EASTER 2A: But…

This Week’s Lectionary Text:  Acts 2:14a, 22-32
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

According to the writings of Acts, it seems that those who had been with Jesus did get on task pretty quickly and suddenly turned into witnesses rather than limiting themselves to being followers.  This passage is part of Peter’s “Pentecost Proclamation”.  You can hear the excitement in the voice of the writer.  There really is a desire to get everyone on board, to let everyone see what the witnesses have seen, what the witnesses now know.  The problem is that with most of us humans, there’s always a “but”, an excuse, a really, really, really good reason why we can’t fully commit to what God is calling us to do.

At first reading, it seems that there exists a strong belief here in the notion of Jesus’ death being “pre-ordained” by God.   I’m not so sure about that though.  If God did “pre-ordain” Jesus’ crucifixion, does that also mean that God “pre-ordained”  the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the terrorist act of September 11, 2001?  I mean, where does it stop?  Whatever happened to free will?  Are we just pawns in some great divine chess game waiting for God to move us to the next place?  I have to tell you, that’s not my image of God. 

As the Scripture says, I think God actually DID intend to hand this God Incarnate over to us, to give up a piece of Divine control, to invite us to respond to this incredible act of God literally walking in our midst.  Think about it…you know how you take that favorite jacket to the dry cleaners?  Life is not designed such that you can stand there and watch them check it in, go through the dry cleaning process, and hang it back in its environmentally-unfriendly plastic bag (yes, that was a little bit of a dig!), all the while making sure that it is properly tagged and identified and gets to where it needs to go.  No, the truth is, you hand it over to the cleaner.  Now, at the risk of comparing the Son of God to a really cute jacket, God handed over the human part of God to us.  God relinquished control.  It was up to us.  But…but we messed up.  No excuses this time!  We royally messed up.  We didn’t like change; we didn’t like being told that the way that we had figured out how to live was not the right way; and we didn’t like the idea that we could no longer control our own destiny.  So, we killed God.  We lost the Divine in our midst, if only for a moment.

BUT…”God raised him up”.  BUT God stepped in and found what was lost, redeemed what was gone, and made alive what was once dead.  THAT is what we are called to witness–not that something awful that God had supposedly “pre-ordained” happened, but that God had “pre-ordained” handing the very Godself over to us.  And when we didn’t respond the way we should have, God stepped in yet again–not to punish, not to “undo”, but to take the worst of humanity and recreate it into the best of God.  Now, my friends, THAT is a good story.  THAT is something to which we can witness!

This is the season when God shows us how to be more than followers, how to be witnesses and doers, how to BE Christ in the world…no “buts”…we really are supposed to do it!

Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen indeed!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Next

The Region of Galilee
Taken February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now what?  What do we do next? What do we do now that the holy and the sacred, the very Divine, has spilled into our world?  What do we do now that death has been vanquished and life has been recreated into something we couldn’t have even imagined before?  It seemed easier before, when we were being called to follow, being called to look to Jesus for our teachings, for our way of becoming what we should be.  But now, we are not being told to follow.  We are being told to “Go”.  Go?  Go where?  If Lent is our formative season, Eastertide is our becoming. It is the season when we become what we’re meant to be–disciples–all of us.  The disciplines we’ve learned and the teachings we’ve heard are now ours to embody.  It is our turn, our turn to become the Word incarnate, to become the Spirit of Christ here on this earth.  (And you thought Lent was hard!)

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
                             (from “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, hymn by Charles Wesley, 1739)

So, go forth into the world, into your life. Go forth and become the Living Christ, the embodiment of the One who has Risen. But, remember, you are never alone. The very Divine has spilled into our world.
 
Christ the Lord is Risen!  The Lord has risen indeed!
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Shelli 

So, really, what IS next?  Well, I’m going to try my best to keep this blog going, maybe “semi”-daily.  This has been a wonderful discipline for me and it really has given me life.  So, maybe they’ll be a little shorter, maybe a little more sporadic.  And maybe in a few weeks, I’ll try a book study through it or something.  We’ll just see where it goes.  In the meantime, for those of you who are having this emailed to you, if you want to continue getting them, just do nothing and they will show up just like always.  If you’d rather not get them, just let me know by dropping me an email.  And if you know someone else that wants emails, they can do the same thing.  If you just click on this link, you should be able to email me through St. Paul’s website:  http://stpaulshouston.org/form/online_form.aspx?formid=37

Thanks for journeying with me!  Shelli

Maybe It IS About Us

Scripture Text:  Matthew 28: 1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

At last!  The day for which we’ve waited, for which we’ve prepared, for which we’ve hoped is here!  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!…Christ is Risen indeed!

Last evening, we had an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s.  I have grown to love that service.  I love entering the darkened, bare sanctuary and then being part of lighting it and filling it.  It is joyful to see it come alive!  As we were setting up, I got to do something that I had never done before.  Michael and I unwrapped the brand new Christ candle.  We opened the box and then worked together to unwrap it.  It was wonderful.  Both of us were grinning.  It was like bringing new life into the world.  You see, the Christ candle is the center of every worship service in that big Gothic sanctuary.  We light this brand new, tall Christ candle for the first time on Easter and then it burns down through the year until it is sadly snuffed out for the last time on Maundy Thursday.  This one had never been lit, never been a part of the service, never been viewed by any of us.  And there is lay on the sacristy table with both of us staring at it.  It was as if that acid-free tissue paper that we had peeled away was the rock itself that we rolled away.  Christ is risen!  Let the light of Christ illumine all!

And so this day, we light the brand new Christ candle and we joyously celebrate Christ’s Resurrection.  We finally get to sing “Alleluia” again after so many weeks of quiet and darkness. But what is it we’re celebrating?  Are we glad that Christ’s death was not permanent?  Well, of course we are.  But if Easter is only about Christ’s Resurrection, then the whole thing would have been for naught.  You know, it’s weird.  We struggle all through Lent to let go of ourselves, to surrender.  The reason we do that is because God has something else in store for us.  It’s called resurrection–no just Christ’s, but our own!  The whole purpose of Christ’s Resurrection was to unveil our eternity, to show us what was coming for us, to lay the groundwork for not Christ’s raising, but our own.  So, do you believe that?  You say you believe that Christ was raised.  Why would the Resurrection even happen if God was not trying to show us our own.  This is the Easter lesson.  Jesus came and walked this earth as God-With-Us, Emmanuel, to lead us into communion with God, to show us eternity.  Hmmm!  Maybe it IS about us!  But if it is, what do you plan to do with it?  What does it mean to celebrate not only Jesus’ Resurrection but our own?  What does it mean for God to love you so much that God would recreate your life?  So if your life is worth that much to God, what are you planning to do with it?  Go now, roll the stone away…and reveal what God has planned for you!  Alleluia!

And on the third day of this time
The tomb opened to the light
And there my Lord, who died before
Is risen in my sight.
Christ my Lord is Risen Today!
And gone is need to mourn,
For Creation lost has lived again
And life itself reborn.
I tell this story so that you’ll know
That death is not the end.
The journey turns and light returns
As each of us to life transcend.


So, on this day when we celebrate the Risen Christ, celebrate also the story of your own resurrection!

Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!  You are risen!  Alleluia!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

NOTE:  The “whole” Holy Week poem is on a page on my blog under “Other Stuff”.

 

The Rest

Genesis 2: 1-4a

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

worlds God rested.  Those are the words that we tend to concentrate on in this Scripture, as if God, weary from all the creating just laid down and took a little nap.  The truth is, the point of it all is not that God rested; the point is the rest…

The seventh day is the climax of Creation.  It’s the point where it all comes together, where all of those scenes that have been   painstakingly shot in semi-chronological order but in different places and different lights and different hues are suddenly are spliced together into some semblance of order.  God does not just create rest; God creates it all.  God pieces it into order, into the way it should be and then hallows it, inviting reflection and thanksgiving…and eternity.  The heavens and the earth and all that they contain and all that they are do not rest from Creation but rather are all invited into the rest—the rest of Creation when it continues on.

The truth is that nothing really existed before the seventh day.  Oh sure, there were archetypes and rehearsals and things that carried some semblance of the final product.  But this…this is everything.  The Sabbath, the day of rest, the day of the rest…asks that we stop and look and continue on into eternity.

In this Eastertide, we celebrate the ultimate Sabbath, we celebrate the Holy Rest.  That third day gave us a glimpse of what God is doing.  And God continues to recreate all of Creation until everything has had a third day, until everything has seen the rest of the story.

Holy Shabbat…

Shelli

In The Image of God

Genesis 1: 24-31

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Concentric mirrors What does it mean for humankind to be “made in God’s image”?  Most of us mainstreamers are probably more comfortable, whether we choose to admit it or not, with the idea of ourselves as that sinful creature who simply can’t do any better because our brother and sister Adam and Eve screwed it all up for the rest of us.  I mean, that’s easier, right?  It sort of gives us something toward which we can strive.  It means that if we’re really, really good and do it all right, then God will somehow get us out of this mess that we as humanity have gotten ourselves into.

But, then, how does being “made in God’s image” reconcile with that?  Keep in mind that an image is not the actual thing; it’s not necessarily even an ideal, unmistakable replica.  An image is a reflection, something that makes one think of the real thing, something that makes one feel as if the real thing is close.  Without a doubt, we are not God.  Not even on our best days.  Not even on Mother Teresa’s best days.  But we are made in God’s image.  We are made to reflect God to the world around us.  No longer can we dismiss ourselves as hopeless, sinful creatures.  There’s too much work to do!  What we need to do instead is get out the Windex!

You are God’s image.  That does not mean that you are perfect; it doesn’t even mean that you don’t sin or screw up, intentionally or unintentionally.  It just means that there’s more riding on it than God simply pulling you out of the game at the end.  After all, what sort of God are you reflecting right now?

Go and be God’s image in the world!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Sea Monsters & Flying Things

Genesis 1: 20-23

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Myth of the Bird Creation is wider and more inclusive than we usually let it be.  If the Resurrection of Jesus is the “new creation”, then where are the sea monsters and the birds?  What happens to them?  The truth is that we probably sort of skip through these verses in the context of the Creation account.  And yet, God thought that those things that were not like us, that did not live the way we live or exist the way we exist were worthy of creating even before us.  What does that say?

I think it reminds us the same thing that Jesus did:  The world was not made in our image.  Creation is not limited to the way we see or the way we think or the way we live.  God is bigger than we can possibly imagine.  God reaches beyond where we go.

The lesson here is simple:  Christ died for you…and him, and her, and the one that you got “pissed off” (sorry, it said it better!) at yesterday, and the one that you don’t understand, and the one that scares you, and the one that doesn’t live the way you do or think the way you do or believe the way you do or sleep with who you think they should or live where you do.  In fact, Christ died for the sea monsters and the flying things, those things that are not us and do not exist where we are.

Remember that on Holy Saturday, tradition tells us that Christ “descended into hell”, sweeping up all those things that are different, all those things that we do not understand, all those things that threaten or defy our being and Christ took them unto himself.  Now if Christ can do that with hell and sea monsters and flying things, why are we so high and mighty about who belongs “in” and who belongs “out”.  After all, that’s not what Jesus did.

Go and welcome them all in!  After all, THAT’S the answer to “What Would Jesus Do”, if you’re keeping track!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Inseparable

Genesis 1: 14-19

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

The Light has come into the World!  Actually, if you remember the first day of Creation, there was light.  You know…”Let there be light!”  And there was.  The first day God created light in the midst of the darkness. But here…here God creates more light, putting light even in the midst of the darkness.  Notice that the darkness was not extinguished.  Perhaps it is there to make us look Sunrisetoward the light.  God did not snuff out the darkness; God rather gave us a light to navigate through it.

And now…in this Easter season, we are told that Jesus is the light of the world.  Now, notice here that the claim is not that Jesus HAS the light; it is that Jesus IS the light. What does that mean to “be” light? Light means life. Light signifies life-giving power. Think, for a moment, of the everyday miracle we know as photosynthesis. In photosynthesis light means life. In the presence of light, green plants convert water, carbon dioxide, and minerals into carbohydrates and oxygen. If there would be no light, there would be no photosynthesis. If there would be no photosynthesis, there would be no life. Light means life.

So Jesus is not just saying that he has brought light. Jesus is saying that he, God, the great I AM, IS life. But light’s value is not just unto itself. In all honesty, light, alone, is rather useless. Its true worth comes to be in its effect on everything around it. Its true value is in the way that it illumines and clarifies the world in which we live. Jesus’ intention, too, was not to come into the world as a blinding, white light but, rather, as a warm, illuminating presence that shines toward God and enables us to see the world the way we are intended to see it—all the world—the darkness, the light, and the shadows in our lives that constantly play between those two poles.

Edith Wharton said that “there are two ways of spreading light—to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” God is the candle, the firstborn light of Creation, the light of the world. We are called to go into the world and be light by reflecting God’s light even into the deepest crevices of the earth. Do not fear the darkness. In all truth, the darkness would not be if the light were not so bright. The two are inseparable. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world…”  With Jesus, God re-created Light not to rid the world of darkness but to show us how to walk through it.

So, go, in the Name of Christ, and be light!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli