What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-17-20
On the church calendar this is the first week of the Easter Season: 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. Pentecost is the Sunday we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers. Jesus had ascended to heaven following his resurrection, but had promised his followers the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to carry on his mission even though the physcial form of the historical Jesus would no longer be present in the world. The 50 days of the Easter Season was an intense time during which Jesus prepared his followers to be his hands and heart for the world.
This preparation begins with appearances of the resurrected Christ. This week’s Scripture, John 20:18-31, recounts two appearances of Jesus to the disciples who had gathered the week before to celebrate Passover with Jesus in the “upper room” they had rented for the occasion. The text–like all of the stories of Jesus’ appearances–raises two big questions: “Who is this resurrected Jesus?” And “How should we respond to him?”
The John 20 account is famous for the story of a disciple named Thomas. As I mentioned above, Jesus appears twice in John 20. The first time Thomas is absent. His fellow disciples tell Thomas that they saw Jesus, but he doesn’t believe them. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Jesus appears to the disciples a second time. This time Thomas is among them. Jesus invites Thomas to examine and touch his wounds–just as Thomas had demanded–and Thomas believes. The scene ends with Jesus saying to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
If you were in Thomas’ shoes, how would you respond to reports that Jesus was alive? I grew up in a very conservative Christian community that understood faith to be a kind of “belief without proof,” a kind of “take my word for it.” The Bible says God raised Jesus from the dead, so we should accept it as fact even if it seems like a fairytale. To doubt or question was understood to be antithetical to faith. While I definitely had my questions and even as a young child asked them, more than that, I wanted to be a good Christian, so I accepted what my parents and Sunday school teachers and pastors said even if not everything made sense.
As a young adult I studied at a divinity school where we learned to question and critique Biblical texts and church doctrines. As an middle-aged adult I have pastored more liberal churches in which folks tend to wear doubt as a badge of pride–a sign of intellectual rigor and freedom of conscience. And as I have gone deeper in my studies I have noticed yet another turn: a practice of doubting one’s doubts. A comedian once put it this way: “You say there is no God. Are you sure? Have you looked everywhere?”
I invite us to consider stepping beyond faith and doubt as intellectual exercise. The significance of Christ’s resurrection for me is the reality it points to: following Christ’s way moment to moment makes new and abundant life possible for me, for you, for all of creation. Try it yourself and see!
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-19
I had a nice meeting with the youth group Sunday evening. Rebecca, our Associate Pastor for Children and Youth Ministry, was away, so my daughter, Olivia, and I led the meeting. We met in Cook Hall instead of the normal basement meeting space. This was so we could set out cushions for meditation.
The focus of the FCC Youth Group–and one of the reasons for its success–is practical tools for everyday young adult living. Teenagers face pressures that the adults in their lives sometimes seem to have a difficult time understanding. So the FCC Youth Group is a safe space for listening, learning together, and offering support as a navigate the choices and challenges of growing up.
I began my meditation practice over twenty years ago. At that time I was newly married, newly a father, and starting my first “real” pastor job at a small, dying church in a rapidly changing town. The pressure was enormous. My old ways of solving problems was not working. Up until that point in my life, I had succeeded by memorizing the correct answers and spitting them back out on a test. But in my new situation being the smartest kid in class just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to learn to see clearly, respond calmly, and connect emotionally with people. I didn’t start meditating thinking that it would help me do these things. I just knew I needed to change my approach and some intuition told me that meditation might help.
These days I engage regularly in formal meditation training with an authorized teacher and I teach others the simple practice of sitting still and minding the breath. FCC Youth and I spent an hour-and-a-half sitting in silence, sharing our experiences, and planning for the future. It feels great to know that we can turn to our breath and turn to each other when anxiety runs high.
The favorite Scripture for this week comes to us from Peg Giles. John 3:8 reads, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Greek word for “wind” also means “breath” and “spirit.” The text could also read, “The breath respires where it will . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the breath.” Could minding the breath and being “born of the spirit” or “born again” be connected? We imagine that “spiritual experience” is rare and dramatic–a blinding light or a voice from heaven–but what if it’s as close and common as this very breath.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 29)
Leader: Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
People: Ascribe to the LORD the glory of God’s name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
Leader: The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in God’s temple, all say, “Glory!”
People: May the LORD give us strength. May the LORD bless us with peace.
Holy, there is so much we don’t know. We see with the eyes in our heads, but the eyes of our hearts are too often blind to the beauty before us. Clear our vision. Heal our souls. Settle our spirits on the gentle movement of the breath. Our bodies sustain themselves so beautifully and without a thought. May we open our hearts to the movement of your ongoing creation. Amen.
*Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, you give us hands to serve and hearts to bless. We offer our money. We offer our service. We offer our lives. Receive and multiply them one hundred-fold. Amen.