Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Taking it all in"

Message preached April 10, 2005
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon 1 Peter 1:17-25 and Luke 24:13-35

Order of Worship

            It was an awful lot to take in, you know - that first Easter, when the strange new scent of resurrection filled the air. I canít really blame Cleopas and that other fellow for being confused by it all. Iíd have been just as perplexed. Perhaps more so. You?

            It was a troubling day, after all - maybe even more full of question marks than the Friday before when everything fell apart ... or so it seemed at the time. At least death has a period at the end of the sentence. Jesus died. Period. Buried, even. Tomb closed. Heavy stone rolled in place. "It is finished." Didnít Jesus himself say that? Living on in his absence was now the issue for his followers. As hard as that may have been, however, people have been struggling to do so since time began. Grief, at least, is a known commodity. What is it they say (words appropriate to this coming week - April 15th and all)? "Only two things you can count on in life: death and taxes."

            But then everything shifted. I canít blame those two disciples for being perplexed on their way to Emmaus. It was an awful lot to take in, you know. It still is. Imagine if the Pope, who was just buried last Friday, wasnít where they left him today. Suppose a Papal employee was just doing his job in the grotto under St. Peterís Basilica and noticed that the body of John Paul II wasnít there anymore. What would they do? What color smoke would then come out of the pipe of the Cardinals enclave gathered to select a new Pope?

            Iím not sure people would be dancing in the streets, no matter how strongly they believed in the resurrection of the dead. Donít you think many would be wondering if terrorists had somehow pulled off a major heist? Or maybe some folks might think it was an inside job, by loyalists like Opus Dei, intended to speed up sainthood or something. Then, again, perhaps a few would worry that us Protestants had something to do with it? You only need to go back a few hundred years, after all, to re-ignite that war. But, certainly, rational minds would prevail...?

            No, Iím not trying to write a sequel to either The DaVinci Code or the Left Behind series. Iím just attempting to put those first century discipleís confusion into context. I donít think you or I wouldíve handled it any better, but I can only speak for myself. Itís hard enough taking all the other stuff in.

            In my Seekers class, weíre currently exploring - in a beginnerís sort of way - what it means to follow Jesus, aiming toward baptism. Weíve spent several sessions in a "Bible 101" approach, for this book is a massive mountain to climb. Where do you start? How do you start? Some of you, who have been meandering through this one volume spiritual library for years, may still wonder the same thing. It is a lot to take in, isnít it? Even when we scale back to the New Testament and make it our rule of faith and practice. Even when we only focus just upon the gospel story which lies at the heart of this new covenant. It is an awful lot to take in, you know.

            And yet, thatís what were here to do - to take it all in, one more time. Thatís why weíve come back this second Sunday after Easter, isnít it? Oh, I know there are other reasons we are here today, like our love for one another - celebrating a motherís 75th birthday, or just simply rejoicing in the common bond we have among us in this fellowship. We return, again and again, because - deep down - we do care for each other. Mandy Georgieff, one of our college students, studied us last fall for a class, and that was one of the things she discovered. Itís the people here who keep us coming back week after week - our relationships with one another.

            There is, within this (as in most) community of believers, what the first letter of Peter describes as a "genuine mutual love." For all our imperfections, for all the ways we fail along the way of it, we do "love one another deeply from the heart," as Peter put it. That verse (1:22) is interesting because it uses two different words in Greek for love - "philos" (literally "philadelphian") or brotherly or familial love, and "agape" or Godís kind of love. It is this love which keeps us coming back, even when we struggle to agree with one another.

            Something else thatís interesting about this verse in 1 Peter - it is dependant on the very next verse. In the Greek, verse 23 is actually a continuation of verse 22 - itís the same sentence, a fact which some translations show. "Let your love for one another be real and from the heart ... (why?) ... for you have been born anew..." Love is a sign of Easter, a mark of the resurrection. In God, new beginnings are possible, even when it comes to love. We may struggle to take it all in, but it is real, nonetheless.

            We laughed a few weeks ago when one of youngsters embarrassed her single mother during joys and concerns by standing and sharing that "Mom had a date last night, finally." New beginnings are possible. I shared that humorous episode a few days later in an email to my Australian pen-pal, an Anglican priest. His marriage has been falling apart for quite a while and now, it seems, is over. Second chances are possible, I was trying to say in a humorous way, with my story, adding, "Should you ever come round to a similar point in your journey, at least your boys are much older (and perhaps even more capable of mischief)." His latest email included a picture of his two grown sons and their girlfriends...

            After speaking of love in the community of faith, Peter wrote, "You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Now, thatís an awful lot to take in. This "born again" stuff can be confusing. Sometimes the very words can divide Christians rather than unite them in genuine love. "Born again," after all, can be seen as a status rather than as a process.

        To be "born anew" is simply to step into Easter, as confusing as it may be to do so. It was not easy for Cleopas and his friend to do so on that very first Easter, and they heard first-hand what the women said about the empty tomb, and they had - on their way to Emmaus, and later over supper - Jesus walking and eating with them, even if they were slow to recognize him. Itís a lot to take in, then and now. We sometimes talk about being born again as if it were as easy to do as eating a piece of peacan pie (my favorite), just like we talk about the process of grief as something someone ought to get over and done with as soon as possible.

            Being born the first time wasnít exactly a breeze, my friends. For each of us, it involved months and months of waiting, and some pain and discomfort (at least on our motherís part). This second time around birth is similar, though not the same. I donít say that to discourage, but rather to indicate that the process of being born anew is worth the wait and the work. The lionís share of this work - by the way - is on the part of the One who gives us this new birth. The cross and the tomb is like the womb from which we all are born in the Spirit. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ which brings us to new life.

            On our end of things, however, it involves taking it all in - Easter, resurrection, Godís love in Christ, and all that this living message entails, which is a lot. We take it all in is best as we are able, each of us, and that is good enough. We take in the living Word as we have received it, as much as we can. We dive into this sometimes confusing spiritual library of a book, not always understanding what we encounter here, and thatís okay. We take in as much as we can of this Holy Spirit stuff.

            Last week we remembered doubting Thomas, and how confusing it was for him to believe when he couldnít actually see and touch the risen Christ. And then Jesus came a week later as his disciples gathered together on the next Sunday, and doubting Thomas became Thomas the believer. Jesus then breathed upon them the Holy Spirit - the power for them to give birth to what they themselves had been called by God to be. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:29), Jesus tells us through that story.

            On this second Sunday after Easter we have remembered Cleopas and the other disciple, and how the risen Christ was made known to them in the breaking of bread. Up to that point nothing made sense for these two persons on the road to Emmaus. They had taken it all in, as best as they were able - not just the teachings of Jesus which, as disciples - learners, seekers, they had received; but also the confusing events of that week and, most disturbing, the rumors of that very day - women, angels, empty tomb, Jesus ... alive?

            Such news, confusing as it may have all been, was for them the seed - planted by God - which grew within them and eventually reached the surface, pushing aside the soil and sprouting in their lives. New birth. Notice that I have shifted away from a human metaphor to one with which gardeners are familiar. Thatís actually the gist of what it says in 1 Peter. The "seed" from which new birth sprouts there is, in Greek, "sporas," not "sperma." As one imaginative translation makes clear, "You have been given a fresh start, a new birth into a new life; not conceived from sperm and egg this time, but from something far more dependable and permanent - the living word of God" (Laughingbird). Didnít Jesus talk about a sower tossing seed upon the ground? (Luke 8:4-15). Didnít the apostle Paul write this to the church in Corinth, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:6)?

            This new birth from which grows the love which has drawn us together today, once again, gives us an appropriate image for this time of year. Just yesterday, I started seeing color return to the trees in my yard, something which immeasurably lifts my spirit. Late winter and early spring are hard times of year for me, perhaps for you also, as the barren branches speak of death. And then new life emerges, seemingly overnight. You know, however, that it wasnít an instantaneous process? Being born anew never is. By celebrating Easter in the spring of the year, we can get the mistaken impression, though, that it is. For my Australian friend and his family "down under," they are headed into fall and winter now, a time when growth happens beneath the surface. Make no mistake, however, it is happening.

            Thatís the message I need to keep telling, even if the one I need to keep proclaiming it to is me. I know, itís a lot to take it. Got to receive it, conceive it, believe it; let it grow, little by little, that eventually it will show. New possibility, new hope, new love, new life, new birth. Glory! Hallelujah!                        ("Proclaim the tidings near and far")

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see 1 Peter.


©2005 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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