Friday, April 29, 2016

New Earth New Worth

Sermon preached April 24, 2016

Texts: Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6

            Last Sunday, the Scripture text was from the Book of Revelation.  We spent just a few moments in the sermon talking about the book in general and I noted that New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, in his chronological version of The New Testament, The Evolution of the Word, writes about trying to understand Revelation.  The heart of the message of Revelation, according to Borg is: That accommodation to imperial ways is wrong.  That the struggle between the lordship of Christ and the lordship of Caesar is the great conflict.  That it is important to persevere even when it looks like the beast is winning.  That, appearances to the contrary, the beast does not have the final word and is not the final Word. (369)  Borg speaks of the hope represented in RevelationIts language expresses the human yearning for a different kind of world, one lived in the presence of God, in which the sufferings of this world are no more. (370)
            The profound hope and deep yearning in Revelation is expressed beautifully in the twenty-first chapter.  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away….  “See, the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s peoples, and God will be with them; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….  See I am making all things new.”
            Can’t you just feel the yearning, the hope?  Don’t the words strike a deeply resonant chord? Don’t we want a new heaven and a new earth, a place without all the hurt, pain, sorrow, and inhumanity we know on this earth?  We long for the day when the world is different.
            What this passage represents is also an encouragement to think differently about now, about our daily lives.  If the new heaven and new earth are places of healing, kindness and care, then these are the values we want to emphasize in our lives now.  The vision of a new heaven and a new earth is also about new worth, what we should value now.  One of the fascinating dimensions of the vision is that it reminds us that the earth itself is part of God’s redemptive work.  Inspired by such a vision, we might, on this Earth Day, think about how we should re-value the earth itself.  God’s work in the world is not about rescuing us all for a heavenly realm, it is about creating a new heaven and a new earth.  See I am making all things new.
            So how might we think in some new ways about the Earth as part of God’s redemptive work in the world, God’s work of making all things new?  To be honest, what I have to share this morning may not be all that new to many of us, but I hope it is a good reminder of who we are, of how we are connected to the earth, and of how and why we should include it in our circle of healing and loving and caring.
            As humans, we are a part of the natural world.  We exist in a web of relationships – a relationship with God, relationships to each other, relationships to the earth, its living things, its elements.  We are here this morning to tend to our relationship with God in Jesus in a special, focused and intentional way.  We gather together with others, and our experience here this morning is influenced by others.  Was it a hassle getting the family ready today?  Did I see my best friend here today?  If this is your first time here you may be wondering if someone will be friendly or will someone be overbearing?  The weather affects us.  If we had breakfast, we were nourished by the earth – by plant life or animal life.  We are breathing air.  We drink water.  We exist in a web of relationships, and we are a part of that web.  Psalm 148 encourages all the voices of creation to sing God’s praises, including the human voices.  We are part of that chorus of nature.  Biologist Charles Birch and theologian John Cobb write, “the human species is continuous with the rest of nature” (The Liberation of Life, 139).
            We exist in the web of life and are sustained by the earth, its life, its elements.  As human beings we are unique, though.  We have a capacity for a level of consciousness and reflection and intellection unknown in other parts of the web of life.  It is a source of wonder and beauty.  We write poetry and novels.  We create beautiful art.  We invent.   It is a source of terror and horror. We use our intelligence to build gas chambers and atomic bombs.  We need minerals to build our inventions and electricity to run them, and we extract minerals and fuel sources from the earth often with insufficient attention to how it leaves our water or the animals or the landscapes.  Animals can be violent with each other, but only for food or to protect their young.  Humans destroy each other creatively, inventively over ideas.  Animals kill, only humans wage war.
            As unique forms of consciousness, humans have a special responsibility to create beauty and to care.  I love this part of a poem by Denise Levertov (“Tragic Error”).
Surely we were to have been
earth’s mind, mirror, reflective source.
Surely our task
was to have been
to love the earth,
to dress and keep it like Eden’s garden.

That would have been our dominion:
to be those cells of earth’s body that could
perceive and imagine…

            A Christians seeking to love God and neighbor, we need to understand earth as our neighbor, as part of the goodness of God’s creation, as part of God’s healing and redemptive work.
            Earth is not only valuable for the way it sustains us and is related to us, it is valuable, and invaluable, as a way of knowing God more deeply and intimately.  The theologian Sallie McFague writes, “Christianity also believes nature gives us intimations of the divine” (Super, Natural Christians, 172).  In our relationship to nature, to the Earth, we can enhance our relationship with God.  Let me share two bits of literature which testify to this.
“The Peace of Wild Things”   Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

            In the peace of wild things, we can experience the peace of Christ.  In the grace of the world we can know the grace of God.  I have experienced this on the side of the highway in a snowstorm near Itasca State Park.  I have experienced this seeing a full moon along highway 2.  I feel the grace of the world when I step into our parking lot on a summer night to see the bright orange moon reflecting on Lake Superior.  I hear something of the voice of God listening to waves gently lap against a shoreline.  Where do you know the earth and through that know God more deeply and intimately?
            Annie Dillard, The Abundance, 142-143:  Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain.  But if we describe a world to encompass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull.  For unless all ages and races of men have been deluded… there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous.  About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building.  It is an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.  The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped.  His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air.  Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass.  I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step off the gutter caught my eye; there was no one else in sight.  The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest.  The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there.
            Praise God, sun and moon and all you shining stars.  Praise the Lord from the earth sea monster and all deeps, fire and hail and snow and frost and wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, creeping things, flying birds.  Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there, and when we are to know that this is also the beauty and grace of God.
            The earth sustains us.  The earth reveals something of God to us.  We are part of this rich web of life, with a unique task to mirror, to reflect, to care, to know the peace of wild things, to see beauty and grace, to wrap the earth in our circle of love and care, and to join the chorus of praise to God.
            And in just a bit we will take one of the most ubiquitous elements of the earth, and one of its most critical, and we will pour it and bless it and let it bless us as we bless Charlotte.  It is such a simple element, but used in this way there is beauty and grace and the peace of wild things, there is a connection to the springs of the water of life, and we are blessed as we remember our connections to each other in a community of love and forgiveness.

            The vision of yearning and hope in Revelation is an invitation to us all to live with grace, to live more consciously of our connections to each other and to the earth, to celebrate with joy the beauty and grace that we know on this earth, while also working and waiting for that new heaven and new earth, working with God to make all things new.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Reach Out and Touch

Sermon preached April 17, 2016

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17

            Diana Ross, “Reach Out and Touch”
            This is really a nice song, and the Scripture Steve read is a rather strange Scripture.  My task in the next few minutes it to link them together, not for the sake of the song but for our own sake.  I think the song illumines the Scripture and both speak to our lives and our life together as a church.
            Anytime we greet the Book of Revelation I would imagine that we feel a little bit of discomfort.  It is a book filled with strange images. It is a text some have used in quite threatening ways – “The Lord is Coming, and he is angry” – “Jesus is coming, are you ready?”  One writer has called it a “sick text” (Will Self, Revelations, 381)
            We will be reading from Revelation again next week, too, so here are a couple of helpful comments about the book.  Adam Hamilton, in Making Sense of the Bible writes this: The visions John is about to convey were not meant to tell twenty-first century Christians about the end times but to encourage and challenge first-century Christians living in what is now Turkey to stop conforming to the culture around them and to avoid anything that smacked of the worship of Rome, its emperor, and its gods….  To convey his message, John adopts a form of writing well known among Jews and Christians of his time – we call it apocalyptic.  This kind of writing communicates through visions and images that are powerful and evocative. (283)
            Marcus Borg, in his chronological version of The New Testament, The Evolution of the Word, also writes about trying to understand Revelation.  The heart of the message of Revelation, according to Borg is: That accommodation to imperial ways is wrong.  That the struggle between the lordship of Christ and the lordship of Caesar is the great conflict.  That it is important to persevere even when it looks like the beast is winning.  That, appearances to the contrary, the beast does not have the final word and is not the final Word. (369)  Borg goes on speak of the hope represented in RevelationIts language expresses the human yearning for a different kind of world, one lived in the presence of God, in which the sufferings of this world are no more. (370)
            We need to see the verses read this morning in this broader context.  The writer is communicating through visions and images.  This particular vision seems one intended to encourage the hearers to hold on, to continue to choose the way and values of Jesus as contrasted with the way and values of the Roman Empire.  To be sure, some of the images are a bit difficult, particularly the image of robes “made white in the blood of the Lamb.”  Two things here.  Jesus death was unexpected and traumatic for the disciples.  How could someone who had done such good and brought God so close be killed in such a shameful way?  After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus had to make sense of that death.  Something good seemed to come from it, and one set of images for understanding that was the sacrificial imagery from the Jewish Temple rituals, the blood of lambs.
            We might also want to consider that the writer of Revelation seems to have been a Palestinian Jewish Christian who likely would have seen tremendous suffering as Rome put down the Jewish rebellion in 68-70 A.D., destroying the Temple in the process.  Faithful people may experience traumatic ordeals.
            Even though there are background images reflecting violence, the primary imagery here is joyous.  It is a vision that speaks about what the Jesus community should be, and what the world will be when the values of the Jesus community prevail.
            We have a vision of a multi-ethnic multitude – a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.  The church, the Jesus community which sings the songs of God, is meant to be an inclusive community.  That the church has in its history justified slavery and segregation, that it has limited the participation of groups of persons runs directly counter to this vision.  The church, the Jesus community reaches out to all people.
            We have in this text a strong sense that the values of the Jesus community are different from the values of the empire.  The language used in the songs – “salvation,” “blessing,” “honor,” “glory,” “wisdom,” “honor,” and “power” were terms used to extol the Emperor and the Roman Empire.  They were common in Roman propaganda.  Here we are reminded that it is God from whom comes salvation and wisdom.  God is the one to whom glory and honor belong.  God’s power, the power of love, is what is most powerful, not the oppressive power of Rome.  The Jesus community is a community oriented toward growing in love of God and neighbor.
            The vision in this text culminates with an expansive vision of a new world where there is shelter for all.  In this new world there will be no hunger or thirst.  God will guide, and bring us to the springs of the water of life.  God will wipe away every tear.  This is God’s dream for the world, and we are invited to work toward such healing even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
            The church, the Jesus community is about a three-step dance of reaching out to all people, of growing in love of God and neighbor, and of healing a broken world.  The denomination of which we are a part, The United Methodist Church, has said that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Contained in that statement is the three-step dance of reaching out to others inviting them to join the way of Jesus, of helping people on the journey of being disciples – growing in love of God and neighbor, and of working with each other and the Spirit toward transforming the world toward healing.
            The Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church, the more local affiliation of The United Methodist Church with which we are affiliated has made its core work the nurturing and encouraging of vital congregations that reach out to others, that help people be spiritually vital by helping them grow in love of God and neighbor, and of working together and with the Spirit to heal a broken world.
            Our church’s mission statement is that we are a place that welcomes all people – reaching out; that is guided by the teaching and unconditional love of Jesus – which means helping each other grow in love of God and neighbor and working to heal a broken world; and that inspires us to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ – which means helping each other grow in love of God and neighbor and working to heal a broken world.
            The church is about reaching out, welcoming a multitude from every place, from every language.  The church is about growing in love of God and neighbor.  The church is about working to heal a broken world.  Let’s continue to ask ourselves how we invite and welcome people here.  Let’s continue to ask ourselves how we want people to be different because they are part of First UMC.  Let’s continue to ask how we want our community and world to be different because we are here.  When I have thought about such questions over the years, some of the things I dream about for us is that we help people be disciples of Jesus Christ who are thoughtful, passionate, and compassionate.  Together we help each other be people who are joyful, genuine, gentle generous, and concerned for justice.
            Churches as they exist are not perfect, sometimes sadly and tragically falling short of being places of inclusivity, welcome, growth in love and healing.  I have shared with you one of my own experiences of being the object of an insensitive practical joke at a church youth group, having my apple cider spiked at a youth group event.  The church has at times been cruel and exclusive, and too conformed to the values of the surrounding culture which contradict the love of God.
            Yet at its best, or at its better, the church surrounds us with a community of love and forgiveness.  It gives us a sense of place, a sense of home.  My family and I have experienced the church as that kind of place – celebrating with us, and grieving with us.  This church has been with us when we have lost loved ones and when we have celebrated the good gifts of life.  My children know the church to be an extended family of a kind.
            I know that I have grown immeasurably because of the church, grown in love of God and neighbor.  As I see different people on their own growth journey, as I have the opportunity to speak with people whose experience is different from my own, as I listen to different ideas, I grow.
            Because of the church, and the faith we are nurturing here, I continue to find the courage and stamina to work on healing a broken world.  Sometimes the brokenness of the world seems so overwhelming – the beast sometimes seems to be winning.  It would be tempting to withdraw, but because of the church I continue to work to confront the challenges of poverty, racism, environmental degradation, historical and personal trauma.  Because we are together, and because the Spirit is with us in a special way because we are together, we can continue to reach out and touch somebody’s hand and make the world a better place.

            So let’s dance on – reach, grow, heal – reach, grow heal.  Let’s be that wonderfully welcoming place where multitudes can find a home in the love of God in Jesus.  Let’s nurture a thoughtful, passionate and compassionate Christian faith that nourishes in us joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and concern for justice.  Dance on.  Reach out and touch, somebody’s hand, and make this a better world in Jesus name.  Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Loving Jesus

Sermon preached April 10, 2016

Texts: John 21:1-19

            Sometimes it is best to talk about tough topics when you are a bit removed from them.  When I was a district superintendent, I much preferred discussing church conflict management when churches were not having a conflict.  Pre-marriage counseling is about discussing potentially challenging subjects before they arise – do you squeeze the tube from the end or the middle?  Do you put the paper over or under – paper towels or toilet paper?
            This is not prime gift giving season, unless there is a birthday in your family, so let’s talk about gift-giving, particularly about bad gift giving.  Doing a little research, I found a list of the worst gifts actually given.  Here are some highlights
·        Styrofoam alligator head with solar-powered light up eyes
·        A stainless steel wok, given to a ten-year old
·        A mom gives her son a 3-D, the son who is blind in one eye
·        A mother-in-law gives her daughter-in-law a rice cooker, for three straight years
·        A six-pack of AA batteries, containing only four batteries
·        A grandmother gives her grandson wood block cars, the grandson is 15
·        A glittery metallic tattoo kit designed for an 8-year old girl, including sayings such as “you go girl’ given by a grandmother to her 15-year old grandson
·        The ever popular toilet bowl cleaner as a Christmas stocking stuffer
·        A lighter shaped like a gun given to a man who had just quit smoking
·        A mother-in-law gives to her daughter-in-law a used purse with a new box of diet pills inside

The advice we are often given these days is that we should express our appreciation to others, that we should show love for others, in ways that are meaningful for the person we are appreciating or loving. Harville Hendrix, in his book on marriage, Getting the Love You Want, makes the case for this revision of the golden rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” (124)  He calls this “re-romanticizing.” 
In their book How Full Is Your Bucket?  Tom Rath and Donald Clifton tell a story about a manager named Susan who wanted to reward her best customer service representative, Matt.  Susan designed a celebratory evening to honor her customer service reps.  It was a nice event at a fine hotel.  The grand finale would be awards given to the top sales representative, and she was saving Matt’s award for last.  She knew how much she always appreciated that kind of recognition.  It all blew up.  Matt was less than delighted when his name was announced as the top sales representative.  He said a few words about having all the plaques he needed.  Susan knew she needed to do something different, so she tried to find out about Matt.  She discovered that the greatest joy in his life was his two daughters.  When Matt was again the top performing sales representative, instead of presenting him a trophy, Susan had arranged for Matt’s wife to take their daughters to have a portrait made by a fine photographer.  This time, Matt was brought to tears by the thoughtful recognition. (81-84)
In a classic work from the middle of the last century, theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, wrote about The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry.  Niebuhr wrote that the purpose of the church, the goal of the church is “the increase among [persons] of the love of God and neighbor” (31).  That’s why we are here, to increase the love of God and neighbor.
So how does God want to be loved?  For Christians, we look to Jesus to find our deepest clues about God.  How does Jesus want to be loved?  What does it mean to say we are loving Jesus?
The scene is richly drawn.  Some of the disciples are together and Peter says, “I am going fishing.”  Apparently it is very early in the morning, before dawn, for the fishing ends at daybreak, and they have been skunked.  A voice from the shore asks about their fishing, and then offers advice.  “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  They did, and the haul was almost more than they could manage.  Jesus is recognized.  Apparently Jesus is an awesome fishing guide.  Peter puts on some clothes for he had not been wearing any, interesting detail – no wonder they went fishing in the dark.  Then he jumps into the water.  Seems a little backwards to me.  The scene becomes very tender.  There is a fire, and fish are cooking, to which more fish will be added.  There remains a mysterious element.  They know it is Jesus, but they don’t know.
The next moment, however, there is no doubt that it is Jesus who talks to Peter.   Three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Three times Peter says “yes.”  Each time Jesus responds: “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”
How does God, as we know God in Jesus want to be loved?  Apparently by having us love others, care for others.  H. Richard Niebuhr, hundreds of years later writes insightfully: God’s love of self and neighbor, neighbor’s love of God and self, self’s love of God and neighbor are so closely interrelated that none of the relations exits without the other (34).  Ponder that for a few moments.  God’s love of self and neighbor, neighbor’s love of God and self, self’s love of God and neighbor are so closely interrelated that none of the relations exits without the other.
Loving God in Jesus, loving Jesus has something to do with things like worship and prayer. How do you love someone who never gets any of your time or attention, and that’s at the heart of things like worship and prayer, taking some intentional time for God.  But that isn’t what seems most important to loving God in Jesus, or at least it is dramatically incomplete.
In one of his sermons on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,” John Wesley wrote that religious words were not enough – whatever creeds we may rehears, whatever professions of faith we may make, whatever number of prayers we may repeat, whatever thanksgivings we read or say to God (John Wesley’s Forty-Four Sermons, 371)  Instead, what matters is the person who: loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and soul, and strength…  who in his spirit, doeth good unto all men (374).  God’s love of self and neighbor, neighbor’s love of God and self, self’s love of God and neighbor are so closely interrelated that none of the relations exits without the other.
H. Richard Niebuhr also wrote brilliantly about our neighbor.  He is the near one and the far one; the one beside the road I travel here and now; the one removed from me by distances in time and space, in convictions and loyalties.  He is my friend, the one who has shown compassion toward me; and my enemy, who fights against me.  He is the one in need, in whose hunger, nakedness, imprisonment and illness I see or ought to see the universal suffering servant.  He is the oppressed one who has not risen in rebellion against my oppression nor rewarded me according to my deserts as individual or member of a heedlessly exploiting group.  He is the compassionate one who ministers to my needs: the stranger who takes me in; the father and mother, sister and brother. (38)
After his death, Jesus shows up.  He shows up on the shore just as light is dawning, in that dim light of day.  He asks how the fishing is going, and offers some help.  He prepares a breakfast for his friends, who are no doubt hungry after their early, early morning work.  Jesus shows up with some questions.  “Do you love me?”  Feed, tend, care.  Be there for others on the misty mornings of others hungers.  Be there to offer wisdom when it can be offered.  Be there to connect others more deeply to Jesus.
Last weekend, I taught some Minnesota United Methodist lay speakers more about John Wesley and the Methodist movement.  During the lunch break, just before I left to return to Duluth, a young woman, a mother of two, asked me some questions about licensing as a local pastor, about what it could mean for her life and her passion which is working with youth.  Last Sunday evening I received a Facebook friend request from this woman, and then a message.  She thanked me for teaching, then said that she is committing herself to following a call into becoming a licensed local pastor.  “In am nervous, excited and taking a leap of faith – but wanted you to know that it was you who helped make the decision clear.  Thank you for you being you.”  All I can do is marvel at how when we offer something of ourselves to others in care, wonderful things can happen, and Jesus feels love.

Still in the misty morning light, the voice comes.  Do you love me?  Then love, care.  Invite people to discover who they are in Jesus.  Help them hear the voice.  Do good.  Build the common good.  Worship matters.  Praying matters.  But they matter most because they help us listen, listen to the voice of Jesus, listen to the voice of our neighbors.  Somehow responding in care to our neighbors, we love not only them, but Jesus, too.  Amen.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Marked for Life

Sermon preached April 3, 2016

Texts: John 20:19-31

            When you were a child at meal time, and you did not want to eat something on your plate, did you ever hear “There are children starving in parts of the world”?  If you were witty you may have thought to yourself, “Well, you can send him these canned peas.”  At my house growing up, we had a clean plate policy, but my dad sometimes took it to an extreme.  I remember once having to finish ketchup I had not used with my meat.
            Anyway, somewhere along the way, I learned that it is not helpful to compare pain, at least not when people are expressing it or going through it.  It makes little psychological difference to a person suffering from a cut, to tell them at least they did not break a bone.  Telling someone that things could always be worse is not very helpful.
            One year after we moved to Duluth, our seventeen year-old miniature cocker spaniel, Annie was clearly not doing well.  On a day when all three of our children were home, we took Annie to the vet where she was put down.  I will never forget being in that room, saying goodbye, and holding her as the drugs worked quickly and she slipped away.  Not long after we got our dog Abby, a pom-a-poo, and a year later another pom-a-poo who we named Grace.  When Grace was five she suddenly became very ill, and we planned to take her to the vet on a Wednesday morning.  Very early that morning, she died lying next to me.  I will never forget that moment either.  Both times I cried.
            I know dogs are not people.  Over time, I can gain some perspective on grief and hurt and loss.  It is true in other situations.  Sometimes we realize later that a loss a hurt, a pain, was not as deep as we thought it was at the time, but at the time, we simply need to let it be.
            I want to share a story about someone’s loss.  It is one of the toughest losses anyone can know, the loss of a child.  Nicholas Wolterstorff  is a theologian, whose primary area of writing has been in philosophical theology.  He has authored books such as John Locke and the Ethics of Belief and Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology.  This is not light bedtime reading.  In 1983, on a Sunday afternoon in June, Nicholas Wolterstorff received a telephone call.  His twenty-five year old son, Eric, had died in a mountain-climbing accident.  From pondering that experience as a Christian and as a theologian, Wolterstorff wrote his moving book, Lament for a Son
            “Put your hand into my wounds,” said the risen Jesus to Thomas, “and you will know who I am.”  The wounds of Christ are his identity.  They tell us who he is.  He did not lose them.  They went down into the grave with him and they came up with him – visible, tangible, palpable.  Rising did not remove them.  He who broke the bonds of death kept his wounds. (92)
            Wolterstorff goes on to reflect a bit on what it might mean to rise with Christ, and then wraps up his reflection.  So I shall struggle to live the reality of Christ’s rising and death’s dying.  In my living my son’s dying will not be the last word.  But as I rise up, I bear the wounds of his death.  My rising does not remove them.  They mark me.  If you want to know who I am, put your hand in. (92-93)
Just because our losses may not be as tragic does not mean we do not feel them as a wounding, a scar, as being marked.  The risen Jesus is the marked Jesus, his wounds, his scars still are part of his identity, a vital part of his identity.  It is fascinating to see in John that those wounds are mentioned twice in just a few verses.  First Jesus invites disciples gathered in a locked house to see his wounds.  He is mysteriously present, pronounces peace, then invites them to see that it is him because of his wounds.  It is then, and only then, as they recognize this risen and marked Jesus that he sends them out and blows on them with the breath of the Spirit.
Thomas was not there, and he is not willing to take their second-hand experience for his own.  What he does ask for is a vision of the wounds, which are then given to him in a another mysterious appearance of the risen Jesus.
The risen Jesus is the marked Jesus.  The risen life in Jesus is also the marked life in Jesus.  Just as Jesus’ wounds were an important part of his identity, so our wounds are part of who we are.  The resurrection life is not a life where all our wounds disappear, all our scars become invisible, the resurrection life is a life where we acknowledge our wounds, our scars, our marks, but by the grace of God allow them to become places where grace also touches us.  The risen life is one in which we are marked for life, where our wounds become openings for the breath of the Spirit, the breath of the risen Jesus.
Here I want to make an important point.  In saying that the risen life, the resurrection life, is a life where we acknowledge our wounds, our scars, our marks, but by the grace of God we allow them to become places where we are touched by grace is not saying that God wounds us so we can be touched by grace.  It is not saying that God never gives us anything more than we can handle.  I don’t care for that theology.  It is often well-intended but can be psychologically and spiritually tone-deaf as it misses hearing the real pain someone might be experiencing, and how shattering it is.  Instead what I am saying is that no matter the depth of our wounds, they can be places where grace finds an opening.  Our wounds and hurts come with living.  Some of our wounds are self-inflicted – we are insensitive or over-sensitive, we mess up.  Some of our hurts and wounds come in our dearest and closest relationships.  The people we love most are also those who can be hurt most by our insensitivities.  The world wounds us in not being the place of justice and peace it might be.  In Minneapolis this week the Hennepin County prosecutor decided not to press charges against the police officers involved in the fatal Jamar Clark shooting.  Because of the history of wounds in the African-American community, this will not simply be considered a legal decision based on evidence alone, regardless of the merits.  There is repair work to be done in our communities.
Hurts and wounds come with living, but they need not bury us.  A life so marked can still be a risen life, a resurrection life.  Sister Melanie Svoboda, in her book Traits of a Healthy Spirituality writes “One sign of a healthy spirituality in our ability to live with adversity, knowing that it is often through our difficulties and pain that we hear God most clearly” (30).  She later quotes Henri Nouwen: It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future (102).
All we have experienced has contributed to make us who we are, has marked us.  With grace, we can allow our wounds and scars be points of contact with God, with love.  Friday I attended the funeral for Barbara Forrest, Elizabeth Macaulay’s mom.  During the service, a poem was read which contained these lines:
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

            The mark of grief as a place for the flowing of hope – the risen life as the marked life.
            Nicholas Wolterstorff writes movingly about the risen life as the marked life after the death of his son.  To believe in Christ’s rising and death’s dying is also to live with the power and the challenge to rise up now from all our dark graves of suffering love.  If sympathy for the world’s wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if commitment to what is important is not strengthened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, the death has won. (Lament for a Son, 92)
            The risen Jesus is the marked Jesus.  The risen life is the marked life where our wounds and scars are places where we are also marked by grace, marked by love, marked for life, marked by the Spirit of the risen Jesus.  Our wounds are not God-caused, but they can be God-graced, and when they are our wounded hearts become larger, our anguished minds more insightful, our scarred souls more capacious in caring.

            I want to end this morning with a body prayer, and action that reminds us that the risen life is the marked life.  Simply take your hands, look at them, and rub them together as if you were putting on lotion, or soothing them in warm water.   We pray and live as people who are kindly cared for by God, even when we are wounded.  The risen life is the marked life.  We pray to live with kindness in a wounded and hurting world.  Amen.