Tuesday, 26 March 2013

People of the Resurrection!

Lectionary Readings for Easter Sunday, March 31. Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25, Ps 118:1-2, 14-24. 1 Cor. 15:19-26, John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12
Donita Wiebe_Neufeld

Lots of scripture for this week! I'm not sure why there are options listed, except maybe to give a preacher more choice-especially when this is a story the church pays attention to every year.

It's interesting to compare the gospel accounts. There are remarkable similarities. First, it is women in Luke, and a woman in John, who discover the empty tomb.When they report, they are not believed and the male disciples run to check it for themselves. (The running is noteworthy-adults didn't run-so this detail is written to show how flustered, excited, and shocked they are!) I don't blame the men for not believing the women-but the gender thing is beside the point. This news is so unbelievable it wouldn't have mattered who delivered it! Luke 24:11 says the women's words "seemed to them like nonsense". The women are not described as running, but their inability to speak clearly shows how flustered they were! News like this, unexpected and amazing, simply has to be seen in person. None of the disciples were immediately able to make sense of it. Well, maybe not none. In John, Mary stays at the tomb after everyone else has left and actually gets to speak with Jesus. She is the first to know the truth. She believes and is able to bring the disciples further news.This second delivery of amazing news seems to be accepted by everyone.

It strikes me, in preparing an Easter message, that we've had 6 Lenten themed Sundays, and there is only one Easter! Growing up in the Mennonite church, I don't remember us paying much, if any, attention to Lent. I remember, as a child, thinking it was a Catholic church observance, one of the extra things that we didn't do. We saw ourselves as a people of the resurrection, living in the good news of Jesus, not staying in the place of guilt and unworthiness. This emphasis sort of pushed Lent themes to the side, perhaps a little too much and now the pendulum has swung back a little. I like the observance of Lent, it is a season of needed introspection, but in the Easter message I want to emphasize the resurrection as the core of our story that defines us throughout the year. We are a resurrection people, full of good news, joy, and hope that must be shared in our lives.

The story told in Acts, where Peter is bringing the good news to the Gentiles, is a great "living the resurrection" story. It is about the good news of peace through Jesus, unity of peoples, healing, forgiveness of sin, and the conquering of death. That's news to live by all year around!

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Humility and Strength

Lectionary readings for March 24, 2013. Palm Sunday. Luke 19:28-40, John 13:1-35; John 18:1-12, 38b-19:16  Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

This week all the readings are from Luke and John, focusing attention on the beginning of passion week. The Luke piece is what we expect on Palm Sunday-the story of the Triumphal entry. It always creates mixed up thoughts for me. On the one hand, it's a celebration, people announce Jesus, joyously shouting out their hopes for a new ruler, a new kingdom. On the other, knowing how the story ends dulls the parade's colours. It's a bit like the "new president" thing in the States. There was no way for Obama to live up to the hype. (I wonder what will happen to the excitement around the new pope?) Human leaders cannot live up to expectations. Jesus is different. Sure, he's not going to live up to crowd hopes for a political messiah, but he never claimed to be that. He is coming with something different and radical, a reign without coercion, symbolized by a king on a donkey. He comes as God's representative, a model of love, service, and truth. He comes willing, not to kill, but to die to invite people into authentic life by the giving over of their own lives to God. It's a hard message, really quite astounding, that what we hope for is something that cannot be forced. It must be found in servant hood, and may involve suffering. Jesus is a paragon of that strange and rare combination of humility and strength. It's hard to understand. It's hard enough to apply this to individuals, but almost unimaginable on the world stage, on the scale Jesus takes on..

Humility is one of the themes present in these scriptures. Jesus' washing of the disciples feet is a humble, intimate, and extremely practical example of servant leadership. Jesus expects this sort of humility from his followers, they should never consider themselves too good for any needed task. What are the equivalents to foot washing today? Doing someone else's dishes? Caring for a sick friend?

Humility, in the form of failure and humiliation, is here for Jesus' followers. When we read ourselves into these stories, it is real for us. The very crowds that cheered Jesus are the ones who turn on him and force Pilate's hand. Peter, one of those closest to Jesus, is the one who denies him 3 times. The realization that we are like them, that we can and do make similar horrible mistakes in understanding, is humbling. The season of Lent brings us to this hard place, a place where we stare our failings in the face and realize we are looking into a mirror. What we need is the ability to look away from ourselves and to see the image of Christ instead. An image of  love, forgiveness, and new life.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Looking ahead, honouring Jesus

Readings for March 17. Isaiah 43:16-21, Ps 126, Phil 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

The Isaiah and Philipians scriptures make similar comments about time. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" "...forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." In each case, the former things are good, but what is to come in God's plan is even better.

Neither passage is a devaluing of history. Isaiah, especially, celebrates God's dominion over nature and human events by recalling the Exodus from Egypt-the deliverance of the people from slavery. It is a story that has shaped both Jewish and Christian understanding of the power of God and God's concern for people who suffer. The story of the Exodus is the core of liberation theology today. The old stories are important becasue they shape our understanding of God.The reminder here, though, is to move beyond nostalgia, to use what is learned, and keep going, keep moving "on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

(It's maybe a silly comparision, but I am reminded of some "writerly wisdom" I heard that said a writer is only as good as her/his next piece. There's no time to sit and be smug about the past, because the present and the future are what need attention.)

The story from John, where Mary pours expensive perfume onto Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair, is loaded with interesting bits. Practically minded people can't help but empathize with Judas' comment on the waste. It's hard to wrap our heads around the importance of what Mary does. Maybe the secret lies in the contrast between the motivations that power both Judas and Mary. Jesus sees the heart. He tells Judas to leave Mary alone, the perfume was already set aside for his burial. So the money would never have gone to the poor anyway-but should Mary have used the perfume now? What will they use for the burial? Is Mary's use of this while Jesus is alive a denial of death or simply the greatest way she could think to honor him?

It is interesting to be in Martha and Mary's house again. Once again Martha is serving and Mary is at Jesus' feet and doing something that gets people talking. Both women make valuable contributions worth mentioning in the story. (But it's never as interesting to talk about the serving part is it? There are so many people who serve in the background, working to make things possible for the group experience in worship, in fellowship, in caring. Thank you to all those Martha's and men who serve quietly!) 

Finally, it's interesting to think of having Lazarus at the table. He is recently raised from the dead, and crowds of people gather because of him. What kind of stories is he telling? Obviously he is a great witness to who Jesus is. Reading further into verses 9 and 10 tells us a bit about the effects he is having! We have often, in worship meetings, discussed a desire to have people do more sharing about our encounters with God. We need to hear each other's stories and not just stories from designated church leaders. We don't, however, have an established habit of speaking about faith and life like this. When it does happen, it is amazing and we remember it and are encouraged. How can we authenically encourage and include more testimony in our worship and fellowship? Ideas welcome!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Starting Over from a Changed Place.

Lectionary Readings for Mar. 10. Joshua 5:9-12, Ps. 32, 2 Cor. 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

This week the readings all relate to a theme of forgiveness and starting anew. The Joshua story is particularly intriguing. Here Joshua leads the new generation of Israel into the promised land. Their wandering (punishment for disobeying God) is finished, and they are brought into a fertile land where they can settle, grow food instead of gathering manna, and start over in trying to be a nation of God.

These are new beginnings for Israel. But what about Moses? He is barred from the promised land even though he is a prophet whom God knew face to face, and "was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt..." (Deut. 34:11) Moses was left out because he had "broken faith" with God. (Deut 32:51). How is this forgiveness? Moses has repented and ends his life with praises for God and blessings for Joshua, his successor, but is still excluded. Moses sees the land but can't touch it.

This says a lot about what forgiveness is and isn't. It is a restoration of relationship. God and Moses end up on good terms and Moses is remembered as one of the great leaders of Israel. It is not, however, a forgetting or erasing of the past mistake. Moses still has to deal with the consequences of his actions. There is a good starting over, but from a changed place. A new leader moves forward with the people, and Moses blesses him.

2 Cor. 5:17 "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new." This too, is a starting over from a changed place. Things are not put back the way they were. The old passes away and the new begins.

I wonder how forgiveness works for the characters in the prodigal son story. The older son is bitter about the old passing away. He doesn't want a new start for himself or anyone else. The younger son is restored in relationship, he belongs with his family again-but he will never get back what he squandered. His inheritance is still gone. He has relationship but no living. He still must deal with the consequences of his bad decisions. The father has his younger son back-but that son will not inherit any land or authority-he has to figure out a new way of being family now, but he is ready to start fresh. The older son, the heir, is now the lost one in terms of right relationship. He has a living, land, and authority, but no relationship. This work of forgiveness, no matter how wonderful it sounds, certainly is hard work for all involved!