She Knew I Knew

Luke 16:19-31 – The 19th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 25, 2016

“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried . . .” (Luke 16:22)

park-entranceBright lights flashed.

I steered to the shoulder and stopped. In my rearview mirror I watched the Kings Canyon National Park ranger open the door, alight from her seat, and purposefully stride toward me.

My wife sat in the passenger seat, still and silent. Our Minnesota-born niece and nephew, in California to attend college, occupied the back seat. All were witnesses to my foolishness. This was in 2010. I still recall my embarrassment.

The ranger, a slender woman with auburn hair pulled back and a holstered gun on her belt, leaned down and asked me an inevitable, irksome question.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked THE QUESTION.

(Don’t judge me! Being stopped by law enforcement personnel hasn’t been a regular experience in my mundane life. Oh sure, there was the “Nebraska incident.” We were headed for our new home and new life in Wisconsin when a Nebraska cop stopped me to wonder why I was leaving his lovely state at such a rapid pace. And there was also that graveside service I was late for, when another cop stopped me for traveling “slightly” over the posted limit. He encouraged me to tell my pastor’s tale of woe and repentance to the traffic judge while handing me a speeding ticket. Such a helpful cop . . . and the judge turned out to be a swell fellow too.)

Like the ranger at my window, all of the cops asked a variation of THE QUESTION . . .

“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?” Continue reading →

Just Another Zombie Tale?

John 11:32-44 – The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, November 1, 2015

“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, ‘Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.’” (John 11:39)

The Raising of Lazarus - Caravaggio
The Raising of Lazarus – Caravaggio

When given the choice of movies with vampires, werewolves, or zombies, I’ll usually watch the living dead.

As a bright, insightful reader, you may wonder if referencing the zombie genre is my gimmicky way to muse about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

Of course it is!

In John’s Gospel, Jesus stands before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, now dead for four days. As most scholars and many Sunday school teachers know, the four days was critical. According to Rabbinic traditions, the dead were officially dead after the third day.

Thus, the crowd crowding Jesus had many reactions.

Lazarus might stink. Continue reading →

In The Tombs

John 11:1-45  – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, April 6, 2014

“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:39)

Jesus had left for Ephraim with his disciples.

Mary was tending to Lazarus, by his bed while he slept. (And ate and slept and ate a little more.)

Caravaggio's "The Raising of Lazarus."
Caravaggio’s “The Raising of Lazarus.”

The crowds had dispersed. So many of our neighbors, along with the curious and suspicious, had traveled from the tomb to our home. They’d asked questions, whispered and schemed. There were those that loudly boasted they’d now follow Jesus to heaven or hell or Jerusalem or wherever he led. There were those already exaggerating my brother’s rebirth, telling of Jesus’ casting magical spells or seeing bolts of lightning before the rock at the tomb was removed or hearing angelic mutterings. And there were those who silently watched, never joining in the backslapping and cheering. They skulked away after they’d witnessed Lazarus emerging from the darkness. I knew they despised my brother and resented Jesus. I knew where this last group would go. They may have been close-mouthed here in Bethany, but a few hours later—mark my words—they’d conspire with the priests in the Temple or the Roman soldiers . . . and more likely both.

There was no safe place. Not in Bethany. Not anywhere.

But there was one place where I could be alone. I needed to think. Needed to pray. Needed to ask for forgiveness.

And so I’d returned to my brother’s tomb. Now empty, the hordes gone, and with this long, disturbing, divine day coming to a close. I reassured Mary I’d return before dark. Tonight, I’d stay by Lazarus’ side and give my sister a chance to rest.

In the cool shadow of the tomb’s threshold, its wide opening like a mouth forming a shout, I recalled the last days.

I told everyone, especially when the night of the third day came, that the stench from the tomb was a dead animal. A rat. A mole. A bird dragged inside by a feral cat. The stench was not my brother Lazarus. Continue reading →