Sunday, August 14, 2011

If Jesus Can can we

Tough texts, hard times, let those who would hear listen...

August 14, 2011 First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, Queens NY
Matthew 15:10-28

“If Jesus Can Learn…(then so can we)”

“ “Peace, be still”, we use your words that calmed the sea. May our
hearts hear these words and be willing and ready to learn from
your word. And trusting in your grace to guide us, we ask one more
thing: may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of
our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and
our Redeemer. Amen.”

Growing up, I was a picky, picky eater. As I get older I find that I am more adventurous with the foods that I eat. I must say, I am glad that I can at least taste everything on my plate for sometimes I am extremely surprised and delighted by the delicacies placed before me. So to the young people I say, there are foods you many insist that you will never eat just stay open to the idea that one day you may actually like brussel sprouts. I am that way with oysters. If you would have told me when I was younger that I would love oysters, I would have thought you were crazy. And now I find that within the past week, I have had oysters twice!

But there are a few things that I have tried that I just can’t bring myself to eat. My mother says, “Good. If you don’t eat it there’s more for me!” The two things that stand out the most that I can honestly say I don’t eat are chitlins and pigs feet. The key to cooking a good pot of chitlins is to clean them really, really well. Today you can buy them in a bucket already cleaned but you should still clean them again anyway. Chitlins, spelled c-h-i-t-t-e-r-l-i-n-g-s but pronounced “chitt-lins” are pig intestines. I usually leave the house when these are being prepared, I just can’t take the smell.
May I can’t eat them because I have distinct memories of chitlins mishaps. Actually the same mishap happened twice, once with my mother and once with my father. They both prefer to cook their chitlins in a pressure cooker. They would clean the chitlins and season them and lock the top of the cooker by twisting it until the handles on the lid and the pot lined up and clicked. That click ensured that the rubber seal was in place so that the pressure would mount up. As soon as the steam start to come out of the little nozzle on top of the lid they would place a little top on it that would start to shake and rattle as the pressure mounted. But do you know what happens when you don’t check the rubber seal before you start cooking? I do. The pot explodes open sounding like a explosion from a small piece of dynamite. Well can you imagine what happens when the pot explodes that is full of chitlins? Both times we ran into the kitchen to see what happened only to find splattered intestines all over the ceiling, hanging there like stalactites in an underground cave. If I didn’t like chitlins before, I just can’t bring myself to even think having them with that image in my head.

And pigs’ feet…I’ve seen stewed pigs’ feet, pickled pigs feet, grilled pigs’ feet and even barbecued pigs feet. I’ve dutifully tasted them when they were on my plate. For one thing, it’s just too much work for too little food for me. But I must be honest, I have an image in my head of the pig wallowing around in the mud and whatever else. And although I have seen pigs feet before they are cooked clean as can be, I still have a prejudice against them. I stereotype pigs’ feet as food we had to eat because we were so poor. I was ashamed of being poor when I was growing up. And maybe part of me was just being a little rebellious in not wanting to eat what seemed like the leftover part of the pig; intestines and feet.

What is interesting about that is that it feeds into a self-hatred and self-shame about who I am and what I had to go through to become who I am. I bought into the prejudices people have about the poor. And so every time I saw pigs’ feet and chitlins, I felt poor. But that is not uncommon. It is not uncommon to judge people and their level of sophistication by the food they eat. As a matter of fact it is a common misperception many of us have about people but it is an accepted prejudice that is rarely questioned. One thing I have noticed as I have gotten older and more experienced in the culinary arts, is that one poor man’s food is another’s delicacy. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a restaurant and saw on the menu “Braised Pork Belly and Pig Intestines”. It was then I realized that I had been harboring this self-hatred and shame of my poverty so deep in my heart. Strangely enough, it was freeing to remove that from my heart and helped me to live more in accordance with Jesus command, “Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.” I had learned to love myself and now was free to love my neighbor allowing me to love God more and more.

Strangely enough, I have not really strayed all that far from the Gospel lesson from today. It is all about eating, things unclean, stereotypes, prejudice and overcoming prejudices. But you know what I can’t get over about lectionary readings in the Gospel of Matthew for the past few weeks? I can’t stop thinking about the human side of Jesus. After all, he came to earth in human form and died for us so that we might live in grace, have it more abundantly.

For the past three weeks, our gospel lesson included in it somewhere or another that Jesus is trying to find a moment to be alone. In the linear time of our scripture, Jesus has only recently heard that his cousin John has been killed, beheaded. Not only is he grieving for his cousin, but he is now on his own with no “voice crying in the wilderness” to announce his arrival. It must have been a lonely time for Jesus. It must have been a hard time. First he tries to get away on boat and grieve as humans do, to be alone with their thoughts and memories. But the crowds follow him and he has compassion and begins to heal ending with the feeding of more than 5000 people. Then he sends the disciples to cross the waters on a boat so that he could spend some time alone in the mountains praying. But the stormy seas rise and batters the boat in which the disciples travel and Jesus comes to them walking on water. And then he heals again, and again, and again. And today, we find Jesus the man attacked by the Pharisees having to answer their attacks and explaining to them about the things that truly defile. And in the middle of our text he goes where he shouldn’t be bothered. He goes into Tyre and Sidon where he should be able to rest, pray and grieve and is immediately summoned by the Canaanite woman. For the savior this series of events is nothing more that what must be done to bring the realm of God to the people. But can you imagine how tired, sad and maybe aggravated you might be. And I urge you all to go home and read the rest of Matthew 15. For you will see the pattern is repeated. Jesus goes to the mountain and the crowds come to him for healing once again, and once again he feeds a multitude of over 4000 people.

As we journey through Matthew, I just wanted us to remember the series of events that lead us up to our text today. If we keep in mind the humanity and the godliness of Jesus existing simultaneously then our Gospel text today can be read from two perspectives. In the first pericope of our text, Jesus gives an explanation of the things that defile. It is in direct response to the criticism of the Pharisees who have asked him, “Why do you and your disciples eat without washing your hands?” It is not a law, but a tradition of the elders. Churches can certainly understand this issue. Often when we asked to do something new or engage in a new ministry the response is, “But we have always done it this way…” But we must challenge ourselves as Jesus challenged the Pharisees. He points out that the tradition of the elders seems to have more importance than the laws of God. He says, “So, for the sake of tradition you make void the word of God.” We must always be diligent in our churches that we do not make void the word of God for the sake of tradition.

Jesus goes on to make it plain for the people. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” And good old Peter ever worried about appearances pulls Jesus aside and says, ‘Don’t you know you offended the Pharisees?’ after all Jesus did call them hypocrites as well. The very human Jesus brushes Peter off, “Let the blind lead the blind, they will both fall in the pit.” As we know from a close reading of just chapters 14 and 15 of Matthew, there’s too much of God’s work to do to worry about what people think. Peter, still not understanding asks Jesus to explain. The human Jesus snaps, “Are you also still without understanding?” But even through his shortness with Peter, he answers with divine understanding. ‘Whatever we put in our mouths passes through our system and cannot defile.’ Jesus wants the people and us to be more concerned with getting our hearts right than worrying about what’s clean to eat. For it is what comes out of the mouth is generated from the heart, the very core of our being. And it is these things with defile not only our bodies but our very souls. You see it wasn’t the pigs’ feet and chitlins that I had to worry about but the self-hatred and self-shame of my own poverty that kept me from loving who God made me to be. I had to worry about the judgments I made about why people eat certain foods and any meaning I associate with their lifestyle. I had to worry about the things that came from my heart and out of my lips that put me further and further away from God.

Jesus lists those things in this scripture as evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are things that are done on purpose or unconsciously. We must be in constant prayer asking God to reveal our hearts to us, whether it be in our prayer closet or on a therapists couch. We may not want to admit the times when we have evil intentions but we can pray for them to go away. We may not kill someone but we shut them out of our hearts essentially murdering so that we don’t have to forgive. We may not be physical adulterers or fornicators but what are those things that distract us from those we love? Who or what do we put before God or family? And you don’t have to break into my house to steal from me. For you can diminish my humanity with one act of unkindness. And false witness and slander, there is not much more to say about that…lying is lying. Yes, the divine Jesus reads our souls today as he did in our text. He reads it like a magazine on the rack at the register at the supermarket. He reads it, takes it in and puts it back on the rack. But because of grace, when we live with God’s amazing grace he can read that magazine, take it in and purchases it with his own blood knowing that the headlines don’t tell the whole story.

And I’ve saved the hardest part of the text for last. The lectionary gives us an option to only read this portion of the text today. But I believe that this encounter with the Canaanite woman is a living example of what Jesus speaks about in verses 10-20. Why is this part of the text the hardest? I believe it is the hardest because it is the most bitter pill we have to swallow in understanding Jesus humanity. No matter how you look at it, Jesus insults this woman asking for mercy. We have to face the fact that he strongly insinuates that she and people are dogs. Wow…Jesus, tired, frustrated, grieving acts the way we act and that is just not comfortable to see. But before we jump to conclusions let’s just examine the situation for just a moment.
Earlier we said that Jesus went into Tyre and Sidon where he should be able to rest and pray. We also know this port city as home to the Syro-Phonecians. It is the land of the Canaanites, the longstanding enemies of Israel. And this is why in verse 24 Jesus says, again to his disciples “I was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel” But in a literal translation of the text, Jesus says he comes for the “sheep of the destroyed house of Israel”. The verb appoluota is the Greek word that is often translated as lost, but it true translation is lost or destroyed.

How often we forget that the human Jesus is oppressed. That is something we cannot lose sight of when we look at the power of the ministry of Jesus. He belongs to a people that have seen the slave side of the whip for a large part of their history. He belongs to a people who believe that a Savior is coming to break them free of Roman rule. He belongs to a people who must bank on being God’s chosen in order see any light at the end of the tunnel. So yes, at this point in his ministry Jesus is concerned with the salvation of his people. In the writing of the history of our own slave experience as African Americans, the general tone is that we were so magnanimous that we not only wanted freedom but that we wanted the spiritual freedom of our tormentors just as much. But Harriet Tubman carried a gun and would shoot you before she’d let you slow down the group and risk being caught. Harriet Tubman never made it a part of efforts to go back down south and “do a meeting” with the slave owners to discuss the how their souls were in danger because of slavery. You never read that Harriet Tubman brought anyone but her people through to freedom. We’re talking about a Harriet Tubman kind of Jesus today.

What of this Canaanite woman? This woman, an enemy to the Jews, finds the boldness to go into the enemy’s camp and take her victory. She has a mother love that tears her away from her possessed daughter simply because she has heard, “That there is this man name Jesus . . .” While Jesus is preaching, teaching and healing in his own land he is still convincing his own people that he has been sent by God. And yet this woman who has only heard, “That there is this man named Jesus . . .” Comes to Jesus understanding the truth. When she sees, this man named Jesus, she shouts to him, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David.” By calling Jesus lord she worships him, gives him honor and declares herself bound to him. By calling him Son of David, she has thrown away her own beliefs and called upon him as the Messiah. She sees him as the promised ones of the scriptures studied by her enemies. Adrienne Rich has said, “When a woman tells the truth, she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.”

The man named Jesus stops and engages with this woman and learns from her a truth that brings him just a step closer to his divine purpose. I tend to believe that this is how Jesus came to say, “And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” The divine Jesus is not only beholden to the freeing of his people. But the human Jesus is also trapped by their prejudices, their hatreds, trapped in how their hurt looks for the other to put down and denigrate. There is no escaping that Jesus has insulted this woman. But the point is that Jesus does engage her. Jesus does stop to listen. Jesus stops and is suddenly presented with an opportunity to change. It is a Canaanite woman who goes against all convention by coming to Jesus for a healing in the first place, that starts to define the ministry of Jesus as a ministry for all. What is at the heart of this cultural insult? What truly lies beneath the painful phrase? Like most anger, it is triggered by hurt. And like us, when we hurt, the tendency is to find someone who is hurting a little more and lash out at them. That’s what being human does to our spirit. But it seems to me that like Jesus we can learn to overcome. Like Jesus we can find a moment to hear the truth from the most unlikely of sources. If Jesus can learn…then so can we. Yes this text is problematic but the question remains, just what is the good news, what is the truth?

The good news is that Jesus breaks free of the smallness of the human mind. Jesus embraces that his ministry is for all human kind. Jesus understands that there is no restriction on God’s blessing. Through Jesus we see that the greatest faith comes from the most unlikely places. And that faith is to be glorified. That faith is what is required of all of us. Just last week we saw what happened when Peter lost faith. He sank in his disbelief when he tried to walk on water. This week we see a woman, a Canaanite woman, walking a journey of faith to get a healing for her daughter. She did not falter, she did not faint. It was her faith that saw her through. Peter’s lack of faith made him cry out in desperation, “Lord, save me!” But this unnamed woman’s faith made her cry out in anticipation, “Lord, have mercy on me.”

In this encounter with the Canaanite woman Jesus responds at first with what proceeds out of the heart, an insult that can defile not only her but himself as well. But because of their interaction, what proceeds out the heart changes and healing occurs. This is our lesson today, we are forgiven for the evil intentions that come from our hearts but thank God that because of grace we can change those evil intentions for good. Our hearts can be harbors for love, peace, joy and a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We just have to readjust how we see things, to see them as God does. My mother used to say that growing up she hated the idea of eating cornmeal mush. But when she sees things the way God can see things, she realizes that she may not like mush but she loves polenta.

So let us learn how to change our hearts. As the song says, “Get right with God and do it now. Get right with God, He will show you how, down at the cross, where he shed his blood, get right with God, get right, get right with God.” And never forget, if Jesus can learn…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Sermon Union Church @ Bay Ridge

Sermon inspired by a visit to my father....

Trusting You to Grow and Go

Happy Father’s Day.
On this day, my dear Lord, still our hearts. Let the Spirit’s voice guide us to what we need to hear from your word. Accept our humble request to have your words guide our hearts and minds. Amen

I say Happy Father’s Day but June is the month we celebrate many things. As a matter of fact there is a month to celebrate just about everything. Just to name a few June itself happens to celebrate:
Adopt A Shelter Cat Month
Audiobook Month
Children’s Awareness Month
Dairy Month
Dairy Alternative Month
Effective Communications Month
Entrepreneurs Do It Yourself Marketing Month
Fireworks Safety Month
GLBT Pride Month
Great Outdoors Month
International Men's Month
Lane Courtesy Month
National Accordion Awareness Month
National Black Music Awareness Month
National Bathroom Reading Month
National Candy Month
National Dairy Month
National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month
National Iced Tea Month
National Papaya Month (also, again in September)
National Rivers Month
National Rose Month
National Safety Month
National Seafood Month
National Soul Food Month
National Steakhouse Month
Perennial Gardening Month
Pharmacists Declare War on Alcoholism Month
Rebuild Your Life Month
Sports America Kids Month
Student Safety Month
Turkey Lover's Month
Potty Training Awareness Month

So fathers be honored that you are even remembered for a day in this crowded month of celebrations and awareness!!! Our own church, the PC USA has set aside this day as “Men of the Church Sunday”. Our denomination’s website, tells us “Men of the Church Sunday is set aside to recognize the gifts and contributions to ministry that men have made in every congregation and to give thanks for the witness that men make in the home, the workplace, community and church.” Very politically correct. Well a part of the logic is to be considerate of men who are not fathers in the church, to include the ministries of all men in the church of which fatherhood is one. And make no mistake about it parenting, fatherhood is a ministry.

I remember hearing once about a six year old boy who found out on the playground that his father was not his natural father. I was told that this young boy ran from the playground’s fields crying his eyes out. He was confused, scared; his whole world had been turned upside down. He felt as if he had lost any idea of who he was, where he belonged, who his people were so to speak. It is amazing the depth a six year old can feel in his moment of crisis. He ran to his grandmother’s house, where all of the family gathered in good times and bad.

When he ran through the front door his grandmother asked from the back kitchen, “Whose child is that coming in my house slamming my door?

He couldn’t speak. Between being out of breath from the running and the crying and at six not yet having the words to articulate what he wanted to say, he just ran to the kitchen and sat at the table crying.

“Child, what’s wrong with you?” his grandmother asked giving him a glass of milk she started to pour as he came through the door. “Drink this, now. Calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

The milk was cool and felt good. His words finally came back to him and he said, “They told me on the playground that my dad is not my dad!”

Grandmother knew the secret would come out someday but did not expect it would come out this way. But she took the young boy by the hand and walked him to the living room. They sat down on the couch and she squeezed him tight and said, “Boy, don’t you go listening to what those kids say to you.” She sat him on her lap and looked into his eyes saying, “Just what do you think a father is? Those kids don’t know nothing about what a father is. They are just learning some gossip about what they think a father is. A father is someone that loves you, takes care of you when you are sick, puts a band aid on your knee when you fall, feeds you, goes to work for you, sits and watches those silly cartoons you like so much. A father is someone you can look to and know that no matter what he is gonna be there for you, even when you least expect it. Do you know anybody like that?”

The young boy looked up at her and finally found his smile, “Daddy?”

“That’s right baby, your daddy does all that for you and even more you don’t know about. If those kids on the playground told you that God didn’t love you like a father loves his children, would you be running in here carrying on like this?”
“No, ma’am”

“Your father chose to love you. When he asked to marry your mother he told her “I want to love this boy like he’s my own. He’s a part of you so he is a part of me. He didn’t have to do that you know. You are blessed child. You know who your father is. Now go on in the kitchen and let’s get some cookies for that milk you left on my table.”

As the grown man retold this story, I couldn’t help but think that’s how many people see God’s grace. God chooses to love us, no matter what. God is there for us even when we don’t know it. It certainly helps me pray the Lord’s Prayer in a different way when I say, “Our Father, who art in heaven….”

Jesus’ love manifests itself as a father’s love in our text today. Here we have a man filled with so many spirits it calls itself Legion. It is ironic that it chooses to name itself after a Roman military unit. A legion is about 2,000 soldiers left to keep the peace in Roman occupied territory. Luke’s audience would have heard that there were at least 2,000 demons inside this man. But Jesus goes to this man to reclaim him, to let him know that his father knows who he is. Jesus reclaims the man and lets him know that there is one who will always be there to say, “You are my very own, no matter what others may tell you.” Jesus reclaims this man without a home and says you have a home in me, you have a home in our father.

Can you imagine? Here is this naked, homeless man. When they try to handcuff him for his own safety, he breaks away and runs into the wilds. He is so displaced that the tombs are his shelter. He lives among the dead. Do you notice something different in this encounter that Jesus has with one who is possessed? This is one of the few instances, where the person has no one coming to Jesus on their behalf. In another encounter a father comes because the demons cause his son to go into seizures. But there is no one for this man. As a matter of fact the text tells us that this man did not live in a house and when he is freed from the demons Jesus tells him to “Return to your home”. The words for house and home are the same in this Lukan passage; oikos. The translation we read helps us to understand that there is a difference between a house and a home. For this unnamed man, a house is a place to live and a home is a place to belong. Oikos doesn’t just mean house or home. It symbolizes a whole way of living. Oikos, home or house, is the place where you belong, the place where you are among the people that claim you as their own, a place where everybody knows your name. So you see the man that lives underneath the demons is a lonely man, with no one to love and no one to love him. Until Jesus comes along….

Now I would be remiss if it didn’t tell you today that scholars also interpret this encounter politically. They say that this is a metaphor for how Jesus challenges the Roman Empire. They say that even the Roman Legions are afraid the Messiah and that Jesus will send them back to where they came. Back to where they have no real power, where they can’t steal from those they have conquered, back to where they can’t use and manipulate people as they will. Back to where they are the ones stolen from, where they are used and manipulated; back home. The demons asked not to be sent to the abyss but the abyss after all is, the home of the demon in ancient mythology. So Legion does not want to go home.

Scholars say that driving the demons into the unholy swine is an insult to Roman authority by this Jewish man named Jesus and that their swift demise in the sea is a threat by Jesus to the status quo. They say that is why the people are so afraid of Jesus and ask him to leave. It is a powerful interpretation of Jesus as a resistance leader against the Empire. And it has its place in church life, teaching us to always fight for what is right, address the powers that be, to be prophetic when we speak of the consequences of wrong doing. We can indeed speak up and let those people know that we are recognized as children of the Most High God and will torment until you leave the body of the innocents we are called to protect. Yes, I rather like this resistance interpretation. It gets me fired up!

But I can’t help but go back to this man possessed, this solitary tormented soul that in its most depraved condition finds a way to reach out to Jesus. My God, my God. What a blessed assurance that Jesus is indeed ours. You see I have no doubt that when we reach out to Jesus that Jesus will reach right back out and grab our hands and pull us up from the sinking sand. I have no doubt that Jesus will step out on land and meet us right where we are, just has he met this man from Gerasene. I have no doubt when we meet him there will be no need to speak for Jesus knows all about out troubles, and that he will guide till the day is done. You see there’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no not one, no not one. I have no doubt that when Jesus meets us he will see us as we are and command whatever is unclean to leave us.

But the thing is, and ah here’s the catch, we have to be the ones to come to Jesus. Just as this demoniac met Jesus and fell down before him we have to be the ones to come to Jesus in prayer and humility. Do you see how Jesus works in this text? There is a whole conversation going on that is not recorded here in Luke. Just like Elijah looked for God in the wind and the earthquake, so we concentrate on finding the power of God in the casting out of demons. But there is a conversation of sheer silence going on in this text. From the moment Jesus meets this “Gerasene Demoniac” he is in conversation with the man behind the demons. He is telling that man, “Hold on just a little while longer, everything will be alright.” He is telling that man, “Hold on, help is coming.” Like a nurse in triage Jesus is keeping the unrecognizable man in touch with reality, his identity. While the team of God the Father and the Holy Spirit work on detaching the demons, fixing what is wrong, Jesus is holding that man’s hand asking him, “What is your name? Who is your family? Do you now what time it is? Can you tell me who is the author and finisher of your faith? Do you recognize the Father in me?” Can you hear the silent conversation that Jesus is having with this man’s soul while all craziness goes on about them? You see that’s what happens if we just go to meet him. I’ll go even one further, all you have to do is turn your eyes upon Jesus. Just look toward him, think on him and he will meet you the rest of the way.

Now I know in this age of technology, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, neurology, typology and biology we have explanations for what was once considered demonic possession. But I tell you today Legion is alive and well. They are alive in our doubts, our fears, our misgivings, our hatreds, our inability to forgive. Those demons are alive when we roll over in bed on a Sunday morning rather than going to worship with our church family. Those demons are alive and well when we hold on to the very things that we say we trust God to handle. Those demons are alive and well when we can’t be honest with ourselves about our failings, our opportunities to grow.

So the demons are met, handled and down in the bottom of the sea. The people are afraid of what’s coming next and so they eagerly asked Jesus and his followers to get back on the boat they came on and go somewhere. As my mother says, “You don’t have to go home but you have to get up out of here!” But Luke leaves us with one more thing. He leaves us with a tender moment between Jesus and this man. After these things, there is an exchange between Jesus and this man that I see in my mind’s eye. (Improvise: Close your eyes and see. See the face, the pleading eyes welled with tears, the grateful spirit.)

But Jesus tells him to return home and declare how much God had done for you. And the man goes away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. This touches my heart. In the sheer silence of their conversation, Jesus knows this man better that any of the people who have watched him suffer all those years. Jesus trusts him to keep on growing, trusts him to go and witness, trusts him to spread the good news. How powerful that must have been to this man who for so long was neither clothed nor in his right mind. Jesus said to him, “I am trusting you to grow and go”.

You see on this day, the father’s day message is simple. Do like Jesus, meet the children of God you encounter as Jesus did this day. Don’t be afraid of the silent conversations that lets them know, “Hold on. Know that I am always here with you.” As children of God we all need to hear Jesus saying, “I am trusting you to grow and go.” This Father’s day, if someone asks your child, “Do you now anybody who believes in you like this?” May all God’s children look up and answer, “Daddy.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Will Always Be With You

Always, Wanting Memories
“And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

“But…Jesus, you already left us once. Please, don’t leave us again, please,” someone must have been thinking. Traumatized once by the death of their loved one, here are the disciples once again bereft of the Beloved, bereft of a brother, bereft of Jesus. You see here in Matthew, the writer tends to the miracle of the resurrection beautifully. But that same writer doesn’t seem to know that much about the human heart. At least in the other gospel accounts of post resurrection, Jesus walks with his followers, he talks with them. At least in the other gospels he them, “you are my own.”
But not Matthew; no in Matthew only Mary and the other Mary are blessed with a face to face encounter with an angel, only Mary and the other Mary get to see Jesus. And what a time they have! It is Jesus who greets them. It’s not that he just says hello, but he greets them excitedly, with happiness, like long lost friends. He is glad to see them. I get a kind of sublime joy when myself I think about it. To be seen by Jesus. Oh, to live a life so well that when he sees me face-to-face he will smile at me like a long lost friend.
But in Matthew’s account Jesus does not go to the others. The others must come to him. After the resurrection, they rely on the word of two Mary’s and on a rumor spreading about city that that the tomb was empty because they stole Jesus’ body. But they get up and walk. They walk the 90 miles from the city of Jerusalem to Galilee. Something inside urges them to go, even those who don’t believe go. Some go in anticipation, some go to prove the believers wrong, some go because they have nothing left to do but go.
90 miles…they go on a ninety mile journey to see…well to see what? That is long walk to think, remember, to relive the teachings and the miracles. It gives them time to think of the little things, big things. Things like how much you’ve grown in 3 years. Thinking on the things that made you laugh, made you dance, made you sing. Those moments of listening to Jesus on the temple steps, next to the columns when amongst the crowd, when it felt like he was only talking to you. Makes you think of how it all started when this man looked you in the eyes and said, “Follow me.” It is a long walk.
Have you ever embarked on a journey like that? I don’t mean a 90-mile walk, but a journey with the memories of Jesus? Walking around this city I am reminded of Matthew’s Jesus. In those times we stand alone amidst the concrete, amidst the people, and we want to be Christ’s messengers of the good news. And yet…and yet there are times when we look around us and wonder, “Where are you Jesus? How am I supposed to do this without you?” It can be so overwhelming that at times you may find yourself just sitting on a park bench and, wondering how to do this work to which we have been called.
I mean, we’ve spent time with Jesus, heard of his stories, learned his lessons, read of his miracles. But then for some reason, as you sit there wanting memories to teach you, as you bow your head in prayer and a tear falls from your eye, it hits you. Jesus, is sitting right there beside you, around you, in your very heart. You realize that Jesus is the voice that whispers all you need to hear. And as you feel the Spirit near to you as your very breath, you start to see the beauty world with your own eyes. You start to see the world as Christ saw it when he walked this earth. He saw the best it could be. Ours is a world that is struggling to love each other into right being. We have been commissioned to do great things by Jesus, if we can just put into practice the law he gave us…love one another. Wanting to live in that memory helps us see the world just a bit differently as a place with so many blessed possibilities!! As we continue to reflect, may it be so.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

treetops dancing with slate roof brushing seductively against the stone wall oh the dance, the seduction of spring i'm here but you can't catch me--but entice me--chilly one morning, rainy the next, promise of warm sunshine by weeks end Spring...think i'm falling for you

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In North Adams, MA there is a one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Many of us have seen it on calendars during the picture for the month of September. The spot looks out over the valley beneath Mount Greylock. There is a white steepled New England church that rises just beyond the multi-colored treetops. Oranges are spectacular, reds are resilient, yellows are zipping through the scene.
When you drive that road, you get to a point and see a restaurant in view. Hairpin curve....that is the s curve in the road that turns you around so that you can keep ascending the mountain. But that restaurant has a parking lot where you can stop to just say, "I am now in that calendar shot!!!"
Nothing really profound here, just stopping to notice that I am in the s curve of the hairpin right now! What a view....but wow, look up, look up, there is the mountaintop. But there is so far to go and so much to see in between!