Whether it is the loss of a life long partner, the despair of a teenage child, the anxiety of tenuous employment, loneliness or simply the pressures of day to day living, the chances and changes of living challenge us all.
It is my prayer that we will be sustained and encouraged by Easter.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28 we find, “After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look in the tomb…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow…The angel spoke to the women. ‘You must not be afraid,’ he said. ‘I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised…’”
The words, “he has been raised,” are, perhaps, the greatest words in Scripture, for it is through these words that we learn God has power over everything, even death itself.
If God can transform death into eternal life, then there is nothing on this earth which God cannot overcome and transform in our lives. When the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that first Easter morning, despair was transformed into hope and doubt into trust.
It is my prayer that we will each receive the gift of trust and hope this Easter. Trust that God is in charge regardless of how outward circumstances appear and hope that God can mold any situation into His purposes for our lives.
The fundamental reason I get up every morning is Easter and it is through Easter that you and I can be assured that God is in charge of everything, no matter what. Fear not, my friends, for He has been raised. Happy Easter!
Perhaps you will think that I have lost my ever-loving mind when I tell you that I tend to believe that I will be more connected to other people if I can demonstrate my perfection. My fashionable clothes, my picture-ready hair, my sculpted body, my fancy home and car, my carefully practiced music, etc. I am convinced that people will especially want to be my friend when they hear my flawlessly reasoned arguments – about how I am right and wise and everybody else is wrong and short-sighted. My life and I in it are the absolute pink of perfection – don’t you want to be around me and be my friend? (I can already sense your sympathy for my husband!)
It must be some kind of insanity that moves me to such thoughts, because nobody is looking for a friend who outshines them at all times and in all ways. I remember looking at one of my friends in junior high and wondering why he was so popular when he never combed his hair. Please keep in mind that this was in the 80’s when nobody left home without big hair-do’s requiring every hair to be meticulously arranged and held in place with clouds of ozone-depleting hairspray! I think that this was the beginning of an epiphany for me.
You may know or remember Daniel Barnes who ran our sound prior to Adam Gilbert. Daniel is now in college, and one of his professors gave him an assignment to get the answers to a series of questions without looking them up online and without other people looking up the answers for him. So he asked his friends for help. Before long, he had long-lost relatives knocking on doors of previously unknown neighbors in order to find answers to bizarre, obscure questions for Daniel’s professor. He got the answers he needed, but more importantly, he got an answer that he wasn’t seeking. He may have believed that knowing things is powerful, but what he learned is that not knowing things is also powerful. It led to new friendships and stronger bonds. I’ve never met this professor, but I think I want to sit at her/his feet and learn.
Then there are those moments when we watch a performer, and they forget the words to their song, or an athlete who falls, or an actor whose prop fails. Suddenly everybody is pulling for them and feeling empathy for them. Nobody wants to screw up in front of other people, but sometimes those moments are the ones we remember the best and that teach us the most.
So here is the big reveal. I have come to suspect that we don’t connect when we compete for flawless perfection. In fact, sometimes I think it is exactly this drive for perfection that separates us. We connect over our shortcomings, weaknesses, and brokenness. We bond through our authenticity and vulnerability. The most ego-driven people are not usually the most lovable, but rather, the ones who can admit that they were wrong. Why is connection important? Because I believe that when we connect with people in deep and meaningful ways, we come to love them. When we love people, we are more likely to treat them as Jesus taught us. Maybe for Lent I will try giving up some ego?
Jesus was clear. His message straightforward. His piercing insight unending. Sadly, tragically and unbelievably, in the two thousand years since he rose from the dead, layer upon layer of messaging, hierarchies, the unquenchable desire for power and control, politics, certitude, physical and organizational structures, fear, oppression, exclusion, egos, rules, clergy, liturgical practices and personal preferences have subdued and complicated what Jesus said life is all about to the point that it is now nearly unrecognizable in many communities of faith. Too often, communities of faith often alienate, harm, and drive humankind away from the reason we are alive to begin with.
Jesus said everything, no exceptions, is about love. Jesus did not say, “Love, and” or “Love, but.” He simply spoke of love, with no add-ons, no addendums and no additions that get us off the hook. Our work, the decisions we make, the manner in which we conduct ourselves and treat all people, the relationships we enjoy, the activities we undertake, our faith life, the standards and views we hold, can be infused with and based upon the kind of love Jesus spoke about, or not.
God is love. This is what Jesus taught and how he lived and, more often than not, the religious people around him could neither tolerate nor accept this message. Jesus was killed by the most religious around him because love meant letting go of power, control, self, opinions and ego. Jesus never said the love he spoke of was meant for only certain domains of life. Rather the love imperative of which he spoke applied not only to religious leaders, but to all people in every dimension of life.
Loving God, loving others, loving ourselves is the simplest yet most astonishingly difficult choice we are given. Love is the most demanding path. What is heartbreaking to me is that love, by many, is no longer considered to be the center of what it means to follow Jesus. Love is often relegated to the back seat superseded by religious leaders who speak far more of judgement, exclusion, hell, salvation, who is in and who is out, political alignment and engagement, condemnation of other religious traditions, hostility toward those on the margins and just about anything that has nothing to do with the love of which Jesus taught.
Others now understandably reject religion saying that some of what has gone terribly awry in history is due to religion. This statement is not only correct, but a profound reflection of Christians who have distanced themselves from Jesus’ simple and clear statement that the purpose of everything is love.
Near the end of his life, Jesus said to those around him, “Love as I have loved you.” He did not say convert, save, change, challenge, condemn, judge, protect maintain, eliminate, or detail a long list of rules. He simply said, “Love as I have loved you.”
At the Chapel we have been working and will continue to work, however imperfectly, to take Jesus’ love imperative seriously. Some have challenged us for it. Others have left. Some have said, “Sure, love, but….” Others have concluded I don’t take the Bible seriously. Some have joined us in doing everything we can to be a different kind of community of faith in which love is first and love is last, period.
I take Jesus at his word. Loving God, loving others and loving ourselves is the reason for life and why the Chapel exists. It is our mission. It is the point. It is what we are about. And it is such love and Jesus’ resurrection that ignited the world 2000 years ago before all the stuff that exists today got in the way.
All of this leads me to sharing what I believe is the most important question in life. That question is, “What does love require of me?” I believe we are compelled to ask this question throughout each day, wherever we find ourselves, in whatever setting. When we ask this question continually and act upon our answers, we will find ourselves moving closer and closer to Jesus and toward ushering in the kind of world God envisions.