The men dressed in “dazzling clothes” asked a guiding question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?,” but did not give guidance as to where to find the risen Christ. If Jesus wasn’t among the dead, where would the disciples find him? In Luke’s Easter story (Luke 24:1-12), they aren’t told, so, naturally, they return to the others with their incredible and perplexing news. Peter tried to sort it out himself, but he, too, came back with no instructions about where to find Jesus.
Last night we read through much of John 18 and 19 during the Tenebrae (“darkness”) portion of the service. As we went through those chapters I was struck by how much dialogue John reports. While modern adaptations often discomfort us with graphic images of Jesus’ physical suffering, John summarizes it succinctly with a single verse: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged (19:1). Jesus’ agony on the cross is also understated (“There they crucified him” 19:18).
Typically parades are mostly entertainment. They are filled with short pieces performed by marching bands, Shriner’s antics, and convertibles with local dignitaries. They also include civic pride – gratitude for first-responder and military service, community-awareness about agencies. Occasionally parades are focused on a particular message. I imagine those are the parades that stick with you the following days. I reflected far more on the experience and meaning of participating in a march on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day than I ever did watching a Thanksgiving or Christmas parade go by.
We have one more week of Lent this year. I confess that I have not been as intentional about my Lenten devotional life as I have in previous years. Contrary to Martin Luther’s statement, “I have too much to do today to only pray for one hour; I’ll pray for two,” I have let the busyness of these days truncate what should have mattered most. My last hope is Holy Week. I commit to you that I will take some time in Central’s well-designed Lenten Spiritual Center next week. (This year it is divided into two spaces. Most stations are in room 164 off The Commons and the labyrinth is upstairs in the Children’s Assembly Room). If you are also feeling like this Lent got away from you this year, I encourage you to make some time in those spaces, too.
You’re a third of the way through the day when this arrives in your inbox. Enough into the day to have an idea of how you’re feeling and where things are going, but not so far that you can’t make adjustments. How are you being with Jesus today? If you don’t have an expensive jar of perfume (John 12:1-8) to use to anoint him or those who represent him (Matthew 25:31-46) today, how else might you be with him?
Last week’s parable caused us to reflect on God’s overwhelming, even prodigal (wasteful) love. Fittingly, this week’s (John 12:1-8) shows us wasteful love in return.
One of the many questions I presented in the sermon yesterday was, “How do we live with others who let us down?” That’s the dilemma of each character in yesterday’s parable (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son let the father and the older son down with his departure and wastefulness. The older son let the father and younger son down with his refusal to forgive the younger son’s decisions and celebrate his return. The father let the older son down by being quick to forgive or by being overly generous or by giving the younger son what he hadn’t given the older one (or some combination thereof).
There are several labels in Sunday’s scripture lessons. In the very familiar prelude and parable found in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we have the following labels: tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, scribes, father, son, hired hand, slave, and brother. Note that nowhere in the actual story is the label “prodigal” found. It’s not in the text of the New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, or even the King James Version. Somewhere along the way someone stuck that label on this parable and that’s how we all refer to it.
It should come as no surprise that repentance was the theme of the day in worship yesterday. It is Lent after all. There’s never a wrong time to be invited to repent (John the Baptizer didn’t wait until Advent or Lent to do so – he didn’t know there would be such seasons), but repentance is certainly a part of this time of year.
Like many slang terms, calling someone a “fox” today can either be a compliment or insult. In Jesus’ day, it was never a compliment. The exact insult Jesus meant when he called Herod Antipas a fox (Luke 13:31-35) isn’t known, but since Jewish writings used the fox to represent destruction and the Greeks saw foxes as clever, but without principles, it’s clear Jesus wasn’t impressed. It’s also obvious he wasn’t afraid. Living out his teaching, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), Jesus did not give Herod the respect Herod and his minions thought he deserved. Jesus was willing to push back at the region’s bully.
This weekend while you were contemplating the devil offering Jesus the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:1-13), I was contemplating the Magic Kingdom and its companion Animal Kingdom. It was quite a contrast to the year I started Lent at Mepkin Abbey. That year was much more somber and reflective; this year busy and happy.
I asserted yesterday (offering a few Biblical examples) that God doesn’t always wait for us to create the right setting for an encounter with God. Moses, as I reminded us, was at work when God appeared in the burning bush. That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make space for such encounters. The transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) occurred after Jesus had taken the disciples up the mountain for the express purpose of praying.
I’m writing this special edition of Words from Will before the conclusion of General Conference or the close of voting on the school referendum. By the time you read it, we will likely know the results (www.umc.org can fill you in on the UMC’s vote).
Yesterday’s youth-led worship services were the perfect antidote to the unrest in our community and denomination. For all the alarming vitriol that has tainted the public discussion over the school referendum, we experienced the gift of talented and wise and joyful youth worship leaders. It was a visible reminder that they are giving us their best and deserve our best in return. For all the angst about what will come out of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference when it concludes tomorrow, we were reminded that the heart of it all is following Jesus who, as we were reminded by their challenging gospel lesson (Luke 6:27-38), commands us to love our enemies, to give and forgive generously, to not judge or condemn, acts that Jesus both demanded and demonstrated.
Beginning tomorrow, 864 voting delegates of the worldwide United Methodist Church will gather in St. Louis for worship, prayer, and deliberation. It’s what our denomination calls “General Conference” (GC) and is the only official decision-making body for the UMC. Normally GC meets every four years. In the last meeting (2016), it was determined to have an additional GC for the express purpose of addressing the United Methodist Church’s policies regarding human sexuality.
If one wanted to make a Biblical argument for what’s commonly called “Prosperity Gospel” (and plenty do), all he or she needs to do is select the blessings and ignore the woes. They can lift up the “If/then” passages of the Bible – if you do this, then you will be blessed – while ignoring the scriptural evidence that life is more complex than computer programming. If Genesis, Job, and Ecclesiastes don’t make the case for the unpredictability of blessings and woes, check out just two of Jesus’ comments on the subject: Luke 13:1-5 and John 9.