Benediction Online

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Peace be with you
John 20:19-31

Personally I’ve never had any trouble believing in the virgin birth. After all, if we can believe that Jesus was resurrected why can’t we believe that he was divinely fathered? But I know that’s something that many people have big doubts about. I’ve had people tell me that they can’t join the church or they can’t be Christians because they just don’t believe that Mary was a virgin. It always amazed me that it’s such a big deal until a friend told me that a generation ago her mother was denied baptism because she didn’t believe it. People remember things like that for a long time.

I have my own doubts, just not about Mary’s virginity.

I have long doubted that God listens to the prayers of fat women. Much of my life I have been overweight and I have doubted that the Almighty is taking as much interest in my prayers as he would if I was at a so-called healthy weight.

I can’t however report that my prayers have become more effective as I’ve lost weight!

So we all have doubts, some rational, some not so much. Today’s gospel is such a blessing for those of us who doubt quite a lot.

Thomas missed seeing Jesus the first time he came to them. And he doubted. So much so that we often call him Thomas the Doubter. He missed the big event and he said he thought it pretty unlikely. He wasn’t about to be fooled by an apparition like the rest of the disciples who were so nervous and jumpy that any little noise seemed like a big deal. And then Jesus appears, and suddenly Thomas isn’t so sure of himself. It really is Jesus. Right there, standing in front of him. Just like they said.

Notice what Jesus says as soon as he arrives, "Peace be with you." "Peace be with you."
That is his loving response to our fears and our doubts, "Peace be with you."

Jesus doesn’t judge us because we have doubts. Jesus doesn’t laugh at us for not being sure, for wondering if God really exists or whether it’s just a nice bedtime story. Jesus stands in front of us and simply says, "Peace be with you."

Theological doubt can be very healthy. We humans are creatures of meaning – we are always constructing explanations and meaning for the events of our lives. We feel more confident when we have a sense of how and why things are happening the way they are. But sometimes our lives outstrip our theology. Something happens which throws our carefully constructed maps of the universe into disarray. It forces us to either abandon our faith or to grow.

It’s a scary time. Nothing seems solid any more. The disciples were in the middle of a period like that. Jesus had died but they thought and hoped against hope that he had somehow come back to life. How could they know for sure? What was going to happen to them? They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah but now he was dead or maybe not, and what would the authorities do when they heard the rumors? Would they come after his followers next?

The disciples gathered on the first day of the week – their new holy day - and they were afraid.

If you’re like me often when you gather your thoughts there is an undertow of fear. Fear that I’ve forgotten something crucial. Fear that there won’t be enough money. Fear of being alone. Fear of failure,

We all live with degrees of fear and anxiety. They are the cousins of doubt. When we come to God bringing our inner rooms of fear, Jesus comes to us and says "Peace be with you."

Often we think about prayer as a long list of things for which we are concerned, people who are in our thoughts, things done and left undone. I have found that when I am anxious, doubtful or fearful my prayer can circle back in on itself – that as I bring to God that which troubles me it starts to loom larger because I am focusing on it. I become more anxious rather than less. It’s not helpful.

It’s not helpful because I am so busy and preoccupied with my problem that I cannot see or hear God. I want to suggest an alternative way of praying for those of us who get caught in fear and doubt. I want to suggest that we focus not on the problem but on God. God never turns to us in anger or recrimination. God is always courteous, loving and gentle.

So when we pray, instead of talking about the problems, which God already knows anyway, I suggest that we focus on God by sinking into the place where we connect with the deeper and wider and greater reality which is the divine. It is a place of peace. Jesus comes to us and he looks at our doubts and our fears and says four words. "Peace be with you."

Let’s close our eyes for a moment and just hear him say that; "Peace be with you." "Peace be with you." … "Peace be with you." Can you let that sink into the bottom of your stomach and sit there like a calm, warm solid feeling of safety? "Peace be with you."

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Evil has no Clothes on.

Were you surprised when you got to church this morning to find out that today is Easter? No, I wasn’t surprised either. I look forward to Easter, for months beforehand I check and double-check the date – when is Easter this year? We prepare throughout Lent and Holy Week so when it’s finally here and we can say “The Lord is Risen” we have a sense of joy and arrival, perhaps even of relief, but no surprise. No astonishment.

So it’s difficult for us to put ourselves in the place of the disciples who were taken totally off guard by the tremendous surprise of Easter. All that Jesus said to warn them didn’t really prepare them for the heartbreak and the grief and then the amazing, unbelievable – can it be true- resurrection of their beloved friend and Master.

In order for us to even begin to understand Easter we need to go to a place of beginner’s mind. We need to allow ourselves to let go of our pre-conceived notions, all the things we learned growing up, let go of the lilies and the chocolate and the bunnies because that isn’t Easter. Easter is something far more grown up and serious and life changing and if we can even glimpse it for a moment we will never be the same again.

Mary Magdalene didn’t know it was Easter. She went to the tomb just to remember, to try to hold on to the memories and the hopes and the life and the dreams which had been wiped out, devastatingly destroyed when Jesus refused to use his power to oppose the authorities who killed him as a traitor. She didn’t recognize the empty tomb as Easter, it was just one more blow. Now even his body had been taken away from her. And she was so blinded by her grief that she didn’t recognize Jesus when he came to her.

Often we don’t recognize Jesus when he comes to us. The disciples never got the hang of immediately recognizing Jesus in his resurrection body, so it’s not surprising that we have to work to open our inner eyes to see Jesus the Christ present in our own lives. Mary was blinded by grief; we are blinded by many things.

The powers of darkness of Jesus’ time did not want him preaching and challenging and, horrors, saving people. They didn’t want him going around telling people that their sins were forgiven and setting them free. The systems that keep us trapped depend on misinformation. They depend on us believing that we are separated from God, that we are miserable sinners who have to grovel again and again. The power elites of our own time specialize in creating monsters for us to fear, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Iran, Muslims, gays and lesbians. They specialize in keeping us alert. on edge, afraid that if we resist the system itself we will be unpatriotic, allowing enemy forces to get the upper hand.

We are blinded by the sleight of hand of politicians but much more so by the things we take for granted. That it’s important to look out for number 1 because no-one else will, that it’s ok to ridicule and make jokes about people with different views and life experience, that progressives and conservatives can’t be friends, that we have to take sides, that it’s ok to get angry and hold grudges, that if we’re not having fun it’s time to move on.

We are blinded my friends by the matrix of sin which has its fingers into the very structures and synapses of our brains.

It has tried to suck the life out of Easter by making it a fun frivolity, a time for chocolate, bunnies and eggs, for pinks and yellows and special recipes, a day with friends and family. A fun sweet popsicle of a day. Those things are great, but if we are tricked into thinking that that is Easter we are eating a diet of empty calories which will eventually leave us empty, starving and craving more.

Easter is so much more.

By raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God the triune one, demonstrated that the powers of this world, the matrix of sin which seeks to hold us in its grip, has failed. No longer need we be blinded by sin, no longer need we go with the mob, afraid to stand against them, no longer need we fear the retribution of an angry God.

In Jesus’ resurrection, God exposed the impotence of the sin matrix and the power of God in Christ over everything including everything that is not of God, everything that we would understand as human and sinful, everything that we know to be evil.

It’s like the old story of the Emperor who was very vain and wanted to look better than anyone else. He ordered a set of clothes from a highly regarded designer who wanted to teach the Emperor a lesson. The designed did not make anything, but went through elaborate fitting and refitting sessions so that the Emperor, who could not see the clothes he was trying on, thought he was missing something. He was too proud to say that he could not see this great internationally renowned designers work, and his courtiers were too what? Frightened? Conniving? Stupid? - to tell him themselves. So the day came for The Emperor to wear his new clothes in a grand procession. Everyone cheered and clapped and the Emperor was proud. Until he heard a small girl say, “But Daddy the Emperor has no clothes on!”

Evil has no clothes on! Jesus’ resurrection exposed the powerlessness of the dark forces. God is in charge, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Life is greater than death.

One day we will all be in a new world where it will be obvious to everyone that evil has no clothes on. Until then we get to live in this beautiful yet quirky world where we are constantly facing the sin matrix, in our own minds and everywhere we look. Jesus’ death and resurrection showed us that the way to resist violence, anger and backbiting is not to meet it with more violence, anger and backbiting, but to respond with nonviolence, lovingly, peacefully, steadily.

And that is Easter for grown-ups. The sin system exposed as ultimately powerless. And the invitation of our God to become the daughters and sons of Gods ourselves, like Jesus to meet darkness with light, like Jesus to meet violence with non-violence, like Jesus to experience power over sin and life everlasting!

The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!