S051913c John 16:1-11
In the Upper Room Jesus sought to prepare his disciples for his mission through them in the world. He would soon be leaving them. But he would not leave them orphaned. He promised to come to them in a new way, in a way that would empower them for their testimony in the world.
In John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus to his disciples. Luke tells us in Acts 2 the story of the fulfilled promise of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the Gospel stories the disciples were together in the Upper Room. They were frightened. They had a keen awareness that they had not stepped up for Jesus when he was betrayed and arrested by the authorities. They hid in the darkness as they watched Jesus tried, convicted, and executed by the political and religious authorities.
But now they knew that Jesus was alive again. They had become eyewitnesses to the empty tomb, to the presence of the living Christ with them in his resurrection body. He had taught them for 40 days and then ascended to the Father. On the 50th day after Easter the disciples were waiting and praying in the Upper Room when Jesus’ promised Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.
The Spirit came like a roaring wind. There were great tongues of fire that rested upon them. They were filled with spiritual power. Courage came to them in a way it never had. Confusion abounded. Some thought they were drunk early in the morning. But Simon Peter knew what had happened. The promise was fulfilled.
Therefore, he stood before the gathered crowd drawn to that place by the wind and the roar of the Spirit. He stepped up to make his testimony in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What did he say?
He testified to Jesus and the world was convicted.
Peter was now convinced that all of this was about Jesus. He had listened to Jesus teach. His words had become the words of life for him. He had no other one to whom to turn. In Jesus’ words his life had been redefined and given a new direction.
He had seen how the authorities had responded. They were threatened by both the words and the deeds of Jesus. Jesus had presented himself as the great “I Am”, the Son of God, the incarnation of the heart of God in human flesh. Jesus’ life was the revealed grace, truth, and love of the God who had created all that there is. In Jesus’ life Peter had been an eyewitness to the fulfillment of Israel’s story witnessed to by the Scriptures of Israel.
But the world had not believed in Jesus. Many had of course, but the entrenched powers, the rulers of this present age, had rejected Jesus. They would not believe that Jesus was who his words and works claimed he was. In order to save their own skins and positions; in order to save Israel from the violence of Rome, they demanded Rome to put him to death. And Rome did!
The world had been wrong about Jesus and his mission. So Peter testified to what God had done in Jesus. God had vindicated the faithful witness of his Son by raising him from the dead.
The result was that the people who had gathered to listen to Peter’s sermon were cut to the heart. They were convicted of their sin of unbelief. The Advocate, the Spirit of truth, had proven the world wrong. The Spirit of truth came roaring through Peter’s testimony to God’s mighty acts. The Advocate convicted the world of its unbelief, its sin. The people cried out, “What shall we do?”
In response Peter testified to the righteousness of God and the world was convicted.
Peter said to them,
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38
Righteousness is one of the really important words of the Bible. The righteousness of God was revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God. The righteousness of God was incarnate in Jesus the Christ. In his obedience to his Father’s will, in his life of perfect obedience, in his perfect love for others, and in his death and resurrection he made atonement for our sins and reconciled sinners to God and us to one another. He forgave our sins and clothed us in his own righteousness. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He rescued us from the powers of sin and death. He imputed to us the righteousness of Christ through our believing in Jesus. And for all who believed, who accepted his atoning work, he gave the power to become children of God, to those born not of human will, or blood, but of the Holy Spirit.
C.S. Lewis wrote that in the moment of our believing in Jesus and being baptized into him that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit, the Advocate, promised to create a desire within us to be like Christ. So from the moment of our baptism we become aware that the Spirit is inspiring us to get up in the morning and clothe ourselves in Christ’s righteousness. Of course, it is pretending. We know we are not Christ. But the promise is that we shall one day be like him in the fullness of love.
The cross was the demonstration and witness to God’s way of healing human life of unrighteousness. What had appeared as a tragedy had been the out working of the providence of God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus the reconciling, forgiving, Spirit transforming new life of Christ was being released into the world. The world had been wrong.
But through Peter the Advocate was also convicting the world of judgment.
Jesus understood this. He was tempted by the evil one to betray his calling. He seriously faced the question of whether or not he would go over to the dark side. But as Jesus faced his destination in Jerusalem he said this:
“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jn. 12:31
“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jn 14:30-31
The N.T. proclaims the good news that in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that a decisive victory occurred. The powers were disarmed and unmasked. They were defeated.
John wrote in his first letter,
“Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 Jn. 5:4
“The Advocate will convict the world of judgment; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” Jn. 16:11
The Christian church in every generation is weak and powerless. Yet, it is called to participate in God’s mission to the world. To that end, it is given the Advocate, the Helper, the lawyer, to come to its side to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. And what a world in which to give testimony to Jesus Christ? Maybe the world is not too unlike the world of the first century.
Jesus knew that his disciples would need far more than a comforting helper to represent them before the world. They would need a prosecuting attorney to represent the message of the kingdom of God which they would be charged with proclaiming.
It is easy for witnesses to stumble. Some of us stumble because we are inadequately prepared. So the Holy Spirit is given to us to cause us to remember the words and the works of Jesus. Some of us stumble because we are afraid. Rather than look stupid or to expose ourselves to the charge that we are unenlightened we keep our mouths shut.
I need an Advocate. In and of myself I do not have the intelligence, the knowledge, the charisma, the words, the courage, the freedom to testify before the world. I am intimidated by the powers of the world. C.S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity that we live in enemy occupied territory. There has been rebellion in this cosmos and we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Of course, he was speaking of the evil one, the devil. The good news is that there has been a Divine Invasion of the kingdom of God. God is at work liberating planet earth and setting free the prisoners of sin and death.
Jesus promised to send the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to embolden and to empower the testimony of his disciples in the midst of God’s fallen world. He promised them the presence of the Advocate. On the Day of Pentecost Peter was given courage, his imagination was inspired, the outline of the early churches testimony was illumined in his mind as he preached. It was a complex and dangerous world in which he bore testimony. And so is ours!
Years ago I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY. On Mother’s Day our family around brunch found ourselves talking about the book and the new movie. The discussion stimulated our interest to watch the 1974 movie with Robert Redford on Netflix. After watching the film I called the novel up on i-Books for my i-Pad. My how the world has changed! In reading it again I realized why the novel is considered to be an American classic. Fitzgerald’s power with words and his ability to interpret American culture of the 1920’s provide amazing insights into the cultural milieu in which we now live.
The movie reviewer for the N.Y. Times captured this in suggesting the relevancy of the story since we now also live in a time torn between the experience of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression. “This is how we live: greedily, enviously, superficially, in a state of endless, self-justifying desire.” A.O. Scott, 05/16/13 NY Times.
If one reads or sees The Great Gatsby through the lens of the cover story of the May 20, 2013, Time Magazine, the insights into our generational issues are laid bare. We live in “The ME ME ME GENERATION of cultural narcissism in which the Millennials, those born since 1980, children of the baby-boomers, the Me Generation, are not sure if they will live into a world of economic limits or unlimited opportunities that will reward them with all the things to which they feel entitled in their self-centeredness and laziness.
“They are not into going to church, Time wrote, even though they believe in God, because they don’t identify with big institutions; one third of adults under 30, the highest percentage ever, are religiously unaffiliated.” P. 34, Joel Stein, Time.
So what are we to make of this cultural environment in which the disciples of Jesus are to testify? For those of us who want to make it in the eyes of the world we begin to fudge when it comes to sin, righteousness, and judgment.
I remember a night of evangelism calling in which I witnessed to the Christian faith to a Harvard University Ph.D. trained scientist at JPL. When I finished he said to my face that at Harvard they had a place for people like me and that was the Mental Hospital. Wow! His words hurt and diminished me. Later my seminary President told me that I should have told him I too had an earned Ph.D. Instead I clamed up and our group of callers politely left the house. I felt I had stumbled pretty badly in front of lay persons I was seeking to train. We went back to the church and the group prayed over me, laying their hands upon me. Suddenly, I realized that the Lord had been with me, even in being accused of being crazy. Some of his disciples were with me, along beside me, to pick me up, to speak encouraging words, to remind me that Jesus had taught his disciples to expect such encounters.
Jesus promised to send the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to embolden and to empower the testimony of his disciples in the midst of God’s fallen world. He promised them the presence of the Advocate.
I think the fields are white unto harvest and that we may be on the verge of another Great Spiritual Awakening if we can trust the presence and the power of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples that it was to their advantage for him to go away from them. In going away he promised to send to them the Advocate, the Helper, the one who would plead their case on their behalf. Like a good prosecuting attorney, the Advocate would testify so powerfully that those who heard would be convicted of sin, of righteousness, and judgment.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is the 7th Sunday of Easter. The scripture reading is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17:20-26. We are reading from the NRSV.
This is the 6th Sunday of Easter. The scripture reading is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14. We are reading from The Message by Eugene Peterson.
S050513 John 14:15-31
THE PROMISE OF THE TRUE FRIEND
Jesus had friends. He desired to have friends. He selected 12 out of a multitude of disciples in order that they might be with him on his journey and share in his mission. Luke tells us that he prayed all night long about the selection of his 12 disciples. And among the 12 there were 3 who seemed to be in the inner circle. They experienced Jesus’ highs and lows with him. He revealed his heart to them. They were inspired by his vision of the kingdom of heaven. They heard his cries to the heavens and his wrenching prayers of lamentation. They worshipped the God of Israel with him in the Temple and the Synagogue. They knew when he felt alone and the suffering he experienced when his chosen friends betrayed him and failed him. In his humanity Jesus let it all hang out as he self-disclosed his deepest concerns, loves, and hopes.
In John 15 Jesus said to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” John 15:15-16
All of us here this morning are gathered as the “friends of Jesus”. We have heard his call. We have followed him. In following him we have become members of his flock, sheep of his pasture, devotees of the Good Shepherd. He knows us each by name and it is no accident that we are here. In becoming “friends of Jesus” we have become friends to one another.
I have always appreciated the way members of AA have identified themselves in language that will not break their anonymity. In public, they may say that they are “friends of Bill”. Bill was one of the founders of AA. The movement he and Bob established led to the 12 Steps of spiritual recovery from the disease of alcoholism. Embracing the way of Bill meant becoming friends with a power greater than one’s self. It meant coming into a fellowship of men and women who were learning to love God, themselves, and others. “Friends of Bill” were committed to being present in gracious acceptance and affirmation of others. It meant sharing with others, encouraging others, praying for others, holding one another accountable to the disciplines of the community. Having a sponsor in this recovery program meant sharing a spirit of servanthood and freedom for anyone who would self-identity as a recovering alcoholic. I love that program, even though I’m not a member because I am not an alcoholic. Over the years I have almost been envious of those who were “friends of Bill”. It’s a program of spiritual transformation.
One needs to choose one’s friends carefully. “Do not be deceived; Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33. Angry friends may breed poor manors and led us in a way we ought not to travel for our own good. So, who are your friends? With whom do you run? I thought about this as I was reading of the friends the Boston Marathon bombers had. When the three 19 year-olds realized that it was their friends pictures posted on line and in the newspapers as suspects in the case, they texted their bomber friends and asked if they could help them out. They were invited to go to the room in which the bomber lived and to choose whatever they wanted. What they found were the makings for bombs. In panic they decided to help their friends by disposing of the evidence. Now they have been arrested and could spend a number of years in prison.
Choose your friends wisely.
Friendship is an importance subject that we do not speak about often enough. CS Lewis devoted an entire chapter to “friendship” in his classic book entitled, THE FOUR LOVES. Lewis, the Oxford don, married late in life and for many years valued the friendship between men who shared intellectual pursuits in common. He and JRR Tolkien, who wrote LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE HOBBIT, were for years members of a fellowship of men called THE INKLINGS. It was Tolkien that walked with him that night on Addison’s Walk with the winds blowing and the leaves rustling whose arguments ultimately led Lewis to be Surprised by Joy as he became a Christian.
They regularly met with others at the local pub to smoke and to drink, but also to read and to discuss what they were writing. Imagine being a member of a group and having the privilege to listen to the authors of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA AND THE LORD OF THE RINGS reading and discussing together the two stories that many have come to love?
In describing “friendship” Lewis said that there was nothing better than after a long hike in the countryside of England with friends than to arrive at the overnight pub, take your shoes off in front of a fireplace burning brightly with warmth, enjoy a good pipe, and drink one’s favorite beverage in a spirit of camaraderie and laughter.
It is not easy to have friends. There are all kinds of differing contexts within which we may have friends. Friendship is challenging. Many of us have had friends at various stages of our lives only to have them fade away in the changing circumstances of our lives. Some of us are afraid to risk having friends. We do not know if it is safe to have a friend who knows about the intimate details of our lives. What if they betray us by telling others what we want only them to know? One can get hurt by a friend who becomes an enemy.
The Psalmist prayed about the dangers of friendship. In Psalm 55 he said, “It is not enemies who taunt me—I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend with whom I kept pleasant company; who walked in the house of God with the throng.
My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.”
Pastors worry about having friends. There is a debate going on about whether or not a pastor ought to make friends with members of his or her own congregation. Leadership places us in positions where we may have to preach, to teach, or to make decisions for the good of the congregation that may alienate friends. Pastors must keep boundaries and not serve our own needs with friends in the congregation. Dare a pastor let a member of the congregation in on the intimate details of his marriage, struggles, doubts, fantasies?
Last December 2012 the newly appointed President of Princeton Theology Seminary, Craig Barnes, wrote an article for “The Christian Century”. Whenever Craig writes something, a book or an article most of us listen up. His article was entitled, “Pastor, not friend”. It has caused an intense conversation in the church. Indeed, I was puzzled by it as well. What Craig did was argue that Pastor’s dare not make intimate friendships with members of their parish. Their intimate friends must come from beyond. He described his new calling at Princeton as a “crowded loneliness”.
When he was discerning whether or not to accept the call to become the President at Princeton Theological Seminary he did not share the journey with his best friend in the church in Pittsburgh. His friend was his physician who had actually operated on him. His friend was the most trusted dedicated lay leader in his church. “His physician friend didn’t ask him to help him discern the best course of action when he operated on me. That’s because his ethical responsibility was to treat me not as a friend but as a patient. That makes perfect sense to him and to me. But he’s confused when I treat him as a parishioner.”
“Jack stood beside me in more than one foxhole when the leadership of the church was introducing a change that caused conflict within the congregation. There was only one thing he expected in return for all of this service—he wanted to be my friend.”
“When the time came for me to leave the church, Jack was devastated. He was hurt that I hadn’t included him in my discernment process-and livid that I would ‘so easily’ abandon the relationship we had developed over the last ten years because ‘friends don’t treat each other like that’. He is right about friends, but I was not his friend. I was his pastor.” December 27, 2012.
“Crowded loneliness”! Everything within me wanted to slap Craig up beside his head. This is what is killing pastors around this country. “Crowded loneliness?” I know what that feels like. It is not pleasant. It will destroy you. Of course, I understand the risks and dangers in any friendship. But if we do not discover and cultivate true friendships both within and without our church’s we are in for a lifetime of “crowded loneliness’s” that will lead to walls, fill us with anxiety and fear, and expose us to desperate acts of loneliness that will cause us to hide from others and cultivate the secrets of our hearts that need to be shared for the sake of wholeness.
In another way, I admired Craig’s vulnerability in raising the subject out of his own experience. Not many leaders would have had the guts to talk about his own pastoral journey. Indeed, Craig has done it over and over again and it has helped encourage many of us to openly and honestly engage others with our own wounds and brokenness. The prospective pastors being trained at PTS over these next years will be blessed by such intellectual, emotional, and spiritual struggling with life.
So it was with Jesus as he instructed his fearful disciples during that Last Supper with them. He washed their feet. He modeled for them what true friendship was about. He promised them that he would not abandon them, but that he would come to them in a new way. His presence and power were about to be released in the world in a new, surprising way.
The Paraclete, the Advocate, the Helper, the One who comes along beside us and who would come to live within us, was about to be breathed into their lives. Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit, the True Friend, Helper, Comforter, Advocate, the Spirit of truth.
His promise was that if he went away from them, he would not leave them orphaned, but would come to them for the purpose of growing the fruit of the kingdom of God within them. Yes, he would dwell within his followers. The apostolic band would grow to become the Church of Jesus Christ of which Jesus was the head and we each were members.
In the Upper Room the True Friend, Jesus, modeled the character of God, the God who was not content to remain distant, transcendent, separate from the human story, but who had become incarnate in Jesus and now was promising that when he went away he would soon return to their neighborhoods to dwell with them in the most complete unity of Spirit that one could imagine. The True Friend would breathe upon them and impart the presence and the power of the Spirit of truth and love.
So Jesus taught them that night. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jn. 15:13
The promise of the True Friend was that he would come to dwell in our hearts in such a way that he would plant the love of God deeply within the fabric of our souls.
Soon we will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday. Jesus sought to prepare his disciples for the gift of the Holy Spirit of the God who is love. He knew that apart from his Spirit we could do nothing. Apart from him there would be no fruit. But by abiding in union with him the fruit of the Spirit would grow. We too would become True Friends to others.
A week ago I moderated the third discernment session of Los Ranchos Presbytery. Like many individual and churches in the PCUSA we are seeking to discern our future in relationship with one another. I had the privilege of introducing and welcoming three friends of mine. Dana Allin was a pastor in our Presbytery, moved to Florida to pastor and is now executive of the new Reformed body named ECO that is separating from our denomination in theological-missional protest. When I was nominated to stand for moderator of the GA, Dana was one of the pastors at our Pastor’s Retreat that gathered around me, laid hands on me, and prayed for me. He’s my friend in Christ.
Jack Haberer is editor in chief of The Presbyterian Outlook magazine, a conservative who served on the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force several years ago. The report of that Task Force angered many in the larger church. I spoke and wrote against it in our Presbytery. Jack was one of our presenters last Saturday. We have been pastoral colleagues and friends for years.
Laird Stuart the retired pastor from San Francisco, the well-know progressive liberal who was one of my competitors for Moderator of the GA in 2002, was on the panel. We co-moderated the National Presbyterian Pastor’s Sabbath in 2007. We became friends, not without some tensions, but we put the past in the past and moved forward in the mission of Christ. What a treat to be with three of my friends who have stirred such feelings within me over many years.
I was charged with asking them questions developed from members of our Presbytery. Each of these men are my friends even though we have some major differences in theological world views. The tragedy is that with all that unites us we are divided into different camps in the larger church. As we had dinner together on Friday evening and as I moderated the discussion on Saturday morning, I experienced the presence and the power of the True Friend, the Spirit of truth and love stirring deeply within my soul. I think we each had the same experience. The peace of Christ settled over our Presbytery.
These men, even though we are not on the same page in various ways, are my friends in Christ. Christ dwells within us. I do not want to be separated from them. I felt the yearning of the Holy Spirit within my heart to reach out and put my arms around my friends. How can this be in such a time of division within church and culture? The only way our dividing walls may have open doors is by the presence of the Advocate, the True Friend, empowering us to reach beyond ourselves and our camps to embrace one another as we have been embraced by the resurrected Lord Jesus. May it be so!
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is the 5th Sunday of Easter. The scripture reading is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 21:1-19. We are reading from the NRSV.
COMING TO BELIEVE
For most Americans, this past week has been a confusing one. By in large since last Monday we have been glued to our TV and computer screens seeking to absorb a series of events that were disconnected, puzzling, and terrifying.
Letters were mailed to political leaders with poison in them. The question was, “who did it and why?” Was there any evidence? From the President to a Senator letters were received. Did the Boston bombers do it? Was this a part of a larger conspiracy? A terrorist attack like 911?
Then there were explosions at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. It was incomprehensible to me that a small city had been allowed to grow up around a dangerous facility that had far more explosive power than that used by Timothy McVeigh in Okla. City to destroy the Federal building. Yes, a school, a nursing home, apartments, built right up to the edge of a disaster waiting to happen from a small spark. Do we never learn? Was there any connection between the poison letters and the West, Texas, explosion? Accident? Terrorism?
Then there were the two explosions at the Boston Marathon near the finish line in the midst of thousands of people gathered to watch the runners from around the world complete a race of over 26 miles. It was on Patriots Day in Boston. The finishing line in downtown Boston was one of the most photographed routes in the world. Cameras were mounted on almost all the buildings. Smart phones were everywhere. Television reporters and cameras made every effort to see, to record, and to interpret. Authoritative, reliable sources were called upon to give the latest facts. Over and over they proved to be conjecture and mostly wrong.
The competition to scoop the news, to be there first, to be the best at updating the American people as to what had happened was amazing. I was so embarrassed for John King on CNN. He had to back track and rationalize his reporting from his reliable sources as they proved to be wrong several times. At times it seemed to me that reporters on the same cable channels were in conflict among themselves as to what had happened and what was getting ready to happen. Repeatedly, the police had to insist that the reporters back off for their own safety. It was mass panic. The world wanted to see and so did I.
And now we are reading about the buzz on social media after the pictures of the two brothers had been posted. Rumors spread like wildfire. Innocent people were named as the bombers. Reputations were potentially ruined. Everyone wanted to help establish the facts when no one knew for sure. The police were relying on the public to share their recognition of the pictures, to call the police with any information.
Family members and friends of the two young men were interviewed about the character of the two brothers. Some said they were normal teenagers. Nice, quiet guys, college students, immigrants, who would never do such a thing. Others said they were losers that had never assimilated into American life and who hated those who had adjusted. Some said they were being framed by the police or other government authorities.
Last week was a giant Rorschach Test to determine perceptual capability. One article wrote after the week,
“Two generations ago, a common tool of psychiatrists was the Rorschach test, in which individuals’ reactions to a standard test of ink blots were plumbed for insight into their mental health. Now we have a national version of the Rorschach test in which terrible things happen, and Americans instantly react to the experience they’re sharing via wall-to-wall TV and social media coverage.
Instead of coolly evaluating the news, they see calamities as an opportunity to slander those with whom they disagree.
The result is that anything, even a horrific act of terrorism, is seen by many as just another chance to hurt those you hate.”
www.Utsandiego.com/news: BOSTON: A FAILED NATIONAL RORSCHACH TEST. April 20,2013
One might ask if there are reliable witnesses for any event. The authorities have been seeking eyewitnesses or any information about the head on wreck in the canyon a couple of weeks ago. What happened? Who is responsible? What are the facts? Will the Tesla’s black box provide the digital truth that two cars were racing and that one of them plowed into an oncoming vehicle? Human life requires valid testimony or witness in order to establish truth, justice, reality. And now after 50 years and many witnesses and reports there is still doubt about who shot JFK.
Society only functions on the basis of trust and truth telling, upon reliable sources. Authorities who have integrity and honesty are valued. Especially when it comes to major events that have the potential of changing the direction of history, we need to be able to trust the eyewitnesses. I stand on the old maxim, “Trust, but Verify!”
I am with Thomas in the text read this morning. He had not been present on Easter Sunday evening in the Upper Room where the apostles were behind locked doors. John’s Gospel witnesses that the crucified, dead, and buried Jesus came and stood among them. He had been raised from the dead. He showed them his hands and his side. But Thomas was not there. When they reported to him what they had seen, his response was what mine would likely have been,
“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.” Jn. 20:25
A week later Thomas was present in the Upper Room and Jesus came again and stood among them. He said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
What would Thomas do? Now he was presented the evidence that he had requested. The person of Jesus of Nazareth was standing before him. Would Thomas objectify the body of Jesus, examine his body, do some form of autopsy and file a report? John does not tell us if Thomas touched Jesus. What he does tell us is that he was overwhelmed by the experience and made the confession of faith that has historically defined what it means for us to be Christians.
“MY LORD AND MY GOD!”
Jesus said to him,
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Nevertheless, John knew the importance of reliable witnesses. If there was not a credible witness to what the apostles had seen, heard, and touched the mission of God in the world would come to an end and disappear in the shifting sands of time.
Like other eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus, John spent the next several decades of his life preparing his testimony to what he had seen and heard. He remembered that Jesus had also been concerned about witnesses. He had spoken of them.
There was John the Baptist who had been a burning and shinning lamp who pointed to Jesus as the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world and baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that God his father was working in the world and that he himself was working with the father for the sake of healing the cosmos.
Jesus said the father was speaking his words through him. Both the works of God and the words of God were witnesses to the reality of the truth that could be trusted.
Jesus said the scriptures of his people bore witness to him. Abraham had rejoiced to see his day. Moses wrote of him in his scriptures. The psalmist bore witness to the Messiah’s suffering and death. The prophets wrote of the coming suffering servant/Son of God. Blessed were those whose hearts were warmed by the witness of the OT scriptures, illumined by the authority of God’s Spirit. They were the key for opening minds and eyes to see the mighty acts of God in first century Palestine, incarnate in Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and the Son of God.
So John wrote a Gospel and witnessed to God’s signs or miracles at work through Jesus.
Water was turned to wine.
The deaf, the blind, the lame were healed at Jesus’ word.
The hungry multitudes were miraculously fed from the meager resources the disciples had. Twelve baskets full of bread were collected after the 5000 had been fed.
A dead man buried for 4 days was called forth from the grave.
And in the events of Holy Week, the last week, the greatest of the signs had occurred. The Jesus who was dead and buried was raised from the dead and revealed himself to the terrified apostles. What were they to make of this? What would persuade them that it had really happened? How could they tell others and ask them to believe?
Jesus did many other signs that are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Jn. 20:30-31
Trust but verify! John desired to present a reliable testimony. Thomas’ seeing and believing is what John was hoping would happen to anyone of us who read his Gospel. Yet how much evidence would it take to certify the truth?
Another early church leader had written that the devil believed and trembled. That is he knew the truth of what happened. He made some form of intellectual assent. Maybe he had memorized the catechism from A to Z. He could pass a presbytery’s Bible knowledge exam. Intellectual assent was one thing; but trust was another.
I remember a professor who became a dear friend of mine responded one night in his course on Anglo-American law to a student who accused him of being a Sunday School student, as he was lecturing on Jewish law, that he might know the Word but that did not mean that he loved it.
In my second year of college as I was contemplating ministry I decided that I needed to read the source book, the first witness, the N.T. if I was to surrender my life and my will to the God in whom I thought I was coming to believe. So I started with Matthew and read through Revelation. Thirty minutes each afternoon I read and by springtime my soul was afire with the reality of the kingdom of God. I knew I had become a Christian. I had read about the signs and I had come to believe, to trust, to stake my life upon the reliable source through which the Holy Spirit witnessed to me.
JB Phillips the Anglican Church leader translated the NT into contemporary English. He worked from the Greek to the English. He said it was like rewiring an old house with the electricity still on. That’s my witness.
In reading and believing I had come alive and the world was filled with life. There was a growing joy and hope. My calling was being confirmed by the Holy Spirit. All I wanted to do was tell the story. That summer I preached on the streets with a group of my fellow students. All I knew to do was quote scripture. Many young men and women came into our fellowship that summer in response to the witness the Lord was making through a bunch of very imperfect kids.
I was 19 or 20 years old. The same age as the younger Boston bomber, but my life had been captured by life rather than death. I was radicalized by the story of life and love. My parents thought I had lost my mind. They watched from a block away. They must have wondered where all of this would end and what had happened to their son.
All that mattered was that I was spiritually alive. I had grown up in a household in which there were no books. No one ever read, except for a newspaper. John’s Book became the open door through which the literature of the world, the great books of the world became my friends. They still are. Now I have more books than I will ever be able to absorb. Like many teachers and preachers I dread having to part with my friends. Whenever I travel I carry too many books. They grow heavier and heavier. I search for every free moment to pick one of them up. I resent growing sleepy at night and being unable to finish a passage I struggle to read.
What pleases me this morning is the faith I have is that the written word of God becomes the proclaimed word announced by the preacher by the witness of the Spirit of truth. The elements on the Table become the visible Word of God when received in faith. To what end, that we might all hear, see, believe, and enter the mystery of the life of the kingdom of God. Amen.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Archbishop Chacour was born in Palestine in 1939. He became a priest in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which traces its roots to the Byzantine period. Father Chacour is Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and All Galilee. He has worked tirelessly for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East and is author of several books, including Blood Brothers and We Belong to the Land. He is a recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award and the Niwano (Buddhist) Peace Prize for his work in education as founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions, which have more than 3,000 students and faculty, including Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Jews.
April 7, 2013 (2nd Sunday of Easter)
COMMISSIONED FOR GOD’S MISSION
Several of my pastor friends posted on Facebook pictures of their Easter Sunday morning worship services with the actual count of the multitudes present. I loved seeing the pictures. I could have posted some of our Easter pictures as well, with the pews filled with people gathered to joyfully participate in the yearly ritual of going to church on the high holy days, like Christmas and Easter. Most of us pastors only wish that every Sunday could be like Easter Sunday with all God’s people scrubbed up, suited up, and in place to worship God.
One of the spiritual disciplines for the people of God needs to be allowing ourselves to bask in the joy of having celebrated with so many the mighty victory of God over the powers of darkness, sin, and death. We need to savor the high of Easter Sunday.
But we know the pattern; we have seen it all too often! By Easter Sunday evening and the morning after the high has diminished, our adrenaline has dropped, our bodies are aching from the energy output, and some of us may have crawled into our beds, pulled the sheets over our heads, and sought escape from the events of Holy Week behind shut and locked doors.
One of you told me you were so glad that Holy Week was finished and that Easter had come. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday had nearly done them in. I too find myself saying to myself, “Thank God Easter is coming!” But I also know that post-Easter is coming. It is a time of both coming down and seeking to rediscover the energy to recover for the journey to Pentecost and beyond.
For some of us this Sunday is Low Sunday. It’s a Sunday in which we seek to get our bearings, to regain our equilibrium, and to move into the future with the good news that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. But before we can move into tomorrow the Gospel story invites us to linger with the apostles on Easter Sunday evening in the Upper Room.
In John 20 the Apostle allowed us to see into the room of gathered disciples. They had returned to that room, closed the doors and locked them. They were afraid. They had seen what the religious authorities in league with Rome had done to Jesus. Perhaps they were beginning to remember Jesus’ words of warning that John had recorded in John 15:
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Servants are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. They will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. They hated me without a cause.” 15:18-25
Those were words that could send anyone into hiding. Could it be that we may expect the same treatment as Jesus received from the powers that run the world?
Fear comes to us for many reasons. It can be the emotion of exhaustion. It can cloud our brains and make it impossible for us to remember the faithfulness of God and the triumph of God over all that destroys.
One of the most powerful preachers in the history of the church was Charles Spurgeon. His printed sermons from the 19th century are still being read. Spurgeon’s power with words and evangelical spirit are well known and many of us have looked to him to sustain our souls. The truth was that he had a lot of suffering in his life combined with deep depression. He needed to retreat from his pulpit for long periods in order to recover and to regain his spiritual balance.
Anxiety and fear may immobilize and paralyze any saint. Just read and pray the Psalms. Look at the lives of godly people in the biblical story and you will see them after great conquests and victories locked behind closed doors with their souls in the depths of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. Remember poor ole Elijah after he had defeated the prophets of Baal, in fear of Queen Jezebel he ran all the way the Mt. Sinai to hide from her wrath. The still small Voice of God asked him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
The tempter has a way of coming to us when we have just celebrated great victories with suggestions for actions and words that could betray our calling. Courageous prophets get turned into fearful pastors.
I am with the disciples on Easter Sunday evening. Not only am I afraid for myself, but I am also fearful for the church, the body of Christ in this world. One of you sent me a good news email reporting that the polls are showing that high percentages of people in America believe in God and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, that is wonderful. Yet the belief is not being translated into connectedness with the body of Christ, the church. The intellectual belief has not drawn us together for a bold, committed discipleship.
The corporate body of Christ is deeply divided over many issues and personality differences. The lack of civility is not only characteristic of our political system, but it infects the church. I find myself going between different meetings at the national and local level with the desire not to be the cause of any more division. At times the conflict in the upper room filled with post-Easter disciples is so great that one wonders how they can stay in the same room. So there are many discouraging walls that we have built into the upper room seeking to maintain separation under a big tent.
I love the story before us this post-Easter season. John tells us several really important things.
First, the living, resurrected Jesus came and stood among the apostles.
His presence with us post-Easter is what we all need more than anything. So he came to his fear bound disciples whose hearts were troubled. He came and stood among them and showed them his hands and his side. What they saw was confirmation that the reports of Easter morning were true. The tomb was empty. The body of Jesus had been raised a spiritually transformed physical body. They recognized him. They were overwhelmed with joy. Their Easter experience was true. It was anchored in history. He was no ghost; it was not just a subjective emotional experience. The presence of Jesus was reality. It was not just Easter Faith that was resurrected. No, the body of Jesus of Nazareth stood among them.
We post-Easter disciples bring our doubts with us into this post-Easter season. The evil one so surrounds us with the anti-supernatural assumptions of our culture that we question almost immediately how such a miracle like the resurrection of Jesus could have possibly happened?
Every preacher who has ever preached on Easter Sunday, if they are honest, has hoped the next morning that what they proclaimed was the truth. Post-Easter exhaustion can so drain us of confidence that we doubt ourselves and our sanity. Monday morning is not the best time to evaluate the previous Sunday.
Eugene Peterson was pastor of a church in Maryland for 30 years. He shared that he and his wife had a practice of going for a half-day walk in the woods of Maryland on Monday mornings after busy weekends of pastoral ministry. They had an agreement that they would not speak a word until the hike was over because it was not until then that they would have recovered enough personal balance to speak in warm, helpful tones. He said the beauty of nature healed them enough to speak. Spurgeon had the same love of nature.
Bye the way, on Easter Sunday afternoon with all of our family gathered inside, the beehive I reported last Sunday awakened and swarmed like a giant cloud in our backyard. Like a spinning toronado the bees just departed from our tree and did not return. We saw it and it was amazing. It was a healing distraction.
Secondly, the living, resurrected Christ spoke words of blessing to his disciples.
Twice he said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The words he spoke to the frightened disciples mediated the blessing of the God of peace. What Jesus gave to his disciples in these words was the shalom of God, God’s salvation, God’s well-being, God’s grace and love. This gift was the fruit of the word and Spirit of God.
Already, Jesus had sought to prepare them for this gift. He said in John 14:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” 14:27
This was the word of blessing that the apostles would need from this day forward.
There were many days of deep discouragement and disappointment that the Apostle Paul experienced as he fulfilled his calling as an apostle. There were times in which his soul was so pained that he thought the sentence of death was upon him. In all of those times he sought the presence and the peace of the resurrected Jesus. While in jail in Rome, he counseled the Christians in Philippi:
“To rejoice in the Lord always; the Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
The message of Holy Week is that God in Christ made peace through the blood of the cross. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God acted to break down dividing walls of hostility and to reconcile us to Himself and us to one another. Therefore, Jesus has the authority to give to his people what he has won for them through the obedience of his life, death, and resurrection.
The gift of his peace is what stabilizes our souls, sustains our minds, and connects us to the trustworthy reality of the presence and peace of the rule of God.
When I am in one of my post-Easter funks, depleted, and troubled in my inner being, the peace of God is the gift I need the most. This peace allows me to remember and to reflect upon who God is and what the Lord has done for me, for his people, and for the world.
Thirdly, the living, resurrected Jesus opened the doors of their fears to walk into God’s mission for them in the world.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus had not been an end in itself. No, the death and resurrection of Jesus had been the fulfillment of the promises of God from the beginning of Israel’s story. Israel had been given a mission to become a blessing to the nations. But now Israel’s mission for which she had been sent into the world had been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What this meant was that the New Israel, the followers of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, were being formed into a new covenant community.
As the Father God of Israel had saved Abraham and Sarah’s family from death in Egypt, so now Jesus the Son of God’s promise, had been raised triumphant over the powers of sin and death. Now his disciples had seen, heard, touched, and believed the mighty act of God.
In the Upper Room Jesus stood among them, gave to them his healing peace and commissioned them to carry on God’s mission of grace among the nations. As Jesus had preached the good news of the presence and power of the kingdom of God, so they were to do. As he had brought healing to sin sick souls, so they were to bring his hope. As his life was a demonstration of the love of God for the poor, the wounded, the blind, the oppressed, the sick, and the dying, so they were to incarnate the same compassion. As Jesus brought the vision of justice and peace for war torn people, so now the disciples were to be harbingers of the Peaceable and Just rule of God, the New Creation.
“As the Father has sent me, so send I you to make disciples and to train disciples for the sake of reclaiming this enemy occupied territory which we call planet earth.”
This is our mission! If you do not know what the mission of the church is, read this text. Jesus came to open the closed and locked door of our sanctuary in order to lead us into the world for which he died and now lives.
And then, he breathed upon them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The breath of the Holy Spirit is what the post-Easter church needs. It was the same breath that transformed Adam into a living being in Genesis 2. It was the same word and breath that connected and animated dead Israel in the Valley of Dry Bones after the Babylonian Captivity. This was the breath that fills and empowers life. This was the breath that gives courage and lifts fear for the sake of bringing the salvation of God into the hearts of the nations. This was the breath of God’s forgiveness for all that would receive and believe.
This was the gift that the church needs on this post-Easter Sunday. It is the gift I need. This gift was the presence, the peace, and the power to face a troubled world with words and deeds of mercy and love. May we all receive the good news of Easter Sunday Evening. May we know that Jesus is with us; he is with us with the blessing of peace and power. He is with us to fill us with the breath of God for God’s continuing mission through us to the ends of the earth.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
S033113 EASTER SUNDAY: John 20:1-18
TURNING TO LIFE
Most of us have heard of Mary Magdalene from other sources than the Bible. Dan Brown, in THE DA VINCI CODE made her famous by suggesting that she was Jesus’ girl friend and probably his secret wife. Even though the orthodox tradition tried to hide the truth revealed in the literature of the Gnostics, Brown fictionalized, she and Jesus had produced a child and that the womb of Mary Magdalene was the Holy Grail.
Undergirding this revising of history was the very popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR. In that production Mary Magdalene sang the ballad, “I don’t know how to love him—what to do, how to move him. He’s a man—he’s just a man—and I’ve had so many men before in very many ways—he’s just one more.”
Popular imagination has therefore come to see Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. Therefore, she must have been a dangerous seductress for Jesus. The four Gospels of the N.T. only suggest that Mary was a woman who had been spiritually touched by Jesus and that she had become a devoted disciple and follower. Nothing more needs to be said about Mary other than this. Yet, she was the disciple who went to Jesus’ grave early on the first day of the week after the previous Friday in order to grieve the loss of her dear friend. Only John’s Gospel tells us this story and it is one of the powerful gospel narratives to which the church listens on Easter Sunday.
I like how Frances Taylor Gench, in her study in the Gospel of John, ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS, handles this story. She said there were three movements in the story. The three movements in the story were signaled by three words that John emphasized.
FIRST, THERE WAS THE MOVEMENT OF WEEPING.
John desired that we recognize our tears in Mary’s tears as she went to the Garden tomb early that Sunday morning in the darkness. She did not visit Jesus’ grave to complete the burial process. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had completed that work when they took the dead corpse of Jesus from the cross on Good Friday. With permission from Pilate they removed the body, wrapped it with myrrh and aloes within the burial clothing, placed it in the tomb, and sealed it with a huge stone. Mary very simply went to the tomb early that morning to grieve her loss.
Weeping was the earliest emotion of Easter Sunday. And almost always this emotion associated with loss is accompanied with tears. The tears or weeping are a sign of shock, surprise, hurt, disorientation, and pain.
Several years ago I was home recovering from a surgery. Kay had been so carefully helping me in my recovery, but had gone to the store to pick up something. While she was gone the telephone rang. It was Kay’s sister in law with the announcement that Kay’s younger brother had died in his sleep the previous night. I knew I would need to tell Kay this painful truth when she came home. When she arrived, I told her. She burst into tears. I could hardly bear it. In my weakened condition I burst into uncontrollable sobs that came from deep within my body. They were tears for her brother and wife, for Kay’s suffering, but also tears for myself. I was weeping in a great human choir of loss. It was pure, raw grief.
Deep within, my tears were related to the human condition. Last week in the Passion Sunday sermon I spoke of the novel and the movie, The Life of Pi. Remember, it was the story of an Indian adolescent boy who was in search for God. He was grappling with God. Even though the humanity and weakness of Jesus had troubled him, Jesus’ Story of the love of God had brought him to the place of begging Father Martin to become a Christian and to be baptized.
Pi’s story was connected to the Big Story of human existence. Pi’s family, that owned a zoo in India, was forced due to economic circumstances to immigrate to Canada taking some animals from the zoo with them aboard an old ship. Along the way of the family’s journey the ship was caught in a storm at sea. The ship sank and only Pi and a few of the animals survived. He lost his family and found himself at sea alone in a life boat with a zebra, a hyena, and Bengali Tiger named Richard Parker. It was a story of survival. The hyena ate the Zebra to survive. The Tiger ate the hyena. And the question was whether the Tiger would eat the boy Pi. For nearly 300 days it was the story of the survival of the fittest, the smartest, and the most powerful.
Some have said that this is the human story as we live our lives and write our history in a world surrounded by natural and human evils. Pi had committed himself to God. He had surrendered to the good providence of God. But now the question of why bad things happen to good people haunted him? Could he outsmart the Tiger? Could he train the Tiger and gather food and water from the sea for them both? A symbiotic relationship of survival developed between the Tiger and Pi. As the movie came to its end I could not stand to watch either Pi or Richard Parker starve to death or drown in the stormy sea. What began as a beautiful and powerful Tiger waddled onto the beach of Mexico as a famished bag of bones to disappear into the jungle. He never looked back, nor did he say goodbye to Pi who helped him survive.
When I was growing up I often went to church with my parents and sister on Easter Sunday. I confess, I disliked it because the preacher always made so much of death. It made me uncomfortable. Now, I find myself tied to a story whose first movement is in a cemetery with people who are deep into the pain of human suffering. Grieving and weeping are part of the human story.
In my home office there hangs a picture posed on one of our High Sierra back packing trips when we were younger. In the picture Kay sits on top of me with my legs over a huge log. The picture made it appear that my legs were her legs. How could that beautiful woman have such masculine, hairy legs? It makes me smile each time I look up at it. She has a beautiful smile on her face as she holds a book in her hands. The title on the cover of the book was, ALL OUR LOSES AND ALL OF OUR GRIEFS. The picture reminds me each time I look at it of all the wonderful times we have had, of the many times of fun and laughter, but also of the central preoccupation of our souls with loss and grief. I suspect that most of us live somewhere near that reality.
THE SECOND MOVEMENT OF THE STORY IS REFLECTED IN THE WORD “TURNING”.
As Mary wept in the garden she gained the courage to stoop over and look into the tomb that was now empty. What she saw was two angelic figures sitting at the head and the foot of where the body of Jesus had lain. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” In anguish, she gave the only explanation she knew. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Then she turned around a saw a stranger that she thought was the gardener. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Again she gave the same answer. “Sir, if you have taken him away tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
Then she heard her name called by the gardener. “MARY!” She turned knowing who had called her by name. It was her Teacher, Jesus. No one could name her like Jesus. Her name spoken turned her away from her pain, caused her to see through her swollen red eyes, and to know that her beloved teacher was present to her in the fullness of life.
Indeed, “The good shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them. He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:1-6
Mary was one of Jesus’ sheep. When he called her name she turned toward him and saw that the gardener was none other than Jesus, her Lord.
His calling her name and her turning was the most important moment in human history. It was a turning from the grief of loss and death to the faith, hope, and love of life. It was a turning from the Old Creation to the New Creation. It that moment the Old had passed away and the New had come. Suddenly Mary had revealed to her that the one who stood before her had triumphed over the powers of sin and death. He had risen from the dead. Christ was alive. Darkness had seen the light. Tears were transformed from tears of sorrow to the tears of joy.
Humanity needs to experience this turning. Every sight of beauty we have sought to hold in our arms, to cling too against any besmirching. In the trauma’s of life East of Eden we have lived in the valley of the shadow of death and sought to push back the powers of darkness in order to secure a place for ourselves and our loved ones.
After the Good Friday service I walked back into the sanctuary to discover that Beth was walking up and down the center aisle of the church holding baby girl in her arms. She was talking to the baby. The baby was sucking on one of Beth’s fingers. She was almost asleep. It was a beautiful moment watching Beth hold the baby so tight while the baby’s parents were doing an errand. The scene was an affirmation of trust and love. I knew I would soon be holding the baby at her baptism. I married the parents.
We hold tight our little ones. We know we live in a dangerous world. Kay called to speak about our family on Easter Sunday afternoon. The two grandsons are coming and the backyard is a perfect place for play. But she reported the gardener’s discovery. A swarm of bees had created a bee hive in one of our trees and they were swarming. The bee man said they would move on, but how soon, in time for Easter Sunday afternoon? We are dedicated to holding on and protecting those whom we cherish. So it was with Mary as she longed to hold on to Jesus.
We love Isaiah the prophets vision of the New and Peaceable kingdom of God. Remember how he wrote of that kingdom?
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Is. 11
Deep within our souls, like Mary, we have longed to hear our names called by the resurrected Jesus, the root of Jesse, and to turn toward the fullness of the New Creation in which all shall have been made right, the cosmos healed, and the reality of life, love, and peace fulfilled.
THE THIRD MOVEMENT OF THE STORY WAS MARY’S CALL TO ANNOUNCE.
Weeping and turning now were commissioned to announce the good news. Mary became the “THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLE’S”
The resurrected Jesus said to her,
“Do not hold on to me…But go to my brothers and sisters and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” Jn. 20:17.
Gench said, “These words of commission capture, in a nutshell, John’s understanding of the good news of Easter: as a result of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, a new relationship with God is available. ‘My Father’ is now ‘your Father’; ‘my God’ is now ‘your God’; and Jesus’ Spirit now unites believers to him and to one another as ‘brothers and sisters’. The Word became flesh in this world in order that all who receive him and believe in his name might be given power ‘to become children of God’ 1:12. P. 133
Easter Sunday morning gives to the church an understanding of its mission. Mary’s experience was not an end in itself. No. From the words of the risen Christ Mary was given a mission of announcing to the others that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. Life has conquered death. Light has shined into the darkness. Love has begun to heal the injustices of our world. Life is not meaningless; nor is despair our destiny. The hope of transformation is the final and ultimate word of the New Creation.
If Jesus has named you and you have turned to him, in this moment he also commissions you to announce what you have seen and heard, what you have touched of the word of life. Today, to whom will you announce: Christ is risen; He is risen, indeed!
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
The second of three consecutive services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The first of three consecutive services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.