Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Psalm 23- freedom from anxiety

Psalm 23
A Psalm of David.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23:2 Hebrew beside waters of rest
Psalm 23:3 Or in right paths
Psalm 23:4 Or the valley of deep darkness
Psalm 23:6 Or Only
Psalm 23:6 Or steadfast love
Psalm 23:6 Or shall return to dwell
Psalm 23:6 Hebrew for length of days

We live in a world that seems to be full of reasons to be afraid. You watch the news and you are told about terrorist attacks, or some food that is going to cause cancer. We are worried about our family- or worried about not having a family- Worried about paying bills- worried about our job- worried about the way we look- worried about grades- worried about our health- worried about crime. Anxiety disorders are supposed to effect more than 1 in 10 Canadians. (It becomes a disorder when it starts to disrupt your daily life, so way more of us are dealing with anxiety without it becoming a disorder.) …

If you think about everything else going on in the world we have it pretty good. There are places where people are living through horrible conflicts, famines, and natural disasters. I’m sure there are many people all over the world who would be overjoyed to live in Canada and call this place home. And yet, we still seem to be haunted by fear.

Many of the Psalms are associated with King David, but it’s not clear if they are dedicated to David or written by him. … Certainly reading about David’s life leaves you with a sense that David’s life was filled with many reasons to be anxious. Whoever the author was, Psalm 23 gives a kind of personal parable of their experience of facing fear with God’s help.

In Psalm 23 God is imagined as a shepherd and everything seems to change. It is very short, but there is a reason we go to it for comfort. The Psalmist imagines himself as a sheep being cared for by God who is his shepherd.

The opening line is insightful- 

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (23:1).
 In Harry Potter there is a magic mirror. When you look into it you see your deepest desires. Harry is an orphan, so when he looks into the mirror he sees himself with his parents. His friend Ron looks into the mirror and he sees himself as a great athlete and head-boy for his house at their boarding school. Harry had not yet figured out what the mirror was when the very wise wizard, Dumbledore, gives him a hint. He says that the happiest person in the world would look into the mirror and see themselves just as they are. The insight is that the happiest person has learned what St. Paul wrote in Philippians 4, 
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

How often are we driven to unhappiness and anxiety by a deep unfulfilled desire? We desire life to be different. … What if, with the psalmist and with Paul, we could be without want because God is our shepherd? We could trust that God knows exactly what we need, rather than giving us what we want. What if we knew that God will look after us in what we need. This is deeper than the necessities of life. God wants us to become a certain kind of person- a Jesus-like person. That is our deepest need. And that is the need God will always provide for because it leads to a never-ending life with Him. To be with God is to be with the source of every joy we have ever felt.

God will lead us to the abundance of green pastures, and still waters. For sheep to be healthy, they need these. What if from God’s perspective we are surrounded by the abundance of (symbolic) green pastures and still waters for the life God wants for us. Remember that God’s goal for us is that we take on a Jesus-shaped life. What if our life is filled with opportunities to learn this, but we just don’t take advantage of it? What if the sheep are brought to a green field, but for some reason doesn’t know it can eat the grass? What if the sheep is brought to a stream, but doesn’t know to drink? Could it be that we are surrounded by the abundance of God to feed us in the ways we need and don’t even realize it?

“He restores my soul” (Ps 23:3). That is God’s goal. He wants to restore us to who He made us to be. He does this by leading us “in right paths”. I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of hiking in creation and with every step your soul felt healthier. Every step feels like some poison was drawn out and you could breathe in a way you couldn’t before. … The path God leads us on is what restores our soul. Over and over throughout the Bible we hear about the ‘way’ of God. In the New Testament, we would call it discipleship, or apprenticeship to the ways of Jesus. Our souls are restored by living the in the ways of Jesus. God doesn’t give us these directions for His sake- they are for our sake. They are for the restoration of our soul.

An interesting thing happens in this psalm at this point. We are free from wants. We have the abundance of green fields and clear water. Our soul is restored by walking the shepherd’s path. And we might think the sheep just go blissfully on. But then we read about walking through the darkest valley, or the valley of the shadow of death, and then we are in the presence of our enemies. We might rightfully ask, I thought I was on the Shepherd’s path? It leads me to dark valleys and to the presence of my enemies? … But, when we know our Shepherd is with us these don’t have to be terrifying places. We read, 
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (23:4-5).
There are so many times in the Bible we read about some messenger telling the person to not be afraid because the Lord is with them. … The Shepherd’s rod and staff were to protect the sheep from wolves or other predators, but they were also used to keep the sheep on the right path, or to pull them up if they got themselves into a hole, or down the side of a cliff. It is a symbol of God’s guidance. There are times He gives us a tap to redirect our path. There are times we get ourselves stuck and we have to cry out for him to pull us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

God’s path also doesn’t save us from being faced with our enemies. But it is an interesting way of being with your enemies. … Put yourself back in grade school and imagine the biggest, meanest bully you ever met. Every day they torment you. They tease you. They push you into the mud and take your lunch. Now imagine this giant of a man caring for you. He sets up a table in the school yard and hovers over you while pulling your lunch out of your bag and setting it up on front of you- that’s what it means to fill your cup and anoint your head with oil. It means to be caring for you, even serving you. Imagine Him doing this while looking at the bully. … That is a very different way to be in the presence of your enemies.

Of course this starts to sound like the way Jesus lived. Jesus knew his Heavenly Father loved him and cared for him. Jesus knew there was a bigger picture. He knew he didn’t have to worry no matter what happened. Jesus could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and face his enemies from the cross, even speaking words of forgiveness for his enemies, because he knew there was a bigger picture- the story wasn’t over yet. Jesus knew that even death couldn’t end God’s plans for Jesus.

And God wants that same mentality for us. As Christians, we live in the wake of Jesus' resurrection. We believe that death has limitations for how destructive it can be. This has allowed Christians to live amazing lives walking through very dark valleys filled with incredible enemies, while also being free from fear. Or at least with enough courage that their fear was overcome. Christians saw the resurrection as having very real day to day application for how they lived their lives. They were able to live their lives free from fear.

What are you afraid of? … What horror or crisis have you faced? Maybe you're facing it right now. ... How would your fear be transformed if you walked through these dark valleys knowing that God is shepherding you? Knowing that while things are difficult right now, that ultimately (eternally) everything is okay? Could we live seeing everything we deal with as an opportunity to become the person God wants us to be? Knowing that God is with us, guiding us, leading us, and serving us. Perhaps we could even say with the psalmist, 
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23:6). 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Resurrected Body of Christ

At Easter we spoke about the resurrection. We spoke about the fact that the body of Jesus had gone missing from the tomb. We also spoke about the fact that multiple people reported having an experience with the resurrected Jesus. … People in the ancient world were accustomed to stories about dreams or visions where a loved one who died spoke to someone. They were also aware of stories about ghosts. You might remember that when Jesus was walking on the water some of the disciples in the boat were afraid because they thought Jesus was a ghost (Matt 14:26). In our Gospel reading we again see that the disciples were trying to fit the resurrected Jesus into a category so they could understand what was happening. We read, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). Then Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of his disciples. This might seem like an odd detail to include, but what he is doing is proving that he is not a ghost. He didn’t fit their categories.

What they were reporting seemed to be something other than a vision or a ghost. … Jesus was resurrected, but that was something that hadn’t really been seen before. He was living a flesh and blood life again, but not exactly like the life he lived before. …

You might be thinking, “well, what about Lazarus?” When Jesus raised Lazarus back to life, Lazarus went back to living his life. He was returned to the way he was before he died. And he eventually died again. I imagine that Lazarus continued to live and get colds and would have achy muscles if he worked a hard day. It doesn’t seem like there was anything different about Lazarus when he was brought back. …

But, when it comes to Jesus there is something strange happening. What the disciples experienced was not just a vision and not a ghost. They experienced a flesh and blood Jesus. But he didn’t seem to be just back to the way he was before he died the way that Lazarus was brought back. The disciples said that Jesus would suddenly appear among them even when the doors were locked. He would disappear just as mysteriously.

Earlier in Luke 24 you might remember that two disciples were walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion and after hearing stories about the empty tomb, but they didn’t know what to make of it all. A stranger started walking with them and taught them about the fact that the messiah was supposed to suffer and die and rise again in three days. It turns out to be Jesus but somehow they don’t recognize him until he breaks bread with them, then he disappears.

Similarly, in John we read about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus (20:1-18). She didn’t recognize him. He even speaks to her and she still thinks he’s the gardener. Commentators have all kinds of trouble trying to explain why she doesn’t recognize him- is it the tears in her eyes? Is he standing behind a bush? Is it that her mind can’t handle the idea that he could be back from the dead? She doesn’t recognize him until he says her name.

Later in John we read that Jesus appears among the disciples even though the doors are locked (20:19). And in John 21 we read that the disciples were fishing and Jesus was on the shore, but the disciples didn’t recognize him even though they were having a conversation about how their fishing was going.

There is something strange going on with the resurrected Jesus. He has amazing abilities to appear into locked rooms, and disappear just as mysteriously from supper tables. His own disciples, who were with him day in and day out, sometimes didn’t recognize him

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul teaches, 

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).
 The body we have is sown in the grown when we die, but it is raised as something different. When Paul is talking about a spiritual body, he isn’t necessarily talking about a spirit or a ghost. He is talking about a new kind of body. The body Jesus had in his resurrection was a new creation. It had never been seen before. Our reading from John’s first letter makes a similar point when it says, 
“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2-3).
 What we will be won’t be exactly like what we are. It will be in continuity with what we are, but it will be different.

The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, 

“The new body … will belong in both the dimensions of God’s world, in both heaven and earth. (At the end of the book of Revelation, heaven and earth will finally be joined together into one, so there wont be any shuttling to and fro; the two dimensions will be fused together at last). At this moment our bodies are earthly only; Jesus’ new body is at home in both earth and heaven” (Luke for Everyone, Luke 24.36-53).

So, the resurrection of Jesus isn’t so much about Jesus coming “back” to life, as if he came back to the same existence he had before. Instead what the resurrection seems to be is a pushing through death to come out the other side into a new existence. The resurrection is a new creation. Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is a first fruit (1 Cor 15:20-22). The resurrection is the beginning of God’s renewing of creation and the binding together of heaven and earth.

At this point we might very well say, “assuming we believe this resurrection business, that’s very good for Jesus, but what does that matter to me?” There’s two things that I would say. One, is that Jesus’ resurrection body is often described by Paul as an example of the kind of body that his followers are promised to eventually have. Christians are sometimes described as people who have their roots in the future. We can be courageous today despite the difficulties we face because we have been promised a glorious future. That means our circumstances don’t define us. In Romans 8:18 Paul says, 

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”.
 And this is coming from someone who also wrote, 
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28).
 So When Paul talks about momentary affliction he isn’t talking about getting a cold, he is talking about facing serious suffering.

The other reason the resurrected body of Jesus matters to us is hidden in the fact that he kept his wounds. He kept the holes in his hands and his feet. He kept the gash in his side. He invited Thomas to touch them. I’m assuming that part of resurrection is a healing of the wounds of life. If you had a chronic illness I’m assuming you would be healed of that. If you lost a limb, I’m assuming that your resurrected body would include a restored limb. … Then why would Christ continue to have his wounds? Why wouldn’t they be healed? … I don’t know, but I believe that they are a physical sign of his love and connection to humanity. The Christian teaching is that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, took flesh into himself. He bound himself to humanity, and not just the flesh but also the wounds that he suffered to show humanity the extent of his love and his willingness to do battle against sin a death on behalf of humanity. He kept the wounds because they are symbols of his love for you.

I think this calls us to respond. How do we live now, knowing that Christ has shown such love and endured such pain to free is from sin? How do we live now, knowing that no matter what we face we are promised a glorious future with God in a world where earth and heaven are wedded together? John’s letter sums up our response well, 

“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Unity in the Church of the Resurrection Acts 4

Acts 4:32-35

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
4:35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

In todays reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see a vision of a pretty idealized church. There was complete unity. They didn’t consider anything as privately owned, but considered the things they had as belonging to the group. The apostles continued to teach about the resurrection and the needs of all were taken care of.

We should see this as an ideal, and it is an important ideal that isn’t to be over-looked or dismissed too quickly. For those who know about church history, we know that the early church wasn’t always ideal. We wouldn’t have letters like Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians unless there were problems in the church. They had their own conflicts around sexual ethics, marriage, gender roles, how to interact with neighbours of another religion, which teachers were authoritative, and the importance of spiritual gifts. Peter and Paul had pretty serious words about the role of the law and how to include non-Jewish people into the church.

And of course, if you have been a serious member of the church for very long you will have heard your far share or war stories from church-land. The church is often less than ideal. Often our major conflicts happen because of conflicting ideals. Someone desires the ancient roots of the church to be honoured and exemplified. They want to emphasize Scripture, history, creeds, chants, and liturgies. Another wants to be relevant to the society and want practical teaching on ways to make life better, and want more modern music like people actually listen to, and maybe want to de-emphasize some parts of theology that don’t sit well with society. …. But there are more than just those two poles. There are plenty of ideals to fights for.

Some people are tempted to just walk away from the church. That is pretty easy to do in a individualistic consumerist society. As a consumer, I’ll just go somewhere that matches my tastes. … Or maybe I just won’t go at all. Why do I need a community? Maybe I can just worship at home where I can read books I agree with, and listen to music that I like, and won’t have to deal with people I don’t always get along with. .. The issue here is that there is no way in which I’m challenged to change.

While there have been a few hermits in the history of the church, the majority of Christians throughout the last 2000 years have seen being a part of the church as a crucial part of being a Christian. Even hermits would often form small communities or come to the community for certain times of worship. The relatively modern notion of individualism mixed with consumerism has resulted in many feeling that belonging to a church as being unnecessary. For most Christians throughout history, the idea of being a Christian and not being a part of a Christian community was a contradiction.  Being a part of a Christian community has been so important that Cyprian of Carthage in the 3rd century wrote, 
“He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother” (from On the Unity of the Church).
 The community, even with all of its problems, has helped shape people to worship God, grow into the image of Christ, and serve the world.

As messy as the church can sometimes be, it is also important to consider the ideal and to be constantly working towards it. When we read about it I think a part of our heart yearns deeply to be a part of that community.

First, we read that “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32). There is something about being with people you are on the same page with. Sometimes we have to dance around each other because we aren’t sure if we are going to accidentally offend each other. Am I going to say something you don’t believe that will make you dismiss me? What if you label me as a fundamentalist or a heretic? We appreciate difference because it helps us learn and grow, but there is something about being with a group of people that you feel you are in-step with. There is a flow. You work as one body.

A.W. Tozer once said, 
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers (meeting) together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship”.
 … The church we read about in the early days of Acts were deeply tuned to the risen Jesus and that made them tuned to one another.

We are usually trying to achieve unity by convincing one another that our way is best. If everyone would just agree with me we would have unity. …  I once heard about a man who had a dream. He was walking through an old graveyard where many kings were buried. Suddenly the kings rose out of their graves, clad in armor with their swords in their hands. The kings began to battle each other for dominance. A vicious battle was taking place. Then a figure arrived. It was Christ, and all the kings stopped fighting and bowed their knee to him.[1] … Sometimes we try to achieve unity by trying to make people submit to our way, like the kings all fighting for dominance. But unity is truly found by submission to the reality of Christ.

Now, we would have to discuss what submission to Christ looks like because we sometimes have different ideas about that, but the principle of agreeing to submit to Christ together is an important starting point for unity in the church.

What was the outflow of this unity? What was a major characteristic of this church? “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (4:32). We might find this hard to believe, but isn’t this exactly what we see in a healthy marriage? Two people are unified and come together and they consider what they own to be owned together, not as individuals. I would be concerned about a couple that had everything divided up into “his” and “hers”. My assumption would be that there is some blockage to unity and maybe a problem with trust.

This ideal has sometimes been lived out in various Christin communities. We see this in monasteries and convents, and we see it in some communities like some of the Anabaptists (like the Amish). Most of us look at that ideal and there is something that pulls at us, but there is also a fear that prevents us from going through with it. … How beautiful to have that kind of unity, where everything is shared so freely. … But, then our practical suspicion kicks in. How would that work. What if I put in more than someone else and that person is lazy and gets a free ride on what I worked so hard for? What if I change my mind about being a part of that community, how would I leave? … most of us are attracted by this way of life, but we are also afraid of it.

We should also recognize that there was such a thing as personal property in the church. There were some who owned homes where the churches met. This wasn’t exactly Marxist communism.  I suspect it was something more like Julius Nyerere’s vision- He was the President of Tanzania and said he wanted to build a nation where 
“no man is ashamed of his poverty in the light of another’s affluence, and no man has to be ashamed of his affluence in the light of another’s poverty” (Essays on Socialism).
 One of the first things stated about the early church was that, among their numbers, poverty was eliminated. … Sure this was an ideal, but it is beautiful, and why shouldn’t we be bold and creative enough to consider how we might live this way? The resurrection of Christ changed things for them. The whole world was different. Their values and priorities changed.

 Another characteristic of this community is that it was based on the leadership of the apostles and their testimony about Jesus- Acts says, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” (4:33). They had attuned themselves to the resurrected Christ under the leadership of the Apostles who Christ had commissioned to continue the work of creating disciples. Earlier in Acts we read a very similar passage to this- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The testimony and teaching of the Apostles is what we find preserved in our Scriptures. As faithful Jews the Old Testament was their Bible. The New Testament was their additional teaching about Christ and living as disciples of Jesus. That was one of the requirements for a text to be entered into the Bible- it had to be in line with or have a connection to an Apostle. As the church we are still attempting to embrace this ideal. We desire to teach what the Apostles taught in a way that is appropriate for the place and time we are living in. May God grant us such a clarity around who our Lord is that we find unity by attuning ourselves to his love. May our egos lay down their swords in submission to the king of kings and Lord of lords. And may this submission, this attuning, have real and creative consequences for the most vulnerable among us. May we open up our lives to share with one another, perhaps of our treasure, but perhaps our treasure is just symbolic of us opening our lives to one another. Perhaps we can have the courage to pray that God will break down that barrier that prevents us from truly sharing our lives with one another. May God grant us unity of “heart and soul”.

[1] Jordan Peterson

Sunday, 1 April 2018

An April Fool's Easter


This morning we gather to celebrate that Jesus Christ has pushed through death and has come out the other side into a new kind of life. After being killed on the cross, Jesus is alive. … It is also April Fool’s day. No doubt there are many around us who think celebrating a man coming back to life is the height of foolishness. What modern person can believe such a thing? It is the content of myths and legends, not modern rational thinking. … Thinking Christians are fools for believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus is nothing new. St. Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 he says, 

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”,
“we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.

There was some ancient graffiti discovered near the Colosseum in Rome that dates from between the 1st to 3rd century. There is a drawing on a wall that has the inscription “Alexamenos worships his God” and there is a crude drawing of a man on a cross with the head of a donkey, and a man is in front this image worshiping. To many in the ancient world, Christianity was foolishness.

As Christians, we cannot escape the resurrection of Christ. Even if it means being considered a fool. We are to embrace it. As St. Paul says later in the same letter,
“We are fools for the sake of Christ” (1 Cor 4:10).

 He suggests that our faith is dependent on this reality. For Paul, the cross and resurrection are not a secondary reality that Christians can differ on. There ARE things Christians can differ on, but for Paul the cross and resurrection are foundational to what it means to be a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 he says, 
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
 If the resurrection has not happened, then we should find something else to do with our Sunday mornings. If the resurrection hasn’t happened then we are wasting our time.

Believing can be hard for some of us- especially when we are talking about a miracle like the resurrection of Jesus. A miracle by definition is something that is outside the usual and is therefore not something we are usually quick to believe in. There are some people who don’t believe in the resurrection simply because they have decided that miracles just don’t happen. … We could have a long conversation about what makes something believable. What sort of evidence is acceptable? How do you weigh that evidence? What if that evidence challenges the way you see the world? Usually, we are more inclined to accept evidence that confirms what we already believe. … Generally, we want to see it in order to believe it. We want repeatable tests in controlled situations and then maybe a report from a team with lots of letters behind their names. … But when it comes to history, we can’t put it in a test tube.

With history what we have is what has been handed on to us, writings and stories, and what we can find in the ground. Then we have to try to discern the truth from that. With history we have to figure out which words from the past are believable. There are some principles historians use to figure out if something is believable or not. There are ways historians decide if they can trust something someone wrote.

Regarding the resurrection, we are being asked to believe the witness of the original disciples. … This isn’t necessarily easy for us. We live in a world where we don’t really trust other people. We make people sign a contract rather than trust their word. People hallucinate. People lie. People make mistakes. … But if we don’t have some way of trusting those from the past then we can pretty much give up doing history at all. … How can we trust what someone has said or written about past events and people? How do we know about Napoleon, or Nero, or Henry the 8th? It can be tricky to think our way through all this.

As Christians we don’t want to be na├»ve. God has told us to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are not to believe everything that comes our way. However, we are not to outright reject everything either- that is just cynicism. We are to be discerning. We are to be like sharp swords carefully separating truth from falsehood. ... We are asked to trust the words of those who experienced the risen Jesus Christ. Do we trust their story?

I want to suggest that there are good reasons to believe their story. There are 4 facts that historians agree on.

First, Jesus was truly dead- he was killed by the hands of the Romans, who were very good at killing. There were also serious consequences for soldiers who didn’t follow through on a command.

Second, His tomb was found to be empty- some disagree about how it got that way, but it is a fact that the body of Jesus was gone.

Third, numerous people reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. In our Gospel reading Mary encounters Jesus. All the gospels have women as the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus. In the ancient world, where the witness of a woman was not given a lot of weight, it would be counterintuitive to use women as the first witnesses if you were trying to convince people of these cultures. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus writes (4:219), 
"from women let no evidence be accepted. because of the levity and temerity of their sex."[1]
An enemy of early Christianity, Celsus (2nd C.), says this about Mary as a witness of Jesus, 
“[A]fter death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female”.[2]
… Now that doesn’t go over very well with us who hold women as being of equal value to men. … It does say something interesting about the Bible’s claim that women were the first witnesses. Some have concluded that the reason women were written down as the first witnesses to the resurrection was that they actually were the first witnesses. … But women weren’t the only witnesses the bible speaks about. Followers and even enemies- individuals and groups, reported seeing him. About 20 years after Jesus' death, Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15), 
"[Jesus] appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
 The early disciples believed that they had experienced the risen Jesus in a very physical way and they became willing to die for their belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. ... Many of them did die for their belief.

Fourth, the early Jesus followers were strengthened. They went from a group of scared disciples huddled behind locked doors to proclaiming Jesus in the temple and across the known world. This just didn't happen with these kinds of groups when their leader was killed, and there were other groups who had a leader who claimed to be the messiah. Usually they scattered when their leader was killed, and the movement died. ...

Now we need to come up with a theory that makes sense of all four of those facts. A very rational explanation for all these facts coexisting is the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus. … Of course, someone might just decide that miracles don’t happen, if that is the case then no amount of evidence could convince that person. They have come to their conclusion before looking at the evidence. … But, if we are open to the evidence, and the amazing conclusion it points to, then we have good reason to believe that something incredible happened that first Easter morning.

Most of you don't need these kinds of facts to believe he has been raised. You probably don’t believe because of the historical case for the resurrection. Most of you haven’t become Christians because it makes sense to your intellect. You believe the stories because you feel you have encountered Christ. You have encountered Jesus through the stories. You have felt his presence. You have felt his peace and his love. You have felt his forgiveness. You have experienced his transformation. Like Mary, you have felt him say your name in the quiet recesses of your heart.

We might be considered fools to many in our world, but we are not without good reasons for believing the things we do. We don’t always have all the proof we want, but we deal with the evidence we have. Doubt, for most of us, will just be a part of what it means to be human. ... This does not leave us hopeless. We are invited to trust the stories of those who did encounter him, and open ourselves to encountering him now. Amen.

[1] levity= a tendency to make light of serious matters; a lack of constancy or resolution.
Temerity= rashness, audacity.
[2] apud Origen, C. Cels. 2.55--  Translation from H. Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 1965) 109.


The disciples have been together with Jesus for three years, but things have started to change. The air is electric. There is a sense of anticipation. Jesus has begun to focus more on the disciples than on the crowds. He is spending more time with those who are closest to him.

Just before our reading, Jesus takes off his outer clothing and wraps a towel around his waist. He gets a basin of water and begins washing his disciples' feet. Jesus gets up and dresses like a servant, then he begins doing the work of a servant. … Footwashing was among the lowest of jobs. It wasn't just any servant who did the footwashing. It was the lowest ranking servant who did the footwashing. … The fact that Jesus gets up to do this task is shocking. Here is the Lord of the universe washing the feet of fishermen and tax collectors. The way the world understands power and authority has just been turned on its head.

The part of this footwashing that always sticks in my mind is when I imagine Jesus tenderly washing the feet of Judas. If you have ever had your feet washed at a Maundy Thursday service, you know how personal that is. Unless you are someone who regularly gets pedicures, it is uncomfortably intimate.

Jesus moved the basin and knelt at Judas' feet. And Jesus knew. He knew what was going through Judas' mind. He knew the betrayal he was planning. He knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing torture and death. And Jesus kneels in front of him and pours water over the feet that have walked with him on dusty roads for three years. He washes the feet that will shortly walk away from the light into the darkness of the night to betray him into the hands of those who will kill him.

The love Jesus shows Judas is not comprehensible on a worldly level. When we move from the footwashing back to the meal we are surprised to find Judas again at a place of honour. He is close enough to Jesus for him to serve him by giving him bread. He is close enough for Jesus to whisper to him without anyone else hearing. At the meal Judas was at a place of honour close to Jesus. … St. Augustine interprets Jesus’ being “troubled in spirit” not as concern for his own well being, but concern for Judas and the path he is choosing because he knows what he is about to do. … Even those within the church whose hearts are set on betrayal are treated with loving service by Jesus.

There have been many efforts to try to understand the motivation of Judas. Some of the more conspiracy-minded have thought it was a secret conspiracy between Jesus and Judas. … Most, though, have seen it as an expression of evil manifesting through the world, the flesh, or the devil. Some have seen Judas as a zealot trying to push Jesus into leading a revolt according to the social expectation of the messiah as a warrior king. … Others have seen Judas as being motivated by greed for money, and we shouldn’t underestimate that temptation. People DO do horrifying things for money. … Still others, like our Gospel, see Judas’ actions as an expression of demonic evil. … Whatever the reason, there is no lack of turmoil in Judas, which leads him to end his life, which casts even more mystery on the motivations of Judas.

I am fascinated by the image of Judas because I think humility demands that we see our own potential to betray our Lord. … Like Peter and the other disciples we can cry out, “not I, Lord”. But, we know what happened with them. … What we see from Jesus, however, is love. He prays for them. He serves them. When we are at our darkest, we still find Jesus lovingly washing our feet and feeding us bread.

Jesus is the embodiment of the God who is love. God's love is not something we earn. It is even for traitors like Judas. Jesus loves us and serves us because that's who he is. Jesus' whole life is an integrated act of loving service to us and to his Father. We cannot claim to be free of the potential for evil, but in Christ we find a grace that is stronger than that evil.
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