Easter Mourning

John 20:1-18 (along with Luke, Mark and Matthew) – Easter – for March 31, 2013

“Early on the first day of the week . . .” (John 20:1)

Looking east as the earth spins, revealing dawn . . .
Looking east as the earth spins, revealing dawn . . .

What Gospel will you read when Easter’s dawn teases the new day?

Will you choose Easter celebration or Easter mourning?

When I served in churches, I’d search for Easter’s official time even before Lent began. After all, sunrise in Fresno, California will be “later” than Fargo, North Dakota.

I liked discovering the official civil twilight. Civil twilight is a naval term for the first (or the last) glimpse of a defined horizon:  Night is over, but it’s not yet dawn. Whenever Easter appears on the calendar, and wherever I lived, knowing when civil twilight began helped me choose the time for Sunrise Service.

On March 31, 2013 in Fresno, California civil twilight will be 6:20 AM. Sunrise arrives twenty-six minutes later at 6:46 AM. Ta-da! Now you can plan your celebration (at least if you live near me)! Quick, post the time on your church’s web page. Of course, you may choose to ignore this data and start at another time because of your church’s we’ve-always-done-it-this-way tradition or your personal pastoral preference to maximize beauty rest. Or you’re a layperson and want to complain about how early or late Sunrise Service is because you have the facts about exactly when dawn will knock on Easter’s door! You choose.

But let’s return to civil twilight to understand another choice. The Earth spins at over a thousand miles per hour and you—whether Fresno, Fargo or far, far away is your zip code—stare toward the east. Brace yourself. Traveling at the speed of the Earth’s spin is not for the faint of heart! In the dark you wait, expectant for the first glimpse of light.

Will you delight in the new day or will you have regrets? What awaits?

And what will you read from scripture that truthfully prepares you for this particular year’s Easter? Hurry, the light’s coming. Choose! Continue reading →

Take It Seriously

Mark 7:24-37 – The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 9, 2012

“…He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs…’” (Mark 7:27)

Years after first overhearing it, I still agree with—and use—the trope, I don’t take the Bible literally, but I take it seriously.

Too many differing human views created the Bible for it to be read as a literal thus-it-was-written, thus-you-will-do-this sacred text.

It’s not trustworthy for astronomy, despite our affection for the wandering Bethlehem star. It’s not trustworthy for history, though an ark-full of ancient scholars (and some contemporary ones) happily, haplessly, calculated the first tick of creation through Adam and Eve’s arrival. It’s not trustworthy with names . . . for example the Gospels’ list of Jesus twelve disciples has, er, an inconsistency or two. Thaddaeus’ PR team should have worked a bit harder!

But I take the Bible seriously.

And, for my faith, there is no more serious passage than Jewish Jesus’ brief encounter with a non-Jewish woman while he sojourned in Tyre (Mark 7:24-37 or Matthew 15:21-28). Just so you won’t have to prowl your house for a Bible, here are the key verses:

Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him [Jesus] to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (NRSV)

How do you view Jesus? As . . .

A nice guy.
Son of God.
A fictional character.
Or, your choice: _____________ Continue reading →

Welcome Home, Jesus!

Mark 6:1-13 – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 8, 2012

“…And they took offense at him…” (Mark 6:3)

In a couple of weeks I’ll preach at a church I served over twenty years ago. The congregation is between pastors and invited guest speakers—including me, one of their “old” pastors—to cover Sundays during the transition.

It’ll be a “Welcome home, Larry!” time.

And yet often, when I take visitors to show them Yosemite’s granite glory and watery wonders, I’ll be thinking . . .

Which makes me nervous. After all, I’ve read what happened to Jesus when he ventured back into his old neighborhood. The Nazarene returned to Nazareth and Welcome home, Jesus! quickly twisted into a Get outta town now! demand.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all described Jesus’ homecoming. In Matthew Jesus said a few choice words in the synagogue, irked his erstwhile neighbors and vamoosed. Mark, probably the first to write a version about Jesus’ visit, also showed Jesus’ failure at wowing his fellow Nazarenes. Luke depicted a sour reception, but pushed it a few awful steps further since Jesus’ boyhood chums attempted to hurl him off a cliff.

Welcome home, Jesus!

All three Gospels reported he did little or no “deeds of power.” Which is to say, most fellow Nazarenes that were ill remained ill even after he laid hands on them. If elsewhere he’d healed wary lepers and vulnerable children and even his disciple Peter’s mother-in-law, in the village where he might’ve known most by name, his healing hands were as successful as a carpenter building a house without nails.

Why did Jesus fail . . . or at least falter? Jealousy? Resentment? Doubt? Did his neighbors’ attitudes erode an openness to trust the one “outsiders” revered as prophet, healer and preacher?

Familiarity dulls our senses. Continue reading →