Perhaps some of you are wishing you went camping with my son. Camping is not something I enjoy. I’m not a fan of sleeping on rocks and waking up with a strange rashes on my body.
Kathleen is always trying to get us to go. She says camping is a tradition in her family. I told her it was a tradition in everyone’s family before they invented the house. I love my wife but I always get a bit suspicious whenever she wants to take me out in the woods. The other day I saw her open a bottle of champagne with a hatchet and knew my days were numbered.
I like to think we have a strong relationship. Because the only argument we have is about where to go on vacation. I always want to go to the beach and she always wants to go with me.
Have you heard of that hotel where you sleep in a tree house? I think that’s weird. Not for people, but for the trees. I mean a tree house has to be the biggest insult to a tree. You’re basically saying, "Here, I killed your friend. Now hold him."
Speaking of killing and holding onto a friend…today’s reading from the Gospel of John immediately follows the Easter story and it takes us into a house where I imagine there’s not a lot of laughing going on.
READ: John 20:19-29
John doesn’t tell us if Jesus knocked or rang the bell. All we know is the disciples are locked away inside when Jesus appears. A couple of years ago, I went to the house I grew up in and rang the doorbell several times but the people inside wouldn’t answer. And I thought to myself…wow my parents are so rude.
Even if the door was locked, it can’t stop Jesus because God’s love knows no boundaries and has no barriers. We can close the curtains, turn out the lights, and pretend we’re not home, but God will still find a way into our messiness to give us peace.
And who doesn’t want a little peace? In our house my kids have actually made ‘noise’ a competitive sport. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. I keep their pictures in my wallet to remind myself where all my money went.
I wonder if Jesus shows his disciples the scars in his hand so they remember what he did for them. Think about that. The divine Son of God still bears the wounds of his humanity. That should tell us something about the scars we carry with us.
Right after throat surgery I was very self conscious about the giant scar on my neck. Whenever people stared at it I just said, “it’s not that bad. You should see the other guy.”
But when I see my scars, I am reminded that I’m alive. I’m important enough to God to still be here. Your scars, as painful as they might be, are a testimony to God at work in your life. You are important to God who comes to you and breathes the spirit of life upon you.
But we are more than alive… we are alive for a reason. And that reason is to continue the work of Jesus – to be the healing balm of God’s love in a world that is wounded and afraid.
Jesus is the perfection of God’s love made manifest. And he displayed this love perfectly on the cross. His death and resurrection was no joke. To prove it, here are some jokes about death…
What kind of fish can’t swim? Dead ones.
Where do zombies like to go swimming? The Dead Sea.
I had a friend who recently passed away. Her star sign was cancer. It’s kinda ironic because she was killed by a giant crab.
It’s ok to laugh at death. Jesus did. By showing himself to his disciples, we discover that not even death can stop God’s love and grace from entering into our lives and redeeming us back into God’s heart. This should make us want to rejoice, to be filled with laughter and joy.
We need to stop worrying about death and start living life. We are so focused on figuring out the meaning of life that we miss the spectacular view of heaven that is right in front of our eyes.
I’m guilty of this. I once spent an entire morning at the gym trying to figure out why someone would leave a water bottle in the Pringle can holder on the treadmill. Yes. I go to the gym because my doctor said I needed to lose some weight. So far all I’ve lost is my desire to go to the gym. But I keep the faith…hoping one day I will also lose my gym shoes.
Just like St. Paul said, “By faith we are save.” Jesus shows us that it’s by faith we received the Holy Spirit…which is like a personal trainer who pumps you up and helps you lift the weights of life.
The Spirit guides us and shapes us to be who we are called to be…the beloved children of God. Therefore Paul encourages us to “Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ did.” (Eph. 5:1-2). When we see and do what Jesus does, then we learn and teach the will of God for others to see heaven. And it is by this Spirit…Jesus comes to life in us. His resurrection wasn’t a one time event. It happens daily in you and me.
By the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit we receive, God’s perfect love is made manifest in us. We are the beloved sons and daughters of God – called to share this good news, and the joy of everlasting life that has been given to the world through Jesus Christ.
Someone asked me what’s the hardest part of parenting. I said, “hands down…the kids.” Our divine parent never tires, never gives up, never stops bursting through our locked hearts and closed minds. Jesus is the proof of how far God is willing to go for all the children.
I want to give my kids the best; I want to give them all the stuff I didn’t have or couldn’t afford. And then I want to move in with them so I can enjoy it. God wants to give you the very best that life has to offer. But are you willing to let God move in and share with you a spectacular view of heaven? Which reminds me of another joke…
A couple bought a new home and their realtor sent flowers the day after they moved in. It was a giant bouquet, with a big gold ribbon that read “Rest in Peace.”
Noticing it as a mistake, new owners called the florist. He was oddly overjoyed with the mix up. He told the couple, “I’m really sorry for the mistake, but if it makes you feel any better your flowers are sitting on a coffin with a card that reads, “Congratulations on your new home”.
May we all have the will to laugh at death by living life, abundantly.
Special thanks to Jim Gaffigan for his jokes on camping, and to the various anonymous comedy writers out there whose jokes were culled off the internet for this special service.
He Is More
Angry, hurt, and confused, Jesus’ disciples look up at the cross and think to themselves, “He is no more.” But they can’t storm into heaven and demand a refund from God. All they are able to do is hide away – fearing for their lives. What they don’t know is the story of Jesus doesn’t end with him being nailed to a cross…unlike Polly, who had been nailed to the perch. They will discover Easter does not mean Jesus “is no more.” Instead, they will find out he is “more” than they realized. This event will be a defining moment for them. As well as for us.
So let us go to tomb, where Mary’s Easter morning is nothing more than a painful extension of Good Friday. With every step she takes her broken heart weeps, “He is no more.” Out of great love for her Lord, Mary risks her life on many levels to go and properly prepare his body for burial. It’s “early in the morning, while it was still dark” when Mary sees or senses something isn’t right. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty. And she runs to alert the others. Right away Peter and John race one another to see for themselves.
While John wins the race, Peter is first one to go in to the tomb. Jesus’s body is indeed gone. Yet a familiar spirit lingers in the darkness. John instantly recognizes it and knows God’s hand at work. And “He believed without understanding.”
John is our “faithful witness.” The one who believes God’s words are true. He doesn’t need all the pieces of the puzzle to get the big picture. He remembers what Jesus said and the miracles that Jesus did; and he puts two and two together. Jesus is alive. Everything he foretold is true.
This is John’s defining moment. When all hope seemed lost, he recognized God’s presence – reordering and redefining everything. By seeing and believing this, his life is forever changed. For the faithful witness, Easter is easily understood and embraced. Even if it causes others to doubt and run away.
Peter has spent the last couple of days running away from Jesus. But now he runs to him. And when he gets there, he finds a reality that he can no longer run from. This is his defining moment.
Peter is our ‘fearful witness,’ the one who is unsure of what he believes or is too afraid to face what he is called to do. How many of us can identify with him? We have a good sense of God’s presence and power...but we’re too afraid to fully or faithfully commit.
We’ll go to church every now and then, and maybe do something nice when we don’t have to. But that’s about as far as we are able to go. Our life is complicated enough, without the added stress of religion. It’s okay to have doubts, uncertainties about your faith. In fact I always invite you to ask questions. Because that’s how you find the answers you seek. But when your faith isn’t engaged, it isn’t nurtured or cared for. And it does not bear much good fruit, if any at all. Jesus is alive. And because he is…so are you.
Easter reminds us that once we see God’s power and glory in the resurrected Christ, there is no turning back. In our darkest nights, in our heartbreak and suffering, in our fear and anxieties, throughout life and beyond death, God is with us, ever faithful and steadfast in love. But are we with God?
Through Jesus Christ, God came for you, to redeem and redefine you, so that you can be your greatest, truest, fruit bearing self. God wants you. And is calling you by name. How will you respond?
When the other two leave, Mary stays and weeps. In her pain and grief, Jesus meets her – calling her by name. “Mary!” This startles her… but it doesn’t surprise her. Having witnessed her own brother Lazarus come back to life, she knows what God is capable of.
Mary is our ‘first witness;’ the first to see, the first to understand, the first to embrace, and the first to go out and proclaim. Jesus is alive. And so are we. It’s time for us to awaken the world with this good news.
Easter does not mean Jesus’s life is no more… but that Jesus is more than life itself! And through our faith in him we too become more. And so we are called by name to make more of our life. With Christ as our guide, we can love our neighbors more, and be more forgiving and more understanding of other people’s circumstances. We can feed more, clothe more, and care more for those who are sick and dying. We can share more mercy and grace. We can promote more peace, more justice and more fairness in our daily lives.
Why is this important? Look around your neighborhood and you will see there is so much more that needs to be done before heaven and earth become one again. To borrow a wonderful thought from our friend Rev. Dawn, “It important we know the Easter story, but it’s more important for us to go out and live it.”
Whether we’re fearful or faithful, Jesus died so that we might live. And to live our lives in such a way that those around us can’t help but see God’s love and grace being offered for them. We are made for more. Mary, Peter and John finally get it. This is what it means to be alive, to live life in abundance –without the fear of death, or rejection or whatever. Jesus calls us by name, and shows us what it means to truly live.
This year our church has taken on the challenge to see and do what Jesus does, so we can learn and teach the will of God for others to follow. I am challenging you today to do this as well. Because this is how we are defined. And how the world will be redefined for all eternity.
In Christ, God redeemed the world so we can become our truest self – brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ…God’s beloved children. As St. Paul wrote, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Easter is a time to invite Christ to live in you. And to embrace your resurrection life with abundance.
And so I challenge you to live it out in the world in such a way that when people see you, all they are able to see is Jesus. And then they too can believe.
Jesus is more. And so are you. Amen.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday. Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Publishing, 2015.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossy Bass, 2010.
Stewart, Benjamin. christiancentry.org. March 31, 2013. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-02/sunday-march-31-2013 (accessed March 25, 2016).
Taylor, Barbra Brown. Learning To Walk in the Dark. New York: Harper One, 2014.
Long before we had the freedom to exercise our rights of free speech, there were these people who lined the streets waving palm branches and cheering loudly. They are risking their lives by welcoming Jesus and calling him the King of Israel. And they do it knowing full well that King Herod had eyes and ears everywhere.
And there were plenty of eyes looking at Jesus, as he rode towards the Temple – not on a warhorse, but a young colt just as the prophet Isaiah had said. Neither the disciples or even the most devout religious figures fully grasped this precession. They won’t understand until after his resurrection that Jesus came not to kill for their freedom but to die for it.
As the week progressed without so much as a riot, the number of these hope-filled people dwindled. And by Friday, there was only a handful of his most faithful followers left at the foot of the cross watching their beloved king take his final breath. We know how this day plays out. We know the joy that Easter will bring. But they don’t. They only know what they feel. Sad. Scared. And maybe a little bit betrayed. It’s hard to accept the death of a loved one and not think that God has let you down somehow.
But Easter is proof that God doesn’t betray us or let us down. Like Jesus on the cross, God lifts us up to places that can be difficult to understand; especially when your world is falling apart.
I’ll admit there’s been times I felt like God betrayed my faith. The job I didn’t get. The child we couldn’t have. The relationship that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. My list is huge. I suspect I’m not alone. Have you ever felt angry and hurt by God, or doubted God’s love or felt disappointed because your hopes, desires, and expectations that you faithfully prayed for never manifested?
Sometimes it feels like God lets us down - leaving us to hold only a broken heart and shattered faith. For many people, this is what makes them walk away from God altogether. Let’s not forget God knows a thing or two about being heartbroken and let down. God watched his beloved son die at the hands of those he was sent to save.
But on that dark day, as blood and tears pooled at the foot of the cross, God did not blame us or abandon us. Instead, God stayed ever the more faithful, pouring out nothing but steadfast love upon the whole of creation. But again, this can be hard to see when your world is falling apart.
I know there have been days when I’ve wanted to leave my faith on my pile of hurt. And just walk away. But I’ve also had those days where the only thing more painful than believing God has let me down, is the emptiness of not having God in my life. When I take the time to honestly look at my disappointment, it often has something to do with me taking my eye off what I am called to do. And that is to watch what Jesus does, and follow his example.
More often than not, I’m like the people who waved palm branches that day. They cheered and cried out – faithfully believing God is hearing their prayers and is coming to set them free. They were blindsided, because their hearts were focused on their needs. And rightfully so, because they were living under the rule of a foreign power. Jesus was supposed to ride in on a white horse and save the day. But when they saw their king on a colt, and heard his message of peace and love instead of violence and war, they were quickly disillusioned. Why would God betray them like that?
They were so focused on the pain in their hearts that they couldn’t see God’s heart cracked open for them. And quickly their faith shifted from cries of “God save us” to angry shouts of “Crucify him!” We still make this same mistake. Our eyes are not focused on Jesus. So when life gives us heartache, it’s hard to see what he does, much less do what he commands of us.We are blinded by our own desires and will that we forget that it’s in God’s will where our hearts ought to be.
Jesus taught us that the key to avoiding disappointment with God ... is to align our will with God’s will…even in the most difficult of circumstances. In doing this we too are able face our own cross and say boldly, with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Living out the will of God does not mean you always get what you want, or that bad things won’t happen. They will because heaven and earth are not yet fully aligned. The human heart is not completely united with God’s. This is why it’s imperative we keep our eye on Jesus, who shows us the way back to God’s heart. And to live our life according to God’s will. For as the psalmist wrote, “those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).
The cross is the perfect example that God can make good things happen out of even the worst case scenarios. From one of the most hideous instruments of death comes the greatest gift of life. An eternal life of unwavering love. No matter what you’re facing today, or what has happened in the past, just remember what God did for you on the cross.
God sent Jesus to the world, not to condemn us but to redeem us, return us back to God’s heart. He was chosen, blessed, and broken on the cross, so that our sin could be exchanged for his righteousness. When all eyes are on him, then heaven and earth become aligned.
A few verses after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he tells his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). If we take these words as truth, then we can see that the cross is the bridge between God’s heart and our own. And Jesus is the one who pays our toll.
By putting God’s will above his own, Jesus was raised up; both on a cross and in great glory. As a result, those who follow Jesus, in life and through death, will not be let down by God, but lifted up to be united in God’s glory.
Jesus is the king on a donkey. He is the savior on a cross. Today he reigns from his heavenly throne. And sets you free from the slavery of sin. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End – cursed by the world but blessed by God. By his death and Easter resurrection the door to true life is open to all who choose to cross that bridge and enter into God’s glory.
It is my hope that you will never take your eyes off Jesus, because in his crucified and glorified heart you will see yourself.
When you feel like you just want to run away from God or abandon your faith completely – just remember those who first looked upon the cross. Put yourself in their shoes, feel their pain and disappointment, and then look up. Put your eyes on Christ and see what they saw – our beloved king with outstretched arms.
There you will find the heart of God waiting to receive you with open arms and steadfast love. God who is always with you, always ready to lift you up with an eternal embrace where nothing in the world can ever knock you down.
Fuller, Steve. God’s Promise for the Disappointed. wwwdesiringgod.org, Dec.12, 2012. (April 10, 2019)
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey: a Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. (HarperCollin: 1997).
Kathleen and I used to live in a small community of ruffians and misfits who made up a unique kind of family for us. And it was rare for an evening to go by without a few of us sitting around the old metal patio table – sipping wine, singing songs, sharing laughs, and sometimes tears. Long into the night we spoke of our thoughts, dreams, and idea’s like families share stories of their varied day.
I loved coming home and slipping into whatever conversation was happening in that moment, to immerse myself completely in the Spirit, and be fully present in their lives. Whether my heart was happy or heavy, there was always a seat at that table. And fellowship with people who loved me as I was. It was one of the best examples of church that I have ever experienced.
I like to imagine Jesus felt the same Spirit as he sat at his friend’s table – trying to make sense of what is about to unfold in his life. Like so many of us, Jesus needed more than a meal. He also needed human companionship and comfort. A gift he knew his friends could give him.
Luke’s gospel tells us about another meal in the same house. In this story Martha plays the dutiful hostess while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping. But Jesus is quick to remind her that the hospitality of both sisters are important. We need both food and conversation.
A few weeks ago we hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for our friends and neighbors, as well as a few of their friends who came unexpectedly. All day and most of the evening, Kathleen was busy decorating the house, preparing the food, and and making sure everyone was fed and had fun. My job was to do what she told me to do. Which included welcoming our guest and catching up with the latest stories in their lives. Food and conversation.
This week we received a lovely card that said, “Thank you for a wonderful party. You all share your love so freely and have a gift of making everyone feel important.” Her words sum up John’s story beautifully. Life is about making people feel loved, and important. Because they are.
This is what Martha and Mary did, Each in their own unique way. I like to think they learned it by being mindfully present with Jesus. As we are discovering, we can learn and teach the will of God simply by watching and doing what Jesus does. Especially around the table, that alter in everyone’s home where God’s glory can be praised and exulted.
Martha honors Jesus by pouring out her love with food and wine. And Mary expresses her love by pouring out of the costliest perfume on Jesus’ feet. Both are sacred and holy acts towards God and humans. The disciples are watching closely. And what they learn will set the foundation for their ministry.
If we put ourselves in this story, then we might learn something too – especially what it means to be a church. In this unique gathering, we see church it’s not a building or dogma, it’s people gathered in Jesus’ name to share the gifts and intimacies of life together. It’s table fellowship and hospitality at its finest.
By watching these two amazing women, we learn how to be people who love. People who love God. People who love others. And people who love to serve both. With their gifts Martha and Mary “add to the banquet of love; filling the entire house with the exquisite aroma of thanksgiving.” (Whitley)
What we need to know is this. Jesus calls us to be more like Mary and Martha, and less like Judas who doesn’t understand such beauty and gratitude. He sees what Mary did for Jesus as useless extravagance because there are poor people in the world who could use the money. While he makes a good point, John believes that may not be his real intention. Jesus response is less of a rebuke and pretty much a lesson we can all learn from. “Leave her alone. Watch and learn.”
To borrow again from Katerina Whitley who poetically wrote, “When a heart is filled to overflowing, don’t quench it. When a throat sings of love and praise, don’t silence it, just because others are weeping.”
Mary spills her perfume so recklessly simply because Jesus is there. She doesn’t want to waste another moment holding back her love and gratitude. Judas doesn’t get it…because his heart is elsewhere. Jesus is present in this moment, and a mindful Mary feels the need to be extravagant. Not only is this a great lesson for us, but it’s also a great picture of God who knows a thing or two about being extravagant with love and grace. The food and conversation of life.
Jesus tells the group he will no longer be with them in the flesh, but that they will always have the poor… so serve them with the same love and extravagance. For just as we serve the least of these our brothers and sister, so too do we serve our Lord.
As the church, and as her people, let us never forget that a meal is an opportunity to define who Jesus is and to share God’s love with everyone. Because of what these siblings have done for him, Jesus “will carry the aroma of their love and devotion with him” to Jerusalem, to the cross and into the grave. Setting our hearts towards Easter, God gives us this assurance that such love will resurrect and ascend with him as well. And the aroma of his spiritual gift will linger – an open invitation for all to dine in the house of our Lord.
In the midst of all the moral and emotional poverty in our world today, God continues to call upon us to welcome others with arms of kindness. And to invite everyone to come, sit and feast on everlasting life given to all through Jesus Christ.
As the church, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to share the good news – proclaiming God’s love by being God’s love. To set the table where laughter breaks into song, and bellies overflow with tears of joy.
The love we give is an open invitation to sit in the company of Jesus himself, the Christ who reigns in us, through us, and all around us, now and forever, Amen.
Boff, Leonardo. Table Fellowship: Rebuilding Humanity. Translated by Anne Fullerton, April 18, 2008 http://www.leonardobuff.com.
Gonzalez, Justo. Living By The Word. ChristianCentury.org, April 7, 2019.
Whitley, Katerina. Comfort in the Midst of Suffering. Episcopalchurch.org. April 7, 2019.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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