Archive for the ‘Thirty-Second Bundle’ Category

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

On Easter evening when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, the storyteller says that they were in a house with the doors locked – “for fear of the Jews.” The following week Jesus came to them again, but this time we are told that the doors were only “shut,” not locked. Is it possible that we are witnessing something of a gathering force in this troubled circle, a dawning realization that they are not alone, that a greater power is available to them and even now present within them? They may not be quite ready to go out on their apostolic missing in the world, but this small clue seems to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were getting past their fears.

On both occasions, the first words of Jesus are “Peace be with you.” What is this peace of which Jesus speaks? More than just the absence of trouble or the extinguishment of anxiety, this peace is nothing less than the fulfillment that comes with the vision, the taste, and the joy of wholeness.

For the past several readings we have been exploring the key elements in the formation and health of community – and community (Jesus called it the “kingdom of God”) is the Bible’s most perfect picture of wholeness. Trust among partners, supported by the individual faith in the gracious ground of the divine; fidelity to the ideals and covenantal aims of their life together in relationship; a compassion that flows out of a deeper identity and inspires their mutual care and help; along with the forgiveness that allows them to rise above guilt and blame and recapture the hope of their shared future.

At last, the long ascent of our human spiritual evolution had reached a place where all the necessary ingredients for real peace were present and accounted for. Now it’s up to us.

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JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus helped us understand that forgiveness is the essence of God, or Spirit, and that being both forgiven and forgiving is the experience upon which the world’s future depends. When he breathed upon his disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he imparted to them the power to let go, an internal freedom against which no outward form of liberty or permission can compare.

Jesus’ gospel centered on the act and realization of forgiveness, of living in such a way that all resentment, grudge-bearing, lingering disappointment, and other fixations on the past are released and forgotten. It isn’t necessary – nor is it healthy! – to “set the record straight” and “get the balance even” before you can move on with your life. God is not holding your past against you, and neither should you be dragging it along. You have been set free, but now it is up to you to drop the chains and embrace your freedom.

This ideal of forgiveness was unlocked from the confinements of common sense and retributive justice through the personal choices that Jesus made on a daily basis, culminating in his decision and supplication with God to forgive his enemies from the cross. Right then and there, the redemptive power of forgiveness – of a love that is unconditional, unfailing, and totally gratuitous – was personified, embodied, and released into our human history. To symbolize the presence of that transforming power now at work in the world, the spirit of Jesus moved upon the dark fear of his disciples, as upon the primordial waters of Genesis, and called forth a new creation.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The really good news of Jesus was that God’s fidelity to the world is so great and so wide that nothing we do can either earn or disqualify us from the love of God. This insight arises out of the biblical precept, assumed without debate as the bedrock beneath the foundation of Western theology, that God and creation are not co-equal, nor are God and humankind equal partners in the covenantal project. In some early traditions, this disparity between God and humanity produced a definite anxiety over whether God might at some point become so exasperated with the shortfall of human obedience as to commit the entire fiasco to damnation.

By the time of Jesus, however, the ideal of an infinite patience and unconditional love in the heart of God began to open human experience to a divine grace so far-reaching and irresistible, that (perhaps?) nothing could permanently escape its redemptive power.

The term for the extreme energy in love that penetrates every resistance, absorbs every attack, returns kindness for malice, and welcomes the prodigal with a generous embrace, is forgiveness – the fourth essential element of true community. In brief, forgiveness is the act of remaining faithful to covenant while working to rebuild a trust that has been broken or betrayed.

1 John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that ourjoy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

What later became the really good news (gospel) in the proclamation of Jesus was already good news in the First Testament period, which as that God’s fidelity to us not only exceeds ours to Him, but is fundamentally independent of our performance altogether. “If anyone does sin,” our writer assures us that there is with God an advocate who urges the divine compassion on our behalf, accomplishing our forgiveness and calling us back. This element of compassion is the third component in the dynamics of healthy community.

God’s compassion for the world, for the multitude stumbling in the dark for their true belonging, had moved God to act for the sake of their hope and salvation. Compassion is literally the capacity for sharing in the suffering or experience of another. More than merely an act of sympathetic imagination, compassion is itself a symptom of a deeper identity beneath the duality of ego and other – a kind of resonance-effect from far below the surface differences. God’s compassion for humanity is therefore a function of the divine image inherent in all of us.

And human beings share this capacity, too, for one another. When you feel an urgency to act mercifully on behalf of someone in pain or need, the depth and intensity of your experience reveals a place where you and the other are one.

I JOHN 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that ourjoy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Christian community reaches back for its anchor in the life and ministry of Jesus. The longer history of covenant that lay behind Jesus had impressed upon him the importance of fidelity in the formation and longevity of healthy relationships. It was fidelity, or covenant faithfulness, that held God and the desert nation of Israel in a bond of partnership based on Law. And there were times, as mentioned in the First Testament writings, when even God had been prevented by the constraint of covenant obligation from acting impulsively against the people. On one occasion Moses finally succeeded in getting God to repent from His plan to destroy the sinful nation by reminding Him that no one would respect a deity with a reputation for unfaithfulness.

The writer of this epistle reminds his audience that “doing what is true” is essential to the business of being a Christian who lives in the light. It is not enough to merely profess with the lips that you believe this or belong to that; the proof is in your commitments. When the impulse for self-protection or self-promotion begins to tempt your focus away from the bonds of relationship, covenant fidelity is to act instead for the health and future of your union with others and with God.

PSALM 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

How very good and pleasant indeed! And yet how rare and endangered true community can seem, especially so in times when our differences outnumber and threaten to overwhelm our agreements. In truth, even though genuine community is the ultimate aim of the evolutionary process itself, valid historical and present-day examples are fewer than we might think and its existence is much more vulnerable than we would wish. The destabilizing forces of egoism (individual selfish ambition) and tribalism (over-identifying with the group) are to some degree constantly present beneath the surface and interfering with its formation and health.

For the next several readings we will be reflecting on the elements of true community, those essential virtues that allow for the genesis and fulfillment of what Jesus called the reign (“kingdom”) of God. The first of these we will name trust, interpreted as the acknowledgment of dependence on realities and persons outside oneself, along with the willingness to adopt a belief in another’s dependability (trustworthiness). Making ourselves vulnerable is a function of how secure we feel in relationship, and also how trustworthy we feel ourselves to be. Our trust in others is a function of our willing and full release to the God of grace.

ACTS 4:32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Earliest Christianity, according to the view provided in the New Testament book of Acts (“Acts of the Apostles”), was a true form of communism, where the later axiom of Karl Marx – “from each according to ability, to each according to need” – was collectively honored and faithfully practiced. There was little ambition for personal property or worldly success, as their focus and allegiance were fastened on something transcendent and future-oriented. This reality, being both the providential support as well as the driving power beneath and within the emerging community of the Church, was the reign of God as proclaimed and personified by Jesus.

In fact, what is called the Easter Event can be understood as the experience of being grasped by the very power that Jesus embodied, along with the vision that had inspired his devotion and personal sacrifice. The moment after the cross when the fearful company of disciples was seized with the realization of this spirit of Jesus as miraculously enduring and presently available, was the resurrection of Christ into the community of the gospel. Such living and functioning together as one is what the apostle Paul would refer to as “the body of Christ, his Church.”