2nd Sunday in Easter, Year B

We are a little out of sync here - somehow this didn't get published when it was written. Hang with us - May 3 is actually the 4th Sunday of Easter, and it's posted just below this one!

Acts 4.32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1.1-2.2
John 20.19-31

So there is something about being a part of a community.

Both of us have experienced what it is like to be involved in, and embraced by, community. And both of us have experienced being separated and excluded from community.

From our experience, the former is better.

We all know that it is necessary for our body to have certain things to stay alive, and it is often surmised that companionship is one of them. One time we had a survivalist friend of ours tell us about the Rule of Threes: (on average) a human can survive only 3 minutes without air before serious damage to the brain; can only survive 3 days without water before serious damage to the body; can only survive 3 weeks without food before serious damage is done to the body; and the average human can only survive 4 months without companionship before serious psychological / emotional damage is done.

Communities help us survive, they help us learn, they help us grow up, they help us to know and understand who we are, and they help us know and understand who God is. This week the lectionary readings all touch on some different aspects of what it means to be, and why it is important to be, a part of a community.

In the reading from Acts we see a community rule played out that is reminiscent of what was found in all of the laws of the Hebrew scriptures. In places like Leviticus we find laws that made allowance for the poor and widows so they could continue to live and survive. And in the first Christian Community we see these ideas put in to action in a fairly overt way. An important thing to note here is that even in this community that we sometimes want to romanticize as ideal and completely equal, there are still authorities and Deciderers. The apostles told the stories of Jesus and it was the apostles to whom the proceeds were brought and it was the apostles who distributed to any who had need.

In Psalm 133 we hear the psalmist singing the praises of how wonderful it is to live in community. It brings up memories of other references in the Hebrew bible such as in Ecclesiastes 4.12--If one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The first letter of John is so named because it resonates as text written by someone who knew the author of the Gospel of John well. Some scholars believe that it is a text written by the community from which the Gospel of John originated, perhaps later in that community's history. Like Paul's epistles, it seems addressed at a community facing some disagreement, tension or conflict. The passage for this week assures the reader/hearer that this community has witnessed the risen Christ (at the very least, witnessed the tradition handed down by those who did witness the risen Christ) and as such a community, has much to offer/teach. Sin is a bad thing, and needs to be avoided. The author asserts that Christ died for sin, and so the needs to do its best to avoid sin so that this death is not in vein. At the time this text was written, there was probably quite a stir going on about the authenticity of the resurrection story. And the early church was beginning to grapple with the question of whether or not it mattered that Christ was resurrected in a physical way. This community believes that it matters, and that it continues to inform how they choose to live and to what they hold one another accountable.

And then in the gospel named John we have an often read story where the disciple named Thomas is looked upon and labeled as a Doubter. But when we look at this story from the lens of community it takes on a slightly different color. See, all of the other followers had the chance to see Jesus the first time While They Were Together In Community and Thomas was out running some sort of errand. In Community the others had a chance to confirm what they saw and process their disbelief in real time and with one another. And Thomas was (at that moment) not a part of the community. He did not have the opportunity to learn with the others and receive the support of the others....and no matter how much they might have told him, he was still catching up. We imagine all of us have some story that is similar to this.....

Communities emerge and they develop their own cellular structure. They find their own Boundaries, raise their own Leaders, identify their own Call, and Hold their Members Accountable. And they shape individuals and are shaped by individuals.

-How many ways did Jesus' community respond to his resurrection?
-How has community shaped your response to a surprising shared crisis?
-What do you gain from your community? What do you give to your community?

Let us break bread together on our knees, let us break bread together on our knees. When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, capable, secure people. For the most part, we've had good access to education, healthcare, jobs, transportation, food and clean water. We can supplement what we have with an adequate income. We have clothes and shoes and a very solid roof over our heads. And we like to think that we are in control of our circumstances.

But we have both had experiences that left us breathlessly aware of how little control we really have. We've found ourselves in the kind and caring arms of virtual strangers in times of crisis. We have gone to sleep desperately whispering prayers for support and love and guidance and safety.

Looking back on scary times, it's hard to fathom the arms that caught us and lifted us from the mire, the arms that fed us and nurtured us back from the edge, the arms that helped us learn to stand again.

And somehow, that experience renders us more able to offer that kind of lifeline love and support to others - others we sometimes barely know.

Why is it that in strong times, we stand so solidly upon our own two feet? What if we were always leaning somehow on others?

This week's readings remind us that we are not called to be "in control." We are called instead to love one another and to allow ourselves to be loved.

The reading from Acts continues to follow the actions of the apostles in the earliest days of their movement after Jesus' death and resurrection. Peter and John have been arrested; their position is precarious. Leadership in Jerusalem is skeptical of this motley crew. Peter and John are asked by what power they have performed miracles. Note that Peter's response is by the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own. And these men really don't claim credit for the healing that they have done. Healing has happened "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." If you read on, you'll find that Peter and John are instructed by the council to discontinue their healing and teaching ministry in Jerusalem. But Peter and John cannot keep from doing what itis that God has them doing.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known verses of the Bible. It praises the comfort that God provides. Using the image of a shepherd, the Psalmist frames God as a caregiver, a safeguard and a comfort.

In the First Letter of John, the community is reminded that they have been called by God, in the example and teachings of Jesus to love one another. The author reminds the community that words and speech are not enough -- we are called to love in truth and action. During Lent, we were struck by how abundant and extravagant Jesus' love was through his actions. It is a little overwhelming to think of ourselves to love in that same way. But that's exactly what the author is calling the reader to do.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is teaching the Pharisees in a style that is close to a parable, comparing a familiar thing with one less familiar, about who he is and what he is called to do. Jesus claims that he is the good shepherd -- good being the operative term. He's the shepherd who knows each of his sheep, and whose sheep know him. Here's where it gets interesting - the Father loves Jesus because he will lay down his life for the one flock. No one will take Jesus' life from him, he has the power to lay down his life, and this is a command that he has received from God. So...the shepherd has shepherd, of sorts.

In strong times, we tend to want to be the shepherd and tend to be less able to be shepherded. But there are arms to catch us and people to love us ALL the time.

How do you let people love you?
How do you extend love to people in unexpected ways?

All the chisels I've dulled carving idols of stone
That have crumbled like sand 'neath the waves.
I've recklessly built all my dreams in the sand just to watch, them all wash away.

Through another day, another trial, another chance to reconcile
To one who sees past all I see.
And reaching out my weary hand I pray that you'd understand
You're the only one who's faithful to me.

All the pennies I've wasted in my wishing well
I have thrown like stones to the sea.
I have cast my lots, dropped my guard, searched aimlessly for a faith
To be faithful to me.

Through another day, another trial, another chance to reconcile
To one who sees past all I see.
And reaching out my weary hand I pray that you'd understand
You're the only one who's faithful to me.
You're the only one who's faithful to me.

Faithful to Me by Jennifer Knapp


3rd Sunday in Easter

Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36b – 48
Acts 3: 12 - 19
1 John 3: 1 - 7

Forgiveness is a tough thing to wrap our minds around, especially when we struggle to take what we have collected and learned from our context and read the biblical texts through our lenses.

Specifically, in the lectionary readings for this week, we see a couple of different perspectives of how the process might work out, and we recognize that we are struggling between the lenses of our lives and with what the text says in black and white, remembering that it was written in a different time and place among a different people with different history, economy, sociology.

We will go at these scriptures (roughly) chronologically as they occurred.

As the concept of God’s forgiveness of humans in the sacrifice of Jesus develops, something of a process gets established: Name your sin, repent / turn away from it, ask for forgiveness, and receive forgiveness. And if we read these developments carefully and do some homework, we can begin to understand some of the early theological struggles of the church, and can begin to understand where cultural biases emerged. And maybe, just maybe, we can peel back some layers and look at the original writings with fresh eyes.

The Psalms were written to be used in acts of worship...offered for both the shaping of the people who participated and for God’s hearing. The Psalmist did not have this emerging forgiveness/atonement process (and certainly no process that involved relationship with an entity other than God-in-one-being) in place as she wrote. At that point in theological history, they were working with a different system. The people of Israel are in direct relationship with their God and speaking to God, they ask for forgiveness and for guidance, and they maintain Torah and keep faith. In Psalm 4.5 she says "offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD." The writer of this psalm is writing from a vantage point of being in the good graces of Yahweh and is encouraging others in how they should pursue such a situation for themselves. In the process she warns that folks should just avoid sinning completely and on top of that, offer sacrifices to make sure all is okay.

Let’s look at both chronology and authorship for the remaining texts. Luke and Acts are both attributed to the same author — an author who was writing a story about a real person caught in the dramatic conflicts of the age. As the story became deeply imbedded in the church, it came to be read as more of an “anti-Jewish story.” We need to be careful to peel away some of that interpretation as we read it afresh. In the passage from Luke we see Jesus in one of his post-resurrection appearances surprising the disciples on the beach. As he was making another attempt to teach the disciples how the scriptures pointed to him and to The Father, he quotes non-specific teachings of that time (pause and note with some interest that these quotes are not specific to any one Hebrew Scripture text) and essentially tells them that what they are reading / have read is happening and (as we learned last week) it is partially their responsibility to share / participate in this forgiveness. It is worth noting that this forgiveness is proclaimed for all nations.

In Acts, we find Peter speaking to some assembled Jews right after the disciples have performed a miracle. It is likely we can all read this passage and understand Peter had good intentions behind what he was saying...he was trying to encourage people to change their ways and follow God as exemplified and illustrated through the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But when we read his actual words it is also easy to feel like he is wagging a disappointed finger at them the entire time. He seems to be taking the "you will be forgiven, but I am not forgetting" approach to things as he recounts their history for them. Now on first reading, we felt like this text was an “us” and “them” text that could be used for finger pointing. “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One” can be dangerous content in the hands of someone bent on pinning blame on a specific population. But it is important to remember that at the time of this writing, this would have been an account of dialogue of disagreement among groups of Jewish people – an ongoing struggle within the family to arrive at some common understanding. But wow, there sure is basis for lingering guilt and shame here!

1 John, as we noted last week, was probably not written by the author of the Gospel of John, but is written in similar tradition and very likely originated in the community in which John might have originally taught. There are similar references and uses of language. The Gospel of John has elements of “wisdom” and “special revelation” that are continued in some of these epistles. This text was also probably written late in the first century, possibly at the same time as Luke and Acts but probably later and definitely to a different community. The writer of 1 John takes yet another slightly different tack. He goes back (similar to the Psalm) to writing to someone as a companion. It even sounds like he is encouraging folks who are already followers of Jesus to continue to be followers of Jesus. The speaker is gathering people back, reminding them that they are all children of God. He encourages them that because of Jesus, because of his righteousness, they are all capable of also being righteous and being without sin. It is certainly a less guilt inducing encouragement.

It is hard to be human. It is hard to be good. It is hard to walk a path toward righteousness and to set an example to the world around us sometimes. And the complexity of the bible doesn’t really make it easy. We have to use our hearts and our minds and other tools available. It is work, isn’t it?

Thanks be to God.

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too. (Oh Lordy)
I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too. (Hallelujah)
I took Jesus as my savior, You take Him, too.
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
Oh, I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
I've got a home in the land of glory,
That outshines the Sun,
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).

Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Oh, Lordy)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me (Hallelujah)
Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me
Look a way beyond the blue (horizon).


Palm Sunday

[It's time for another one of those public service announcements about the structure of the lectionary. If you use a comprehensive source for lectionary texts (like our favorite http://divinity.library.vanderbilt.edu/lectionary/index.htm), you'll notice two sets of readings for this week - one for Palm Sunday and one for Passion Sunday. You see, the folks sitting at the big lectionary table in the sky determined that fewer and fewer people were walking through the experience of holy week by reading through the story and experiencing the three-fold worship service that comprised the Easter Triduum, beginning on Maundy Thursday, continuing through Good Friday and a very long Easter Vigil that lasted for 12 or more hours on Saturday/Sunday, and culminating with Easter Sunday. Not experiencing these days of unfolding the story made for an awkward leap between the traditional observances of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. {Perhaps you've heard the phrase you can't experience resurrection without death?} So... The lectionary was revised to include a more complete telling of the passion story on the Sunday that precedes Easter. And so...]

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47


Have you ever experienced a sort of hypersensitivity to the world around you. For example, if you are someone who has migraines, you might be keenly aware of how overwhelming light can be - how every nerve in your head fires at the brightness around it. Or if you happen to be a woman and have been pregnant, perhaps you have experienced a hypersensitivity to odors - the smell of flowers, citrus, laundry, sour milk, wet ground all take on a nearly three dimensional quality. Or maybe you have been so keenly in love with another human that almost everything around you took on expanded sensory complexity - colors are tactile, sounds have odor, etc. etc. etc. Extravagent. Rich. Stimulating. Overwhelming. Frightening.

The narrative of the last days of Jesus' life can read in this extrasensory way. The players all seemed to be experiencing overwhelming response to the world around them. And it altered their ability to be human - or maybe it altered their humanity - they could no longer see how they were contributing to the forward momentum of events leading to a brutal execution surrounded by an angry mob. The readings this week drag us through that emotional space.

And so for this week's readings (that really lead us right up to the resurrection) we are not going to impose too much more of a frame on the scriptures. Instead, we encourage you to read through them--especially the passage from Mark--maybe even read them out loud and pay attention to the different emotions that show up in the different people in the story.

-Take some time to imagine what each person might be feeling.
-How do each individual's emotions change as the story moves forward?
-Do you identify with any of these emotions yourself?

The Remains by Mark Strand
I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.

What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.

My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds. How can I sing?
Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.