26 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
Wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13
For many of us, Saturday is our favorite day of the week. It’s family time. We’re off work, or at least we tend to work a shorter day. There’s no church (am I allowed to say that as if it is a positive?). Saturdays are a relief from the daily grind and an opportunity to have fun, to go to the shops, to be active. But during Holy Week, Saturday has become a day of anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection. The church has longed celebrated Holy Saturday as a day to be quiet as the church lays in wait with pregnant anticipation of the life that will come.
I tend to believe that the disciples really didn’t have the hope of something happening on the Sunday. I think they were still living in confusion, hurt and sorrow. We can only imagine all the emotions that would have been experienced that first Easter. The deep sadness as they saw his limp body taken from the cross. The news that Joseph had done the right thing by him and buried him properly, the way he deserved. Then the anger! ‘Deserved! He didn’t deserve any of this’, your lungs would explode with the indignation of the indecency against the most decent man you had ever known. Yet, if you’re one of the disciples there is nothing you can do, save lay low and hope. Doubts are knocking at the door making you wonder what happens now.
When a loved one dies you hope there is life after death, but so often you share the question with the disciples that first Easter weekend –– what happens now? In church settings we are told that Jesus’ own resurrection seals the hope for all of us, for it is by his resurrection we know it is possible for one to rise from the dead. He told his good friends Mary and Martha that he was the resurrection and the life, and then proved it by inviting Lazarus to come out from his grave. He said anyone who believes would have life. We believe. We especially want to believe when it is our loved one who has died. We desparately want to believe when we are peering over the edge of our own death precipe. Do the doubts that sneak into our minds steal that reality away?
The doubts can’t whisk away fact. There’s a resurrection that we will experience whether we believe it or not. Facts are not true or false based on belief, they are based on reality. It is reality that there is life after death. Scripture tells us we will all stand before judgement. Sinners will stand forgiven because on Good Friday Jesus bore their judgement. What our beliefs do is help us get through the Saturdays of life with anticipation rather than with despair, fear and dread. This belief pulls us to the edge of death, whether its ours or someone else’s, waiting with wonder. Belief turns doubt into wonder. I wonder what it will be like. Maybe our series this week should have been called from doubt to wonder.
Postscript: Since writing this blog post a week ago, my dear Dad passed away on 23 March. I’m pretty happy life after death is a reality. I sit and wonder, slightly envious, full of thankfulness….
25 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14,15
I would expect that there are very few people reading this reflection who doubt the death of Jesus? It seems to be a well documented fact; even a secular historian cites a man named Jesus being killed by Romans. Although we don’t doubt the event happened, we may doubt it’s meaning, or whether it’s good, or whether it’s sufficient. Maybe we have more doubts than we think regarding his death.
The Bible encourages us to believe that Jesus death on the cross was significant for all of humankind as it brought forgiveness of sin, gained victory over evil, satisfied our need to die, and was the most inspirational example of love. And yet, we still feel guilty, evil seems to be still alive and flourishing, our loved ones still die, and God killing his son is considered more controversial than inspiring. What appears to be our reality runs contrary to scriptural truth, and the contradiction breeds more doubt than it does belief.
And what about the doubt that the death is good? Many are puzzled that we glibly call the day when the world killed Jesus ‘Good Friday’. Recently, I was trying to explain it to some children and I could see the skepticism in their face. They were not being skeptical it happened, but that a death was called good. I felt like a cheap salesman trying to sell a used teabag to a Brit with the pitch that a watered down version is significantly healthier. Yet the Scripture says it is better that one should die than all perish. So if Jesus death keeps us all from perishing, that’s good; isn’t it?
‘But is it good enough’ we hear whispered at times; strangely sounding like the voice of our own doubts. Can it be possible that a death 2,000 years ago can meet the requirement of a holy God who had pronounced death as a deserving end to all humankind? To answer our doubt about sufficiency we want to insist on some good works. ‘Go to church, avoid cheating, be kind –– that will ensure salvation’. Again, that’s the voice of doubt. Listen to the voice of Christ: ‘it is finished’. Really?
What do we do with these doubts? We ought not ignore them or suppress them. Ignoring them will make them raise their voice from a whisper to a shout. Suppressing them will cause them to spring back larger, more unmanageable, and with a bit of an attitude. Address the doubts by laying them before God, the Holy Spirit, in prayer. His responsibility is to lead us into all truth, to comfort and to guide. For the questions God wants us know the answers, the Spirit will reveal the truth we need to know. He will comfort when the answers are not yet forthcoming, and he will guide us along the difficult path from doubt to belief.
24 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 1:16
The night before he dies, Jesus has dinner with his friends and initiates the most significant Christian ritual we have today. It was the beginning of the Eucharist, or as some of us call it: Communion, the Breaking of the Bread, Remembrance Service, or the Last Supper. Protestants and Catholics both practice it. We do have different views on what transpires when we take the bread and drink the cup: some think it actually becomes his flesh and blood, others think the elements coexist as both bread and wine and flesh and blood, and others think nothing happens other than you swallow an object lesson as you conjure up a memory –– the elements are merely symbolic. Speaking from the tradition of those who believe the elements are symbolic, for that is my background, let me suggest that our belief is borne from a degree of doubt in the mystical, and can lead to a dangerous indifference.
If we revisit the story of Jesus and notice he never uses language in any of the accounts such as ‘it’s like my body’. Neither does he use the language of simile when it comes to the wine. What he says doesn’t make sense, but the taking of the bread and wine as Jesus body and blood didn’t need to make logical sense to the partakers of Communion for the first 1700 years it was done by believers. It was a miracle each time that they accepted and celebrated. Modernity has often robbed us of the mystical. Have our doubts born out of rationale thought reduced the sacred to mere symbols of a cold and boring ritual?
In the symbolic tradition, we don’t refer to Communion as a sacrament. There is a profundity to the word sacrament. Originally the word was used to speak of an action in which Jesus was present (a meaning lost in our vernacular use). If your theological framework included the idea that the bread and wine was actually part of Jesus or became so, you would approach it with more of a gasp of awe. If you thought Jesus was right there, we would be humbled, wanting to express our recognition that we are on holy ground. Yet, the very fact we can take it as we gaze out the window, yawn or look at our mobiles, suggests there is doubt as to just how sacred this moment is in our minds or heart.
How do we move to believe it is something special beyond the symbolism like a flag or a brand logo? Maybe by refusing on insisting it has to be logical. I’m not asking us to think it actually becomes his flesh or blood, but we should confess the doubt in the mystical and move to a belief that says its more than what we understand. Then, when we hold the elements this Sunday our hands may tremble and our hearts burn within us.
23 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?’ John 6:60
Even the biggest doubters believe that some of the teachings attributed to Jesus were profound. The turn the other cheek principle, the first shall be last, the love others are all lessons that need to be implemented by our colleagues, partners and children. No one doubts that. What we doubt is whether the teaching works for us personally? If you turn the other cheek, you will have two sore cheeks, a gloating enemy and what good is that? If the first is last, then that will only encourage losers, wrongly protecting them from the harsh reality of the survival of the fittest. I’ll be gentle in my critique of the loving others principle, that’s workable as long as I don’t have to love them more than myself; although Jesus may have come dangerously close to implying that with his feet washing and crucifixion examples. Rarely do we allow these thoughts to be verbalized in polite company, but our interactions within the church tell us that we have some doubt about what Jesus taught. There is no point in denying it; remember actions speak louder than words.
Why do we doubt it? Is it to excuse you from having to follow the teaching? The argument might go like this:
I don’t want to turn the other cheek. It is important that bullies be taught a lesson. I will strike back (although next time I will remember to strike first) and champion the cause for all the downtrodden.
To justify your actions you express doubt whether Jesus meant turning the cheek in the context of the bully, or was he just saying not to retaliate in certain situations. The doubts give you the freedom to ignore Jesus’ teaching. But those manufactured doubts, aren’t doubts, they are lies. We propagate these lies to justify our disobedience. I think Jesus taught something about not lying, but then again, maybe he didn’t mean that in this situation. I presume that’s not the reason for all our doubts.
Sometimes we doubt because we are scared. Scared that the teaching may not come true. Following much of Jesus’ teaching puts you at risk. If I allow myself to be last, I might find out that I actually end up being last! ‘But I thought I was suppose to be first’ you plead from the back of the queue. Learning that God is faithful is the only antidote to those fearful doubts. You can read about God’s faithfulness in Scripture, and you can hear about it from friends who’ll attest to him being true to what he said –– both help us to believe. But the best support to our faith walk is found in just taking your own step of believing, finding out for yourself it is true; and then taking another step that affirms that belief. Each step is a powerful boost to our confidence helping us to regain that balance that doubt caused us to be unstable. After a few faith enhancing steps you are well on your way from doubt to faith.
22 March, 2016 40 days of change-Lent, 2016
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
After cleaning house at the temple, Jesus heads out of Jerusalem and comes across a fig tree with leaves but no fruit. He has words with the fig tree due to its lack of production and the disciples witness its miraculous death. This miracle gives Jesus the opportunity to reiterate a lesson he had taught before when he had first uttered the verse quoted above. However, this time Jesus says to move the mountain, you need to have faith without doubt (Matthew 21:21).
The implication of what Jesus says is that the least amount of doubt defeats the greatest amount of faith. Doubt keeps mountains where they are. If that’s the case, then no wonder we live in a world with few miracle for most people have some inkling of a question around the edges of their faith. We may not doubt God can do the miraculous; more often our doubt relates to whether or not He wants to in the situation at hand. If that’s the case, there is no hope of us seeing a mountain move in our lifetime for who of us have faith without doubt? Could there be another understanding of this passage?
Jesus understood people had doubts. In his introduction to faith moving mountains in the verse above, Jesus says that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. That’s not very much faith. Consider it from a mathematical perspective. If we could give faith and doubt numerical value and then subtract our doubt from our faith, would the remainder be a positive or a negative? Admittedly, it may be a small amount, but I expect for many of you reading these reflections it would be positive amount. The point of the mustard seed metaphor is you don’t have to have a lot of faith to see God do something spectacular, but you have to have more faith than doubt. Unfortunately, some of us get the metaphor mixed up and read it as: if you have a mountain of faith, you may be able to move a mustard seed. When we think that way our doubt is greater than our faith.
We will have doubts; but will the doubts exceed and defeat our faith? In Mark 9, Jesus honors a man’s faith despite the man’s admission that he had doubts. The man says to Jesus, ‘I believe, help me in my unbelief’. Let that be our honest approach when we stand at the metaphorical mountain and hope it moves to the left or to the right. Tell God you believe he is able to do it (he created the big pile of rock) and then ask him to help with the unbelief that doubts God’s will. As you sincerely and transparently cry out to God, taking the first step in a journey from doubt to belief, watch carefully the mountain doesn’t land on your toes.