Saturday, April 30, 2016

“How Do You Look at Things?” - May 1, 2016

Philippians 2:1-11

            So, here’s a challenge:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”   [Philippians 2:3-4]

That is exactly the opposite outlook from the one that we are generally encouraged to hold. 

We make fun of people who don’t take competition seriously.  Consider how silly Tom Lehrer’s song, “Fight Fiercely, Harvard!” sounds:

“Fight fiercely, Harvard,
Fight, fight, fight!
Demonstrate to them our skill.
Albeit they possess the might,
Nonetheless we have the will.
How we shall celebrate our victory,
We shall invite the whole team up for tea
(how jolly!)
Hurl that spheroid down the field, and
Fight, fight, fight!

Fight fiercely, Harvard,
Fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
Oh, fellows, do not let the crimson down,
Be of stout heart and thru.
Come on, chaps, fight for Harvard's glorious name,
Won't it be peachy if we win the game?
(oh, goody!)
Let's try not to injure them, but
Fight, fight, fight!
And do fight fiercely!
Fight, fight, fight!”

We may not like competition, and we may think it goes overboard way too often, but we are part of a system that uses the impulse to compete, to fight, and to win as an organizing principle.  One economist writes,

“…competition is uncomfortable and costly to competitors. Some entrepreneurs enjoy the market rivalry per se. But most people are ambivalent about competition in a particular way; they would like to avoid competing on their own side of the market, but welcome competition among those they buy from or sell to. In a free society, people are, of course, entitled to rest on their laurels by not competing, but they will lose market share, and their assets will probably lose value.”[1]  

One of the major roles we assign to a government is to maintain a fair field for competition to occur, and one of the strongest causes of political turmoil is the perception that the system has been coopted to offer someone an unfair advantage.

            Competition has a tendency to work its way into all areas of life.  One of the most cynical songs in the musical Evita! pictures Evita Peron sleeping her way to the top of Argentine society and says,

“There is no-one, no-one at all
Never has been and never will be a lover
Male or female
Who hasn't an eye on
In fact they rely on
Tricks they can try on
Their partner
They're hoping their lover will help them or keep them
Support them, promote them
Don't blame them
You're the same.”[2]

Again, that’s harsh and extreme, but when you look at a marriage that is troubled, one of the things that is likely to be missing is the sense of working together and of putting your spouse’s needs before your own.  One sign that a child may become troubled as an adult is that his or her parents consider their own individual needs before what is good for their family. 

            It was kind of scary when I was writing this sermon to realize how easy it was to find quotations to illustrate these points.  One of them summarized even that feeling pretty well, a song by John Lennon:

“All I can hear, I me mine
I me mine, I me mine
Even those tears, I me mine
I me mine, I me mine
No one’s frightened of playing it
Everyone’s saying it
Flowing more freely than wine
All through your life I me mine”[3]

There really is no hope in the world of escaping this.

            Ah, but our hope does not come from this world.

            Our hope comes from One who is from beyond, and who has a broader view of what is good and true and, yes, possible.  Our help comes from someone who, even in reaching out to us, displays what it is to lay aside one’s own prerogatives.  Our help comes from a hand that let go of what was its own in order to be able to grasp us and lift us out of the chaos and anxiety and trouble that self-centeredness brings upon us.  Our help comes from one who shows us how to do that for others, which is part of the escape to real freedom.  In letting go of ourselves we find ourselves.  In trusting him, we find life.

            Have you had enough of the cycle of greed and grasping and pride and bragging and all the fear that underlies it?

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.” 
[Philippians 2:5-8]

And if you fear the outcome – because, yes, there is a cross involved, and there is pain and suffering for his followers as well – remember God’s long term plan does not stop at the cross and the grave.  When

   “he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
[Philippians 2:8-11]

So, go ahead:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  [Philippians 2:1-2] 

I dare you.

[1] Wolfgang Kasper, “Competition” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, 2nd edition.

[2] Tim Rice, “Good Night and Thank You” from Evita!, Act I, scene 5.

[3] John Lennon, “I Me Mine” from Let It Be (Apple Records, 1970).

Saturday, April 23, 2016

“Scrapple and Shrimp” - April 24, 2016

Acts 11:1-18

            It can take an effort of the will to eat certain foods.  Have you ever eaten haggis?  It’s a Scottish dish that Wikipedia defines as “a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach though now often in an artificial casing instead”.  If the sheep was slaughtered properly and there’s no pork fat in the suet, this would be kosher.

            Then there’s scrapple.  There’s no way to make that kosher, although I suppose the one time I tried turkey scrapple that might have met the requirements – but it didn’t taste much like the real thing and I wouldn’t recommend it.  I’ve eaten scrapple all my life and like it, but the one time I tried haggis I had to take a deep breath before I put my fork into it.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t scrapple.

            There’s a long-standing debate between whether we eat what we like or whether we like what we eat.  It’s probably a little of both.  To that we add formal or informal taboos around food.  Not only do we consider some animals edible or inedible, there are rules like, “only eat oysters in months with an ‘r’”, and “don’t go swimming for an hour after you’ve eaten”.  Judaism at least has clear rules about what may and may not be eaten and how it is to be prepared.  The books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy set them out in detail.  We sort of go culture by culture and dish by dish, and rely on folkways to tell us that it’s okay to eat possum if you are from the South or rattlesnake chili if you are from Nevada, but not to expect it of anybody from Illinois.

            Those laws from the Torah were considered essential for observant Jews throughout most of their history.  To break them was to commit a sin against God.  The Talmud quotes the ancient Rabbi Aqiba ben Joseph, who said,

"Do not go among scoffers, lest you learn their practices!
Do not break bread with a worldly priest, lest you tread on sacred things!
Do not spread vows, lest you tread on the oaths!
Do not get used to eating at banquets,
lest you end by eating forbidden things!"[1]
All of this is background to consider how fundamentally difficult it would have been for Peter not only to enter the house of a Gentile but also to eat with one, and not only to eat with one but also to eat what the Gentiles ate.  Maybe I don’t want to think about what I’m eating when I’m eating liverwurst, but I won’t be thinking that I’m offending God.  Peter would have felt that.

            Peter felt it so strongly that he argued with God about having to do it.  After having a vision of all kinds of animals, including some that were clearly forbidden, he said,

“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.” [Acts 11:7-10]

As it turned out, the vision was preparing him to be able to see not only the Gentiles’ food, but also the Gentiles themselves as acceptable to God in a way that had nothing to do with the keeping of dietary law.  What would matter would be the way that they would come to place their faith in the good news of Christ, who would be Savior of all people across all lines and borders.

            Peter later told other apostles back in Jerusalem,

“At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” [Acts 11:11-17]

We accept distinctions among people.  God breaks them down.  We use all kinds of criteria, some of them even based in religious practice, to say who is a good person and who is a bad person.  God, however, doesn’t just give up at that point, the way we so often do. 

God was at work in that other household, among a community of non-Jews, before Peter even arrived.  He was instrumental in sharing the good news, but it was the God who had prepared the way who would also complete the conversion of their hearts after Peter was through speaking.  God very well may be at work in the lives of people we want nothing at all to do with, and would advise our children to stay away from, and with whom we would keep our own dealings to a minimum.

If you think about it, after all, it isn’t the people who have it all together for whom the Lord came.  (If, in fact, anybody really fits that description anyway.)  It was for sinners and for people who are on destructive paths.  What was celebrated by Peter and the apostles when Peter returned to Jerusalem was that

“‘God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’ [Acts 11:18]

Nobody gets closed out of the opportunity to turn to God and live.  Not by their past, no matter how clouded, and certainly not by where they were born or what they eat.

            The gift of the Holy Spirit, that spoke in many languages at Pentecost, also speaks to the inmost part of each human being. 

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:14-17]

That makes all the ups and downs worth it, something as difficult as turning away from deeply ingrained patterns of life, or something as easy as eating a basket of fried shrimp.

[1] Babylonian Talmud (supplement), Aboth de R. Nathan A 26.2

Saturday, April 16, 2016

“Stitching Things Up” - April 17, 2016

Acts 9:36-43

There’s something fascinating about this woman Dorcas or Tabitha (whose name in English would be Gazelle), and about the role that she played in one of the earliest Christian communities.  We’re kind of like Peter, in that the first thing we learn about her is that she is dead and that there are a lot of people upset about that.

            If it were made into a movie, the scene would have the potential to come across as dark comedy.  Peter is escorted into the room in an unfamiliar house where the corpse is laid out; basically, they walk him into the viewing – which is not an abnormal kind of situation.  When he enters the room, though, he is overwhelmed by a group of women shoving clothing at him.

“All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” [Acts 9:39] 

I can imagine them all talking at once, and Peter trying to figure out what was going on, why they had to show him every little piece of stitchery and needlework while they’re standing next to the body, and all the traditional middle-eastern weeping and wailing going on at the same time, to the point where he has to have them all shown out of the room so he can even think.

            When he did get a moment’s peace, the first thing he did was kneel down and pray, and whether he was praying for it to happen, or whether the Lord spoke to him while he prayed and said to do it,

“He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.[Acts 9:40-41]

Again, if this were in a movie, I could see the swarm of widows engulf her again and all of them move away in a big clump, like the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding that shows up and leaves like a weather front.  That may be the point of it, too.  The Church is, at its heart, a strange and funny family and within it there may be someone who has a role that is not necessarily visible from the outside but which holds them together in a vital way.

            That can go wrong, mind you, in ways that are more or less serious.  Let me give a bad example first.  I knew a church where the United Methodist Women produced a lot of wonderful pickles and jellies and canned fruits and baked goods and salads for the church bazaar every year.  It was a big deal, with dozens and dozens of pre-orders and a display that took up about a quarter of the outside wall of their Fellowship Hall.  It was organized by one woman every year, who had been doing it since John Wesley was a child.  The way she did it was by keeping all the recipes in a big, black binder, each page laminated against spills.  She would hand out assignments a month or so before the bazaar, and give each cook a copy of the page that was needed for a particular dish.  She gave out that page and only that page and collected the copies at the bazaar.  The time came, however, when she began to show signs of dementia.  There was some quiet discussion on the side and when the bazaar’s organizational meeting was held, everyone in the room was prepared for trouble because the chairwoman at one point looked at her and asked her to share the whole binder so they could make a backup copy.  Before the evening was over, someone had pried the book from her hands and the promise was given to her that it would be kept in the church’s safe when it was not in use.  Later it was discovered that there were some recipes with secret ingredients that she had left off the master copy.

            Folks, it is not a good thing to mess with the process in order to make yourself important.  You are already important.  It is not always the prominent person whose ministry has the greatest effect.  In that city of Joppa in the very earliest days of the Church, you would think it would have been one of the great evangelists whose work would have been key to the sharing of the gospel, or maybe someone in the group who had spent time learning of the Kingdom of God from Jesus himself when he had been in the neighborhood, who could have repeated his words and described what it was like to be near him.  But, no.  It was a woman who knew how to sew well, and who pieced together clothing for the people around her and who cared for the poor.  Maybe the person in this room whose good deeds will have the greatest lasting impact will be somebody who can only think about helping a child with homework or babysitting.  Maybe it is someone who makes a point of saying, “Hello,” to someone they don’t know.  Maybe the most important member of this congregation is somebody who cannot even get out to church but who spends time at home praying for those who can.

The example of Dorcas, and why she matters enough to be remembered for her sewing two millennia later, is that she was somebody who did her work for the good of others.

“She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” [Acts 9:36]

That turned out to be what the church in Joppa was good at, and her example kept them focused on the way that

“We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” [I John 4:19-20] 

Keep things clear.  Love God and love your neighbor.  The rest will then fall into place.  It is so easy to get side-tracked by details and demands, by cares and concerns, that situations (and sometimes people) can come unraveled.  That’s when having someone who keeps things clear for herself and for the community and who stitches all the loose ends together becomes all the more of a blessing.

            The women who pried the recipe book out of their sister’s hands were doing that for her.  It wasn’t about the recipes and the food.  That was to help the bazaar.  It wasn’t about the bazaar.  That was to raise funds to heat the church.  It wasn’t about heating the church.  If people really wanted to be there, they could keep their coats on and if it had really come to that, then they were hanging onto a building that wasn’t serving its true purpose.  That purpose was to be a gathering place where people could encounter God’s grace in their own lives and give thanks.  God’s grace for that woman at that moment was to be taught to let go, because she would need to let go of much more as her disease progressed, and to learn that the love of her friends and the love of God did not depend on her fading ability to get things done, but that she was loved simply for herself.

            Thank God for the people who saw that instinctively, and who pulled things together that day.  Thank God for the people who know how to keep us seeking, sharing, and showing God’s love – whoever they may be and however they have to do it.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

“Breakfast with Jesus” - April 10, 2016

John 21:1-19

            If I had a degree in literature, I might look at this passage from John and say, “Wow!  This is one big series of allusions!”  That’s “allusions” with an ‘a’, references; not “illusions” with an ‘i’, dreams.  I might be tempted to draw up two columns, and in one note details from John’s story of Jesus’ beach breakfast with the disciples and in the other note events of their time together before the Resurrection.  And since I was, in fact, an English major, I did that.

The Sea of Tiberias                                                       John 6 Jesus teaches by the sea of Tiberias, Site of the feeding of the 5000

Thomas called the Twin                                         John 11:16 “Thomas, who was called 
                                                                                theTwin, said to his fellow-disciples, 
                                                                               ‘Let us also go, that we may die with 
John 14:5 “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”
John 20 The “Doubting Thomas” incident

Nathanael of Cana                                                        John 2 The Wedding at Cana

The sons of Zebedee                                                    Only mention of them in John, but 
                                                                                     in other Gospels they are fishermen 
                                                                                     to whom Jesus said, “Follow me and 
                                                                                     I will make you fish for people.”

The disciples in a boat; Peter jumping out                    John 6  Jesus walking on water; 
                                                                                    in other Gospels but not in John, 
                                                                                    Peter steps out of the boat to 
                                                                                    walk toward him.        
The disciples fishing but catching nothing                        In other Gospels, but not in John, the disciples are shown failing to perform the miracles that Jesus does.  

Fish and bread                                                              John 6 The Feeding of the 5000

A charcoal fire; Asking Peter “Do you love me?”           John 18 Peter’s Denial of Jesus
three times

“Follow me”                                                                 John 1:43 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
John 13:36  “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’”
In other Gospels, but not in John, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”

Enough is enough, so I’ll stop there.  My point is that in that one scene, John shows Jesus reaching back into the disciples’ memories of their experiences with him and the words that he spoke that first brought them into his circle, and waking a whole swarm of thoughts and feelings. 

            It wasn’t just Peter for whom this would have happened, although the references in his case are clearer and maybe a little bit sharper.  You can hear in that give-and-take between Jesus and him a whole lot of guilt and a whole lot of love mixed up together.

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’”  [John 21:17]

Surely, all the other disciples would also have had their own guilt about fleeing when Jesus was arrested, or about not believing when they were first told he had risen.  They would have had their own deep confusion about what to do with that news when they came to believe it, even (in the case of Thomas) when Jesus was standing in front of him saying, “Go ahead and touch me and see if I’m real or not.”  They would have remembered how he had taken five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5,000 people and maybe asked themselves, “Okay, that was two fish and here we are with – how many? – one hundred and fifty-three.

If 2x = 5,000  then  x = 2,500.
So …  x times 153 = 382,500.

Oh, no!  Are we supposed to feed that many people with this catch?”  For some of them, the words, “Follow me,” were an echo of a call they had answered when they left home to follow Jesus three years earlier.  For others they were a warning that following would mean following Jesus in death as in life.

            You cannot have breakfast with Jesus without that sort of thing happening.  You cannot grow close to him and not begin to accumulate a whole lot of your own memories and experiences of the life of a disciple.  Some of those are warm and fuzzy and some are embarrassing, even painful.  Some of them you might feel free sharing and some of them you don’t want anybody to know about.  They include victories and they include miserable failures.  The good news is that it all goes together and Jesus stays with us through thick and thin.  He’s the kind of friend who knows all about us and loves us anyway.

            There’s a book by David Gregory that was published about ten years ago, that expresses it very well.  It’s called Dinner with a Perfect Stranger.  The storyline is that a man whose life is incredibly normal, which is to say full of good and bad stuff at the same time, gets an invitation out of the blue that says, “You are invited to a dinner with Jesus of Nazareth – Milano’s Restaurant – Tuesday, March 24 – 8 o’clock”.  Thinking it was either a gag or an advertising gimmick, the man goes anyhow and finds himself at a table having a one-on-one discussion over an Italian dinner with somebody who says he’s Jesus and who talks to him about his life as if he really, really, really knows him.  He says things like,

“‘You’re bored, Nick.  You were made for more than this.  You’re worried about God stealing your fun, but you’ve got it backwards.  There’s no adventure like being joined to the Creator of the universe.’  He leaned back off the table.  ‘And your first mission would be to let him guide you out of the mess you’re in at work.’”[1]

I should add that the book’s publication page has a note saying, “The events and characters (except for Jesus Christ) in this book are fictional.” 

That real Jesus is part of our real lives, not just the ones that are polished up for facebook or the high school reunion.  Whenever you sit down with Jesus over breakfast or over dinner or in the quiet of your car in a parking lot, he’s going to tell you things about your life that are good and that are bad, but he will also stick with you and help you out where you need it most.  He did that by telling fishermen where to look for fish, which was welcome to them.  He also did it by telling Peter that if he really loves him he should show it by loving the people Jesus loves and serves, which was the challenge Peter lived for the rest of his life.  Jesus reaches out to us wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves and one way or another, by whatever means he can use, points the way to get from where we are to where we ought to be if we just follow him.

[1] David Gregory, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2005).

Saturday, April 2, 2016

“Now It’s Your Turn”- April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31

            In 1799, a French army officer from Corsica led a coup that put him in charge of the government.  After that, he began a series of battles against other claimants to control of the country and then against other countries, and in 1804 he was in a strong enough position to crown himself Emperor Napoleon I.  He proceeded to spread his dominion over Europe in all directions, but in the East he overreached himself and in 1812 his advance was halted by the Russian army and the Russian winter.  Two years later the Napoleonic Empire had crumbled and Bonaparte was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean.  (“Able was I ere I saw Elba.”)

            Then in February, 1815 the British Navy let its guard down briefly and Napoleon slipped off the island with 1,000 men and landed in France on March 1.  By March 19 he was in Paris and his former troops were returning to arms.  Within a week, Europe was at war again.  This time it was quick, though, with the French meeting their Waterloo on June 18.  On July 15, Bonaparte surrendered himself to the British.  This time they stuck him on an island in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa and they did not let their guard down until he died.  I share this history lesson, which comes courtesy of Wikipedia, because it validates something about the way that people behave when their efforts to establish an empire fail but then they suddenly get a second chance.

            It also shows how different King Jesus is from the rulers of this world.  A writer named Josh Way says of the Resurrection of Jesus:

“Clearly no one in the gospel stories expected Jesus to be resurrected. Even when Jesus made cryptic predictions about his death and vindication, his followers told him to stop talking crazy and asked when he was going to become king and kill all the bad guys. In its native Jewish context, the designation ‘messiah’ had little to do with dying and coming back to life and everything to do with winning wars. After Jesus was executed, no one was looking at their watch wondering what was taking him so long. They were defeated and dejected. Their candidate was gone. The end.

And so when Jesus is resurrected, according to the synoptic gospels, it’s a surprise that completely blindsides his friends and followers. The shock and terror of the disciples is dramatized in the gospel texts, and we sympathize. Running into someone you watched die would be unsettling, to say the least. But once again, a deeper consideration of the historical and political background amplifies the drama. No one had ever imagined that a messianic candidate would die and be resurrected, but if that were to ever happen, surely the vindicated one would start the holy war to end all holy wars. With God clearly on his side, nothing could stop him. The disciples aren’t just scared because they think they’ve seen the ghost of a beloved friend, they’re staring at the risen body of the prophet they betrayed and abandoned. They must be thinking that judgment day is upon them.

But it wasn’t. Jesus announces ‘peace!’ and tells them not to fear. The disciples (and innumerable Christian interpreters since) still want to know when the war will start, and Jesus smiles patiently and shakes his head.”[1]

Jesus is not about revenge.  He’s not about getting even.  He’s not about settling scores, or even keeping score.  There was a time when Peter had asked him how often he had to forgive the same person, whether seven would do it.  Jesus told him,

“Not seven, but seventy times seven.” [Matthew 18:22] 

That wasn’t so that on offense number 491, Peter could feel free go off on someone.  It was so that neither he nor anybody else could or would keep count.  Jesus’ death involved his plea that God would forgive humanity.  Jesus’ resurrection brought with it a call for his followers to live out that forgiveness:

“‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” [John 20:21-23]

Yes, there is that warning at the end that not forgiving someone is possible.  But who “retains” those sins?  Does someone who seeks forgiveness not find it because it is denied?  Or could it be that the one who will not forgive is the one stuck with the sin’s effect, that they are the one for whom it remains a reality?  Jesus carried the marks of his crucifixion into his resurrection, and the record of our terrible abuse of God remains there, but that is not the controlling fact.  The controlling fact is Jesus’ offer of peace.

            He asks us to live the same way.  He gives us our own marching orders.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” [John 20:21]  Like him, we are going to get hurt.  Like him, we are going to know sorrow and defeat.  Like him, we are going to face a world where a call to march across Europe and freeze to death in Russia will meet a more rousing response than a call to love your neighbor and to share your goods with the poor.  But living like him and dying like him, we also rise like him.

            Napoleon is dead.  Jesus is alive.  The Empire is gone.  The Kingdom stands forever.

[1] Josh Way, “Three Glorious Surprises in the Resurrection” at