Monday, April 24, 2017

Why We Should Seek Christ Among Us

Mark 6:2-6 (NRSV): Welcoming Christ Among Us
2 On the sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Jesus and his disciples return to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. This return happens directly after Jesus performs many miracles. Just previous to this passage, for instance, Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43). The people in Jesus’ hometown would have heard of these miracles, and as he preaches in the synagogue, they are “astounded” by his “wisdom” and “deeds of power” (6:2). But something is amiss among the residents of Jesus’ hometown. They cannot see past their prejudices. They say, “‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (6:3). The people of Nazareth see Jesus as the poor, common carpenter from down the block. How can he, their response implies, be a prophet or the Messiah? The people in town were preoccupied with where Jesus came from rather than who he has the potential to be.
Harboring preconceived ideas about someone can cloud our ability to see who they truly are and stymie an individual’s promise. Our faith in the potential of a person is often blinded by our prejudices. Prejudicial thinking, moreover, breeds xenophobia, exclusionism, and marginalization. Wasn’t Jesus marginalized, seen as an outsider, and rejected by the establishment?
Upon self-examination, it is easy to see that we, too, can fall prey to this way of thinking. Would we, then, have pigeon-holed Jesus because of his upbringing? Mark writes that Jesus could “do no deed of power there” (6:5) because of people’s lack of faith. When we believe, however, that a person is capable of rising above their circumstances, we offer them the faith and loving hope they deserve.
O Most Loving God, I pray that our minds and hearts be open to the potential of all people, no matter their circumstances or past. Kindly grant each of us, O Lord, the grace to welcome Jesus Christ among us. For it is in his name we pray, Amen.

Have a blessed week.
Stan

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why Looking with our Hearts Matters

Luke 24:30-32 (GNT): Recognizing the Risen Christ
29 But they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Wasn't it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
In the post-Resurrection “Road to Emmaus” narrative, Luke depicts two disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus. They meet him on Easter Sunday walking along the road to a village called Emmaus. And although Luke tells the listener it is Jesus, the two disciples, however, do not recognize him right away. It is not until Christ discusses the Hebrew Scriptures, is invited in, and, finally, breaks bread with them that they “see” him. Luke narrates, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. . . “ (24:31). And it is this recognition of Christ among us that is a challenge in today’s world of scepticism and doubt.
Every time we read and study Scripture, love our neighbor, and celebrate the Eucharist, we encounter Jesus. But why don’t we see him? Why doesn’t Jesus appear to us as he does the disciples along that road long ago? The answer, however, is a matter of how we see: Are we looking for Jesus with our hearts, sensing that “fire burning in us” (24:31) that the two disciples witness? Or are we merely looking with a set of eyes shaped an marred by the modern world?
This past week I saw Christ present in an expression of neighborly love. Upon finishing up my day, I was seated at the computer inputting some grades. The day was warm, about 78 degrees, my window was open, and it was a picture-perfect day. As the sound of laughter entered my room through the open window, I spied the Social Club outside tossing footballs, baseballs, and frisbees. The bursts of chortles and the unsteady pat-thump of excited footfalls were too much for me to ignore. Their joy opened my eyes.
For those who are not familiar, the Social Club is an afterschool activity that serves some of the most compassionate kids in our high school. All who participate benefit from the positive interaction of mentorship and friendship. The Social Club allows students to spend time with and be a friend to others. It is a school club, but I also see it as a ministry. And I am always moved by the students I see laughing, interacting, self-giving, and loving one another. It is through these students’ smiling faces, uncontrollable laughter, and commitment to each other that I witness the presence of Jesus among us. Christ is alive in the love of neighbor.
As some of us enjoy a few days off from the busyness of work, let us look around with the eyes of our hearts. For it is in that authentic looking that we see the resurrected Jesus among us. And when we do, our hearts, too, will feel “like a fire burning in us” with the loving presence of God in our midst.
Have blessed Easter!

Stan