Sunday, June 2, 2024

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 

Philip answered him, "Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

I will never forget the miracles one day as I was standing almost right next to Jesus. I was just a young lad then, but I recall them vividly.

King Herod had just executed John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin. So, Jesus came to our area, which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. One day a huge crowd followed Jesus out to the countryside. My father and mother and I were early arrivals, getting space up front. We could hear Jesus talking to his disciples before everyone was assembled.

I had heard that Jesus was a miracle worker. I could not have told you what a miracle was for a hundred shekels of silver. But I know now. I saw miracles before my eyes when I went with my father one day to the countryside to hear Jesus of Nazareth speak. There was an enormous crowd, my father said at least five thousand.

The people kept streaming up. After a while, Jesus said to a disciple (Philip, I learned later), “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Philip glanced at Jesus with alarm. “Where are we going to buy bread!” he stammered. “When did it become our responsibility to feed these people?”

Jesus just sort of gazed at Philip with the same expression on his face that my father gave me when I had said or done something particularly stupid. Philip saw it and glanced at the ground, chastened. But he still spoke. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Jesus said nothing but turned to look at the crowd. After a few minutes Jesus preached to us. I don’t recall all he said. It was a long time ago. Years later, I learned what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. What he said in the countryside that day was much like that.

It was the miracles that have stayed with me.

My father looked intently at Jesus as he spoke, almost as if he’d never heard anyone preach about God and justice and charity and forgiveness and love and mercy and good deeds and … well, a lot of things. My mother was sitting near me and she was also fixed on what Jesus was saying.

“Bear one another’s burdens,” I remember Jesus said, “for this is how you fulfill God’s commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment. Do not return evil for evil, but for everyone who hates you, love them in return. Pray for those who wish you harm, love your enemies, and do good to those who wrong you.” Here he paused and looked frankly rather impishly around while a grin crossed his face, “For in doing this it will be as Proverbs says, like bringing heaps of coals upon their heads!”

The crowd roared at that, my mother and father included. I saw many people clap their hands and nod in agreement. “That’s right!” many exclaimed. “The prophets taught all this, too!”

Before long Jesus stopped preaching and walked into the crowd. Now I understood why so many people had come out. Many were sick, ill, or injured. Parents had brought children for Jesus to bless; some of the children were ill, too. Lame people wanted to walk again normally.

Jesus had great compassion for them. He prayed with most, blessed many, reproved some (but not harshly) and cured many. I knew as I watched that Jesus was a holy man.

By now the sun was getting low. Some of the disciples came to Jesus and said softly (though several of us heard), “This is open country and there is nothing here. It’s getting late. Send this crowd away to the local villages so they can buy themselves some food.”

Jesus said to them, “They don’t need to go anywhere. You give them something to eat.”

At that the disciples looked at each other uneasily. They didn’t know what to say. Well, neither did I. One of them looked at me and I knew he’d must have seen me earlier re-wrapping the bread and fish my mother had given me to carry. I started to push it behind me but it was too late.

The disciple turned to Jesus and said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 

I could not believe my ears. What did I have to do with their debate? I looked quickly at my mother, who was frowning. I glanced up at my father. He stood with pursed lips and narrowed eyes.

Jesus may be special, I thought, but his disciples aren’t so great. Jesus had handed them a problem and they just ducked it, then tried to hand it off on me, a kid!

Jesus shook his head a little. Then he looked at me with a very kind, indeed, hopeful expression on his face. I stopped trying to hide the five loaves and two fish. Jesus held out his hand toward me, then looked at my father and mother. He said nothing but his face showed hopeful expectation. I saw something else, too. I saw the face of someone I could trust.

Without waiting for my father’s permission, I placed the food bundle in Jesus’ hand. He smiled broadly and squeezed my shoulder. He turned to his disciples and said, “Make the people sit down.”

It took a few minutes. With everyone sitting, they could all see Jesus as he stood. He raised a loaf of bread toward heaven and gave thanks for it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Then he gave them the fish.

The disciples stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. Jesus still had a loaf in his hand. He took two steps toward me and gave it to me. I held it for a moment, unsure of what to do myself. Then, hesitatingly, I tore off a piece of bread and handed the loaf to my mother. She took a piece and handed it to my father.

I could see my father was torn. Jesus had no permission from him to confiscate that bread. It was dad’s property, and he had the right to keep it. He looked at Jesus, but Jesus had stepped to the other side of the disciples while they imitated what Jesus had done, giving the bread to the people.

My father shook his head slightly. He really didn’t know what to do. Well, what he wanted to do was not what he knew he should do. He said aloud, talking to no one in particular, “You remember what Jesus said? ‘Whoever has some will be given abundantly more, but whoever does not have much will have even that little taken from them’.”

My father tore off a piece of bread and passed the loaf to the man sitting nearby. This man took it and stared at my father. The other man said, “What did he mean by that?”

My father paused, then said, “I think he meant that in God’s kingdom, we will not get unless we give. If we don’t give, then God take from us even what little we have.”

The other man said, “That’s why you’ve given me your bread.” Then he turned toward the next family and gave the bread to them. “Here, take this. We brought bread, too, but hid it because we wanted it for ourselves.” He motioned to his wife who reached under the folds of her robe and took out four or five round loaves. She and her husband kept one and passed the others to their neighbors.

I looked around, stunned to see the same thing happening everywhere. People were laughing, some were crying, all were at peace with one another. Indeed, we were all filled with joy! And all around, hands disappeared beneath robes or into backpacks and reappeared with loaves of bread and perhaps some smoked fish.

My mother and father and I came out on the short end because no one offered us any of their food. We had to make do with just the single piece of bread we’d each tore off to begin with. This bothered me a little but it was not possible to stay upset with such spirit all around.

After some time, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather up the leftovers, so that nothing may be lost.”

The disciples picked up a large basket each and went among the people, telling what Jesus had said. Few demurred. The baskets were filled by the time they finished. I laughed at how the disciples had to lug those heavy baskets back to Jesus!

Jesus took a wicker plate and filled it with bread and fish. Then he stepped over to me and handed it to me. It was a big heap of food! Then he gave another plateful each to my mother and father.

At that I heard someone call out, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!”

Jesus’ teachings became suddenly clear. In the Kingdom of God another’s joys become our laughter, another’s pain becomes our tears. One who is naked wears our clothes. One who is hungry eats our food. The Kingdom of God is a sort of spiritual cooperative. When we serve our neighbor in need, we will be served when we need it. When the love of God goes from us, it comes back to us.

Five loaves of bread and two fish. What no one thought would be adequate for God’s work turned out to be far more than enough. A banquet was served that day, a banquet of life and love and grace, almost more than the disciples could carry.

Here are the miracles I saw that day: people’s hearts were changed, barriers were broken, generosity flowered, and we loved one another. Jesus gave to us, and it was Jesus we gave one another. If those are not miracles, nothing is!

Are you hungry? Go to Jesus’ table as we did, for it is Jesus being served. And there is no greater miracle than that!

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Pentecost was a Jewish celebration long before it was a Christian one. It was one of the designations of the Feast of Weeks, which came after Passover. In Jesus’ day, Pentecost was a time to renew the covenant God made with Noah. This festival day seems to be the reason the disciples gathered in one place. They were good Jews and wanted to observe the holy day.

Jesus had ascended to heaven, leaving his disciples behind. He had told them that God would give them a great gift after he departed. Jesus had indicated it would be the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we hear that the Holy Spirit was not among human beings until the day of Pentecost, but that’s not the case. The spirit of God moved over the surface of the waters, says Genesis. Ezekiel and Isaiah both spoke of the Spirit, as did the Psalmist. Of course, Peter spoke of the Holy Spirit when he quoted the book of Joel in his sermon in our passage.

So the disciples were waiting for something to happen, but they didn’t know exactly what or when. The Scriptures don’t tell us what they were actually doing just before the Spirit hit them. Of course, what matters is not what they were doing before, but what they did after.

What would we have seen if we had we been present on the day of Pentecost? The Scriptures say there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind and “divided tongues, as of fire,” which rested on each of them.

In the Old Testament the word for wind and the word for spirit are the same. Was it the wind of God, the breath of God, or the spirit of God which moved over the surface of the deep as Genesis opens? Take your pick, the word for all of them is the same.

So this wind that Acts tells of isn’t just some brisk breeze, maybe not even something that the disciples felt muss up their hair. They heard something that sounded like wind, but wasn’t necessarily something you could fly a kite in.

One thing we know about both wind and fire, though. They are both energy. Fire spreads quickly when pushed by the wind. And maybe that’s what Acts is trying to say happened on that day of Pentecost: The Spirit of God pushed into the disciples as irresistibly a strong wind, and the fire of God set them ablaze with apostolic fervor. And their message spread quickly, like a wind-driven wildfire out of control. Just a few verses later, we are told that three thousand people were baptized into Christian discipleship that day. I imagine poor Peter and the other apostles were just about exhausted when they finally went to bed that night. And ever since, the church has counted Pentecost as its birthday.

The immediate effect of these tongues, as of fire, was that the Jews from every nation who were in Jerusalem heard the gospel being proclaimed in their own language. The passage lists about seventeen different languages, ranging from Latin to Arabic. It was such a babbling mess that some onlookers sneered and accused the apostles and others of being filled with new wine.

Now, there’s an interesting image: filled with new wine. New wine was a metaphor Jesus had used. Luke 5 records that some Pharisees complained that Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus answered them, "Those who are healthy don't need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to turn away from their sins."

Then some other people present chimed in that Jesus’ disciples were not properly pious – they didn’t pray enough or fast. Jesus answered, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins. The wine will run out, and the wineskins will be destroyed. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. After people drink old wine, they don't want the new. They say, 'The old wine is better.' "

I knew a master welder who told me that he would not take on as apprentices someone who already knew how to weld. “Too many bad habits,” he explained. In the same way, Jesus was explaining that he chose disciples who had not already been ruined by the church – I mean by the Pharisees. People who are complacent in their religion, who have become comfortably numb and self-satisfied in orderly routines of religion, are poor candidates for revival and effective discipleship.

The Pentecost scoffers are absolutely right, then, that the disciples and others are filled with new wine, though not for the reason they think. Peter caught on to their insult right away. He jumped up and threw their mockery right back at them: “Hey, we’re not drunk! It’s only nine in the morning!” I bet that got a laugh, because the unspoken implication is that they might get drunk later—say, about the same time the scoffers would. Peter turned their mockery into a joke, got the crowd on his side and proceeded to give the first recorded sermon by a follower of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s whole sermon is about being filled with new wine. Not fruit of the vine, but spiritual power by the blood of Christ, shed for all for the forgiveness of sins. We use wine in remembrance of Christ’s blood every time we share communion. We come to the Lord’s table asking for God to pour out the Holy Spirit on all of us gathered here. And in faith we believe God does. Every communion is a little Pentecost, when we are filled with new wine and the Holy Spirit.

So Peter talks about a new thing in the world. The spirit shall be poured out on both men and women. Young and old shall receive this new wine; they shall prophesy and dream dreams of divine revelation. Creation itself will give witness to the grand things God is doing to save all humanity and all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

A fellow named Bud Ogle is a church worker in Chicago. One year, the evening before Easter Day, Bud saw a cluster of women standing on a street corner. Normally only prostitutes and drug pushers worked the streets that time of night, yet these women did not appear to be either. He got closer and recognized two of them, regular attendees at his church.

The women told him, “We’re reclaiming this street corner for God. We’re taking it back from the drug dealers.” Spontaneously, they had decided to stand vigil against the forces of evil in the neighborhood.

A few hours later, during the Easter sunrise service, seven people spoke, three of them newly recovering addicts. “I was good as dead,” said one. “Now, with the help of Jesus and all of you, I’m coming back to life.”

Why is it that it seems that drug addicts or prostitutes or persons with similar dysfunctions are apparently the only ones who realize that they are good as dead if something isn’t done? Listen, we are all as good as dead unless we are filled with the new wine of Jesus Christ!

Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if one Sunday during our worship service some people going thought that we were all drunk, even though it’s only ten-thirty in the morning? Maybe they’d pull in and ask, “Hey, what’s with you people?” And we’d answer, “We’re filled with new wine!” – the new wine of Jesus Christ, the new life in Jesus Christ, because of the blood he shed for our sake. 

If you go to Jerusalem today you can visit the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples. You can visit the court where Pilate sentenced him to death and walk the route Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha. Yet the room where the events of this passage took place is unknown. There is a tradition that these events took place in the Upper Room, but the Bible does not say that.

Why is the place of this day lost to history? I think it is because there was nothing about the location that was significant. The significance was what happened, not where.

Something amazing happen to a group of quite ordinary people. They had their nostalgic memories of the past (“Remember when Jesus fed the five thousand? Those were the good old days”). Then they were jerked into the future, to bring it about by work in the present life of the world. When the Holy Spirit hit them, it hit them all together, at the same time, and it blew them right out of their meeting room into the mean streets of Jerusalem and the world.

It was the transformation of a group of folks newly given something ultimate to do, to tell the entire world about Life. And they were given the ability and power to do it, the power of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, perhaps, the place of Pentecost is unknown. The apostles did not end the day by hanging a sign out front that said, "Holy Spirit come here Sundays, join us." They carried the Good News out into the world. They did not expect the world to come to them.

If we believe that the great days of the Church are in the past, then we must also believe that the great work of Christ’s sustainment is waning. What happened on Pentecost can happen again—here and now—when we are willing to be picked up, possessed of God, and be used as God’s instruments, when we are willing to set aside the pleasures and profits of the secular world so we can be instruments of God’s love and witnesses to Christ’s salvation.

On these Sundays when we are together in one place, God comes into our lives to renew our redemption and our redemptive purpose, to heal our wounds and sustain us in our community of faith. God sends us to carry each other’s burdens, to meet one another’s difficulties, to encourage one another. God calls us to live above mundane things and to rise above despair and anxiety. God calls us to God’s self, to seek God’s face in our hearts and the hearts of others. So we meet together. May the Holy Spirit rest on us and send us out of the church as witnesses into the streets where we live and work.

Let us pray to hear a sound like rushing wind and be visited by tongues as of fire. If the Lord chooses to bless us with a new Pentecost, then may he blow us out of our comfort zones and away from the old and familiar so that we, like the apostles, will go into the world with the Good News of Christ Jesus.

Sunday, April 14, 2024


Luke 24, verses 13 thru 34 tell of a man named Cleopas walking to the town of Emmaus, near Jerusalem, accompanied by an unnamed companion. It is the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection, which they had heard about. A man came along and asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas told the man about Jesus and his death on a cross and some women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb only to learn that Jesus was alive again. 

Then the man delivers a postgraduate-level explanation of the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Cleopas and companion are impressed and invite the man to have dinner with them. He does, and during the meal Cleopas and companion suddenly recognize the man as the risen Christ. But suddenly, he vanished from their sight. Here is the passage:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

What does this story tell us about recognizing Jesus? It is a disclosure, yes, but to what end? And to what effect? Do such appearances happen today? 

I want to read from verse 30 again: 

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.      

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

Supper at Emmaus, by Caravaggio, 1601

The basic outline of the story is pretty simple: two people were walking on the first Easter morning to a village called Emmaus, a few miles from Jerusalem. As they went, the resurrected Jesus came up and started to walk with them, but the two travelers didn’t recognize him. They are surprised that this stranger doesn’t appear to know what’s happened in Jerusalem the last few days. They tell the stranger about the prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. But then the stranger takes over and explains the significance of the events they related.

Sometime during this discourse, the hearts of Cleopas and his companion (probably his wife Mary) began to burn within them, but we don’t learn that until later. Later they stop for the night and invite the stranger to have dinner with them. The man took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave it to them. It was then that Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas recognized him. They suddenly know that they are in the Presence of the risen Christ. This kind of experience is called “epiphany.” It means manifestation. But the moment was fleeting, and Jesus vanished from their sight.

What shall we make of the stories of the risen Christ appearing? What do the stories mean and how literally do they describe what happened? 

Probably almost everyone here recognizes the reference in today’s passage to the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. That is the heart of Eucharistic meal. All but one or two of the resurrection-appearance stories in the gospels include some reference either to baptism or communion. For example, the angels the women see at the empty tomb are clothed in white robes. We know from early church records that people being baptized in the early church were clothed in white robes as a sign of their new life in Christ. In John’s Gospel Jesus calls the disciples from the shore while they were out fishing in a boat. They join him on the shore where Jesus prepared bread and fish for them. We don’t use smoked fish in Communion - thank goodness! - but a few early Christian communities did. The practice did not last, though, for which I am grateful. 

The problem with these stories is not that they were written down twenty years or more after the events they relate. There is no problem that the appearance stories reinforce the sacramental practice of the very early church. No, the problem I have with the appearance stories is that nothing like them happened to Paul, and yet the other apostles all accepted Paul’s claim that the risen Lord had appeared to him. 

I am imagining a conversation between Peter, the other apostles, and Paul in Jerusalem. Peter says to Paul, “After Jesus was crucified to death, he appeared to all of us in a closed room and held out his hands so we could see the nail holes and showed us the scar in his side where the Roman soldier had stabbed him. Then one day some of us were fishing and we saw him on the shore, so we had breakfast with him. He cooked us some bread and fish and gave them to us. So tell us how Christ appeared to you.” 

Paul replies, “Well, I was traveling one day to Damascus. On the road I saw a brilliant flash of light that blinded me. Then a voice from mid-air spoke to me. The voice said it was Jesus, and I should follow him.”

Peter looks at Matthew. Matthew looks at James, and they all look at Thomas, who had demanded to touch Jesus’ wounds to be convinced. Thomas says, “Yep, that was Jesus, all right.” “Sure thing,” agree James and Matthew. “Yes indeed,” says Peter. 

Why would the other apostles accept Paul’s story as authentic, when their experiences of the risen Christ were so very different? I can only conclude that the form of the appearances was not very important. What counted was their content and what difference it made in the ones who saw Christ.  

When the New Testament speaks of appearances of the risen Lord, the word translated as “appeared” is better translated as “was disclosed.” It means to become profoundly aware of something. The means of disclosure is through the senses. There really is something “out there,” but the power of the disclosure is internal, what happens within the one who sees or hears. 

“Disclosure” describes a sensory perception through which the disciples discerned the God-given truth that Christ was still alive. Was dead, is now alive – what could that be but resurrection? Consider also that the three-dimensional embodiment of the risen Christ, such as at the empty tomb and the lakeshore, is absent from all the apostles’ letters. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost did not say that he had eaten fish with the risen Christ. Peter instead said that Christ was raised up to sit on his heavenly throne, exalted to the right hand of God. Such descriptions are hardly fleshly. They seem visionary interpretations. 

What exactly was perceived in each appearance the New Testament relates is not clear, nor even indicated in all cases. On the Damascus road, it seemed like a lightning flash. This flash was an objective reality since Paul’s companions saw it, too. But Paul understood more than his senses perceived. It is there that disclosure resides.

For the Cleopases, the resurrection was at first only a rumor. But its possibility fascinated them. They talked about it at length and discussed all the details they had learned. Within these discussions was a restlessness to find rest in God. They didn’t know exactly what to believe, but they deeply hoped for God to be alive and present. Yet they failed to recognize the stranger who walked beside them. 

Pastor Susan Andrews wrote, 

On Sunday mornings in contemporary America, modern disciples come through the church door weighed down by cynicism, stress, pretense, power. They are sophisticated lawyers and skeptical scientists and shell-shocked journalists – skilled practitioners in the seductions of the world, but nervous novices in the realm of the Spirit. They, like the first disciples, yearn for the living presence of God. But they are too preoccupied, suspicious, too busy actually to recognize God. In their objective world of fact and truth and matter and money, the church’s world of mystery and meaning and risk and relationship seems silly. And so they are eager to discuss and debate the idea of God, but unprepared to experience or recognize the presence of God.” 

In the novel The River Why, there is a fisherman named Gus who lives on the Oregon coast. Gus’s full name is Augustine, after St. Augustine, a towering figure of the Church who wrote one of the most influential books in western history, The Confessions of St. Augustine. In it, Saint Augustine told how he sought truth and met a Christian named Ambrose. Ambrose’s witness changed Augustine’s life. Augustine saw life as a journey and wrote, “We are made restless until we rest in Thee.”

Gus is a seeker, too. Gus is seeking God, even though he doesn’t know it. One night he's talking to another fisherman named Nick, whom he respects. Nick becomes for Gus what Ambrose was for Augustine. He leads him to God.

Nick told him that when he was a young man working the deck on a boat in the North Sea, he had left his safety line unattached. A wave swept him into the freezing water. Just as he was going under, a fisherman on the boat threw him a line with a large hook on its end. Nick’s hands were so frozen that he could not manipulate the hook into his clothing. About to drown, he grasped the hook in one hand and jammed it through the other. Then he passed out. He awoke on the deck, safe. 

He told Gus, “I knew that I had been born anew. Nothing will ever be the same again.” He showed Gus the scar on his hand and said, “Behold, son. Behold the sign of the fisherman’s love for a wooden headed fool.” 

Gus couldn’t sleep that night. He kept hearing Nick’s story over and over again. He felt things that he had never felt before, and he knew those things were from the soul.

Gus got up very early and walked up the mountain behind his cabin. As he was walking along the mountaintop the morning sunlight suddenly broke over the mountain ridge across the valley, shining an almost unbearably brilliant light into the darkness. He felt a chill start in his thighs, go up his spine, to the top of his head. He felt the sense of a Presence. “It was,” he said, “as though an unseen, oldest, longest-lost friend had come to walk the road beside me.”


I cannot tell you how to have your own disclosure. Epiphany moments are gifts of the Spirit, and as the Gospel of John says, the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it will. But epiphanies are not what validate our Christian discipleship, anyway. At the end of a day long ago in Jerusalem, the nature of Paul’s conversion experience seemed not to have been important to the other apostles. They confirmed Paul in the faith because he was a changed man. They accepted Paul as their brother because they could see that the work he was doing was the work of Christ. 

As soon as Cleopas and his companion recognized the risen Lord, he disappeared from their sight. God’s presence is often elusive, fleeting, dancing at the edge of our awareness. God’s boldest presence is still mysterious and transitory. We perceive God’s presence in fleeting moments, and then the mundane closes in again. The reports of Christ’s life and presence may seem an idle tale to some, but to those who have witnessed God’s transcendent presence they are a transforming reality. Cleopas and companion would never see Christ like that again, but it would not matter, for their lives were permanently transformed.

Christ is alive! Christ is present! That is our witness.

What do we disclose? More importantly, whom do we reveal? When the world sees us, do they see Jesus disclosed by and revealed through us?

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Easter- So What?

What's wrong with this picture? Well, a number of things, but let us admit that it is not intended to be a photo-accurate depiction of Jesus exiting his tomb on the first Easter morning almost 2,000 years ago. It's obviously simply intended to illustrate the central claim of Christianity: that Jesus of Nazareth, having been crucified to death (here's why) on Friday and entombed late that afternoon, was raised from death by the power of God on Sunday morning.

Back to the picture. My friends know I am a stickler for accuracy. First, there is no passage in the Gospels that describe Jesus exiting the tomb. He was laid in the tomb on Friday. The stone was rolled across the entrance to seal the tomb. On Sunday the women, friends of his and his mother, went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus's exit, but for the women's convenience so they could enter easily.

What the women saw inside were Jesus's grave wrappings, lying exactly as if the corpse within had simply vanished inside them. John's Gospel records, "the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head [was] not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself."

Romans aimed for maximum deterrent effect in crucifixion. Inflicting humiliation was part of the package. They stripped the condemned entirely naked before they nailed them to the cross. Jesus was naked when his friends took him down from the cross. They tried to clean his terribly-savaged corpse (whipped nearly to death by the Romans before crucifixion) and apply funereal spices before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown. They didn't finish. So they covered Jesus's face with a cloth, about the size of a modern hand towel, wrapped his body with a large cloth and then looped a long strip of cloth around the outside (probably torn from the side of the large cloth), loosely so that removing it would be easy on Sunday morning, when the women would return to finish applying the spices.

So however Jesus exited the tomb, he came out naked, certainly not clothed in a Clorox-clean robe. We know this because John says the Christ, arisen,
... said to her [Mary Magdalene], "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
So somewhere, perhaps, a gardener was going to get to work later and wonder had happened to his work clothes.

The story of the first Easter is as familiar to church people as any story we know. Perhaps it has lost its power because of that fact. Each Gospel telling of that first Easter day adds certain embellishments, too. Mark's account is rather sparse, but the other Gospels add more and more detail until by the time we're through we have a virtual parade of folks and supernatural beings practically huddled near the tomb - Roman soldiers, Temple representatives, the women, panting disciples, angels. I almost expect the Marine band to be along any minute. And somewhere in there, almost lost in the crowd, we catch a fleeting glimpse of Jesus, risen from the dead, and everyone uncomprehending of what it means, including the women who saw him and the two men who can't make much sense how Jesus's grave clothes can just be empty.

And it happened way over yonder, in Israel, way back when. What is Easter for in 2024?

United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon served many years at the dean of Duke University’s chapel. He once told of an interview he gave to a student reporter for the Duke University campus newspaper. Easter was approaching. So was Spring Break, which ended on Easter weekend that year.

“I'm doing a story on fun things to do during Spring Break,” said the student-reporter, “and thought it would be cool to mention the Chapel.”

“Okay,” said Reverend Willimon.

“Dr. Willimon,” the student said, “what is the goal of Easter?”

Willimon later wrote that he had no ready answer. A horrible thought went through his mind – an image of a headline, “Preacher says Easter is pointless.”

At right is an iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon long before he danced with the stars. A few years after this day in July 1969, some wag made a poster of this photo (I Googled in vain for an image) topped with the words, "So What?"

And this is, in fact, an excellent question to ask about the illustration of Jesus exiting the tomb, above, leaving aside its inaccuracy to the recorded event.

What is the point of Jesus's resurrection? What purpose does it serve?

There's an old story of a preacher who had invited the children up to the altar area one Easter morning for the children's sermon. He asked the question, "When Jesus came out of the tomb that day, what do you suppose was the first thing he said?"

A little girl jumped up, waving her hand and exclaiming, "I know! I know!" She thrust one foot forward and raised her hands triumphantly above her hand, then yelled, "TA DA!"

Is that it? God gets to wow us? Well, I am appropriately wowed. But if that's all there is, then my life is no different and I am no better off.

But, as you might imagine, the apostle Paul got it clearly. In a letter to the church in Corinth, Greece, he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:12-20):
12It is proclaimed that Christ has been raised from the dead, so how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised, either. 14And if Christ was not raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15Moreover, we are liars about God, for we have staked our reputations that God raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if all the dead are not raised. 16For if all the dead are not raised, then neither has Christ been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith does you no good because you’re still in your sins. 18That means that those who died believing in Christ are gone forever. 19If Christ matters only for this life, we are more pitiful than anyone else. 20But Christ really has been raised from the dead; he was the first to be raised of all the dead.
The primary point of Jesus's resurrection is not really Jesus. The point is you and me. The resurrection of Jesus is the surety of a promise. The fundamental promise of God is that he will bring human beings into reconciliation with himself and preserve the righteous to live with him forever. How do we know that we will be raised from the dead? We know because God has already raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus’s resurrection is how God has proved he will keep his promise to raise everyone the dead at the end of the age. In fact, Paul sees Jesus’ resurrection as the actual inaugural event of the general resurrection.

That's why Paul elsewhere says that Jesus is a pioneer for the faith of Christian people. By his resurrection, Jesus blazed a trail. Jesus promised, explained this ahead of time.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Now I am not much one for the way that, "Much of modern Christianity preaches a comforting Home Depot theology: You can do it. We can help." One thing's for sure: if we are to be raised from death ourselves, somewhen, not one of us can do it on our own. And yes, I do think that we American Christians are much too narcissistic in our religious life but Easter really is maybe the one Sunday we can ask, faithfully, "What's in it for me?"

Your own empty tomb, someday, that's what. Pretty good deal, I'd say.

Here is a Youtube of His Majesty's Clerkes singing, "The Lord is Ris'n Indeed," by early American composer William Billings.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Religion, science, God


Immigrants and criminality

The Left is insisting that crime rates of immigrants is just wonderful, such as, "The ‘Criminal Immigrant’ Canard" by by Mona Charen:
Every study on the subject has shown that since 1960, immigrants are much less likely than native-born Americans to be arrested or convicted of crimes (excluding crimes associated with entry into the country). The right highlights a few cases of murder committed by immigrants, but as Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute shows, undocumented immigrants are 27.7 times less likely to commit homicide than natives, and legal immigrants are 57.1 times less likely.
Okay, fine - but she overlooks at least two points. One is that the crime rate for illegal immigrants is more than twice as high as for legal immigrants. Second, she and other libs ignore the fact that regardless of the number of homicides committed by illegal immigrants versus American citizens, that number would be magnitudes lower if this administration had not simply thrown away controls on who gets into the country.

These immigrants are not committing crimes instead of Americans, but in addition to Americans. There are therefore many Americans victimized, even murdered, by illegal immigrants whose entry into the country was deliberately allowed as policy by the Biden administration. And that does not even include the 100,000-plus deaths from drug overdose, most from fentanyl brought easily over the southern border by Mexican cartels.

Then there is this guy, apprehended by the US Border Patrol on March 9 near El Paso, Texas: "Illegal migrant from Lebanon caught at border admitted he’s a Hezbollah terrorist hoping ‘to make a bomb’ — and was headed for NY."
[Basel Bassel] Ebbadi said in a sworn interview after his arrest that he had trained with Hezbollah for seven years and served as an active member guarding weapons locations for another four years, the documents show. Ebbadi’s training focused on “jihad” and killing people “that was not Muslim,” he said.

Another reason Charen's argument fails is that Charen never even mentions of per-capita rates of crime of native-born Americans compared to the per-capita crime rates of legal and illegal immigrants. That is, what is the percentage of native-born Americans convicted of felonies in relation to the total number of native-born Americans in the country? And the same for legal immigrants and illegal immigrants.

Charen does not touch that and neither does the Stanford University study she cites. Its main metric claims that immigrants have had similar or lower incarceration rates than U.S.-born white men for the last 140 years of American history. And that is true for its metric of such rates of both groups per 100,000 residents, but that 100K is not broken down by race or citizenship. It is just per 100K of people living in the country:

As someone else put it, of course immigrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens. And in Japan, immigrants commit fewer crimes than the Japanese. In Egypt, immigrants commit fewer crimes than Egyptians. By the way, in India immigrants commit fewer crimes than Indians. Get the point?

And why is Stanford using a baseline of only white, native-born American men to compare to the foreign-born rate? Here are Census Bureau facts:
    • In 2020 (the latest year of Stanford's study), the total population in the US was 325,268,000. Of these, 57.8 percent were White, or 188,004,904.
    • The total native-born population was 280,361,000 (the Bureau rounded the numbers).
    • That means, according to Stanford's methods, that in 2020, the 92,356,086 non-white, native-born Americans committed no crimes!
    • However, in 2020, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, "about 48% of inmates held in local jails were white, 35% were black, and 15% were Hispanic. American Indians or Alaska Natives; Asians, Native Hawaiians, or Other Pacific Islanders; and persons of two or more races accounted for 2% of the total jail population." In fact, "In 2020, the [overall] imprisonment rate was 358 per 100,000 U.S. residents, the lowest since 1992."
That last datum, also from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, flatly contradicts the Stanford study, which inexplicably charts incarceration of white men alone at about 1,700 per 100,000! I could not find foreign-born incarceration numbers for 2020 specifically, but in 2018 the Department of Justice announced "that more than one-in-five of all persons in Bureau of Prisons custody were known or suspected aliens, and 93 percent of confirmed aliens in DOJ custody were in the United States unlawfully." That stat certainly has not improved.

Also crushing the Stanford study is this DOJ chart; compare to the chart above.

Here is the inaccuracy (I dare not call it deception) of the Stanford study:
  • To claim that foreign-born persons in the United States are less likely to commit crimes than native-born white men simply borders on gaslighting. It is not a relevant comparison.
  • In 2020, the year ending the Stanford chart, there were 280,361,000 native-born persons in the country. What is the incarceration rate of native-born persons per 100K for all native-born Americans? Stanford simply ignores this.
Actually, some number of the white total residents was foreign born, but the Census report breaks down only by totals of native v. foreign born; the 57.8 percent figure cited also does not distinguish between native and foreign born. In 2020, there were 44.9 million foreign-born people living in the US. Of them, 50.7 percent, or 22.75 million, were naturalized citizens.

Yes, legal immigrants do commit crimes, but it is in fact very difficult to immigrate to the this country legally, and there is ample screening of each person. But there is little (mainly no) screening at all for those entering illegally. An enormous number (the "gotaways") are not caught and are not even known of. According to MSN four months ago, using Customs and Border Patrol data, "Illegal border crossers total over 10 million since Biden inauguration."
Since January 2021, a minimum estimate of nearly 1.7 million gotaways have illegally entered the U.S.

Based on earlier projections and including Office of Field Operations data, former CBP chief Mark Morgan told The Center Square the gotaway data is likely to reach or exceed one million for fiscal 2023 alone.

In fiscal 2021, there were at least 308,655 known, reported gotaways; in fiscal 2022, 606,150 were reported. According to preliminary data obtained by The Center Square, Border Patrol agents reported at least 769,174 gotaways at the southwest border alone.
The rest, numbering now in the many millions, with very few exceptions are simply given a court date that is many years away, then are released into the country with zero requirements or supervision of any kind.
How many of them are committing crimes? No one knows. What percentage of them are committing crimes? No one knows. How many of them, like Basel Ebbadi, intentionally came here with evil intentions, as FBI Director Christopher Wray has strongly warned Congress about more than once? No one knows.

Director Wray has strongly warned of potential violence from border crossers. For example:
There are many other such reports.

The Left's argument boils down to this: "Yes, immigrants, including 'undocumented' ones, do commit crimes, but so what? So do American citizens!" But as I said above, illegal immigrants' crimes are in addition to what Americans commit. The perpetrators were deliberately admitted into the country. Why is the Left energetically supporting policies that result in crimes, including rape and murder, that did not have to happen?

Update: "Undocumented Immigrants, U.S. Citizens, and Convicted Criminals in Arizona," by the Crime Prevention Research Center:
Using newly released detailed data on all prisoners who entered the Arizona state prison from January 1985 through June 2017, we are able to separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents. Unlike other studies, these data do not rely on self-reporting of criminal backgrounds. Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens. Yet, there are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. There are dramatic differences between in the criminal histories of convicts who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.

Young convicts are especially likely to be undocumented immigrants. While undocumented immigrants from 15 to 35 years of age make up slightly over two percent of the Arizona population, they make up about eight percent of the prison population. Even after adjusting for the fact that young people commit crime at higher rates, young undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young U.S. citizens. These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes.

If undocumented immigrants committed crime nationally as they do in Arizona, in 2016 they would have been responsible for over 1,000 more murders, 5,200 rapes, 8,900 robberies, 25,300 aggravated assaults, and 26,900 burglaries.

Laken Riley’s murder and the long shadow of Willie Horton. The writer is professor of political science emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics and Security.

Update: Law Enforcement Officials testify to Congress about the criminal acts done by illegal immigrants.

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...