Month: May 2011

Married Couples No Longer a Majority of U.S. Households

The "Father Knows Best Family" of the 1950s is no longer the majority of families in the U.S.

Married couples no longer are the majority of U.S. households according to the 2010 U.S. census, the New York Times reports.  For the first time ever, families without a traditional husband-and-wife now comprise 52% of households, with families headed by married couples comprising 48%.

But the misperception that all singles are young is also fading as single adults cover the range of ages from young adults to single seniors.  While the NY Times article reports that most Americans will marry at some point, this snapshot of U.S. family life is a revelation.  In 1950, 78% of all households were headed by a traditional married couple.  Today, that figure is 48%, and changes in life choices are a contributing factor.

The census data reveals that college-educated singles marry other college-educated singles, and they are delaying marriage until their 30s.  Young women with high school diplomas and with a child or children, are choosing increasingly not to marry their baby’s father.  Social scientists believe that the economy is a factor because young male high school graduates tend to be less employable during hard economic times.

These developments in family life have obvious implications for churches.  Single adult ministries that focus only on young singles, or professional singles, are missing big chunks of the single population.  Churches that seek to attract families, need to realize that the definition of family is broader that mom, dad, and the kids.  More often it is mom and the kids.

Same sex marriages, while not mentioned in the article, will be a rising demographic as more states approve same-sex unions of some type.  We in churches may or may not like these trends, but the reality on the ground is that these are the folks who make up our community, and non-traditional families need our ministry, too.

What do you think?  What implications do you see for church ministry in this changing world in which we live?

150 Shopping Days Left to the End of the World

Now that Harold Camping has revised his rapture-and-end-of-the-world prediction by pushing the “visible” end of all things to October 21, you have to wonder why anybody is paying attention to this guy.

There are at least two problems with what Camping is doing.  First, his calculations are based on a bizarre idea of biblical numerology, attaching numerical values to things like “heaven.” ( The Washington Post has Camping’s computation here).  Apparently, heaven’s biblical number is 17 because that is a combination of 10 (completeness) and 7 (perfection), so heaven is the “complete perfection.”  While it is true that heaven is a wonderful place, that doesn’t add up to 17 in any legitimate biblical scholarship.

Secondly, and most disturbingly, Camping is making a mockery of the idea of judgment, the idea that there is a consequence for our actions.   That’s the point of Jesus’ story about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  It does matter how we live and what we do, and in whom we place our trust and confidence.

So now we have to endure 5 more months of media coverage of this silliness.  I for one will be glad when October 21 comes and goes. Until then, don’t sell your house, quit your job, or empty your bank account.   Let’s live like followers of Jesus, people who believe that to love God and others sums up God’s command to us.  That won’t get any headlines, but will change the world.

Sermon: When The Bread Was Broken

When The Bread Was Broken

Luke 24:13-35 NIV/84

3 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Have You Ever Eaten With Any Body Who Was Famous?

Have you ever eaten with anybody famous?  Well, I thought I was going to once, when I got an invitation to breakfast with Jimmy Carter when he was running for president.  But, I think I told you that when I arrived at the hotel early that Sunday morning, there was no breakfast, only a cup of coffee, because all the danish had already disappeared.

But, I came close one day in Nashville.  I was in a local bakery called Bread and Company in Green Hills near where we lived. It was lunch time and I was about to order a sandwich, when in walked Reese Witherspoon with her new baby.  She was not glamorous at all.  She looked just like anybody else with a new baby — sweat pants, a T-shirt, and running shoes.  However, she did not invite me to join her for lunch, so I got my sandwich and left.  Well, today we have a story about a couple of guys who almost got to eat with someone famous, too.

The Wonderful Story of the Emmaus Road 

Today we have a wonderful story about an appearance of Jesus after his resurrection.  You know this story, the road to Emmaus story.  It is the evening of resurrection Sunday.    Two followers of Jesus, not members of the disciple band which has now shrunk to eleven with the death of Judas, are walking back home.  They are headed to the little village of Emmaus, which Luke tells us was about 7 miles from Jerusalem.

How long would it take three men accustomed to walking everywhere to walk 7 miles?  Well the average human can walk about 3 miles an hour, so maybe 2 or 3 hours because it sounds like they are walking slowly, and sadly.

Now let’s assume that Jesus joins them about 30-minutes outside of Jerusalem.  That would make sense because there is still quite a large crowd of people who have come for Passover, and are staying until Pentecost, because both of these are important feast days in Jewish life.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that in the first century there were 256,500 sacrifices made in the Temple for that Passover.  He calculated that no more than 10 people would sacrifice together, so he arrived at a figure of approximately 10-times the number of sacrifices, or 2.7-million people present in Jerusalem.  I personally think that is a little high, just based on the size of Jerusalem, but other scholars have estimated that over 1-million people crowded into the city of Jerusalem for Passover.  This is a city that normally housed about 120,000-to-200,000.  So, even if the population swelled to 5-times its normal size, that’s a big crowd in a relatively small city.

My point is that Jesus could join these two disciples outside the city without being noticed, especially if it is getting late, and everyone is scurrying home after a busy workday.  Because, remember, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection by worshipping on what the first century Christians came to call “the Lord’s Day” but they did not.

So, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple are heading for home.  Undoubtedly they have been with the disciples because they are amazed that their walking companion hasn’t heard the news about Jesus.  Even though crucifixions were not rare in the area around Jerusalem — Rome had crucified 2,000 residents of Jerusalem during the uprising when Herod the Great died — the crucifixion of Jesus had gotten everyone’s attention.

So they ask their companion, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem?” meaning, “Where have you been, man?  How could you have missed what has happened during the past three days?”

And so they tell about Jesus.  First, they back off a little bit when they describe him — “He was a prophet”  but then they add, “powerful in the things he both said and did.”

But “they crucified him.”  And, revealing their profound sorrow and disappointment, they add, “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”  Meaning, of course, to overthrow the Roman rule, restore the sovereignty of the nation, and establish again a king on the throne of David.

“But,” they said, “its been three days.” In addition, they added that the women had a crazy story of Jesus being gone, and angels appearing to them who said Jesus was alive.  But, of course, the disciples investigated and they found the tomb empty just like the women said, but not angels and no Jesus.

Then, Jesus, still unknown to them, begins to teach them.  Of course, Jesus Bible was what we call the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets.  And so Jesus walks them through the prophecies that tell about the Messiah.

But the most amazing question he asks them is this — “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Of course, we understand from this side of the empty tomb that that is exactly what happened, but they didn’t.  One of the reasons they didn’t was because popular Jewish thought of that day did not allow for the Messiah to suffer.  Isaiah talks about a “suffering servant” but many thought that was the one who would come before the Messiah.  Little did they know that the Messiah himself would suffer, and die, and rise from the grave.

And after all of that, they still don’t get it.  But the hour is getting late, and it was the custom of that day to ask a stranger who had nothing to eat to join you for food, and then to offer him shelter.

So, Cleopas and the other disciple ask Jesus to eat with them.  Preparations are made, the food is placed on the table, and then Luke says —

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

How many times had Jesus done that before?  How many times had they eaten together, either out in the hills of Galilee or at a friend’s home, or with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, or in a room like the upper room where they share their last meal together.

Jesus begins his ministry with eating and drinking actually.  At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, he turns water into wine.  All the guests are amazed because usually the host serves the best first, but the guests at that wedding thought the host had saved the best for last.

He feeds 5,000 on one occasion, and 4,000 on another.  Even on the hilllside the ritual is the same – Jesus thanks God, breaks the bread, and the disciples distribute it.  And not only is there enough, there are 12 basketfuls left over — one basket for each of the 12 disciples who did not believe there was anyway possible to feed 5,000 people.

But Jesus is also accused, because it’s true, of eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Apparently, those are two separate categories, because to call a tax collector a sinner in the first century was an insult to sinners!

He’s also accused of eating and drinking too much, because his detractors call him a glutton and a drunkard.  But, for people like Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector who plays host to Jesus for a dinner, Jesus is a life-changing guest.

And, then the last time he is with his disciples, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and says, “this is my body, take and eat.”

It is at the blessing and breaking of the bread that these two disciples recognize Jesus.  Not at Bible study while they’re walking on the road with him.  But at the table where they have shared fellowship together.

It was when the bread was broken that they realized who Jesus really was.

It was when the bread was broken that all the Bible study made sense.

It was when the bread was broken and he handed them the pieces he had blessed that they knew that the Bread of Life stood before them.

The Story of Broken Bread

So, what do we make of this story today?  Well, it’s a great story.  It’s one of my favorite stories told about the 11-or-so appearances of Jesus.  I like it because you can see it.  You can see the sorrow and grief in the faces of these two disciples.  You can see the long dusty road, taking them back to their home, a home that possibly Jesus had visited before.  You can see the three companions talking, gesturing, shuffling their sandal-clad feet through the dust on the well-worn pathway.

You can also see the wonder and delight.  The joy when they realize who their companion has been.  The energy that seizes them immediately upon their recognition of Jesus.  They turn and run quickly back the 7-miles they have just slowly plodded along. They run back and tell the Eleven, the original disciple band, that “when he broke the bread” they knew it was Jesus.

So, what else does this story say to us today?  Other than being a really good story with great characters and drama?

I think the thing it says to me is that Jesus is known best and recognized most quickly when he is offering us his hospitality.  Even though it was not his house, Jesus assumes the role of host.  Even though these men do not recognize him, he assumes that it is his responsibility to be hospitable.  They have invited him, now he returns their offer of hospitality with his own.

And so he does what he has done a thousand times.  He gives thanks to God his Father, he blesses the bread; and, then he breaks the solid loaf, to give to each person present.

Jesus demonstrates gratitude and bounty.  He is thankful, and there is enough.  He acts to acknowledge the gift and the Giver, and then gives to those who need food.

It is in our hospitality that others can see Jesus.  Even if they can’t see him in our Bible studies, or in our worship services, it is when we share table fellowship, and take the risk of hospitality that Jesus is most clearly seen.

Hospitality is not about eating with friends and family.  Hospitality is about welcoming the stranger, risking rejection, risking our reputations, risking all that we are to show those who have nothing who Jesus is.

So, Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors.  Of course, we know that we are all sinners.  But in first century Judaism, there was a distinction made between the righteous and the unrighteous.  The righteous were those who kept the Law, like our friends the Pharisees.  Of course, they were righteous by their own understanding of what that meant, but nevertheless, they were considered righteous, which was the opposite of being a sinner.

We have another good picture of that when Jesus tells the story of the two men who go up to the Temple to pray.  One is  Pharisee, the other a publican or tax collector.  The Pharisee prays, “Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like that man.”  The publican prays, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

That’s the difference.  So, Jesus eats with people whose hands aren’t clean, and whose lives are even worse.  He eats with them because no one else who represents God will.  The chief priests won’t.  The Pharisees won’t.  The Sadduccees won’t.  No one will eat with them because no one who was righteous wanted to eat with an unclean sinner.

So, when Mother Teresa started her home for the dying in Calcutta, she went to people no one else wanted.  Not sick people who could get better, and whose photographs could fill the pages of a glossy brochure proclaiming the success of her mission.  No, she not only opened a home for the dying, she went into the streets and helped them come to a place where they could die attended by kindness and caring nuns and volunteers.

When Albert Schweitzer saw two men beating a sick horse all the way to the stockyard where the horse was going to be slaughtered, he kept the picture of that poor animal in his head until he decided that he would study medicine and go to Africa as a doctor.

To live a life of hospitality is to welcome others into your life, at great cost to yourself.  Hospitality isn’t just tea and cookies.  Hospitality is sharing our lives with those who need us most.  And those are usually the people we want the least to do with.

Hospitality is kindness, compassion, concern, caring, provision, openness, and love.  Hospitality is an act of unselfishness at great expense by a Samaritan toward a Jew who was beaten on the road.

Hospitality is welcoming children as we did this morning, into our circle of faith, realizing that the investment we make in them as parents and as a community will not pay off now or in 10 years, or in 20 years.  But recognizing that what was passed on to us, we need to pass on to them.

When we practice hospitality, that is when the world sees Jesus in our lives and actions.  Its one thing to feed the poor, its another to eat with them.

When I worked a the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation in the early 1990s, one of the projects the Art Foundation sponsored was lunch for the homeless.  But, this wasn’t a sandwich handout from the back of a van.  The Foundation conference room was opened to business people and the homeless who shared a meal together, and then discussed the current book they were all reading.  No mention was made of the “plight of the homeless.”  In that room men and women who had lost their dignity because they lived on the streets, reclaimed some of it for one hour, as they shared their thoughts on great literature with other men and women gathered around that table.

When he broke the bread, they recognized him.  Wouldn’t it be great if the same could be said for us as we practice hospitality in a world that seeks to divide us into categories, rather than unite us in Christ.

Sermon: Sent By Jesus

Here’s a look at today’s lectionary reading from John 20:19-31.  I am focusing on verses 19-21, and looking at Jesus sending the disciples as the Father has sent him.  This is not a full manuscript, but I hope you’ll benefit from the notes that follow each of these verses, particularly verse 21 where Jesus gives the disciples the ministry of forgiving sin.  This passage is still the ministry of the church today, and I hope you find this both helpful and encouraging.

Sent By Jesus
John 20:19-31 NIV/84

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may[a] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


20:19:  “Peace be with you!”  
The disciples are anything but at peace.  With “doors locked for fear of the Jews” the disciple band huddles in secret on the evening of the resurrection.  They are confused, afraid, disoriented, and grief-stricken.

“Peace” is the greeting that Jesus taught the disciples in Luke 10 to bring to every home they entered.  And, so the mission of Jesus continues as though nothing has happened.

“Peace” is the shalom of God which encompasses well-being and confidence in God.  God’s shalom means things are as they should be.  This is not what the disciples believed at this moment.  Things were not as they should be:  Jesus was gone, dead, and now even his body was missing.  Into this chaos, Jesus reassures the disciples that things indeed are exactly as they should be.

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Two things are going on here:  first, Jesus shows them his pierced hands and side.  These wounds are the visible evidence that Jesus appears to them just as they had seen him on the cross — wounded for our transgressions.  This is no memory of Jesus before, but the continuing presence of Jesus after the crucifixion.  The resurrection of Jesus did not change the sacrifice of Jesus.  Even a week later when Jesus appears again with Thomas present, his wounds validate his real presence.

The disciples were overjoyed because before them stood Jesus, but alive.

20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Now things begin to change.  The disciples are about to enter the next phase of their work.  This phase of being sent has been tried out in Luke 10 when Jesus sent the 70 into the surrounding region.  They were to do what he had just done — bring God’s shalom, heal, restore, share table fellowship, live among people, demonstrate God to and for them.

Again, the shalom of God as greeting means, Things are as they should be.  My sending you is as it should be, this is the next step.  The disciples sending follows the model of God’s sending Jesus.  They are sent with authority, they are sent out from themselves, they are sent to serve, they are sent to live out the new kingdom of God among men, they are sent to demonstrate the salvation (health, wholeness, forgiveness and reconciliation) of God toward creation.  Sent in the same manner, with the same mission, by the same Master.

20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
But they are also sent with the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary, descended upon Jesus at his baptism, drove him into the desert, empowered him for service, and would be his presence with them from this point forward.

On the day of Pentecost, this same Spirit manifests itself to announce a new beginning to the world that has witnessed the evil of the Roman empire.

20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This passage, regardless of what we think it means, surely cannot mean that we possess the ability to forgive or not, the sins of others.  I looked at several old commentaries on this passage, and most said just that — Only God can forgive sins, and therefore this means that when the gospel is preached and people respond, God forgives them.

Unfortunately, that is not what this passage says.  In this appearance of Jesus, we have some of the most direct and clear language of any we see in John.  These are simple sentences, as though the disciples cannot take in complex, symbolic concepts.
I believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said.  Now, those who wrote years ago that this does not mean that the disciples or we have the ability to forgive sins, probably were writing (and one stated this explicitly) in response to the priestly practice of the Roman Catholic church.  One confesses to the priest, who after imposing penitential tasks, absolves the confessor of their sin.  But that is not what Jesus is referring to here.

One of the big things that got Jesus into trouble was forgiving the sins of the common people.  And, we talked about the reason for that several weeks ago.  The Temple was the only place in first century Judaism that sins could be forgiven.  The entire Temple enterprise, and it was very much that, was predicated on the idea that the Temple was the residence of God, and that a forgiving encounter with God could only happen there.

Feast days, festivals, and the high holy day of Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — were the elaborate occasions for communal confession and repentance.  But, commoners like Mary and Joseph also went to the Temple to offer the smallest offering — a pair of turtledoves — for her purification.

So, when Jesus spoke of forgiving sins, he was at odds with the entire world of Judaism, including the chief priest, the Pharisees, the Sadduccees, the Council of the Sanhedrin, and most of all, the economic bounty that flowed to the Temple.

So, by telling the disciples that they now have the ministry of forgiveness, Jesus places them in the same position he was in — an adversary to the entrenched religious practice and practitioners of his day.

The most striking example of this is Jesus forgiving the sins of, and healing, the lame man.  Here’s Mark’s version, but the account appears in all three synoptic gospels —

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,“Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  – Mark 2:1-12 NIV84

So, the objection to Jesus’ healing was the same as the objection to this verse by some commentators — only God can forgive sins.  But Jesus obviously countered that by forgiving the lame man’s sins, and by healing him.

Actually, there was an old rabbinic saying, “No one can be healed unless first their sins are forgiven.”  So, healing, wholeness (salvation both physical and spiritual) involve forgiveness.

Jesus is conveying his ministry to the disciples.  First, he assures them of the shalom of God. Next he announces he is sending them as God as sent him.  Then, he equips them for their new mission by breathing into them the breath of life, the Spirit of God.  And, finally he tells them what their ministry is — forgiveness.

To understand what that means, we need to look at forgiveness for a moment.  First, this ability or ministry of forgiving (or not forgiving) sin is given to the community.  Jesus is not saying, and never intended, that the ministry of forgiveness become the solely the function of an elite group of priests.  He was actually removing the function of pronouncing forgiveness from the priests of his day, and giving it into the hands of his followers.

Rather, forgiveness is given to the community of disciples.  And, remember, at this point all the disciples, and Jesus’ entire ministry has been within Judaism.  So, the disciples become the new community of practice that now holds the keys to the kingdom:

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:18-19 NIV84)

Which also means that when God’s will is done on earth, it is reflecting what has and is being done in heaven.  Remember the Lord’s Prayer — “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?  That’s exactly what we have here — God’s forgiveness being expressed through his followers on earth even as it is and has been expressed in heaven.
All of which means that the ministry Jesus has given to the disciples is also our ministry. But, you might object, we can’t go around forgiving people’s sins.

Well, forgiveness does two things.  First, it recognizes and makes a judgment that something has gone wrong in a relationship.  Secondly, it deals with the wrong appropriately, and restores the relationship within the community.

Forgiveness is the ministry of reconciliation — of bringing people back to God and back to each other in the community that follows God.

Paul said, 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV84

On this the second Sunday of Eastertide, we are not only celebrating the risen Christ, we are also receiving our mission from Jesus.  That mission is to be a community of forgiveness, practicing reconciliation, before a world which knows nothing of God’s peace — things as they should be.

Early in his ministry, Henri Nouwen was the chaplain on an transoceanic ship.  One night, surrounded by fog so dense that the ship was operating by radar, the captain was pacing with great agitation on the deck.  As he turned, he ran into Nouwen, who was standing near the wheel house in case he was needed.

As the two collided, the captain cursed, and said, “Get out of my way.  I don’t need you here.”  Nouwen began his humiliating retreat, when the captain gruffly called back to him.

“On second thought, stay.  This might be the only time you’ll be of use to me.” (A Peculiar People, Rodney Clapp)

The world may not need Jesus or his disciples, or his church, for a lot of things.  But they do need us to demonstrate and practice forgiveness and reconciliation.  This might be the only way we are of use, and it is the ministry Jesus has given to us.