Pastor Paul Carlson
American Lutheran Church
Love has come again like wheat arising green . . .
For us to say, “Christ is Risen,” is to remove the sting of death. Paul’s word, “sting,” is just so right. But we also sing at Easter, “The green blade rises from the buried grain.” From hard consonants to soft vowels the message shifts with the sound of the words. Love has come.
Imagine a small child and a parent who, together, have planted a seed in spring. And imagine that parent asking their child if they think the seed will become a flower someday soon, that it will rise out of the ground to become a thing of beauty in the world. Children might answer differently, certainly, but I can imagine a child saying in youthful optimism, “Yes!” But I can also understand skepticism. Outside of experience there is no reason to believe that it could or will. When we look at the buried grains in our lives, we may also respond with skepticism, and often as not we do. It is easier to disbelieve than to believe that the “green blade” we cannot see will rise from the “buried grain” we know is there.
But what excitement when it happens! From seemingly empty branches buds appear with green and white colors, announcing that spring has finally arrived. And of course that happened last week in Grand Junction and the region towards the end of Holy Week. Each day brought a little more color to the world.
That is just how the early church leaders imagined it as they assembled what we call the church year and this is why Easter lands where it does, just as Christmas and the Feast of the Nativity occur at the darkest time of the year They graced our winter and spring seasons with sacred metaphors. The entire course of the year, in fact, was reimagined as the unfolding story of Jesus, beginning with the anticipation of a monumental change in the world to the fulfillment of the coming of Jesus as the Christ who becomes Spirit within and among us, the Body of Christ in the world. It is a story of hope that death no longer need hold power over us, that our fears can be put aside. Death is now a gateway to new life and the way to personal and collective transformation, and new life is life lived in the Spirit of God.
This is the story we are living in our transition year at American Lutheran Church. Whenever we start losing hope or think that there isn’t enough energy to move forward, we are doing what human beings do so well; we fall back in various ways towards Good Friday depression and grief, the very thing that Easter has overcome. That is the danger we are facing and also the hope we can claim. It is something to which we should pay close attention.
The Transition Team report is completed or near completion, the recommendations are in writing and if we are paying attention we have a pretty good idea where we have come from, where we are and where we want to go. It is never a perfect process and honestly it never ends. The energy of this year actually needs to increase as you begin the next phase of ministry with your newly called pastor. It is a critical phase right now because we don’t want to lapse in our efforts to creatively imagine the future.
The practical application of this can be challenging. It means that committees and task forces have to meet and we have to get there to do the work as best we can. Sometimes we just can’t do that and need to make way for others. It’s always about the ministry, not about us personally. It means trying new things and trying to think in new ways rather than repeating past mistakes or holding on to things that aren’t working as they might. It always means doing our homework on committees so we are working from some sort of factual or realistic basis. It also means that ideas, especially good ideas, need to be put into a considered written proposal that council can discuss. Council is the place where our ideas are vetted and a process of implementation initiated. I have seen really good ideas float into space somewhere and never see the light of day. With just a bit more effort we can grab hold of those good ideas and make something happen that can help us move forward.
Our next big feast day is Pentecost, on May 20. The story that the church year tells points to that day in particular. It is not complete until we get there and begin moving with it. The word “Spirit” is associated with breath or wind. But it is also associated with energy. That speaks to me and I think it can speak to us all. If Good Friday is the loss of energy and dwelling on a past that has become a mere memory and emotional residue, Easter is an abundance of forward looking energy, divine energy that echoes the original creation story in Genesis where God breathes life into the first human being. This is divine breath, ru’ach. Luke likens it to “tongues of fire,” a metaphor about energy. This is empowerment and this is the driving force of ministry in Jesus’ name. Breath is a healing force that restores energy in us. The Spirit is also the Spirit of resurrection and new life. As we move into the next phase of our transition I ask you to put your focus here, on the restoration of divine energy through the Spirit. We can be a church of resurrection and the Spirit and in fact we have touched on that reality over the last few months. There is much for which we can be grateful in the rich history of American Lutheran Church but as Jesus put it, “greater things than these” are still possible. Christ is Risen!
Please join us on May 13 when our Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop, Rev. Jim Gonia, will join us for worship and for a forum following worship.
April 8, 2018 Sermon: A Resurrection that Matters
Prayer: Gracious God, in this season of resurrection guide us to abide in your love for the sake of the world. Amen.
Many years ago I decided that I liked Thomas, who is mostly portrayed as the skeptic among the disciples. He insists that unless he has empirical proof that Christ bears the wounds of the crucifixion he will not accept him as the resurrected Lord. He has to place his own hands in the wounds, conducting his own lab experiment so to speak, in order to be satisfied.
But we need to remember that John’s gospel is quite late. Some place it as late as 120 AD or later, while the most common date is around 95AD, some 65 years after the time of the events being described. Many traditions had gathered around Jesus and the resurrection over the decades.
Here is a common interpretation among scholars: it had been some time since the generation who knew Jesus in the flesh was around to talk about that experience. When we hear the punchline of the text, that is, the main point of the story, it tells us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That was the new normal and would remain so for the church to the present day. It is quite possible that the story of Thomas is there to help people come to grips with this new reality. You and I are also in the place of believing without seeing. And there are no empirical tests for us in order to believe. Faith is just like that and it is frustrating to a 21st century person trying to figure out if it is true or not.
If that’s all it is, though, there isn’t a lot more to say. This text belongs to the community of John known as “the Beloved Community.” There were two complementary aspects of that community: love and confession. The community of John believed that people would know the truth by the love experienced through the community, for, after all, God is love. If we are in God, they said, we abide in love. That, by the way, is the meaning of belief in John, to abide in love. They understood the story of Jesus as a love story. So Thomas is embraced, not rejected for his unbelief. That is an encouragement for us as well.
The other dimension of the Beloved Community is confession. I may be going out an exegetical limb here, but I suggest that the wounds that Thomas insists be present in the resurrected body of Jesus are a sign of confession of sin. If belief is to abide in divine love, sin is to abide outside of divine love. What happened on Good Friday is that the sin of the world was exposed. If resurrection stands alone it is also meaningless. It is St Paul’s clanging bell: self-righteous faith without love. We cannot both hate and judge our neighbor and also claim that we abide in God. Good Friday, among many things, exposed the judgment and hatred and oppression that exists in the world. That reality must be faced. On Easter we still must feel the wounds of the world, wounds that also are part of us.
No person, nation or culture likes to look at their dark side. We like victory and winning and success. Turkey has not wanted to admit fault in the Armenian genocide. Germany for a long time did not want to look into the difficult abyss of the holocaust and the Reich. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader, has not been able to admit the injustices of her country towards the Muslim Rohingya people. America has avoided talking honestly or taking accountability for the depth of evil in slavery, racism or Native American genocide. This is demonstrable history. I vividly remember visiting the Soviet Union around 1968 and viewing the jewellery on the straps of the Czar’s horses stored as museum pieces in one of the castles in the Crimea. The opulence of the jewellery and the living quarters of the castle posed a stark contrast in my mind to the poverty I knew had existed before the revolution. Thomas essentially insists that we feel those wounds in order to have a resurrection that matters.
Keep in mind that the enemies of Jesus were not just against him personally, but against what he represented. They had no time for love, for forgiveness, for reconciliation, for the poor and the sick. That was how you lose. The idea that a community might arise that believed in such things as love and forgiveness and justice for the poor was anathema to them and an insult to the kind of victory and obedience to power they demanded. It undermined the social order. That would demand confessing their sins.
So give Thomas the respect he deserves, because his voice is essential in this season of resurrection. A resurrection without wounds is no resurrection at all. Amen.