Which Came First the Bunny or the Egg?

Growing up in a church that did not follow a liturgical calendar left me in a state of awe as I grew into the United Methodist Heritage. I was quite taken back when my new church continued to celebrate the “Easter Season.” What was that? I thought Easter occurred on one particular day. After we celebrated Easter I thought we would move on to something else. Little did I know that Easter Sunday was actually the beginning of the “season” of Easter in our church.

In many ways, every Sunday of the year is considered a mini-Easter. We celebrate the risen Christ all year round. Our joy is made complete as we share the good news with each other and then share that joy with our community. There is rebirth every week. We have the chance to be made new not just one day or one season of the year, but every day of our lives. It is never too late to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.

Through this Easter season, share with each other your faith. Share with one another how you share the pistus christu (faith of Christ). Talk about how the wonderful love of God has changed you. Tell family members how you share your faith with others.

Where in the world is Jesus? Reflection on John 20:1-18

Where have they taken my Lord? We contemplate the answer to this question. We are led to accept an inherited theology which answers the question for us. We are then challenged to conform to some idealistic way of thinking regarding the resurrection and expected to experience the rebirth of God in the same way. Perhaps another way to phrase the question maybe, “Where is Jesus in the middle of our discovery?”

I do not believe that our faith sustains each of us with a spiritual experience that is already laid out and defined for us. We are not an “assembly line” people of faith. Our spiritual life is made new when we encounter this thing called resurrection. That is, our Lord has come back to us. What once was dead is now alive. Our faith is carried out with our own relationship to this text from the Gospel of John, and how that relationship changes and renews us.

Mary was so caught up in her grief that her Lord was stolen that she couldn’t even identify the man standing right in front of her as Jesus. She couldn’t identify Him until He spoke into her life. He spoke her name.

Many of us identify with this passage. We are like Mary. It is hard to accept the miraculous in our lives. Maybe it’s because we have been wounded to the point that we cannot imagine that such a wonderful event, the spark of the Divine, could ever be revealed in our own lives. Maybe we are so cynical that we can’t even entertain the notion of some divine presence ever revealing itself to the world, much less to us individually. Maybe we are tired of trying to seek God. We have not heard the answer.

Folks, God is alive and in front of you. The Divine can be made known to you in many forms. Maybe you are still in darkness. I am talking a spiritual hell of which you feel that you are trapped. Perhaps you have taken a detour on your path that has taken you to do and say things that you could never have imagined you would do and say. Whatever that is for you, maybe for a second or even a moment, you catch a glimmer of hope. The spark of Divine light rises from the pit of your gut as you begin to hear a still small voice say, “Maybe there is a way out of this.” That is the voice of God.

There are many people who can tell me exactly how and why they came to a moment where they experienced the presence of the resurrected Christ. It was real and alive. It took your breath away. You know that you have given your life over to the care of God. It was amazing.

Maybe there are those of you who are still searching for the promise of a renewal of spirit.
Look around at the people in your life and see living testimonies to the love of God. What were people who were spiritually dead are now reborn.

Now, let us return to the idea of resurrection. Well, I can’t explain it to you. I can present the pages on which the story of our text from John unfolds and tell you that I experience the resurrection on a daily basis. That is my story. That God speaks rebirth into my life every day. The resurrection calls to us. It tells us that Jesus was crucified, died, and rose again for us. The idea of hope and the sense of a second chance pull us in to a relationship with God. We turn to God as the source of salvation. We depend on God and the gift of grace which is freely given to us. The gift of redemption is all about the Divine presence which unfolds itself into the world. The best and only thing that we can do is respond to this message. There is no cookie cutter answer here. It is an individual journey that is between humanity and God.

Be Still and Watch the Beauty Unfold!

Today was a day that began like any other day. We all woke up and ate breakfast, dressed, and watched a little television before hitting the door. I decided to infuse my youngest son without accessing his port-o-cath. After three unsuccessful tries at sticking a vein I decided to access the port. Now, while all of this was going on, my son was kicking and screaming. Who could blame him? I am not particularly fond of being stuck with needles. Let’s face it. Needles are not that fun.

We finally called a home care nurse who proved to be our angel today. She accessed the port and we were on our way. While my wife and I encouraged our son, I could not help but feel like a failure. I am this child’s father. I should be able to access every time I try. It was very hard to admit defeat. Who really wants to be that far out of control?

As I continued to process the morning, I realized that my thoughts were so self-centered. I began to think about the impending week coming up in the life of our church. Next week is Holy Week. Beginning this Sunday, we focus our attention to Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, which led to the trial and flogging, which led to the crucifixion, which led to the empty tomb.

I had to admit to myself that I was going down a road through which many of us travel. We turn to our egos. I should be much more grateful that this wonderful nurse helped us. I should be grateful that this medicine is provided for us and that my son’s future is very bright. Why then did everything have to be about me and my reaction?

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is not a time to mourn, or a time to grieve. We all must process and journey through things to get to the side of wholeness and healing. The problem is that we can get so caught up in our own “stuff” that we can lose the beauty of a blessing that stares us in the face. This incident with the port reminds me to stand back up when I have been knocked down. Christ did the same for us. When he was knocked down (crucified) He stood back up and defied death itself.

This event with my son reminds me about my relationship with the notion of Holy Week and how we are to progress through the really bad stuff so that we may triumph in the resurrection. Just for this week, I will focus on what Jesus did for me without inviting my reaction to the gift of grace. I will focus on the fact that Jesus could have turned around at any time and said, “I will not continue this. It will be way too painful.” These are things that he did not do. Jesus pressed on. Not only did He press on, but He gave it all that He had. His primary motivation was to do the will of the Father.

Now, as for my five year old stinky boy, he is doing great. He picked up his choo-choo trains and went to daycare. His major concern for the day is what kind of opportunities to play are out there in the wild blue? I ask myself the same question. What kind of possibilities are out there for me to be still and lay witness to the loving messages or grace in my life? What about the constant revelations of faith, hope, and redemption?

Jonah, the Fish, and Us

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Psalm 130 NRSV)

I love the story of Jonah and the great big fish. Whether one interprets the story as a parable or as a literal event, there is no denying one fact. In the deepest most isolated area imaginable, God heard the cry of Jonah. Through umpteen million tons of blubber and a raging storm, God heard an incredible cry of dread.

This is the power of Psalm 130. Out of a sense of fear and in the middle of absolute darkness, God hears the voice of His people. God not only hears us, but God forgives us. In the pit of despair, when all seems lost and hopeless, God delivers and restores us. There is hope in a hopeless situation. This is our story. We are freed from darkness to come into the light.

The psalmist did not stop at individual salvation. The very last portion was an appeal to the whole nation of Israel. The individual and communal natures of God’s salvific works depend on the participation of all believers. This implies that the church, comprised of those who have experienced an individual change, must also seek forgiveness as a collective body of believers.

One cannot argue that the church has failed to be perfect in the world. It is very easy to sight many events in our history which would support the claim that the church has at times been anything but holy. However, at its best, the church has and continues to provide ministries which make a positive and lasting impact on our world. We as a church must petition God to forgive us and move forward to learn from our past. This is the only way that we can build our future.

As for that big fish in Jonah, I am sure that it suffered a whole bunch of heartburn and trauma. How could it not? The good news is that Jonah was freed and the fish could swim easily and happily. Our hope is to be freed from whatever pit in which we find ourselves and discover the radical love and joy of God.

Loincloth, Nakedness, and Shame Oh My!

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen. 3:7 NRSV).

As I prepare for Lent, I stumbled across Genesis 3:7 and was intrigued at the actions that Adam and Eve took when discovering their nakedness. While I am sure there might be several people who read this post because of some of the words located in the text, I do not believe that the literal interpretation of the story is the most important assumption made.

Before the reality of nakedness, Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God and the creation of God without anything to hide. I am not talking about their physical selves, but a spiritual sense of the word nakedness. Their lives were in complete communion with God. They served the land and guarded the soil. Immediately after their disobedience, there was a change in their perception of self and their relationship to God.

There was a need to be hidden. Perhaps out of sense of shame for disobeying, or the realization that something had changed. Perhaps (and I am definitely reading something into the text that is not there) if they could have gone back they might have chosen a different path. The fruit was not as appealing on the other side as it had been before.

We see the first recorded romance with the other side. That romance that eventually devoured Adam and Eve. The truth is, it is easy to point the finger at the first man and woman, but the apple (so to speak) doesn’t fall too far from the cart. We are seduced into situations or people who eventually hurt us. How many times do we fall into the trap of doing the wrong thing with the right motives? The truth is, when all is said and done, the wrong thing is just that regardless of the motive.

Many of us have been wounded in the past in some way or another. We have learned how to travel in secret and hide from ourselves and God the ruined dreams or shattered relationships of the past. This was the only way that we knew how to survive. God wants more from us. God calls us back from the realms of abuse and calls us into a relationship which leaves no room for secrets due to shame or whatever motivation.

I recently read a blog that made me think of how painful it must have been to wear a loincloth made of fig leaves. It was probably scratchy and hurt. We put these loincloths on over our souls. They hurt and tend to make us uncomfortable. We cannot be free of pain until we are free from those things that we have created to give us the illusion that we are covered. Uncover your soul and allow God to fill you with strength, hope, and love.

We are reminded through the Lenten journey to get back to God and bare all that you are to the one who created you. Our relationship with God does not need to possess anything. We simply bring to God our complete selves. Loincloths are not needed.

God the Foundation

10”According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:10-15 NRSV).

Last week I preached on the importance of personal reconciliation, both to each other and ourselves. I spoke of individual responsibility and our commitment to place our personal care into the hands of God. It is with the assurance of our personal salvation that God equips our hearts to faithfully serve our world. By having a renewal of spirit, a change from the inside out, we set our course toward our long walk towards perfection.

This week, the focus shifts towards the communal aspect of grace, and how we live out our faith within the context of a body of believers. The idea of being the architect of our church while never forgetting who laid the foundation can become overwhelming. Think about it for a moment. When we look at the beautiful basilicas and other churches, they we were created for us to look up and be amazed. We are instructed in some sense to take our eyes off of the foundation and look at the beauty of human creation. We tend to worship the building and not the one who laid the foundation.

Anyone who knows me appreciates the fact that I am not a gifted master builder. Matter of fact, I was grateful that I actually built bookshelves for my family. That project was huge for me. What about the one who is building a great work that is in me? My challenge is to follow the blue print that is given to me from the master builder of all master builders. That one is Jesus Christ. I am constantly challenged to surrender my desires to create and make bigger and simply give way to worship. Let the one who truly is a craftsman sculpt me into the man of God who I am called to be.

May we all remember that our works together call for a church which can be restored and made whole. Remembering the chief architect as we build our places of worship creates places in which our world can truly experience the radical love of God. Let us contribute to the building continuously giving credit to the one who gives us our foundation. That foundation that stores within us springs of living waters.

What is schedule?

When I lived in Houston, I remember one of the things that drove me crazy was the complete predictability of my schedule. Every day seemed to be planned out and ordered. I became resigned to the fact that I would live this way until retirement. To say I felt trapped was an understatement.

Then I answered a call to ministry. Since moving to the mountains of New Mexico, I will say that schedule has been replaced by unpredictability. One incident triggers another and I find myself simply showing up and getting out of the way of God’s purpose. God reveals how my day will unfold. Some days are more predictable than others.

While I sometimes long for a remnant of schedule, I have learned that I surrendered my plans to the one I serve. I report to work every day asking one simple request. I ask God to use me so that I may be a vehicle for the Kingdom. Many times that means that my schedule is extremely erratic and unconventional. As I move past my own wants, I realize that my needs are very simple. I need to be the conduit through which the light of Christ may be shared.

I must admit that I sometimes long for the days when I had a sense of schedule in my life. I miss the routine; however, I embrace and enjoy the adventure of unpredictability. While I am grateful for my friends who maintain and thrive within very scheduled routines, I know that my strengths are best played out when I am outside of the box. My hope today is that whether you are like those who best work within a systematic routine, or those who thrive within a system of unpredictability, you may grow in the knowledge that Christ loves and delights in you. Equipped with the knowledge that we are loved by God, the rest matters not.

Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk

“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” (1 Cor. 1:18 NRSV).

When I read this passage I immediately think of the old adage, “Talk is cheap.” The bottom line is this, words are important and words matter. Many people, myself included, have been victim to words that are used like a dagger with pinpoint accuracy to the heart. Once there is a wound the bleeding is tremendous. Words do matter.

In his message to the churches in Corinth, Paul acknowledges that words matter; however, in the case of the cross, our words mean absolutely nothing if not supported with actions. We are called to service. Our interpretation of holy texts and exegetical pronouncements are great, but if such highly intellectual conclusions are not lived out by what we do, then all of the research really means nothing.

We are called to be a people of action. What we do and why we do it must combine to demonstrate the love of Christ to our world. As Christ’s disciples, we must engage the world and lead not only by our words, but by our deeds. If someone is hungry it is far more important to feed them than to lecture and carry on about the wonders of our faith. Through our actions of kindness one can experience the ever present love of Christ. We tap into the power of salvation by letting our lives be a witness to the service of humanity.

It is important to note, as any good Wesleyan minister should, that this does not mean that what we do plays any role in our salvation. Our actions are an expression of that which has changed us from the inside out. God is the one who saves us. Our works flow out of us like a deep flowing well offering the way to everlasting life. We may lead the way to the well, but there is only one who gives the water which sustains us. That one is God. The water which we drink is a free gift offered to all those who thirst. Let us lead others to God so that they may never thirst again. As we lead people to the source, we will experience over and over the radical love that God has for humanity. And in response to that love, God continues to give us a Savior. That one is Jesus. May you experience the Spirit in ways you never knew existed.

I Thank My God for You

This week my sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I am always drawn to Paul’s opening statements, particularly “I thank to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). While the phrase is wonderful and is great when referring to those people to whom I enjoy the company of their presence, I must admit I fall short of being able to make this proclamation of joy when I deal with those I find challenging. In fact, many times I lack the ability to feel “thankful” for difficult people. (I hope I am not the only one who struggles with this issue).

This is where faith comes into the picture. When asked directly which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said something like this, “Look. Let me sum up every commandment you have ever been given. Love God, and love each other. If you do these two basic things, you will follow every other thing God has asked you to do.” In other words, love must be a verb as well as a noun. We are called into action to worship the Divine.

This action word of which I speak challenges us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We are to represent God, even when we don’t feel like it. This includes embodying the nature of Christ to those people whom we would rather not speak to as well as those people whom we do not like. I know this is easier said than done, but why not attempt to do what the Master said?

As we put the verb into action our understanding of the noun will grow. The verb moves us to extravagantly worship the noun which is the creator of the universe. Will you be the one in which the love of God, through your deeds, transforms the world, or will you be content to let the one to whom we give praise remain contained without purpose and then make the choice to simply sit back and do nothing? The choice is yours. Say yes to the verb, and then do it. Love each other and in the middle of what you do, the presence of God will fill you with peace.

True Love

We have moments when God reveals God’s self to us in ways that sometimes are very subtle and sometimes knock a person to their knees. I recently had an encounter with the Divine on a day when I least likely expected one. I know a couple who live in a retirement home. They have a lot of illness between them and so they do not live in the same room, but whenever I visit the home I always see them together. They are a remarkable pair who I have come to admire.

She has Alzheimer’s disease and the manifestation of her illness is progressing very rapidly. As typical of the disease, there are some good days and some bad days. Through it all, her husband has been there for her every day. Both of them are well into their nineties and have been married over seventy years. Their story is an amazing chronicle of love, commitment, and honor.

I received word that this dear sweet lady had a stroke and was not expect to recover from her condition. Immediately hearing about the issue, I visited her in the nursing home. Her husband came into the room and we began to talk. I watched him and how he tenderly held her hand and was concerned that his wife knew that she was not alone. He was there just like he had been so many times before.

I sat and watched this holy exchange. I watched the vows of marriage being fulfilled and carried out in a way that took my breath away. Their hands joined together served as a reminder of their love and the glue that connected them together as a single family. I was honored to be in that room. I was touched to be a living witness to this special kind of covenant. I left thinking that this is the promise that I made to my wife. I want to be the person that will hold my wife’s hand and she hold mine.

I was made freshly aware of why I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I am invited into those places in people’s lives when the presence of God is so real that you can almost touch it. I am privileged to be a part of the lives of those who call me their pastor. I am allowed to stand in the presence of those around me and to share the message of salvation. Sometimes it is delivered with words, while other times it is delivered in silent witness.

As we celebrated Epiphany this past week, I am grateful that God allowed me to have my own realization. I am grateful for the lives of this couple and the honor to be a witness to their commitment to their God, and to each other. May we all be living Gospels to those who are in need of the Word which came for us, sacrificed for us, and lives within us.

AMEN.

christopherjoiner

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