Doubt and Easter

Last Sunday was ‘Thomas Sunday.’ The second Sunday of Easter is the time when we reflect on faith and doubt and focus on Thomas, the one who ‘saw and believed.’ Jesus, in turn says, ‘blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.’

Here are some reflections from an anonymous blogger that posted on my sermon sight, I’m especially interested in what he says about ‘oversimplification and overgeneralization’:

DavidD said…
So doubt is the enemy, eh? Yet doubt is necessary to understand the difference between true faith and false faith, as fear is necessary for prudence and anger is necessary for determination.

Human beings are suckers for oversimplification and overgeneralization. Religion preys on this weakness, among others. I would look for God beyond that myself. I find God understands the usefulness of doubt and the folly of saying one shouldn’t doubt.

I think there are many kinds of doubters. Mostly, I think a risen Christ is too threatening for the majority of us! If he is risen, then he’s a threat to our cozy little world.

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

Easter Sunday 2006

I am going to do what most preachers would not do on this day. I want to give you every reason not to believe what we have just heard and what we are celebrating this year.

We have scientific reasons. How many of you have ever seen a dead person come back to life? How many of you have ever seen a dead person come back to life and be resurrected, never to die again? And this gospel of Mark, it seems to be an ambiguous account anyway. One commentator says this, ‘The resurrection, as Mark presents it, is not formally verifiable according to scientific rules of evidence. Mark offers no evidence that the young man’s message is true, except that he reiterates precisely what Jesus said would happen.’ No scientific evidence. No good empirical evidence. But that is not the best reason not to believe.

What about the different ways the four evangelists describe Easter morning? Are there one angels or two? How many women were there? Which women actually were there? What were there names? The gospel writers don’t agree, how can we? But that is still not the best reason not to believe.

Do you want to know what the best reason not to believe this story? If we do believe it, then we are forced to deal with this prophet from Nazareth named Jesus on his own terms, not ours. If Christ is risen, he has something to say about how we live our lives. If Christ is risen, then indeed he is the Son of God!

There are reasons not to believe. But usually those reasons have to do with our desire not to be inconvenienced. And my friends, a risen Christ is inconvenient to all of us!!

Mark actually wrote his gospel with people like us in mind. The disciples don’t get it and the women are afraid to even tell anyone about the empty tomb that they have seen. I believe that Mark wanted to show us the first Episcopalians! ‘They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

Mark offers a challenge and that is the genius of his account. As one writer has said, ‘Mark’s ending shows that the historical, “Was it real?” ignores the more crucial question, “Is it real?” Something other than a pious dropping by the tomb once every Easter and looking in to see that it is empty is required to spark faith.’

The resurrection asks us to do two things. One, to believe the claims of Jesus and two, to proclaim the message. An irony of Mark’s gospel is that throughout Jesus tells those he has healed not to tell anyone about it, and of course they tell everyone. Here at the empty tomb, the angel tells the women to tell, and they go away afraid, silent. The challenge is for us, the disciples here and now to tell it out. To proclaim it on the rooftops.

But there’s one more thing. Mark mentions what the angels said to the women.
Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Perhaps you’re here today because it is what you do on Easter. Perhaps you’re here today because some dragged you. Perhaps you will leave this morning as unaffected by it all as when you sat down.

You have been looking for the living among the dead. You’ve tried the high life or the low life, however you want to put it, and you have found it lacking. Or you’ve got the two.5 kids and the SUV but life just ain’t cutting it. You’ve got cash, or you can’t wait to get some, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

You are looking for the living among the dead. You want this thing to be true because sometimes you feel dead inside. Whether you’re hooked on Jack Daniels or Ben and Jerry’s or Ben Franklin’s you’re tired, darn tired, of looking for the living among the dead.

If Christ is risen, than he is more than a carpenter. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, God of God, light of light true God from true God.

He lives, not only to pull you out of the grave clothes of death, but to take you out the grave clothes you’re living in now. The Easter celebration is wonderful, but if he doesn’t breathe life into you, if his life death and resurrection have nothing to do with you and me each and every day, we’re just playing around.

There are reasons not to believe. But usually those reasons have to do with our desire not to be inconvenienced. And my friends, a risen Christ is inconvenient to all of us!!

Why do you look for the living among the dead? Christ is risen. Invite him into your life today. The doors of the Kingdom of Heaven are open for you. Amen.

Good Friday

Tonight’s Reflection on Good Friday

When the children of Israel fled from Egypt they had two paths to take. They could have gone through the land of the Philistines and arrived more rapidly to the promised land.

But God was clear that they were not to take this path. They were to take the more difficult path–through the Red Sea. In fact even after the miraculous deliverance in the Red Sea, they were set on another path–the Divine path–through the wilderness. It was a 40 year detour of suffering, confusion, and adversity. The Scripture is clear that this was the path God wanted them to take.

Pilate asked Jesus, ‘what is Truth?’ Well, Jesus had already answered the question just 5 chapters earlier in John’s gospel. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’

As Christians we often think doctrinally when it comes to Truth–and in part we should. The doctrines of the faith must be true or this weekend has absolutely no meaning whatsoever. However, as much as Jesus is the Truth–he is also the way and he is also the life.

If we are to accept that Jesus is the Truth, then we must accept the way that he desires us to walk and the life that he expects us to emulate.

Our way to the promised land is to find the Truth of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus, yes! A thousand times yes!

But a servant is not greater than his master. If he is the Truth, then he is also the way and the life. His way of the cross is our way. The life that he lived in obedience and humility must be our life as well.

If he is the Truth, then his way is our way. His life is to be our life. His cross is our way to salvation, but he requires that we take it up ourselves as well.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimthea understood the risk their taking Jesus’ body was. They still were quiet about their devotion. But they could not keep away. They overlooked the purity laws of coming into contact with a dead body. They overlooked the fact that if caught, they could be next.

Significantly, Nicodemus’ gift of a hundred pounds of spices was an incredibly extravagant gift. Gratitude drove him–to risk his own life in love for Christ. Nicodemus risked his own life because his heart was full of love and gratitude.

As we venerate the cross tonight, kiss it in gratitude. Touch it in thanksgiving. Like Nicodemus, bring a heart full of love and thanksgiving. The fragrant offering you bring for him is none other than your soul, your life, your all.


Maundy Thursday
Love is an obsession of humanity. So what is it? Is it the eewie goowie feelings of a first kiss? Is it unbridled sensuality? Is it finding that someone who ‘completes us?’ As Jerry Mcguire might say?

Mother Teresa said “love is a fruit that is always in season.” To what is she referring? Is it the weird way in which 21st century Americans meet to “try out” another person or to gratify a desire? Or is love something else? When Scripture says that “God is love,” what does that mean? Maybe we should consult our gospel tonight to see what love is.

What is taking place here in John 13? Why is this night different from other nights? It was just before Passover, the night before Jesus was to be crucified. Passover was a time to remember. It was a time to look back when Israel was in bondage to Egypt and God miraculously delivered them. In the famous Exodus story, God struck down the firstborn of every family in Egypt, his final of several terrible plagues. That fateful night, the only families who were spared were those who had killed an unblemished lamb and applied the blood of that lamb on their doorposts. The angel of death “passed over” those houses protected by the blood of the slain lamb. Incidentally, this is why Episcopal Churches have red doors. This is a place of safety and sanctuary.

It was for this Passover, records John, that Jesus came. Remember the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus had full knowledge that it was his hour to become the Lamb of God. He knew his betrayer was in his midst, yet he wanted to show his disciples the full extent of his love. I cannot imagine the agony he must have felt knowing the brutal treatment he was about to receive. Nor can I understand why he would want to show love to a group of men who would all soon abandon him.

Jesus answered our questions about love by showing that love is manifest in and through humility. Our gospel says Jesus knew “that the Father had given all things into his hands.” So, if he knew this, what did he do? Did he display his power by destroying the Romans? Did he display his power by forcing his disciples to declare him as King? No. He got up and wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash his disciples feet. As you probably know, foot washing in 1st century Palestine whether you be Jewish, Greek or Roman, was reserved for the slaves of the household. It was a menial, degrading task. Remember the words of John the Baptist when he refers to Jesus as the one who comes after him, “the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John was referring to foot washing. He felt he was not even worthy to be a slave to Jesus. So what was Jesus doing? The one who had all things under his power, made himself a slave to show is love for his disciples. The King of kings and Lord of lords became a slave to show his love to his disciples. He showed that love is manifested by humility and selflessness, not selfishness and pride.

Next Christ shows us that before we can love, we must first be loved. Peter could not understand why Jesus was humiliating himself so. Peter saw this act of humility as a sign of weakness and rightly so. He says, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!” but Jesus felt it was imperative to show that Peter must first be served before it was possible for him to serve. We can see how difficult it must have been for Peter to accept this kind of love. It is often easier to be the one who is giving the care rather than the one receiving the care. Sometimes we think we are junior messiahs and try so hard to give ourselves to others. We do not realize that we too need help, like Peter.

As long as I’ve been coming to Maundy Thursday services, there is always someone who is freaked out by the whole idea of footwashing in the first place. I remember one Lent I was in a basketball league and I wore shoes that were too small one game. When you wear shoes that are too small you get what athletes call ‘purple toe.’ So guess what my feet looked like that Maundy Thursday?

Footwashing is an embarrassing and vulnerable kind of thing. Peter felt that it was degrading for Jesus. He was embarrassed for him. Peter did not want to receive such an act of love and humility. But Jesus insisted. Because Jesus wanted to love him like no one else could.

When someone loves you deeply, they see all of your weaknesses and those things that are ugly, those things you would rather not have others see—yet they love you anyway.

That’s what the love of Jesus is like. Those who know his love know that he loves totally and without condition. Someone might say, “That’s all well and good, but you don’t know the kind of life I’ve led, or the things I’ve done.” But God does not love us–not because of what we do but in spite of it. Through Christ, we are forgiven and loved. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—has taken away your sins and mine. Indeed we have been loved.

Next, Jesus shows us that since we have been loved , we should in turn love others. Today is Maundy Thursday. Can anyone tell me what “Maundy” means? “Maundy” is the Latin word meaning “commandment.” After washing his disciples feet, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another—just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” This “new commandment” puts the Maundy in Maundy Thursday. Christ wants us to love as he loved. He wants us to relinquish our rights just as he did his. To love as Christ loved, we relinquish our right to think we are better than anyone else: we do things no one else wants to do, we go where no one else wants to go. We love even when the other person does not deserve it.

Could you imagine what our lives would look like if we loved in this way? Could you imagine your relationship with your loved ones if you all committed to love selflessly the way Christ did–putting others first? Could you imagine our church if we all committed to put everyone else’s needs above our own? Could you imagine your marriage if both spouses committed to putting the other before themselves?

Love as Christ loved–do the things no one else wants to do, go places no one else wants to go. Put others first, whether they deserve it or not.

Lastly, for the truest example of love, there is no greater love than that which Jesus displayed on the cross—which is what this week, and our faith is all about.

John 13:1 says that Jesus showed the full extent of his love—he loved then to the last, he loved them completely. The act of foot washing was only a foretaste of what Jesus was to do on a horrible cross of wood the next day. There is no greater love than love Christ displayed by dying for these disciples that he calls friends. These disciples who all abandoned him only a few hours after he washed their feet. The Romans and the Sanhedrin who had him put to death, at least they didn’t know him—but his friends abandoned him in his greatest hour of need. And he died for them.

Why? Why would he die for those who denied and abandoned him?

We know we have abandoned and denied him too. It is so easy to make sin and evil something ‘out there,’ something that others do to helpless victims or something others do to us. But as our bishop recently remarked, ‘sin’s face is always the most familiar.’ That face is our own. We live with ourselves everyday—we know what is in our minds, we know what is in our hearts, we know what our true intentions are. We know we “haven’t loved God with our whole hearts and we haven’t loved our neighbors as ourselves.” Why would he die for us?

Because he loves us—not because of what we do but in spite of it. No matter how unlovely or unlovable we think we are, he loves us. no matter how unlovely or unlovable you think you are, he loves you.

Richard Neuhaus says, “from the beginning God knew what he would do about a humanity he created free to love him, and therefore free to hate him…From the beginning ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.’ This is what it means to love; this is what it means to be love; this is what it means to say that God is love…What was separated by an abyss of wrong has been reconciled by the deed of perfect love.”

So-what is love? Love is not a selfish feeling. Love is not an emotion. Love is not using others for our own needs and gratification. Love is none of these things. Love is doing the things no one else wants to do, going the places no one else wants to go; putting others first, whether they deserve it or not.

Love is a towel. And a basin. It is a cross of wood. Three nails. And a crown of thorns.

Gnosis with the Mostest Deux

All of a sudden there is a buzz about the ‘Gospel of Judas.’ This is a Gnostic text written by a sect called the ‘Cainites,’ who venerated those punished by God in the Old Testament (like Cain), because they withstood the punishment of the cruel God of the Old Testament. The gospel of Judas says that Judas was trying to ‘free’ Jesus from his flesh–a task that Jesus put Judas up to.

The text is condemned by Iranaeus in about 180 AD. Here is his quote in full:

Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.

Irenaus describes the Cainite Gnosticism and the polytheism around it.

Since the Gospel of Judas is a Cainite Gnostic writing written in the late 2nd century does anyone really think it can offer any ‘historical insight’ on Jesus? Give me a break! Elaine Pagels and Dan Brown strike again! Does anyone really take this stuff serious?!

No Easter without the Cross

Few pilgrims take the road through Holy Week to the Sunday of Resurrection. It seems that so many go from the ‘Hosannas’ of Palm Sunday to the ‘Christ is Risen’ anthems of Easter Sunday.

But isn’t that typical of the world in which we live? We’re all right with bunnies and peeps but not the sadness and melancholy of Maundy Thursday nor the bloody cross of good Friday.

It’s time that we call people to take up their cross and follow the savior. ‘For where I am, there will my servant be also,’ says Christ. Now is not the time for a spirituality of spring, but for the gospel. As Pope John Paul II said, “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known.”

It is a challenge to make our crucified God known. But isn’t this what our holy season is about?