Sunday, April 11, 2004

Luke 24:1-3
Come and See
by Alex Joyner

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body.” – Luke 24:1-3 (NRSV)

O.K., let me just say for the record that if Jerry Bruckheimer were directing the resurrection story, it would have looked a lot different. Great action adventures about heroes overcoming terrific odds always end with a bang in Hollywood. You save the best car chase, the best explosion, the best confrontation with the diabolical villain until the last reel...the last scene even. You definitely don't end with silence.

But that's exactly what happens here. In Matthew there is an earthquake. In most of the gospel accounts there are angels in the form of a young man or two. But the central thing about the story is not an action but an absence. There's nothing there. The point of the story is that there is nothing there.

It's just like Jesus, who upset all of our expectations, to do another dramatic reversal at the end. What more could he have done? His work was finished on the cross. He said so himself as he took a last breath, "It is finished." God went the whole way with this incarnation business...even to the point of dying. The reconciliation of all things to God was really not in doubt after that.

But we still doubt. We still wonder if a love as powerful as God offers could be real. We still wonder, living in a world of terrorist explosions and "smart" bombs, if good can prevail. We still wonder if the promises of Christ were meant for us with all of our confusion and failures.

And what better way to confound our doubt than to leave some more space for wonder. That empty tomb is not a splashy, flashy ending; it's a beginning. It is a welcoming of the world into the mystery of God. It is Jesus saying to us at the end what he said to two disciples at the beginning of his ministry when they asked where he was staying. As then he said, "Come and see." What's going on in the silence of an Easter morning? Come and see and know that you are welcomed and accepted.

The Reverend Alex Joyner is the Director of the Wesley Foundation United Methodist Campus Ministry at the University of Virginia.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Job 38:1 - 42: 6
First Year
by Brian Lee

This is the valley that I’m walking through
And it feels like forever since I’ve been close to you
My friends up above me don’t understand why I struggle like I do
My shadow’s my only, only companion and at night he leaves too

Down in the valley, dying of thirst
Down in the valley, it seems that I’m at my worst
My consolation is that you baptize this earth
When I’m down in the valley, valleys fill first

Down in this wasteland I miss the mountaintop view
But it’s here in this valley that I’m surrounded by you
Though I’m not here by my will it’s where your view is most clear
So I’ll stay in this valley if it takes 40 years

And it’s like that long Saturday between your death and the rising day
When no one wrote a word, wondered is this the end
But you were down there in the well, saving those that fell
Bringing them to the mountain again

- “Valleys Fill First” by Caedmon’s Call

Last Easter, I was baptized into the Body of Christ. I have to tell you, it’s been an interesting year of baptismal life. I remember last spring as being a season full of events happening all at once. I had finally made myself at home in a community of faith, I was finally able to articulate my thoughts and feelings about faith, I was dating a nice gal, I was finally getting to know a lot of my fellow civil engineering students - I was on top of the world. Amidst of all these events, the idea grew in my mind that finally God had found favor with me because I had finally found what I had looking for these past few years.

Then something changed after I got baptized. It felt like everything around me unraveled. There was a death in the family, relationships changed, and life seemed to get harder all of the sudden. The time before baptism I felt like I was on top of the mountain, after baptism it felt like I had tumbled down into a valley. To put it mildly, I wasn’t too pleased with my new surroundings. I was angry. I was angry because it seemed that everything that I had come to know and believe was just proven wrong.

As the weeks and months passed after my baptism, I felt angrier and more disappointed. I wondered to myself why I had even chosen to step inside a community of faith. Was I supposed to be in a community of believers or just be a loner with the Lord? I wondered why I allowed myself to be so open, why I allowed myself to put down my guard for people who would hurt me. I wondered what I had done to allow all of this to happen all at once and what else will happen. Had I fallen from God’s favor?

As the seasons turned, I wandered in the valley I fallen into and shouted. I felt disappointment in the people whom I had surrounded myself with and I felt disappointment in myself. I felt frustration and confusion as I tried to confront situations as a Christian would. I knew a gradual change was supposed to happen after I was baptized, but I didn’t like how I had changed thus far. Was I supposed to be angry and so intense? Was I supposed to be like this?

Then entered Job.

It must have been the luck of the draw that I am near so many good people. Like the Job’s friends, they sat in the ashes with me. Unlike Job’s friends, they didn’t presume to any explanation or advice. Knowing me so well, they offered only their own experiences and reassurance. At the time, one friend told me it was okay to be angry and struggle, but only for so long. “I mean look at Job,” he remarked one night. “He questioned and struggled and that was all right with God.”

He kept going on and on about Job. Then, he finally told me that I had to see things as they really are. I knew that a part of faith was to struggle. But another part of it is to trust in things unseen and incomprehensible. Right at this moment, I don’t know why things are and it’s not my place to know. I wasn’t there when God created the world and I am also not present as God does the work no mortal can ever understand.

So, I’m going to remember my first year as a baptized Christian as me struggling to admit what Job finally says in the first six verses of Chapter 42. Things happen and I won’t know why. The trouble that I have is that I would rather lead than be led. I want so desperately to have things go my way that I lose sight of everything. The amazing thing is that grace is continually at work to help us still our ambitious hearts and leads us to live life as we as intended by God. Life doesn’t get any easier, but it’s not going to get more difficult. A wise man once said that one cannot invite the wind, but one must keep the window open. Tomorrow morning as I watch the Easter sunrise, I will be mindful to keep the window open and remember that grace is at work even if nobody understands.

Brian Lee is a fourth year at the University of Virginia.

Friday, April 09, 2004

1 Peter 1:13-16
Freedom from Sin
by Christina Stone

“But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. My God, in whom is my delight, my glory, and my trust, I thank you for your gifts and beg you to preserve and keep them for me. Keep me, too, and so your gifts will grow and reach perfection and I shall be with you myself, for I should not even exist if it were not by your gift.” - St. Augustine, Confessions

St. Augustine tells us we do not sin just for the sake of sinning. Evil cannot be our motive. (Romans 7:15) In fact, evil is not an entity within itself. It is a privation, a lack of goodness just as darkness is a lack of light. Instead, we sin because our view of goodness is perverted. Our idea of beauty is corrupted. Take a few minutes to think about why we sin. To fit in? To feel more loved? Although the desire to be loved and accepted is from God, we vainly give our entire lives over to these desires. Spend time in prayer, asking God to help us turn away from self-sufficiency and self-direction.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, morn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” - James 4:7-10

Here, James is not saying we should go around crying all day long. Instead, he urges us to take our sins seriously. Grieve for our personal sins and the sins of the world. This might take the form of setting aside a special time of confession each week or establishing accountability groups. Ask yourself how you can take sin seriously? Remember why we strain toward righteousness—not only to obey a law—but because we have fallen in love with our Savior, and we want to please Him.

Now resting in the work of Christ on the cross, remember we are forgiven. (Romans 8:1-3) We are freed from the bondage of sin. Spend several minutes praising God for this mystery of mercy. Humbly approach God with your sins, and He will lift you up! For we struggle through the Season of Lent in mournful expectation of Sunday morning!

Christina Stone is a fourth year at the University of Virginia.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Lam 2:10-18 & Ps. 42 & John 13:1-15

Cry Aloud to the Lord!
by Andrew Marshall

As a people of privilege, we rarely can connect with the rigorous mourning and lamenting of the people of Israel, who were always the downtrodden and the oppressed. The next few days, however, can offer us a glimpse into this feeling of complete and utter despair. After all, the Israelites may have lost many things in their day, but the adversarial question, “Where is your God?” from the Psalm takes on a completely new meaning, with answers over the next few days ranging from “Washing my feet, like a common servant,” to “On that hill being crucified,” to “He’s dead, and we don’t know if he’s coming back.” At times like these, as we enter into the darkest and most desolate days of the Christian year, the words of Lamentations come alive. “Cry aloud to the Lord! O daughter of Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!” But in the midst of all of this despair, Jesus is not done teaching yet. After washing his disciples’ feet, he explains his actions, giving them yet another example of how they are to treat one another and those around them. By this action and his later actions in the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus gives his disciples some very physical means by which to remember him long after he is gone. But nowhere in his actions that night does he tell the disciples not to weep for him because wink, wink; nudge, nudge; you know I’ll be back. In fact, in the 16th chapter of John, he tells them that they will weep and lament, but that their sorrow will turn to joy. So, brief as the time may be, spend the next few days reclaiming the sorrowful words of Lamentations. You may know the end of the story, but that doesn’t keep this part from being tragic, and worth lamenting. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Andrew Marshall is a fourth student at the University of Virginia.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

John 12:37-50
Seeing and Believing
by Sara Porter

This task is too big for me. If I could, I would ask that this burden be lifted, but it is for this reason that I have been called. They do not understand. No one understands. I try to explain: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.” Sometimes, it gets so tough. I try to be strong, to not run. I have to accept this plan, this destiny, but I get lonely and sometimes I must find solitude for myself. Though there are many reasons and signs, they choose not to see and believe. The prophet Isaiah spoke before me: “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn —and I would heal them.” Even so, many believe, but they do not confess this truth of mine because they love human glory more than the glory that comes from God. I cry aloud to them: Whoever believes in me believe not in me but in the one who sent me! You do not see me, the man before you, you see God through me. I come to shine light into the world’s darkness. I am not here to judge you, but to show you a healthy and righteous and truthful way to live. The word that I speak, the word that is God, will judge. God’s commandment is eternal life.

Sara Porter is a graduate (Class of 2003) of the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Living Fearlessly
by Rob Bauer

I think that for a lot of us, the hardest of Christ’s commandments is not loving our neighbor or loving God. I mean, we all fail in those to some extent. No one really tries to shirk those, though, since they’re non-threatening, especially in America. If you help someone pick up their dropped books, pray before eating, go to church, or give money to charity, no one will think that you’re weird or make fun of you. In fact, the odds are that you’ll actually be held in higher esteem by those who see you. It’s a win-win situation.

No, I think the commandment hardest for us to follow is the one given in Matthew 28:19-20a, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (NLT). The reason this is so hard is because the world stands ready to mock us as soon as we start talking about God or being “Jesus Freaks.” Satan cannot stand to be mocked, and so he’ll try and stir up whatever fears we have inside ourselves so that we’ll do whatever is necessary to avoid having them realized. We’re terrified that someone will see our true self and reject it. Any fears we have of loneliness and ostracism are taken advantage of, and we only consider how others perceive us, while forgetting the second half of Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

When we look at how things get done, there’s rarely much of a pattern, except that utter faith in God’s providence is required. Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac. Joshua took Jericho by marching around it and blowing trumpets. Gideon defeated the Midianites by sending most of his army home and equipping the remnant with torches and clay pots. Mary bore Christ. Peter walked on water. Christ never even healed blind men the same way in any recorded instance. Everyone has heard the saying “God works in mysterious ways,” and hardly anyone would disagree, but do we really accept it as being true, or just as a platitude? Thankfully, I haven’t been called to behave as the prophet Ezekiel was commanded, but I still constantly battle with the temptation to hide my light. I lack discipline and trust. What if they make fun of me? What if she says no? What if, what if, what if?

What if my fears are all based on attaching too much importance to a transitory world, and not simply trusting in God to provide what I need? He provided food, mates, and shelter for animals. He provided these things even for men and women who rejected Him. Why should I be afraid of what he will provide for his loyal servants? That’s why Lent is such a blessing: by reflecting on the Passion and possibly giving up some desire or practice, we are able to more fully recognize where we truly stand. We fear because we’re lost, and by seeing clearly that we’re not lost but are actually able to see the path we need to follow, we can then live as fearlessly as the Apostles and Saints did, preaching the Gospel and training others in living according to God’s will.

Rob Bauer is a senior at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Luke 15: 13-21
Wake Up Call
by Alex Chapin

I always have had a Christian influence in my life. Whether or not I always followed it is a different question, but I at least have grown up in the church family. I had great mentors to look up to, great friends to keep me out of trouble, and a great place to constantly grow closer to God. I have carried over the commitment I had for my home church with me at UVA. The point I am trying to make here is that I am blessed and very grateful for the life that has been given to me. One question that I have been pondering lately is why is it so hard for us to abstain from SIN? I truly felt that I was failing God every single time I sinned. One day I realized that sin is necessary to bring us closer to God. This sounds very weird at first, but hear me out. Let’s make believe that God is a dog owner, and we are the dog. God wants us to love him and to allow him to pet and love us back. Instead of God tying a leash to us and giving us doggy treats to make us play with him, God let’s us roam wild. God is constantly waiting for our affection, but all he does is wait. When we sin we have a desire to crawl back to God to reconcile our sinfulness. Without the sin in our lives we would just roam around without having any reason to run back to our merciful owner for help. This concept never really made sense in my head for some reason. I’m not saying that we need to purposefully be sinful, all I am saying is that instead of wondering why we sin, we should think of sin as a wake up call that can bring us back to God. The prodigal son takes his time to wake up from his alarms of sin. He goes on sinning until he literally has nothing left. I would not recommend this technique, but in the end he realizes how stupid he has been and comes running back to his father.

Alex Chapin is a first year at the University of Virginia.

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