“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1948/2001), 44.

Christ is risen! Now what?

Easter Sunday reflections on Mark 16 vs1-8

What are you expecting of God? We marvel that no one in the story seemed to anticipate the resurrection even though they’d been repeatedly told by Jesus, and even though we can see in their scriptures some foreshadowing, as we heard in Isaiah 53. Yet somehow everyone missed it. Everyone was surprised. No one expected what God ultimately did.

What are you expecting of God? Once you realize what God has done, now what? Think about these women at the tomb – they’ve come to finish the burial rites that were rushed because the Sabbath evening fell. So Joseph of Arimathia and Nicodemus quickly took the body of Jesus after receiving consent from Pilate, and they lay it in a borrowed tomb. It was necessary that the body not be left exposed, as a mitzvoth to honor the dead and save the land from being cursed. And their work had to be done before sunset on Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath. So now the women come to the tomb to finish. They realize while they are on the way that they should have brought some of the men with them to help roll away the stone and open the tomb. They arrive and the stone is rolled away. A young man is there (notice no angel in Mark’s story – his lacks the power and glory found in the other accounts) and he speaks to them – “He is not here. He has been raised.”

Good news! The one who had died is now alive! We will not go back to the way things were, but forward to a new way, a new life. But that’s not what we want, is it. We don’t want to go forward, we want those we have lost restored and brought back. Jesus is not brought back to life, but taken forward through death to new life. Even though they will see and experience him, they will not be allowed to hold onto him for long. This is not the good news for which we had hoped. This is not what we thought God was going to do. Christ is risen. Now what?

The young man instructs the women to go and tell the others. Their next steps are clearly laid out for them. But they are frightened – “terror and amazement has seized them” – and they said nothing to anyone. That’s how Mark originally ended his gospel. Later generations would add two alternate endings because, like us, they felt Mark’s ending unsatisfactory. They knew that more happened – Matthew, Luke and John give several more details over 40 days. But for Mark, at the time he was writing, this ending seemed appropriate. His church was asking the same question we are asking today, “Christ is risen, now what?”

Marks’ gospel was written during or just after the Jewish revolt which began in 68 AD and included the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70. To be a Jew of any sort (even one who was a Jesus follower) was a dangerous thing in Mark’s day. It is believed that Mark’s mother owned the home in Jerusalem with the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his disciples (Acts 12) – probably when Mark himself was 10 or 12 years old. Later, when he was a young man, he traveled with Paul and then with Barnabas. He had first-hand knowledge of the events of Jesus’ last week, including the resurrection and the days which followed. The disciples were hiding back in the same house on Easter when Jesus showed up in the locked room and asked for something to eat (Luke 24). Mark knew what Jesus wanted the disciples to do in response to the resurrection, he was a part of their response. And yet, at the time of his writing, it made sense to end his sermon in this way:

6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

With what was Mark’s church struggling? With what do we struggle on this Easter morning?

Perhaps the women struggled to believe that what they heard is true. The women had repeatedly heard Jesus say that he would be raised again. This young man in white told them it has come true. And yet the go away in silence and fear. It seems incredible, unbelievable, inconceivable. Mark’s church was witnessing what to them must have seemed like the end of their world. Jews and Christians alike were under attack. The Temple had been destroyed. With such tragedies surrounding them, did they begin to question God’s faithfulness. Did they begin to wonder if God could or would bring resurrection to the church? Were things too far gone to be restored? It is too big to wrap our minds around. We struggle just to believe it. Christ is risen! Now what?

Perhaps the women struggled out of fear that they would be in danger. After all, Jesus had been killed. The apostles were hiding in the upper room. They had reason to fear. Mark’s church, likewise, could relate to such fear. The tide had turned and again it was dangerous to be a follower of Jesus. Standing up for God among a religiously diverse community risked not only neighbor, business and family relationships. Proclaiming faith could cost Mark’s church members their lives. What about us? What is at risk for us as followers of Jesus? Do you risk rejection from coworkers, business associates, neighbors, friends and family? Are you able to live out your faith fully in the face of a religiously diverse? Christ is risen! Now what?

Perhaps the women feared because they knew that they could not live up to what the resurrection would mean. If Jesus were raised from death, then nothing would ever be the same. All their relationships would be transformed; their commitment to community, their relationship with money and material things. It is not that Jesus would ask too much, but that they could not live up to this. This would be too much grace, too much mercy, too much love. Was this the fear of Mark’s church? Did they fear that they could not live up to the claim of the resurrection on their lives? Not that God was too small, but that they were too small for God’s greatness. They were unworthy to receive God’s power in their lives, and through them bringing redemption to the world. Is this our fear today? Are we like these Easter women who experience the resurrection power of God in their lives but fear to step into it fully, fear that we will fall and fail? Do we doubt not God but ourselves? It seems easier to live in silent fear than to risk everything for God.

Did Mark close his gospel this way so that we would know that we are not alone in our Easter fear; that others have been overwhelmed by all that the resurrection means? Are you afraid to go and live an Easter life? Are you afraid to let the full power of the resurrection flow through you to transform your life and world? If you are afraid, you are not alone. But the story does not end there. Christ is risen! Now what? Will we hide from all that God’s resurrection power desires to accomplish among us, in us, through us in the world? Or will we receive this good news? Will we celebrate it, live it, share it fully, in spite of our fears?

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit…

Sermon thoughts for 041209 (Easter Sunday)

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23)

We’ve spent the last 7 weeks hearing Jesus words from the cross. This is the last of them. Jesus again quotes from the Psalms. This time though, in stead of a lament (Mark 15:33-34 – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” from Psalm 22) we hear words of deep faith and confidence from Psalm 31. Indeed, the entirety of Psalm 31 is a testimony of faith and confidence in God’s redeeming power – past, present, and future. Keep in mind that these quotes come from two different gospel writers, who have different theological concerns in their stories – which in part explains the apparent shift in mindset on Jesus’ part. Mark writes around the time of the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, when his audience no doubt wonders where God is in all of their historical circumstances. They too were probably praying the words of Psalm 22. They knew what it was to feel forsaken and wonder where God had gone. To be reminded that David knew their pain, but even more Jesus himself, must have been a great comfort. And to be reminded that our momentary experience of feeling abandoned is to be kept in the context of God’s abiding love and redeeming power.

That then, brings us to Jesus statement in Luke 23:46. God’s abiding love and redeeming power are the reason for our faith and confidence, the reason why we can give God everything, even from the cross. We are somewhat less confident of Luke’s audience or situation for his Gospel – other than that he addresses it to “Theopholis” – which means “lover of God”. Luke tells us that his gospel is an effort to set down in orderly fashion the events of Jesus’ life, so that Theopholis may know the truth (Lk 1:-4).

Luke had traveled with Paul, and in that time learned first hand and through Paul’s testimony that our own suffering does not negate God’s goodness, power, or love. Indeed, it is in the midst of our suffering and weakness that God’s power is revealed and made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Luke witnessed what it meant to give God everything – Paul did it in his ‘imitation of Christ’ and called others to follow the same example – “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”(1 Cor 11:1) In other words, “I am striving to be like Jesus – you do the same.” Earlier he makes clear that he is not seeking followers of himself (distinct from other apostles or teachers) but through his ministry seeking followers of Jesus who will not just believe, but imitate. Again, he says in Phillipians 2

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Be like Jesus. Hear John echo – whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:6)

And what do we see in Jesus? “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” – which for Jesus, is everything. Jesus gave God everything. And in doing so, he have us everything as well. Go back and hear again the words of Philippians 2:6-8. He let go. It was the ultimate “trust fall”. Have you ever done one of those at a retreat or group building exercise. You have to close your eyes, fall backward, and trust those with you to catch you. You say, “Friends, into your hands I commit my body.” Maybe they catch you, maybe they don’t.

As followers of Jesus, we learn from him what is required of us – to trust-fall into God’s care and keeping – even when our physical experience is one of suffering. Indeed, we come to realize that the only way to experience resurrection is to go through death. This “giving God everything” is the ultimate death-to-self (Galatians 2:20).

How much do you trust God? Do you trust Him with your finances? Do you trust Him with your family? Do you trust Him with your career? Do you trust Him with your health? Do you trust Him with your soul? I don’t mean, do you trust that you will go to heaven when you die. I mean, while you live, will you give God everything. Anybody can do it on their death bed – after all, you’ve got nothing left to loose and everything to gain perhaps. But what about now, today? Does God have it all. It is one thing to believe in Jesus – after all, he said, even the demons believe and tremble. What Christ desires is not believers, but followers. Those who will give God-the-Father everything, following Jesus’ example and having the faith in the Father that Jesus had. This, and this alone, is the way to resurrection and eternal life. Until we yield to God, we are separated from God. As soon as we yield, we are united with God and enter immediately into God-life, which is eternal life, the kingdom of God here, now, among and within us, working itself out in the world. This is the clear witness of the church throughout the book of Acts and the writings of Paul, Peter, John and the others.

You may be asking, why a crucifixion text on resurrection day? Why indeed. Because noone experiences resurrection without passing through death, and you pass through death by yielding all you are to God. Give God everything today, so that you may know the power of the Resurrection in your life.