Monday, April 29, 2013

Jesus Started It: The Force of Reconciliation

Preached on Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scripture readings:  2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Acts 9:1-19

Saul, in our reading from Acts, is our very own Apostle Paul who wrote so much of our New Testament. This man Saul was a devout hater of Jesus. He was a devout hater of Christians. He would have been glad to see us dead. He was murderous.
Photos Taken Around Washtucna WA in April 2013

Then he became a devout lover of Jesus and a lover of Christians. He was willing to die for Jesus, and for people like us. And that is just what he did, in the end.

Have you ever become the friend of someone you started out hating?

If you think back, you will remember a time in your childhood when the word “hate” and the rage of hatred comes far too easily. Babies and little children are breathtaking in their angers and their hatreds. Good parents, in our part of the world, carefully teach their children not to hate.

So I hope that you were unable to answer my question because you weren’t aware of ever having hated anyone. But, have you ever made friends with someone you started out strongly disliking; someone who maybe represented something that was totally the opposite of you?

There was that kid named Chris who was high up in the pecking order of my high school because he was an athlete. He was one of the guys who formed that gauntlet of hecklers in the hall. He was one of those guys who laughed at and humiliated us lesser beings who were forced to walk between them on our way to classes.

Then he needed help with his studies, and I changed from being a victim, to being a helper, to being a friend. We were even planning to go to Humboldt State University, up near Eureka on the north coast of California, to study forestry together. I had such enormous powers for evading the will of God in those days.

I remember talking, years ago, with a member of a church I served, and they were passionately complaining about another member. Suddenly they realized what they were doing, and stopped themselves by saying, “Oh he’s a friend of yours, isn’t he? But everyone is your friend, aren’t they?”

In my first church, one Sunday morning, just before Sunday school started, I handed my class over to another teacher because a drunk whom I knew pretty well came into the church to see me, and he was having a spiritual crisis. At first I didn’t realize how drunk he was. It turned out that he was so drunk that it took him about a half hour before he suddenly realized that it was Sunday morning, and there were all these kids around, and people coming and getting set up for worship.

That other Sunday school teacher was one of the main people who wanted to get rid of me, a few years later. I have always wondered if there was some connection to the events of that day.

It is not unusual for God to require me to be the friend of the most outrageous and scandalous people. God does not require my approval of what they do. God forbids my being an enabler of them. But God does require me to act as a friend out of respect for what God has made, and for what God may intend for them.

Saul, who became our friend Paul, began as a hater and turned into a friend because Jesus made him do so. This is an impressive miracle.

We may think of the appearance of Jesus as a miracle. We may think of the blinding and the healing of Saul as a miracle. But the greatest miracle was the change of Saul from a hater to a lover of Jesus and us.

Nothing prepared Saul for this surprise. He was completely committed to his hatred. He was consumed by it and he would have been outraged at the very thought of any compromise. His hatred was a righteous and clearly justified hatred against a dangerous faith and those who were spreading it.

The way of Jesus humiliated the majesty of a righteous and holy God. It was the message of a God who set aside his glory, and became a human carpenter, and took upon himself the sins of the world in the ugliest possible way (because the cross was an ugly form of death). Then the very person who started this poisonous faith came to Saul and called him by name. Jesus came and reduced Saul’s anger to friendship and devotion.

Saul and his friends in the Temple thought that they had understood what their Temple represented. They thought it meant the meeting place where sinful people found a sacrifice to pacify the anger of a holy God. Jesus turned out to be the place where a holy God reached out to sinners, and won their hearts by being their sacrifice and carrying their sins.

Jesus showed himself to Saul and won his heart. Saul, who was so devoted to being Jesus’ enemy, became his friend.

The God whose light shown brighter than the sun at noonday spoke to Saul with a voice named Jesus, and this God did not need to be reconciled to Saul the enemy. God, in Jesus, reconciled Saul to himself.

When Saul became Paul, he called this the message of reconciliation; the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the making of peace by the changing of hearts, and minds, and lives.

What we call the gospel means the good news of God in Christ. The good news is that peace does not come when we make the right appeal to God, but when we receive God’s appeal to us. It is about God reconciling us. It is about our being turned from enemies to friends.

If we understand what it means to have a God, we realize that God is so big that he cannot be himself with us (he cannot be God with us) if we try to keep him smaller than we are. We try to keep God small by keeping him under control, or by not letting him change more than a fraction of what we are; a small, pre-approved part of ourselves.

This message and ministry of reconciliation is the very heart of what God wants to do. It is very much a God-thing and it cannot be contained in only one part of any life where his presence takes root. The power to change you into being God’s friend has got to overflow into the power to change you into being your enemy’s friend, for God’s sake.

I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase/translation of the verses we have read from Second Corinthians: “All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.”

We see this in our reading from Acts. God, in Christ, makes Saul his friend. Then God uses a disciple named Ananias to make Saul know that the disciples of Jesus were now his friends as well. Ananias went to Saul and touched him and called him “brother” before he did anything else for him.

The power of the good news of reconciliation in Christ makes all Christians brothers and sisters. The gospel makes us all each other’s friends. Everyone knows that a real friend must act as a friend. A friends act like friends when they are together and when they are apart. Even those who are brothers and sisters in Christ must faithfully put into action with each other the friendship they claim to have with Jesus.

We are not called only to believe and receive the gospel. We are called to embody the gospel. We are called to be the gospel in every action, and in every word we say, in every expression on our face. How can we claim to believe we have received the gospel (even though we were the enemies of God) if we do not believe that we are called to give and embody the gospel to our enemies?

Heaven is the spiritual state of reconciliation on an eternal and infinite scale. Hell is the spiritual state of alienation. If we let alienation work through us, then we are certainly not letting heaven work through us, but something quite different. Who we really are, or who our actions are declaring us to be, is at stake here.

The Holy Spirit empowers the good news of reconciliation. The Holy Spirit unites, and does not divide.

This is the absolute truth. And yet, if we use this truth in order to judge others, or if we use the truth to justify ourselves as any better than others, then we are not using the truth to reconcile others. We are using the truth the way that Saul and his friends were. They were using God’s truth as a club or as a stone in their hands.

If we use the truth about Christians being friends as a weapon against others, then we are still not in the service of the Holy Spirit. We are not representing Jesus.

In college, I knew a girl named Christy who always talked about Paul’s word in Ephesians about “speaking the truth in love”. (Ephesians 4:13) She could say the most blunt and hurtful things that way. She said that, when she did this, she was only “speaking the truth in love”.

I would somewhat unlovingly tell my Christian friends that Christy believed that speaking the truth was love, and they would smile back in a similarly unloving way. I was using my own truth as a weapon, and I was just as wrong as Christy was.

We find that the Book of Acts brings this matter of turning enemies to friends into the world of prayer. Saul prayed for days. Ananias prayed to the Lord who ordered him to seek out Saul, his enemy (the enemy who might try to kill him), and call him brother, and heal him.

This reconciliation business requires a lot of prayer. Prayer is the only way to understand it, and prayer is the only way to carry it out.

It seems difficult, but it is the real thing that Jesus gave you when he gave you himself. Reconciliation is the gospel. It is salvation. This is what Saul received, when he received his sight. It was what Saul gave to others.

When you have Jesus you have the power of reconciliation in you. It is part of your hidden resources in Christ.

This power led Saul to friendship with his enemies, the Jewish Christians. Later it led him to his enemies, the Gentiles; and that means it led Saul to us.

I have not taken the time to tell you how difficult this is. After Saul changed into Paul, he wrote his Second Letter to the Corinthians because this reconciliation was not working out. It was not happening; not even in Paul’s churches, and this was breaking his heart. This is God’s word to us.

I squirmed at the very thought of asking you if you have ever become a friend to an enemy. It was not a friendly question. It was a preacher’s question. It was a parable in the form of a question.

And now I ask you to look at the power that God’s force of reconciliation has for you. How committed and involved are you willing to get in the use of that force of reconciliation? How long are you willing to keep at it?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jesus Started It: Martyrs of Malice or Mercy?

Preached on Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scripture readings: Philippians 2:1-18; Acts 7:44-8:3

In our reading from the Book of Acts, the young man named Stephen is the first martyr; the first Christian martyr who died for his faith. Some Christians call him St. Stephen.

The other notable young man who became part of this story, who guarded the cloaks of those who were killing Stephen, was named Saul; named after the famous King Saul in the Old Testament.

Photos Taken Going to and from Kahlotus, WA
This young man Saul was one of the first haters of the church; one of the early haters of Jesus, and his followers. He became active in the organization of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Saul became a leading activist in the tracking, arresting, and jailing of Christians.

Later on, the Book of Acts describes him as “murderous” and that is likely so. (Acts 9:1) Still later, Saul the hater became Paul the apostle; the missionary for Jesus; the long, long-suffering lover of Jesus. Saul became St. Paul. Over time, Saul became a martyr in so many ways; beautiful and dreadful.

The word “martyr” seems to me to be a horrible word. It seems to mean something either frightening or threatening. At its core, “martyr” means nothing more than “witness”. A martyr speaks, acts, lives for a cause.

If the cause is unpopular, a martyr may suffer for his or her cause. A martyr may die for their cause. It has become a word of terror only because it has come to mean a person who makes other people die or suffer for their cause.

The cause that Stephen would speak for, act for, live for, and die for was Jesus; King Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Saul would also come to speak, act, live, suffer, and die for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

There are many causes in the world, and many martyrs. It can be confusing and controversial, especially when being a martyr involves suffering and death.

America, the homeland, and freedom are a cause, and many, many people have died for this cause. Many more have suffered.

There were many martyrs for Jesus in the early days of the faith, and there continue to be so. There are many Christian martyrs in Islamic countries today, and in places like China and North Korea. Some Christians in Britain have lost their jobs and some Christians in the United States have been taken to court because they stood up for some part of their Christian faith.

Some martyrs are aggressive, and threatening, and violent. There are some people who become martyrs by hijacking airliners and flying them into office buildings, or by bombing spectators at a footrace. These martyrs are famous representatives of Islam.

Christianity has had its own violent martyrs. We have had our crusades and our wars of religion. Ireland was a place for Christian warfare only a few decades ago. The world has not forgotten this, and the world will use this knowledge against us.

But maybe this is a good thing. It is good for us to be humble; and that, in itself, has something to do with a wholesome martyrdom; being the best sort of martyr.

Because this is what we see in Stephen: those who made him a martyr were martyrs themselves. They were witnesses; witnesses of power, success, control, fear, anger, and hatred.

They believed in a God, whom they had refashioned in their own image; who was on their side. And they worked with all their might to call down a holy anger, and indignation, and vengeance upon Stephen and his friends.

Stephen prayed his martyr’s witness like this. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59) Stephen knew the mercy and grace of God who came into this world in Jesus; a God who died for the sin of the world on the cross. Stephen knew that, in Jesus, God had called his own mercy and grace down from heaven to earth to change the lives of those who would receive him, and to change the world through them.

Jesus had prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) So Stephen did the same. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Perhaps none of us will ever have to suffer or die for our witness to the cause of Jesus and his kingdom. But we can all be martyrs, because a martyr is simple a witness who speaks, and lives, and acts, and works, and is willing to suffer and die for their cause.

We can see the power of this kind of thing in the story of Stephen and Saul. The prayer of Stephen called mercy down from heaven and it came to rest on Saul. Only Saul didn’t know it yet.

Mercy lay in the stony, weedy, barren ground of Saul’s hater’s heart. In spite of the unfriendly, infertile soil of that heart, the seed would grow. It would enrage Saul all the more if he had guessed the plot against him; if he had known what Jesus was planning to do with him by making him (in spite of himself) a martyr of mercy.

Stephen died without knowing what his witness had done. He didn’t know what God would make of his prayer of forgiveness. He would join the cloud of the witnesses (the martyrs of mercy) who always watch the race on earth, as we run that race. (Hebrews 12:1) Stephen would watch it happen from another place.

Being a martyr has nothing in the world to do with being a doormat, or even a victim. Being a martyr means being a faithful witness, with the accent on being faithful. Sometimes this calls for courage.

Being a witness of Jesus who died to bring grace and mercy down from heaven into this world does not mean being a doormat or a victim, but it does mean being like Jesus, and this takes much more than courage.

I confess that I don’t use the word martyr very often. I don’t like the sound of the word, but it is what I must be. It is what I truly must want to be. It is why I speak and live the way I do. I often fail. I am sometimes faithful. I will tell you that we should all, each one of us, want to be martyrs with all our hearts. But this desire carries dangers that we may not imagine.

In my first church I had a great martyr in my Sunday school class. I sometimes called him my evangelist. I taught the oldest kids’ class. Glenn was in that class with me for over five years.

There was this bully in his class at school named Tony. Tony was big, and tough looking, and probably old for his grade. I think Glenn was in the sixth or seventh grade when he beat Tony up.

Tony had tried to bully Glenn. Tony was a much bigger kid than Glenn was, but Glenn stood up to him. The interesting thing is that it wasn’t long before Glenn was bringing Tony with him to Sunday school.

This is because Glenn was my evangelist. Glenn was as good a martyr in the act of fighting as Stephen was in the act of dying. This turned out to be very important; to be as good a martyr, or witness, in the act of fighting as we are in the act of praying; to be a witness for mercy. The danger is that this almost never happens.

I really don’t know how he did it. I don’t think that Glenn ever knew how he did it but, when he beat Tony, he somehow called down from heaven the grace and mercy of God into Tony’s life.

Saul, before he met Stephen, and before the seed of Stephen’s prayer took root in him, had another idea of what it meant to be a martyr. First of all his idea was to be an aggressive martyr. His job as martyr was to bring down the anger and the indignation of God on others. His job was to make others afraid, to make others hurt, to make others fail, even to make others dead.

If the Christians overwhelmed his side, and if they had conquered Jerusalem, and took him prisoner and tortured him, Saul would still have threatened them with the vengeance and the wrath of God. That would be his witness and his martyrdom.

This was the example that was set for him in his own people’s history. In the two centuries before Jesus, when the Jews rose up against the Greek kingdom that ruled over the Holy Land, they showed great courage. They succeed, in the end, but they often had setbacks. When the Greek king captured and tortured the Jewish rebels the rebels often threatened their captors.

The Second Book of Maccabees tells about a torture victim giving his witness to those who were torturing him. He said, “You have authority over men, mortal as you are, and can do as you please. But do not imagine that God has abandoned our race. Wait and see how his great power will torment you and your descendants.” (2 Maccabees 7:15-17)

What if Jesus has spoken words like that on the cross, instead of praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” What kind of martyr would we be, with such a king? But what kind of martyr are we really, when we come down to it?

For most of my school years, as a kid, I was a bully victim. It’s a complicated story.

Sometimes, I swear, I had a dozen kids chasing me. In fact that was how they got caught once.

I was twelve years old, and my school was a big, old junior high near down town, in the city of Anaheim, in southern California. The old buildings had a lot of corners, and nooks, and crannies where bad things could happen, but you couldn’t hide a dozen kids chasing one boy through the school.

I was exploring possible escape routes one day (because it is always good to plan ahead for what you know is coming) when I unexpectedly came across a doorway that led to another route to get to the buses at the end of the day. When the last bell rang I got to that door and made it through.

This caught the other kids completely by surprise. They were so surprised that they forgot where they were.

They started shouting, “Get him! Get him!” That is what attracted the attention of the teachers. They got in a lot of trouble, and that was one of the best school days of my life in my seventh grade career. At the same time, it is a sad thing to be able to say something like that.

As a kid you don’t always know what to do. I tried fighting once, and it didn’t do me any good at all. And I got in trouble for it.

I wanted to be a witness. Even though my family wasn’t that much for church, I knew who Jesus was, and I believed that he loved me, and I was interested in doing what I thought he wanted me to do. So I “turned the other cheek” and I “did unto others what I would have others do to me.” (Matthew 5:39 and 7:12) But that didn’t work to my advantage either.

What I was most tempted to do (the biggest danger) was to think that, since I was doing what was right (and they weren’t) that I was better than they were. It was hard to avoid thinking that. (If you have ever been there, you know this.) There was real pleasure in thinking that: a dangerous pleasure. At the same time, I think I knew that it was a completely nasty pleasure and that, if I felt that way about it, I wasn’t really any better than they were.

One morning, in the seventh grade, another boy came up to me and said something like this: “I really admire you. Even though you don’t fight back you don’t give in to those guys.” So I don’t think I looked like a door mat or a mere victim. Who would admire that? It’s true that I would run for my life, but I wouldn’t cringe. I would take it and not whine, or complain, or cry about it: except I did cry about it to God, at night.

I had very strong experiences of the presence of God at such times. There were no words, but there was strength, and love, and steadiness.

Later on, after we had moved to my home town, there was a kid named Chris who belonged to the group that bullied me during my high school years. For some reason he asked me to help him with his homework. I did this, not because I was afraid of him, but because Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27) At that age I certainly thought that all those kids hated me. But Chris became a friend.

But there is no guarantee that anything like this will happen. Stephen’s prayer had no sentimental power over Saul. That prayer never tugged at his hard, hating heart. We will look at that next Sunday.

Our witness has no power in and of itself. Our life as a martyr has no guarantees in and of itself. Stephen never saw the fruit of his mercy and prayer during his short life. The power belongs to God alone, who asks us to pray for his mercy and grace to come down from heaven and work in this world.

Even though we seem to have a hard job to do, and even though we are tempted to say the opposite of any prayer for mercy to come down upon others, even though we seem to do all the talking, we are still silent partners in God’s work.

God is the strong partner who works in his own time and in his own wisdom. God works with a love that we are able to trust if only we have met him for ourselves and shared our lives with him.

The cross of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead are the power that changes people, and changes this world. In the future, Saul, in the days when he had become Paul, said this about the power of the cross and the rising of Jesus in his life. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

When my life as a martyr made me cry in the night, part of the silence of God in the darkness was the silence that came from God being the one who was crucified for me, and part of that silence came from my knowing this.

There are people whose martyrdom is a tactic to bring fear, and anger, and defeat to others. Jesus makes each one of us a different kind of martyr.

We do not need to suffer or die, unless there is no other way to live faithfully for a God who died on the cross to bring mercy and grace to work in the world, and to be a force that makes a difference and changes the world. So let us always pray to make everything we say and do fit the purpose of bringing that grace down even to a world of people who never seem to give any sign of wanting to be ruled by that grace.

There is no other way to be a proper martyr. There is no other way to be a true witness.

Stephen knew this. He had learned this from Jesus. So he prayed a prayer and lived a martyrdom that made haters into lovers and witnesses of Jesus.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New World: Wait for It

Preached on Sunday April 14, 2013

Scripture readings: Daniel 7:7-14; Mark 13:1-13, 24-37 

Over Sunday supper, a family talked about that morning’s sermon. It was about the second coming of Christ. The kids had a lot of questions, and their parents tried their best to field their questions.

Photos from around home; Washtucna WA
After a while the dad said, “There’s an awful lot we don’t know. The main thing, I guess, is just to live each and every day as if it were your last.” At this point the teenager spoke up and said, “I tried that once, and you grounded me for a month!” (From Robert Jarboe, in “Parables, Etc.”, July 1993)

The Temple in Jerusalem was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was a shining mountain of white marble and gold. It was visible for miles and miles around.

There was much more to the Temple than its size and beauty. It was the physical symbol, in this world, of God’s presence with his people. It was the place of sacrifice and mercy and protection.

The destruction of the Temple would mean the end of mercy and safety, and the coming of judgment. It would mean the end of this world as we know it, and the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth. The beginning of the kingdom of God on this earth would be a great, good thing; something to long for, something to hope for. But the end of this world as we know it often looks very hard, and scary, and painful.

So many of the changes in our life, and in our world, are hard, and scary, and painful. There are plenty of good changes, but we usually manage to take those for granted. We don’t spent nearly enough time savoring those good changes and giving thanks for them. Human nature without the grace of God wallows in worry, fear, blame, and anger. We may deny that we love a good crisis but, in this world as we know it, crisis sells. Crisis sells so many books that Christians buy and ministries they love.

The disciples wanted to be prepared for the crisis of the end of this world as they knew it and they wanted to be ready for the coming of the kingdom of God. “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4)

They wanted to be prepared. They wanted to know when it would begin and when it would be over. So they asked Jesus for the signs. They wanted to know how to know.

We can only understand what Jesus says about living through the greatest crisis of all by taking him at his word when he says, “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know then that time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33)

I know a minister who says that no one knows the day or hour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know the month and the year. That is simply playing with the words of Jesus. It shows us how even Christians get impatient with Jesus. Even those Christians that seem to hold the Bible up the highest want to make it say things that it does not say.

Jesus said, “Watch”. It is as if Jesus said, “Wait”. We are like children who don’t want to watch or wait. How can we ever hear anything that Jesus wants to tell us if we will not listen to the simplest things he says?

Most of the signs that Jesus gave us about the end of the world as we know it are the very things that are happening in our world all the time: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues. It is not that these are not important things. They deserve our care, our compassion, our generosity, our attention. They tell us not to take this world lightly. They tell us to remember how fragile and vulnerable this world is.

Even persecution happens all the time somewhere. The people of Jesus always need the Holy Spirit to encourage them, and to give them courage, and to give them the ability to speak and act to meet the trial: a real trial in court, or to meet any kind of trial in which they might be tested. Even we are surrounded by people who are watching, and listening, and putting us on trial to see or hear whether we produce some honest evidence of Jesus.

They may hate us if we give good evidence. They will definitely hate us if we don’t. They will hate us with laughter and contempt.

This idea about persecution is a challenge, even to us. There are many times when we think that other people are not being fair to us. We may even think this has something to do with our faith. Jesus said, “All people will hate you because of me.”

But how can we know that someone may hate us because of Jesus? What if we haven’t really been talking and living like Jesus all along?

Maybe we have just been our comfortable, and sinful, and shallow selves. Maybe we have been hated because we have been obnoxious, and callous, and selfish, and short-tempered, and unjust; and not like Jesus at all. Just because Jesus loves us and forgives us doesn’t mean other people are obliged to do the same.

Jesus talked about “the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong.” It means the act of desecrating the Temple. It means something done to make a holy place to stop being the sign of the presence, mercy, and protection of God.

Even that has happened more than once. Daniel wrote about this desolation four centuries before Christ. He, himself, had seen it done in his time, when the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and taken him and his family and friends into exile. In the second century before Christ, a Greek king took Jerusalem and built an altar to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and sacrificed pigs on that altar.

Herod the Great, who rebuilt the Temple, in the way that the disciples had so much admired, had put a large golden statue of the Roman eagle over one of the gates in the Temple. This had caused riots and no one had forgotten it. It was if Herod were telling them that the kingdom of Rome was stronger than the kingdom of God.

Many of the people in the same generation that heard Jesus lived to see the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. In the second century they rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman city in which Jews were not allowed to live, and they built a temple to the god Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, on the site of the Jewish temple. Later, the Muslims built a mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple.

The Temple was a physical sign of the presence, the protection, and the mercy of God. It is true that such signs can be destroyed. Americans have often thought that their liberties were a sign of the presence, the protection and the mercy of God. We have also thought that our freedom of religion was another such sign. It is true that these signs can be destroyed.

There are many signs of God that make us secure.. A community can be such a sign to us. A holy gathering, like a church, can be such a sign. A marriage and a family can be such a sign. All of these can be lost. It is true that such times of desolation can be dangerous and full of fear, and hardship, and grief. What does it mean, when these signs are at risk?

What does it mean? But that is like asking, “What will be the sign?” It is so typical of Jesus that he does not answer this question the way his disciples want.

The first answer of Jesus is to say, “Watch out!” There is a time when everything changes, and the world as we know it comes to an end: except that it doesn’t; not yet. When we think the end has come, Jesus says, “The end is still to come.” Life goes on, and here we are.

I think, toward the end, it will only seem as though the world as we have known it no longer exists, when it has not really changed at all. It has only shown its true colors.

The world will become more and more its true self; and we will be confused by this. We never saw the world for what it always was. Nations rise up against nations. Brothers betray brothers. It can happen.

Matthew adds some additional words of Jesus that say, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) When the world grows old love will grow cold. And yet this, too, is the way the world is. When this happens we only see what the world is really like when it is not the kingdom of God.

The ancient people believed that the creation aged. They believed that an old world would show the signs of aging. Earthquakes were the signs of a tired planet. Lovelessness was the sign of a tired human race that needed to be made new. But this aging happens because the kingdom of God, at some time in the past, went out of this world.

Some very wise people have advised me against getting old. “Don’t do it”, they say. And I hope I don’t get old. I don’t want to get old without the kingdom of God living in me.

I know a bit of what I am without God; without the life of Jesus and his kingdom in me. What I would be like without Jesus sometimes escapes and I see that identity clearly. It scares me and I it sends me running back to Jesus.

Without Jesus I would be bitter, and angry, and resentful. Without Jesus, I would be truly old. I would be a curmudgeon, which means that I would finally harden into what I really am without him.

The kingdom of God is forever young. It keeps us free from the curse of the curmudgeons.

What G.K. Chesterton said about happiness also holds true for what life is like when Jesus and his kingdom keep us young. This is what he said. “Happiness is a state of the soul; a state in which our natures are full of the wine of an ancient youth, in which banquets last for ever, and roads lead everywhere, where all things are under the exuberant leadership of faith, hope, and charity.” So I hope to become an ancient youth instead of a curmudgeon.

But this world will become a monumental, planetary curmudgeon. It will shake, and wheeze, and rant, and rave, and hit, and kick, and fall apart.

We will have to watch out. When the world as we know it changes, it will be hard to remember who God is in Jesus. It will be hard to know how to live. It will be hard to even know ourselves.

It will be like learning to walk in the dark. The times in which we are living seem to tell us to live without hope, or to live for ourselves. That is darkness.

I knew a girl in college who had some birth defects. She confided in me once that she was not supposed to be able to walk. When she was born the doctors told her parents this sad news. Only she didn’t know any better. She learned how to walk. She did it like any other baby. She got up, and watched out, and went forward, and she kept on doing that.

My mom has had to do physical therapy a couple of times, now, when she has gotten sick. She has had to learn to walk again: well, sort of. She has known how to walk for a long time but, when the world as you know it changes, you have to learn to walk by watching out. Where are you putting your feet? How are you aligning your hips and your back? My mom hates learning how to walk. She hates that physical therapy. She threatens not to do it, but she has done it. And so she can walk.

We have to watch what we say and do. We have to watch the thought we put into this. And then Jesus tells us to not be afraid. We think we watch all the more when we are afraid, but fear makes us watch all the wrong things.

When I was eight years old, I went to YMCA summer camp, and my cabin went on a hike where we had to cross the Grand Canyon using a stick as a bridge. Well, it was a deep-set creek and we used a big fallen tree trunk.

I tried to cross by watching out, but I watched the creek far below my feet, instead of watching my feet, and the trunk, and the other bank, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the nerve to do it. It was so embarrassing. We have to watch out the right way if we want to learn how to cross through the times when the world, as we know it, has changed. We need to learn to cross the time of our lives by not being afraid.

Jesus also says we cross such times by not being deceived. “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” (Mark 13:5-6) He is telling the people who know him not to think that someone different can be him. This is odd.

Then, I think that Jesus gives us a clue about faith and how to not misplace our faith. The deceivers will go around saying “I am he.” Jesus very seldom says this about himself. In the gospels, Jesus even tells the people who received miracles from him not to tell others about it. He was amazingly quiet about himself. (Mark 1:43-44; 3:11-12; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30)

Watching, waiting, and listening to the Holy Spirit and letting him tell us what to say and do are quiet things. The deceivers will compete with our crisis by making a lot of noise about themselves and what they are doing. They may even try to entertain us.

There is a passage in Isaiah that seems to speak to this. It even tells us about the danger of trying to escape from our fears instead of watching our world without fear. “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have one of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! (Isaiah 30:15-16)

We avoid deception by quietly remembering the Jesus who first came into our hearts. We avoid deception by quietly remembering Jesus as he comes to us in prayer and in his word, the Bible.

Jesus says that we cross the place where the world as we have known it has changed by means of faithfulness. We have assigned tasks in the household of God. The household of God is where we worship, but it is also wherever we live. It is our life with our families, and neighbors, and community. 

We have allotted tasks. We are servants who care for the children of the house; and we are all both servants and children. We feed each other and keep each other clean. We take care of each other.

We cannot all stay up twenty four hours a day and seven days a week, to keep watch, so we watch over each other. We keep each others’ watch for Jesus. This is a blessing to be called to do this; to even be allowed to do this.

Sometimes we have to keep watch out over our own faithfulness so that we don’t take anything for granted. Do we hear a noise within that we should not hear? Do we hear a silence in our heart that means trouble?

I was talking to someone about their prayer life and this person was very honest and said that they really did a lot of talking to themselves. So I asked if they talked to their better self or to their worse self. This is part of keeping watch over our calling to be faithful. This is how we keep on crossing to the kingdom of God when the world as we know it has changed.

Part of keeping watch and staying faithful comes from watching Jesus in a different way. Jesus quotes some words from the prophet Daniel in the seventh chapter of his book. The actual words in Daniel are these: “I looked and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (Daniel 7:13-14) This is Jesus and, in Daniel’s vision, he is coming on the clouds to his Father, because he has defeated the final monster that rules the world as we know it. It shows him coming into the presence of his Father, the Ancient of Days. This is what Jesus did after he died and rose from the dead. You can read about this at the end of the Gospel of Luke.

So the funny thing about this picture Jesus gives us of coming in the clouds will not be a really new thing, but something that will have already happened before. Jesus is telling us to watch for his coming by thinking about him as we already know him. We are looking forward to the Jesus who is familiar to us.

We know the real victory of Jesus. It is the cross where he died to take away the sin of the world, and our sin. And the victory is the resurrection of Jesus to defeat not only sin but even death itself; and our death and the death of those we know. Jesus has turned back the monsters that have overrun the world since the human race was driven from Eden and this world began to grow old.

The cross and the resurrection are Jesus’ faithful watchfulness over us, the way we know. Because of him we do not have to be afraid when we cross through a world of crisis. In Jesus, we carry the new world of the kingdom with us even now.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Paradise People

Preached on Sunday, April 7, 2013 (a revision of a sermon preached on April 15, 2007)

Scripture readings: Revelation 21:1-10, 21:21-27, & 22:1-5; Luke 23:32-43

Jesus said this to the criminal who was being crucified beside him. He said: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43; R.S.V.)

Photos Taken: Walking Near the Palouse and Snake Rivers
And Driving Home to Washtucna WA
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (N.I.V.)

That criminal had to be surprised by what Jesus said, and even confused. He would have been surprised and confused and somehow set at rest by the love that could be felt in Jesus’ words.

He would have been surprised and simply confused by the words “today” and “paradise” going side by side. He would have recognized that paradise meant heaven for God and the angels. He would have recognized paradise as meaning some kind of heaven for him, if only he deserved it, at some future time when the kingdom of God arrived. He would not have recognized that heaven could apply to his life “today”.

Many of the Jews of that day believed that paradise for humans meant the thing that God would someday in the future create on earth; when the judgment and the kingdom of God came to our world. That would not happen until the resurrection of the dead.

Many of the Jews believed that, in the period between one’s death and the resurrection, the soul lived a kind of shadowy, semi-conscious existence. They did not all think this way. They had conflicting ideas about this.

What shocked and confused the sorry criminal was that Jesus seemed to say that they were not going to be resurrected into paradise someday, but that they were going to die their way into paradise today.

There are Christian people who love Jesus, and belong to him with all their heart, who believe that heaven does not immediately follow our death. They believe that the soul sleeps until the resurrection of the body, at the coming of the kingdom of God, and then the resurrected person enters an earthly paradise.

They believe it is a mistake of grammar to put “today” and “paradise” together. They believe that Jesus used the words, “I tell you the truth today.” And then they believe he said, “You will be with me in paradise.”

In other words they believe that Jesus said something like, “Today I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise at the resurrection.”  Those who interpret these words from the gospel in this way see the love and grace of God in this promise, as they interpret it. And there is love and grace in it.

The problem with that is that there is no other place where I can find Jesus using the phrase, “I tell you the truth today,” or even, “I tell you today.” Whereas Jesus does to say: “Today I will do this,” or “Today this will happen.” (Mark 14:30; Luke 19:5)

The sorry criminal who asked Jesus to remember him was surprised and confused when Jesus put the words “today” and “paradise” in a way that made them work together, because Jesus was giving him more and better than he had asked for Jesus was giving him more than he dared to hope for, and more than he even believed possible.

I believe that this is how God works. I trust that, in Christ, God gives us more and better than we dare, more than we hope, more than we believe. This is typical of the God revealed in the Bible.

This is like the plan of God, when he responded to the request for a king, so they would be like other nations. They asked to be like the rest of the world because of the weakness of their belief. God gave them kings, as they requested, but he used their request for a king as part of his plan to give them and us a king named Jesus. The very center of God’s plan for the world consisted of giving his people something much better than they believed in.

The word paradise is not a common Bible word, but it is a common Bible thing. It belongs to a group of words that mean “garden”. There is a garden, called Eden, at the beginning of the Bible. There is a garden at the end of the Bible called “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of Christ.”

A paradise was a garden like a park. It was a garden for great people. A paradise was a garden for royalty where a king or a queen could go out and pick a ripe peach.

It was not just a fancy ornamental garden. It was a functional, fruitful garden. It was useful as well as beautiful. A paradise would have trees, and fruit, and water, and beauty.

More than that, a paradise was meant to be lived in, and shared with others. It was a place for fellowship. It was a place to be at home. In ancient times a home was never a place to be alone.

Eden was designed to be the home place of the human race, where we would share our home with God. The New Jerusalem was designed to be the future home place of the new human race, of which Christ makes us a part.

Paul talks about our being at home in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, in the fifth chapter. It starts out: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (5:1)

And then he says, beginning in verse six: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (5:6-9)

Now home is the place where we sleep but, even more than that, home is a place where we live, where we are truly and fully ourselves. Paul uses the idea of being at home in the body to describe being physically alive in this world. When our bodies are healthy and well, we are at home in them, we are truly and fully ourselves in our bodies.

And then Paul says that we can be away from our bodies and at home with the Lord. This would mean that, when we are not alive physically in this world, we are living with God.

When God’s people are away from the body and at home with the Lord, we are truly at home. We are truly and fully ourselves. To be at home in the body is a fruitful and beautiful place to be. To be at home away from the body, with the Lord, is also a fruitful and beautiful place to be. It is like a paradise.

And then the Book of Revelation shows paradise coming from heaven to earth, at a future time when the judgment of God has come, and the living and the dead are brought together in the resurrection, and heaven and earth are made new. Paradise is described as a city, and it is described as a garden, and it is described as the Bride of Christ; the Bride of the Lamb.

In the Old Testament, God’s people, in the form of Israel, were described as the Lord’s bride. (Isaiah54:5-7 and Hosea 2:19) In the New Testament, God’s people, in the form of the church, are described as the Lord’s bride. (Matthew 22:2-14 and Ephesians 5:32) So in some way paradise is not a place, but it is a network of people, a network of souls, who are enjoying the presence of God together, and enjoying each other.

We are talking about things beyond our understanding; but if God is beyond our understanding, and if he loves us, and wants to share himself with us, then God will have to take us to a place, or an experience, beyond our understanding.

I mean who can understand “streets of gold as clear as crystal”? And how could we ever really want such a thing?

Our understanding of the joys of heaven is like the understanding that a four-year-old would have of a honeymoon. A four-year-old went to his cousin’s wedding and at the reception he heard all the talk and jokes about the honeymoon. He was confused by this, and he wondered what it was all about. So he asked his Dad.

His Dad carefully did his best. He said, “Son, when you grow up, if you get married, your honeymoon will be one of the happiest times of your life.” “Will I be able to take my toy dinosaurs along?” “Uh…no…you probably won’t take your dinosaurs on your honeymoon. But you’ll still have a great time.” “Then can my friend Jeffery come with me on my honeymoon?” “No, Jeffery won’t come.” “Then I don’t know if I want to go on a honeymoon, Daddy. It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.” (“1001 More Humorous Illustrations”, Michael Hodgin, #566)

To say that paradise in heaven, and in the resurrection, is the best of all homes is comforting because it enables us to imagine heaven being full of comfortable things; but gold, and jewels, and blazing light, and thrones, and crowns are not comfortable things at all. They are just the opposite!

Paradise is full of glory. Most of us are not looking for glory. We are embarrassed at the thought of glory, or we would be embarrassed if we thought other people knew that (deep in our hearts) we were out for glory. We sure don’t like other people hogging the glory.

Remember that paradise is us; paradise is a network of people. It is the gathering of all God’s people who have ever lived or will ever live. John tells us that we will shine with the glory of God.

Imagine glory being the clothing of God. Think of what it would be like for a little girl to dress in her mother’s dress, or for a boy to wear his dad’s boots and hat: dressed in their parent’s glory. Or think of a small child singing in a Christmas program, or riding a two-wheeler for the first time, with their mom and dad watching.

They are in their glory, but there is nothing egotistic or proud about that glory. They are full of glory because their parents are full of pleasure in them.

The Bible gives us pictures of glory because it is as hard to put into words as the feeling of a child basking in the glory of his or her parents’ pleasure. You can only understand it if you already know it. If you don’t know it no one can explain it to you.

A lot of our life, in the present, is about the process of learning. We learn what our limits are, and what we can’t do, or (as we get older) what we can’t do anymore. Life is a lot about learning what doesn’t give other people pleasure, but paradise is different. A toddler walks because someone who loves them is holding out arms of love and strength to them, and beaming with pride and joy. Glory, for us, will be a life of what we can do because we can see God’s pleasure in what we do, because we see him there reaching out to us.

There are walls around the paradise at the end of the Bible. I really don’t like walls except as places to put bookshelves or to keep the weather out. Walls are not comfortable except as shelter.

Sometimes I have thought that the walls around paradise, in the Book of Revelation were about shelter and safety, but the gates of the city are always open, so safety and shelter are not the issue.

The enemies outside are not to be feared. The enemies at the end of the Book of Revelation are not trying to get into paradise at all. They don’t want to come in. But for us the walls are about coming in.

For us, a lot of life is about going out, letting go, leaving something or someone behind. But paradise is about coming in. It’s about people and pleasures coming together instead of pulling apart. Paradise is about hellos and not goodbyes. Paradise is that kind of good home.

The sorry criminal on the right side of Jesus looked his own life in the face. He saw himself from the point of view of his own cross. He firmly believed that he deserved to die there. He was getting what he deserved. That is what he said. It was right and fitting: a horrible thought.

Then he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He doesn’t mean just, “Think of me.” In the Bible, “remember me” means, “Act upon me and deal with me. Take up my case.”

The criminal knew that his own cross was his proper fate. His life had been the kind of life that deserved that kind of death. He saw himself as he was. There was nothing he could do about it. He had nothing to fit to give to make things different.

Then he looked at Jesus dying on the cross next to him. Even there Jesus seemed like a king. Maybe Jesus would look at him and see that something else was right for him.

Jesus did just that. Jesus looked at him and saw that paradise, today, was right place for that sorry soul. There, beside him, was a man who would thrive on grace. There was a human being who would love to come in, and come home, at last, for ever, and hear a father graciously say, “Well done!”

Monday, April 1, 2013

A New World: The Future Is Meeting

Preached on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 

Scriptures: Psalm 118:1-24; Mark 16:1-8 

There were these disciples, who were women, who were the only disciples brave enough to risk going to the tomb of Jesus. They planned to finish caring for the body of Jesus; giving it a good washing, and rubbing it with sweet herbs, and oils, and ointments.

Pictures near the Snake and Palouse Rivers, Washington
The tomb of Jesus was a family tomb. But it didn’t belong to Jesus’ family. It was a borrowed tomb. It really belonged to a member of the High Jewish Council named Joseph of Arimathea, who was also a supporter of Jesus. The tomb would be used again and again in the future. The women wanted Jesus to smell as nice as possible for those who would open the tomb to lay others to rest near him.

These disciples went to do their work at the earliest possible moment. There was not a moment to lose, because Jesus had been dead for close to forty hours, over a span of three days, in the warmth of a desert spring. Dead meat began to smell early in their part of the world, and the tomb (even though it was a cave) was not a refrigerator.

Already it was a step of courage for them to do this. And there were other obstacles: guards at the tomb (though they aren’t mentioned by Mark); possible spies and police who would come after them later. There was the heavy, round stone door, at the opening of the tomb that had to be rolled aside, and it was at least as big as a wagon wheel. They couldn’t do this by themselves, and they weren’t sure they would even be allowed to do this.

They were determined to try the last thing that they could do for love. This made them brave.

Then they found the tomb unguarded and empty. They saw the young man (or was he an ageless man; an angel?) dressed in white. “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go! tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6-7)

Then they were no longer brave. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) The message of the angel and the fear of the disciples, as they ran away from the tomb, are among the most important verses in the Gospel of Mark.

I think the disciples ran in fear because they realized that they had been terribly wrong about Jesus. They had not given him enough credit. They had trifled with him.

They loved him, of course, and they knew he was capable of doing great and powerful things. He was able to say the most amazing things. But they had not understood who Jesus truly was, even when they used the right words to describe him.

What they wanted most was for Jesus to be an earthly Messiah; a king who would drive out the Romans and put Israel at the top of the world. They had worried about Jesus’ safety; and even about his wisdom, when it came down to that safety.

They weren’t sure how much sense he had. The times when Jesus spoke of his being killed and rising from the dead had scared them. The risk Jesus took by coming to Jerusalem had also scared them.

On their way to sweeten the dead body of Jesus, they thought how right they had been to be afraid. The sure knowledge that Jesus had been wrong and they had been right might have formed part of the compassion that gave them the courage to go to the tomb. They knew what they were doing and then, suddenly, when they reached the tomb, they realized that they were completely wrong.

The men had betrayed Jesus by running away from the guards who had come to arrest him. Peter had betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew who Jesus was. (Mark 14:66-72)

The women at the tomb realized that they had betrayed Jesus by trifling with him. They had betrayed Jesus all along by underestimating him, and even by coming to anoint his poor dead body.

Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead. (Mark 8:31) They had never believed this. They had never fully trusted him.

They were afraid because they had substituted their own idea of who Jesus should be for what he told them about himself and what he had come to do. Jesus had told them that, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

They had thought Jesus should rule them by defeating their enemies, and sitting on a throne, and making laws and judgments. Jesus had come to rule them by dying for them; by saving them from their sins.

They were afraid because Jesus told them how to follow him in a way that they could not face. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

They suddenly saw how Jesus could now claim the right to make them listen to him. Jesus could claim the right to make them do just as he had done. He had lost his life for their sake and risen from the dead, and they would have to follow him.

Coming to the empty tomb was like meeting Jesus for the first time. Jesus had actually always been a bit scary, but this was very scary. Jesus might do anything; ask anything. There is something wonderfully scary, about Easter: meeting Jesus for all he’s worth.

I am, by nature, painfully shy and timid. When Jesus first called me to the ministry, when I was twelve, I didn’t want to do it because I was afraid. The scariest thing I could think of was to stand up in front of a congregation and speak. It is still pretty scary.

After I was finally ordained, my first church was in a little lumber mill town on a lake next to the sand dunes on the south coast of Oregon. When I had been there for a while, I came across a case of child sexual abuse and I reported it to the sheriff’s department. The guy I reported was put in jail for a few weeks. But then he got out of jail, to wait for his trial.

When he got out he came back to Lakeside. I didn’t look him up, but I heard that he was telling people that he was going to come after me and shoot me.

I had been afraid of preaching. I never dreamt that going into the ministry could get me shot.

Another time, in another place, I got a call from a mother who was extremely worried about the mental state of her grown son, who lived with her and her husband. Her husband was out of town when she called me late one night. She asked me to come and talk with her son.

I did this with some fear. I also felt the voice of Jesus calling me there, through the voice of her fear. I went to their house, and went to his room, and found him holding a revolver to his head. I spent the next couple hours talking to him while he held that gun to his head.

The thought came to me, as I did this, that a really desperate man might shoot his counselor before he shot himself. I didn’t know what he might do if I got up to leave the room. Not knowing what to do next, I went on listening and talking until he promised he would not kill himself for a while.

A few days later, I had a session meeting, and the elders told me not to go there again; at least not under those circumstances. So when the mother called me again, with the same fear in her voice, I asked if her son might be a threat to himself again. She said that he was, so I called the sheriff, because God had spoken to me through the voice of my elders.

Do you know, it was almost as scary a thing just to call the sheriff, even knowing that Jesus had told me to do so through my elders? I was afraid of what that guy and his family would think of me.

Knowing what Jesus came to do actually helped me know what I needed to do. I knew that Jesus had given himself as a ransom, for me, and for that woman, and for her son. I knew that I needed to do what was right and trust the work and the mercy of Jesus. This gave me the responsibility to make that scary call.

We never know where following Jesus will take us. Following Jesus often makes whatever scared us, in the beginning, look very silly.

What is your fear of following Jesus? What is your fear of going to meet him where he calls you? Do you know that this may be the silliest of all the things that you might need to face? The best thing is to not be afraid and just go to meet him.

The women, on their way to the tomb, thought they knew where they had put Jesus. Then they found out that Jesus was not there at all. He was risen and he going before them into Galilee. Galilee was their old, familiar home but, it had really stopped being their home once they began to follow Jesus. They came to see that their real home was with Jesus. They could be at home only if they went with him.

Now, at the empty tomb, they were being called to go on a journey to meet Jesus. Now they knew that this would always be true. This is what the rest of their life would be. They could only be at home if they went to Jesus wherever he led them; wherever or whatever going to him meant, whatever choice it involved.

They found that Easter was the call of Jesus to go to him wherever he might lead them. Easter means the same thing for us. Jesus has died for us and risen from the dead for us, as a kind of ransom that sets us free.

The freedom of Easter means that we know who it is who calls us to follow him. Easter means our knowing that life, from now on, will always be a journey with Jesus, who is stronger than our sins, and stronger than death, and even stronger than our fears. From now on, our life will always be about going somewhere to meet Jesus as we travel together.