Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

Believing May We See

Readings: Acts 2:14a &22-32; Psalm; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

As Easter people we are called to faith in the Resurrection. But let’s face it! For many people it is a real stretch. As children we found it easy to believe in all sorts of things. We believed in Santa Claus, Tinker Bell, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny. But as we grew to adulthood we suspended such foolish ideas. We stopped believing in anything that could not be proven factually. And we became the poorer for it. So how do we reverse those feelings that only what can be proven can be believed? How do we come to faith in the Resurrection? How do we come to know God’s amazing grace?

Last week we read the eye witness accounts of Peter, John and Mary. We saw how each came to faith in his or her own way. John, the Beloved Disciple, saw and believed. He was ready. All it took was a little nudge. But he kept it to himself. Peter saw, but could not figure out just what it was he was witness to. He needed time to reflect. Mary recognized Jesus when he called her by name. She could hardly wait to tell everyone the good news. In each of these faith journeys we can see our own struggle, our own grappling with things we must see and comprehend with eyes of faith, with how we come to faith.

This week there are two further eye witness accounts. The story begins on the evening of the first day of the week. The disciples except for Thomas are gathered together behind locked doors. Confusion reigns. They have heard conflicting stories. No one knows quite what to believe. Then Jesus is there in the midst of them. “Peace be with you!” he says. It is a familiar invitation, his personal way of being present to them, of being in relationship with them. Then he commissions them, consecrating them to continue his mission. He breathes his life-giving Spirit into them.

Imagine their excitement! Like Mary as she heard her name, they can hardly wait to share their good news. When Thomas arrives they pounce on him. “We have seen the Lord!” And so they must have been taken off guard when Thomas responded with anger and vehemence, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Yet really, why would they be surprised? How could anyone be expected to blindly believe after all that has happened? They themselves would not have been able to, had they not seen Jesus with their own eyes. A short time ago, he would willingly have died with Jesus. But since that terrible event they had all been lying low. All that they had hoped for had come crashing down. And here his friends were trying to raise his hopes once more. How could he accept what they were saying only to have his hopes dashed? It was too much to ask. He felt betrayed, hurt. He could no longer risk hoping.

Many of us are like Thomas. We can no longer risk believing simply to have our hopes dashed. Perhaps we have been hurt by life. How can we go on hoping when we see the violence and destruction that goes on in our world? What kind of a God allows such things to continue? If there really is a God why doesn’t God simply stop terrible tragedies from happening? What kind of a God allows little children to go hungry? What kind of a God allows suffering? It isn’t that we do not believe in God; we wonder if God cares.

Or perhaps we feel let down by the Church. It has not always been the safe refuge that it should be. The place that should be the healer has often been the abuser. We go to church expecting to find a loving and caring community. Instead we find people bickering and arguing. We find cliques that won’t let us in. We cannot see Christ in those we meet. We come expecting to be affirmed and find no place for our talents. We feel unwelcome. It is no longer the church it used to be. There are new liturgies and new ways of doing things. We cannot cope with the changes that we see.

Or we may have been let down by our profession. It is not difficult to find people who are struggling to face the pressures which come with economic down sizing and high prices. We begin to feel out of control, useless. How can we keep the faith when nothing is going the way it should? Doesn’t being a Christian count for anything? What is the point of having faith if it does not help to solve the problems of everyday life?

The Thomas’s of the world will tell you straight out. “We believe in God. But we find it impossible to believe that God cares.” Yes! We have all met Thomas. We may meet him each time we look in the mirror. Like Thomas we need to see in order to believe. What can bring us to faith?

Aristotle said about faith, “That which is probable and impossible is better to believe than that which is possible and improbable.” It speaks to me about our resurrection faith, about our journey to faith, because somewhere along the line we have to come to terms with what we believe.

It may have something to do with the process that Thomas went through, for his story took a real turn. When he was confronted by the risen Lord, he saw. He no longer needed to be able to touch. In seeing, he could believe. Indeed, he makes one of the most transforming statements in the whole of Scripture. He declares, “My Lord and my God.” He recognizes the risen Saviour. He believes the impossible.

When we think of faith we think often in terms of seeing some miracle that allows us to really believe. “If only God would show me in some real and tangible way, then I would be certain.” We want certainty. We want to be one hundred percent sure. But that is the Thomas’ approach. He needed a miracle. But the real miracle is faith itself.

One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. His father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flame, smoke, and blackness. As you can imagine, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling, "Jump! I will catch you."

"Daddy, I can't see you,” the little boy cried out.

His father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

There are miracles around us if we care to look. We are witnesses to the resurrection. It happens daily in our lives. Like the little boy on the roof we are afraid because we cannot see through our fears and doubts. We cry out, “God, I can’t see you.” God answers, “But I can see you, and that is all that matters.” That is when God is there ready to catch us. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known.

It begins when we really believe, when we stop talking about God and start really depending on God’s sustaining grace and love. We may not feel anything very significant. We may not see miracles taking place before our eyes. But we will get to the place where we are in touch with divine power, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is that power that will make a difference in our lives. Believing, may we see!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter, Year A

Love and Death

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

I have heard it said that there are two essentials to human life; love and death. The fear behind Easter is surely that death has the power to overcome love. Death can happen so suddenly. It can tear those we love away from us. It can change our lives forever. An earthquake swallows up everything and everyone in its path. The tsunami that follows completes the devastation. A tornado strikes leaving nothing but destruction. An accident wrenches a child from its mother’s arms. Even the gentlest of deaths, the ones we expect as the normal outcome of life, separate us from those we love and depend upon. At such times we see only darkness.

It is in our human nature to fear death. We make it bearable by coining phrases, euphemisms that save us from using the word. We find ways of softening the blow. Pushing up the daisies; joined the choir invisible; kicked the bucket; danced the last dance; and my personal favourite, shuffled off this mortal coil.

Why am I talking about death on this Easter Sunday? Should we not be shouting joyful alleluias and putting all thoughts of death aside? It is because in our anxiety and cynicism we humans see nothing but death. To put our faith in the love of God, to understand that God’s love has overcome death and the grave, to have faith in something as intangible and unbelievable as the resurrection is not a possibility.

It was still dark the following morning when Mary Magdalene made her way to the garden, her heart heavy with the events of the previous days. Not only had she lost her best friend and companion. All the hopes that had built up in the community over the last few years were suddenly shattered. They had been hoping against hope that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ. But now he was dead, and with him all illusions.

She saw only death as she made her way to Jesus’ burial place. Not the beautiful garden, not the lovely flowers, not the singing birds, nothing could make her see anything but death. She had watched as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid Jesus' body in the tomb in Joseph's garden in a vault cut out of the rock. She had helped to prepare his body for burial, wrapping it with spices in linen cloths according to Jewish custom. She had seen them roll a heavy rounded stone down the short slope into place. The authorities wanted to ensure that there would be no false claims about Jesus.


Mary was deep in thought as she approached the tomb. "Just a few quiet moments alone," she thought. But that too was quickly shattered when she realized with a jolt that the stone had been removed from the tomb. Who would have done such a thing? What further indignity were the authorities heaping on Jesus? Could he not even rest in peace?

In her grief and sorrow Mary could not see anything but death. And so she ran back as fast as she could to warn the others. She found Peter and John. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him," she told them breathlessly. Without a moment's delay they set out for the tomb. They ran as fast as they could, but John, being younger, got there first.

Something – indecision, fear – held him back from entering the tomb. So it was Peter who actually went in first. Not that its impact on him was immediate. He observed the cloths lying there – no body, just the cloths, looking as if the body had simply lifted out of them. Strange!

But when John went in, it was as if a thunderbolt had struck him. He would never forget what he saw – the sheer emptiness of the tomb. Jesus wasn't there. John saw and believed. But, not knowing what to do, the two of them simply left. They left Mary in tears, filled with questions and doubts, still seeing only death.

And there in the garden in the midst of her doubting, she too encountered the risen Lord. Not that she recognized him right away either. At first she thought he must be the gardener. You know what it's like to see something you hope for but don't expect. We do not always see what is real. Have you not experienced seeing someone in the distance, being absolutely certain that it is your friend, only to find when you get closer that it does not even look remotely like the person? Then Jesus spoke to her, just one word, but a word so familiar that she knew every inflection, every nuance. "Mary!" He said. And hearing her name, she recognized the risen Saviour.

"Do not hold on to me," he said to her. "But tell the others. Tell them I have risen and that I will ascend to my Father in Heaven."

So convinced was she that she couldn't wait to tell them, "I have seen the Lord!"

We frequently find ourselves going into places in our lives where we expect to find only death. We need to check out each situation to find the reality in it all. In each dying in our lives, what is the resurrection? In the dying of our planet threatened with extinction, where is the resurrection? In the death of the church as we see fewer and fewer people in our society living the life of faith, where is the resurrection? In the death of a marriage? In the death of a beloved child? In the sickness and suffering of a friend?

It is after all about those two essentials to human life, love and death. In every death there is resurrection. That is the love of God in action in our world. Do I really believe that Christ rose from the dead? What ought to happen in my life if I really believe? How do I demonstrate in my life that Christ is alive and that his saving grace and abundant life are available to every human creature?

Mary was searching for what is real. Everyone in this church this morning is searching for what is real. The gospel presents life in reverse. Yet contradictions bear fruit. Life does not end in death; death ends in life. We make our way from life to death to real life. That is resurrection hope.

Paul says that we must “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” That is not so that we become no earthly use, but so that we live with a vision of what can be. It is so that we can discover what is real, so that we will experience the risen Christ in our lives. When God’s Spirit moves us to faith in the resurrection of Christ, giving us God’s power to live and act on the basis that it is so, that it really happened, then we will discover, as millions have before us, that Christ is alive in us.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Friday

Meditation On the Cross

Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22:1-17; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

There are many moments during Jesus' life which are memorable. But surely none can be as profound as these last days which we commemorate. Here is both the tragedy and glory of his life. Here we see glimpses of our own humanity shining forth. Let us journey together through the final scenes of Christ's earthly life.

The Garden of Gethsemane

First we go with Jesus and the disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. When pilgrims visited the city for a festival like Passover, it was not unusual for a group of people to find a place to spend the night. Jesus and his followers spent many nights under the olive trees in the garden. There, just beyond the city wall, was a quiet place apart, a place of prayer and communion with God and one another.

Judas knew perfectly well where he would find Jesus. It was no secret. His treachery was so simple. Although he brought an armed detachment of soldiers along with him, Jesus offered no resistance. He could have used violence to protect himself. Peter's rash action in taking up a sword is the proof of that. But Jesus chose what is life-giving even in that ultimate moment of distress. He chose to break the cycle of violence. He refused to enter into the violence of the world.

If that is the foolishness of the cross, Lord, then give me the strength to face it. Let me experience the cup of blessing. I am called to drink from the cup in willing obedience to your will whatever it brings. I may be called to stand up for what is right against all odds. I may be called to love the most unlovable of your creation. I may be called to risk everything for the gospel. Whatever it means, I pray that I may be worthy of my calling.

Hymn: Blue 194: Stay With Us

Peter's Denial

Peter's struggle is that of a person for whom there is no perfect answer. "Is it better for me," he must have reasoned, "to lie and remain free so that I can continue the struggle? Or should I risk everything to follow Christ to the cross?"

We see it throughout history. It is the dilemma of the Jesuit priests in the movie, The Mission. One of them chose to face whatever without retaliation. He died, cut down by enemies of the church. The other chose to fight back. He died too. Who was right?
I see people struggling to keep their faith in the midst of crippling sorrow and senseless loss. Peter is practical if nothing else. His world is simple. You have to do this or that, you have to act, you have to establish standards, set things right, even things out. So he tells himself. And even though he wants to be there in Jesus' hour of need, yet he convinces himself that the risk is not worth it.

Peter represents the discipleship of his own day, but he represents also the discipleship in Mississauga, or Toronto, or wherever else there is a Christian community. We can persuade ourselves that our loyalty to Jesus has no limits. We confess our faith in the creed. We proclaim our loyalty as we sing our favourite hymns. But do we proclaim who we are to the world? Do we tell people how much we love Jesus? Or do we worry about being ridiculed? Do we worry about being labelled fanatics? Or do we simply say: "I am a follower of Christ," whatever the risk?

Hymn: Blue 197: O Dearest Lord

Jesus is condemned to death.

Pilate's struggle is not so much an inner struggle, as a struggle with the complex and unbending rules of his society. He knows the law. He is responsible, wise, has all the right arguments, but a frozen heart. He prefers to hand over one whom he knows to be innocent rather than to take on the mob. It is so much easier too if you do not believe that there is such a thing as truth. If you believe nothing, you can do anything. You don't need character or conviction or reflection. It becomes just a part of the power game.

There is something too about the way Jesus faces Pilate at the time of his judgement. His quiet demeanour in the face of death could be taken for weakness on his part. But one only need look back his years of ministry to witness the truth. This is not a weak man simply caving in to authority. He spoke out in the temple. He answered the charges of the Pharisees as they tried to trap him with his own words. He was a friend to outcasts and sinners never worrying about what society might say or think. But here he stands silent before his accusers. Silent for he knows that the way of the cross is the way to glory.

Hymn 202: There is a Green Hill Far Away

At the Foot of the Cross

A group of the faithful gather at the foot of the cross, the holy women, the beloved disciple. It is a time of faith for them. They see beyond the fact of Christ's death. If we consider only the external appearance of Golgotha, the world will go on as it is, and we will become discouraged and follow the way of the world. But if we take in the meaning of the cross we will understand that it creates a place of love and glory. We will know that serving people is more important than having power or control over them. We will know that love cannot die. We will know life, for the cross is the beginning of life if we accept it.

Hymn 201: People Draw Near to God

Jesus is crucified

The crucifixion as John expresses it is not a scene of horror. For Christ on the cross has conquered death and fear. Out of the darkness shines the glory of God. Out of the depths of our despair, we meet our Saviour. The world loved darkness better than light. But from the cross the light shines against the darkness of the sky turned black.

On Good Friday we see the truth of who we are. We see our sinfulness. We know without a doubt that despite all our good intentions we are sinners. In the cross we see the goodness of God. God is a God of love who is determined to forgive us no matter how sinful we are. Such is the grace of God. What Christ has come to do has been accomplished. Our relationship with God is restored.

Hymn 192: Were you there?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maundy Thursday

Servanthood

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

There are moments of intimacy that colour and direct all of our lives. A moment when your mother really spoke to you, heart to heart! A promise that your father kept! A piece of advice given lovingly by a friend! A word of encouragement from a favourite teacher!

That was the kind of moment that Jesus and his disciples experienced that last evening together. He was alone with them in the upper room. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this was the last day of his earthly life. He decided how to spend it. He invited his closest friends over. They broke bread. They shared a glass of wine. Then the evening became that moment of intimacy. It would colour life for the disciples forever. They would remember it right down to their last reaction. He took a bowl, a jug of water and a towel. He went down on his hands and knees before them and washed their feet. He washed the feet of each of them, one by one, lovingly and thoroughly.

He told them that he did it to set an example for them. He did it to set an example for all of us. He did it so that we would understand what it means to be a servant. He did it so that we would wash one another’s feet.

Servanthood has a bad name in our modern society. We think of serving others as being menial work. We think of it as some kind of enslavement. Parents experience it. They ask their children to perform a simple task, pick up after themselves, help load the dishwasher, take out the garbage. They are greeted with groans and complaints. “Why me? Why do I have to do everything?”

Why is it that we react so negatively about serving one another? We have a sense that it somehow takes away from who we are.

Luke includes an incident in his portrayal of the last supper that we do not hear in tonight’s Gospel. It is a scene of high drama as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples. He prays for them, worrying about what will happen to them following his death. Then a petty argument arises amongst the disciples. It would be funny if it were not such a tragic moment in Jesus’ life. They argue about who is the greatest among them.

Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes at them. He doesn’t shake his head. He doesn’t chastise them. He serves them. He gets down on his hands and knees and washes their feet. He does what the most menial servant in the household does. In being the servant, he gives them an intimate moment to remember when they get discouraged, or lose hope, or get depressed. At such times surely they remember that evening when he washed their feet and said, “I have given you an example.”

He not only said it to them. He said it to us too, privately, in a sacred moment. God got down on his hands and knees in front of us and shared a moment of intimacy with us. He gave us an example of what we should do to each other, washing each other’s feet, breaking bread, sharing with all of humanity, until he is with us in the Kingdom.

We remember it tonight. We wash feet. We break bread. We share the cup of wine. We offer broken hopes and broken dreams, broken relationships and broken hearts. Here in the bread we offer all of our lives, our joys and our sorrows. We acknowledge our brokenness. We seek to be one with Christ who can make us whole. We seek to be joined to broken people. We share in the servanthood of Christ whose service is perfect freedom. Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Palm / Passion Sunday, Year A

What Will You Do With Jesus?

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest, writes, “The most appropriate image of Christ is Mother Earth crucified.” That image is reflected so powerfully in the events of this Sunday which combines both palms and passion. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He is hailed by the crowds as a king. He is greeted with shouts of Hosanna! “If they were silenced,” Jesus reflects, “even the very stones in the street would start to shout.”

Then in the Gospel as Jesus draws his last breath and dies, darkness covers the earth. The whole of creation is touched by the selfless act of the Son of God. Yet no wonder, for what was done to Jesus was done to the whole of creation.

And yet how easy it is for us to dismiss it. And so today we are challenged to reflect on what our reaction would have been had we been amongst the crowd that day. There were as many reactions to Jesus’ plight as there were people in the story. Perhaps we see amongst their reactions what we might have done.

Would we have reacted like the disciples? The disciples, his closest friends, those who listened day after day to Jesus’ teachings, could not stay awake with him. They could not watch and pray even for one hour. And when it came time to make a decision to follow him they ran away in fear. They were unable to face the consequences, the danger that knowing Jesus put them into. Even Peter, his words still ringing out loud and clear, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Under the strain he too runs away. All the good intentions in the world are not enough. When life gets difficult do we blame God and run away?

Judas betrayed him for what he could get. And yet somehow I wonder if he really did want to betray him. There is the possibility that he thought somehow he might be able to save Jesus. Did he want to give Jesus the opportunity to fight back, to become the kind of Messiah that he had been expecting? He does not want to betray him. But he will. He will take what he can get. Is that our approach to the faith? Are we simply in it to get what we can? Is our job or wealth more important to us than those we love? Do we pay more attention to work than to family? Are we faithful to God’s call despite personal sacrifices? What meaning do Christ’s death and resurrection have in our lives?

The crowds jeered at Jesus. The same people who had shouted hosanna just a few short days before turned on him. “Crucify him!” they shouted, the mob mentality taking over. Do our lackadaisical attitudes, our inability to stand up against the crowd, our opting in to the ways of the world, crucify Jesus?

And then there is Pilate. His is surely the most subtle way to react. He is the one person who has the power to release Jesus. He knows that this is an innocent man standing before him. He even has his wife’s dream to corroborate it. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man,” she pleads. “I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” And yet he turns his back on Jesus. He releases a known criminal to the crowds. Not that he takes responsibility for his actions. Instead he calls for a bowl of water. He washes his hands. “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”

We humans are very good at doing that. We wash our hands of it. As if that is going to change anything! Throughout history we have washed our hands of event after event. Our Canadian history with our Aboriginal peoples is a good example. This past Lent several of us have undertaken a course to learn more about the history of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in order to better understand their current situation. We spent time learning about their history and particularly about the history of the Residential School system. But it was hearing the voices of people tell of the abuse that they underwent and of the impact on their lives that had the greatest impact on us as a group. It was heart wrenching to say the least. We can continue to say that it has nothing to do with us and wash our hands of it as we have for two hundred years. Or we can take responsibility for the past mistakes of both our Church and our government and begin to make amends.

Thank God that God has not simply washed God’s hands of us. God could have looked at humankind and given up. But that is not God’s way. It is not what God did. Instead, God acted. God sent salvation into the world. It was not about making life easy for us. It was not about manipulating us into making a decision to follow God. It was to enable us to reach out to others, to lead people back to God, to act.

It is easy for us as Easter people to say what our reaction to Jesus’ plight would have been. And yet so often our actions show differently. Daily we crucify him.

On Ash Wednesday we began a journey that has led us through wilderness times. The journey ends at the foot of the cross where we await the joyful resurrection to new life. The call of the cross is a call to share in God’s unconditional mercy and goodness. It is a reminder that God’s power is able to transform even the most terrible suffering. It is a reminder that God is with us. In our encounter with the crucified God may we learn that the sharing of suffering is the beginning of its transformation to wholeness and joy. Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

'All-is-Possible!'

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-19; John 11:1-45

We encounter death in many disguises both within society and ourselves. Some people are walking dead. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out, "Some die at twenty-five and aren't buried until they are seventy-five." It is possible to bury parts of ourselves so deeply in our psyche that we are unable to even recall them.

The people of Japan, stoical as they may be about the tragedy facing their nation, are the walking dead. They have faced insurmountable odds, an earthquake, a tsunami, and then the ongoing problems with the nuclear plant. The devastation has been named Japan’s biggest crisis since the Second World War. There are staggering numbers of people dead and unaccounted for. There are thousands of others displaced from their homes. It will be trillions of dollars and who knows how long before life goes on for them.

The people of Israel during the time of exile were walking dead. They had lived through the destruction of their nation and everything that gave them a sense of themselves as a people. They had little to remind them of their former life. Dragged down into despair by years of war and violence, life seemed utterly hopeless. God took Ezekiel into the valley of dry bones.

God said to Ezekiel, "Mortal, can these bones live? Prophecy to the bones!" And he did as God told him to do. Again and again he prophesied to the dry bones. And they came together. God opened that closed and silent grave. God gave it new life as he gave new life to the exiled people of Israel. They changed from those dry bones of death to the blossoming promise of spring rain.

The wonder of God’s power to bring new life is not limited by how dead things are, or by how long they have been dead. God's loving purposes are not thwarted by exile, defeat, destruction or despair. When God's Spirit blows even dry bones can come together.

Witness the power of Jesus to bring life to dry bones. Lazarus was dead, and Jesus raised him from the dead. There was no doubt that he was dead. He had been in the tomb for four days. The mourners had gathered to comfort his sisters. Yet Jesus went to the tomb. He said to the mourners, "Remove the stone."

"But by now it will stink," replied Martha. But they moved it just the same.

Jesus called Lazarus. "Come out!" he said, with a voice loud enough to wake the dead. Lazarus came out of the tomb still bound by the grave clothes. Lazarus was not simply walking dead. He was really dead. Yet Jesus was able to raise him to life.

Lazarus was not the only one who was dead. Others in that group of mourners show symptoms of death too. Martha is suffering a kind of death. In her usual brash manner, she goes out to meet Jesus before he even arrives in the village. Her words of greeting are almost an admonition. "If you had been here my brother would not have died." It's that 'why is this happening to me?' kind of question. We have all asked such questions. But in Martha's case it is quickly followed by an affirmation. "And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."

Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection. "Whoever lives and believes in me," Jesus says, "will never die. Do you believe this?"

Martha may not understand the implications of this momentous revelation but she responds in faith. "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ."

Martha responds with vigorous affirmation. But does she understand the nature of her own death? Caught up in the tragedy of the moment, in her grief and despair, she does not hear God's own message that before her stands real life. If only she can reach out in faith, life is within her grasp, a life that overcomes death.

Are we ever like that? Do we become so trapped by the cares of the world, by the daily demands of life, that we lose all sense of spiritual awareness? Like being in a living death? We're dead but we don't know it. Do we go through life being only partly alive?

This Lenten season reminds us of that. It reminds us that Jesus is calling each of us to real life in him. He calls us to live a life of faith that is truly living. What does it mean to truly live such a life? Before we can be called to life we need to understand that we are dead. And we need to understand what that means in us. There are many things that cause us to feel spiritually dead. We all go through times in our lives during which we find it difficult to see any grace. We feel like Ezekiel's dry bones.

Sometimes the call to grace asks us to respond in ways for which we do not feel fitted. "Why me, God?" becomes our cry. Sometimes the things that happen to us overwhelm us, the death of a loved one, a troubled marriage, sickness, unemployment. Sometimes we have had bad experiences and cannot or will not remember. Some have been so abused by others that they have hidden deep inside themselves. Some give way to cravings and addictions. Some people bury themselves in work. Some like Martha just don't get the message. They're not ready. What does it take to come to a sense of awareness?

Over the past week following my announcement that I will be retiring at the end of June I have had many conversations with people who are already grieving my departure. While I am truly glad that you will miss me, the thread of the conversation is usually something along the lines of ‘what will we do when you are gone?’ Who will lead us? How will we cope? It is as if you believe that I am the only one capable of doing anything in this church. We all know that is simply not the truth. If it is I have failed miserably in my ministry here. This church is blessed with capable and spirit filled people. You have gifts and talents that have been demonstrated through your ministries time and time again. Consider the Apple Tree banner at the back of the church! I am in awe as I see the strengths of the people of this parish, as I witness your acts of kindness, your strong sense of community, your resilience, your faith, your hope, your love. The Body of Christ includes all of its members and needs the gifts and ministry of all of its members.

If we went around this church this morning we could find as many stories of transformation as we find people. We would hear stories of how God is working in peoples' lives to bring about change. We would hear how God continues to strengthen peoples' faith. We would hear how people have responded to God’s call. We would hear how many have overcome tragedy and loss. We would hear how people reach out to bring life to others.

Our call as Christians is to renew our own lives, to bring new life into the situations we encounter in our daily lives and work, and ultimately to renew the face of the earth. Dorothee Soelle, a Roman Catholic theologian and writer says that she learned that one of God's names is 'All-is-possible'. She writes: "I know that if I cannot talk to 'All-is-possible', if I do not listen to 'All-is-possible', if I do not believe in 'All-is-possible', then I am dead. Thus my prayer would be to ask 'All-is-possible' to be present."

This is a time in our parish life more than any other to ask ‘All-is-possible’ to be present, to be present in our midst today, to be present in our ongoing ministries, to be present bringing life and renewal into our lives. And so we pray, ‘All-is-possible’ be with us this and every day of our lives bringing life to the dry bones of our existence. Amen

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Now I See

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light," Paul says to the Ephesians about the way of salvation. That theme of darkness and light is quite prevalent in Scriptures. Perhaps that is because it speaks to us on a deep level about our human condition. We know that when we are in the dark we grope for some sense of where we are. Who of us as children have not experienced the fear of darkness as we lay huddled in bed wondering what terrible creature lurked under us ready to pounce if we set foot on the floor? Light, even a small amount of light, helps us to get our bearings and recover our sense of direction.

We who are sighted can't really imagine what it is like to be blind. Perhaps you have seen the movie about the life of Helen Keller. She, as you will recall, was not only blind, but also deaf. Until her teacher opened the way for her to understand, to begin to see the light, she was locked inside herself, trapped like a frightened animal, unable to respond to the love of her family.

Sight is one of God's most precious gifts to us. To see the beauty of God’s creation, the oceans, mountains, lakes and trees, fills us with a sense of joy. Seeing our parents, our children, our friends, brings us happiness. To see where we can go, what we can do, and what we can make gives us a sense of freedom. We have sight, but often, as difficult as it is to understand, we simply do not see. We remain in the darkness. We miss the beauty in places and people. We are blind because we do not look. Not looking, being blind to the beauty around us, can make us miss many wonderful things.

Imagine being blind and spending one's entire life in the darkness. Imagine that darkness suddenly being lifted. For that is the scene in today's Gospel. Jesus heals a man who is born blind. The man actually receives much more than physical sight; he receives an insight that allows him to view Jesus, first as a good person, then as a prophet, and finally as the Messiah. "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he," Jesus tells him. It is a beautiful moment of faith and insight as the man chooses to come into the light and truly see with eyes of faith.

In so many seemingly ordinary moments, in so many disguises, Jesus stands before us offering us the opportunity of opening our eyes and seeing in a different way, seeing with eyes of faith. We see and seeing, we believe.

Not that it always happens that way! The Pharisees for example may enjoy physical sight but they are blind and choose to remain in ignorance and darkness. It comes out in their attitudes towards Jesus and towards the man born blind. “Who sinned?” they ask Jesus. “Who is to blame? Did he cause this or is it because of something that his parents did?” And when Jesus points out that suffering is not an arbitrary punishment from God they don’t get it. His blindness has to have been caused by some flaw in him or in his parents. They don’t recognize the person standing before them, sight restored. How many times have they passed by him without even a pitying glance as he sat by the gate looking for a handout? Have they ever really looked at him and seen a person with feelings and insights, with hopes and dreams? It is unbelievable to them that a blind beggar, nameless, not worth a second thought, could have been so blessed by God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians reflecting on spiritual blindness. He is quite clear about the responsibility of salvation. When we become enlightened we must live as children of light. Once we are offered the opportunity of seeing, then we must act on what we have witnessed and live as children of light.

Many choose to be blind, to live in darkness. In fact, like the Pharisees they may not even recognize their lack of insight. Don’t we all have blind spots? So the question for each one of us is, what darkness is there in our lives? Do we hide who we are or how we live? Do we live intentionally as Christians? Do we live authentically? What decisions change simply because we are Christians? Does it change the way we live, or the way we speak, the television programs we choose to watch, or how we make our decisions? Does it change our response to those in need or trouble? Do we look them in the eyes and see Christ in them? If it doesn't, are we living in the light? Are we living out our faith? Or are we simply deluding ourselves?

What blindness do we see around us? Have you ever heard as I have an attitude towards suffering that blames the victim? Many attitudes may be seen as a kind of blindness, not that it excuses the behaviour, just explains it. “Who sinned?” We get the mistaken notion that God causes suffering as punishment for the way we live our lives rather than seeing suffering as part of our human condition.

As humans we suffer from terminal blindness. There is simply no other way to explain so many of our attitudes. We are quick to condemn. We label. What a terrible thing that person must have done to be stricken with cancer! Or we blame God. How could God cause illness to strike that family? Why didn’t God stop the tsunami from killing all those people? Why doesn’t God end global warming?

Maybe the answer is, “I was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in me.” If we take that statement to its extreme we could say it of many facets of life. She was born into poverty so that God’s works might be revealed through her. Look at how she has overcome all of the odds. He was born homeless. She was born deaf. He was born a refugee. If there is any truth in it, then how do we begin to see what God is trying to reveal to us? How do we get out of the spiritual blindness that is so much a part of our society?

It truly is about allowing God to open our eyes. That is astonishing! By some miracle God has selected me enter into a personal relationship. By some miracle God has chosen you. God has opened our eyes. There before us stands Jesus. In so many seemingly ordinary moments, in so many disguises, Jesus is there speaking to us. We see, and seeing we believe. It is a beautiful moment of faith and insight that carries us through life.

Along with the seeing and believing comes responsibility. We choose to see. We choose not to remain in our blind state. We choose to hear the truth and to bear that truth into the world. God changes our notions and transforms us. What a miracle of God’s grace that is!

The Christian challenge is to overcome our blindness and live increasingly in the light of Christ. This involves a growing understanding of the truth revealed through Christ and a willingness to reflect it in the practical living of every day. When we are enlightened it becomes our responsibility. Because we know the love of God it is our responsibility to share that love. It is our responsibility to see other people as children of God. It is our responsibility to break down the barriers that cause hatred. It is our responsibility to speak out against injustice. It is our responsibility to see Christ in others. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to usher in God’s kingdom of Shalom.

Jesus loved the blind man enough to do what he could. Everyone else was sitting around wondering why he was blind and blaming him for his inability to see. We can expect God to respond to our problems with action in the same way that we are called to respond to the needs of others. And the wonder of it all is, that when we begin to open our eyes we will find that God’s ways are surprising. Shepherds become kings, blind people see, religious leaders are blind.

When we consider human suffering, it is good to remember that failures are not always just disasters. Jesus changed a disaster into good. A man’s blindness became a blessing. The work of God was displayed in his life. The light of Christ does not magically remove all of our ills and troubles; it enables us to experience them in a new way. Let us prayerfully do what we can to bring hope where there is none, and to bring light where there is darkness.

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C

Opening Locked Doors Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 2; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31 It is evening on the first day of the week. The d...