involve placing a great deal of importance on the creative efforts of a little child when what we really want to do is get back to fixing dinner or writing a report or watching a tv show. That action alone could be placing the welcome mat out in front of our heart for God. Don’t you imagine that the disciples would have rather been suiting Jesus up with armor and perhaps killing a mounted Roman so that Jesus could ride in on his horse? Don’t you imagine Peter would rather have been basking in the glory of his master’s fame and respect rather than denying him as his master was being tried? Don’t you imagine Jesus’ disciple Judas would rather be drawing swords with his master to put down the evil Romans rather than handing him over to the Romans?
Showing that perfect love could mean letting go of anger or feelings of betrayal or mistrust and instead opening our lives to the future, opening our hearts to new possibilities.
Perfect love embodies vulnerability. What position is more vulnerable than open arms? It is in this action, when we go to embrace, that we mirror our creator and savior’s sacrifice. What we must sacrifice is our Ego, our desires, to the one desire of God---to building the Kingdom, to the authentic life that Jesus placed in the offering plate for us.
You would probably rather not focus in on the story of our Lord’s betrayal and beating and crucifixion this week and instead zoom right ahead to the Easter celebration. I challenge you to observe Holy week—to be here as we plunge into the stories of the Last week of our savior. If it is not your custom to be here in worship in the middle of the week, just imagine how out of custom it must’ve felt to the original disciples to hear about the path that their Messiah was going to take—not a path of glory and military revolution, but a path of vulnerability and spiritual revolution. Together we will observe the pain and the heartache—so that together we may experience the joy and the hope in a new light--The light that accompanies the resurrection.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Which version of the Bible is best for you?

Most of my members know that I enjoy reading the "Message" but use the NRSV for study as well. Here's what another guy thinks