29 May 2011

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

27 May 2011

Reflection: 05-11

It seems rather fitting, as things happened to take place, that I should read The Holy Rule of St Benedict as my last reflection before my ordination to the priesthood. The reason for this somewhat ironic situation continues in that the focus on our retreat this year is on New Monasticism. (And, honestly, I didn’t plan this. Things have been such a blur that I didn’t realize it was my last reflection before ordination until I had finished the book!) So it is interesting to compare St Benedict’s rule for his monks to what we are and do in the Lindisfarne Community. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I’m sure glad I’m a part of Lindisfarne and not a monk in St Benedict’s time!

One of the big differences between our Rules and Understandings and that of St Benedict is we include women. And by that I don’t mean that we just ‘allow’ them to be part of the community - but women hold high offices of service within the community (our Abbess is a Bishop).

Apparently, all of the religious in Benedict’s community were male, since he only refers to men and young men in the Rule. The ‘role of women’ in ministry is still such a big issue in Christendom right now (though we could say that homosexuals in ministry get more headlines). While we have moved passed the issue of women being ‘allowed’ in the religious or monastic community, we have still fallen short when it comes to equality within most of our faith communities.

Let me state this as plainly as I can: Women should be (need to be) given equal place in our communities of faith. They should hold all offices of service. Without exception. I believe with all of my heart that we have been somewhat crippled without women in leadership roles within our communities. If, according to St Paul, there really is no difference between men and women in Christ (Galatians 3.28, CEB), then we are without excuse. Since Jesus ‘reversed the curse’ of Genesis 3 (see Galatians 3.13, CEB), then it is shameful that some [most] of our spiritual communities continue to keep women out of leadership roles.

While there were several other things I didn’t like about St Benedict’s Rule (corporal punishment, the beating of children, the eating of meat, etc.), there were several things that I did like. Here’s one:

Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar (pg. 21).

I like this because it shows that the monk was to see no difference between the  ‘common vessels’ of the monastery and ‘sacred vessels’ of the altar. In other words, he was to treat all things as if they were sacred. The ‘holy place’ was not just at the altar but the entire monastery. Likewise, we too, should not just see our community worship places as a ‘holy place’ but we should see all of creation as a ‘holy place’. The fact that we treat the world poorly (and not just the world but our neighbors - be they human or animal) shows us that we don’t see them as sacred. We need to recapture this way of seeing. I truly believe that the hope for our planet - for all of creation - is to adopt this way of seeing. St Paul stated ‘creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains’ (Romans 8.22, CEB) and that it’s waiting ‘breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters’ (Romans 8.19, CEB). In other words, since we are ‘God’s coworkers’ (1Corinthians 3.9, CEB), the reconciliation of the planet, the redemption of creation, is up to us. It is our responsibility to work toward healing our planet. And this will come only when we see it just as sacred as we do our Bibles, our churches, the vessels of our altars. Whatever we deem as sacred, we need to see all of creation with that same care and reverence.

Another ‘rule’ I liked was this one:

Let all things be common to all, as it is written. And let no one call or take to himself anything as his own (cf Acts 4.32; pg 22).

This is quite telling as well, especially when we read the passage referenced:

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need (Acts 4.32-35; CEB).

(This passage was one of the Lectionary readings recently and one of the priests from the Lindisfarne Community posted a reflection on it. If you have some time, I recommend going over to Water Stone Blogs and take a gander at his reflection and join the conversation.)

I think this, too, is something that we desperately need to recapture in our day. Too often, we seem to only have the ‘This is mine!’ mentality and not a great deal of concern for the needs of others, even within our own families. This saddens me. And I’m just as guilty as the next person. But there are two things going on here: the sharing and the need. Often times, we just emphasise the sharing part. The way the early followers of Christ ‘held everything in common’ and sold possessions and property to meet the needs of the people. And that’s good and we need to do this. Can we even imagine if we actually lived that way? Can we picture the impact and difference for good this would have on creation around us? I think the possibilities are almost limitless.

But here is something we don’t really emphasize in this passage - the need. How did everyone else know what everyone else’s need was? They had to tell each other. Why don’t we do that today? Are we too proud to let people know how things really are in our lives, in our daily situations? Even when people are homeless and wandering around in need of shelter and food, often they don’t really tell people their need. I think a lot of it comes down to two issues: embarrassment and (bad) experiences. We all know about embarrassment and that plays a major role in why we don’t ‘let people in’. But I think a bigger issue is that we have seen what happens when people are truly trying to be open and honest about their situations.

In a lot of my experiences at various churches, when someone asks how things are going, they’re just making small talk. They don’t really want to know how things are going. And this is seen when you actually start telling them how things are honestly going. ‘Well, Bill, things are really bad. I’ve lost my job and the bills keep piling up. We just don’t seem to have enough to make ends meet. We are having to decide...’ It’s usually about this time that ‘Bill’ (or whomever) says something like, ‘That’s too bad. You should really talk to the pastor about that’. Now, while that’s a great idea, it’s not really honest. ‘Bill’ asked how things were but it seems that he doesn’t really want to be bothered with it. So, after a while, people will just stop telling ‘Bill’ or anyone else what’s really going on. And that, my friends, is exactly where we are today. Our churches are full of hurting people. People who are at the end of the proverbial rope and they won’t (or can’t) tell anyone.

Or, perhaps I’m being too cynical. Maybe the real issue is that we don’t know how to respond. Or, maybe the deeper issue is that we do know how to respond but we either just don’t want to or we don’t have the means to help. Actually, I think that all three are very real possibilities. (There could even be more categories than this.) I’m sure that there are some people who don’t really care. They’re just doing what they think they’re supposed to do. Next, I think there are people who really don’t want to help. They know they’re supposed to, but they fall into that ‘This is mine’ category. But I think most of us fall into the last category - we know what we are supposed to do, but we don’t have the means to help. Or so we think. I think all of us can help in various different ways. That’s the thing. Maybe we aren’t part of a community where we can sell everything and, taking the money, distribute it to those in need. But if we can actually give them a room to stay in in exchange for help around the house? Or give them some food (I mean, we are planning on eating at some point, right?) in exchange for working in the garden? You get the idea. Maybe we can’t sell everything we have, but maybe we can sell somethings we have. What if we opened up that type of conversation in our local communities and see what flourishes? What if all that it takes for us to recapture this idea of community is to just plant the seed in someone else’s ear?

‘Well, that’s socialism and that’s bad. People will just take advantage of us and not help out.’ Those are genuine concerns and would need to be addressed. But these issues aren’t new. They were addressed by the same communities that ‘held everything in common’  (see 2Thessalonians 3.6-15; cf. Romans 14).

But here’s one other issue about this whole thing - trust. The passage states, ‘Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles’. Now days, more and more of us would think, ‘There’s no way I would do that. How do I know that those in leadership would take care of it? How do I know that they would distribute it the way I think it should be distributed?’ Again, those are good questions. But at some point in our lives, we have to start trusting people. We aren’t in charge of our lives, no matter how much we try and tell ourselves we are (a quick illness shows us that). When we are learning a trade or going to school, we trust our instructors. They know more about the issue that we do, thus the reason we are learning from them.

But, this ties in with the previous point. Our trust of the distribution to those in need would be a lot easier if we were all open and honest - if things were transparent, on the table. If we had places of safety were we could be completely open and honest about our needs and our gifts, we may be able to actually start living that type of community.

And may it begin with us.

In the Love of the Three in One,
Jack+, LC

* Common English Bible (CEB); Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible.

22 May 2011

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Loving God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Child Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Child our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

20 May 2011

The Rapture: Another Letter to a Loved One

I have been getting a lot of questions about this one. We've heard about it on the news lately and there seems to be billboards all over the country talking about it (although, I don't know if anything like this is being done in other countries. If so, I'm certain it's not to the extreme that it is in America).

The Rapture.

Or, more correctly, the so-called 'rapture'. The reason for the 'so-called' and the quote around the word 'rapture' is that, now get this...

The rapture is not true.

In fact, it was not even in the vocabulary of the church until the early to mid 1800s (although there is supposed to be a text from as early as the late 1700s). Now think about this for a moment. This joyous experience was not even on the lips of the followers of Jesus for over 1800 years. None of the apostles talked or wrote about it (we'll get to some of the biblical texts in a moment). None of the church Fathers or Mothers wrote about it. None of the churches councils ever made declarations on it or wrote creeds about it. This should make us really pause for just one moment at least.

'But what about when Jesus said...'

'Or when Paul wrote...'

Let's look at some of those passages very briefly.

In Matthews Gospel, after blasting the religious elite of his day (Matthew 23), Jesus said, 'Your house is left to you deserted' and stormed out of the Temple (23.38; CEB). I'm sure you could have heard a pin drop. And the the yelling begins! Quickly the disciples follow Jesus. Not really sure that they heard him properly, they point out the buildings of the Temple with all of the beautiful stones, gold, etc. (Matthew 24.1). Jesus responds, 'Do you see all these things? I assure that no stone will be left on another. Everything will be demolished' (24.2), and then goes off to the Mount of Olives. Yeah, they had heard him correctly. Their Temple would be destroyed. The world as they knew it would be coming to an end. They only had one question on their minds - when? (24.3; I know that Matthew's Gospel has three questions, but when compared to Mark and Luke, you can see their main concern was when the Temple would be destroyed).

Now notice Jesus response to them, 'Watch out that no one deceives you' (24.4). Jesus was talking about the Temple that he and his disciples visited daily. He told them that that very Temple would be destroyed. To make certain of this, they pointed to the Temple they just left. He clearly stated that their Temple would be demolished. They ask him when it will happen and Jesus warns them not to be deceived. There is no way, in good conscience, that we can take these words and think that Jesus was really talking about us and our time. None whatsoever. As my good friends recently said, 'Words mean something!'

Throughout the rest of the chapter, Jesus uses the personal pronoun 'you' more than twenty times (depending on which translation you use). If we were standing on that mountain with them, there is no way we would have thought Jesus meant other followers, thousands of years in the future, when he kept saying 'you' and looking at us! And yet that is what people would have us believe.

'But what about the signs - the sun going dark, the stars falling from heaven, etc.?'

All of those things have happened repeatedly throughout the Jewish Scriptures. Over and over again, when a powerful nation falls, the prophets of old used cataclysmic language to talk about its demise. Isaiah 34.1-5 is a classic example. In that passage, mountains are drenched in blood, the heavens melt away, the stars fall from the sky, etc. etc. That prophecy was against Edom (verse 5) and none of those things literally happened. Certainly, the nation was destroyed, but none of the 'end of the world' events took place. The language is poetic language describing the 'end of the world' for the nation of Edom. That is exactly the same thing that Jesus and the New Testament writers did. They were prophets warning about the 'end of the world' for the first century Jewish nation. And, just as Jesus said that his contemporary 'generation won’t pass away until all these things happen' and Paul wrote that the 'end of time' had come upon them, their predictions came true within their generation.

In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, where the infamous passage occurs (and the context is clearly about the resurrection), he talks about going out (or being 'taken up') to where Jesus is. The scene that Paul paints is of a king coming to a city. The people run out to meet the king. But the people don't stay outside the city! They come with the king in to the city. And that's exactly what we see in Revelation 21.

In that passage, the realm of God (referred to as the New Jerusalem) actually comes down to the realm of humanity! The two realms become one place.

'But what about the Antichrist?'

Well, the only place that the antichrist is mentioned is in 1John 2.18. There 'John' wrote, 'Little children, it is the last hour. Just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. This is how we know it is the last hour.' There are a couple of things that needed to be pointed out here. First, 'John' was writing to followers of Jesus in the first century - not us today. Second, 'John' wrote that it was the 'last hour'. Please let that sink in. We have been told for years that we are living in the 'last days' and yet, right here in the Bible, the very Bible that some claim plainly teaches about the 'rapture', the Bible plainly states that it was the 'last hour' - not today, but then. Lastly, 'John' wrote that 'antichrists' were a reality when that letter was written.

We could go through each passage (and I have already started doing that a while back but am still working on it), but the Bible is quite clear. There is no 'rapture'. The last 'days' were about the War of the Jews in 66-70 CE when the Temple was destroyed. The antichrist was a reality in the first century.

I hope that clears some of this up. And, if you want to have more of a conversation about this, please leave a question or comment below.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

18 May 2011

Heaven: A Letter to a Loved One

I have been thinking about your questions about heaven some more and I have some other things I want to say. First, as I have stated already, all of the language we have regarding ‘heaven’ is poetic imagery. It would be like trying to describe the sky to a person born blind. When people talk about ‘heaven’ and what ‘it will be like’ they are on the edge of words, on the very precipice of conversation. The problem comes, however, from those of us who, when reading those great poetic words, read them in a wooden literal way. That is, as I’m sure you have heard of the ‘streets of gold’, some people think that ‘heaven’ has literal, material streets made of gold. When the symbolism is more surely pointing to purity rather than the actual material of the streets. Second, some things need to be established before we can, with any kind of certainty, talk about ‘heaven’. In the biblical imagery, there are two different things going on that a lot of people lump up into one thing – the place of the dead and the realm of God.

But, actually, these concepts were later additions. The Jewish people of the Old Testament (sometimes called ‘Israel’), like a lot of ancient people (and a lot of people still today) just thought that when you died, that was it. There was nothing else – ‘For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return’ (Genesis 3.19). But, because of the relationship between Israel and the Creator God, Yahweh, they started to believe that those who had been faithful to God would somehow be alive, even though they were dead – ‘the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God’, stated the writer of Wisdom (Wisdom 3.1). Later, this developed into a waiting place for all the dead but with different ‘compartments’ for the ‘righteous’ (those who had be faithful to the relationship with God) and the ‘unrighteous’ (those who had not been faithful). These holding places were separated by a crevasse or chasm. Chapter 22 of 1Enoch, a book that was popular in the time of Jesus, talks of this separation between the righteous and the unrighteous. It was to this book that Jesus alluded when he told the story of the ‘rich man’ and ‘Lazarus’ as recorded in Luke 16.19ff (ff means ‘following’ to the end of the section or chapter). Here is a snippet:

‘The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried...“Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us” ’ (Luke 16.22, 26).

This ‘holding place’ for the righteous became known as ‘Abraham’s Bosom’ or ‘Paradise’ (see Luke 23.43). In the Revelation to John, it is pictured as being ‘under the altar’ in God’s realm (Revelation 6.9).

One thing that became consistent was the idea of some kind of existence after physical death. In the story Jesus told, Abraham and Lazarus were talking with the rich man. The ‘souls under the altar’ in Revelation are asking how long they must wait before the resurrection.

So, the Jews developed this idea that people died and went to holding places. This then developed into the righteous being ‘resurrected’. This means that the ‘souls’ of the people would be given some kind of bodily existence in God’s new world. A world were they would be delivered from evil once and for all. This came from their understanding of God’s love for them and all of creation – of God finally fulfilling the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15) about fixing everything that was broken (Genesis 3) through Abraham and his family, the Jews.

However, some didn’t believe this. I don’t want you to get that impression. By the time of Jesus, there were different view of what happens when one dies. One group held to the resurrection and others didn’t. In fact, some of those who didn’t asked Jesus what he thought of the subject. He stated that their scriptures do teach the resurrection, ‘ . . . [A]s for the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what God told you, I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? [God] isn’t the God of the dead but of the living.’ (Matthew 22.31-32).

So why have I gone to all of this trouble? Simply to state that the Bible is not concerned about going to ‘heaven’. It is concerned with rescuing all of creation – of fixing what is broken. What has happened is that the concept of the ‘holding place’, ‘Paradise’, has become ‘heaven’ and it’s looked at as the goal for the followers of God. But the Bible paints a very different picture. It shows us that ‘Paradise’ is just a temporary place. The goal is resurrection in God’s New Heaven and Earth. That is, the realm of God becoming one with the realm of humanity. We see this in a number of passages – passages that people wrongly look to as pictures of ‘heaven’. We will now look at some of these passages.

In the Jewish Scriptures book of Isaiah, chapter 65, Isaiah, speaking for God, wrote that God would create a ‘new heavens and new earth’ and that life would be very similar to life here. There will be people living, homes, vineyards, people and animals will be vegetarians, and there won’t be any more violence!

In chapter 66, Isaiah (still speaking for God) wrote that ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ will be connected as one place. There will be healing waters and trees for all of creation in need. All the evil of the world will be completely gone!

This same theme is picked up in the New Testament. In the second letter attributed to Peter, the writer stated that Christians were patiently waiting for this promise of New Heavens and New Earth to be fulfilled.

One of the concepts that the New Testament is trying to figure out is this New Creation Project. That is, the Jewish belief (and, remember, most of the first Christians were Jews) was that the resurrection and God’s New Creation Project would take place at the end of time. However, for the Christian, this all changed with the resurrection of Jesus. That event changed the way the understood those events. In other words, they came to believe that God’s New Creation Project started at the resurrection of Jesus! All of Jesus’ stories about the realm (‘kingdom’) of God starting in the middle of creation – the yeast in the dough before it’s finished, the wheat and the weeds planted at the same time and growing together, etc. – all pointed to the hidden reality that God’s New Creation Project would be started in the middle of history and be centered around Jesus. What we see in the letters of the New Testament (the ‘epistles’) is how those early followers of Jesus were working out that concept. That is why there is so much encouragement for doing ‘good deeds’ – acts of kindness and social justice – in helping to implement God’s New Creation Project now, within history.

There’s a great passage that points to that very thing. In Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth he wrote:

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5.17-21, CEB)

Every time a person decides to follow the Way of Jesus, to join in this ‘ministry of reconciliation’, that person becomes a part of the New Creation Project. Here. Now.

Finally we come to the Revelation to John. John is given visions of things that happened in the past and the ultimate future of all creation. It is in the Revelation to John where we find most of the poetic images used to describe ‘heaven’. And actually, what John described is the ‘holy city, the new Jerusalem’. He sees it having twelve doors with each door being a single pearl and filled with giant jewels making up it’s walls, and streets of such pure gold that they are transparent. But, the point of this city is the next few verses.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters.

Notice that the city, that is, God’s realm, comes down to our realm to remain forever. Also note that there is the idea of God rescuing and restoring (called ‘redeeming’ or ‘redemption’) everything – of ‘making all things new’! Not ‘making all new things’; i.e., not everything being destroyed and God starting over. If that was God’s plan, God could have done that a long time ago. No, God’s plan has been to rescue and restore all of creation. And the great thing about that is people get to be part of that project! And then, at the ‘end’, there will be a great out-pouring of God’s grace, the cap-stone if you will, of the whole thing when God’s realm and our realm become one place. This, then, is the final goal of the whole story. It’s not about going to ‘heaven’ but about ‘heaven’ coming down to earth and the two becoming one!

I hope this hasn’t been too long and boring or over the top. I have tried to take a complex issue (several actually) and make them simple. Please, let’s continue this conversation.

I love you deeply.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

15 May 2011

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

O God, whose Child Jesus is the good shepherd of your people; Grant that when we hear Christ's voice we may know the One who calls us each by name, and follow where you lead; through Christ who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

08 May 2011

Buddha's Birthday and Bathing Ceremony

Today marks Buddha's birthday. At Buddha Mind, a local monastery where Mahina attends, they celebrated this holy day by having their annual Bathing Ceremony and Bizarre with games, food, and music. The ceremony is beautiful with the liturgy mostly chanted in Chinese. The beautiful surroundings and monastery, along with the sacred chants, offers a glance into the world of Buddhism that is very much alive in Oklahoma. Before the ceremony they had ten people make profession with repentance, refuges, and vows. It was an honor to witness this sacred ritual.

Mahina stated that all she wanted for Mother's Day was for us to attend with her. Mariah and I did with pleasure. Although the ceremony itself is long, one doesn't really notice it until it starts winding down. Since I don't speak Chinese (and can't fake it well, either), I just close my eyes and listen to the chanting and get carried away.

Also, I dress in my collar and monastic robes for the sacred ceremony. My reasoning is primarily to encourage ecumenicalism between faith traditions. I want to show them respect and honor by recognizing their path of peace and non-violence as a reflection of a shared belief. There is a lot of similarities with the paths of Christianity and Buddhism.

One particular similarity is that of renouncing your 'old way of being' and seeking the true spiritual path. The talk today focused on this path stating that Buddha doesn't bestow sacred wisdom to the followers. Instead, Buddha shows a path. It is up to the follower to discover how that path works for herself.

This is similar to the Christian notion that we have 'gone astray' and sought our own way of being. Jesus arrives to show us the true path, the true way, the true life. We have to change our hearts and minds and determine to follow the Way of Christ.

Another similarity is the acknowledgment of the Buddha in each one of us. Christians do this as well by acknowledging Christ within our neighbors as well as enemies. My prayer is that we all continue to search for Christ within those around us, whatever their faith tradition or no faith tradition. We are all God's children. Sometimes we just need to slow down and look. I think we will be amazed at what we find.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

03 May 2011

Reflection from Sunday's Gospel Lesson

John 20.19-31. It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

This has to be my favorite Gospel passage! But the reason I like it isn’t because it’s the one where poor Thomas gets it. Everyone always talks about “doubting Thomas” but no one seems to remember just a short time prior to this story, when the Jewish authorities were looking for any excuse of capturing and killing Jesus, Thomas said, “Let us go [to Judea] so that we may die with Jesus” (John 11.16). That wasn’t James or John or Peter. That was Thomas the “doubter”. How soon we forget.

Nor is it about Thomas not touching Jesus. Oh, I know what people say. I’ve heard the sermons and seen the paintings. But no where does the passage actually state that Thomas touched him. In fact, upon closer examination, it’s quite clear that Thomas didn’t touch Jesus. After Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus said, “Do you believe because you see me?” The image to me is that of Jesus appearing before them suddenly. Then, looking at Thomas, tells him to touch him. But Thomas falls to his knees right where he stands and exclaims, “My Lord and my God”. He didn’t need to touch him. Jesus’ reply indicates that Thomas didn’t touch him but believed because of seeing him.

But this isn’t about that either. No, it’s about the first part of this passage. The commissioning of the disciples in verses 21 and 22:

“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

In this passage is the haunting command of commission. And not just commission to carry on the ministry of Jesus. No. This is the command to be Jesus. He said to them, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” How did the Father-Mother send Jesus? It’s almost like John is inviting us to re-read his Gospel, paying closer attention to the story and seeing how he acted and reacted to those around him. We are to go and do likewise.

Let’s remember this when we read just the first few sentences from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. There we see that the “Word of God” became the human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was telling the disciples, that is, those of us whom follow him, that we, too, are to be the “Word of God” in human form. We are to be the place where God’s realm and our realm merge. We are to be the place where people’s sins are forgiven. That’s huge! That’s why I said it’s haunting. We are to be the Word of God to those we come in contact with.

The question is: Do we see ourselves in this way? Do we realize that we are to be the place where God’s realm and our realm over-laps and interlocks? Do we understand the ramifications of being a follower of Jesus? Every time a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the world should become a little more like Jesus. That is, there should be another place where God’s presence is clearly evident on earth. But do we understand it that way?

I’m not saying that we accomplish this by our own power. After Jesus commissions his followers, we’re told that “[He] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” The Holy Spirit is the key to the whole thing. The Spirit is the one whom empowers us to live the life of God today. Right now. In the harsh world around us, followers of Jesus need to be places of rest and comfort. We need to be the place where people come to know God’s love and grace. We need to be lights in the darkness. We need to be the ones mirroring God to those around us. Our lives are to reflect the “message of reconciliation” - the truth that, because of Jesus, God is “not counting people’s sins against them” (2Corinthians 5.19).

This dovetails nicely with what I wrote in Reflection: 04-11. Jesus said that people would know us by our fruit, that is, by how we live our lives. And he stated very plainly what our lives are to be like in the Sermon on the Mount (or the Plain).

My prayer during this resurrection season is that the Holy Spirit will illumine our hearts and minds to this truth and then empower us to live it. May God grant us the power to be Jesus to the world around us.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

01 May 2011

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter

All loving and everlasting God,who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.