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Holy God, holy and mighty,
You know the promises we have made in our best moments:
to love you with
all our heart
and all our mind
and all our strength.

We have promised to worship you alone.

And our intentions are good.

But you know the anxiety that grips our hearts
when problems loom large
and solutions are not easy to find.

We value effectiveness.
We strive for efficiency.
We know how to get things done.
We want to fix what’s wrong.

So, we are not too good with mystery,
especially with the mysterious ways
you work in us and in our world.

We struggle to trust you —
You, whose ways are not our ways;
You, whose timing is so different from ours.

Worshipping you above all else
has turned out to be harder
than we thought it would be.

We try to use you for our own purposes.
We try to summon you to serve our own agendas.
We want you to help us get what we want.

We would give up,
except you will not let us go.
You meet us in mercy where we do not deserve it.
You transform us by grace we do not earn.
You give us your Holy Spirit
to begin again,
to learn a better obedience.

So, we wait —
for the gift of your forgiveness,
for the gift of your Spirit,
for the gifts we need to be your people.

We wait,
handing control over to you
and to your mysterious way with us.

We wait,
through the grace of Jesus Christ
who knows us as we are,
yet loves us still.

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The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 8.

Scriptures: John 11: 1-7, 17-25

For a few years, Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was leading a spiritual retreat at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Centre. After the attacks on the towers, the staff of the church provided a place of refuge, safety and comfort for the terrified people who came into the building that day and for the rescue workers in the days afterwards. Archbishop Williams wrote a small book reflecting on the events of that day and the days that followed: Writing in the Dust.

In the introduction to the book, he asks, “After the 11th, what are we prepared to learn?” Ten years later, that questions remains. “Can anything grow through that terrible, terrifying event?” Williams states that he hopes that the answer is “Yes.”

The morning after 9/11, Williams was stopped in the street by a young man who was a pilot and an active Catholic. That young man asked the question that many people ask when confronted with unspeakable evil: “What was God doing when the planes hit the towers?” Williams mumbled something about human freedom. God creates us with free will and does not intervene. God does not just override the choices we make. Living in faith does not mean we escape evil. It means we are given resources to confront it. Through faith, we find a way to suffer, take it forward and then, in God’s own time, to have healed by the grace and mercy of the living God.

Williams knew that whatever he said would be inadequate. Ultimately, he said, this man did not want a theological discussion about free will. This man was a lifelong Christian, committed to a loving and saving God. However, now, for the first time, it had come home to him that he might be committed to a God who could seem useless in a crisis.

Have you been there? If you have not yet, be assured that, the further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not do what you want or expect God to do.

That was the hard truth both Martha and Mary faced in this morning’s gospel story. Their brother Lazarus was ill. They sent for their good friend, Jesus, to come to help. But, Jesus did not come. “Lazarus” means “God helps”, except God did not help this family when they need God the most. The writer of the story makes a point of saying that they “dwelt in Bethany”, the “house of affliction”. Their affliction was not just that Lazarus was ill. Their affliction was that the one to whom they looked for help was absent. By the time Jesus showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead four days.

First Martha, and then Mary, confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same accusation was in the question that the young Catholic man asked: “Where was God when the planes flew into the towers?” We ask it ourselves: Where is God when children die of starvation in Africa? Where is God when someone we love suffers? Surely, if God is good, God should be there to help. God should fix things.

Much of living in faith is a matter of coming to terms with a God who does not meet our expectations. This God does not show up when we really need God to show up. All of us have some burden of suffering which we bear. There is some deep sorrow that hovers in the background of our days. There is some wound that we carry in our hearts that is in varying stages of being healing or refusing to be healed. Hopes and dreams have been shattered. We worry over our children. You can add to the list.

As Christians we know the promises of our Lord. Just before Jesus died, he promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you. I will ask the Father and he will give you a Comforter to be with forever.” The psalms are full of such promises: God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble.” “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place . . . he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” “I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble.”

Martha knew the promises. She knew the promises that the power of God is stronger than death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again, she can recite them back to him. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

We know the promises but there are times when the promises seem all to lie in the future. They are some future hope we cling to in spite of all the evidence in the present that defies them.

Or, maybe they all lie in the past. They exist as memories of experiences where we did feel the presence of God, bearing us up as on eagles’ wings, holding us in the palm of God’s hands.

We find ourselves living between those memories and that hope and all we really know of God is the emptiness of God’s absence.

This is a difficult place to be. We want to move through it quickly. We want to have confident faith renewed. We want to move beyond the questions and the doubts and the uncertainties; to move into the promised joy and peace; to get on with being productive again. Instead, we are stuck in that in-between place and we cannot move past it.

The Bible knows a lot about such a space. It calls it by many names: wilderness, exile, the Pit. It is “Holy Saturday”, that time between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Nothing is happening. Life seems suspended.

Rowan Williams calls this empty place, this void, a “breathing space”. He says that what you need to do in such a breathing space is breathe. You are not to get on with some action as you try to persuade yourself that you really are in control of the situation. You are to breathe. You acknowledge your hurt and disappointment and rage and sense of powerlessness. You let go of the expectations that you had of God. You come to terms with this God who has given you this emptiness, this breathing space. As painful as it is, it is a gift that is filled with God’s grace.

“Your brother will rise again,” said Jesus to Martha. Martha replies, “I know the promises. On the last day, in God’s promised future, my brother will be raised up in the resurrection.” Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection. I am the Life. Now. Here. Already.”

Jesus brings resurrection and life into the midst of the emptiness. In the midst of suffering; in the midst of brokenness; in all the little deaths you die throughout your life, God meets you with resurrection power. In Jesus, God enters into the emptiness and makes it part of God’s holy purpose for your life.

Even the emptiness.

You are baptized with suffering. You go down into the waters of suffering. God raises you to new life. What emerges from the waters of such a baptism is not the old self you had before. You can never go back. You will carry the scars for the rest of your life. But a new self is given by God. You are made new.

It takes courage to enter into such a time. it takes courage to give voice to all that is in your heart. That’s why I keep urging you to learn to pray the Psalms. They are written by people, by a community, that has practiced breathing its faith in the void and the emptiness.

The Psalms teach a language that helps you give voice to your anger and your fears, your hurt and your hopes. They lead you through the evil that you suffer with persistence and honesty. They teach you to yield your life to God. They open you to the healing work of God. Ultimately, they teach to you to praise God again.

They teach you to praise God again in a new song. That new song will carry the sorrow you have known but that sorrow will now be gathered into God’s good and holy purposes for you and for the world.

I want you to learn to pray the psalms because they are such a great gift for your spiritual journey. I want you to learn to pray the psalms because we live our faith in a world full of suffering: not just the global suffering we hear on the news but also the suffering in the lives of people you meet day by day. You may not be able to do much to turn the tide, but your vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be with people in the places of their brokenness. Hear their laments. Help them give voice to them. Prayer with them to God because, in the end, it is God with whom we all must deal.

Stand with them as a member of a community of people who, from the days of our baptisms, have practised dying and being raised to new life in Christ. We are learning to let Christ take us, bless us, break our lives open, and give us life anew. Having trusted Christ to do that in our lives, we give our lives into God’s good hands over and over again.

You can help others hear God say to them in their suffering, “Do not be afraid. Nothing in life or in death — not even this terrible thing you are going through — nothing can stop my loving purpose for you.”

That will be a great gift. That will be a good and holy work. For such holy work, God has claimed you as Christ’s own.

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The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship week 6.

Scriptures: Genesis 3: 1-7

The story is told of an Irish priest who was travelling though the countryside when he noticed an old peasant sitting by the side of the road. When the priest got closer, he realized that the peasant was praying. The priest was very impressed and said to the peasant, “You must be quite close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers and said, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”

The basic desire of human beings — the core desire behind all our other desires — is to be in communion with God. David Buttrick is a great preacher and the son of a great preacher. He teaches about preaching. He writes books about preaching. He has come to the conclusion, “Pastors think people come to church to hear sermons. They don’t. They come to pray and to learn to pray.”

The great wonder at the heart of our faith is that God’s great desire is to be in communion with us. The Creator of the universe, the mystery who is the source of life itself, loves us with a deep and steadfast love. In spite of all that we have done to hurt each other and offend God, God is still “very fond of us.”  It is not always easy for us to remember that.

We get distracted as we get busy making our way in the world. There are children to get to soccer games and piano lessons; there are demands and expectations at our places of work; there are worries about our own health and the health of those we love; there are meetings and appointments to attend and goals to accomplish. In the process, we lose touch with God, this God who is “very fond of us” and who is the source of our life.

Genesis 3 tells the story of a conversation between the serpent and the woman in the garden. It tells us that our troubles begin when we start talking about God instead of to God. “Did God say . . . ?” asks the serpent. “God said . . .” replies the woman. “But, did God really mean . . . ? Do you think that’s right . . . ?” The first conversation about God takes place.

The woman no longer lives trusting the spaciousness of God’s love. She enters a fascinating world where discussions about God and about what we believe about God distance people from God. God becomes an idea or a set of beliefs. These days, we live in a culture with many different ideas about God, about what God is like, about what God wants, about what it takes to find God. At some point (often in our early twenties), we sort through the various beliefs and ideas and concepts and we decide what we are going to believe about God.

An important part of our spiritual journey is to face our doubts and explore our options. Only as we ask the difficult questions will our faith mature. Many people are trying to confront adult problems with beliefs that were given to them as children in Sunday School. They quickly discover that those beliefs are not nearly adequate for the complexities that they face.

Yet, as important as it is that we develop some mature reflection about our beliefs, that is not the same as developing a maturing relationship with the living God.

Anselm was one of the church’s great thinkers about God. He wrote a book, Monologion, which set forth proofs for God’s existence. He wrote brilliantly and with great power. Then, he realized that, however many right things he had said about God, he had said them all in the wrong language. He re-wrote the book and named it Proslogion. It included all that the had said about God; however, this time, he wrote it to God. It was a personal answer to God, addressing the questions that a personal God asks us. He wrote his theology as a prayer.

That transition from thinking about God to talking with God is absolutely critical for all of us. It is especially critical when life takes you through dark valleys. We are a people facing many challenges. Some of us are worried about health issues. Some of us are coming to terms with the changes that come with aging: the loss of friends and family; moving to a different place; being confronted with the mystery of death and dying, sometimes our own death and dying, sometimes that of those dear to us. Some of us are facing pressures at work. You are in a job that is stressful, demoralizing and dehumanizing, yet you cannot get out of it because you have responsibilities that you need to live up to. Some of you are facing the huge privilege of raising children and you are finding how difficult that is in a culture that has forgotten how to raise its children well. It is especially difficult for you to do that as Christians trying to live into the vows you made at your children’s baptisms. Increasingly, the culture does not share the same stories and traditions as you do as a follower of Jesus. Increasingly, the culture has very different ideas about what it means to grow into one’s full humanity.

There are concerns about the state of the world’s economy, about climate change, about social disintegration in our cities. When I think of all that you are facing, I long for all of you to know the great gift of prayer. As the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said, “I wish I could teach you to pray the way my dog goes after a bone.” This is not prayer that is simply a matter of bringing your wish list to God. It is not prayer than informs God about all the troubles in the world and in our lives and then spells out the ways we would like God to help. It is not the kind of prayer that informs God about the good projects you have taken on and then asking for God’s blessings.

It is the kind of prayer that is a matter of entering into God’s presence, into the wide spaciousness of God’s love and grace. It is prayer that focuses more on God than on us. Such prayer places our troubles and concerns into the context of God’s powerful grace. It is learning to let go of our need to control the outcome. It will mean that, sometimes God will lead you to green pastures and still waters and restore your soul. Sometimes God will disturb you, leading you in new directions, asking you to abandon cozy fantasies and to risk the hazards and unknowns of living by faith. Sometimes such prayer will be a matter of waiting — waiting in silence and in the stillness, aware that God is still in action, preparing other people, preparing other circumstances, working in our hearts and souls. Then, when the time is right — in God’s time — God will call you into action. Says Eugene Peterson, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” That is difficult.

Someone said that the question faith asks in each circumstance is “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” In illness or crisis or disappointment; when the way forward is blocked, “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” Is God developing trust and patience in you? Is God trying to turn you in a different direction? You wait, expectantly, for the Spirit to lead you deeper and deeper into the community of the Trinity where love is the song we learn to sing.

The woman in the garden did not do that. She moved away from that intimate trust in God’s love. She reached out to take what seemed to her to be good and delightful even though it was not hers to take. In the process, she lost the goodness of the garden.

The rest of the story is the story of God’s great, untiring efforts to restore the communion that was lost. In Jesus, God invites us back into that relationship of deep, abiding love. In Jesus, we are found by the God who is reaching out to us in our lostness. In prayer, open yourself to receive God’s presence. Allow yourself to be held by the One who holds all things together. Find yourself at home.

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Scripture: John 11: 1-7, 17-25

For a few years, Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was leading a spiritual retreat at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, a few blocks away from the World Trade Centre. After the attacks on the towers, the staff of the church provided a place of refuge, safety and comfort for the terrified people who came into the building that day and for the rescue workers in the days afterwards. Archbishop Williams wrote a small book reflecting on the events of that day and the days that followed: Writing in the Dust.

In the introduction to the book, he asks, “After the 11th, what are we prepared to learn?” Ten years later, that question remains. “Can anything grow through that terrible, terrifying event?” Williams states that he hopes that the answer is “Yes.”

The morning after 9/11, Williams was stopped in the street by a young man who was a pilot and an active Catholic. That young man asked the question that many people ask when confronted with unspeakable evil: “What was God doing when the planes hit the towers?” Williams mumbled something about human freedom. God creates us with free will and does not intervene. God does not just override the choices we make. Living in faith does not mean we escape evil. It means we are given resources to confront it. Through faith, we find a way to suffer, take it forward and then, in God’s own time, to have it healed by the grace and mercy of the living God.

Williams knew that whatever he said would be inadequate. Ultimately, he said, this man did not want a theological discussion about free will. This man was a lifelong Christian, committed to a loving and saving God. However, now, for the first time, it had come home to him that he might be committed to a God who could seem useless in a crisis.

Have you been there? If you have not yet, be assured that, the further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not do what you want or expect God to do.

That was the hard truth both Martha and Mary faced in this morning’s gospel story. Their brother Lazarus was ill. They sent for their good friend, Jesus, to come to help. But Jesus did not come. “Lazarus” means “God helps”, except God did not help this family when they needed God the most. The writer of the story makes a point of saying that they “dwelt in Bethany”, the “house of affliction”. Their affliction was not just that Lazarus was ill. Their affliction was that the one to whom they looked for help was absent. By the time Jesus showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead four days.

First Martha, and then Mary, confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same accusation was in the question that the young Catholic man asked: “Where was God when the planes flew into the towers?” We ask it ourselves: Where is God when children die of starvation in Africa? Where is God when someone we love suffers? Surely, if God is good, God should be there to help. God should fix things.

Much of living in faith is a matter of coming to terms with a God who does not meet our expectations. This God does not show up when we really need God to show up. All of us have some burden of suffering which we bear. There is some deep sorrow that hovers in the background of our days. There is some wound that we carry in our hearts that is in varying stages of being healing or refusing to be healed. Hopes and dreams have been shattered. We worry over our children. You can add to the list.

As Christians we know the promises of our Lord. Just before Jesus died, he promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; i will come to you. I will ask the Father and he will give you a Comforter to be with forever.” The psalms are full of such promises: “God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place . . . he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways . . . I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble” (Psalm 91).

Martha knew the promises. She knew the promises that the power of God is stronger than death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again, she can recite them back to him. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

We know the promises but there are times when the promises seem all to lie in the future. They are some future hope we cling to in spite of all the evidence in the present that defies them.

Or, maybe they all lie in the past. They exist as memories of experiences where we did feel the presence of God, bearing us up as on eagles’ wings, holding us in the palm of God’s hands.

We can find ourselves living between those memories and that hope and all we really know of God is the emptiness of God’s absence.

This is a difficult place to be. We want to move through it quickly. We want to have confident faith renewed. We want to move beyond the questions and the doubts and the uncertainties; to move into the promised joy and peace; to get on with being productive again. Instead, we are stuck in that in-between place and we cannot move past it.

The Bible knows a lot about such a space. It calls it by many names: wilderness, exile, the Pit. It is “Holy Saturday”, that time between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Nothing is happening. Life seems suspended.

Rowan Williams calls this empty place, this void, a “breathing space”. He says that what you need to do in such a breathing space is breathe. You are not to get on with some action as you try to persuade yourself that you really are in control of the situation. You are to breathe. You acknowledge your hurt and disappointment and rage and sense of powerlessness. You let go of the expectations that you had of God. You come to terms with this God who has given you this emptiness, this breathing space. As painful as it is, it is a gift that is filled with God’s grace.

“Your brother will rise again,” said Jesus to Martha. Martha replies, “I know the promises. On the last day, in God’s promised future, my brother will be raised up in the resurrection.” Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection. I am the Life. Now. Here. Already.”

Jesus brings resurrection and life into the midst of the emptiness. In the midst of suffering; in the midst of brokenness; in all the little deaths you die throughout your life, God meets us with resurrection power. In Jesus, God enters into the emptiness and makes it part of God’s holy purpose for your life.

Even the emptiness.

You are baptized with suffering. You go down into the waters of suffering. God raises you to new life. What emerges from the waters of such a baptism is not the old self you had before. You can never go back. You may carry the scars for the rest of your life. But a new self is given by God. You are made new.

It takes courage to enter into such a time. it takes courage to give voice to all that is in your heart. That’s why I keep urging you to learn to pray the Psalms. They are written by people, by a community, that has practiced breathing its faith in the void and the emptiness.

The Psalms teach a language that helps you give voice to your anger and your fears, your hurt and your hopes. They lead you through the evil that you suffer with persistence and honesty. They teach you to yield your life to God. They open you to the healing work of God. Ultimately, they teach to you to praise God again.

They teach you to praise God again in a new song. That new song will carry the sorrow you have known but it will now be gathered into God’s good and holy purposes for you and for the world.

I want you to learn to pray the psalms because they are such a great gift for your spiritual journey. I want you to learn to pray the psalms because we live our faith in a world full of suffering: not just the global suffering we hear on the news but also the suffering in the lives of people you meet day by day. You may not be able to do much to turn the tide, but your vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be with people in the places of their brokenness. Hear their laments. Help them give voice to them. Pray with them to God because, in the end, it is God with whom we all must deal.

Stand with them as a member of a community of people who, from the days of our baptisms, have practised dying and being raised to new life in Christ. We are learning to let Christ take us, bless us, break our lives open, and give us life anew. Having trusted Christ to do that in our lives, we give our lives into his good hands over and over again.

You can help others hear God say to them in their suffering, “Do not be afraid. Nothing in life or in death — not even this terrible thing you are going through — nothing can stop my loving purpose for you.”

That will be a great gift. That will be a good and holy work. For such holy work, God has claimed you as Christ’s own.

Read Full Post »

Many people in post-mainline churches have trouble talking about their faith in public. There are many reasons for this, but I began wondering about one of them the other day.

For many years, ‘faith’ was framed as something that was ‘private’. If it is ‘private’, then speaking about it to others involves risk — allowing oneself to be vulnerable. So, I wonder if one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk about faith is that they are afraid of being shamed.

For some people, the fear of being shamed comes because they do not believe all the things that they think they are supposed to believe. They have trouble with doctrines like the ‘virgin birth’ or the ‘resurrection of the dead’. They cannot believe that the miracles in the Bible really happened. Lots of people who follow Jesus also have trouble with some of the church’s doctrines. More accurately, lots of people have trouble subscribing to the popular conceptions about what those doctrines are saying. However, I have been surprised by the number of people who confess to me that they ‘don’t believe all those things’ as if such an admission might make me think less of them and their faithfulness. When I am looking at church websites I am amused by the study groups that have named themselves as ‘rebels’ and ‘revolutionaries’, when the focus of their group is nothing more daring than reading books that question some beliefs that are supposedly commonly held. Obviously, in some segments of the Church, there is still a mindset that considers being truthful about your doubts a risky thing. Some people are ‘rebellious’ enough to gather with others, admit their questions, and enter into conversation about them. Others keep their doubts to themselves and so do not talk about their faith in public.

On the other hand, I wonder if some people are reluctant to talk about their faith in public because they DO believe certain things and they are afraid that, in a culture of skepticism, others will make fun of them for that or will think less of them. Will they be mocked because they do believe that miracles happen? Will they be considered foolish if they admit that they have had an experience of Christ’s presence? ? Will people dismiss their answers to their prayers as a misinterpretation of the facts?

Churches could go a long way in helping people to speak about their faith publicly by cultivating an environment where respectful, open and honest conversations happen. In such an atmosphere, it would be all right to question. It would also be all right to believe. People wouldn’t be labelled as either foolish or rebellious. People would not be mocked for either belief or doubt.

Then, perhaps, churches could move the conversation about faith away from ‘belief’ to ‘trust’ — which holds even more risk because it moves the conversation from the head to the heart and will and body.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett on John 20: 1-18

On the evening before Jesus died, Jesus gathered his disciples together and made them a promise. He said, “In a little while, I am going to leave you, but I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you orphaned. I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit to be with you in my name. So, don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t let them be afraid.” (John 14)

Though the centuries, in joy, in sorrow, in the midst of trouble, Jesus’ followers have counted on that promise. If I were to ask you, “What is the gospel? What is the faith that comforts you and sustains you and carries you when you suffer?”, I expect that many of you would answer, “God is with you. We do not journey alone. We do not suffer alone. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Thou are with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me’ (Psalm 23)”.

A New Creed of the United Church of Canada proclaims, ‘We are not alone. We live in God’s world. . . . In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. Thanks be to God.” At Christmas, we heard Jesus named Emmanuel — God-with-us. As we headed into Holy Week, Jesus promised, “I will not leave you desolate.”

We count on it. We hold onto it. Time and time again people have told me that they have felt its truth in their lives.

And yet, there have also been times when counting on that promise has been more a matter of faith than of certainty. You can go through stretches — sometimes long stretches— when you do not experience God present with you. You can come to a place where you have to choose to trust that God is with you. You choose to trust the promise even thought there is so much evidence to the contrary. You lean into the promise rather than resting in it. There may be times when you cannot manage even that.

This morning’s gospel story tells us that that is where Easter begins. Did you catch it? “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” “While it was still dark”, because on Friday, Jesus, the Light of the World, had died on a Roman cross and his disciples’ hope had died with him. “While it was still dark” — in those times when nothing you can do will fix what has gone wrong and you cannot make it right no matter how hard you try. “While it was still dark” — in those times when the disciples of Jesus, the community of faith, is scattered, and fragmented and frightened and not at all sure what the future holds.

In that dark place, where hope cannot be found, and you are full of questions and doubts and uncertainties and you may not even be able to pray, God is at work. Even there the promise hold.

Very often, God’s resurrection work in your life is going to be hidden from your eyes. That does not mean that nothing is happening. By the time any of us gets to Easter morning, God has already entered into the depths of our lives, overcome the power of death and brought the dead to life and begun a new creation, a new world.

The chances are that you are going to see the evidence of God’s resurrection, God’s saving work in your life, only well after Easter has already begun. More than that, the chances are that it won’t look anything like you thought it would.

Mary comes to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to sit for a while in her grief and her pain and her loss. She sees that the stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb on Friday now had been removed from the tomb. She does not immediately thing, “Oh, look — resurrection! God has raised Jesus from the dead. Everything is okay now.” No. She sees the emptiness and the absence and says, “Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” She thinks that the grave has been robbed. It wasn’t enough that the powers-that-be had killed Jesus. Now, they had added hurt upon hurt, sorrow upon sorrow and had stolen him away from her as well.

She runs to the church — to Peter and the beloved disciple. They are not too sure what to make of the empty tomb either. They both see signs of God’s resurrection power at work — the stone moved away, the missing body, the folded grave cloths —but only one of them ‘believed’ and they both just went back home. They went back to the way things already were, as if nothing had happened. Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees someone standing there and she thinks it is the gardener.

The God who comes to us in Jesus is a God who creates new life where there is only death; a God who takes our dead ends and opens up new possibilities; a God who makes new and heals and saves. Yet, this new resurrection life does not come easily. None of us receives it easily.

You can get stuck in your expectations of what God is supposed to do, or what God’s work is supposed to look like, or what God’s promised presence is supposed to feel like. You are going to have difficulty recognizing the risen Christ in your life. Nadia Bolz-Weber has said, “A God of resurrection means that the story is seldom over when we think it is . . . Being a person of faith doesn’t mean you get to be certain. It means you get to be surprised.”

Our God is a living God, a God of surprises. “I will not leave you desolate,” promises Jesus, but the only way to live into Jesus’ promise is to “live expectantly but without expectations”. All we know is this: God’s love is a firm, determined love that will not let you go. There is no situation so lost that God cannot find you in it and bring you home. There is no wreckage so total that God cannot redeem it and use it for good and holy purposes. God works way beyond your expectations. Resurrection is larger, deeper, more wondrous than any of us expects.

A Risen Saviour is on the loose. Nothing in all creation can stop him. And he knows your name. Thanks be to God.

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The lectionary has been taking us through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Last week, in Galatians 2: 15-21, he juxtaposed the ‘works of the Law’ and being ‘justified by faith’. Somewhere I found two very helpful articles (“The Ego and the I, by Scot McKnight, Christian Century, September 7, 2004, p. 22 and “Galatians in Perspective” by Frank Matera, Interpretation, July 2000), that proposed that Paul wasn’t setting the Old Testament Law against New Testament ‘grace’.  Judaism is a covenant-based faith, not a religion focused on ‘works righteousness’, i.e. of keeping the Law as a way of earning merit with God.  The articles proposed that when Paul spoke about the ‘works of the Law’, he was referring to an ‘identity marker’ for the Jewish community. The Jewish community existed as a minority in Roman culture. In response to many pressures to assimilate to Roman culture, they held on to ‘keeping the law’ as a practice that helped them maintain their identity. This ‘badge of identity’, these practices that gave them their special identity, erected socio-ethnic-religious barriers between Jews and Gentiles.

Paul was working through the implications of the reality that the Holy Spirit was bringing Gentiles in to the covenant community. In Jesus Christ, God has adopted everyone into God’s covenant community. How, then, do groups of radically different people exist in community together? Does one group have to adopt the practices of the other? Paul’s response is an adamant, “NO!” The ‘identity marker’ for the Church is a life of radical trust in Jesus, a life of living in Jesus’ Way. This radical trust frees in God’s goodness and grace and countercultural power, frees us to give ourselves generously to others.

Verse 16 has usually been translated “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” However, that translation still leaves us in the driver’s seat of our lives — we get set right with God because we choose to believe in Jesus. The phrase can also be translated ‘through the faith of Jesus Christ.’. The identity marker of the Christian community is not something we do. Our identity is rooted in Jesus’ faith: his trust that God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s love are the strongest forces in the universe; trust that God’s promises are true, even when the evidence seems to point to the contrary; trust that, whatever happens, nothing can take a person outside the power of God’s love; trust that even our dead ends can be made new beginnings by God’s resurrecting power. Jesus’ faith goes further than that: it is faith that you and I are so precious, so deeply valued, so loved, that we are worth dying for; that God wants all of God’s children home and will not stop until they are there.

Put Jesus’ faith at the centre of your life, and watch your life change. Watch the transformations begin to happen. Watch a new community begin to take shape.

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