Tagged with 2014

Sunday Fellowship Sunday

Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Sunday Fellowship, our ministry of worship and fellowship for people of all abilities.  Sunday Fellowship participants will be leading us in worship, along with our new director, Melissa Tustin.

To get you even more excited for Sunday, take a look at this video made for our friends at Minuteman Arc.  Make sure to watch all the way to the end to see our worship service!

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/76782129]

Throwing Stones, Living Stones

 stonesActs 7:55-60, 8:1
I Peter 2:4-10

When Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a senior at Cardinal Spellman High School In 1970 she gave this speech to the Forensics Club: “On a cold night in early spring, a young woman drove home from the bar where she was working to her apartment in Queens. It was around 3 a.m. She parked her car in a nearby parking lot and was walking up the alley toward her building when a stranger appeared out of the shadows and approached her. Frightened, she ran, but he caught up with her. He stabbed her in the back. She screamed and cried for help. Several neighbors heard her cries and witnessed the struggle that ensued as Winston Moseley assaulted Kitty Genovese.”

For many of you, like me, that were around then, the name Kitty Genovese became a household term in the sixties. Sadly, not because such horrific crimes were rare at the time, but because of the surrounding circumstances. As Sotomayor went on to say, in what became a charge to her listeners: “38 neighbors heard Kitty’s cries and did nothing. In the moment of opportunity when a criminal grabs his chance and a victim is suffering, ? will you see the victim not as a stranger or as a statistic but as another human being? Will you be fully human in that moment and feel the obligation to care, to act, to get involved?” (My Beloved World, p. 112-113)

None of those 38 were responsible for Kitty’s death. Yet neither did they act to try to stop it. Would it have made a difference? Perhaps not. And perhaps yes.

In another city, at another time, another young person was killed. Stephen, a newly baptized member of the church, was stoned to death by an angry mob for preaching what members of the synagogue regarded as blasphemy. This story should also be headline news. Not because killing of “the other”, whether of a different faith or another culture, was so unusual then (as now) . Sadly, there were many more who died for their faith, and may have already been some before Stephen’s death. No, it is due to one short phrase tucked into the main event, almost as an aside.

When the witnesses dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him, “ They laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” It is here that we meet Saul, Saul whom we will come to know as Paul. Saul who stood by and, while he didn’t throw a stone, stood by and did nothing. Indeed, Saul approved of the killing.

How is it that the young man, who at the time of Stephen’s death was basically no more than a coat-check boy? Who stood by and did nothing but actually approved of the mob violence, and soon was himself dragging off disciples to prison?  How is it that this man became arguably the one person to whom we owe the institution of the church?

The circumstances of Saul’s conversion are familiar. On a journey towards Damascus to round up more believers in Christ, he saw a flash of blinding light, heard the voice of Jesus and fell to the ground. Pretty dramatic as conversions go. And from then on, Paul traveled all around the known Roman world, planting new Christian communities wherever he went, and the Word spread like wildfire and the church was born and everyone lived happily ev…. Well, not exactly.

Now and then there are conversions like that. Some folks do suddenly wake up to the error of their ways and from that day on, lead a completely new life. Some people do actually hear a voice, or see a vision and know at that moment that they are called, or, as some say, are born again.

But my guess is that most of the time it doesn’t happen that way. And that, in reality, it didn’t even happen precisely that way for Saul, despite what scripture says. After Saul picked himself up off the ground and discovered he couldn’t see, his companions led him to a house in Damascus. While there, a disciple called Ananias had a vision in which he heard God telling him to go to Saul. When Ananias laid healing hands on Saul, Saul’s sight was restored and he was baptized, following which he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. Saul’s new way of life wasn’t instantaneous. It may have led him towards the path, but it was the acceptance by Ananias, who had previously known Saul only as persecutor, along with the teaching and companionship of the Christian community in Damascus, that set his feet firmly on the path. A communal effort. It took that village to raise him up in the faith.

And not only that. Saul was likely a student of the Pharisee Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jerusalem council. Gamaliel, who said this about the apostles: “Keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them-in that case you may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 5: 38-39) Maybe Saul, at the moment he heard Jesus’ voice, remembered the wise words of his former teacher.

And not only that. At the moment of his death, Stephen, as had Jesus on the cross, prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Saul heard those words. Heard forgiveness in them. As St. Augustine wrote, “The church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen…….

Conversion is rarely the result of one spectacular moment. It is often simply an evolution, step by step, learning from the wise teachings of elders, being accepted by a loving community; incorporating experiences or teachings or personal encounters that didn’t seem important at the time. And often, like Saul, after behaving in ways we wish we hadn’t. I don’t know about you, but I look back on my life and wish I could undo some things. I have hurt friends and family, I have stood by or passed by on the other side of the road, I have been one of those who did not speak out in a time of moral crisis. At the same time, I know that God has been able to use me in some ways. As God uses each of us.
I find it interesting, and perhaps not a coincidence, that in the letter of Peter which we heard today, the writer uses stone as a metaphor time and again. “I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone”; “ the stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner”; “like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house”

If God can use a stone, an instrument of death, as a building block, even the cornerstone, chosen and precious, and, indeed! if God could and did roll away the massive stone which had imprisoned death, isn’t it even more likely that God can use God’s people, us, though hard-hearted or block-headed we may be, as instruments for life? God, who changed Saul’s heart, is always ready to do the same for us.

I have often wondered, since that day 50 years ago; what happened to those 38 people from Queens who heard Kitty Genovese’s screams? Were they full of regret? Were they still talking about it years later? Did anyone turn to crime? Or did some, maybe one or two or three, use that experience as a turning point in their own lives. I like to imagine the latter: that one became a police officer. Another started a neighborhood watch; a third became a community organizer or an inner city priest. That the moment of dreadful violence was, not redeemed exactly, ,but converted by a few into a passion for justice.

Will you see the victim not as a stranger or as a statistic but as another human being? Will I be fully human in that moment and feel the obligation to care, to act, to get involved? Can we fully accept God’s forgiveness for whatever it is we have done, left undone or think we have done that may still be weighing on us? and really, really believe that we are loved and accepted just as we are: then called to act as Christ’s hands and feet and heart in the time that we are given.

I’m going to try. And I pray that you will too. Amen.


The Lord is My Shepherd

The good shepherd fresco roman catacombWhat psalm is more beloved than Psalm 23? It has been translated and re-translated, put into cross stitch patterns, and inspired paintings. It has been set to music countless times, we’ll hear a few today. It has been read at almost all of the funerals and memorials I have ever attended or officiated. It is a psalm that even those who rarely attend church have often heard of. It’s only six verses long, which means it’s easy to memorize.

We love this psalm, most of us, and who can blame us? Consider the beauty of the King James version: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

We love this psalm. But there is something strange about that.  The Lord may be our shepherd, but we still want many things. We want love. We want forgiveness. We want new and improved versions of most of our friends and family members. We want larger bank accounts and smaller waist lines. We want a good election year for our party and a good season for our sports teams. We want pleasure and excitement and also wisdom and security. We want the power to protect those we love.

The Lord may be our shepherd, but we still want many things. And our lives do not always resemble green pastures, nor do we always follow in the paths of righteousness. In fact, we lie down and then get up each day in a world where green pastures are disappearing right and left and it is exhaustingly difficult to discern the path of righteousness. And even if we want to discern that path, even if we can, let’s be honest, sometimes we just get tired and need to take a break by the side of it.

The Lord may be our shepherd, but we still fear evil. We do not, in fact, always trust that God is with us, or that God’s rod and staff can protect us. And this is not surprising, because we witness our neighbors going hungry for food and justice every day. We witness our neighbors being tragically hurt and sometimes killed by their enemies, whether that enemy is a person, or an organization, or an addiction, or a disease.

The Lord may be our shepherd, but too many among us can see the bottom of our desperately dry cups. Goodness and mercy often feel very far from us. And we worry that we might never be able to find our way home into the arms of God.

We love this psalm. Why is that? I wonder if we love it because it shows us what we yearn for the most: who we want to be, and how we want to believe. We want to be people for whom God is enough. A people who are saved by God. A people whose faith and gratitude is so deep and profound, that it changes what we perceive, and how we live.

Though it was written long before Jesus lived, and died, and rose again, this is to me a resurrection psalm. There aren’t just rainbows and butterflies in this beautiful psalm, there is evil, and enemies, and the shadow of death: the hard stuff is all here. But right alongside it is abundance and mercy and hope. In this psalm, Easter shines through Good Friday triumphantly.

Here it is again, in this psalm, the Easter message we’ve been listening to this season, the promise of our God: that the power love is greater than all that is dangerous and terrifying and death itself. We come to church to hear to this message. We stick around to learn to trust this message. And even those of us who have been here a long time, we still yearn to live in this message more fully. We try over and over again to walk the paths of righteousness and accept God’s gifts of grace.

It is with this yearning that this congregation made an Open and Affirming covenant 15 years ago. If you don’t know what Open and Affirming means, you are not alone. It is the label that our denomination uses to let people know that a community offers a full and public welcome to people of all sexual orientations. And we decided to do that, which was saying a lot, I think, in 1999. But if you read the statement, you’ll realize that it’s far more audacious than that. We covenanted to explicitly embrace many other forms of diversity (though today we might want to expand this list even further). And not only that – we affirmed our intention to end all discrimination and oppression. And not only that – we promised to strive to become more Christ-like in our love for one another, to follow God’s call to love one another as God loves us, freely and unconditionally.

Now you could say that those folks who were here in 1999 were a little bit crazy. But if they were crazy, I say: this is the foolishness of the gospel. It is only a resurrection kind of faith that could make anyone believe that living up to this kind of covenant is remotely possible. Like the 23rd psalm, this statement shows us who this community was yearning to be, and how we were yearning to believe.

It’s a beautiful covenant. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet. So I wonder if we could make these promises again. Whether we could affirm this holy audaciousness again . Whether we can claim it as our own, those who are still here, those like me who are here now, so that it may guide us towards paths of righteousness, and right into the arms of God. Who knows what the Spirit may yet do in us. Is there anything impossible with God?

We, the members of the West Concord Union Church, are called to love one another as God loves us, freely and unconditionally. We further believe that diversity enriches our faith community.

Therefore, we welcome persons of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ethnicity and physical or mental ability into full membership and participation in the body of Christ. We celebrate family in all its diverse forms and honor, support, and bless all loving and committed relationships.

As we are one in Christ, we are called to accept and respect one another in the face of our differences. We agree that continued dialogue is necessary as we each grow in learning and understanding.

We commit ourselves to work diligently to end all oppression and discrimination which afflicts God’s people in our society. We seek to explore new ways of affirming our faith in community according to the wisdom of the Gospel. We strive, as individuals, to become more Christ-like in our love for one another.

Let the people say: Amen.

In the Breaking of the Bread

rembrandt_emmaus-opweg_grtAs the season of Easter continues, we hear more and more stories about the followers of Jesus and how they came to trust in the good news of his resurrection. Over the past two Sundays we have heard about Mary Magdalene, who recognizes Jesus when he calls out her name; and about Thomas, who believes when he finally gets a chance to touch Jesus’ hands, and his side.

Nobody seems to get it right, right away, this news of Jesus’ rising. They need a lot of convincing. These folks are still dealing with grief and disappointment. And let’s be honest, resurrection is a hard thing to believe in. The unfamiliar disciples we meet in today’s story are no exception to this pattern. Cleopas and his companion have heard the report of the women at the tomb, but they don’t trust it. They’re still deeply hurt by all that has happened, utterly unconvinced that this story with Jesus might have a happy ending. They begin to walk from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, a journey of seven miles, puzzling it all over.

Somewhere along the way these two disciples encounter Jesus himself, the risen Christ; but they don’t recognize him. Still, they travel with this stranger for quite a while. They tell him their story, and he interprets the scriptures for them. Finally, as evening draws near, Cleopas and his companion urge this wise stranger to stay and eat with them. And Jesus takes the bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them; and suddenly their eyes are opened. They recognize him. Jesus is made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I am fond of this story, maybe because it seems more possible for all of us than many of the others we hear in this season. None of us were there to visit the tomb on that first Easter Day to see that it was empty. We can’t hear Jesus call us, like Mary did, or touch his side, as Thomas did – at least not in any earthly way. It would be a great mystical feat for us, by and large, very average Christians; something not to hold your breath for.

These others stories are compelling, but here, in the Emmaus story, I see something I can more easily recognize from our everyday life together. We, like Cleopas and his companion, have taken a great deal of time to puzzle together over the tragedy and hope of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And we have something else in common with them, too. We do, at least occasionally, suspend our very wise conversations to seek God in less wordy ways. We, too, have come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We have received from each other’s hands food for both body and spirit.

What do you think happens in this second part of the story, after all the discourse is done; these few verses where somehow, everything important is revealed in the meal?  What gifts have you received by breaking bread with family, or friends, or strangers; or here, in this congregation, in fellowship or in the practice of communion?  What can we learn in the breaking of the bread?

God, whether we are mystics or skeptics, wise beyond words or just beginning to learn about you, we are grateful that you come to meet us in the breaking of the bread. Thank you for seeking us out in the company of friends and strangers, in crunchy crusts and soft crumbs, in salty and sweet tastes, in loaves blessed and broken and shared together in your name. Keep feeding us, God; for we are still hungry. Amen.


Youth Service Days

The youth of WCUC were quite busy in April.  After wrapping up our lenten series on Prayer, participating in the  Palm Sunday service, working our way through Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Saturday and finally celebrating Easter, the youth had plenty of inspiration to begin a different kind of “Holy Week”.  School vacation immediately followed Easter this year and the youth got busy living out their Christian faith through service to others.

On Monday, we traveled to Lawrence to volunteer at Cor Unum which is a meal center that serves free breakfast and dinner 365 days a year to anyone who walks through the door.   At Cor Unum volunteers are asked to either work in the kitchen, serve the food, or clear and set tables throughout the night.  It was a busy night when we were there, but we were joined by other volunteer groups so many hands made light work.  The spirit of generosity and camaraderie was palpable in this place!

On Thursday, the youth traveled to Maynard Boys and Girls Club to meet and play with kids who were participating in the vacation week program.  We then were lucky enough to help chaperone a trip to Boston for a Fenway Park Tour.  We joined their 62 kids and 5 adults for a fun afternoon and even caught a glimpse of Dustin Pedroia playing ball with his kids on the mound as a little pre-game warm up before the evening’s game.

The highlight of our “Holy Week” came on Saturday morning when six youth and two parents showed up at Household Goods to help in any way that we could.  We ended up receiving and sorting donations, cleaning and organizing various rooms, putting bed frames together, folding table linens and sheets, sweeping and vacuuming floors, and dusting shelves and hanging pictures. Many other adult volunteers there commented repeatedly about how impressed they were with the teenagers’ work ethic and positive attitude.  Likewise, the youth were really impressed with HG and the amazing work that they do to help people who are trying to get back on their feet turn their houses or apartments into “homes”.  WCUC’s Pris Clark works at HG on a regular basis and was there on Saturday working beside us.  It was fun to see a familiar face and to share the experience with her.

On Sunday at church, Pris shared a bit of her perspective of the day with the church.  Most notable was her testimony of the statement that one HG adult volunteer, who is a parent, made after our WCUC youth group had left.  She said:

“Boy, if that is an example of what today’s church can do for youth, we might need to change our family’s priorities!”  What a witness these young people are to not only their own character, but also to God’s Love and to the ways that we are indeed God’s hands in a world that desperately needs generosity and support.  Thanks be to God for this amazing “Holy Week”.


The Ministry of an Egg: One Child's Fundraising Vision for our Heifer Project

Kaya eggs 1 At the beginning of Lent, our church began a fundraiser for Heifer International, a well-known organization which supplies families in need around the world with education, training, and animals, resulting in food, a sustainable income, and a way to rise above hunger and poverty. Through a vote, our children decided that we would be raising money to purchase several flocks of chicks (costing $20 per flock) and several rabbit trios (two does and a buck—each trio costing $60). For one of our children, Kaya —a kindergartener in our Multiakaya eggs 2ge class—the idea of sending a family a flock of chicks resonated deeply. Kaya helps to care for her neighbor’s chickens and loves collecting the eggs, and she could easily imagine the happiness a family would receive from a healthy flock of chickens and a multitude of eggs. So Kaya decided to promote her own neighborhood fundraiser, producing her own flyer and distributing it throughout her neighborhood and at her bus stop. On the flyer she advertized that she would be hand-painting hard-boiled eggs and distributing them for a donation of $1 per egg or $5 per six eggs. Neighbors were encouraged to place orders so Kaya could plan how many eggs to paint, and she received enough orders to paint four dozen eggs! At the time of her egg delivery, Kaya had raised $53 for our Heifer Project—almost enough for three full flocks of chicks! The energy, creativity, and generosity of this story is truly inspirational and a testament to our children’s amazing understanding of need, justice, and love. To embody this spirit is the Christian faith in action, and something that should be honored, celebrated, and continued in our own lives every day.

God bless the chickens, the eggs, and the children who help teach us how to live in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.



Easter Sunday Moments

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Vigil Moments

The light of Christ, transforming the sanctuary for Easter, renewal of baptism and communion!

Knowing too little. Knowing too Much. Knowing Enough.

  • April 29, 2014

thomas indiaPoor Thomas. Having led a life of devotion, faith, and loyalty, his name today is virtually synonymous with doubt… Doubting Thomas. Not only that – but the only time his name comes up in the lectionary is on a week when almost every pastor is on vacation – the week after Easter. Poor Thomas!

In many ways, we know too little about Thomas, and in other ways we know too much. I say that we know too much because we seem to add in some rather crucial details that are not in the text. Over the centuries, thousands of artists have illustrated the scene – and in virtually every one of those images, Thomas is depicted touching the wounds of Jesus. After all, he said that he would not believe that Jesus is risen unless he touched the scars on his hands and the wound on his side. But when John describes the scene, there is never any mention of touching. Jesus offers his body to be touched, but Thomas responds, not by touching, but by exclaiming “My Lord and My God.” The offer itself was enough. Thomas saw and believed.

In that sense, he is not actually any different from his fellow disciples. Jesus appears to them first, but Thomas wasn’t there. Apparently, he had to run an errand that evening. We don’t know what he was off doing. John doesn’t tell us.

It was Easter evening – the first Easter, so maybe Thomas was out gathering Easter eggs. Or maybe he was out grabbing some kosher Chinese takeout for everyone. We don’t know where he was. All we know is that the other disciples were hiding out, behind locked doors. Jesus appeared to them, showed his hands and side… he breathed on the them… he commissioned them, and then vanished again. Just like Thomas, they saw and they believed. When you think about it… they aren’t really any different from Thomas – but for some reason we isolate Thomas and say that he is the doubting one. Poor Thomas.

I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you are thinking – “No. Wait a minute. Thomas is different from the others. The other disciples told him that they saw JC, but he didn’t believe them. Well – look again… Just like Thomas, they had already heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene. She saw Jesus first. She spoke to him. After JC departed from her, she told the other disciples, but they didn’t believe her. Just like Thomas, they all doubted what Mary said. Just like Thomas… they heard but did not believe. Just like Thomas, they only believed when they saw Jesus.

Hearing Mary’s testimony should have been enough… but it wasn’t. They had to see for themselves. Hearing the disciple’s testimony should have been enough for Thomas… but it wasn’t. He had to see for himself.

Poor Thomas. He knew too little, so he didn’t believe. He knew too little because he did not know that he should believe his fellow disciples. If he had believed his neighbor’s testimony, then he would have believed without seeing. In fact, that’s what Jesus says to him: Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet come to believe. John then tells us that he has written these things so that we, who have not seen, might come to believe.

John’s point is clear: Even when we know too little… even when we don’t have enough information to decide what to believe, we should believe the testimony of our neighbor.
Poor Thomas, though. It is too late for him. He knows too much to have the kind of faith that comes from believing without seeing.

For those of you who don’t know me, you should know that I am entering my 12th consecutive year of full time graduate study in theology. No matter how you add it up, 12 is too many! When I met with my dissertation advisor last month, he actually told me, “Brad, you know too much.” Perhaps that comment needs a translation. What he meant was… Brad, you are filled with tons of useless information that make things far more complicated than they need to be. Believe me… that’s true. Over the years, I have come to know too much about dear Thomas, too. I know things that I just don’t know what to do with.

For starters, I know that his name is not Thomas. Our passage this morning reads, “Thomas, who was called the Twin.” Actually, the word “Thomas” is an Aramaic word that means “the twin.” So, the text actually says, “The twin who was called the twin.” That raises two questions… What was his name? … and… Whose twin is he? Well, what I am about to tell you is the kind of thing that we aren’t supposed to talk about in church. It is ok, though, because almost none of you are going to believe what I tell you – You are going to doubt my testimony, even though we all agreed a moment ago that the point of the story is that we should believe without seeing. 

Thomas’s real name is actually Judas. No, he is not that Judas. John tells us explicitly that there are two disciples named Judas… one is Judas Iscariot, who betrays Jesus. Thomas the twin is the other Judas… you know… the Judas who is Jesus’ brother. Mark’s gospel (chapter 6, verse 3 if you doubt my testimony) tells us that Jesus had four brothers: James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon as well as some sisters who are, of course, un named. But what do we make of the fact that Jesus had a brother who is called the twin?

In the early centuries of the church, many Christians believed that Judas Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother. There are even ancient texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, which suggest that Thomas the twin was actually Jesus’ twin brother… See what I mean about knowing too much and knowing too little?

What do we do with that information? What does it mean? Should we believe it? Should we not believe it? What difference would it make, either way? Would it explain why Mary Magdelene, who was the first to see the risen Christ, didn’t recognize him? Well… may-be… Sort of.

When Mary saw the man by the tomb, she didn’t recognize him as Jesus – but she surely would have recognized Thomas. She wouldn’t have thought he was the gardener of the cemetery. But remember that John’s gospel makes no mention of a virgin birth. No mention of a divine child or childhood. For John, the story begins with Jesus’ baptism and it extends for exactly one year – from Passover to Passover.

As most New Testament scholars will tell you… from John’s perspective… Jesus was a fully human person who becomes the fully divine Christ at his baptism. Right at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, verse 12 of chapter 1, John tells us that whosoever believes in Christ can become a Son of God. So it doesn’t really matter at all to John if Jesus had a twin brother, a wife, a mortgage, or a bad credit rating. What matters to John is that WHEN Jesus was baptized… all of those things became a part of the past. He had a new life as the Son of God… and, more importantly, from John’s perspective, so can you.

So… when Mary saw the man at the tomb and thought that he was the gardener – he very well might have been the gardener. It wouldn’t make any difference to John. What matters is that this fellow was now the Word of God, the Son of God, the risen Christ. When Mary looked at him, she only saw his body… and thought he was the gardener. But when he spoke to her – when she heard his Word –– She recognized the Risen Christ.

So… back to this crazy twin brother idea. Regardless of whether or not it is true – what does it mean? If by twin brother we understand biological brothers, then it wouldn’t mean anything at all as far as John is concerned. But if we understand “twin brother” to mean that this fully human fellow named Thomas became a Son of God by incarnating the Word and Spirit of Christ, then it does matter. It matters because it means that you and I can also become Christ’s twins. We can leave behind our old selves and become Sons and Daughters of God by living out the Spirit of Christ. This, from John’s perspective, at least, is what Easter is all about. Christ is risen. Christ lives – but only insofar as you and I become like Christ. We – you and I – are called to be the Resurrection and the Life.

Let’s get back to poor Thomas… the man whose name has become synonymous with doubt. As you might recall from the scripture reading a few weeks ago, Jesus said to the disciples – hey… let’s go to Jerusalem. They all responded – what? Are you kidding? If you go to Jerusalem, they’ll kill you. It was Thomas – and John reminds us here again that his name means “twin” … it was Thomas who said to the other disciples, “Let’s go with him, so that we may die with him.” Thomas was no skeptic… He was a loyal and committed follower. He was determined to follow Jesus – like a twin – even to death.

So, when I said earlier that John wants us all to become Sons and Daughters of God, that he wants all of us to incarnate the Word of God and live in the Spirit of Christ – it is helpful to also remember that the Gospel of Christ according to John begins at Passover… when Jesus is baptized and becomes Christ –– and it ends at Passover… when Jesus is executed.
John’s story ends where it began – for those who believe in Christ and become Sons and Daughters of God — Easter is another way of saying… hey –– it’s your turn.

But how do we know what to do? If we are supposed to incarnate the Word and become Sons and Daughters of God, how does that translate into action and service? … We always know too little.

As a parent, I always know too little. I never act with enough knowledge. I am almost always more than a little unsure how to discipline my children and how to encourage them.
One thing that I can say for sure… with absolute confidence is this…One day, when my kids grow up… move out of the house, and are living on their own – they will need to start seeing a psychologist to try and correct all of the mistakes that I’ve made… I know that I am making mistakes as a parent. There is no doubt about that. The problem is – I don’t know what mistakes I am making!

We never know enough to act… We doubt ourselves and our actions. We step carefully, trying to keep our mistakes minor and insignificant, knowing all the while that we cannot avoid making them. Poor Thomas. The doors were locked. The disciples were NOT expecting company. How was he supposed to know… when he ran out to grab some dinner – or whatever he was off doing that Easter evening – that Christ was going to show up three days after he died.

Regardless of whether or not Thomas was Jesus’ twin… there is no doubting that Thomas was Jesus’ brother.  Maybe Thomas wasn’t there that evening because he was with their mother. Maybe Mary needed consolation after witnessing her son’s terrible death. Or maybe Thomas just needed some space to try and deal with it all – an escape from the Friday that he did not know was supposed to be “Good.”

Thomas may not have been Jesus’ twin – there is actually plenty of evidence that he wasn’t… but in many ways, perhaps he is our twin. He knew too little. He didn’t know enough to act. He didn’t know how to react or what to believe. He didn’t know that he should have stayed in that locked room with the others. He didn’t know that he should have believed Mary and the other disciples. He just knew too little – just like we do.

On the other hand… Thomas knew enough. He knew that he should follow Jesus to Jerusalem even if it meant his death. He knew that he had been made an Apostle – one who is sent on a mission.

In these years of learning too much, I have managed to pick up another tidbit of information about Thomas. According to multiple traditions… Thomas became an Apostle sent to carry the Word of Christ to India. In the year 52 A.D., it is believed that St. Thomas landed on the shores of Kerala in southwest India and founded what became the Mar Thoma Church. Don’t take my word for it… there is actually a large Mar Thoma Church right next door in Maynard. They’ll tell you that Thomas spread the word of Christ across Southern India before he was finally martyred in Tamil Nadu. At the traditional site of his death in Madras, there is a church bearing a cross said to be chiseled by St. Thomas himself.

As you can see, there is an image of a dove descending – this represents the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Jesus at his baptism… Christening him – making him the Christ.
The dove also symbolizes the Spirit which descends upon us – making us spiritual twins of Christ. But notice especially that the cross depicted here rests upon a blooming lotus flower. Or, perhaps, the cross is emerging out of the lotus flower. Here in Massachusetts… we don’t see too many Lotus flowers.

It’s just not a part of our culture the way that it is in India, where poor Thomas spent his final days… In Southern India, though, you see lotus flowers all over the place. The lotus flower flourishes in still waters, where things are clam and peaceful. It absolutely loves murky, muddy pools.

Elizabeth and I lived in Bangalore, India, for two years. One thing about Bangalore is that it is growing far, far more quickly than its infrastructure… It is very common to see huge, high tech, state of the art buildings built by American tech companies like Intel or Cisco Systems – but these buildings will crop up in places that – quite literally – do not have roads built to them.

Ten years ago, the city of Bangalore had a population of about 6 million people – which was roughly 10 times the size of Boston. Today, it has a population of over 10 million people – nearly double. Suffice it to say that much of Bangalore does not have a high tech sewage system. What it does have is deep trenches alongside the road. I think you get the picture.
The thing about the lotus flower is that it has a waxy coating on it. Water, mud, and… well, other things… just roll right off of it. If you look in the deep trenches along the roadside in Bangalore, you will see them gloriously decorated with lotus flowers that are as colorful and vibrant as they are calm, majestic, and royal.

Each evening, their petals close around their bright yellow center. Each morning, they open and rise, stretching out of the muck to shine their colors towards the sun.There is an ancient Sanskrit verse about the bright yellow center of the Lotus, beginning “Om mani padme hum’… “O Jewel in the Lotus Flower… the divine is fully in you, just as you are fully in the divine.”

When we look at this image of the St. Thomas cross, emerging from the center of the lotus flower, we might recall that verse from earlier in John’s Gospel… “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” When I act – as a father – I always act with too little information. I do my best. I love my children. Even on days when they drive me nuts… I love every little bit of them. When I look upon their faces… when I see them the way that Thomas saw Christ, and the way that Mary saw Christ – I remember that I am the gardener. It is my job – especially after Easter – to nurture them and guide them as they rise up, out of the muck, to turn their vibrant colors towards the sun.

I think to myself… and sometimes – not often enough – I say to them… Om mani padme hum… O jewel in the lotus flower… the divine is fully in you and you are fully in the divine.
Like the petals of the lotus flower, we are sheltered each night from the darkness, and we open each morning to face the sun (s-U-n) or perhaps to face the Son (s-O-n).

We face each and every day knowing far too little. We never have enough information to act… especially if we know too much about this world and its muck. But we are called each morning to open our petals… to let everything roll off of our backs, like the muddy waters roll off of the lotus flower… and to turn our vibrant colors towards the sun.

Sometimes we know too little… sometimes we know too much… but if we know that God is in us and we are in God… then we know enough. Thanks be to God.


Pictures from Palm Sunday

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On Palm Sunday, we remembered Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with an (indoor!) procession and palm waving. As those upstairs retold the events of Holy Week, the multiage classroom worked on blankets as a reminder of God’s love!