Thursday, April 30, 2015

Called Out

[There is a Jenga game next to the pulpit as a visual aid.]
While I would love to say that today’s scripture passages fill me with comfort and peace, I have to admit that they do not.  Well, at least not the type of comfort and peace that I might have if I listened selectively to the good parts.  The Lord is my shepherd, [move Jenga piece] and Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life [move Jenga piece].  This Jesus is the cornerstone that pulls everything in line [move Jenga piece].

These simple truths are what I want to remember about these passages, but there’s a lot more to them than those simple words of comfort.  When I read the rest of the story I suddenly find myself feeling like Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther.  You may remember how he hired a butler named Cato and instructed him to lie in wait and attack him every time he came home just to keep his skills sharp.  OK, so maybe that’s too strong.  I’ve never actually had a sparring partner – but I think these passages may just have that kind of punch in mind for us.

Acts isn’t so bad, but it does remind us that there are times to speak up for our faith.  More often than not, these opportunities carry a certain level of risk.  You and I don’t have to worry about the temple authorities the way Peter did, but we can risk other things that may be just as personal. Relationships can vanish like smoke over beliefs about personal freedoms and civil rights. Whistle blowing over issues that require correction can end or stunt a career.  And in the church, sometimes we can get caught up in the most inconsequential things.  A recent article reflecting on why some people who have faith are yet rejecting the church said, “You chose lousy battles.  Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty, and racism, and violence, and bigotry, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, you get awfully, frighteningly quiet.  We wish you were as courageous in those fights, because then we’d feel like coming alongside you.”  [move Jenga piece]

Meanwhile, there are Christians that may share nothing in common with us other than a belief in Jesus as the one who revealed the good news of God to us who are being martyred for that particular shared belief.

We hear that and we hear the words of the twenty-third Psalm, and we say, “Thank you Jesus for still waters and green pastures!”  This is good and right, but if it’s only because we believe, “There but for the Grace of God, go I” then we might be missing the mark a little.  It is by God’s grace and mercy that we live how and where we do, but life is not more valuable to God in one place or another – even in one people over another. 

So, while I think it is good to be comforted by the promise of a God that walks with us in the hospital corridor and gives us bread to break with those that we may not even like very much, the important thing to remember is that God’s love is not hiding like some forgotten Easter egg or wandering like some ghost of Christmas past. 
God’s grace and mercy follow us – they pursue us!  The word we typically use is “follow,” but the word in Hebrew is the same as “pursue.”  It is the word used to describe predator and prey, and God’s grace and mercy are as persistent as a falcon on a clear day.  Yet, instead of talons, we are wrapped in a love that will not let go.  That’s important, because it reminds us that we are the object of God’s desire.  We – simple and flawed as we are – are created in the image of God to reflect the heart of God.

And how do we do that?  Simple.  Jesus showed us how.  Just lay down your life.  Look and see if there are those with needs, and don’t refuse to help them [move Jenga piece].

This is where it starts getting tricky, isn’t it?  We have to decide if helping others handicaps or empowers them.  We have to get to know people.  We have to care about problems that we know that we can’t fix, and that can be exhausting.  And when we think about it that way, well it just doesn’t seem like something we want to do in the first place.  Can’t we just stick to that thing where we’re the sheep and the good shepherd takes care of us?

Well, maybe.  It is good to remember that Jesus is the one who literally gave his life by following God’s will.  I don’t necessarily mean his death on the cross, although that is certainly central to our experience of God’s grace and mercy.  I mean that he gave over control of his life.  Jesus aligned his heart with the heart of God in such a way that his life demonstrated what had been written into the law and spoken about by the prophets. Jesus was living, breathing truth in action. 

And so, for us to follow him, to be his sheep, we must do the same.  We can’t simply talk about it. We have to do stuff, and we can’t just do it in here.  Probably the most confronting thing about these passages is the fact that the sheep don’t stay in the stable.  As another Pastor has noted, “We sheepishly say that Jesus simply “brings out all his own” from the sheep pen, but the Greek is so much more interesting.  The verb used here is actually the exact same verb [that] gospel writers use to describe the violent casting out of demons.”

So we are “cast out” from a place where the resources are limited, because they are ours.  We are sent into the world where the resources are abundant, because they belong to God.  Like moving from feed corn to pasture, there is great joy in experiencing the providence of God.  The risk is also greater, but the Good Shepherd is with us, and grace and mercy are pursuing us while we go [move Jenga piece].

In many ways, it is like the Jenga tower that I have been building. I realize that it may be distracting to some, and I imagine that some of you may be very anxiously watching to see if it falls throughout the rest of the service.  But think of it this way.  The tower can remain solid and have a limited function. It can also be changed and become something that inspires emotions that can result in actions. Changing it is risky, and we have to pay attention to the force that keeps it from falling – it has to stay balanced.  But even if it falls, there is nothing that can destroy the belief that it can be even greater than before.

We are not here – in this sanctuary or on this earth – to build towers.  We are here to reflect the heart of God.  The Westminster Confession of faith [Shorter Catechism] says that we are here to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.  In that sense, perhaps these passages can fill us with a different kind of comfort and peace than just our gratitude for the things God has done for us.  They can convict us with a challenge to speak and to act in ways that demonstrate love and compassion that are so complete that they put us at risk. 

These are things that we all must do in our own way.  These are things we have done and will continue to do as a congregation.  Last January I mentioned that our Session [governing church council] was looking into an opportunity through the PC(USA) called 1001 New Worshiping Communities.  This idea was presented because starting up new things is part of the character of this congregation, and it fits with our previous conversations about redefining our mission through the New Beginnings program.  It was presented as a way to highlight the fact that we are a life giving congregation, and that we believe that there are those in our area who are in need of spiritual community that we might reach in some new way.

As it turns out, after prayer and reflection, the Session felt that it would be a better use of our time and resources to focus on some new initiative that will help us to engage some aspect of the surrounding community and build relationships in ways that we have not been able to do in the past.  We are putting together a team with some clear objectives and expectations for their work, and we will be sure to have some conversational opportunities for the congregation to give input before we commit ourselves to a new course of action.

And so, I ask you to keep praying for our congregation and its leaders as we move into the future together.  Reading scripture and praying for one another are things that we all should be doing anyway.  Praying for God to send us out – even cast us out – just allows us to listen for the voice of the one who like a shepherd leads us.  Talk to our Ruling Elders about your conversations with God, and about who you think God is calling us to connect with and how.  For God is already calling other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  Remember that Jesus said, “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

I do not know what is next for us, but I know that we are being sent – just as we have been in the past.  I know that we follow the one who gave over control of his life to reflect the heart of God, so that we can, too.  I know that just as we are sent, God will provide, God will guide, and God will pursue you and me with a love that will never let us go.  Amen.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I really like the word, “beloved.”  I think there is certain purity to the word.  Not only that, but there is no denying the intent.  If you are beloved, then you are the object of the affection of another. Being beloved is not about your choice; it is about being chosen.  And that’s what we are.  We are God’s beloved at First Presbyterian Church.  Whether you have been here 20 years or just walked in the door, I am here to tell you that you are God’s beloved – right here and right now.

Doesn’t that feel good?  Beloved is such a great word.  Being Southern, I can even say it with a wide variety of inflections, and it doesn’t change what it means.  If anything, it reminds me how important the person I’m describing is to God – no matter what I am feeling at the time.  But what does that mean, exactly?  Yes, we are chosen by God – but why does 1 John call us beloved

Most scholars believe that 1 John was written during a time when Jewish communities were trying to distance themselves in the eyes of Rome from followers of the way of Jesus – for political reasons, but also to escape persecution.  Likewise, those in John’s community were responding to competing beliefs about Jesus as a Spirit and claims that some had a secret knowledge of God’s presence.  Some were saying that the pleasures of the world would trap you, and they moved into seclusion.  Some were saying that this world is only temporary, so you can do anything you want.

As I say these things, it occurs to me that not a whole lot has changed.  We often separate the humanity and divinity of Jesus, so that his suffering was really more of an inconvenience and his resurrection was like stepping into a phone booth to put on his super hero identity.  Believers separate from believers for political correctness or to martial resources to fight for moral superiority. There are those that claim a certain knowledge of God – and more often that is becoming an argument to demonstrate that there is no God. 

Meanwhile there are mega churches and even established denominations that try to create secret societies with Christian books, music, movies, and coffee shops.  Still others embrace the world shamelessly.  You may have heard about the Pastor who had his congregation set up a “gofundme” site for a private Leer jet to support their international ministries.  Then there is the congregation in Florida that lost its nonprofit status after hosting a body painting party for college co-eds.

And yet – I believe that they, and we, are all God’s beloved.  The author of 1 John was a bit more particular than that.  He was referring to his specific community of believers.  And from that standpoint, it is only those who act like God’s beloved who are truly beloved by God.  So, while I want to hold on to the notion that God’s choice is not determined by ours, I do want to stay true to the meaning of beloved in 1 John.  I think that perhaps a better way to say it is that – through the love of God – we have been claimed as unique in all of God’s creation.

We have been claimed, called, and set apart so that God might act in and through us, and we have been given a choice.  The choice before us is the same as it was for those who crucified Jesus, and it is a choice that leads to life or to death.  Our passage from Acts reminds us that we are fortunate enough to live on the side of history that responds to the resurrection of Jesus.  That does not mean that we are without sin.  It means that through faith in Christ we are not defined by our sin.  We are defined by God’s grace and mercy and by the fact that even in our limited capacity the power of God brings healing and wholeness – sometimes even because of our limitations!

And so we have a choice to make.  The choice is between faith in the power of God and in the power of our own hands and hearts and minds.  Of course these things come from God, and God expects us to use the gifts we’ve been given.  So, how do we know?  How do we know when we are like the beggar in the court expecting gifts defined by our limitations?  How do we know when we are like the others who whisper over the power of a person we admire?  How do we know when we are truly acting on behalf of God to offer healing and wholeness?

It seems to me that it comes down to representation.  Peter chided the crowd [my words here], “Do you really think that I can do what only God can do?  Did you not know that in your hunger for God you have already rejected God?”  Peter gives the credit to God – not like an NFL player after a touchdown, but penitently and humbly.  Then he forcefully uses the opportunity as an invitation for others to become penitent and humble.

Penitence and humility and identity seem to be common threads in these passages, and I think that they hold the key to understanding who we are, who we are representing, and how we can see the power of God unleashed.  I’ve seen that happen a lot in my life.  I bet you have, too – whether you have called it the power of God or not.

One particular memory I have is from a mission trip to the Duval Home for special needs in Florida.  I was the Assistant Camp Director that summer, and we took a tour bus full of kids from north Georgia to a mission site in Florida.  We arrived in the dark at their guest housing area that took us off the beaten path, and our tour bus got stuck in the sand.  We got everyone off the bus, and one of the counselors and I organized the most powerful of prayer circles.  We were calling down the power of God upon those spinning tires while groveling, “If it is your will” like good Presbyterians.  And then the Camp Director, in her wisdom, said, “Amen. Everyone go to your cabin.  Zach, organize the boys and let’s get the food secured.  Lights out at 11.”

You see, I thought that God would surely move that bus if we just committed ourselves and asked in the powerful name of Jesus.  I don’t know why, because that is not the faith that my forebears taught me.  But I guess that’s what we do when we get in tight spots.  We let the limitation define us rather than the expectation that God has a different set of priorities.

As the week went on we found that Jesus was really more concerned with knitting us into a community through shared experiences.  Jesus was more concerned that we might see disabled people as people with disabilities – not for political correctness, but because they could help us see that we were beloved by God.  That is how I saw the power of God unleashed – not through a bus metaphysically unmired, but through the acceptance of those we call unacceptable.  And it moved me.  It moved me deep inside to repent, to turn in a new direction, and to understand that God’s actions in and through me are not limited to the good I can do or the problems that I let define me.

The thing about the problems we face is that they are still real and still need to be dealt with, and most of them take place in the context of relationships with people we love and respect.  That’s why I love the way Psalm 4 says, “When you are disturbed, do not sin.”  It reminds me of a story about Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism.  Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a sharp letter.  Stanton did, and showed the it to the president.  "What are you going to do with it?”  Lincoln inquired.  Surprised, Stanton replied, "Send it.”  Lincoln shook his head.  "You don't want to send that letter," he said.  "Put it in the stove.  That's what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry.  It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better.  Now burn it, and write another.”  Sin – as Lincoln knew and as we find it in today’s readings – is often related to things that separate us from each other or divide our community. 

So, it seems to me that the first faithful response is to recognize what is sinful and what is not, and sin – whether it’s something I do or we do – typically moves us toward separation.  The next thing our scriptures call us to do is to repent.  It’s not enough to say you’re sorry and keep on doing the things that made you say sorry in the first place.  So often we are like the confessor who says, “Forgive me for I know exactly what I am doing.”  It doesn’t really work that way.

True repentance creates a change in the way we interact with the world.  It results in changed behaviors – not because of guilt but because of love.  And when we get to that point – when we have fallen in love with grace and mercy and the opportunity to invite others to experience them – that is when our expectations change from asking God to do something into looking forward to see what God will do next.  Through true repentance we find out who we are, and we become open to what we will become.

“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.”

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.  And God is continually knitting us together as a people who bear witness to the power of God to bring healing and wholeness through faith in Jesus Christ – the one whom God raised to show us how powerful repentance and forgiveness can become.  You and I are witnesses of these things. And we have some choices to make.  May God be glorified in all we say and do, whether we are together or apart.  Amen. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Daredevil – Yes. I am a fan.

So, I gotta say, I am suitably impressed with the Marvel's recent incarnation of Daredevil on Netflix. As a child, I collected only two comics – the Uncanny X-Men, and Daredevil. While I was excited about the film version, I just couldn't see Matt Damon as the lead. Don't get me wrong, he's an accomplished performer. He's just too pretty for it, and his eyes are all wrong.

Sure, Daredevil is blind, Ben Affleck has puppy eyes. Daredevil is gritty. His eyes, when revealed, are like steel. They are not mournful. They are set and resolved. So, I just couldn't bring myself to watch Matt Damon as Daredevil. Charlie Cox, in my opinion, nails this role. He is resolved and purposeful, penitent and yet unyielding (Forgive me Father for what I am going to do...). He is the product of childhood fears and his own intentional actions that incorporate the darkness that resides within into the light of righteous indifference. He lets the devil out in order to conquer the hell of human suffering. I'm not saying that's good theology, but it certainly creates an opportunity for a very good man to do some very bad things.

Now, it's not my pattern to get all fanboy about such things on my blog. Nor do I have the chops to claim the geek level status of those who go to events ending in "con" or who's personal lexicon include the conflagration of words resulting in cosplay. Nor have I ever been a fan of graphic novels – mostly for their glamorization of graphic violence and overt sexualization of girls and young women. I have even been "that guy" who doesn't allow his kids to play with toy guns (although light sabers are totally acceptable – an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age). I even gave away my coveted few comics to a younger collector, because I was unreconciled over their care and the violence they portrayed.

That said, you may find my appreciation – no, my near fascination and even veneration – of the new Daredevil to be out of character or even hypocritical. So far I have only seen the first two episodes, and they are pretty true to form with the comic. Daredevil is a vigilante in the urban slum known as Hell's Kitchen fighting a local crime syndicate. Daredevil does not typically kill his opponents, and he does not use guns (which is something I like in a hero, hence my love of Jedi and Time Lords). He simply beats them into bloody submission. He catches them in the act of violence and repays them appreciably.

I think there is a lot to be said about faith, justice, violence, and restitution (the hero is a Roman Catholic), and I may do that some other time. Right now I just want to express why this character and this series matter to me. It matters to me because of my friend Brad. He's the one who introduced me to the comic series and turned me on to the fact that comics could bring you into another world. More importantly, Brad was a friend in a time when my family was falling apart. His home was a place of hospitality, and our adventures were an experience of connection in a time when I needed it.

Sure, we pretended to be ninjas and all that rot (Brad – before God and everyone – I've never forgiven myself for almost impaling you with that throwing star and that homemade spear). But what mattered most is that he represented justice, just by the fact that he was my friend in a time when I needed one. So, I guess I have some kind of childhood association between Daredevil and Brad, even if only by coincidence.

As we've grown up we have become, in some ways, essentially different people. When it comes to politics, we are sometimes on different planets from one another. But when it comes to justice, I think we still find some agreement – even if some of those seeds were planted by a masochistic vigilante from Hell's Kitchen. Of course I believe the soil and the water come from experiences of faith, and that all things are grounded in the providence of God.

You and I may never be superheroes. We may never interrupt heinous crimes with a billy club (although cell phones seem to be popular these days). But we can be friends. We can seek out people whose lives need some stability, and we can just be with them, letting them be as they are. There is a lot of power in presence. Jesus said that we are to be salt and light.

Salt was a preservative. Light was a corrective. Be a friend, even if you disagree, and you just might be someone's hero. Go on. I dare you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Walkin’ In The Light

Today we have some of the most romantic passages in the lectionary.  I don’t mean that they are all lovey dovey.  I mean they are the stuff of dreams.  They are the kind of passages that draw many of us to think of ideal images of the church in harmony and Jesus returning to calm fears, answer doubts, and give power to those who follow him.  These are certainly good images to hold onto, but there may be more to it than that.

For me, theses readings conjure up memories of singing around a campfire.  It usually began with a two-part harmony chorus.  The boys would often start – some faking a low voice until they could make one, or at least hide their awkward squeaks in the group.
Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ in the light 
Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ in the light 

Then the girls would come in a little too high before settling into something close to harmony.
Walkin’ in the light, ooh, ooh 
We can trust each other 
Walkin’ in the light, ooh, ooh 
We can see ourselves 

And the song goes on to reflect on the experience of God’s presence that can only be found in community – not just any community, but in a community of faith grounded in the experience of God’s active presence.  That’s what made the church in Acts so unique.  The early church in Jerusalem was not built in brick and stone but in hearts full of generosity and in lives shared in response to the resurrection of Jesus and the message of the grace and mercy of God!

Yet, they were not always so utopian, and sadly they did not remain that way.  In fact they started out in just the opposite way.  According to John’s Gospel they started out as a small group of conspirators huddled in fear behind locked doors.  And then Jesus entered in.  It does not matter how he came in or how he left.  What matters is that he stood among them and said, “Peace.”  And he showed them his wounds so that they would know that it was him – not an ideal copy or some unearthly vision, but the real Jesus with his wounds and his pain. 

It matters that he was really with them, because only he could say, “Peace.” in a way that had the weight of the truth it held.  Only he could say that word and have it stir their memory of the last time he had said it.  It was just before he died.  Right after he told them that he would die, he promised to send the Advocate – the Holy Spirit off God.  Then he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  And this time he said, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Then he breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Now, as weird as that sounds, breath has long been understood as the evidence of the creative force of God.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I am stressed is to simply breathe and remember that I would not even have oxygen to breathe were it not for the love of God.  The breath of God – the Spirit of God – is what hovered over the chaos of the cosmos in the story of creation.  Our breath connects us to the creative force of God.  Even today we talk of breathing new life into those things that we hope will continue – sometimes even the church itself!  And so we are given this story about Jesus as the source of the breath of God. 

Jesus, who offers peace.  Peace calms our fears.  The peace of Jesus is not manipulative, but it is transformative.  It changes us.  It puts us in league with the God who redeems by forgiving sins, for “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  And we have that power – even here, even now – although you wouldn’t believe that if you turned on a TV or a computer these days.

The news media circus throws statistics from the right and the left like sharpened knives, while social media wields public opinion as though we were all judge, jury, and executioners, and viral videos show us subjective truths about events that shatter lives and challenge the social fabric that binds us together.

First verse:
It’s a sad situation; people running scared 
It’s a crazy mixed up world 
Where there’s nothing to fear but fear! 

I think that the presence of fear is why Thomas matters so much to us.  He matters because he gives us permission to doubt, to question, and to make irrational demands of the one whose love for us makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  God’s love is not something that we can earn or return.  It’s so much more than that.  It is simply the reality that holds us, connects us, and keeps us from being consumed by the darkness that seems so present that we can’t seem to see beyond the task or the person or the moment we are stuck in.

Second Verse:
We always walk in darkness, forget about the day 
We’re afraid to face our problems 
We’re hoping they’ll go away!  (2-3-4 What do ya think your feet are for?)  (Chorus) 

That’s why we have each other, so that we can face our problems – even when they are with each other.  The writer of 1 John talks about seeing and hearing and touching the “word of life.”  And even that – even experiencing the risen Christ, even living in communion with God through the presence of Jesus – is not enough to make his joy complete.  It’s as if he is saying, “We have to tell you about it.  We have to share this faith.  I need you to know that my experience of God doesn’t stop with my memories or my feelings.  It pushes me into a relationship with you – a relationship where we will hurt each other and need to forgive and be forgiven.”  Walking in the light doesn’t mean that we are perfect.  It means that we are no longer defined by our imperfections.  It means that we see them, and we see beyond them.

Last verse:
So we finally pull our heads up out of the sand 
Where there’s light and warmth and sunshine 
And it’s never dark again!  (2-3-4 What do ya think your feet are for?)  (Chorus) 

So, what are we to do?  Are we supposed to go back to the roots of faith and develop communes?  That certainly wouldn’t go against the teachings of Jesus, but it’s not particularly sustainable.  Still, there is something about the call to unity that tells us that we are responsible for one another.  I think that’s why we get excited about the community ministries that we support like CUPS and our new Soles4Souls initiative.  That same sense of mutual responsibility is what drives the theology behind our denominational programs like the Self Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program. 

The thing is, walking in the light doesn’t just mean that we have some kind of spiritual flashlight to keep us from getting lost in the woods.  It means that we see the world as God sees it.  Like the Psalmist says, “darkness is as light to you.”  When we walk in the light, we see that God is active and present in all things! 

When we see the pain and suffering of this world it is as though Jesus stands before us, offering his wounds for our inspection.  When we remember that God has given us the power to overcome sin through simple acts of forgiveness, we cannot help but unlock the doors that separate us from others.  And when we hear that Jesus did so many other things – but these stories were written so that we might have life through believing in Jesus – it is my hope that we will hear that as an irresistible invitation to walk in the light.

Oh, one last thing – just before Easter some cards and flowers were taken to some of our home bound members.  They all appreciated it so very much.  There’s a note on the board from Val Craig saying that she received it as a gift from every one of us.  I was also told that when Rita and Willie Gary received a visit, Rita answered the door and exclaimed, “Oh look, the church is here!”  And truly, in that moment, we were. 

So, maybe some part of the early church lives on, when we walk in the light that lets us see the wounds of Jesus, the power of forgiveness, and the grace and mercy of God in all things.  In fact, grace, mercy, and forgiveness sustain the church – even here, even now.  Amen.

Defining Moments

Each of us, in our lives, experience what you might call defining moments.  Some of these moments are profound, and some may be quite profane.  Some of them are so mundane that we only catch them in hindsight – like a smile on a bad day, or even the recognition that something you thought went well was deeply flawed.  Defining moments are particular experiences that color your perception of the world.  They may even change the way you think and feel about the person closest to you – the one you see in the mirror.

For something to truly be a defining moment, it needs to do one of two things.  It will either transform what you think, feel, and believe, or it will confirm what you think, feel, and believe.  And often times, when something truly affects our perception of the world around us, the first thing we want to do is to share it with someone else.  Usually we want to share it with someone that we think will agree or at least appreciate what we have been through.

Of course nowadays people share just about anything and everything over the internet.  Advertisers are taking advantage of this with what is becoming one of my new pet peeves – the unclear referent.  The headline reads, “These people were on vacation, and then THIS happened…”  The image shows a beach scene with two people in the water and a massive shark about 30 yards away.  Well of course I’m gonna click on that! These people are about to have a defining moment, and no matter what happens it will confirm what I believe about sharks!

Unfortunately, I think that is the way many of us approach life.  It is much harder to seek out an experience that is transformative than it is to seek out experiences that confirm what we already believe to be true. 

Fortunately, for us, the Easter event brings both.  I don’t mean today’s worship service – well, at least not exclusively.  I mean the real event.  I mean the Jesus event.  I mean the self-revelation of God that we may experience through the person, work, and resurrection of Jesus!

The Jesus event and the experience of God’s presence through him is, was, and will continue to be something that transforms the created order of things!  That’s why we celebrate and sing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!”  This event is a touchstone to help us remember what God has done for us, and it gives us a foundation to stand on.  As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, salvation through Jesus Christ is “the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved.”

I love it that Paul says, “you are being saved.”  It reminds me that I am moving toward something greater.  More importantly, it reminds me that we are moving toward something greater, because he did not write this to an individual.  He wrote it to a community of believers. 

At the same time, I must admit that today’s readings make me a little envious.  Paul talks about the eyewitnesses that can verify his words, and even includes himself in the crowd of those that have seen Jesus after the resurrection.  The disciples were able to walk and talk with the risen Christ.  They even fed him dinner!  And he interpreted the scriptures for them.  He opened their minds, and he did it at least twice – once on the road to Emmaus, and then again in Jerusalem.

I think that experience might still hold the key to our understanding of God’s activity in our midst.  We don’t really know why the two disciples were heading to Emmaus, but it seems to me that these were probably two of the disciples that heard the story of the women at the tomb and “thought it was an idle tale.”  Their hopes were dashed.  They had hoped Jesus would be the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel. 

And Jesus tells them – just as he tells the rest of the disciples – that he is the one anticipated by the prophets, but he is not just here to redeem Israel.  After he broke the bread their eyes were open, and then he was gone.  “Oh, weren’t our hearts burning?” they said.  Notice that they don’t say, “Where’d he go?”  They get up immediately to go share their story with the others.  And in the sharing they find both confirmation and transformation.

And so do we – even here and even now.  We come from a tradition that believes in constant reformation in accordance with the word of God.  And the resurrection event itself calls us to expect two things.  One is that the pain and suffering of this life is a part of a greater transformation, and the other is that whatever this world can throw at us is not the final word.  Life is more than the events of our days.  Resurrection life is filled with a deep and abiding experience of a pervasive force that calls us into community and sends us out to be with the lonely, the lost, and the vulnerable. 

That sounds like a pretty tall order, and it is.  But it might just be as simple as paying attention to the way in which your heart burns inside of you in the presence of Jesus.  There’s a boy named Christian who gets this.  He’s a First Grader, and you might have heard of him.  His dad was expecting to be deployed to Germany, and they were looking at schools on line.  He saw a bench on a playground that was designated for kids that had trouble finding someone to play with.  When his dad ended up staying stateside, Christian began to notice that there were some kids at this school that seemed to have trouble making friends at recess.  So, he went to his principle to ask if they could put in a “Buddy Bench for kids that were feeling left out.  Christian gave a presentation to the school board, too! 

Maybe that seems like too small a thing in light of the resurrection of Jesus, but I think it is exactly the kind of thing that we do as the church of Jesus Christ.  We make sure that people know that they are not alone.  We can’t fix every problem, but we can be like Christian.  We can make sure people know that they matter.  And it starts right here, right now, with you and me gathered around the table of the risen Christ.  Let our eyes be opened with the breaking of the bread, and let our lives be transformed again and again by the sharing of what we know to be true – that Jesus died so that we might know of God’s undying love and mercy.  That is our defining moment, and to God be the glory. Amen!