Encountering the Risen Christ in the Other

jesus resurrection appearance 1David Henson, one of our readers, shared the following with me, which I think is an appropriate reflection on some of the meaning of resurrection and new life we are called to meditate on this Easter-tide:

“For those keeping score this Eastertide:
The Resurrected Lord has appeared as a lowly cemetery gardener. (Easter Day)
As a person eternally wounded by the the violence of the empire. (Second Sunday of Easter)
And as a sojourner — a foreigner and stranger — traveling on the road. (Third Sunday of Easter)
If your understanding of the resurrection does not compel you to see Christ in the poor and overlooked workers of the world, in the victims of state violence, and in the sojourning foreigners and travelers, then it is simply not biblical.
You cannot proclaim Christ resurrected and marginalize the poor.
You cannot proclaim Christ resurrected and embrace violent nationalism and militarism.
You cannot proclaim Christ resurrected and oppress the foreigner, stranger, and sojourner.

jesus resurrection appearance 10

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

Because that is how the resurrected Christ chose to reveal himself to his disciples — in a poor worker, in a victim of human violence, in a stranger on the road.
And the disciples rarely recognize him at first glance — or even second glance. To these disciples, Christ was absent to them, despite being right in front of their eyes.
As his disciples now, we should take note and wonder at how often our resurrected Lord appears to us and we simply don’t notice. How often do we just keep walking down the Emmaus Road, holding nothing but our fractured hopes? How often do we stay in garden, holding nothing but our grief and tears? How often do we see the wounds of Christ but simply think, “what a shame” instead of exclaiming “My Lord and my God” and beginning to believe that Christ really is present if only we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear?
How often? For me, probably most of the time. I pray God to open my ears and my eyes and my heart. God knows I need to see, to hear, and to have my heart strangely warmed by those I least expect.”

That’s a good word.  Thanks Dave.

What good word do you have about the resurrection life breaking out in our life and world through the Easter miracle not just in Easter-tide but every day?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

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(repost) A reflection on resurrection hope

As we explore the ongoing reality of the resurrection in our lives which this season of Easter-tide between Easter Sunday and Ascension Day celebrates, I thought the following reflection on resurrection and hope which I wrote shortly after being widowed might be worth sharing.

I hope it blesses you.  Please share how you find new life in your own journey through the resurrection life Christ makes possible.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Because Christ Lives, We Can Face Today. And Tomorrow Too.

coffee-prayer-scripture

I continue to look at prayers of Scripture and the church which have either helped me through my dark times or I have found to help others in my work as a chaplain and as a pastor. Because of how I’m finding prayer occurring in community, bound in the web of relationships which surround us in our trials and are truly life-giving, rather than just isolated prayers as individuals have been helpful to me in my dark times and to others, I am using the prayers and meditations recommended by my own United Church of Christ in its Book of Worship as a guide.

Today I turn to a reading that, to be quite honest, I rarely use for such an inspiration but which I recall being read in part as my dear pastor spoke words over my wife’s remains. I remember standing there, in my suit with tears in my eyes, surrounded by my family, hearing these words drone on like the honk and screech of car in Los Angeles traffic. I heard them but did not really listen to their meaning.

It is perhaps appropriate to really listen to them today, for I write on the third month anniversary of me walking to find my wife already having left her body which lay breathless and abandoned like a chrysalis emptied of its butterfly. Whereas I could not hear these words then, I can hear them now.

The words in my prayer book come from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

“Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If that is true, it means that Christ was not easter iconraised; and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.  More than that, we are found to be lying about God because we said God raised Christ from death – but if it is true that the dead are not raised to life, then God did not raise Christ. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins. It would also mean that the believers in Christ who have died are lose. If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, than we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world. But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised.”

I have to admit at first that some of this reading rubs me the wrong way and this may be why I tuned out as it was read as Kat’s ashes were laid in the church garden and also why I tend not to read it.   Growing up in conservative churches – first, Adventist, then charismatic, then evangelical – these words often sound like they are saying if I do not believe a particular thing happens in death, my faith is empty.   I have to believe something specific happened to the body of a man in Nazareth, Jesus son of Mary, after death or my faith is empty. My sins are a heavy burden upon me then.   Unless Jesus was risen and in just this way, we are all fools here. Bound to nothing but pain.

Re-reading these words of Scripture and faith today I am struck that this hard message is not really what these words say.  They do not really Angeldefine what resurrection means in the way I heard them being said to growing up. If I lay aside my defenses against this text and my preconceived notions, I find that something more general is being said which can speak to me now and really to all who grieve.

I still remember the first time I really stared into death as a great abyss, death as it appears without hope of resurrection.   I was working as a chaplain intern at a local hospital after having been a pastor in a number of small churches. I was called to sit with a family while their adult child passed, a child who had lived their life wracked with the illness of addiction. They had been in and out of drug treatment and mental hospitals their whole adult lives and I think even as a teenager. And they were dying of a drug overdose, despite their many attempts at recovery. I sat with this dear one’s parents as they wailed, crying out against the injustice of it. I had no words for them. I sat and offered comfort.

In that instant the unfairness of that death struck me so hard. It made me think of when I sat in a similar hospital room by a relative many years beforehand, holding their hand.  These loved one had tried to take their own life. As I sat, tear-filled, looking into their eyes I had wondered, uncertain what I believed might lay ahead for them if their attempt on their life at their own hands succeeded.  I had always heard suicide meant damnation, though I could not then nor can I now find a single Bible verse that says such a painful thing.  As I watched their chest fall and rise to the metronome beat of the hospital monitors, I concluded I could not believe God would cast off forever someone who took their own life while in the throws of mental illness. It seemed to me that God would not judge us for what our illnesses do to us, but offer us grace, mercy, and healing in the next world.  A God so cruel and merciless did not seem worthy of worship and love, let alone like the Person of Jesus we claim to be our picture of who God is as Christians.

But sitting this time with that memory fresh before my eyes, watching this young person slowly painfully die, I could not believe in God. I could not believe any loving presence could allow such unfairness to happen as to let such a young person full of promise die, who only succumbed to their addiction as many others before them did yet lived, only to have it still overpower them and kill them.  For one so young who had fought valiantly against their addictions with every resource that lay ahead of them seemed too much to fit my understanding of how a God of love ought to work. I saw the deep love this person’s parents had and the tears in their eyes and I could not believe. For after all, would not a God who loves us all love their child at least as much as they did, maybe more?

In that moment all I could see in death is a great, bottomless abyss. A darkness. A falling into night.   A maddening emptiness that robbed all of meaning.  Without resurrection, why? How? What for?

That experience changed me in some profound ways. It put into perspective so much of this religious language we use to comfort others that at times bring great pain.  Upon the rock of this real experience of loss, trauma, and tragedy, such words crashed into a thousand splinters offering no solace either to me or this family.

I’ve had so much language of comfort given me. All by people who mean well.  Yet often in my most recent loss, that language too rings hollow.  I’ve had to actually tell some people: you are not helping me. This one dear woman at my church who did not know my late wife’s pictures are put away no longer to hang on my wills, nor did she notice my wedding ring is not only no longer on my finger but no longer on my chain around my neck as well, did such a thing. She came up sitting at tomb 2and reminded me Katharine is still with me. Those words, intended to give life and comfort, wounded me so much. It took me a lot to get to the place I realized she is not coming back. She has gone. And where she has gone, I cannot know.   In whatever new life lies beyond her beyond the circle of this passing world, she is not my wife any more.   I am not her husband.   We gave each other 13 beautiful years. And that is all we got under the bright skies that adorn our world. I came to a moment I realized: I walked in on her not having any breath in her lungs. But I do.   There is breath in my lungs and a life to be lived here and now, alone, as me.  This taught me a lesson that has been hard and painful. To have breath is to have a duty to embrace all of life that lies before us. With what openness we can. Without letting fear, shame, guilt, and trepidation keep us. While we have breath, we have life. We do not honor those who have passed on into the next world by sitting closing the books on our lives with despair. I do not feel I honor her by pining for her.  No we honor them by embracing what life lies open before us, even if we may fall, fail, and make mistakes. Even if our hearts break — well, dear friends, that is what hearts are for. Without risking them being broken we cannot find love and without love, how empty is our lives! And so I need to not think of Kat with me, lest I pine for what I cannot have and stay stuck in the past. Others find that helpful.  But not me.

Seeing how our religious language breaks down in such moments and how precious each moment of the lives we have are was what I walked away with both in my recent loss and that painful moment in the hospital room.

But when I can believe in resurrection, it does make a difference to me. To me resurrection is not about what happened to Jesus’ body after death – or our own. I am not sure whether I empty tombbelieve or not that if we had watched Jesus’ body in the tomb we would have seen anything interesting.   It is not for me about whether a body goes through a change of some kind as the Gospels are often read as saying, but about what happens to the whole person beyond this earthly life.

When the early Christians encountered Jesus after his death, in some mysterious way they experienced that in all of who he was, though his body had died, Jesus lived on.   He was with them, a living presence in their lives, an active presence in their world.   He went on. And it meant they could too, no matter what the world threw at them.

I highly doubt if they found his body, which the Gospels say they couldn’t and so they concluded it too had been raised in some glorious way, it would have changed their sense that he too lived on and they would too. For, though different, I cannot tell you how many jesus resurrection appearance 1times as a minister and a chaplain I’ve talked to people who, on facing the death of the body of one they loved, later had experiences in which it felt as if the veil between this world and the next was pulled back and they could see and know that person was still living on in some way, still vital and active in God’s world.   I have had such experiences myself. I remember the first real heart-shaking death of my adult life, a dear friend from college. She had, like my late wife, a number of debilitating disabilities. But she lived her life with the most passion and vibrancy of anyone I knew in college. The last few years of her life she had multiple illnesses. One day, a few weeks after seeing her and her husband, I heard her voice.   I turned around and saw nothing. Then I felt what was like her hand resting on my shoulder, and that joyous laughter like music she always belted out when we were driving to and from events together in college.   Then, shortly afterward, the phone ring. I knew the news, though, before I answered. I knew that was my dear friend I felt there with me, letting me know she had passed from death to life, into that place where all her struggles had been turned into glory.   So when I heard her husband on the other line, tears in his eyes, voice croaking with pain, I could be a comfort.   For though he had seen and was still with her body that lay dead or dying, I knew she was not there.  She was risen.

Whether with a change in his body literally like the Gospels depict or with something like happened to me with my dear friend – who knows? – these early Christians experienced Jesus alive, beyond death, somehow victorious over the crushing loss of jesus resurrection appearance 8crucifixion. As sensing in my own way my dear friend was not gone but changed, still active and even more alive in God’s world, gave me strength to stand with her widower, so experiencing Jesus somehow present and alive beyond death changed each of them. It gave them the courage to risk life and limb for their new beliefs, to stand against the weight of empire. To resist the tyranny of abusive religions and abusive governments. To believe, too, that the crushing injustice they faced every day was not the final word in their life and in their world. To hope the life of Jesus would be fully made known in the world at some point when his living presence fully was revealed to all – what we call often the second coming but I think more of as the reconciliation of all things– and all things made right.

I have too sensed moments in which I felt my dear Kat was still active in this world – not so much with me, as some people try to reassure me – but moving beyond into greater things than she could do trapped in a body that refused to cooperate with her.   That sense that death is not the end but a movement through dying, beyond death itself, into a new kind of life, does buoy people in their pain.

Not only does it buoy me, giving me the courage to not give up on life, the strength to keep finding meaning in my days and opening my heart to others, but it does so in patients’ families and parishioners for whom I have cared. Knowing this parting is not the ultimate end, but a change in relationship with those they love, gives them strength to move forward in hope.

For Christians, such a movement and hope is built on the image of the risen Christ, shaped by this mysterious experience of these early believers. We don’t have to know exactly what happened to Jesus & them, or even to those whom we love who die, to hear and trust their message: death, injustice, pain, loss, and trauma are not the final word. If Jesus passed through all of these and came out living, present, and active in God’s world we know we can too — as can all we love.

To me this hope and promise is beautifully described in the recent southern Gospel hymn, “Because He Lives”:

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus

He came to love, heal and forgive

He lived and died to buy my pardon

An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby

And feel the pride and joy He gives

But greater still the calm assurance

This child can face uncertain day, because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

And then one day, I’ll cross the river

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain

And then, as death gives way to victory

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives

May the hope that Christ lives give you courage and strength whatever darkness you face.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Upcoming Podcast: Jesus Deported.

david mateo

Excited about having completed an impromptu new interview for Progressive Redneck Preacher podcast. Kyle had to re-schedule so we interviewed Rev. David Mateo, pastor of Spanish language ministries of United Church of Chapel Hill, organizing the innovative La Mesa y Cafe service, author of JESUS DEPORTED, and organizer of an annual United Church of Christ mission to support LGBT communities in Honduras.

To watch for this and other upcoming podcasts, follow us at our podcast site, on iTunesTwitterfacebook, and here on our blog.

 

jesus deported

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Out of the Shadows and Into Life

Following the theme of how our ongoing experience of resurrection life opens us up to new beginnings, I thought this old sermon of mine might be a good reflection on the same.

I hope it blesses, challenges, and inspires you!
Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

From Shame To Service

griefIn the midst of our fallings and failings, we can be so overcome by shame we don’t know how to move forward. We can feel trapped, stuck, and powerless. Like a shadow falling overhead before a storm, all light and hope can begin to be eclipsed by our heartache, guilt, and shame.

Just such a moment happened to a young business named Bill Wilson. A real go getter, an up and coming star in the business world, Bill had a dirty little secret: to get through his day he had to turn again and again to the bottle. It began to wreck his home life and his marriage. Then the hold the bottle had on him cost him his job. Broken, not knowing where to turn, head hung in shame Bill admitted himself into a sanitorium, hoping beyond all hope for change. Yet what broke him beyond even his addiction was the life-wrenching shame. He was a drunk. He was a failure. He saw no hope, no goodness in his life.

Just such a moment came in the life of a young preacher named Troy. A married father of 2, this rising star in the preaching world had hidden for years his dark secret: he was gay, and no amount of prayer or sacrifice could take away his attraction to men. Like all well-kept secrets, this came out and he lost it all. His wife left him, taking the kids away. He was kicked out of the church, defrocked.

Jobless, with his marriage shattered and children cut off from him, Troy began a nose-dive of doubt, loneliness, shame, and self-hatred. One day, as life hit rock bottom, Troy took a knife, slit his wrists in the tub, and waited to die.

Though I can’t relate with these two men’s exact journey I know what it is to wake up, feeling you are powerless to move forward. Feeling that you have failed too much to move forward, and having the shame of all the ways I feel I am wrong fall over me like a dark winter chill.

Have any of you had such moments in your life you would be willing to share about?

Tonight we will be joining one final disciple in their encounter with the risen Jesus and the new life he makes possible. This disciple, Simon, has hit rock bottom, not knowing where to turn.

This is in John 21. Lets turn there together. We will start in verse 1 and go on to verse 19.

Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus[a] ), Nathanael from Cana in

Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”

They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they

caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t

realize it was Jesus.

5 Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

9 When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?”

They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of

John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.

After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Let’s pray.

Living Jesus, who promises us that you will never leave us and forsake us, whom we know is so present that if we turn over a rock we can find you there, and if we split a log, there you are, open our eyes. Help us to see your presence. Help us to hear your voice. Amen.

Does anything stand out to you about either how Peter experiences new life, or how the risen Christ responds to Peter’s moment of crash and burn?

There are a few things I want to focus in on: First, that Peter was immobilized by shame and guilt. Second, that Jesus confronts directly Peter’s failure and feelings. Finally, Jesus invites Peter to replace his shame with a life for others.

jesus resurrection appearance 2First, we see that Peter was immobilized by shame and guilt. We can see this because Peter has returned to fishing. If you go back and read Matthew 4, you will find out that when Peter was called by Jesus he was a fisherman. That is the old life, the old job Peter left when he answered Jesus’ call to fish for people.

What is amazing about this is that Peter knew Jesus was risen. John tells us that Jesus already had showed up to all the disciples, proved that he was risen, and commissioned them to go out and do the work Jesus did.

Peter’s response? He hung his head low. He sighed. He said “well, good for you Jesus. Glad you’re back. I bet the rest of you folks can do that just fine. Me? Let me do what I know how. Let me go fishing.”

At first glance, this may seem strange. But if you can think about what it is like for you when you are filled with shame, wracked by guilt, and failure you can see why he did this. When we are wracked with guilt and shame, we become stuck in the past. We are unable to image a better future or, if we can, cannot imagine ourselves in it. We begin to see ourselves as unable to do good, unable to make a difference. What we have done, and what it makes us look at ourselves as gets us stuck. When we are stuck and cannot go forward, we turn back. We go back to what had been comfortable before our failure.

Peter was wracked with guilt, shame, and failure. Peter had left fishing, his comfort zone and all he knew before Jesus, to embark on an adventure of following Jesus. To Peter’s perspective, that mission had failed when Jesus died. But it was more than the mission that failed. Peter had failed.

Peter had promised Jesus he would not leave his side, hat he would fight and die before letting the authorities. When Peter raised his sword to try and defend Jesus, he failed to chop off the head of the man coming for Jesus and only lopped of his ear – which Jesus promptly healed as if nothing had happened. When it was clear no amount of fighting could keep Jesus free, Peter ran for his life and hid. It wasn’t Peter, who the other disciples had treated like a spokesman and leader, who had the courage to stand by Jesus’ side, it was the women followers. Peter had shook in fear, hiding and afraid.

Then, just like Jesus had predicted, when Peter was approached he denied Jesus, saying he never knew the man – not just once but three times.

Peter was broken. He knew he was no hero. He knew he didn’t have the strength to lead like people expected him to do. He knew when the going got tough, he ran like hell.

So Peter, even after seeing Jesus risen, is so full of shame he can’t bring himself to move forward into the bright future his new life in Christ makes possible. He slinked away in the shadows, into that comfort zone that was the last place he remembered feeling safe before his failure – just as many of you have when you were immobilized by failure and shame.

templeofGod_000This immobilization shows what shame and guilt are. Peter is struggling with both. Guilt is simply feeling bad that you have done something wrong. It hurts awful, but actually can be a positive thing. When I stub my toe I learn not to kick against a brick wall. When I feel guilt I learn which actions are wrong, and that pain helps me change by giving up bad action.

Shame on the other hand is immobilizing. While guilt is about what you have done, when you & I feel shame that feeling is about who you are. You no longer feel the remorse that you hurt a friend, you begin to say “I’m a horrible person who can’t keep a friendship. I don’t deserve support”. When you feel the guilt of having lied or cheated, you commit to be truthful and honest, not being pushed into closets again. But when this becomes shame you begin to say “I am lying good-for-nothing. No-one would like me if they knew me, and I can never do the right thing”. Guilt can bring remorse, and with remorse you can change your life for the better. Shame causes people to shut down and regress.

It is not Peter’s guilt that keeps him from moving forward – if anything his guilt makes him wish he could. It is his heart-wrenching shame. His hatred of who he is for denying Jesus.

It is shame that drives Peter back to fishing, making him unable to say “I will change, and become a person of courage, no longer hiding in fear by the fireside”, and keeps him from going sent as Jesus said he should. That same shame was what immobilized Bill Wilson when he knew he must deal with his alcoholism, and that was almost fatal to Troy Perry when he decided he was too filthy as a gay man to be worth living.

How does Jesus respond?

Jesus responds by directly confronting Peter’s failure head on. He does it by doing two things.

First Jesus brings Peter into a situation mirroring moments of Peter’s life with Jesus – where Peter gets a miraculous catch of feet as he did at his call to follow Jesus; and where Jesus makes a meal for the disciples like Jesus did on the night Judas betrayed Jesus & Peter abandoned him. And then Jesus asks Peter three times in that moment, does he love Jesus? These three questions are a chance for Peter to experience saying “Yes” to Jesus as many times as Peter had said no to him, when Jesus denied him at

Jesus’ trial. The risen Jesus confronts Peter’s failure head-on.

So often when we experience shame in our lives, instead of confronting it head-on, we try to hide from it. We may run from it by jumping into new work at our job, in a hobby, or even in the church. We may run from it by jumping into a new relationship, or into bed with someone. We might run from it by diving into a bottle or lighting a joint. Pushing down the shame, hiding from the shame only makes it worse, more immobilizing.

In our relationships with others – whether in our families, or in the church – we do the same thing. We see others slinking away from feeling shame about actions. We say nothing – why bring up the past? Instead of speaking directly to what is happening, we let it go. And people who are hurting slip through the cracks.

Yet Jesus directly confronts what is happening, and to borrow a phrase from Rev. Terry McGuire, Jesus initiates grace. He directly speaks to what has happened, but in a way that affirms to Peter that there is a future for him, that Jesus has place for him in his life, and that Peter can choose a path where the past doesn’t define him. Jesus directly invites Peter to embrace their relationship again.

bill wIn a real this is very similar to what Bill Wilson and Troy Perry experience. While in the hospital Bill Wilson cries out to God saying “God, if there is a God, show yourself!” and Bill Wilson has an experience of seeing blinding light and hearing the words “You are free now”. That moment is a turning point for Bill Wilson where he is able to let go of the past because he knows his relationship with his Higher Power, with life, and the future isn’t defined by his failings. He is not defined by them either. Likewise, when Troy Perry reaches near death, he has the experience of hearing what he feels is the voice of God telling him that God loves him, just as he is, and that God wants him to share with others who, like him, have heard God detested them that God loves them too. For both of them this experience gives them the sense that life is worth living, that they are not disposable, and that there is a future for them. They experience the risen Jesus confronting their shame and guilt initiating grace.

This allows them to learn the lesson of guilt and change the direction of their lives.  You may not have had a visionary experience. In fact I hope you haven’t – a visionary experience is something God usually gives us only after God has tried to quietly speak, guide, influence us and we were too distracted by life’s busyness, too caught up in our own pain and angst, to listen. I challenge you to not wait for that, but instead take time to confront your feelings of guilt and of shame.

Take them to God. Look and listen for God’s response. I believe as you look and listen you will see Jesus reaffirming his relationship with you, letting you know that your failures do not define you, and carving out a bright future with you. As you experience this I think you will find that these broken places in your life that can create shame, when you open up them up to God can become the places where God’s presence shines through. As you let go of the shame, you will find God giving you the power to move forward, at times accepting what you felt was too broken to embrace and other times empowered to change course where mistakes have been made.

How can we as a church help people learn to reach out to God & others instead of letting shame consume them?

Finally after Jesus reassures him that their relationship continues, Jesus invites people to begin his journey forward by focusing on others. He invites them to get outside of themselves.

Jesus does this in a number of ways. First by inviting Peter to share his love for Jesus, Jesus calls Peter to focus on making amends in his relationship with Jesus. Making amends to others we have hurt can be a powerful way to mend our broken relationships and heal the pain of guilt. Shame however immobilizes us so all we do is beat up ourselves, as Peter has been doing to himself.

Next Jesus invites Peter to demonstrate a change by serving others – feed my sheep.

This call to make do something outside of yourself is part of what both Bill Wilson and Troy Perry are led to do in the face of their shame. Bill Wilson begins a process of making amends that later becomes a step in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement, because it helps him use his mistakes to learn how to become a healthier person instead of immobilizing him with shame. Then he finds when he helps others work through their problems with addiction, it helps him maintain his sobriety. For Bill this helps him move past shame to a new future, and gives birth the Alcoholics Anonymous movement.

troy perryTroy Perry’s experience where the living Jesus told him he was loved was linked with the call to tell others, particularly gay people who were grossly mistreated in his day, that they are loved. In helping others discover that they are loved, in helping work with them to find a place, Troy Perry begins to discover his own self-worth and replace his shame with being gay with a sense he is loved, loveable, and worth respect. His work to follow Jesus’ call births the gay-affirming Christian movement, and to his decision to choose service over shame our church ultimately owes its existence.

This movement the living Jesus invited Peter, Bill Wilson, and Troy Perry to – which we are invited to – is beautiful expressed by theologian Jurgen Moltmann, when he prays: “For a long time I looked for you within myself and crept into the shell of my soul, shielding myself with an armour of inapproachability. But you were outside – outside myself – and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others. The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them. For it awakens the unconditional Yes to life.” (The Source of Life).

Jesus is standing in the midst of our shame, guilt, and brokenness. Jesus is calling us to open ourselves up, to share our unspeakable shame and pain with God, so that we can find those broken places becoming cracks through which God’s light can shine into our darkness. As we do so, we are challenged to reach out to God, to own our mistakes, and seek to turn our focus from how much we have failed to how we can be people healing the breaches for ourselves and others. We are invited out of ourselves, like Peter, into lives of service.

In closing, I want to ask you to listen to a song by Jewel entitled “Hands”. As you do so, I want you to talk to God about whatever shame or guilt is holding you back. Invite God into it. Open yourselves during this time of quiet prayer to God’s presence in the midst of it, and let God embrace you. Look for how you can move outside of yourself toward God and others, and maybe even let your experiences of seeming failure be transformed into a time of service.

After the end of the sermon, I want to invite you take part in a responsive reading as a prayer before communion.

 

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Second Chances

As we reflect on the theme of new life and resurrection related to Easter-tide, the ways in which second chances — and third or fourth ones, even — open up to us through the new life the risen Christ opens up continually before us seems central to me.

To celebrate it, here is a nice piece by Gregory Alan Isakov celebrating second chances:

 

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(repost) Dying To Live

As we celebrate the power of new life resurrection brings in our life in this season of Easter-tide between Easter Sunday & Ascension Day,  I thought this old devotional would be worth sharing.

What experience of resurrection power and new life are you finding this season?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

John 12:20-26.

seedlingJesus puts loss into a new perspective. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”.  Our struggles, our waiting, our trials, our losses, so often cause pain.  This pain can lead to the death of ego, a laying aside of our self-centeredness and unhealthy pride.   It takes such death for us to open to our new possibilities, open to God’s guidance in our lives, and open to knowing ourselves and others in a deeper level.

Death and resurrection is pictured in this image as the pathway to real, meaningful life.   We must constantly be willing to put aside parts of who we are, aspects of our identity we have clung to which now are becoming barriers to true loving service, to building reconciliation with justice, or to humbly connecting more deeply with God, ourselves, and others.   Only in doing so can we discover the life with purpose for which we were made.

 

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