Proper 5, Year C, 2006

 

Last week we heard about the faith of a Centurion. The Centurion, a soldier who was part of the Empire that ruled over the Jewish people, had such faith in Jesus that he sent out his friends to ask Jesus to heal his slave from afar. He had faith that Jesus did not even need to come to his house, but could heal the slave just by thinking about the slave.

The centurion’s faith is the faith of a confident guy. His is the faith of a CEO who is used to people following his orders. He sees in Jesus another man in command, someone able to do God’s work with power.

After healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus and the crowd that is following him walk toward a town called Nain. As he moves toward the city gates, Jesus sees a funeral procession. The members of the procession are not looking for Jesus, they just happen to be moving the body of the dead man outside of the city gates so he can be buried. This man has just died—in Jewish custom a body had to be buried within 24 hours—so the grief of the crowd is fresh.

No one is grieving more than the man’s mother. This man is her only son. Not only that, but this woman is widowed. With the death of her son, she has lost her family. Her world is forever changed. She is devastated.

She does not ask for Jesus’ help. She may have never even heard of Jesus. Her mind is fully absorbed in the moment.

Jesus, passing by the procession cannot keep walking. He is moved by compassion to help her.

Now, the author of the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as feeling compassion pretty regularly. But Luke strips that phrase out of the stories he borrows from Mark. But here, in this story, a story that only appears in the Gospel of Luke, Luke chooses to describe Jesus having compassion. He wants us to understand the power of the emotional Jesus experiences seeing this woman’s grief. It literally moves him. He cannot help but to act.

This story does not stand in isolation. You may have noticed all the similarities between Jesus’ resurrection of this man, and Elijah’s resurrection of the widow’s son in 1st Kings. These stories are speaking to each other, and their conversation speaks to us.

Elijah prayed to God to resurrect the widow’s son. He threw himself on the son’s body. And God resurrected the son. Jesus needs to do none of that. He simply touches the stretcher the young man is lying on and tells him to rise. He is not asking God to bring the boy to life. He, being God, commands the boy to live.

Jesus, has all the power of God. And he uses this power of healing and of life, not just for confident Centurions, but for grieving women who don’t even know that asking Jesus for help is an option.

We so often think about healing stories as being about the faith of the recipient, but healing stories are about the power and the compassion of God. Jesus chooses to resurrect the widow’s son not because he has earned it or his mother has earned it, but because it is in the nature of God to feel compassion for human beings. It is in the nature of God to transform suffering into healing and death into life.

He restores the young man to life and restores the widow to the life she knew. He gives her back some of what has been taken away from her, even though she is completely passive. She doesn’t speak once in the story. She doesn’t move toward her son after he is resurrected. Jesus does everything for her in this story, even handing her son to her after he is resurrected.

We cannot all be the Centurion. Most of us don’t walk around in complete confidence of our authority and God’s authority. Whether it is a crisis in our own family, or a hurricane, or a political season, we often look around in shock and ask ourselves, “What is happening?” We are often too overwhelmed to act, or even to know how to ask God for help.

And yet, the God of compassion who was moved to restore sons to their mothers through Elijah and Jesus, moves towards all of us in compassion as well.

Jesus restores the life of one man in this story, but through his death and resurrection he restores the lives of all humanity. All the people we have mourned, all the people we will mourn, they will all be restored to us. New life will be breathed into each of us after we die. We will all be restored to God and to one another.

If we look for them, we can find moments of God breaking into our world and bringing little resurrections in the here and now. These little resurrections help us hold onto our faith as we await the great Resurrection.

Charlie has a book out from the library right now called Maybe Something Beautiful. It’s a whimsical story about a little girl who lives in a drab city, who hangs a picture on a wall and then meets a muralist. She and he begin to add color to the walls of the drab city and soon the whole neighborhood is painting with them. At the end of the book, you find out that this is a true story, and the illustrator is the muralist who helped create the Urban Art Trail in San Diego. The art helped heal and bring life to a city that needed it. A small resurrection.

These small resurrections can take many forms, the first laugh after a period of grief. A new friend after a difficult move. The first job when you are trying to start over.

The first time you hold hands after a difficult patch in a relationship.

Small resurrections are not spectacular. They are nothing to tweet about. But they are life sustaining. They remind us that there, somewhere, is order to the universe. They remind us that we are loved. They remind us that there is a big resurrection waiting for us.

Whether we are heroes of faith, or barely faithful, Jesus’ love and resurrection are for us. Whether we are confident or overwhelmed by life, Jesus’ love and resurrection are for us.

We follow a God whose is moved by our suffering, who longs not only to comfort us, but to transform our story. We follow a God who does this, not because we deserve it or even want it, but because it is in his nature.

May you be blessed this week by small resurrections that remind you of the great one waiting for you.

Amen.

Easter, Year B, 2015

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are grieving.  They are expecting their Jesus, the one they loved, to be in a tomb.  They are going to anoint his body and prepare him for a proper burial.  They are coming because they love him.  They are coming to do right by him.

But Jesus is not there.

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The original ending of the Gospel of Mark does not give us the resurrection we expect. There is no resurrected body.  There are no alleluias. Jesus is just. . .gone.

Jesus is on the loose.

This is, and this should be, terrifying to the women who have come to anoint him.

When a person is nailed to a cross, and pierced with a spear, when his blood flows out of his body, he ought to die.  The rules of biology and logic demand death.

The women who loved Jesus expect death.

And Jesus experienced death.

But not for long.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark, God has been rewriting the rules.  At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens tear open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Father’s voice booms over the crowd, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father announces to the crowd, and to us, that everything about life as a human being is about to change.  God breaks into human history in a new way and reclaims us for his own.

Now, humans tried to control that holy in-breaking.  Some tried to control the in-breaking by ignoring Jesus.  Some tired to control the in-breaking by insisting Jesus follow the rules.   Some controlled the in-breaking by turning Jesus over to the authorities.

Those authorities helped control the situation even further by killing Jesus.

But when God decides to reclaim his people, not even death can stop him.

God the Father resurrects his Son, changing every rule.  Jesus is on the loose.

Thousands of years later, we haven’t learned this lesson.  We still think we can control God’s in-breaking in our lives.  We still think we can pin Jesus down.  We set aside one day a week to worship him.  We celebrate his birthday in December.  We give him a week in the spring to remember his death and resurrection.

But Jesus doesn’t do well in confined spaces.

Jesus is on the loose in your life.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were owned by sin and death.  They were our masters and we were forced to do their bidding.  But God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection and now we belong to God.

You may think you can control Jesus by setting aside Sunday to think about him and going back to your real life the rest of the week, but good luck with that.  The God who created the Universe is reclaiming you. The God who broke through the heavens, and became a human being is reclaiming you. The God who defeated sin and death is reclaiming you.

Jesus is at loose in your life when you brush your teeth in the morning.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you write your Facebook status or balance your checkbook.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you commute to work, when your boss gives you a dressing down, when you turn on your television at night.  There is no moment in your life that is apart from Jesus and his Father who raised him from the dead.

Think about that for a moment and now tell me that the ending of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t just about sum up your reaction.

Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The idea of Jesus loose in our lives is terrifying.  At any moment he could ask us to reconcile with someone we loathe, give away the money that gives us security, humble ourselves when we want to advance.  How can we know this mysterious resurrected Jesus has our best interests at heart?

The author of the Gospel of Mark gives us a little clue about this mysterious resurrected Jesus to calm our anxiety.  The heavenly messenger at the empty tomb tells the women “. . .Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Why Galilee?

If you turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that Jesus first arrives on the scene in Galilee.  Mark is pointing us back to the beginning of his Gospel.  The resurrected Jesus is the same Jesus that taught and healed and exorcised demons.  The Jesus that is on the loose in your lives is not some zombie, not some spiritual Santa Claus, spying on you in judgment. He is the Jesus who loved men, women, and children; brought wholeness out of brokenness; and spoke truth to power.  He is the Jesus who loved Peter, even through Peter’s betrayal.  He is the Jesus who loved us so much that he wanted to identify fully with our human experience and was willing to die, so that we might be united with God.

This is the Jesus who is on the loose, loving us, healing us and bringing us eternal life.

And for that we can heartily say,

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Easter Vigil, Year B, 2012

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are grieving.  They are expecting their Jesus, the one they loved, to be in a tomb.  They are going to anoint his body and prepare him for a proper burial.  They are coming because they love him.  They are coming to do right by him.

But Jesus is not there.

The Gospel of Mark does not give us the resurrection we expect.  Jesus is just. . .gone.  There is no celebration.  There are no alleluias.

Jesus is on the loose.

This is, and this should be, terrifying to the women who have come to anoint him.

When a person is nailed to a cross, and pierced with a spear, when his blood flows out of his body, he ought to die.  The rules of physics and biology and logic demand death.

The women who loved Jesus expect death.

And Jesus experienced death.

But not for long.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark, God has been rewriting the rules.  At Jesus’ baptism, the very heavens tear open, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Father’s voice booms over the crowd, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father announces to the crowd, and to us, that everything about life as a human being is about to change.  God breaks into human history in a new way and reclaims us for his own.

Now, we tried to control that in-breaking.  We followed Jesus and listened to his stories, but as soon as Jesus got a little out of hand, as soon as Jesus began sharing his identity as the Son of God, we turned him over the authorities.

Those authorities helped us control the situation even further by killing Jesus.

But when God decides to reclaim his people, not even death can stop him.

So, Jesus is resurrected.  Jesus is on the loose.

The Gospel of Mark ends right there.

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The author leaves us in tension with this ending in which nothing is resolved.  Jesus is on the loose.  Mary and Mary and Salome are uncomfortable and so are we..

If you remember your Gospel of Mark, you’ll remember there is a long section that comes after this ending.  It’s marked in parentheses because scribes, uncomfortable with the original ending felt the need to tell the rest of the story.  They could not handle Jesus not wrapping up loose ends.  They wanted to pin Jesus down.  They wanted closure.

But there is no closure.

Jesus is on the loose.

We still try to pin Jesus down.  We set aside one day a week to worship him.  We celebrate his birthday in December.  We give him a week in the spring to remember his death and resurrection.  We say that his presence is kept in that tiny bronze box back there with the reserved sacrament.

But Jesus isn’t just in that box.  And Jesus doesn’t wait here in this church for you to come and worship him.

Jesus is on the loose.

Jesus is on the loose in your life.

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were owned by sin and death.  They were our masters and we were forced to do their bidding.  But God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection and now we belong to God.

You may think you can control Jesus by setting aside Sunday to think about him and going back to your real life the rest of the week, but good luck with that.  The God who created the Universe is reclaiming you.  The God who saved Isaac is reclaiming you.  The God who parted the Red Sea is reclaiming you.  The God who enfleshed the dry bones is reclaiming you.  The God who broke through the heavens, and became a human being is reclaiming you. The God who defeated sin and death is reclaiming you.

Jesus is at loose in your life when you brush your teeth in the morning.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you write your Facebook status or balance your checkbook.  Jesus is at loose in your life when you commute to work, when your boss gives you a dressing down, when you turn on your television at night.  There is no moment in your life that is apart from Jesus and his Father who raised him from the dead.

Think about that for a moment and now tell me that the ending of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t just about sum up your reaction.

Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The author of the Gospel of Mark gives us a little clue about this mysterious resurrected Jesus to calm our anxiety.  The heavenly messenger at the empty tomb tells the women,

. . .Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Why Galilee?

If you turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that Jesus first arrives on the scene in Galilee.  Mark is pointing us back to the beginning of his Gospel.  The resurrected Jesus is the same Jesus that taught and healed and exorcised demons.  The Jesus that is on the loose in your lives is not some zombie, not some spiritual Santa Claus, spying on you in judgment. He is the Jesus who loved men, women, and children; brought wholeness out of brokenness; and spoke truth to power.  He is the Jesus who loved Peter, even through Peter’s betrayal.  He is the Jesus who loved us so much that he wanted to identify fully with our human experience and was willing to die so we no longer have to.

This is the Jesus who is on the loose, loving us, healing us and bringing us eternal life.

And for that we can heartily say,

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Easter 3, Year B, 2009

I love watching footage of Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners or housewives who get surprised by Oprah’s cameras.  We can watch an entire story playing out across their faces as they are told they have won a million dollars or are about to meet Tom Cruise.  At first they are embarrassed to be caught in their bathrobe.  Next, they are suspicious that they are being scammed.  Then they just stare blankly, usually with their mouths partially open, thinking.  Finally, the news sinks in and they start jumping up and down and screaming like crazy people.

Any life changing news, whether good or bad, takes a while to filter through the human brain.

We celebrate Easter for a full 50 days, representing the time that lapsed between Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. God gave the disciples a nice, long time to absorb the news of the resurrection before throwing the curveball of the Holy Spirit at them.

Our Gospel lesson today is from the Gospel of Luke.  You’ll remember from our time together at Easter that the Gospel of Mark does not contain any post-resurrection appearances, so the creators of the lectionary are borrowing from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke this year.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes two post-resurrection appearances.

First, Jesus appears to two disciples walking along a road to Emmaus.  They don’t recognize him at first, but he says a few elusive things and then breaks bread with them.  In the act of breaking bread, they suddenly realize who he is.

The second appearance-the one we read today-happens when all the disciples are gathered together, discussing the first appearance.

Jesus materializes suddenly, out of nowhere, and the disciples are-here’s that word again-terrified.

Jesus understands their fear, Jesus understands that it takes our small brains time to absorb new information.

Jesus’ response to their fear tells us so much about God and the kind of love and patience that God has for us.  Rather than getting down to the business at hand right away, Jesus gives them time to absorb the experience of being with the risen Jesus.  He invites the disciples to touch him.  He invites the disciples to view his wounds.  He invites the disciples into this intimate moment of connection to reaffirm their bonds and reassure them of his identity.

Throughout all the resurrection appearances, eating is a theme.  The resurrected Jesus almost always eats something within the stories where he appears to the Disciples.  This story is no different.  After giving the disciples a chance to touch his resurrected body, Jesus then eats a piece of fish in front of them.  Eating the fish not only proves that Jesus is no ghost, but must have evoked many memories for the disciples.  So many important moments in Jesus’ ministry happened around food.  When the disciples saw Jesus eat the fish, they must have remembered the final Passover meal together, and the time Jesus fed 5000 people with just fish and bread, and the meal during which Mary poured oil over Jesus head and feet.  The extraordinary resurrected Jesus chooses to do something extremely ordinary to help root his disciples in the reality of the present in a gentle, calming way.

Jesus does not delve into bible study or instruction until all those introductions are out of the way.  Only when the disciples have come to understand that he is, indeed, resurrected from the dead, does Jesus begin to teach them about the implications of his resurrection.  He helps them to understand that their mission is to go out and teach others about repentance and God’s forgiveness of sin.

The church year also gives us time to gently absorb the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  We have all of Lent to focus on repenting and then 50 days of Easter to focus on the fact that our sins are forgiven.

And even with these 50 days of Easter, I don’t know that the good news really ever fully sinks into our hearts and minds.

I wonder what would happen if each of us took the next few weeks of Easter to really think and pray about how the forgiveness of sins affects each of us.  The phrase “forgiveness of sins” has sort of a stern Catholic-school connotation.  We don’t easily jump up and down in joy over the image of a stern God solemnly wiping our slate clean while giving us a one eye-brow raised nod.

But the forgiveness of sins is not about a schoolteacher God judging us and reluctantly changing our grade from an F to an A.  The forgiveness of God is about the gift of an abundant, loving relationship with our Creator. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God forgives us of our sins. Because Jesus mediates between us and the Father, we can be in a close relationship with God. Jesus modeled this kind of intimate relationship that is now available to us through his relationship with his disciples.

Jesus’ relationship with his disciples was marked by breaking bread together, walking together, and teaching.  While Jesus occasionally rebuked or got frustrated with his disciples, his relationship to his disciples could not be characterized as stern or cold.  Jesus loved his disciples and his disciples loved him.  Jesus reaffirms this warm relationship with disciples by continuing to break bread with them after his resurrection.

Experiencing a relationship with God can sometimes feel abstract and frustrating.  God does not literally walk with us or break bread with us.  But, our relationship with God is just that-a relationship.  The relationship is dynamic and intimate, just like Jesus’ relationship to the disciples was dynamic and intimate.  We may not experience God in a palpable manner, as the disciples were able to do, but if we lead lives of prayer we do occasionally get a strong spiritual sense of God’s presence and a very powerful sense of God’s love for us.

Maybe this Eastertide, as we slowly absorb the reality of God’s powerful love for us, we’ll have a moment of insight about just how incredible this intimate relationship with the divine really is and we’ll start  jumping up and down and screaming like one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners!

Even for us staid Episcopalians, that would be an appropriate response to the Good News of God’s love for us!

Amen.

Easter, Year B, 2009

Today is the most celebrated, exciting day of the Church year.  Easter represents the core of what makes Christianity unique.  The resurrection of Christ offers endless possibilities for our own redemption and our own new lives with God.  The resurrection is all about experiencing unbridled hope and joy where there was no room for either.

So, why then won’t Salome and the two Marys get on board with the program!?

In every other Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection, the women who find the empty tomb are terrified, but they dutifully trot off to tell the male disciples the news.  In the original ending to Mark’s Gospel however, the women are so freaked out by everything that has happened that they run away and tell no one.

This ending of Mark is completely unsatisfying!  This ending is abrupt and unresolved.  We are left not with an image of a victorious, risen Lord, but with three shaken women, who cannot integrate this good news into their lives.

This ending reminds me of the ending of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast.  At the very end, when the Beast morphs back into the prince he had been before his curse, instead of looking thrilled, Beauty looks disappointed.  Cocteau refuses to deliver us the neatly wrapped up ending we want.  David Chase did the same thing when he ended The Sopranos so abruptly, in the middle of a scene.

While neither the ending of Beauty and the Beast nor The Sopranos was completely satisfying, in retrospect, both are considered pretty brilliant, poetic endings.

Real life does not deliver neat endings, wrapped up with a satisfying bow.  Real life is complicated and messy.  Real life does not have endings the way a piece of literature does.

So, I would argue that this ending of The Gospel of Mark is a brilliant piece of writing that acknowledges the messiness of real life and intentionally leaves us in tension.

By leaving us in tension, Mark drives two points home.  First, Easter Sunday cannot be celebrated independently from Good Friday.  Second, God does not need humans to get their ducks in a row before he acts.  The resurrection happened whether the women at the tomb were ready or not.

Easter Sunday is a wonderful, celebratory day, but it cannot happen without Judas’ treachery, the insecurity of Pilate, and the murderous crowds.  The resurrection cannot happen without Jesus’ painful death, and Jesus’ abandonment by all of his closest male friends.  The Good News does not come without the terrible news of the death of God and the abandonment of hope.  The resurrection is redemptive, yes, but not even the resurrection cannot erase the horror that came before.

And this is like life, too, isn’t it?

People have rich second marriages after the death of a loved spouse or a difficult divorce.  Some go on to have children after miscarriages or still births.  There are those who start a new, exciting job after being suddenly laid off from a previous one.

Our lives go on after painful events, but we don’t ever forget those tragedies.  We don’t forget the way grief shaped us.  We don’t forget the people who are no longer with us or who might have been.  We don’t forget feelings of rejection and shame.

Instead of ignoring the past, we integrate the past into who we are.  We are not thankful for bad experiences, but we do acknowledge how they shaped us and made us more complicated, sometimes better, people.

Those painful experiences help us treasure the good in life even more-help us to feel in our guts how lucky we are to be loved, to be safe, to be employed, to have friends.

In the same way Mark’s Gospel, by not prettying up the resurrection, helps us to feel the power of the resurrection in our guts.  Jesus was dead.  Dead, dead.  He was not sleeping.  He was not impatiently waiting in the tomb to jump out and surprise everyone.  Jesus had died.  And so, when Salome and the Marys find the empty tomb, of course they are terrified.  Dead people are supposed to stay dead.  As much as I miss my mother, who died nine years ago, if I suddenly visited her grave and found it was empty, I would be completely unsettled and afraid.  The women who come to minister to Jesus’ body will one day see Jesus’ resurrected body and be comforted and amazed and astonished, but for now they are just scared.  So they run.

And this leads me to my second point-Jesus does not need the women to have an enthused reaction.  He does not need Peter to stay loyal to him.  Jesus does not need to have all of his disciples sitting vigil for him.  God does all the work of the resurrection.  The resurrection is for the redemption of humanity, but God does not need humanity to make the resurrection happen.

Jesus’ resurrection happens despite the fear of the people who had been close to him. In the same way, God takes initiative with us.  God pursues us, loves us, forgives us even when we are afraid, freaked out, and incompetent.

There are those who truly believe that in order to be a Christian you have to meet a long list of requirements-including holding very specific theological and political beliefs.  But, I guarantee you that Mary, Mary and Salome had no deep theological understanding of the empty tomb. I also guarantee you that Jesus did not hold their reaction against them!

Jesus’ resurrection is good news for all of us.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are filled with faith and when we are filled with doubt.  Jesus’ resurrection is for us when we are able to live how we want to live and when we disappoint others and ourselves.  Jesus’ resurrection is for when we are feeling blessed and when we are feeling forsaken.

Jesus’ resurrection and the new life it offers us is all about God’s overwhelming, powerful, all encompassing love for us, not about how good or deserving we are.  Jesus tells us that the entire motivation behind God becoming incarnate in Jesus is that love.  God wanted to find a way to be in full relationship with us. Since we are unable to live a perfect life, he chose to do all the work for us, to become like one of us, die like one of us, but then break the power of death over us, so that we might be in relationship with God forever.

And whether this news makes us shout for joy or makes us want to run away in fear, God still loves us and invites us to relationship with him.  And that is Good News.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Seventh Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

Matt and I got our dog Henry from the Augusta SPCA in December.  He was a pitiful little thing when we got him, very sick and very shaken by whatever had happened to him.  He’s fairly healthy now, and very sweet and more or less adjusted, despite a tendency to eat dirty Kleenex and dead frogs.  Despite his good health, I just hate leaving him when we go out of town.  I am never sure how he is going to react when we go.  When we left at Christmas, even with a dog sitter present, he tore up the Christmas tree and a piece of baseboard.  When we left on our last trip in April, he ate a healthy portion of a new book Matt had bought.  When we leave the dog, I am concerned about him on many levels.  First, what if he harms himself? Secondly, what if he destroys our house?  and finally, what if who ever is watching him never speaks to us again?

Leaving loved ones is hard.  While it is stressful to leave a dog behind, it can be heartbreaking to leave people behind, especially if you know you will not see them again.  Letting go is hard.

This is exactly where we find Jesus in our Gospel reading today.

Our Gospel reading takes place during the last supper.  Jesus has just made a long speech to his disciples and now he is offering a prayer on their behalf.  He knows he only has days to live and that during his death, and before his resurrection, he will not be able to contact his disciples in any way.  He will not be able to reassure them, to explain what is happening.  He will not be able to inspire them with his words or calm them with his presence.  And so, Jesus does the only thing he can do.  He prays to his Father.

Jesus prays that he would be glorified.  We think of glory in terms of praise and adulation, but that is not what Jesus means.  When Jesus asks to be glorified, he asks to be restored to the state he was before he was human.  After all, in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John reminds us that Jesus was the Word who was with God before the creation of the world.  Jesus’ prayer jolts us into remembering that Jesus was not just a really, really nice person, he was GOD incarnate.

Jesus does not want to be glorified back to his old self for his own benefit.  He wants to be glorified so his followers can experience eternal life.  And again, Jesus describes eternal life as something different from what we might expect.  We think of eternal life as something linear.  We think eternal life means having an infinite number of days before us, stretched out into the future.  However, Jesus does not describe eternal life in that way.  Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God.  What Jesus wants for his followers in his absence is for them to have a deep, knowing, loving relationship with his Father.

In the second part of the prayer, Jesus describes this beautiful and reciprocal relationship he has with the Father.  Among other things, he says, “the word that you gave to me, I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.”  Jesus sees himself here as an intermediary between his Father and the people that his father loves.  This prayer reveals an intimacy about the way Jesus and the Father communicate, and what is even more astonishing-that they want to invite us, their followers, into their intimacy.

Saying goodbye to those you love is never easy.  Jesus was not worried about his followers chewing on old Kleenexes or wrecking a house because of their anxiety.  He was probably worried about Peter’s faith-and whether he would be up to the task of leading the Church.  Jesus was probably troubled because he knew that Judas’s act of betrayal would destroy Judas as much as it would destroy Jesus.  Jesus probably grieved the thought of his beloved community being splintered into pieces after they had all gotten to know each other so well.  Maybe he was afraid some of his followers would lose their faith in him and be deeply disappointed.

What Jesus wanted for his followers after his death was for them to be enveloped in the love of his Father.  He wanted his death and resurrection to unite his followers and for them to experience God’s love in a new way.  But even Jesus could not control what happened to his friends.  Even Jesus had to let go and turn to God and offer his loved ones to God.

So, who do we think we are to hold onto people, to control people, to protect people when even Jesus knew it was not his role!  We all have someone in our lives who we just wished made better decisions.  We all have a child who is too distant from us, or a friend who keeps dating horrible people, or a boss we can see making stupid decisions for our company, or a spouse who can’t seem to learn to pick up his socks, or a loved one that struggles with addiction.  Of course we are called to care for them, but we must not forget that ultimately we have no power over them.  Ultimately, the welfare of another person is not in our control and the best thing we can do, is to follow Jesus’ example and turn our loved ones over to God.

Remember, God wants to invite each of us into a loving, reciprocal relationship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  God longs to know and be known to each of us and everyone we love.  It is in that loving relationship where we experience forgiveness, healing and all the things that make us better people.  When we pray for our loved ones who are struggling, we hand them over to the One who made them and loves them even more than we do.  When we pray we are reminded that we are not alone, but we are in relationship with a God who has been in our position, who has loved a group of people and been afraid of what would happen if he were not there to lead them.

This very Jesus, after being incarnate, after being enfleshed, died, became glorified and resumed his pre-embodied state of being all so we could know God better, so that we could freely pray and beseech God and feel God’s presence without the help of any intermediaries.  This is a God we can trust with our loved ones, even my dog Henry.  This is a God who will help us let go.

Second Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

When I went through the ordination process, one of the first steps was to have several meetings of a discernment committee at my parish.  My discernment committee at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Richmond was filled with a wonderful variety of parishioners who asked me all sorts of good questions.  Mary Horton, a fabulous woman who single handedly inspired me about the beauty of pointy toed shoes, asked me, “Do you believe in resurrection?”  Now, I was thinking about human death, since my mother had just died, and I told them that I honestly did not know.  There was a long, awkward pause, and all of a sudden I realized she meant JESUS’ resurrection.  I quickly blurted out, “Yes!  Yes!  I believe in Jesus’ resurrection, I’m just not sure if the rest of us have the same kind of bodily resurrection!”

Phew.  I might not be here today if I hadn’t interpreted that long pause correctly!

I wonder if Thomas was met with the same awkward silence when he just could not believe the other disciples had seen the risen Jesus.

You can just imagine Thomas coming back into the locked room, completely innocent of what had just happened.  Maybe he went out to check on a family member, or to grab some lunch.  Maybe he just needed a break from the doom and gloom and wanted some fresh air.  Regardless of why he left, he was the only disciple not to see Jesus for himself.  He came back to the room and everyone was babbling excitedly about seeing Jesus.

Of COURSE Thomas was incredulous.  There are certain things you don’t expect in life-for, example, snipers shooting at cars right here in Greenwood.  Thankfully the thing Thomas was not expecting was not bad news-he had already heard the bad news of Jesus’ death-but really, truly wonderful news.

Thomas was a skeptic.  Thomas wanted more information.  Thomas wanted to see for himself.  He tells his friends that he wants to “see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side”.  Thomas wants evidence and sensory proof that what the disciples saw was actually the resurrected Jesus. Thomas is not comfortable with the certainty that his friends are experiencing.

Thomas could be the patron saint of the Episcopal Church.
 
One of the reasons I joined the Episcopal Church is that it welcomes all of us Thomases and all the questions we have. I used to be part of a church community that would tilt its head and tell you, “We’re praying for you.” if you asked too many questions.  Questions were a sign that your faith was wavering, in danger.  To them, real faith looked like an iron clad suit-inflexible and dogmatic. 

John Polkinghorne, the English priest and physicist reminds us that truth is not the same thing as certainty.

Many people confuse the two, but truth is a much broader idea than certainty.

When Thomas finally sees Jesus, Jesus invites Thomas to put his hands in Jesus’ side.  After all his big talk, Thomas cannot bring himself to touch his Lord. Suddenly, Thomas no longer needs the certainty of concrete evidence.  He has a personal encounter with a loving, resurrected Jesus and no longer needs proof of Jesus’ resurrection.

The truth of Jesus, and our relationship with Jesus is much more complicated, and much more beautiful than simple certainty.

If we become absolutely certain about who Jesus is and what God is like, then we close ourselves off to the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us something new.

Our minds are very small.  Even here, in intellectual Charlottesville, our minds cannot begin to grasp the complexity of the living God.  All of our rumination and theology is nothing more than an educated guess, really. 

We like to be organized, so we come up with books and books of theology and all try to agree on exactly what the Bible means, but even the Bible is a complex and multi-layered text.  The Bible is for exploration, not classification.  The Bible is an adventure, not a set of rules.

Being too certain can lead to a limited experience of God.  Being too certain can cut us off from people different from ourselves.  Being too certain can lead to ugly talk, accusations, and even violence.  Being too certain can even lead to personal collapse.

Once I got past the point of just giggling about the whole Elliot Spitzer debacle, I began to get really fascinated at what motivated him to act out the way he did.  For that matter, what made Ted Haggard behave the way he did?  Or any moral leader who has a moral meltdown?  What men like these have in common is an intense and narrow perspective on the world to which they are professionally obligated to adhere.  They built their reputation on moral certainty that left no room for them to explore their own deep thoughts and feelings in a safe and open manner.  They ended up compartmentalizing themselves into irresolvable pieces and that loose construction eventually collapsed in spectacular and humiliating ways. 

If Spitzer and Haggard had been in tune with the complicated truth of who they were and who God is, rather than being so certain of a set of mores for those under their care, they may have spared themselves the humiliation of sexual and financial indiscretions that later came to light.

Asking questions, even taboo questions, about ourselves and about God is one of the healthiest, most faithful acts we can do as Christians.  Thomas teaches us that we are allowed to ask whether God is real, whether the resurrection is real, whether the virgin birth is real.  We are allowed to doubt.

Faith would not be faith without doubt.  Inherently, faith is about taking a risk, taking a chance.  Over our life, our faith will ebb and flow.  There will be Sundays where we can say the Nicene Creed with confidence and other Sundays where we might need to skip a part or just listen to our brothers and sisters recite it.  In the Episcopal Church, unlike most churches, to join you do not need to sign a statement of belief.  You do not have to sign off on specific theological points or agree to a proscribed set of ideas.  In the Episcopal Church we believe faith is expressed by coming together and worshipping, by the act of loving God, rather than the act of believing facts about God. 

We can no longer put our hands in Jesus’ wounds, but we can encounter him at the Eucharist.  The physical contact and assurance Thomas, and we, long for can still be met as we kneel before him and accept his body and blood in the form of bread and wine.  The intimacy that Thomas shared with Jesus, the gift of being in Jesus’ presence is still offered to us. 

And when we come to share that intimacy in the Eucharist, we don’t need to have all our ducks in a row.  We can come confused about God, confused about ourselves.  We can come with robust faith or whimpering faith and Jesus will still meet us and open his arms to us.

Thanks be to God.

Lent 5, Year A, 2008

The time is getting close.

The clock is ticking.

Our gospel story today has all the passion and intensity of the cliffhanger season finale of some character drama.

Immediately following the raising of Lazarus, some of the witnesses get freaked out and run to tell the Pharisees what happened.  This act, of course, leads to Jesus’ arrest and execution.  But, we’ll get to that next week.

For now, Jesus is still safe and sound.

We meet up with Jesus as he is traveling with his disciples.  Jesus gets the news that his friend Lazarus is ill in Judea.  We don’t know how Jesus knew Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, but they are the only people described as Jesus’ personal friends in the Bible.  Janice, our parish administrator, and I spent some time speculating about this.  We’ve decided, that we would like them to be childhood friends.  Maybe they went to grade school together.  Maybe they have known Jesus since before he was this big shot miracle worker.  Maybe they knew him when he was just Jesus, that carpenter’s kid.  Maybe they tossed a ball around or caught lizards in jugs and surprised their mothers with them.  Maybe with Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Jesus does not feel any pressure to be “the Holy Son of God”.  They quietly accept him for who he is, they do not fawn over him or demand to be healed.

However they know each other, it is well enough that Mary pours expensive oil all over Jesus’ feet to anoint him.  They also know each other well enough that Martha and Jesus snap at each other when Mary is too lazy to help with the dishes at a dinner party.  Their intimacy with each other has a domestic, everyday feel to it.

We should feel no surprise then, at how intense Jesus’ emotions are around the event of Lazarus’s death.  Jesus seems to experience incredible internal conflict around Lazarus’s illness and death.  At first, he seems almost indifferent, delaying the trip to Judea and casually mentioning that the illness will lead to God’s glory.  Even after he hears of Lazarus’s death, Jesus seems very nonchalant as he tells his disciples he is going to Judea to “wake Lazarus up”.

Jesus does not fall apart until he sees his friends.  You know the feeling. You’re holding everything together, just barely, and then you see a person you trust and love and all your defenses crumble around you.  Jesus manages to hold it together through his conversation with Martha, where she makes great proclamations of faith in him, but when he sees Mary weeping, he falls apart. His dear friend Mary, who is so open and free with her feelings.  Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and then anointed those same feet with expensive oil.  Mary, who had such faith in Jesus and now seems so disappointed.

When Jesus does weep, he does not weep in the same  way that Mary does.  The Greek word used to describe Mary’s weeping is klaio.  The word for Jesus’s weeping is dakruo.  This is the only time in the bible the word dakruo is used.  We don’t know why the author of this story chose to use a different word.  I imagine the quality of weeping was different.  The culture of the time had a kind of ritualistic weeping that was done at funerals to properly honor the dead.  Perhaps the author wanted to distinguish what Jesus was doing from that kind of ritualistic weeping.

I imagine Jesus’ tears came from somewhere deep, deep inside himself.  I wonder if, because Jesus knew God had given him the power of resurrection, he was unprepared for the reality of Lazarus’s death. Jesus had grieved before—the death of John the Baptist was deeply upsetting to him—but never before do we see him weeping.  Not only does Jesus weep, but he also feels “greatly disturbed in his spirit”.  While some Bibles translate this word to mean compassion, the word has a more disruptive, angry edge to it.   Jesus was really traumatized by Lazarus’s death.

There is no passage in the bible, in my opinion, that better sheds light on Jesus’ humanity than this one.  Jesus has been ministering to people for years by this point, but somehow the reality of what it means to be human—to be finite, to have a beginning and an end, to be born and to die—really seem to sink in for him here.

Immediately before this passage, Jesus has been describing himself quite frequently as the Good Shepherd.  And in fact, he goes on and calls Lazarus by name, just as shepherds call their sheep by name.  Lazarus hears his voice, and obeys, even after death.  But for now, Jesus is just another sheep.  He is one of us.  For now, in this moment, he understands our feelings of grief and hopelessness.  He tastes the bitter reality of loss.

In this moment, Jesus cements himself as someone we can trust.  In this moment we realize that he has credibility—that he truly understands what it means to be us.

Because of this, we know we can trust him as a Shepherd, who will guide us gently and compassionately. Because of this, we can have the courage to follow Jesus on the rest of his journey to Jerusalem.  We feel empathy for him because of his own experience of loss, but Lazarus’ resurrection also makes us wonder if perhaps Jesus can outsmart his enemies, after all.

Maybe the road to Jerusalem, into the heart of political and religious power, is not a one way road.  Maybe Jesus still has something to show us.  Maybe the rising of Lazarus is just the beginning.

Starting next Sunday, Palm Sunday, we’ll spend eight days in Jerusalem with Jesus.  Come join us and find out how the story ends!

Easter 6, Year C, 2007

Don’t you love receiving a gift?

Someone hands you a package and first you notice its shape and feel how heavy it is. You admire the gift’s packaging and if you’re polite, you read the card, which expresses the giver’s intent and affection.  Finally, after an appropriate period of time has passed, you begin untying bows, and tearing through paper to discover the mysterious object you can now call your own.  When you’re done admiring the gift, you thank the giver, completing the exchange. 

Gifts are a symbol of relationship, affection, love, or obligation.  We give gifts to welcome, to celebrate, to honor and occasionally to assuage guilt.  We also give gifts to mark thresholds in people’s lives.  Matt and I get married in roughly. . .27 days and many people have been honoring this transition through gifts.  This tradition is so formalized now, our society even codifies it through registries where the engaged couple goes to a store and tells the store what they want people to buy for them! 

Thankfully, even though the disciples are entering a new threshold of their lives, they do not get to register for which gift they’d like to receive.  Our Gospel reading today is John’s record of Jesus’ farewell discourse.  Jesus makes a long speech at the last supper, trying to prepare his disciples for his death.  In the section we read today, Jesus is reassuring his followers that they will still be in relationship with him after he leaves.  He says they will receive two gifts:  Jesus will give them his peace, and the Father will send them an Advocate-the Holy Spirit.

We don’t always know what gifts are good for us.  Matt and I recently went through our registries, taking out some of the excessive stuff that we registered for during a greedy binge.  For instance, we realized that just because we thought a Kitchen Aid mixer was cool didn’t mean we would ever use it or even have the space for it in a kitchen.  Sometimes the gifts you think you want, are not the wisest choices.  If the disciples got to choose their gift, they would choose to have Jesus stay with them, in bodily form, forever.  Like most of us, the idea of change makes them a little nervous and the idea of losing a dear friend makes them incredibly sad. 

But Jesus has better things in store.  Jesus knows that his death is not the end of a story, but the beginning of a new relationship between his Father and humanity. Jesus knows that the gifts he and the Father are giving will nourish God’s followers for the next two thousand years.

The first gift Jesus tells his listeners about is the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom he describes as our Advocate.  We’ll celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost at the end of May.  But before the Holy Spirit came rushing down upon those disciples waiting in the upper room, Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is God, and a gift from the Father.  The Holy Spirit’s role in our lives is twofold:  to teach us and to help us remember what Jesus has already told us. 

The word Advocate can also mean helper.  The Holy Spirit is sent to help us, specifically in terms of our relationship with the Father.  Jesus told us about the Father, and lived a life in complete union with the Father and through his death and resurrection united us with the Father. 

Remembering these things about Jesus is not easy, especially once Jesus ascends and no longer present to remind us.  God knows we humans need daily reminders.  Moses had only ascended to the mountain a few days before the Israelites started worshiping Golden calves!  We do not have a good track record with keeping God in our mind. 

So, to help us remember Jesus and follow Jesus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to be our helper.  Not our nagger, not our judger, but our helper.  We can pray to the Holy Spirit to help us understand scripture.  We can pray to the Holy Spirit to help us know how to follow Jesus in our lives.  We can pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance when the church tries to sort out what Scripture means in relation to our modern society.  The Holy Spirit is a living, moving part of God that interacts with us directly

Today, [at the 11:00 o’clock service] we, with Greer’s parents and godparents will reaffirm our baptismal vows.  We make vows that are very profound and very difficult.  By saying our baptismal vows together, we remind ourselves that we have promised to turn away from Satan, evil, and our own sin and turn towards Jesus.  These promises are profoundly difficult to keep!  You should see the way Matt and I lick our chops as we check out the status of our registries online.  You can almost see the greed pouring out our ears.  As we turn away from Jesus and towards material things or other temptations, it is the Holy Spirit that can help us get back on the right track. 

Whatever temptations Greer may face, she can know that the Holy Spirit is her Advocate.  The Holy Spirit is for her and with her and will help her to follow Jesus.

The second gift is one Jesus leaves us.  Jesus gives us the gift of  his peace.  Worshiping a God for whom we have very little tangible experience is an anxiety producing experience at times!  Remember the golden calf.  Thankfully, we have access to Jesus’ peace, so we don’t need to create any golden calves.  Remember that Jesus was in complete union with his Father, so his peace is a peace beyond anything we can imagine.  His peace is the peace of God. 

I have a friend of mine who is job hunting at the moment and she tells me she is waiting to feel God’s peace to know she has found the right job.  The peace of God can be an indicator of a right path, but it can also be a spiritual soothing in a time of unrest.  One of the reasons we do healing prayer once a month here is to invite the peace of God to rest on people who are in some way in pain.  The peace of God is mysterious and can be elusive, but Jesus has given this peace to us as gift. 

Just like Matt and I can take back unwanted gifts to the store, we can refuse God’s gifts to us.  We can decide that we have enough of our own resources and we don’t really need the Holy Spirit or Jesus’s peace.  We can decide that we know absolutely what the Bible says and don’t need the Holy Spirit to gude us.  We can decide we need to be anxious and uptight and driven in order to succeed rather than inviting Jesus’ peace to rule our lives.  It is possible to reject the Father and Jesus’ gifts.

But why would we?  Why would we want to reject these wonderful gifts of relationship and connection.  Why would we not want to learn more about God, or feel a touch of the peace God feels when he looks upon us.  In these confusing and anxious times, why would we refuse these gifts?

God’s gifts for us are good gifts.  They may not be gifts we would register for or dream up for ourselves, but ultimately we don’t have really great taste.  The gifts we would register for are misguided.  Like the disciples, we want concrete answers.  We want to pin God down.  We want to pin our own lives down.  We want to know what will happen to us.  We want to know whether we’ll always be healthy or whether our children will do well for themselves.  We would register for the gifts of certainty, of uneventful lives.

But God’s gifts-the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ peace-are exactly the gifts we need to navigate the choppy waters of our lives.  They comfort us in times of trouble and give us deep joy when times are good.  They connect us when we are feeling lonely, and enter our relationships when we are surrounded by loved ones.

Jesus and the Father are handing us to fantastic packages, that contain gifts beyond our wildest imagination.  Are we going to open them?

Easter 4, Year C, 2007

A few years ago, my favorite show on television was Alias.  The premise of the show was this:  a young woman graduate student gets recruited by what she thinks is the CIA, only to learn it is actually a nefarious organization.  She then goes to the actual CIA and works as a double agent, to bring the bad organization down.  While I loved the show for its tough, yet sensitive main character-Sydney Bristow-one of the campy, fun things about the show is that no one ever, ever, ever stayed dead.

When the show begins, Sydney believes her mother drowned in a car years ago.  At the end of the first season she discovers that, in fact, her mother used the air from the tires to breathe and survived the drowning!  It also turns out her mother was a KGB spy, but that is an entirely different story.  In fact, this same character, Sydney’s mother, “died” at least two other times during the course of the series.  I think the third time finally stuck, but we’ll never know, since the series ended.

Sydney “died”, as well, or at least everyone thought she had.  In fact, she was kidnapped, became an assassin with an assumed name, and then lost her memory.  When she “came back to life” all her friends were shocked, particularly her boyfriend, who had since remarried.  (The new wife was an evil double agent, of course.)  And of course, that boyfriend “died” for awhile, too.

Sydney’s best friend, Francie, died, too.  But, Francie came back to life as an evil clone.  Her boss’s wife, Emily, died of cancer, but was actually holed up on an island, waiting for her husband.  The list goes on and on.  No one on Alias ever stayed dead!

Alias was not the most realistic television series ever, but somewhere in its soap opera twists and turns, it captured humanity’s deep desire for life, especially the power of life over death.

This power of life over death is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. 

God’s power over death was shown in Jesus’ ability to rise Lazarus from the dead, and then, of course, God the Father’s ability to raise Jesus from the dead.  Our reading from Acts today, when the apostle Peter is able to raise Tabitha from the dead is the next link in the biblical chain.  The book of Acts tells the story of the very early church.  Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, and begins with the disciples gathering in the upper room, waiting for the Holy Spirit, per the risen Jesus’s instructions.  The Holy Spirit does, indeed come, and the fledgling Christian church is born.  Can you imagine being on the first vestry?  These new Christians had to make tons of decisions every day-do we let in Jews and Gentiles?  Do you have to be circumcised to be a Christian?  Who is going to take care of the poor?  Who is going to take care of widows? 

The new believers had to have faith in their new leaders-men like Peter and James who had been with Jesus as his disciples.

Part of the coming of the Holy Spirit was imbuing these leaders with some of the same powers Jesus had-so that their followers would know they had God’s stamp of approval.  So, when Peter is able to raise Tabitha from the dead, God is showing the early believers that Peter is a chosen leader of the church, but also, that the theme of life triumphing over death will be a hallmark of the Christian faith.

We celebrate this triumph every Easter, at every Christian burial, and every time we consume the Eucharist.

But maybe, this is not enough.

Life is precious.  Life is the very breath of God.  From a baby’s first yelp to a dying person’s last jagged breath, the air we breathe reminds us we are also full of God’s breath, God’s spirit.  We are made in God’s image.  But are we behaving as if we believe in the deep value of life?

The church tends to focus on the quality of life issues either at the beginning or the very end of life-with abortion and the death penalty the most public issues.  What would it be like, if we expanded our energies to focus on the years in-between birth and death?

I grow increasingly concerned that we as a culture are losing touch with the preciousness of life.  I perceive it happening in two ways.  First, the obvious-the increase in acceptability of violence as entertainment.  Recently the New Yorker published an article about the television show 24.  (Now, before I continue let me make it clear that until recently I watched and enjoyed 24.  And I didn’t stop because of the violence, I stopped because it got boring.) 24 is the first television program to show Americans government agents using torture that is outside the bounds of American law and being rewarded for it.  In the past, television shows or movies showed the enemy using torture as a way to demonstrate the inhumanity of the enemy. 

This normalization of torture began having an affect on the real world American military. U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, actually traveled to Los Angeles to meet with the producers of 24 because the show has such a problematic impact on U.S. soldiers.  These young soldiers have spent their teenage years watching 24 and coming to believe the kind of torture its hero, Jack Bauer practices is acceptable, even though it is, in fact, illegal.   These young soldiers are having to be reigned in again and again as they cross the boundaries of acceptable treatment of prisoners. 

The culture of violence pervades many of my favorite shows and movies, and certainly some of the video games Matt plays.  But at what point do we cross the line as a culture?  Where is the line between acknowledging violence as an unfortunate, but interesting, part of life and glorifying it as a glamorous way to conduct one’s life?  Once again, I have no answers for you, but I think these are important questions to think and pray about as we go about making our daily choices.

The second way of disrespecting life that I’ve observed lately is the way we treat one another verbally.  For some reason, this seems to be the year where out of control stars seem to think it is okay to insult Jewish people, black people, gay people, heck, even their own children. 

In March of this year, a blogger, Kathy Sierra, who blogs about the one-would-think uncontroversial topic of computing technology began receiving more and more threatening anonymous comments towards her on her and others’ blogs, culminating in a death threat.  This began a conversation in the blogging community about the problem of increasingly sexist, sexual, and violent language being used against women in the commentary section of even mainstream websites like Salon.com and Slate.com.  Measures are being taken to filter out such comments, but even that they were made in the first place is deeply disturbing.

The hip-hop community has responded to Don Imus’s comments about the Rutger’s women’s basketball team by beginning a conversation within the hip-hop communitiy about what words are and are not appropriate to promote in albums and videos.

While they may not kill, words can contain incredible violence.  Words can undermine someone’s entire sense of identity, even humanity.  The language we use to speak to one another reflects how we see the other person.  Do we see them as a threat?  As less than ourselves?

Part of respecting life is respecting those made in God’s image.  Everyone on this planet has been made in God’s image.  Everyone has a soul.  One of the first jobs human beings were given was the job of naming-Adam was asked to name all the animals and then his wife, Eve.  This power of naming is the power of giving life and identity. 

My neighbor just had a baby and already we’re calling her names.  Sometimes they are meaningless names like Pepper Pot or Anna Banana, but just as often we’re calling her precious, lovely, smart, perfect-we are identifying the precious humanity in her and calling it out. 

There is no reason to stop this kind of naming once babies become children or children become adults.  Part of our job as Christians is to remind each other who we are-We are beloved, precious in the sight of God, favored, part of a human family.

Celebrating and respecting life is not just about deciding when human life begins or debating end of life issues, but valuing our own life and the lives of those around us.  When Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, he was not just doing a magic trick, he was affirming the goodness of life, of Tabitha’s life.  The writer of Acts tell us that she was a woman who did many good works.  Tabitha was a whole person with a story and relationships-her resurrection was not just to impress the new Christians, but to bring life where there was death, wholeness where there had been grief.

Her resurrection was a reminder that no matter how much evil or violence or death may lap at our heels, ultimately we belong to a God who pours such abundant life upon us, we cannot help but give that life to others.