Reblog: Resurrection Happens

enlight2Easter is a very conflicted occasion.

  • Pagan festivals and church processions.
  • Eggs and crosses.
  • Bunnies and burials.
  • Lilies and grave clothes.
  • Chocolate and empty tombs.

Then there is the question of reality–did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there evidence beyond the Bible for this supernatural event? Is Scriptural evidence sufficient?

Regardless of our responses to these questions, there is a broader question that we ought to be asking: Is thee a wider truth that we can draw from the Easter story that speaks to us on a more universal, meaningful level?

Listen to the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

It doesn’t take that much imagination to put ourselves into the story of these disciples. “We had hoped. Our dreams were in him. Our future was in his hands. Now he’s gone.”

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel that you cannot go on? Is the burden you carry great, and the pain too intense? Is the healing just not happening, the sorrow too much for you?

Here is the truth of Easter: God is in the resurrection business.

The very first words of Scripture speak of God making new life out of chaos. The creation poem tells us that God spoke there was light. The waters separated (the ancients believed above the sky was a water-dome called in Genesis ‘the firmament’). The dry land appeared. Fish and animals, human beings, plants and trees all came into being out of the chaos of ‘the deep.’

Some of the last words in Scripture state in simple words God’s grand plan: “Behold I make all things new.” From the chaos this world has become, resurrection will happen and new life–a renewed creation–will spring forth.

Whether or not we believe in a literal resurrection should not prevent us from drawing deeper meaning from this widely-accepted Christian narrative.

Resurrection–new life–is happening around us every day. It’s never too late to begin again. God is even now, in all-embracing love and grace, making all things new.

And this can be true for you too.

There is hope. The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work. The Spirit of God is moving amongst your chaos, speaking light into darkness, strength into weakness and new life into hopelessness.

Resurrection happens!

And resurrection can happen for you.

Faith

IMG_1448I was asked recently to share what my faith journey looked like.

I’ll admit: it is a journey, and it certainly involves faith. That said, it’s often difficult for me to articulate. Faith is not black and white (or as I heard one say, “It isn’t binary.”) It looks different for you than it may for me.

It may also include uncertainty, doubt, fear, struggle, deconstruction and reconstruction, and many seasons of growth and change.

It may or may not be tied to a church experience. It may or may not have clearly defined boundaries, milestones, turning points, commitments, or life-changing decisions.

Regardless of what it looks like, it involves questions, hope, and trust that what is promised will come to be, both in this life and in the next. I think the writer of the following reflection also understand it this way.

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“I shall not die, but live, and tell of the Lord’s great deeds.” – Psalm 118: 17

When my mother was dying, some of my siblings and in-laws kept whispering to her that Jesus was waiting to welcome her, that people she loved would be there too, that she could let go without fear. At one point in this litany of reassurance, she woke up, looked right at us, and said in a strong voice, clear as a bell, “Are you sure?”

Immediately everybody said, “Yes, we’re sure!” Even I said so—I who have struggled for years with what ‘life after death’ might rationally mean.

“We’re sure,” I said. I’m sure.

Immediately under my breath I threatened God: “Did you hear that? I just told her it’s true. It had better be. It had better be, do you hear me? I gave her my word.”

Some people claim to know. They’ve seen soft lights, green meadows, felt God’s embrace. If you find that comforting, I’m glad. But none of it is certain. We have only promises and poetry, longing and love, need and hope. The rest is silence.

All the same, if my mother had asked me a thousand times whether it was true about Jesus and loved ones and God’s embrace, a thousand times I would have said yes. And after each yes I would have threatened God, “It had better be.” And after each menacing prayer, silence would be the reply.

That’s hard. It just is.

There’s a reason they call it ‘faith.’

— Mary Luti, from StillSpeaking

Losing Faith: Waiting

20140419-153755.jpgImagine the feeling of abandonment, loss and dashed hopes the disciples of Jesus felt that first Good Friday night. “We were hoping this was he who would save Israel…” What did they do? How did they respond to the death of their teacher and Messiah? Did they sense God had forsaken them too?
It’s hard times when we feel all is lost.
It’s even harder when we can’t hear the voice of God or when we just don’t sense God’s presence with us.
When God is silent . . .
I’m reading an incredible book by Tony Kriz, to whom I can relate on many levels, called Neighbours and Wise Men where he tells stories from his own experiences of growing up, losing his faith, and finding it again in the most unlikely of places–a British Pub.
It was during that time when he happened upon an older Jewish lady named Katarina and told her his story of losing his faith, losing his friends, losing God and the incredible sense of loneliness he felt at that time.
Recounting his conversation with her, we relates to her his painful situation as a missionary in Albania who could no longer believe:

“I couldn’t pray for my friends. I couldn’t pray for my teammates. I couldn’t pray for our work. I couldn’t even pray for myself. I was worthless.”
At this point one of the pools of moisture overflowed and trickled down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away. “So anyway . . . that was the time when I lost my faith.”
My design of water circles had become quite elaborate. I tried to think of what else I should say. I couldn’t think where to go next, so I just sat there staring at the water-circle pattern.
When I finally looked up from the table surface and at Katarina, I was shocked by what I saw. Everything about her had changed. All her pleasantness was gone. Her eyes were hot. She was almost shaking.
“How dare you!” She thrust her finger at me when she said it. “How dare you!” She was desperately trying to maintain her composure, but her anger was overwhelming her.
“Don’t you ever, ever say that again. How dare you speak that way about your faith. How dare you shame your story like that. Shame on you!”
She tried to calm down. Her hands were now on the table in front of her. Her fingers, shaking slightly, were slowly tracing the ruts in the wood. “My people waited in silence for generations to hear from God, to be able to talk to him. Generations! We waited in silence. We screamed at the sky. We waited for God to speak.”
She looked up from the tabletop and stared intently into my eyes. “Look at me,” she demanded. “Look at me and never forget what I am about to tell you. You did not lose your faith. Do you hear me? You did not. . . lose . . . your . . . faith. Your faith was not gone. Your faith was strong. I know it didn’t feel like it, but your faith was true, not only because you waited for God, but more important, because even in the silence God was waiting with you.”

God. Waiting. With. Me.
I am not alone. Even though I can’t see tomorrow, I can wait in peace because God is waiting with me.
This is the message of what Christendom calls “Holy Saturday.” God is silent, but not silent as in abandoning, nor silent as in refusing to speak because of anger.
God is silent with me in my humanity, my grief, my wandering, my directionlesssness, my loss.
The first disciples did not know that Jesus would come back to life. They could not see what tomorrow would bring. They had hoped . . . But now what?
They did the only thing they knew how to do and, in the silence, gathered together the broken pieces of their dreams, moving on in sorrow.

Blessed?

I am blessed.

I was born to a family who lived well above the poverty line (at least for most of my life). I was born as a citizen of a nation that gave its citizens freedom, embraced democracy and enjoyed a reasonable and (mostly) fair justice system. My parents brought me up with good educational standards; I was able to finish Year 12 and then attend and graduate from a university that provided a quality education. My family instilled in me values and a sense of moral and spiritual responsibility.

I always had food on the table, clothes on my back (though sometimes they looked like they were made from tablecloths) and a comfortable bed to sleep in that was free of lice, out of the weather and not subject to vermin infestations. If I needed to travel, the family had a car or two. Bus and train services were readily available and cheap. There were great parks to play in, sports teams to which I could belong, and numerous churches, clubs and social groups in the immediate vicinity.

Today I live in a country that has education and outstanding health care available for all at minimal expense. We have a democratically elected government with whom we are free to disagree. I can belong to a trade union, protest injustice without fear of being locked up, and say what I want to say on a diverse array of social media platforms.I am part of a church that has a fantastic building and full of wonderful people who don’t necessarily all think and believe the same way. I enjoy employment in a comfortable setting, with colleagues who are also friends and a decent wage.

I am blessed.

Really?

So that means little Mutambo* who lives in a third world country, in a one room shack in a slum with 6 siblings and no parents (because his mum and dad have died of AIDS) — who isn’t so lucky to have been born into such circumstances as I — is . . . what? Cursed?

I don’t get it when people say things like:

“We live in a free country. We are so blessed.” Is that so? So would you say those who live under oppressive regimes don’t enjoy the favour of God?

“Our children attend a wonderful school. We are so blessed.” Right! And the people in the suburb next to yours must have missed out on that gift too.

“We have such a beautiful church building. We are so blessed.” Really? The fact that this church’s members can afford to contribute to such a facility is a sign of God’s blessing?

I am fortunate. It is pure chance that I was born at the time I was born to the family I have in the nation I am and grew up with the opportunities I had. It is not a sign that I did something right, was of the correct religion, race or had a bigger brain. God wasn’t controlling or predesignating these elements in my life and withholding the same from my neighbours. Oppressive governments, disease, lack of opportunity, poverty, and plagues are not God’s doing. They are symptoms that we are all human and don’t always get it right. And Mutambo’s circumstances are really the luck of the draw, not a sign of anything but time, place and ancestry.

I believe those who read the biblical story of Job as a literal, historical narrative do not ‘get it’ on several accounts. Satan is not running around heaven placing bets with God to test mortals. God doesn’t arbitrarily “give and take away” like a schoolyard bully or what we once called being an ‘Indian giver.’ And to blame God for either your good fortune or your poverty concedes that God is a Grand Puppet Master and that you (and I) are controlled by the strings in God’s hands. (Greg Boyd is currently writing a book in this area and I am really looking forward to reading it next year when it comes out. Until then, he has a sermon that gives a taste of what is to follow, ‘Honesty However Ugly,’ on the Woodland Hills Church podcast on iTunes or here.)

I am fortunate. Sure, I have been blessed by God, but no more or less than anyone else on this planet.

But . . .

I have been blessed by good friends, colleagues, teachers, mentors, and people I have never met who have encouraged me to be more than I am now.

I have been blessed along with every human being who has ever lived with the gift of humanity, the freedom to believe that a better world is possible, and the gift of being able to use whatever I have to better the lives of people who, like me, couldn’t choose the circumstances in which they exist.

I have been blessed by parents whose gifts to me included love, health, education, and faith.

I have been blessed. And it would be thinking amiss to believe that these gifts stop with me.

I can bless Mutambo and people like him by working to make his world better. Whether this be through a sponsorship program such as World Vision or SIMAid or more directly by volunteering time and skills through an NGO who is working on projects in his neighbourhood such as the provision of health services, clean water or vocational training. Or my blessing of him could take on the form of working for a more just world in the treatment of refugees and those who are doing all they can to seek and secure a better life for themselves and those they love.

I am responsible to use what I am fortunate to have to build a better world that is characterised by justice, mercy, hope and love.

If I choose to share what I am so fortunate to enjoy, perhaps one day someone like Mutambo can say, ‘I have been blessed by having a friend like Jon who has helped me to have a good education, gave my family healthy food and clean water, and gave my village hope that we can live in a better world than we inherited from our ancestors.’

Or maybe he’ll just say, ‘I am blessed to have been given hope.’

And I am convinced that hope is the best blessing we can give.

_________________

*’Mutambo’ is a fictional character meant as a representation of the millions of children who are in very similar circumstance around the world today.

I Hope

I’ve never been that good at finding the right words to say.
Sometimes I stumble, muttering something that halfway sounds appropriate, but consists muchly of “ums,” “ers” and stutters.
And sometimes I find the right words a few minutes too late–when I get into the car after the funeral, or the minute the person I’m attempting-to-be-speaking to walks away.
It takes me a while sometimes to come up with coherent comments.
My brother and his wife lost their second baby this week. Jade had miscarried last year and, when she found out she was pregnant again, we were all excited–yet reserved our excitement, knowing what could happen. This time the baby held on five more weeks.
Long enough for us to begin to think it was safe to be happy. Long enough for Jim and Jade to be more conifident that all would be OK.
And then, while Vicki & I were out to lunch on Wednesday, we got the news. We were devastated for them. Our hearts ached for their loss. What could we do to help them? What could we say that would ease the pain of what they were going through?
I still can’t answer those questions.
I haven’t spoken to Jim yet. Mum says he’s taking it very hard. I can only imagine how he feels because I’ve never known what it’s like to so desperately want a child only to have your hopes and dreams dashed–not once, but twice.
I need to call him. I hope I can find the words to say when he picks up the phone. I hope the conversation won’t drift towards gadgets, work, weather, footy and anything but what is on our hearts.
I hope he can see past my attempts to find the right words and know that I feel his pain and know that God feels it too. I hope and pray that he can see that God is for him and Jade, not against them, and that somehow, through all of this loss, grief and pain, good will come.
I hope. I hope he can too.

Advent

I love the season of Advent. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical community, yet I am drawn into the celebrations of the church year simply because of the focus they bring to my life. Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Advent each uniquely centre on the Christ’s presence with us not only 2000 years ago in Palestine, but in reality.

Advent is a season of waiting. Symbolically, we await the arrival of Jesus, the promised Saviour of the world. In real life, we are waiting (some more eagerly than others) for Christmas Day and what it brings. Bringing the focus back to waiting is important in our “I want it all and I want it now” world. Reflecting on this hopeful anticipation, Henri Nouwen writes:

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the Ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert — yes, joyful — waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes. (from In Joyful Hope: Meditations for Advent)

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Here is a reflection on Advent from StillSpeaking’s Tony Robinson:

“ . . . You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

I like Epiphany, I respect Lent, I wish we did Eastertide more and better, but it’s Advent that I love.

I love gathering greens from the cedars in our backyard to fold around the Advent wreath. I love the new purple candles, ready and waiting. I love getting out the silver candle snuffer that a college professor gave us as a wedding gift and laying it beside the wreath.

I love the first, haunting strains of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” on the first Sunday of Advent. I wait eagerly to sing, “Watchman Tell us of The Night,” and “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry.”

I like purple.

I love that when the stores’ Christmas decorations are already getting tired, Advent is just getting going. I love lighting candles around the house as evening comes and laying a fire in the fireplace. I like hanging the Advent calendar on the wall, and taking turns opening one window a day.

I like the waiting and the watching, and the anticipation. My grandmother, Victoria, used to say, when something good was coming, that she had, “The Anticipates.” Advent is a season for “The Anticipates.” It may be dark now, but a change is coming.

I like the Advent idea of “keeping faith, hope and love alive in the midst of dark times,” because that’s where we so often are and so often need to be. I love that, just when we want to hibernate, Advent says, “Wake up,” startling me like a noon factory whistle. “Wake up,” says Advent, “the world is open at the top.”

I love that when anxiety and fear seem to be so all-over-the-place, Advent’s call to be alert isn’t about fear but hope; that Advent isn’t for mad anxiety but glad urgency. I love the mystery of it.

Advent is a season I love.

Good Friday Meditation

We live in a Good Friday world. It’s as if (sometimes) hope is lost, death is winning, and fear reigns. Suicide rates climb. Divorce is rampant. Terrorism seems to lurk in every shadow. In fact, even our planet’s ecological survuval hangs in the balance. This is a world in crisis.
The first-century apostle had this to say:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23, NIV)
Groaning, pains of childbirth. Creation–us included–groans in pain as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.
This is a Good Friday world.
But I love Tony Campolo’s take as he tells the Easter story: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!”
Oh yes! Pain? Gone. Groaning? Turned into “Hallelujahs.” Sickness? Banished. Global wraming? Ancient history. Sunday’s coming!
And as we wait, we hope. We know the end of the story when “the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord.” Sunday’s coming.
And so, while we wait, those around may attempt to cover up the Good Friday pain (I know one radio station is doing an all-day comedy show and calling it “Good-as” Friday), yet we are content to sit with the groans, the sorrow, the feelings of loss because we know someday the reality will be as Jesus said: “Behold, I make all things new.”
It’s Friday . . . but Sunday’s comin’!