Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Camels and Jesus' Resurrection Have in Common

Some of you know that I thoroughly enjoy watching TED Talks. They are short presentations given by people from all walks of life, from all over the world, and on every topic imaginable!
       The latest TED Talk I listened to was by Latif Nasser (full video at the bottom of text). He told how he met Natalia Rybczynski, a paleobiologist who found a handful of fossils way above the Arctic Circle … and her discovery upended the way he saw the world.
       One day as she was hiking about 10 degrees latitude from the North Pole she looked down and saw a rust-colored stone that looked like a prehistoric splinter of wood. But, as she studied it further she saw patterns that looked more like bone. After a time she found about 30 pieces of this same bone, but she and her colleagues just couldn’t make it out. What was it?
       She sent a fragment to a profiler who tested it to determine what animal it belonged to. It turned out that the bone was the tibia from a cloven hoofed mammal.
A camel!
 A 9-foot tall, 2,000-pound camel!
For 40 million years camels lived within the Arctic Circle.
What?! Camels in the Arctic?!
Camels live in the desert!
How could they be found in the frigid, snow and ice-covered Arctic Circle? 
How could they live in that environment?

It was this discovery that upended Nasser’s world.
As an historian, he realized that it’s so easy to see the world in one way and think that it’s the only way to see it. But then, one discovery may upend your world and open up not only a new way of seeing the world, but understanding it and living in it and discovering who you are to be in it.

That is our story in the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
It’s a discovery, a truth that upends our world! It upends the way we think about our world, the way we see it, understand it, and live in it. It upends who we are to be in this world.

It upended the disciples’ world, and it took them a little while to work it out, to understand what it meant, to know how to live in it, which is why we find that Peter and 6 more disciples … 7 of the 11! … had gone fishing. They’d gone back to their old jobs!
The disciples had returned to Galilee where Jesus told them he would meet them, and they were waiting for him to come. And, they waited and waited. And then, Peter being the “gotta do something or go crazy” disciple said, “I’m going fishing.” 
Maybe that’s how it was. Maybe he didn’t know what to do with himself. Maybe he needed to do something familiar to ground himself, to help him process what it all meant. Maybe he didn’t understand that the resurrection of his Lord Jesus Christ upended his world so much that he was no longer Peter the fisherman.
It could be that the all-night fishing vigil reminded him of that. They fished all night and caught nothing. Nothing. Then, someone calls out from the beach (they didn't recognize Jesus), “You didn’t catch anything didja? … Throw the net on the right side of the boat and you’ll catch some fish!”
       In essence Jesus said, “Stop looking for camels in the Sahara. They’re in the Arctic! … Trust me and cast your net on the other side of the boat … and find life, teeming and ready to jump into your nets! … Trust me when I tell you the world is now a different place!”
And, 153 large fish swarm their net.

Peter knows only one person who can do this: Jesus, and he catapults himself into the water swimming to shore, to Jesus. OK, he did put on some clothes first, because some things in this world are still the same; clothing is necessary.
The disciples follow Peter hauling the fish to shore and Jesus makes them breakfast. Yes, their world is upended and yet, in some ways it’s still the same. They still need to eat. But, even in those daily necessities Jesus provides it in ways that are beyond expectation: 153 fish for breakfast! What abundance!
       And, in that early morning meal with Jesus, Peter learns the lesson of the resurrection; he learns who he is to be in this new upended world. He is no longer to be a fisherman … he is to be a fisher of men. But, he doesn't know how to do this. Jesus, in his typical rabbinic style leads him to the answer:
·    Love Jesus and tell others about the hope for new life that is theirs in Jesus Christ. Teach them what it means to follow Him by feeding them with the word of God. Show them how to live as Kingdom people.
·    Love Jesus and take care of those who cannot care for themselves – the weak, the poor, the despairing, … the widows, the orphans, the downcast. Offer them the hope and healing that only Jesus can give.
·    Love Jesus and feed others with the truth about God’s Kingdom … that it can be found by believing in Jesus Christ … his death for our sins and his resurrection … and our resurrection to a new life, a forever life in this new world.

Like Peter we are Kingdom People! The resurrection of Jesus Christ has upended our world, upended the way we think about it, the way we see it, understand it, and live in it. It has upended who we are to be in this world. 
Now, does that mean we quit our day jobs and begin a life as itinerant preachers? No. The resurrection doesn’t mean we leave this life behind, but we live it in a very different way. In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright says,
“The point of the resurrection is that … What you do with [this bodily life] … matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present – by painting, singing, sewing, praying, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself – this will last into God’s future.”

How we live this life will last into God’s future.
Resurrection life is now and lasts forever. God has upended this world by the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ and has made it possible for us to share in that life when we believe in Him and follow Him. That makes us Kingdom people and as Kingdom people we are to love Jesus … and love others to Him. We are to serve others in such a way that they begin to see the world in a very different way. They begin to see that camels lived in the Arctic and not just the Sahara. They begin to see that God loves us and we are made to love God and love one another in Jesus Christ … forever!
That is our story in the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
It’s a discovery, a truth that upends our world. It upends the way we think about our world, the way we see it, understand it, and live in it. It upends who we are to be … as Kingdom people … in God’s world. AMEN.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Been thinking about Light

Today is Epiphany ... a celebration of the Light of Christ made know to the Gentiles, the Magi from the East ... most likely Persia. On Christmas Eve I commented that I could smell the Light. The examples I gave were almost all an aspect of worship or an act of worship in praise and thanksgiving to God. Yes, in that sense we smell the Light of Christ in us and among us.

But, what about when we step outside the doors of our church?
How do we sense the Light of Christ in the world around us?

During Epiphany, the season of the Light of God revealed among us, I want to challenge myself (and maybe you too) to sense and find the Light of Christ
in the hungry,

the destitute,
More than 550,000 Americans are homeless on any given night.

the poor and needy,
Over 146 million people in the United States are poor or low income.

and the forgotten.

It's easy to sense the Light of Christ in the beauty of worship. But, this Epiphany season, may He open our eyes to see His Light in unexpected places ... in places and in people where He waits for us to share a cup of water ... or coffee, to offer a word of comfort or encouragement, to give a coat because we have two. The Light is in those places ... and people ... too. What Light do we miss when we pass them by?

Perhaps, as we practice these things we will experience a renewed sense God's Unfathomable Light (thank you Janet George!) and breathe in its scent of grace ... as John said in his gospel "grace upon grace" ... and peace and goodness and kindness. What blessings await us as we take in the scent of Christ's Light among us. Yes, what blessings. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Merry Christmas!

St. James' Episcopal Church, Lake George  New York
This is the interior of St. James' ready for our Christmas Eve celebration. I stood for a long time at the crossing taking in the beauty and wonder of the place and its promise for our evening together. It brought to memory a comment made to me by a little girl who had been taken by the wonder of worship. She said, "I can smell the Light." That is exactly right. On Christmas Eve, I could smell the Light. Evergreen. Frankincense. Myrrh. Tulips. ... I wish I could say snow, but it was an uncommon 52 degrees! Regardless, I could smell the Light. There was something in it ... something it brought to the space ... something you could breathe in and know it was from the light itself. Jesus is come ... God with us.

I don't know how it works that God became a human baby. Even more, I don't know how it works that God came and made His home among us, that He lives in us. Immanuel - God's presence with us and in us and among us and around us ... in Jesus. Maybe the only way to know the answer is to stop and stand and look and listen and ask Him to show you ... to breathe in the scent of His Light. 

The scent of His Light is in the beauty of worship. It's in the wonder of prayer. It's in the voices lifted in praise. It's in sharing the bread and drinking from the cup. It's in the hearing of ancient Scriptures ... come to fulfillment. It's in the passing of peace ... the Peace of the Lord be with you. ... Peace on earth, God's goodness to all people.

When I walked outside after our Christmas Eve services, although all the lights inside the church were turned off ... I could still smell the Light. The sky was filled with stars and an almost full moon. Astonishing.

May the Light of Christ be with you this Christmas!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Celebrate Michaelmas!

St. Michael the Archangel, Kiev Square, Ukraine

... or the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels! Wikipedia says this about the Archangel Michael, "He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence."* Um... understatement.

In Revelation 12 Michael and the angels of the Lord fight the dragon (Satan) and his angel followers ... in the final defeat. The deceiver is thrown out of heaven and then a loud voice cries out, "Now the salvation and the power and kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come for the accuser ... has been thrown down ... ! ... And, they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony ...." (12:10-11) If you could have anyone fight by your side in addition to Jesus (of course) St. Michael is a good choice.

A couple of years ago I took an iconography class where we painted an icon of St. Michael. Since then I have painted him over and over, wanting to listen to his voice and learn it. For the one he protects, his is a voice of hope and en-couragement and confidence. For the one against him, Michael's is a war cry that sounds his defeat. He has become an important player in my awareness of all that goes on in the heavenlies ... the protector against the dark of night and the one who sends messengers and warriors into the battle.

In the book of Daniel it is Michael who comes to the aid of Gabriel. It is because of Michael that Gabriel makes it through the war to Daniel delivering his message of hope and deliverance.

I find it an amazing thing to look back on the history of the Ukraine and see that above the city of Kiev stands this Archangel ... protecting, keeping ,fighting for its people. He stands above it on both ends of the square.

St. Michael the Archangel, Kiev Square, Ukraine

Do you see him on the other end, standing victorious upon the pillar? And, the people below ... under his protection, angel warriors sent by the Almighty to keep them.

Dr. Allen Ross says that one angel lifting one finger could defeat the enemies of God. That's an angel. What about an Archangel? We have the hosts of heaven keeping us under the protection of the blood of the Lamb. Praise be to God! Yes, praise be to God!

Lord, send your mighty angels to do battle for us and keep us in the powerful care of your hand.
In the Name ... Jesus ... Hashem ... AMEN.