Archives: Easter

Apostle: The Job You Didn’t Know You Had

“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

This is a line from our scripture from Acts today. The disciples are beginning to build the early church, to take up their mission and go forward in the spreading of the Good News, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven.

But Jesus began the leadership of the church with twelve apostles, and since Judas’s death, they are down to only eleven. They need someone to replace him, to be a witness as Peter says.

In the crushing tragedy of the crucifixion and the giddy uplift of the resurrection, the disciples have been broken down and remade.

They are actually no longer just disciples; they have become something else.

The word “disciple” means “one who is taught.”

When they followed Jesus on earth, listening to his preaching, seeing his miracles, receiving his instruction, they were disciples, ones who were taught.

But now they have crossed over.

Their personal, visceral experience of abandoning Jesus when they wanted to stay by his side, feeling their hearts break in two when he died on the Cross, and then suddenly knowing themselves to be healed and whole when he came to them, alive again, has changed them forever.

They are no longer disciples, ones who are taught. They are apostles.

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”

They have been sent by Jesus to go forward and spread the Good News, to preach liberation to the captives, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And what does it mean to be an apostle, one who is sent?

How does one qualify for it?

I think although we easily identify ourselves as “disciples,” followers of Jesus who seek to learn from him and imitate him, we think of the apostles as “others,” just the Twelve, big, important, historical people that we have little to do with.

They’re heroes and martyrs, leaders and prophets, bold preachers and architects of the early church.

There were only Twelve of them.

We’re not apostles.

We could never be that great.

And frankly, we don’t really want to.

We’d rather outsource work that hard and that grand to someone else, comfortably far away in a dusty old Bible story.

But I have challenging Good News today: we’re all called to be apostles as much as we are called to be disciples. Continue reading

Me and Jesus? We’re Just Friends

If you want to know whom you truly consider a friend, ask yourself the following question: if your car broke down by the side of the road at 2 a.m. and you knew you couldn’t call a family member, who would you call?

Or imagine you needed $500 tomorrow with no questions asked and no guarantee that the money would be repaid—who would you call?

That person is your closest and truest friend.

We have circles of friendship that are circles of increasing intimacy and trust.

On the outer circle we have acquaintances. These are people we know by name, we may know their children’s names, and when we see each other we talk about the weather and the Colts.

Then we have the circle of friends, people about whom we know more detail, perhaps we know some of the major struggles in their lives like a divorce or an addiction, and with whom we would enjoy going to the movies on Friday night or having a dinner party together.

Side note: think about how many people here at church are in the acquaintance circle and how many are in the friends circle as I have just described them.

Part of our work as Christian community is working together to move with each other from the acquaintance circle to the friends circle, with the added ingredient of spiritual intimacy.

So we not only know some of the griefs and struggles and joys of the people around us in the pews, we know how those events have impacted their faith and their growth in relationship with God.

But there is a closer circle even than the friends circle, and that is the true friends, the dearest friends, the best friends.

These are the ones that you call at 2 a.m. when you’re broken down by the side of the road.

These are the ones that can show up at your house and you don’t worry about the clutter or the fact that you’re wearing ratty old sweatpants and no makeup.

These are the ones that you simply cannot b.s. because they see right through you.

These friends are the ones we drop our masks for, and expect them to drop their masks in return.

These relationships contain the most sacred intimacy outside our immediate family relationships, and the best family relationships have these elements of friendship.

We sometimes call these people soul friends, anam cara in Gaelic.

They know the secrets and fears and joys of our inmost hearts, and we know theirs. We hold those secrets and hears and joys in our very hands, and we trust our friend to hold ours with the same care and love.

Now consider the words of Jesus in our gospel today: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.” Continue reading

If You Try to Stick Your Hand Up My Skirt, I’m Going to Get Baptized

I’ve been thinking a lot about power lately.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about power for years, because I think it’s so central to our spiritual path.

Power is the number one addiction of our unredeemed egos, and as such it has enormous potential for danger and abuse.

But lately I’ve been starting to wonder if it has a good side as well.

As I look back over just the last two weeks in my own life, I see a lot of instances of men, women, and power, and how the three forces interact for better or for worse. And as I make these observations, I’ve started to question some of my beliefs about power.

I have long believed that Jesus teaches downward mobility.

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says. “Blessed are the meek, those who mourn, the peacemakers…he who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all.”

I still believe that.

Many of the most formative theologians in my life have also taught about giving up control and power—St. Francis, John of the Cross, Gerald May, Richard Rohr. I find their teachings incredibly important.

There is still a lot I can learn about giving up power, because I know that my basest desires and fears can and will drive me to exert it destructively if I don’t submit myself humbly to the work of God in my soul.

But here’s what else I’ve finally noticed: all of these theologians who teach about giving up power are men.

And many of Jesus’ teachings in the gospel—while certainly applying to men and women alike—were originally directed, in the moment, to men.

Presumably the crowds he preached to had both men and women, but many of his most pithy and pointed teachings about giving up power were directed to the disciples and the scribes and Pharisees, all men.

Almost all of Jesus’ most intimate, one-on-one interactions with women were either 1. healings, or 2. telling them to take up power. Continue reading

She Restoreth My Soul

Today is a day for taking a risk from the pulpit, so here I go.

But I am able to take this risk because Robert took a risk today with the offertory anthem he chose.

And Robert took the risk because someone at our grad school took the risk to use this anthem in the chapel services we both attended.

And the chapel worship planner took the risk because the author of the anthem text, Bobby McFerrin, took the risk to write it.

And he took the risk to write it because of the witness of his mother. She took the risk to have a child, to influence her child deeply with her love, and it led, through a chain of courage, all the way to this pulpit today.

So what’s so risky about this anthem?

Well, it takes what is very likely the best known and most beloved text in the Bible, the 23rd Psalm, and changes the pronoun for God in it.

Instead of “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters,” you will hear the choir sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows, beside the still waters she will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, and fills my heart with songs. Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land there is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes. She anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, all the days of my life, And I will live in her house, forever, forever and ever.”

For some of you, calling God “She” will not be at all troubling. It will be beautiful and inspiring and even comfortable and familiar.

For others of you, it will be distinctly off-putting. You won’t be able to connect to it at all, and you’ll be wondering if it’s really okay to change the Biblical text like this.

Many of us fall somewhere squarely in the middle.

We’ve heard of the practice, we understand theologically that God is much bigger than our paltry human concepts of gender, but actually praying to God our Mother?

We do that pretty rarely, if at all. I mean, why would we? Continue reading

Enough With the Miracles Already

The status quo is the most powerful force in the world.

And sometimes it seems like Jesus’ mission is life is to break up the status quo, to challenge it, to upend it, to hit us over the head with how very un-normal life with him is.

And we kind of hate it.

Consider our stories today from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. They are marked with fear and astonishment at the miracles being witnessed.

In the Book of Acts, Peter and John are going to prayer, and in the name of Jesus Christ they heal a man who cannot walk.

“All the people saw him walking and praising God,” Acts says, “and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”

The same thing happens in our gospel story, tinged with even more intensity.

“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Even the very people who walked with Jesus on earth, who saw him perform miracles every day, kept getting caught off guard.

Why?

You would think after walking around with him for three years, seeing the healing and the feeding and the walking on water, they would be a little more adjusted to living among the miraculous.

Especially after Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead.

Jesus wants an answer to the same question.

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he says.

The truth is that we don’t want to live in a miraculous world because that would force us to give up control. Continue reading

A Week Late to the Resurrection: Wounded, Stubborn, Alive

Today, the first Sunday after Easter, is traditionally known as Low Sunday.

That’s a tremendously unflattering nickname for us as the Church.

Last week we presented the triumph of the church year.

We announced to the world the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Jesus died and rose again to new life for love of us.

And the result is that the next Sunday is the lowest attendance of the whole church year, all the way across Christendom.

Ouch.

Was it something we said?

It may well have been. Continue reading

Easter: Fools For Christ

April Fools’ Day is actually the best possible day for Easter. Why?

April Fools’ Day is a tradition with deep folk roots in many European countries.

In fact, we can even point to a special Anglican flavor of it—it is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Today we know April Fools’ Day as a time to pull pranks, trying to make someone look like a fool and be embarrassed.

Some people love practical jokes and think of them as all in good fun. I personally hate them and hide away from the world on the first of April for fear of falling prey to one.

But there is another tradition of foolishness that is deeply rooted in Christian theology. It goes all the way back to Paul himself. Continue reading

92% Foolishness and 8% Wisdom

Okay, folks, we’ve got some tough scriptures this week, so we’re going to have to go deep into a symbolic interpretation to find some application for our spiritual lives.

At least, that’s the way I feel. You may count Acts 1 and John 17 among your favorite scriptures in the Bible, in which case, please share with me what you take away from them.

Because for me, Jesus in John 17 is borderline incomprehensible, and I, much to my shame, feel myself glaze over about halfway through this passage.

And verses 6-14 of Acts 1 just strike me as this blend of the awkward and the supernatural, and I’m just really not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it.

But never let it be said that we shy from mining our scriptures to their depths, so let’s dig in.

Honestly, maybe it’s a blessing that we’re confused by this scene in Acts of Jesus ascending to heaven, because I think that actually really puts us right in the shoes of the disciples.

Think about how they must be feeling at this moment.

Jesus, in an earth shatteringly unexpected turn of events, arose from the dead forty days ago.

Six weeks is in no way long enough to adjust to reality breaking apart like that, and they’re probably still stumbling around in a daze.

Maybe they’ve just really started to accept that Jesus is back, that their beloved friend who died a torturous death is alive and with them again.

The guilt and pain and panic that consumed them on Good Friday have finally started to ebb away.

They’re tentatively starting to rely on having him with them again, alive and breathing, his heart beating and his eyes shining with gentle love.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, they see him lifted on a cloud to heaven.

Why is he leaving them? He just returned! How could he do this to them?

How could he do this to us? Continue reading

Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

What Is Martyrdom, Really?

The gospel that we read today will be most familiar to many of us as “the funeral text” because that is how we most often have heard it.

I would say that for close to 80% of the funerals I have done as a priest, the family has chosen this gospel for the service. There is clearly something deeply comforting in it.

It is often called for shorthand “the many mansions” text for the older language translation of Jesus saying, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.”

What we notice this week is that someone does die in our assigned texts. We have the martyrdom of Stephen in our lesson from Acts.

What if we considered this gospel as the reading for Stephen’s funeral?

How would that affect our understanding of it?

And how would it affect our memories of the loved ones we have buried with these words echoing through the worship space?

Stephen is important because he is the first person who really follows Jesus all the way to the end of the story.

He followed Jesus in life, and he ends up following Jesus into death, persecuted and killed by people who cannot bear the searing and life-changing truth of the gospel message.

For most of Christianity we have settled for worshipping Jesus rather than following him.

That is quite possibly because following Jesus can and does have rather dire consequences, as Stephen finds out.

Our other tendency is to glorify literal martyrs such as Stephen, and there certainly is much to admire in people who are able to give up their physical bodies to die for Christ.

But it can become an outsourcing of the necessary death that we must undergo in our own lives, before we physically die, if we truly wish to follow Jesus into resurrection.

What does it really mean to be a martyr?

And is it a calling we all share, or the province only of the rarefied saints like Stephen? Continue reading