Posted in Deconstructing Power, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

“Is it Really You?” – Easter 2

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The sign in the shop says, “Nice to look at, lovely to hold, but if you break it, consider it SOLD” Understandable I suppose.  Which is why my childhood memories of going into stores are underscored by my Mother’s mantra, “Look don’t touch!”.  Yet we are tactile beings.  The very first sensations we have as humans involve touch and then of course putting the held object into our mouths!  What a consternation causer for young mothers.

Thomas wasn’t a doubter he was simply human.  “Don’t tell me, show me.”  After all, didn’t the Psalmist say, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

I am reminded of the countless movie scenes where a long-lost–thought-dead loved one returns.  The director usually has the other character hold the returner’s face in their hands and say something like, “Is it really you?

Despite the risk of touching instead of just looking, despite my Mother’s nagging voice, I am a Thomas too.

Like him I have had moments of loss, confusion and chaos when I have shut down and denied the possibility and probability of any return from the dark desperate void of my own broken grief.  My heart has shut down as securely as the locked doors of that upper room on that first Easter evening.

I am never sure how, or why, Jesus has come to me and stood in that sequestered place of fear and forgetfulness, but he has again and again.  He is miraculously there despite my barricades and belligerence that often make Thomas sound tame.

He is there, and all I want to do is what the movies characters do.  I want to hold his face in my hand and sob, “Is it really you?

I never do that though.  Perhaps it’s my Mother’s voice, “Look don’t touch”?  I don’t think so.  Rather I believe it is the overwhelming experience of real resurrection renewal that makes me not hold him nor poke fingers of incredulous questioning into him.

In moments of resurrection encounter I like Thomas, can do nothing other, than fall on my knees before his patient ever-returning grace.

“My Lord and my God!”

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Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

“Wave your flag, but DON’T touch the treasury!” Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Crowds are fickle.  Watch the supporters of any professional sports franchise and you will see. When the team is winning the stadiums are full, when the team hits a losing streak, the gate monies diminish.

Be they political supporters, pop idol followers, or sports fans; crowds are at their best when they are cheering on a winner.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a public relations winner.  The messiah hungry crowd witnessed and interpreted the arrival as it was cast in the all the old testament trappings and nuances of a royal arrival to the capital.  This was a hero’s welcome.  This was the Jerusalem equivalent of a ticker tape parade, or a coronation cavalcade.

The mystery that confronts me every time I reflect on this passage however, is how quickly this crowd in Jerusalem changes their mind and their allegiance.  If we follow the liturgical sequence and timing, which may not be quite the lost historical schedule, we have Jesus the victor on Palm Sunday and Jesus the villain by Thursday night!  That is a serious drop in the ratings! I doubt Charlie Sheen nor Tiger Woods could top that!

What could Jesus possibly have done in one week that so disillusioned his supporters that they turned on him, called for a criminal in his place, and were happy to see him killed?

Perhaps the key to understanding this falling away lies in what Jesus does when he gets inside Jerusalem.  He goes and overthrows the tables of the money lenders in the temple.

I remember reading somewhere that at the time of Jesus, almost the whole economy of the temple was based upon the temple and its sacrificial system.  The buying and selling of sacrificial animals, and the forex generated by changing money into the exclusive temple currency.  The religious industry was what made Jerusalem work economically.

If you ask me as a white South African, who has lived long enough to be immersed in Apartheid for 37 years of my life and the New South Africa for the balance (since 1994),  “What ended Apartheid?” I would tell you what brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiation table was primarily economics. The sanction blockade enforced by the global community made the old ways unworkable.  What is important not to forget is that at the heart of that sanctions campaign was a diminutive, ever smiling Archbishop named Desmond Tutu.  If the Apartheid rulers could have crucified him they would have!  You challenge my treasury at your peril.  Hadn’t the Nazareth Rabbi said it, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also”?

The arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, turned out to be, not the arrival of a club member who would endorse the status quo and conform to the messianic agenda formulated by the stakeholders; but rather emerged to be the arrival of a table turning radical, who had justice at his core. Once that realization dawned, assassination and not worship was on the agenda.

A Jesus who “refuses to be an insider but who always sides with the outsider”, as Richard Rohr puts it, will always upset our carefully laid economic tables and status quo scenarios.

I have some understanding for the fickle crowd.  I have felt their vacillation in my own heart.  The real, radical Jesus, from time to time, evokes deep visceral anger in my carefully crafted concepts. At these moments of challenge I could gladly do away with him.

It is at times like those, with Jesus upturning my values and attitudes, that I fight hard to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The truth will set you free, as Jesus said.  But first it will make you very angry!”

Angry enough to kill?

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

It’s never too soon to give up hope!

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I don’t know many people who like to wait.  I don’t.  When I was in the Army, I hated my last name “Woods”, because it left “Zulch” and me at the back of every alphabetical line.  It was worst on pay days.  Abrahams, and Brown would already be in their bungalow sipping their Cokes from the canteen when I hadn’t even been paid!

I like waiting even less when I have called someone to come and help me.  Telephone repair people seem the worst.  The DSL line is down, I cannot get my Facebook fix, and no one arrives to sort out the problem!

I understand how Mary and Martha felt.

They had called for Jesus.  He was down near the Jordan where John had been baptizing.  Close enough to get to Bethany.  Really close if your dear friend is dying!

But Jesus, doesn’t seem too concerned. He sees a far bigger perspective than everyone else who is in a panic that Jesus hasn’t arrived.  Then suddenly, all too suddenly it is too late.

Lazarus is dead.

All human hope is now superfluous.  It is too late.

Have you ever been there? I have.  Too late to fix, too late to call out, too late even to hope.  It’s too late.

Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead.  He tells his disciples this brutal truth.  Only then does he decide to go to nearby Bethany. He arrives on the fourth day.  The day that is beyond all hope.  All through Scripture the third day is the day that God acts.  Jesus arrives on the hopeless day, the fourth.

He bears the ire of Martha, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”  Am I the only one who reads a silent sub-text from Martha, “Where the hell were you?

Jesus himself weeps at his dead friends tomb…

And then he calls forth life and liberation from the hopeless hole, on the hopeless day, amidst a hopeless crowd.  He calls forth life in the midst of certain confirmed, putrefied and stinking death.

I don’t quite know what to make of this narrative.  Year after year I look at it and the deep mystery of this event continues to cloud round me like soupy fog.

All I know is that I have been hopeless before.

At the back of the line, waiting and waiting.  Praying and praying. Willing and willing.  And then somewhere just after the third day I have given up.  I have resigned.  I have resented. It is finished. It’s too late!

In the dark of failed relationships, failed programs for happiness, failed dreams of beauty and happy endings.  In the entombed hopeless reality of life’s darkness, I have heard an untimely voice.  A voice that called my name.

Just like Lazarus, for me life and liberation came, through the tears of Jesus and the torment of my hopelessness.

I was able to stand up, against all the odds and I understood the meaning of Lazarus’ name.  It means, “God has helped

No one else could have helped, but God has helped. On the fourth hopeless day, God has helped.

Now untie me and let me go!