Daily Devotional: Becoming God with Skin On

In these first days after Easter Sunday, I’m continuing to share from my 2013 Series at Diversity in Faith church, “Discovering Your New Life in Christ”, which fell between Easter Sunday and Pentecost.  After I’ve finished sharing these posts, I plan to continue to my series on prayer.

I hope it helps renew and strengthen you in your walk with Christ.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah in hat thinking

New Life In Christ, Part 3: Becoming God With Skin On

easter iconHe is risen! He is risen again!

For those who are just joining our series, we are continuing to look at the accounts of the forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples, risen from the dead, and the lessons they teach us about the new life possible for you and me because Jesus is risen.

This week will be continuing with a passage in John 20.19-23.

As you turn there let me set the context:

Have any of you ever felt you were at a point that is hopeless, helpless, and without a future?

I know I have. I remember a time a little after the first church plant I worked with in southern CA. This was church plant and had begun because of encountering transgender people who desired to know God and had no place to go to hear about Jesus and be welcomed. We poured our heart, soul, and life into that ministry. We probably spent every waking moment working on it.

This was because I forgot. I forgot Jesus’ example to take time to go out to our quiet place and be. I forgot to make time for myself.  I forgot to make time for my marriage.  I didn’t plan out how to provide for ourselves in that ministry, being so swept up in the call of God I at least didn’t count the cost.

I remember everything hitting the fan. Finances ran out and we couldn’t pay the bills. We were offered a place to stay with family, but it meant leaving the ministry in the hands of another minister.  Heart-broken, not knowing where to turn, we began again.

brokencarOn the way there, I hit another snag.  A tire popped on the freeway in New Mexico.  There, physically stranded, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember the heartache when, as our car was hauled away by a tow truck, it looked like everything was over.  Dark shadows seemed to fall like a solid sheet over me, and I saw no light ahead.

Have you been there?

That is how Jesus’s disciples were at the moment we join them in this text. For them, their world is ending. Their hopes and dreams lay shattered. They know Jesus lies dead, buried, killed as a traitor.

If you would, lets now read this together.

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were

behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus

came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this,

he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they

were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the

Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you

don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Would you pray with me?

mother-and-childHoly Spirit, mother of all living and light of life, embrace us with your love. As you came on these men and women giving them new life, fall upon us. As we discuss your work and Jesus’ words, help us be made new by your presence. Show us your will. Help us hear your call. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Does anything stand out to you about the new life Jesus brings in this passage?

I have four aspects of the new life that stand out to me here.

First, we find in this story that at their darkest moment, when God seems far away and they have shut themselves off from everything, they find Jesus is already in their midst. In that moment sitting in my car alone, tear-filled and broken, in New Mexico it seemed to me that I was all alone. I wanted, like them, to shut myself into some cave, lock the door, and hide from the world. When they do this, what do they find? That Jesus appears, standing beside them.

jesus resurrection appearance 1Now some scholars will sit and wrangle over science and metaphysics to try and explain how Jesus walked through a shut door. I think they get this story all wrong. You see I read in Ephesians that when Jesus ascended he rose to fill all things. To me that means that because Jesus is risen, because each and every one of us now share in new life through Jesus, we no longer have a place we can go or a thing we can do where the risen Jesus is not present.

You see Jesus didn’t have to do a magic trick to walk through the locked door to where they were. No, Jesus was already there. As Jesus tells them later in Matthew 28 — “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. All Jesus did was open their eyes so that they could see he was present, though they faced their darkest night and locked the world out for fear.

Friend, do you face darkness? Do you have your moments when you see no hope, and want to lock the doors to the world and its pain. Know that Jesus is already present with you. Jesus is already standing beside you. Always, ever, Jesus is saying to you “lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”.

jesus-park-benchTurn to someone and say “Your new life in Christ means you are never alone”. Turn to someone else and say “Jesus promises I am with you always, even to the end”

Secondly Jesus shows us that our new life brings peace with God.

What are some barriers to peace with God? How does Jesus’ resurrection help us find a new life at peace with God?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve become religious enough, worked hard enough, obeyed enough commandments, or begun to fit another’s image to have peace with God. Peace with God is offered to you and me as a free gift, something we can experience simply by faith, which is trusting God with your heart and life. Have you done that? Will you trust God and accept God’s friendship?

Thirdly we see that Jesus’ new life is not something we experience alone.

This is pointed to by Jesus breathing on the men and women gathered in front of them and saying “receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus is actually acting out a scene from the Bible:

Master Potter in Genesis 2 when God creates the first person Adam. There God gathers up clay and dirt, shaping it into a statue of God, and breathes into it the breath of life. Jesus does the same thing but instead of gathering clumps of dirt Jesus gathers the men and women who have followed him, and breathes on them.

He shows that this new life is not something we can experience on our own. Alot of times people have this idea. They say “I can just worship God at the fishing hole; I don’t need to be around other believers”. But when Jesus breathes the breath of the Holy Spirit on them, it is on them when they are together, gathered remembering Jesus.

Turn to someone and say “I need you, You need me, we are all a part of God’s family”. Turn to someone else and say “You are important to me. I need you to survive”.

You see, you can’t experience this new life all alone but need others to help you grow. How can other people, at church, in our small group Bible studies, who we foster spiritual friendships with, help us grow in the new life Jesus gives us? How can we be ones that help others grow?

Not only is it other people we need but we need God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is God as God comes to holy spirit 1live within your life, within the lives of others around you like aid filling your lungs, even flowing through your blood. God the Holy Spirit’s presence brings life to the plants, animals, and newborn babes. We need to be open to the presence of God the Holy Spirit within our own life, within the lives of every living thing. And important to remember, we need to learn to look for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those around us — because in any person, friendly or hateful to us, Christian or of another faith, even hardened atheist, if we look with eyes of faith we can encounter God the Holy Spirit in their life.

My friend Bob McLeod puts it like this, in his commentary on the Gospels:

“A Christian should always be trying to communicate with that bit of [God] that resides in every person. ‘Don’t just talk to that individual personality … don’t just look at that person as someone full of ambition and selfishness and personal strategy. If you try to negotiate with that, the job is far beyond you. Remember instead that in that other person’s heart [God] is trying to reach out to the [Holy Spirit] in you.’ .. [the Holy Spirit] is everywhere and in everything, and if we wish to attach ourselves primarily to [the Holy Spirit], as opposed to a tradition or personal interest, Christ will unlock doors for us in some very surprising ways”

So you, I, all of us, cannot thrive in our spiritual life alone. We need the Holy Spirit and each other to thrive in this new life.

There is a final part to this message is probably best pictured by an exercise a friend from school shared with me. What I am going to do is start with this person here. I am going to whisper something in their ear. Then they will act it out to the person beside them. Then that person will whisper the message to the next person’s ear, who acts it out … until we come to the last person in the room. If anyone has ever done this example, you know how

We have been sent forth by Jesus as He was sent by the Father.

We have been sent forth by Jesus as He was sent by the Father.

by the end the message is oh, so different.

I share this example because it illustrates the final message about the new life this story gives. After miming shaping them into a statue of God like Adam was, Jesus says “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. How was Jesus sent? John 1 tells us that Jesus came as God -with-skin-on. We are sent like Jesus to be God with skin on, so that when people encounter our life it is like they are seeing God in a way they can touch, they can feel, they can hear.

Obviously we can’t do this perfectly — because unlike Jesus we screw up. But we can be someone through whom God appears with skin on for others. Have any of you had people whose lives radiated God’s love, goodness, compassion, or mercy in your life in such a way that for you they were like God with skin on?

I know some in your life who brought the presence of God with skin on to you may not have quote a Bible verse to you at all, or even mentioned God directly. I bet if I asked too you probably have some people who sent mixed messages in their life. Maybe they voiced they were about “God” but their lives sent messages of rejection, condemnation, selfishness, abuse.

We can send send the wrong message, failing to be God with skin on — or embrace our new life in Christ and be God with skin on to others.

How can we be God with skin on ourselves?

body-of-christ.independencemochurchJesus points to one key word in his words on forgiveness — by radiating forgiveness to others, showing them by how we live that God has forgiven and loves them; showing them God’s forgiveness and mercy. This is a part of what we mean when we say in our church’s mission statement that our mission is to welcome all people to join in healing our world.

In closing I want to give you a few minutes to reflect on what image of God you are presenting. I have put some pla-do on the corner table. As you prepare to come to communion, take some of the pla-do and shape something — maybe a heart for loving, a hug for forgiveness — of some aspect of God you feel called to put skin on more in your life. When you come to communion, if you are comfortable share what it is before we pray and break bread together.

Remember here at Diversity in Faith you don’t have to be a member of this church or any church to take communion but simply come open to God, ready to experience new life. All are open at Christ’s Table.

Daily Devotional: Mirrors and Dead Weight

I’m continuing in my daily devotional to highlight messages I gave in a series on our new life in Christ following Easter, 2013, at Diversity in Faith, a Progressive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville where I was serving that year.   I hope this will help keep our minds focused a bit longer on the meaning of resurrection and new life in our own lives, before I return to my series on prayer.

I hope it blesses you this week!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah spring hat

New Life In Christ, Part 2: Mirrors and Dead Weight

Risen Jesus speaks to MaryHappy Easter! He is Risen! Though often we fail to recognize it, is still Easter.  In the Christian year, Easter is not just one Sunday but continues for 40 days until Ascension Sunday, ultimately climaxing in the celebration of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Can anyone remember what we talked about last week?

As you may recall we are talking about the new life Jesus’ resurrection makes possible for you and for me. We mentioned that we would each week until Pentecost look at a different time one of Jesus’ followers encountering Jesus risen from the dead offering new life to help see what is possible for us with the new life we have in Christ.

Today I want to look at the story of Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in John 20, verses 11-18.

John 20

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

African version of Jesus with Mary in GardenWhat are some things Mary’s experience of Jesus taught her about the new life Jesus is offering her?

First of all, Mary Magdalene’s story suggests that new life in Christ shows us that God already loves us and already believes in us.

Mary’s back story helps us The description in Luke 8.2 of Mary as one from whom seven spirits had been sent out suggests Mary had some sort of mental illness when she met Jesus, since that was a common description for what we call schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder in Jesus’ day. Such illnesses rarely just happen.

Usually someone is deeply hurt to get in such a place. Likely Mary Magdalene had experienced years of abuse, mistreatment, heartache and rejection before she became mentally ill. Likely she experienced even more after she got the title “Mary with the seven spirits” – crazy Mary! – from those around her. Yet Jesus was different. When Jesus met her he had not judged her. He loved her for who she was. He had shown her a compassion she had never seen. He had treated her as a child of God,

dear, loved, accepted just as she was. When she met Jesus somehow she was changed. The Bible doesn’t explain how that mental illness no longer wrecked Mary’s life, only that Jesus healed it. I wonder if it was less a miracle in the form of hands being set right and more a miracle of the quality of his love. His love was so deep, so true, so healing, that Mary could not but experience and begin to be healed. Around Jesus Mary was no longer crazy Mary but loved Mary, embraced Mary, respected Mary.

AII80457Experiencing this healing power of love is a part of what your new life in Christ, when you embrace it, can do for you.

James Allison, one of my favorite theologians pictures the difference between the love our new life in Christ gives us and the love the world has taught us to expect in our old life in the following dialogues.

First, here is one picturing our Old life–

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.

The new life Jesus offers, which Mary has already experienced, is so very different.

Notice is Allison’s dialogue about the New life Christ makes possible –

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of [garbage] how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But …

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But …

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the [garbage pile of a life]?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.

The power of God’s love heals Mary … and in your new life in Christ, a powerful love is available that when you embrace it is healing for you.

middle eastern mary magdaleneYet this new life does more. There are suggestions within the Gospel that Jesus not only loved and accepted Mary, but also drew her in as one of his own students, teaching her the Gospel and the Scriptures. Outside the Bible early Christian writings tell stories of Mary Magdalene sitting at Jesus’ feet as a student of a rabbi, learning to teach the Bible for herself. Early Christians later call Mary Magdalene an apostle just like Peter, James, and John. Not only did Jesus love her with an unconditional love that helped her accept herself and heal from whatever abuse she had faced but Jesus also believed in her. When others looked at Mary Magdalene they saw a failure, a broken woman, a crazy person. When Jesus looked at her he saw potential. He saw a woman who could be counted on.

He saw someone whom God had a plan for. A woman who can be counted on.

God believes in Mary when no one else does. God believes in you. Turn to someone and say “God believes in you more than you believe in yourself”. Turn to someone else and say “With God all things are possible for you”. This is a part of what new life in Christ is about.

Not only does this speak to us about our broken pasts. But also as a church we say our mission is to welcome all people, without prejudice, into finding their place in God’s family. What can we do to let the Mary Magdalene’s of our community find their place in God’s family, despite everything the world says about them?

Secondly, I think its important to notice that she is shown that seeming ends and broken places can be places we experience this new beginning.

mary magdalene kinda native american lookingMary Magdalene already had a lot of broken places in her life, as we just discussed. And now Jesus, the first one to believe in Mary, the first to show her unconditional love, had been taken from her – beaten, left for dead. To Mary it must have looked like an end, another broken place in our life. To Mary this new life in Christ must have looked like a dead end all of the sudden. Yet in encountering the risen Jesus Mary finds out things are not always what they appear.

Early mystics used to say that God allowed broken places in our life not to harm us but so they might become windows through which the light of God shines through. Now coming to the tomb Mary doesn’t see signs of death but is surrounded by signs of new life: She sees angels like the ones who appeared to the prophet Daniel proclaiming a new day was dawning. She sees Jesus alive again – appearing like a gardener who brings life out of dead ground. That Jesus is like a gardener is important because Adam was created as a gardener. This is a sign of God has begun making all things new.

What looked like the ultimate brokenness is not an end but a new beginning. Through the resurrection life Jesus gives Mary, her broken place has become a window through which God’s light shines through.

What is your broken place? The fact that you have been born again to living hope means that if you open yourselves to the light of God in this dark place, the brokenness you feel need not be your end but can become a window through which God’s light shines into your life and, through you, to others.

As you invite the new life Christ makes possible into that broken place it can become a window, a place in your life God’s light shines.

black mary magdaleneFinally a part of entering new life is to quit clinging to the old. Jesus hints at this when Mary so glad to see him greets him with his old name – Rabboni, or teacher– and grabs on to him, literally clings to him so as to not let go. Mary in some way wants to hang on to how she had come to know Jesus and who it had made her be.

On the one hand, who can blame her? Jesus had loved her like no-one else. In a land where she was known only as crazy Mary, in a world where women were to be seen not heard, Jesus had taken Mary on as his student, breaking all the rules to teach her Scripture, and to equip her just as much as the men in his life to be able to teach the disciples.

Mary saw Jesus and hoped this meant she could cling to him, and keep to the life she knew. Jesus says – no, you cannot cling to me. You cannot cling to how you have known me – as teacher – or how you have known yourself – as student. You certainly can’t cling to the names the world gave you of crazy, of useless, of worthless. Instead you must let me go ahead of you, prepare a place for you, and then you must follow me into a role of life, a place of life you could not expect.

It is easy for us to do as Mary and try to cling to our past, or dig our heels into our present. Even though the new life is available to us, we can refuse to embrace all its benefits when we do this. We can cling on to the way of relating to God we always have had. We can cling to those old patterns of life that are destructive. We can live in the past, reliving over and over again our abuse, our heartache, our pain. We can continue to stay hooked on the bottle or the pill. We can even cling by clinging on to a picture of Jesus or a way of worshipping or serving God we have come to be comfortable with,

forgetting that Jesus always goes ahead of us, preparing a place for us, calling us to follow him out of our comfort zones to something new.

What are you clinging to, instead of letting it go so you can see Jesus go ahead, prepare a place for you, and call you out of the comfortable into the new?

I have placed two things in this room I want you to engage with as we close.

First in the corner I have placed a big cardboard window. Take a moment as we end and go to the window and write down a broken place in your life right now. As you do so invite the life of Christ into it, so it can become a window through which you see God. Take time to ask and look for God each time you face that brokenness, so God can show you how it is becoming a window.

Also I have placed strips of paper on the table beside them. I want to challenge you as we conclude, to think of what things you have been clinging on to which have kept you from fully entering into the new life God has for you or, if you have entered it, what comfort zones you are clinging to that keep you from fully being God’s light and love to others.

Take time to figure out what it is. Write them down on the slip. And then pray a prayer giving that to God. When you feel you have – whether this week, next month, or next year, come back here and lay that strip on the altar to God.

Daily Devotional: Discovering Your New Life Now

empty tombIn these first days after Easter, I thought it would be good to reflect on what it means that Jesus is risen and alive in us today, before returning to my series on prayer.   I thought a great way to do that is to share a few messages from a series on the new life Jesus’ resurrection makes possible a few years ago.  This is the first such message, “Discovering Your New Life Now”, preached at Diversity in Faith in Fayetteville, NC, originally given one week after Easter Sunday.

I hope it blesses you!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah pic

===

Discovering Your New Life Now

Happy Easter! He is risen!

It sounds weird to hear a week later doesn’t it?

dancing jesus 1Last week we celebrated Easter – remembering how God willingly offered God’s self to us in Jesus, dying our death, tasting our hell, and then rising victorious over it on Easter Sunday. Last Sunday we saw the wonder of how the first Christians came to the tomb of Jesus expecting to say a final farewell, only to find Jesus had gone on ahead of them. They found Jesus already to be alive in their life, calling them out of their pain, heartache, despair, and loss into a new future.

And then … a week passed for all of us. A week where I bet many of us gave no thought to the Easter story. A week that for some was full of energy and joy. So many exciting things going on … who has time for prayer, or new beginnings? For some it was a week that made the thought of new life hard … so many shadows, heartaches, and pains falling over the horizon of their lives.

Suddenly last week’s celebrations look so far away – and Easter seems just a day on some distant calendar, something that happened there and then, with no pressing meaning for today.

easter-mondayThe early Christians knew this and for this reason, before the days of commercialized Easter sales and chocolate bunnies, they chose to celebrate Easter for over a month. For 40 days they would take time out each Sunday to celebrate the resurrection – greeting each other with “Happy Easter!” and “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Because of this – and because of how easy it is to forget – we are taking time to help us see what it means that Jesus was not just alive again one day, some 2000 years ago, but continues to be alive today, as a living presence in our life, and as someone who goes ahead of you and me calling us to join him in a new future.

So lets try that again – “Happy Easter!” “He is risen!”

The next several weeks I want to look at just one result in our lives that the fact Jesus is risen brings to us, but before I get into what I have for us – can anyone share what it means to you personally that Jesus is not just some dead historical figure but still risen today, right now is a living presence in your life ?

(Allow discussion)

easter iconThere are more wonderful results to Jesus being risen, alive and present in our lives today, then we could hope to ever address. The one area I want to focus in on the most comes from 1 Peter 1.

1 Peter 1.3-4

3 May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you.

What does this verse tell us Jesus’ resurrection brings?

Jesus’ resurrection brings a new life for you and me. This is what it says we have been born anew through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

You see somehow through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God not only did something to Jesus but to me and to you.

Turn to somebody and say You no longer have to live the life you’ve always had anymore. In Jesus you’ve got a new start.

mother-and-childEarly Christians put it like this – God became a son of humanity, so that sons and daughters of humanity might become children of God.

(Pass out “birth certificates” and say:)

Write your name on this birth certificate.

Let it remind you — you have a new life. The moment Jesus rose again, it is as if from God’s perspective you and I were born a second time.

What does this rebirth mean? It means the moment Jesus rose from the dead, you were included.

From eternity past, before time was time, Jesus as God the Son had always been embraced by the love, mercy, joy of God the Father; from time before time Jesus had joined the Father moving through life in the arms of the mothering Holy Spirit of God. This embrace, this love, this dance Jesus shared in is the dance at the heart of the universe that makes the atoms dance, the planets spin in their orbits, and life work.

24 The TrinityWhat does this rebirth mean? Before we have a choice in the matter, before we can do right or royally screw up, before we can be hurt by this world or hurt others, God already was looking at you, looking at me, and seeing us as God sees Jesus. Think about for a moment, through Jesus’ resurrection there has never been a time that God did not look and you and say, Tricia, look, this is my child. There will never be a time that God does not look at you, Jowancka, and say “this is the one that I love”. There is never a moment God is not looking at you, Jeremy saying – this one, right here, is the one in whom I am well pleased.

What does this rebirth mean? The moment you took your first breath, God was already loving you.

The moment you took your first step, God already was offering to embrace you. The moment you first forgot God, first lived as if God didn’t matter, God was still loving you, calling out to you, and letting  you know there remains a place for you in God’s family.

On Easter morning God the Father, Son, and mothering Spirit extended their arms opened wide and said “welcome home”, freely offering you and me a place in that dance of love. You and I are already included.

But it seems very quickly in life we get a very different message, don’t we? We hear from our parents that we are not well-behaved enough, or athletic enough, or pretty enough. Some of us only hear it – some feel it with the slam of fists against our bodies, being beaten and put down from day one.

Jesus_is_a_FriendWe hear it from classmates who tell us we will never be good enough. We hear it too just as much when others are told we are the head of the class and always have to live up to perfection. We hear it in the names we grow up with – wimp, dweeb, ditz and clutz, nerd, spazz, cripple or faggot or dyke, …

And on a level we come to believe it – to believe we aren’t worth it. That we can only be accepted if we are thinner, or stronger, or smarter, or get better grades, or are straight or able-bodied. In other words, someone other than who we are.

And so we end up entering a life that goes nowhere in big and little ways.

For some it is by trying to live as if they are someone they are not – acting straight while knowing deep down you aren’t, striving forever to fit that image of the skinny girl you never will be or the tough guy you know you aren’t; trying to fit some white or able-bodied picture of what life is about.

For some it comes through trying to deaden the pains with drugs or alcohol, or thumb the nose at those who have judged by living with a chip on your shoulder or in ways that give up all sense of right or wrong. “If I can’t be accepted by others, especially God, I’ll live for me”.

For some it may even be through living out someone else’s dreams. My family depends on me. I am the first who can make it. Everyone is counting on me … when deep down the path you are taking is another’s dream, another’s hope, another’s future. Where you are living out another’s expectation, trying to be the hero to your family, your hometown. Trying to fit a picture you know deep down isn’t you.

Yet God all along is looking at you, looking at me, saying “You, you, you, you, you are my child, you are the one that I love, and it is in you that I am well-pleased, just as you are”. All along the voice of Jesus is calling out from the cross saying “It is finished … all that is necessary to be included, accepted, loved, just as you are, is done”. All along Jesus stands risen ahead of you, calling out your name in love.

I still remember when I came to know and experience that for myself. I had grown up in a real strict offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists –one that felt not working or doing sports Friday night and Saturday and not eating pork was too liberal. So I grew up with a real strict view of God, thinking I had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get God to like me. I never felt I could do enough to please God. And it scared the hell into me. They preached a lot about the Second Coming – and gave me a picture of a God out to get me, ready to judge me, … one that could give you nightmares. God was more to be feared than loved.

At school I’d always felt left out. My church background set up some obstacles, but also I’d never been a jock. I was the one called geek, dweeb, nerd. Not fitting in or being accepted.

Then in high school a friend asked me to join the campus Christian club. There I was really accepted by the kids in the club. There I learned of a God who you could come to as a friend, just as you are. I still remember nearly falling out of my chair when my friend Shane Brown prayed a prayer saying “God, you must be smoking crack” when he was thanking God for being crazy good to him that week. I still remember the sense of being embraced by God I felt the first time I joined them in singing out songs of praise to God from my heart. I found out that God could accept and love me for me, even me, and God was someone I could relate to as a friend. I tried it out.

And one day it clicked. I remember I was listening to a Christian song about the blood of Jesus and the thought struck me, clear as day: I did that for you Micah. I came for you. I died for you. If I shed my own blood for you, how much are you worth to me? Would I just give up on you? Just abandon you if you don’t live up to some rules, or fit some image? No nothing can separate you from my love.

At that moment tears in my eyes I know God had accepted me, now and forever, and I was safe in God’s arms.

When we realize that for ourselves we come to know we have a new life – not defined by our past, not defined by society’s labels, but totally bound up in God’s grace, in a God who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. The next several weeks we will be looking in the resurrection accounts in John 20-21, and at accounts of what a new life in Christ can be like, including how to fully experience that life.

Are any of you willing to share about when and how you first came to know God had accepted you, embraced you, in Jesus?

Can anyone think of ways that any benefits discovering your new life in Christ has brought you?

As a church, we say our mission is to welcome all, without prejudice, to join us in discovering friendship with God. How can we help others come to discover this new life or new start with God?

As we conclude I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on who you are in Christ. As you prepare to come forward to the Lord’s Table, I want to challenge you to embrace who you are in Christ.

I am going to play a song in the background entitled “Child of Mine”. So often we walk around with all kinds of other identities, names we have been called. I want to encourage you as you listen to this song to think of one of those names and write it down on this slip of paper. When you are ready, come down to the front and lay that slip down letting God know you are giving up the old life defined by that lie. Then look yourself in the mirror, telling yourself who you are – the child of God, whom God loves, and in whom God is well pleased. And pick up a slip with the writeup describing who you are to God.

Then feel free to go back to your seat and commune with God, come forward for prayer, or come forward for communion.

Daily Devotional: Resurrection as Home-Coming

To help us remember the meaning of what we just celebrated this weekend, I am going to share as my daily devotional for a few days some old messages I gave about the Easter story which in the Gospels, as in the Christian year, continues beyond Easter Sunday through the multiple experiences of resurrection which follow.
I hope the various devotionals touch and encourage you.
Micah

There is something on Easter about home-coming: it is a time we gather with our parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents.  It is a time we go to churches that feel like home where people have known us from the time we were knee-high to a grasshopper.

Isn’t that what Easter is about?  God welcomes all of us back home, God provides a way that we can know that we can come home again?

So, with that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to re-post a sermon I preached some years ago at Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church for All People, a Progressive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville, NC, on just that theme.

I hope it re-kindles in you a love for your heart’s true home.

I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE …

I want to focus on Jesus’ story in Luke 15, which is usually called “the story of the prodigal son”, which for those of who don’t speak King James means “son who lived extravagently or beyond his means” but I prefer to call “the story of the two lost boys”. If you would let’s read this story together.

Luke 15 (NIV)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Let us pray. God help us to hear the words you have for us, to receive the message you have given us, to discover the life you have invited us to in your Scriptures today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

To illustrate what this text says, I want to ask you to watch a clip with me.

In this clip, Simba has lost his way. He has forgotten who he is — a son of the king of the jungle — and because of this is wandering without direction, often broken-hearted, with a sense something is missing from his life. Also because of this the jungle is suffering, needing a good king. The monkey prophet, for lack of a better term, gives him a vision of beyond, in which his father says “remember who you are”.

In a real way in this story Jesus pictures each of us as people who have lost are way and he reminds us to remember who we are.

Each of us are like one of the two sons in the story. Each of the two boys have forgotten who they are. I think they both have forgotten that first and foremost they are sons to their father and brothers to each other. They both find themselves viewing their relationship with their father as a chore, a duty, and begun to look at their father not as one who loves them but one who owes them. In doing so, they lose their rightful relationship with their father, and the peace and happiness their life is meant to have by forgetting who they are. This is a picture of how we forget who we are in God’s family and plan, and lose our sense of hope, purpose, and direction.

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The younger son already feels there is a better life out there than being a child of his father. He disowns his dad and goes to the far country, believing there is more fun to be had there. When he asks for his inheritance now — that is the money and lands that are deeded to go to him when his father dies — he is saying essentially “I wish you were dead” to his dad, and making it clear that he wants what he can get from his dad, his relationship with him be damned. Then when his fun times sowing the wild oats are done and he is penniless, hungry, and starving, the younger son still doesn’t think of himself as a son, doesn’t think of his father as a father, but instead as a source of good things. He thinks he has no inheritance because his money has run out, not realizing that was never the father’s best to begin with. Because he has forgotten he is first and foremost a son of his father the young man really believes all he is the penniless beggar the world sees him as, all that defines him is his bad choices when in his father’s eyes, he is still a prince. The young man knows, without an inheritance, he has to do something. It might have been boring at dear old dad’s, he must have thought, but I could eat. Eating is really a better thing than partying to him now. So he goes back and believing he has burned his bridges to his father completely tries not to regain his father as a father but to gain him as a boss. Maybe, just maybe, he will hire me as one of his workers. He doesn’t even hope that there is still an inheritance for him, a place in his father’s house, a love waiting for him at home.

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The older son too has forgotten who he is. When he sees his younger brother welcomed with open arms, a party thrown to celebrate him finding the place the father saved for his younger brother in the family despite his bad choices, the older becomes angry and jealous. Why haven’t you done this for me? he cries. I slave for you, do everything you say, and have all these years without flinching, and you never threw me a party. Notice that description: I slaved for you. Not I loved you. Not I rested in your love. Not I joyfully helped you out in OUR home together. The young man may not have physically run off into the father country, but in his heart he has. Though he went through the motions of being the good son, doing the right things, deep in his heart he must wished he had ran off like his younger brother. He thinks there is a better life away from his father’s house and perhaps kicks himself for not having taken it while he could. He doesn’t feel like the house he helps keep us is just as much his house as his father’s. He doesn’t see his father as a father, but as his boss. He doesn’t see himself as a son but as a hired hand even though he is as much in charge of the home as his dad.

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In both cases the father says to his boys, essentially, remember who you are. You never were my servants. Your inheritance never was this land or money. It was being in my love. You don’t feel you have me because you have forgotten you are my sons. I have never forgotten who you are, never rejected you, and have always been willing to have you as my own. He says this to his younger son by doing something considered disgraceful in his day. Before the son can make his speech of apology and present his application for employment at his dad’s business, the father runs out, embraces him, throws his cloak on him, dresses him like a king, and announces a party. He treats him not like one who is disowned. Not like a criminal. And not like a servant. He treats his son as one he loves and has never stopped loving. He demonstrates by his actions that though his son had disowned him, he as the father never disowns his children. He is saying to the son, yes you blew your money but your money was never your true inheritance to begin with. Your true inheritance is my love. You are always my son, you are also welcome no matter how long you have been gone, no matter how long you have been away. And the fact that you are mine means you are loved, and like a king to me. All I have is still yours because I still love you. It never stopped being yours, you never stopped being mine.

In the case of the older son, the father reminds his oldest who he is when he says “‘My son,you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The father says in effect to his son, you have forgotten who you are. You always had everything that was mine — my goats, my oxen, my sheep — to do with as you asked, but you never asked because you never realized that you always have something better — me, a loving father — with you. A loving father won’t give you a stone when you ask for bread, or a live rattlesnake when you ask for cheeseburgers. I would have given you better than you asked, if you just had asked me. You never realized you have had it all this whole time. You have never gone without my love and care. You didn’t realize that though I appreciate your hard work, I never asked it or required it for you to be my son. Just simply being mine made it all yours. Just simply being my son made you accepted and loved. Son, remember who you are and know it all is yours, always will be yours, and has always been yours.

This love God offers us is beautifully pictured in the words of this country music song:

In our own lives we are like these boys. Too often we forget who we are. 1 Peter 1 tells us

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Here we read that when Jesus rose again we were born again. I had a teacher in the seminary I went to in California who, when talking about this verse, told us that when he was asked by people “when were you born again?” would answer “two thousand years ago, one Easter”. The reason? Because according to this verse, when Jesus rose again it is like in that moment God the mothering Holy Spirit gave birth to all of us — every person who has ever lived — a second time. In Easter God claimed each and every person who has ever lived as God’s very own children — and friend, that includes you, whether you believe it yet or not. We all were born again then as God’s very own children, totally loved, totally forgiven, and totally accepted. How can that be? Because from God’s side it was finished already then: every sin every person had ever committed already was forgiven, paid in full, by Jesus’ work on the cross, and every person could enter the loving embrace of God the Father, Son, and Spirit as God’s very own. This is why Jesus cried at his last breath on the cross of Good Friday saying “It is finished” and why when Jesus appeared on Easter morning He didn’t say “keep working hard at it, and you might just find a little peace” but instead “peace be with you”. That peace was already there, is already there, remains constantly there, for us because each of us are already claimed by God as God’s own. The question is not “Will God accept you? Will God accept me?” but will we believe we are already completely, utterly embraced for all time by the arms of our Loving Father, by the sheltering wings of God’s mothering Holy Spirit, by the arms outstretched to us by Christ on the cross?

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I can’t speak for you but for me there was a long stretch of my life in which I lived as if Easter hadn’t come, when I lived as if I had not been born as a child of the Father, claimed already as God’s own, by Jesus’ resurrection.  A pastor friend of mine once shared how she had lived as if there was no point in trying to relate to God, doing things she isn’t proud of like the son who went astray did, never thinking God could ever accept her. Even though it made her miserable, she stayed in it because she never thought God would accept her. Then one day through the whispering wind of the mothering Holy Spirit the Father’s voice echoed to her “My daughter, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. You never stopped being my child, even when you had gone astray. Daughter of mine I know you seemed dead but you are alive again; you were lost and now are found in me.” God in effect said to her “Remember who you are — a daughter of mine”.

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For me I grew up in the treadmill of religion, never believing I could do or say enough to earn God’s favor. I was like the son at home. Although I had the walls of the homestead around me, the fields of the father all about me through the Scriptures, and songs, and stories of faith I grew up in, I didn’t get what they meant. I thought of a God as a boss to be appeased by hard work, forgetting that from that first Easter on, even before I was a twinkle in my earthly parents’ eyes, God the Mothering Spirit had claimed me as Her own, saying “My son” to me. Then one moment I realized while hearing the story of the cross sung one more time, playing on a tinny little radio speaker, that it wasn’t God pushing me to do all this religious work. It was me, my own inability to realize and believe God already fully accepted and embraced me. God had already spoken from the cross crying out through the lips of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ “IT IS FINISHED”. Hearing that Gospel song on the CD player helped me realize as Peter says, on Easter I already had been claimed as God’s own child. I already had been accepted. Why was I trying to earn what was already mine? The Father, Son, and Spirit’s voice was saying “My son, you have always been with me, and everything I have is already yours”.

Friends when you feel as if you are worthless, as if you have fallen too far and done too much, remember who you are. You are of infinite worth — a child of the resurrection, born again by Easter’s morning light, embraced forever by the Heartbeat of all Creation who we know as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When it feels as if you are all alone and darkness like a crashing storm falls in sheets around you, remember who you are. You are the child of the Father, the sister of the Savior (or brother in my case), you are the spark lit by the flame of life Herself God the Holy Spirit … and they are saying to you in your darkest hours “My daughter, you are always with me, … my son, everything I have is yours…”

In closing I want to do two things.

First of all, I want to share with you all a handout to take home and study and meditate on. This is a little writeup I got online about how God looks at you. This is who the Bible says YOU ARE as a child born anew, claimed as God’s own, on Easter. Meditate it and pray on it. For some of you I hope this is something you already knew and need a reminder about. If you do it will bolster the faith you already have. For others, you may not know where you stand with God. That’s ok. But know this — God knows where you stand and it is in God’s embrace. I challenge you to meditate on this because this is how God already looks at you because of what Jesus has done. Whether you believe it or not, God is already saying to you “you are my child, you have always been with me and I am always with you, and everything I have is yours”. The question isn’t if it is true, but if you will believe it for yourself and enjoy the blessings it brings. Sometimes we have to live in a far country for awhile to realize we were never meant to live as if we were anything but God’s own but remember even while the son was living with the pigs, he was still the father’s beloved son. So even if now you can’t yet believe it, you are still loved infinitely by God. And when you are willing to take the first stumbling steps of faith, place that tiny bit of trust in God, you will discover God rising up to meet you just as that lost son found his father doing.

So take these and meditate on them, and pray for God to show you who you are in God’s eyes. And as you see yourself that way, live like it.

The second thing I want to point out as I close is that Jesus’ point in telling this story wasn’t actually to simply remind us who we are, ones loved and embraced by God. No, while that is important, if you go to the top of the chapter here, you will find Jesus tells this story in answer to a complaint. Notice:

1 Now the tax collectors and [the so-called] sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The “Pharisees and the teachers of the law” were the religious folks of Jesus’ day. They looked at the people Jesus reached out to and did as the older son of the parable did, they scoffed. They said “those people aren’t living a good enough life, being good enough people. They don’t deserve love from anybody, let alone God. Who do you think you are, Jesus, to welcome outcasts, to welcome worldly people, to welcome people without religion at all, and let them think God is not angry with them?”

Jesus’ point is not just to remind those religious people — and us — who we are and who they are. It is also to remind us who OTHERS ARE. Jesus is reminding us that every person we come in contact with — the strung out addict, the adulterer whose broken their marriage, the person with more piercing on their body than they have skin to pierce, the flamboyant gay man, the most racist bigoted homophobe, the Bible thumper, the illegal immigrant we call names — all alike are God’s children. Jesus is reminding us that we need to see others for who they REALLY are, not who they world says they are. We need to remember each person we encounter is of infinite worth to God, fully loved, fully accepted, and fully embraced by God just as they are, even if they aren’t living like they are God’s kids — or if the way they live out being God’s child doesn’t look like what we assume God’s child will look like .

My challenge to you then is also, in addition to taking time to remind yourself each day through this meditation who you are, is for you to also remind yourself who other people are with this, particularly those who shake up your status quo, those who are rejected and pushed to the fringes, those who simply get on your nerves, and especially those you’d rather slap some sense into than embrace like a brother or sister.

It may that if you learn to live as if they are your sisters or brothers, if you learn to see them as God’s own children and treat them that way, that by your example they may begin to discover who they really are, return from whatever far country they have gone to, and begin to live the full joy-filled life they are made to have. Sometimes remember people need to see love lived out by someone their eyes can see before they can believe God who they don’t yet see loves them.

Or, more surprising yet, for many of them you may find that as you open your eyes to see them as God sees them, you might find perhaps their differences aren’t so bad after all. That who they love, or how they dress, or whatever is making them an outcast isn’t them being far off from the father at all. It may just be another way of being God’s child. You might find that it is not they but you who are wandering toward the far country but you, because you are letting your own ideas about what it means to be a child of the mothering fathering God. It might be that if you see them as God sees them, that the one you think so far from God might become your teacher for that moment who helps point you even deeper into God’s embrace.

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Who Am I in God’s Eyes?

I am accepted…

I am God’s child ~ John 1:12

As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ ~ John 15:15

I have been justified ~ Romans 5:1

I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit ~ 1 Corin. 6:17

I have been bought with a price, and I belong to God ~ 1 Corin. 6:19-20

I am a member of Christ’s body ~ 1 Corin. 12:27

I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child ~ Ephesians 1:3-8

I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins ~ Colossians 1:13-14

I am complete in Christ ~ Colossians 2:9-10

I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

I am secure…

I am free from condemnation ~ Romans 8:1-2

I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances ~ Romans 8:28

I am free from any condemnation brought against me, and I cannot be separated from the love of God ~ Romans 8:31-39

I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God ~ 2 Corin. 1:21-22

I am hidden with Christ in God ~ Colossians 3:1-4

I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me ~ Philippians 1:6

I am a citizen of Heaven ~ Philippians 3:20

I have not been given the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me ~ 1 John 5:18

I am significant…

I am the branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life ~ John 15:5

I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit ~ John 15:16

I am God’s temple ~ 1 Corin. 3:16

I am a minister of reconciliation for God ~ 2 Corin.5:17-21

I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm ~ Ephesians 2:6

I am God’s workmanship ~ Ephesians 2:10

I may approach God with freedom and confidence ~ Ephesians 3:12

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me ~ Philippians 4:13

Easter Devotional: Resurrection as Mystery of New Life

I share this reflection from a year or two ago as a reflection on both the vexing mystery and wonderful beauty of Easter for those of us who embrace a life of faith together with a life of honest questioning.
I hope it blesses you this Easter!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

dancing jesus 1Acts 2:14, 22-32.

The resurrection of Jesus is a mystery. Scientists, historians, churches, and individual believers wonder and sometimes debate: If we were standing there on Easter morning, looking inside the tomb, what would we have witnessed?

The varying Gospel accounts of Easter, both inside Holy Scripture and outside it, suggest that this wonder at this experience – as well as an uncertainty how to understand it – goes back to the very first followers of Jesus. Each of these Gospels understand it slightly differently.

Here in Acts 2, Peter describes his experience of resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is not for him just a dead fact to be analyzed.   It is a mystery that he experienced, which changed everything.   The way Peter talks about it reminds me of one day when I watched the sunrise over the mountains.   The whole mountainside began dim, beautiful yet stark, shrouded by night. Then as the sunlight began to break over the horizon and light – first in deep oranges and reds, than vibrant and clear – began to fall on everything.   The same scene suddenly burst with color, with energy. Everything looked different.

This is what resurrection was for Peter. This experience beyond words of having the living presence of Jesus break forth in his life beyond all hope transformed everything. Now what looked like failure to Peter was seen as brimming with purpose. Now the failed prophet and national leader was revealed to be the coming into today of the new birth of all creation.   He was seen to be of global, cosmic proportions – the living Christ.   Now Scripture itself took on a different meaning.   His whole life for Peter could not look the same.

empty tombWhatever we believe about the historic facts surrounding the varied accounts of Easter day, it is clear that these disciples truly experienced a life-changing transformation through the events they called resurrection.   Not only Jesus’ body had been laid dead, but their hopes, their hearts, their lives as well.   And each of them who experienced and embraced these experiences in which the living Christ burst forth beyond all hope had a sunrise appear over the mountains of their pain and confusion, so that their lives were never the same.

What have been your resurrection experiences?

For me, I think of many.

I think of when hurting and alone I first turned to prayer, and discovered a feeling of companionship that let me know I was not alone. I was seen. I was known. I need not be afraid.

carolina sunriseI remember the moment, having been brought up in a legalistic, fear-based religion, when I first had the message of grace become real to me. I remember knowing deep in my heart that I did not need to be afraid – because I was enough. God would not have gone to the trouble of bothering with Jesus and his cross for me if I was someone to be forgotten or something to be thrown away.

I remember too my wonder to see Christ in the eyes of gay and lesbian people, whom the church I was raised in had told me were sinners, bound for hell…  And discovering the liberating truth that there is not a person whom Christ does not reach out to or work through. God is no respecter of persons.

I could go on…

But I take this moment to meditate with gratitude to God for each moment and experience in which the living One broke through, and transformed my vision.

sunrise freedomThese moments are beyond facts to be explained. Like the first experiences of resurrection, they are mysteries that can only be experienced which, when lived out, transform our world.

I invite you to share some of your own individual experiences of new life breaking into your own experience in ways that transform you and others.

Holy Saturday Devotional: Take Time To Sit at Your Tombs

This is a devotional I wrote while in my UNC Chaplain Residency during Holy Week.  I think its words still speak.  I hope it helps you embrace the depth of meaning this Holy Season leading into Easter opens up to us.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

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Micah

 

 

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I’ve become convinced that one of the most important days of Holy Week, which no-one takes time to notice, is today. The Saturday of Holy Week. Most all of us take time to celebrate Easter, many more of us may take time to celebrate Good Friday, and I know many Christians who take time to celebrate Maundy Thursday or Palm Sunday, but it seems like all of us want to tie on our running shoes, racing through Holy Saturday without thought, in order to get to Easter morning.

 

On one hand, who can blame us? There is the beautiful Easter sunrise services, the eggs and candy, the baskets, and for many of us Easter brunch and Easter dinner. There are the words “He is not here, he is risen”.

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What’s more … Who wants to think about what this day was like? Jesus, buried behind a tomb. Judas hanging himself on a tree. The disciples hiding in fright, scattered to the four winds in fear. The hopes of all who followed Jesus shattered and lost… From the appearance of all who looked up, a day in which evil won, where injustice reigned triumphant, where oppression rules.

 

Though including details of both Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Sydney Carter’s beautiful bittersweet song “Bitter Was the Night” beautifully expresses the pathos of Holy Saturday:

 

But we cannot rush through to Easter. To truly appreciate the full depth of Easter, we need to take space to sit with the bitter pain of Holy Saturday, to sit at the tomb where Jesus lays, to face our own tombs. We need to stay a while with the disciples, to hear the cry of mother Mary as her baby boy lays in the tomb. I think as we do so, we can find Holy Saturday teaching us great things.

What does it teach us?

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First it shows us the value of sitting with our own experience of pain and forsakenness.

So often we talk as if our experience of pain, of anguish, of uncertainty, and of doubt are signs that we have lost our way, that we have gone down the wrong road.

Often when I sit with family members facing sickness and loss as a minister, they tell me they need to put on a good face, speak a good positive word. Though there are times to focus on the positive, too often what it means is pushing down our pain, our heartache, and not facing it. Holy Saturday teaches us that trying to reach Easter, new beginning, and hope before we like Jesus sit in the midst of death, of grief, of loss, of terror, and total abandonment can mean not yet being ready. Facing and admitting our pain and heartache is part and parcel of the call of Holy Saturday.

What’s more, facing these and confessing these to others and God is ironically embracing the presence of God. On Holy Saturday God taking into God’s self the the experience of death, of abandonment, of guilt, and of hell through Jesus. On this day as one of us God experiences what it means to be totally abandoned by God. This means in the heart of our experiences of grief, of terror, and abandonment we are not alone though, as Jesus did on the cross, we do feel abandoned in those moments. In the midst of our experiences where God seems to have lost, when evil seems to have won, God come as man with men & women to dwell, also dead, also having lost to evil, injustice, and death, we find in Jesus God is already here holding us close, sitting with us. God joins us here, totally helpless and totally forsaken transforming our experiences of hopelessness and loss into encounters with God’s self.

So your experience of forsakeness and loss, your experience of uncertainty and doubt, your times when you turn to the heavens and they seem empty – all of these are moments full of divine presence.

This is why as he died Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and why Christian mystics have talked about the need to face the dark night of the soul.

We see this reflected in the psalms. Growing up as a child I attended an Adventist-style church with a tradition of singing the psalms. There I heard the following song–

This song, straight from the psalms, is so reflective of the psalms which are the prayerbook of Jesus, and so far removed from the very happy, upbeat songs of victory we often sing on Sunday mornings. Yet so much of what is prayed in the psalms are just like this – psalms expressing deep alienation, fear, doubt, and questioning.

In his writings the Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann argues that these psalms show us the journey of the spiritual life – one from orientation, where life makes sense and fits our preconceived notions; into disorientation, where like Jesus and the disciples on Holy Saturday, we face terror, grief, sadness, moments in which God does not make sense and may in fact appear powerless, evil, or non-existence; which only when truly confronted and faced lead into times of reorientation where faith, God, purpose, hope, and all that we lose sight of in our Holy Saturday moments of disorientation can begin to reappear in our lives like the sun rising on the empty tomb on Easter morning. Yet the reorientation experience of God, faith, hope, purpose, and life finds these things as being experienced not as things out there, outside of us, or simply empty words we believed but as treasures deeply rooted in our souls that are now not shakeable because they have been forged with the fire of doubt, fear, and loss.

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The lesson then is to sit at your tombs, face your hells, express your heartache. Only in taking time for your Holy Saturday moments can you truly be ready for the Easters in which you find that healing in the broken places of doubt, terror, pain, and fear.

Let’s put the sneakers away this Holy Saturday and sit for awhile beside our tombs.

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Daily Devotional: Does Good Friday Mean God Is Wanting a Pound of Your Flesh?

This is a post that I shared a few Good Fridays ago, which I think talks honestly about questions many of us struggle with on Good Friday.

I’d love to hear how you wrestle through these questions.

Namaste y’all!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

One of the questions I always get asked as a pastor, is why did Jesus have to die?  Most times, it is linked with the question — does God really require someone to die, blood to be spilled, for people to have peace with God?  Many people find this idea hard to square with the image of a loving compassionate God.  Theologians call this question of why Jesus had to die “atonement theology”.  Earlier this year when I did a series on peace, I did a post about this question.  I’m re-sharing it below as a way of exploring the divine side of Good Friday.  In my other Good Friday post, I look at what it means that Jesus is fully human and what his death teaches us about our own mortality.  I hope this post helps some of you who struggle on Good Friday on the question of “Why did Jesus have to Die?  Is it that God is Longing for a Pound of Flesh?”

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 I am coming to believe our answer to this question has a direct connection with our response to questions of violence and peace-making.

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In the Gospel, we find God appearing as one of us in Jesus. Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 5 tell us that somehow, God coming as Jesus, this human being who died the horrible death of crucifixion for our sins enables a bridge to be built so that people who have been cut off from or estranged by God can be reconciled to God and at peace with God.

To people who feel cut off from God this can be a very liberating message.

I still remember growing up in a very rule-based religion that pictured God as an angry King out for his pound of flesh if you did not live up to his standards. It was overwhelming for me to discover through friends in a Christian club in high school about a God who loves me, no strings attached. I heard about a God who thought I was so worth love, that God risked all – even suffering and death – to embrace me in God’s arms. I remember the turning point when, while listening to the words of a Christian rock song about the cross, I realized Jesus went through what he went through so I might know I am forever loved, forever embraced, and forever accepted by the Creator of the universe. It changed my life and is why I do what I do every day as a minister.

But one thing later bothered me: I understood that in Jesus God risked death to open wide God’s arms to embrace me in love. But why did we so often talk as if somehow it was necessary for God to forgive me for someone else to die? Why did we talk as if God required anything before God would forgive anyone?  Where did this idea that God was out for a pound of human flesh come from? At times our way of talking about why Jesus died made God seem pretty bi-polar to me. I know something had to be off with how I grew up hearing God’s justice and love working together.

ImageI also found many people who were not Christians saying “look, your God you claim is love is a child abuser. He beats and kills his son to save you. That’s not love. That’s sick”.

I would always answer saying “Well, you don’t understand the Trinity – the Son is God, the Father is God, the Spirit is God … so it ain’t like that”. Which, though true, didn’t answer the question – Why couldn’t God just forgive us without someone dying? Isn’t God “God” after all? Can’t God do anything? Doesn’t this picture of God paint God out to be at best a bully, and at worst a really violent person in a pinch?

After all, when we forgive each other, it doesn’t always have to have strings attached.  And certainly I don’t have to wait til someone suffers or dies in your place before I can forgive you.

The last few years I’ve found a number of Christians also asking this. They point to Jesus’ teachings on non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Jesus’ own example of non-violence, and suggest that this picture of a God out for human flesh, who can only be appeased in somebody dies, and only then forgive us doesn’t square with Jesus’ call for us to be nonviolent in order to perfect like God is perfect. Nor does it fit how Jesus extended forgiveness in his earthly life, which we Christians say is out picture of who God is.

A number of theologians have suggested that a picture of God more in line with Jesus’ example is one where Jesus’ death on the cross is not about violence or bloodthirstiness in the heart of God.  They are calling us to rediscover the many other explanations of atonement which Christians have embraced both long before what I heard in evangelical churches growing up appeared, and which now are being forged long after such explanations first became popular.

I want to suggest a few authors we can turn to in order to begin to explore what a God who is not out for a pound of flesh might look like.

First, let me suggest the writings and talks of C. Baxter Krueger, a southern preacher and theologian.  In addition to writing theology in popular language Krueger also has created a line of fishing lures. (You can bet based on my previous posts on fishing that a theologian who makes home-made fishing lures is a man after my own heart).

Krueger calls Christians to rediscover the foundational ideas that the early Christians, who helped put our Scriptures together into one Bible, embraced. Central to these ideas is the understanding of God as a Triune God of love. In his ministry Perichoresis (see http://www.perichoresis.org/)  Krueger points to how losing sight of the idea of God as including in God’s own nature a community of love has led us to envision God as split between extremes of love and justice (by which we really mean vengeance), imaging an angry hateful God who is our Father and a loving caring God who is God’s Son who rescues us from the Father.  This leads us to miss the point in so many aspects of our Christian lives.

Krueger beautifully explains how realizing that from start to finish God is a community of love, fully shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit and now fully available to us transforms our picture of love both on his website and in his books.  A good starting place in exploring Krueger’s thought is the following blog on why Jesus had to die:

http://baxterkruger.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-death-of-jesus.html

 Another author I would encourage you to look at is James Allison.  James Allison is a theologian who explores the connections between the thought of Rene Girard to modern Christianity. Girard taught that we get our theology wrong by thinking God is the one demanding a pound of flesh. Instead, he says that it is we, human beings, who are trying to demand a pound of flesh from each other from the beginning. And when God comes in our midst, it is not God demanding a sacrifice from us but we demanding a sacrifice from God.  It is not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a loving God in the hands of angry sinners.

James Allison gives a very thoughtful presentation of what the story of Jesus looks like if we understand that it is we, not God, who are the blood-thirsty ones, in his little article, “Some Thoughts on the Atonement”.

Recently James Allison and Brian McLaren both did a talk on this same theme and its implications to contemporary Christianity available as a pdf here  and as a podcast here .

Allison has put some of this material as a Christian education course at http://forgivingvictim.com/. That resource, Jesus the Forgiving Victim, is on my Christmas wish list (hint, hint) because I think re-discovering how the Gospel dethrones violence of the strong to the weak is an important thing Christianity in our day needs to grapple with.

A final resource I would mention on the discussion of the atonement is Tony Jones’ A Better Atonement.  This book explores the in’s and out’s of various approaches to this question of why Jesus died.

My own personal conviction is that the approach that sees in God this drive for a pound of flesh is not just at the heart of some of the mind-crushing legalism so many believers face, but also at the heart of why so many feel they must embrace the slave-holder Christianity mindset I have spoken of before. To feel right with God they feel they must scapegoat some other group, drive them out, sacrifice their humanity. It also I think is at the heart of how easily here in the Dixie-belt we wed our Christianity with calls to warfare or prejudice. It is also why I think too many Christians too quickly are willing to call for warfare against “culture”, against people with different values, or even against people of other faiths.  Ultimately we become like what we worship, and if we believe God is out for a pound of our flesh, it is easy to let such an image of God influence us to feel it is OK for us to be out for the pound of flesh of others.

Discovering that Jesus is in fact the Prince of Peace I think is so important for us finding the way to join Jesus on the path of peace-making, in a world of violence, bigotry, bullying, and war.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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