Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

training in godliness, 4.14.13

Luke 24: 36-49
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

1 Timothy 4:6-16
6If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 11These are the things you must insist on and teach.

12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

            This time of year, the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return to heaven, I think about how Jesus spent his time. Jesus had a limited amount of time to get his disciples ready to continue his mission when he was gone. The way Jesus prepared his disciples in that short period of time is a great hint for how we should prepare for our mission now.

Last week you read the story of Jesus meeting two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The focus last week was on how the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke the bread. We still meet Jesus when we break bread in his name today.

The other part of that passage that really stands out for me is that Jesus teaches his disciples about the scriptures. They were sad because they thought Jesus was the Messiah, the promised king who would rescue Israel from Roman domination. They understood enough about the scriptures to have seen Jesus as God’s promised king, but they couldn’t understand how that fit with his death.

In fairness, most people wouldn’t have either. None of Jesus’ disciples put it all together before Jesus’ resurrection, even though he gave them hints along the way. To understand what the Bible says about the Messiah, you have to put a bunch of pieces together. It’s not like there’s a big section of the Old Testament that talks about what to expect. Instead there are bits of Isaiah that talk about a suffering servant. There are bits of the Psalms that talk about a rejected stone becoming the capstone. There are references to a prophet like Moses and a king like David, but it doesn’t all come together.

Looking for the Messiah in the Old Testament is like watching a mystery movie. There are a bunch of pieces that fit together, but it’s not clear how they fit together until you know the ending. That’s what Jesus does on the road to Emmaus. He puts the pieces of scripture together so the disciples can understand how Jesus is the Messiah and how he had to die to fulfill God’s plan.

After Jesus disappears the disciples say to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning inside us as he walked with us and opened the scriptures to us?” There are two things going on in that. First, the scriptures are a big part of how we see Jesus. We meet Jesus in the Bible. That can be a powerful encounter, so not only are the disciples’ minds engaged as they start to understand what Jesus is telling them, their hearts are touched as well. We meet Jesus emotionally as well as intellectually.

Our passage for today picks up right after that story. Those disciples speed back to Jerusalem where their companions are gathered. The other disciples share the exciting news that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter. Then the two disciples from the road tell their story of meeting Jesus.

No sooner have they finished than Jesus himself appears in the room. First, he convinces the disciples that he has really risen from the dead, that he is not a ghost or a figment of their imagination. Then he repeats the lesson he shared with the two disciples on the road. He helps them understand how the scriptures have been pointing to him in his life, death and resurrection.

His instruction to them is important. He needs to open their minds to understand the Bible. But the point isn’t just so they understand; the point is so they can share the story and the good news of forgiveness with others. He tells them that they’re not quite ready for the mission he’s giving them. They need more than just a Bible lesson; they also need the Holy Spirit to strengthen them for the mission that lies ahead of them. Jesus tells them to wait for that power before they get started, so they wait until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fills them with courage and ability.

Even before the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost to empower the disciples for their mission, they are already different from the scared group of men and women they were before Jesus’ death. Christ’s resurrection has shown them that Jesus is the Messiah and that God is in charge. Once the Spirit comes, the puzzle is complete and the disciples are ready to be the church.

When the disciples start teaching, one of the things we notice right away is that they have a clear sense of who Jesus is and how that fits the scriptures. That has to do with four things: Jesus helping the original disciples to understand the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus showing them that Jesus is the Messiah and is stronger than death, the Holy Spirit’s teaching and power in their ministry, and the continuing focus on scripture in the church. Act tells us that the disciples were in the temple often to worship God. I bet they were also there to study scripture and talk about God with other believers.

We also see the importance of the Bible in letters like Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul writes to Timothy about how to lead the church. Two things about his advice seem particularly important today. He tells Timothy to give attention in his leadership to public reading of scripture, exhortation and teaching. We don’t know exactly how the early church did its teaching. Probably some of it was sort of like this: a leader reading scripture and helping the congregation to understand it. Some of it was probably in small groups like Supper and Scripture or other kinds of Bible study. A lot of it was probably less formal than that, maybe believers getting together in their homes to read scripture together.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Risen indeed! 3.31.13

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7, 12-26
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

            The Easter story is the core of the Christian faith. It’s also a little hard to swallow. For many of us the basic story of Jesus makes sense. We grew up hearing stories of Jesus and his teachings. We’ve learned about his commitment to justice, his love and welcome for surprising people. We connect with his call to love others as we love ourselves and treat other people as we want to be treated. Even if we didn’t grow up in a church, our greatest values as a society were shaped by Jesus’ teachings.

            We can probably understand Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders too. He guided people to God directly without getting obsessed with religious rules and traditions and authorities. That made the leaders uncomfortable, like serious change does in any institution. They couldn’t dismiss him, so they found a way to put him to death. We know enough about human selfishness and violence to believe that. It’s tragic and terrible, but it fits with what we know is wrong with the world.

            The resurrection is harder to believe. It doesn’t fit with what we know at all. When people die, they don’t come back. We’d like to believe in the resurrection, but it’s awfully hard to accept. We want to believe. We want love to be stronger than death. We long for a reason to hope that the world’s story has a happy ending, but we almost don’t dare.

            We’ve been disappointed before. So many things that we’ve hoped for haven’t materialized. The world is hard, and we don’t want to look soft. We don’t want to be suckers. It’s easier not to trust too much, and the resurrection is a huge leap of faith.

            We’re in good company when we have trouble believing the resurrection. Thomas couldn’t believe until he’d seen Jesus himself. The women in our story today were not only amazed, but afraid as well when they heard the news. They saw the angel with their own eyes and heard his message in the same tomb in which they had seen Jesus’ body laid. Still, the enormity of the angel’s announcement overwhelmed them, and they couldn’t share the message. If they struggled then, how can we believe now?

            I wasn’t there myself, and I can’t prove the resurrection to you. What I come back to every time is the testimony of the disciples. The women who followed Jesus from Galilee saw him alive after his death. The eleven disciples who had spent the last three years with Jesus saw him alive again after his death. Other disciples who had met Jesus along the way saw him alive on the road to Emmaus, or in a locked room or somewhere else in the month after his resurrection. Paul says Jesus appeared to more than 500 believers after his resurrection.

            They saw him alive, after they knew he had been killed. And more than just seeing him and telling others about it, which they could have made up if they wanted to, they committed their lives to his message. Many of the apostles died for their faith. Many other early Christians did too. They bet their life on the truth of Christ’s resurrection, the truth of Christ’s victory over death. They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t really sure.

            Beyond that, the apostles and the growing community around them experienced the power of the risen Christ in their lives. People kept meeting Jesus, even those who hadn’t known him during his live. People, like Paul, who had never met Jesus experienced his presence in a transformative way, and gave their lives to the good news of God’s love in Christ. The power of the resurrection went beyond Jesus.

            That’s what Paul’s talking about in our passage from First Corinthians. The resurrection we celebrate today starts with Jesus, but it goes beyond him. From Adam and Eve until Jesus, death was the end of the line. Death had the final say. All the money, all the success, all the power in the world couldn’t stop death.

            Jesus changes all that. Human power, hatred and jealousy did their worst. The religious leaders and political powers fought against him. They tortured and killed him. But for Jesus death was not the end. In that moment death lost its victory. In Jesus’ resurrection love triumphs over death once and for all, not just for Jesus, but for all of us too.

            On the outside, it seems like nothing has changed, but everything has changed. Jesus has been raised and one day we will be raised up too. The power of the resurrection offers us new life. When we read about the early church, we see that the power of the resurrection is true. Those men and women decided to trust the risen Christ. They chose to believe that death wasn’t going to win. They didn’t just believe it in their heads; they bet their lives on it. They spend their lives telling other people about God’s amazing love. They spent their lives building community so strong that people shared everything.

Some traveled across the world to share the message of love. Others dropped everything to host missionaries in their towns. When a deadly plague struck Rome, everyone who could, left the city, except the Christians. The Christians in Rome stayed to care for the ill and dying. They did that because they knew they didn’t need to fear death, because Jesus had already conquered it.

That resurrection power, the faith that God can overcome every evil and deadly force, that hope is stronger than death, that love is stronger than fear runs through the history of the church. It was at work in nameless Christians teaching new believers when they knew the Empire might kill them for it. It was at work in St. Augustine watching barbarians destroy Rome, the center of Christian faith, but still trusting that God could use even that disaster for some good purpose.

The power of the resurrection was at work in St. Francis, serving the poor and restoring a church fallen into cynical isolation. It was there in Martin Luther, facing death for his faith, and in Martin Luther King believing God’s promise that in Jesus Christ all human divisions are overcome.

The power of Christ’s resurrection is still working in the world. It’s working in churches in Africa where there are so many people coming to know Jesus that they can’t fit into the church buildings. It’s working in Egypt, where it’s risky to follow Jesus, but people are following anyway. It’s happening in Chicago where a church of 30 that everyone expected to close rediscovered their neighborhood and the power of Christ in community.

It’s happening right here at Laurelton, where years of declining membership and finances are starting to turn around. A small congregation is opening its doors to the neighborhood and finding new life in the power of Jesus. Neighbors are discovering relationships and community in a simple breakfast. People are learning and growing by talking about the Bible over supper. We’re building community with new people and learning to ask deeper questions about what it means to follow Jesus today.

I’ve found in my own life that the more I trust Jesus, the more I cling to the resurrection, the more I let go of my fear, the better my life gets. Resurrection power isn’t just life after death, it’s also more life now.

Jesus bet his life that God’s calling was real. He faced death on the cross for you and me, and sure enough, love triumphed over death as he rose from the grave. Since then women and men across the centuries and around the globe have been betting on the resurrection, trusting that life conquers death. I’m betting my life on the resurrection now, and I invite you to join in the adventure of following the risen Jesus.

The power of the resurrection doesn’t mean everything is clear or easy. Things still go wrong, we make mistakes, recovery is fragile, people we love still die. But we can trust that death or error or fear or financial trouble will not have the last word. Christ is risen, and one day we will rise with him to see the redemption of all creation. We have nothing to fear because love is stronger than death. Christ is risen indeed.

Thanks be to God.