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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Raise me up, Jesus

Easter 4, Yr. C
John 10:22-30, Revelation 7:9-17,  Psalm 23
Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

I am weary of crying over lives of promise that won't be fulfilled.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of mourning the devastation caused by the power of a creation I believe to be good.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of trying to forgive people who have lost sight of the preciousness of every life and of trying to cope with my own anger.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of reassuring children that they will be secure even as I fear for their safety.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of reading stories of heroism that make me wonder if I would have the courage to run toward danger, rather than away.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of seeing flags at half mast.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
I am weary of trying to call upon a loving God in the midst of a world that seems to be meting out so much brutality.
•    Raise me up, Jesus!
You too? Are you weary?
•    Raise us up, Jesus!

I don't know that any year is easy, but this one has seemed harder than most. I long for a peaceful, gentle interlude that, quite honestly, makes no challenging demands upon me as a pastor and preacher, as a parent, as a person...a green pasture where I can safely graze and rest without anxiety about the past or fear for the future. I suspect I'm not alone in this. And you know what? I don't think there's anything wrong with wishing for that; our hearts and minds are shaped with a longing for the Garden, for a renewal of the time when we lived in perfect connection with creation, with each other, and with God.
  • Raise us up, Jesus, to that day when your new creation is perfectly revealed.

I suppose one alternative is to shut down our emotions, to try walling ourselves off from the pain and anger and sense of impotence. There are mornings when the alarm goes off and I know from the radio announcer's tone, even before comprehending the actual words, that yet another tragedy has struck...and I want to stick my head under the pillow. Another preacher I know posted this quote: "I don't know which is worse. The terror you feel the first time you witness such things, or the numbness that comes after it starts to become ordinary.”* Making the horribly extraordinary ordinary is certainly a way of defending ourselves against the pain, but that's not who I want to be.
  • Raise us up, Jesus, when our hearts start to turn to stone.

Every year in the church's calendar, the 4th Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear passages that for many of us are among our most familiar and favored. Even if there's a wee bit of suggestion that we might be like not-so-clever sheep, we love the idea of One who will guard us, guide us, feed us, lead us. But when people suffer, when people die, when we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death and that  good shepherd is hard to find--in Newtown and New Jersey, in Boston and Afghanistan, in Texas and in China, on the riverbanks of the Mississippi and even the hillsides of Altadena--I wonder where the goodness and mercy are. Aren't they supposed to be following us all the days of our life?
It turns out that we've tamed those words far too much; what we translate "follow" might more accurately be read as "pursue." A whole different image, isn’t it, of goodness and mercy pursuing us?! Perhaps I'm not giving God enough credit; could it be that humanity is moving fast and erratically, and God is doing God's best to keep up with us? Maybe those heroes running toward danger, not away, are angels in God's pursuit. Maybe the individuals who walk in here with cans & coins in hand, who lift up their hearts in prayer or their voices in song, who speak on behalf of those who have been silenced, who sit with those who are in darkness are the incarnation of goodness and mercy. Maybe one of the ways the Good Shepherd catches up with us is when we embody his love.
  • Raise us up, Jesus, when others need us.

Of course we pray to be saved from the time of trial…no one sidesteps it completely. I've said before and will say many times more that I believe God cries with us when these ordeals come to us. God isn't oblivious to the world's pain, nor unmoved by our tragedies, nor absent from human suffering; one look at that cross tells us very much the opposite. And so I hold fast to the promise that no one can snatch us from God's loving hands. We profess our faith by continuing, as best as we can manage, to act out of our belief in God's constant presence. We may not always hear God, but God can be there in the silence. We entrust ourselves to God who, by prodding and poking and calling and sometimes carrying us, guides our feet along the pathways of the kingdom. We're on a journey with a shepherd who brings us to the springs of the waters of life, toward that time when there's no more hunger, no more thirst, no more sun striking us, no more scorching heat, when weariness weighs us down no longer and our hearts are healed.
  • Raise us up, Jesus…raise us up, Jesus…restore our souls, pursue us with goodness and mercy, and wipe away every tear from our eyes.

*The Fatal Waltz

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Peace & Doubt

The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook
Easter 2, Year C
John 21:1-31
    I saw a cartoon earlier in the week that seemed to make a fair point. In it, Thomas--most commonly known as Doubting Thomas--is lamenting, "All I'm saying is we don't call Peter 'Denying Peter' or Mark 'Ran away naked Mark.' Why should I be saddled with this title?"
    Good question, and one that has had me mulling over the possibilities. Sure, Thomas doesn't believe the witness of the other disciples when they told him they'd seen the Lord...but consider that those other disciples hadn't believed the women who came to them with news that the Lord was risen either. There was plenty of doubting going on, and with good reason; honestly, if someone came to you with a story like this, would you believe it? So why does Thomas get the bad rap?
    I wonder if in part it's because his questioning is something that mirrors our own, and by naming it, we acknowledge that his struggle is also our own. Who among us hasn't had questions, wondered what this resurrection and Jesus's wounds and sin & forgiveness stuff is all about? Who among us hasn't looked life's horrors and wondered if God has abandoned us? Who among us hasn't thought that the incarnation is a pretty crazy, risky way to get your point across if you're God? Who among us, even if not seeing and yet believing, wouldn't give quite a lot to get to see, too? Thomas--the twin--is our double in his honest questioning and doubt.
    Thomas is struggling with believing. Well, welcome to the human race. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, wrote "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep." Question marks are all around us, and sometimes it seems like the more we discover and "know for sure," the more questions we uncover. I don't see that as a bad thing, and I'm not reading this passage to mean that Jesus does either. It's simply where Thomas is at that point, and then he has an experience of the risen Lord that shifts him to least for the moment. I find it interesting that in some combination of his being flexible enough--never say, "Never"--and Jesus being, well, Jesus, Thomas is able to be transformed by the Spirit to become a believer. And not a believer "again" but a new believer, because it was one thing to follow Jesus the first time around and quite a different matter to be his disciple after the resurrection. His life and death took on huge new meanings when set in the context of his new life, and any of the disciples can be excused for not being on board, not really getting it, immediately.
    Thomas's disbelief also doesn't stop him from being part of the community of disciples, which is obviously a good thing because if he'd said, "You all are full of it...I'm outta here," then he wouldn't have been there when Jesus showed up again the next week,   though I kind of like to think Jesus would have tracked him down wherever he was. Nor did his friends send him packing for his doubt. They all kept moving forward, each in the best way he or she knew how, but together, in support of one another and perhaps with a shared hope, even if where they were on the road toward that vision differed for each one. That's a pretty good model for the church, I think. What if we could understand the doubters and questioners in our midst to have particular gifts to help all of us on the journey, and we invited the open sharing of questions for that very reason?
    The gospel writer very much wants us to believe also, to be ones who have not seen and yet believe, and yet he doesn't want to argue us into it. By his own admission, he gives us evidence, but not every last piece, maybe because in the end he knows that the witness of others can't do the whole job. One way or another, each of us is going to have to encounter the risen Christ on our own terms, in a way that speaks to our heart. Whether it's in the transcendence of feeling the breath of the Holy Spirit or in the depths of touching Christ's wounds and connecting them with our own and the world’s, it ultimately needs to be our experience, not someone else's, though they may point the way.
    Perhaps that's why Jesus starts out these appearances with a blessing of peace. To those who are fearful about the consequences of belief, to those who are worried about not believing, to those who are challenged by others who don't believe or who believe differently, Jesus offers the gift of peace. His peace unites us in the face of all the closed doors that threaten to separate us. Peace, that it is okay to doubt. Peace, that it is fine to ask questions and to come to different conclusions. Peace, that it is normal to want to see for ourselves. Peace, that we are human...because it is for our sake that Jesus became human and brought us abundant life, here and forever, in God's resurrection kingdom.

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Loved to the end

The Very Rev. Sylvia Sweeney
Maundy Thursday, 3/28/13

     Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  To the end of time.  To the end of the rainbow.  To the ends of the earth.  To the end of the road.  It’s not really our way you know?  To love someone all the way to the end.  The world many of us grew up in and know all too well is a world where love is not a gift, but something you have to work for and earn…and some of us have never quite figured out how to earn that love from the people who seem to matter to us most. 
     But think about it.  That couldn’t have been what was going on that day in that oh so private moment between Jesus and his closest friends.  If Jesus’ love had been saved for those who had earned it, who deserved it…who would have deserved it that day?  Who would have been good enough or strong enough or smart enough or anything enough to have earned and deserved that amazing, astounding, extraordinary, wise, sweet, humble, poignant… love?
     Have you ever wondered why that night when Jesus poured out his love to his friends in the most vivid and intimate way he could find to share it…Why would he wash their feet?  Why wash Judas’ feet? Even that night I don’t think it mattered if Judas was able to accept and receive Jesus’ love and devotion…at that point it didn’t matter to Jesus what others did with his love so much as it mattered what he did with it.  It mattered that having loved his own who were in the world he would want to, need to, have to…love them to the end.  To the end of time.   To the end of the rainbow.  To the ends of the earth.  To the end of the road.
     If Christianity is about anything…if having our sins washed away is about anything…if having a savior is about anything…it is about stumbling during some desperate moment in our lives upon that one almost hidden unlocked door that leads from seeing ourselves as hideous and unloveable to knowing ourselves to be loved with a love that stretches and reaches and touches us in our most vulnerable and alone, unloved and forsaken selves.
     If this week is about anything, it is about remembering what it is like to find out for the very first time that as implausible, inconceivable, and impossible as it may seem to be to us…we are not alone in this life. We are far from alone.  We are loved! We are loved and always will be loved…loved with a love that can’t be earned, loved with a love that can’t be shaken, loved with a love that has no end.  Just like that band of disciples secreted away in that upstairs room, we are loved as his own, loved to the end.

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