GOSPEL LESSON Luke 24:36-48 p. 1644
EPISTLE LESSON I John 3:1-10 p. 1900
SERMON: “The World’s Largest Adoptive Family”
The founder of the company that manufactures GORE-TEX had a hunch that the optimum number of employees in a given factory was 150. Then research by Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar seems to confirm his hunch. Further, Dunbar extrapolated from the data that we cannot have more than 150 meaningful friends. How many friends, how many personal relationships do you have? If you’re on Facebook, does your ‘friends’ list exceed 150? 200 – 300? More?
There Facebook friends obsession of amassing ‘friends’ gives the impression that some people are much more popular or sociable than others. Facebook limits the number of ‘friends’ to 5,000, but scientific studies have shown that the human brain is capable of managing a maximum of 150 friendships. 150 is now known as “Dunbar’s Number” based on studies conducted by Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar that show that the size of the part of the brain used for conscious thought and language, the neocortex, limits us to managing 150 friends, no matter how sociable we are.
Fortunately Dunbar’s number is not God’s number. This is the good news: There is no limit to God’s love. John writes. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Every one of us is a child of God
I found adopting and raising two children a sufficient challenge. Some time ago I learned that adopted children make up about 1% of the U.S. population. So I have found it quite interesting that here at North Kent we have at least three families (including mine) each with 2 adopted children, and at least one adult member who is an adoptee. Perhaps there are others among you that I don’t know about. I suppose that says something about the caliber, character and the ability to love of the people who worship here.
The Discovery Channel Home and Health program aired a series that followed David and Diane Griffith, who through birth, adoption and fostering have managed to increase their original brood of two to an amazing family of 15! The Griffiths used to live a normal life with normal jobs, but their tranquility was shattered when they decided to adopt a family of six brothers and sisters who were about to be split up. Then came another five children, plus the long-term fostering of another two. Today they are the Biggest Adopted Family in Britain, living in a sprawling old farm house in the English countryside. Nine of the children still live at home, and the others, now adults, come and go.
That family was beaten out by the American Walgamott family, who with four youngsters of their own have adopted 12 children. The Walgamotts go through 17 loaves of bread, 10 dozen eggs and 15 liters of soup each week.
As loving and generous as these families are – God’s family of adopted children will never be outdone. Those of you who have your own biological children, or who have not raised children, please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying adoption is better. It just is what it is. Still, I remember, especially when we adopted our first – Paul – over the years a few people asked me, “Don’t you miss having your own child?” My answer is that he is my own child, not by virtue of giving birth, but because I love him; I fed him, clothed him and changed his diapers. He is my child because I held his hand as I walked him to his first day at school, signed his report cards, served as his Cub Scout den mother, dried his tears and cleaned and bandaged his scraped elbows and knees.
We may not be children of God by virtue of birth as Jesus was, but we are children of God because he loves us and cares for us.
The passage says that God loves us as a parent loves a child, and the implication is that the “parent” knows the child. A parent knows and understands his/her child better than the child understands his/herself. We think we know ourselves, but God really knows us. In a world where more and more relationships are “virtual” instead of personal, we are intimately known by God. We are not a Social Security number or a screen name. We are beloved children of the living God. And friends, God’s love is big enough to maintain a relationship with all of us.
Bob Kaylor, Senior Minister of the Park City United Methodist Church in Park City, Utah writes, “That's why it totally doesn't matter from what nation or tribe or continent we come. When we consider the diverse array of colors, cultures, languages and personalities that populate this earth, it should offer us some inkling of the breadth and depth of the love this Creator has for the world. There's no limit to God's love. We may wish to prevent a population explosion on our ever-more-crowded globe based on the limited resources of our fragile planet, but we needn't worry that the well of God's endless love will ever dry up. There'll always be enough to go around.”
Not only is God’s love enough to go around, it is enough to cover our sins. The apostle John writes, 4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
We all know that children can be selfish, annoying, whining, self-centered, unreasonable, cranky grouches. That’s especially true of other people’s children. Truth be told sometimes we’re like that as God’s children. When we behave like that the Bible calls it “sin.” Today our culture doesn’t like that word very much. A parent would call it “acting out,” or "inappropriate behavior," or having "a tantrum." Call it whatever you like, but God calls it sin. And John reminds us here that when we “act out,” we are meant to remember that Jesus died to “take away” the consequences of these lapses in behavior. In the first part of this letter John wrote, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) God has provided a remedy for when life goes wrong, when we go wrong. And that's good news.
How then shall we respond to this good news? According to John’s letter, “this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (v. 11) We may not like everyone – from the troublesome co-worker and the neighbor’s noisy, ill-behaved children to the person who disrespects us and treats us like dirt.
As Kaylor writes, “They're all children of God. We don't have to like them. But we are called to treat each one with the respect that God first offers to us.
“ We worship the God from whom all blessings flow; we benefit from the bottomless source of mercy and grace. Now we get to offer some of that love and grace to the people we encounter every day.
“We don't get to turn to God and say -- I've done my part; I've cared for all the people that I can care about today. I have reached my limit. There is no Dunbar's number on caring. What God asks of us is to receive this love so that we can share it as Jesus does. When we say that we are members of the Body of Christ, we are saying that we wish to follow Jesus, to serve Jesus and to live as Jesus did. What Jesus did was to offer love. We are asked to love as freely as Jesus did.”
God loves each and every one of us. God knows us – our inmost thoughts are transparent to God.
God’s love is limitless – There is never a person to whom God says, tough luck, I can’t love any more people.
God’s love is big enough, powerful enough to cover our sins.
As children of God John reminds us that we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
Beloved, welcome to your place at God’s table, for you are part of the world’s largest adoptive family.
GOSPEL LESSON Mark 16:1-8
EPISTLE LESSON I Corinthians 15:1-8, 12-19
SERMON: “The ‘If/Then’ of Resurrection” Rev. Helen Collens
Did you know that our wonderful pianist has a day job as Professor of Philosophy at Aquinas College. Recently, I learned that one of her regular teaching assignments is a course in symbolic logic. And that was actually my favorite class when I was a student at Kalamazoo College. In symbolic logic, letters stand for phrases, so that the proof of the validity of an argument is not affected by the words in the sentence, but by whether or not the argument follows the rules of logic.
I don’t know why, but for some reason the substitutions start with the letter P. I think the first rule of logic we learned was that P implies P. Logic isn’t hard. Pretty soon you add to P implies P things like if P implies Q then not Q implies not P. That’s a simple form of an “If/Then” statement. Why are philosophy majors required to take such a course? So that they can test the validity of their philosophical arguments without getting misled by the words. Theology majors should probably be required to take the same training.
That’s just a bit of background for what I mean when I say, let’s take a look at the If/Then of Resurrection.
Dr. Billy Graham once told Time Magazine, “If I were an enemy of Christianity, I would aim right at the Resurrection, because that is the heart of Christianity.”
Over the years there have been a number of theologians who doubt the truth of the resurrection. One of the founders of the “Jesus Seminar,” -- Dr. Robert Funk, told Time Magazine, “The tales of entombment and resurrection were latter-day wishful thinking. . . Jesus' corpse went the way of all abandoned criminals' bodies: it was probably barely covered with dirt, vulnerable to the wild dogs that roamed the wasteland of the execution grounds.”1 Thomas Jefferson rendered pretty much all of the miracles from the four gospels powerless. His bible called The Jefferson Bible, ends with the words: “Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.”2 Jefferson had no problem with the crucifixion or the burial, but he stopped short at the resurrection.
Another Jesus Seminar major participant, Marcus Borg, said this: “I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb….so I would have no problem whatsoever with archeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition.” I’m not quite sure what he meant by that. Possibly Borg subscribed to the idea that Jesus lives on in our memories and our Christian service much the way we may feel our great-grandmothers live on in our hearts.
Imagine with me for a moment that when you got up this morning the newspaper headline said, “Body of Jesus found in Israel. Christianity in Chaos.” What would it mean for us if the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Christ, were proven to be untrue?
The Apostle Paul wrote:
2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Beyond the litany of the death, burial, resurrection and sightings of the Living Christ, the most important phrase in this text from I Corinthians is Paul’s statement that if these events are not true then you have believed in vain. If Jesus Christ is still in a tomb somewhere, if He is as dead now as He was when they took him down from the cross, then when I was twelve, I got dunked in a baptistery for no good reason. I have swallowed a lot of morsels of bread and sips of grape juice for nothing. I have wasted a lot of Thursday nights in choir practice, Sunday mornings in Christian Education and worship, three long, hard years in seminary and twenty-two years in ordained ministry. And I have hundreds of books in my library that need to go to the junk heap.
If Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead, then I'm wasting my time preaching and you're wasting your time listening. As a matter of fact, it would be hard to figure out who the bigger fool is; me standing up here preaching as if what I am saying is true, or you sitting out there nodding as if you believe it. The truth of the matter is, if Jesus Christ were still dead, then Easter bonnets and bunnies make more sense than the cradle and the cross.
Without a risen Savior the Apostle tells us our faith is futile and we are still answerable for our sins.
And not to drag you down with me, but that if Christ is not risen then Paul says we are all false witnesses: 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.
There are those who claim that Christianity and all other religions are but a crutch, for weak people to get through tough times in life. I’ve always felt some concern for people who had to go through life-threatening illnesses, grieve the loss of loved ones, slog through the day to day difficulties of life or contemplate the inevitable end of their own lives. But Paul says, if Christ has not been raised then those folks should feel sorry for you and me: (19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If resurrection were not true then our faith would be meaningless, our prayers powerless, our ministry useless and we would be a bunch of misguided, sorry folk who would do better to do just about anything other than worship and serve the Lord by convincing ourselves that we are taking care of his sheep.
Now imagine with me that you got up this morning and the headline said, “Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christian Messiah, proved true beyond a shadow of a doubt,” and the article that followed answered every question or doubt possible. If resurrection is true, then what?
If resurrection is true, then along with both demons and angels, along with the centurion who guarded him at the crucifixion and along with all of the gospel-writers we would be moved to proclaim, “Surely He is the Son of God.”
And if he is the risen Son of God, he has taken the punishment for all our sin, and we are free to accept the gracious redemption offered to us through his suffering and sacrifice.
If Jesus is the risen Son of God, then we can believe him when he says that God loves the world so much that God sent Jesus so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. If Jesus is the risen Son of God then we have a valid promise that our sins are forgiven and that he has prepared a place for us in God’s heaven.
If Jesus is the risen Son of God, then we probably ought to pay close attention to his teachings, particularly to the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our spirit and our neighbor as ourselves. If Jesus is the risen Son of God, then we are truly called not only to love our neighbor, but to love our enemies.
If Jesus is the risen Son of God then we have a banquet to share, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we will enjoy throughout eternity.
If Jesus is the risen Son of God then we have a mission – given to us by the Lord himself – a mission to make disciples, to baptize and teach all that Jesus commanded us.
Faith is a funny thing. Grasping it is a bit like trying to pick up a wet watermelon seed with a pair of toothpicks. We could talk for two thousand more years about Jesus of Nazareth, whether or not God raised him from the dead, whether or not he is God’s only Son, our Lord and Messiah. No symbolic logic, no philosophical or theological argument will satisfy every one of us. Each of us must decide for ourselves if we believe resurrection is true.
Just let me ask you this: If you are walking along a path and come to a fork in the road and two men are there, and one is dead and the other is alive, whose directions would you follow?”
Why do we celebrate Easter with enthusiasm and hope? Because Billy Graham was right. Resurrection is at the heart of our faith.
1 Richard N. Ostling, "Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple," Time, 10 January 1994.
2 Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 147.
April 1, 2012
"Judas and Peter" By. Rev. Helen Collins
Matthew 26 & 27 (selected)
During this Lenten season we have looked at how several individuals interacted with Jesus. First we read about Andrew, who brought first brought his brother Peter to Jesus. It was Andrew who brought the boy who had some fish and bread to share, out of which Jesus was able to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. And the third glimpse we get of Andrew was when he brought some Greeks – non-Jews to Jesus.
Then we considered Blind Bartimaeus who received the gift of sight from Jesus, and in receiving that gift, Bartimaeus received a new vision and new hope for life and responded with gratitude. As Mark’s gospel tells us, “He received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
Last week we remembered that wee little man Zacchaeus, the most hated man in town, a thief and a cheat whose life was healed by the life-changing love of God.
Today I want us to look at two of the disciples – quite similar in some ways, and yet different in a critical way.
First Judas. I don’t know anyone who, two thousand years after the events of Holy Week, would consider naming their child Judas. According to one account a Vacation Bible School teacher taught a class one summer on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. After the lesson, she went over some review questions and asked, “Who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver?” Without hesitating, her 7-year old son answered, “I know! It was ‘Judas the Scariest.’”
There was a time when Judas was a very popular name. There were many people in the Bible named Judas, some of them quite heroic individuals. One of Jacob’s sons was named Judas. Jesus had a half-brother named Judas, and the first name of the apostle we know as Doubting Thomas was Judas. And of course, there was Judas Maccabeus, one of the greatest warriors of the Hebrew people alongside such figures as Joshua, Gideon and David. The Hebrew name means “praise of God,” but for us it has come to mean “betrayer,” synonymous with one who is the worst kind of traitor.
And he is easily the scariest disciple of all. In many ways he is more
frightening than Pilate or Herod or even Caiaphas and the other accusers. It’s not that he’s scary-monster scary. But he was close to Jesus, trusted with the job of treasurer for the group. And it is a thousand times worse to have a friend betray you, than to deal with someone you knew from the start was an adversary.
Why did Judas sell Jesus out? Some have argued that it was for the money. He was, after all the treasurer of the group. But I doubt that motive, because when he realized what he had done, he tried to give the money back. When they wouldn’t take it, he threw it away on the ground. Some have said it was because he was trying to manipulate Jesus, who seemed too gentle to be the kind of Messiah Judas and many other expected. Perhaps. Sometimes we have compassion for Judas, thinking that someone had to do the dirty work; he just had the bad luck to be chosen for the job. It was his fate. I doubt that also, because it is outside of the character of God – who is goodness and love – to force someone to do something evil. Possibly it is a combination of factors that drove Judas to hand over Jesus.
Let’s consider Peter for a moment. Wonderful, impetuous Peter. It is Peter who in one mountain-top moment recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, to whom Jesus says in the next moment, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter certainly had his ups and downs. Peter, upon whom Christ promised to build his church, also betrayed Jesus that fateful night.
Remember – impulsive Peter adamantly declares he would never betray the Lord. He would die with him if necessary. Peter is deeply dismayed when Jesus declares, “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” But deny the Lord, he does. After Jesus was arrested, Peter repeatedly tells those who question him that he doesn’t even know the man. Could he have saved Jesus from trial and crucifixion? Probably not. Knowing what we know on this side of Easter would we want him to? No. Had he admitted that he knew Jesus, most likely all Peter would have accomplished would be getting himself arrested, tried and executed right along with Jesus. At this point Peter reminds me of the little rhyme that says, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
Still, on the night our Lord was arrested, two disciples betrayed him – Judas who identified him and handed him over to the chief priests and the elders, and Peter who denied he even knew Jesus. In fact all of the disciples betrayed him, falling asleep as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we tell the truth, there are moments in our lives when each of us betray the Lord, when we behave in ways that ignore his teachings, when we decline to love our enemies, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul.
So what’s the bottom line difference between Judas and Peter?
In a few moments you will hear another reading from the gospel of Matthew that describes the moment when Judas identified Jesus to his enemies, and what grabs my attention is what Jesus said to Judas in that moment: Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
He called him “friend.” Here was Judas doing the worst deed in all of human history and yet Jesus was open and forgiving and loving enough to address him as “friend.” Sadly Judas chose to continue with the evil plot. Horrified by what he had done, he tried to return the silver coins. But it wasn't with the chief priests and elders he needed to make up. It was with Jesus. None of us can know for certain the answer to “what if. . . ” “What if Judas had repented and sought Jesus’ forgiveness.” Everything I know about Christ tells me even Judas would have received grace from the Lord. The tragedy is that he didn't seek the Lord's pardon.
Peter, who also betrayed Jesus that night, Peter, who denied he even knew who Jesus was, came back to him. When after the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Every one of us falls short of God’s plans and expectations for us. From time to time, every one of us through word or deed denies Christ. We are Judas and we are Peter. What is critical is that we never abandon hope that Christ can and will forgive us if only we will ask, that we hear Jesus call us ‘friend’ in spite of our worst moments of unfaithfulness, and trust that he is able, even as he restored Peter, to restore us to the joy of his salvation. Thanks be to God for the amazing grace we know in Christ. Amen.