The world seems to be witnessing increasing levels of violence, fear, and hatred that challenge us each day. There are ongoing debates about how or whether to welcome immigrants and refugees to the United States; news headlines remind us about the plight of Syria and about the horrors of the Islamic State.
In such times, talk about mercy may seem more like wishful thinking. But mercy matters – now more than ever.
One of the many things that I love about being a progressive Christian is the frequent emphasis that Jesus is our brother. He’s one of us. He took on the fullness of humanity.
The joy and the hope and the friendship and the love.
But also the pain and the anger and the grief and the suffering.
Jesus, the One who was fully divine was fully human. Our brother. Our friend. It’s a beautiful thing.
Indeed, Jesus is our brother, but what about Judas? This Maundy Thursday, let us acknowledge that Judas is our brother, too.
I am this broken and bleeding world.
I am Brussels, blown apart, the strewn limbs, the piercing wail of a mother for her baby.
I am Yemen, at the marketplace, charred bodies of children face-down in the dust.
I am Syria, families cramming into boats as guns and missiles chase them from the shore.
I am Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, pockmarked by bomb blasts, orphaned children hiding away from clear blue skies.
I am the growling of empty bellies drowned by the sound of gold pouring into the bottomless coffers of the war machines as they devour their sustenance and spit out death in return.
I am generation upon generation of silenced and vanished victim buried in the ground and trampled.
I am slain from the foundation of the world.
As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion.
About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion. Some nondenominational churches already offer online Communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination’s bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.
The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that Communion “entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.” Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.
The Bible. Just the phrase sends messages, signals, and feelings to our hearts and minds, and around the world. It’s the best-selling book in human history, and one that the majority of humanity (including me), believes to have been inspired by God, with myriad interpretations of what that means.
I grew up on Bible stories, some of the best stories in human and divine history. We learned them as kids, were amazed at the images and lessons, and they were ingrained into our thinking and acting. So I watched with great delight as my sons, Luke and Jack, saw the first episode of “The Bible,” a History Channel special series that began this past Sunday and runs the five weeks through Easter. Film and television personalities Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are behind this, with a legion of others. They expect it to eventually be seen by 1 billion people.
The first Sunday show was a very dramatic depiction of the creation story, Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s call to come out to a new land, the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, the almost sacrifice of Isaac, Hebrew slavery in Egypt, Moses' call at the burning bush, and the Exodus through the Red Sea — all in two hours! I loved watching my 9-year-old Jack watch the stories with such excitement. “I know this story!” he would say and tell us what was about to happen. “I don’t know this one,” he would then comment, and we would discuss it. We had a conversation about the scary sacrifice of Isaac before bedtime, trying to figure that one out. I told him I couldn’t have been as obedient as Abraham was.
Every three years, the assigned readings during the summer include five weeks of working our way through the Gopel of John, chapter 6, and what is called the "Bread of Life Discourse." And let’s just say that if Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote a musical called The Book of John they’d have plenty of material from just this chapter alone.
In the last five weeks we’ve gone from the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm at sea — by the way, Jesus walks on water during a storm at sea so often in the gospels that I’ve started thinking it was less about being miraculous and more about just getting in some cardio — anyhow, the crowd chased him down, demanding more bread, and then he goes and says that he is the Bread of Life come down from heaven (which angered the nice religious folks), and rather than backing off, he makes it even weirder by saying whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.
Which is where we pick up today when some of his disciples are like, “Uh Jesus, that teaching is HARD…who can accept it?” And many of them leave. And I have to say, I don’t really blame them.
This teaching IS hard. But honestly, Jesus had a lot of sayings that were HARD. Sayings such as, " Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," "You who are without sin cast the first stone," "Sell all you have and give it to the poor," "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "If you seek to save your life you will lose it."
I totally understand the reaction of these disciples who say these teachings are hard, who can accept them?
But this week I started to wonder if maybe those disciples didn’t have to leave Jesus … I mean, when we make the accepting of hard teachings the litmus test for being a follower of Jesus, I wonder if we are perhaps missing the point altogether.