Archive for April, 2013

Catching Up

April 17, 2013

I’ve been spending some time the last few days responding to a comment on my last post.  Good food for thought and help in clarifying things.   But of course, in the meantime, the Boston Marathon was bombed.  People are dead and wounded.  What is there to say about this?

There is no shortage of things to say and people far more willing and equipped to say them than myself.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the wounded and the families of those who have been hurt and killed.  I desire to see the perpetrators identified and brought to justice.  
But I abhor the direction our nation is going.  I abhor that as our trust is demanded more and more in our government and in our systems and in new systems and new regulations and new educational programs – as our trust is demanded and our money is demanded at higher and higher levels, the safety and security and progress that we are promised are just around the corner slip farther and farther away.  
I abhor that the events of this week will undoubtedly be used to justify greater  governmental encroachments upon personal civil liberties, by decrying that our personal civil liberties are the enabling source of these acts of evil.  We will be told that we can be made safer by someone behind a desk than we can if we knew our neighbors and our families were healthier and closer.  And because it is easier to pay a little more money or surrender rights that we may find superfluous to our average day, we choose this option.  
May God grant healing to the victims in Boston and their families and friends.  And may He grant true wisdom to us all, regardless of the public office we do or don’t hold.  
 

Reading Ramblings – April 21, 2013

April 16, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: April 21, 2013,
Third Sunday of Easter

Texts:
Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Contextual
Notes:
Easter is not just a day, but a liturgical
season, just as Christmas is. The season of Easter lasts 50 days,
until Pentecost Sunday. The Old Testament readings for this season
are replaced with readings from Acts, representing the newness of
God’s work through the Church. The Gospel readings emphasize the
appearances of Jesus following his resurrection.

This week’s lessons focus us on
putting our own deaths in perspective. We can’t help but feel that
death is the ultimate devastation, and we have trouble imagining a
world without ourselves. Yet we are promised that death is not a
destination but a passageway, it is not the end of life but the
beginning of life. Our hope in this promise lies in the resurrection
of Jesus Christ, and therefore as we consider our own ends, we can do
so properly.

Acts 20:17-35: The
frankness of Paul is shocking here. Steeped in a culture that
demands that death be denied, ignored, and evaded at all costs,
Paul’s frank admission of his impending death and his determination
to remain faithful rather than seek to preserve his life is a bucket
of ice-cold water in our faces. What is life, if not the opportunity
to be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the God who
created, redeemed, and sanctified us? What is death compared to the
God who has demonstrated not just his intention but his ability to
pluck us from death itself? If the grave cannot hold us, why do we
allow life to hold us in chains?

Paul’s parting words to the church at
Ephesus are beautiful in their simplicity. They are the words of a
faithful servant recounting his faithfulness, discharging his final
duty to those who were in his care for a time but were truly always
in the care of the Holy Spirit, where they will remain after Paul
himself leaves them. What beautiful perspective on our roles in the
lives of others! May we be encouraged to be faithful witnesses to
the truth of Jesus Christ, giving no cause for offense, and willing
and able to leave those we love behind in the hands of the God who
loves and cares for them eternally!

Psalm 23: A traditional
psalm during times of distress or loss because of the beautiful
promises it recounts in the past, present and future. The first
three verses recount how the Lord has blessed us in the past,
providing for our needs not just of body but soul. Verse 4, the
longest verse, dwells on the moment at hand, the challenge to be
faced right now. It dwells not on the darkness of the challenge, but
rather on the faithfulness of the Good Shepherd. The one who has
blessed us so richly in the past will not fail us or desert us in our
hour of greatest need. Verses 5-6 look forward to what will be, once
the Valley of the Shadow of Death has been passed through. But note
that all the verses are present tense – they are all describing
what the Lord does for me at this moment, so that regardless
of our situation, we can sing this psalm of praise fully. The table
is already set. The rod and staff do comfort. We are
brought
to still waters.

Revelation 7:9-17:
This is our family reunion picture – a snapshot of the saints in
glory, and therefore you and I are in this picture. St. John
glimpses your face and mine in this sea of white robes. Did you live
a life of comfort and ease in this world? Praise God for the white
robe you wear in paradise. Has your life been a constant struggle
from one adversity to the next? Praise God for the white robe you
wear in paradise. All of life is seen as leading to the white robe,
to the roughness of palm branches in our hands, waving before the
throne of God to his glory. This vision of St. John’s does not deny
the reality of suffering in this world as Buddhism and Hinduism do,
but rather asserts that this suffering has been overcome. This vision
does not emphasize the glory of the individual saints as Islam does,
but rather glorifies the Lamb in whose blood the saints have been
washed. This vision does not deny the lives we live now in a broken
and imperfect world, but asserts that those lives have been
purchased, and that in faith in Jesus Christ, we will stand in the
glory of the presence of God forever, where no sorrow or loss or
deprivation will ever inconvenience or kill us again.

John 10:22-30:
The first part of this chapter concludes with confusion –
confusion between the words of Jesus that appear to be the ravings of
a lunatic, and the actions of Jesus which are clear and undeniable
like the healing of the man born blind in the previous chapter. The
Jews around Jesus are apparently in a bind – how to reconcile his
words and actions. His words are crazy at best, profane at worst.
He gives sight to the blind yet speaks of being the Son of God, the
promised Messiah. They see the words and deeds in contradiction to
one another.

Jesus clarifies that his words and actions are not in contradiction,
but rather work with one another. He would speak to them simply and
have them believe, but they will not, and so his words are testified
to with signs and wonders. While the words can be disregarded or
compromised, the actions cannot. The blind man now sees, and there
is no way for anyone to interpret this in any other way.

If the signs cannot be refuted, then the words need to be accepted as
well. The signs are not in contradiction to the words, or separate
from them, but rather flow from them and bear witness to them. And
what signs they are! These are not parlor tricks or sleight of hand!
The signs bear witness to power – power over things that no other
power can overcome. What other power on earth could restore sight to
the blind?

That same power is capable of preserving those that put their faith
and trust in it. Those who follow the voice of Jesus will not be
disappointed, and will not find their trust misplaced. He will
preserve them forever, something that the reading from the Revelation
of St. John reinforces. Faith in Jesus Christ, faith received as a
gift of the Holy Spirit and not something created for or by ourselves
is stronger than any other power or force in all of creation, and
will keep us safe for eternity.  

Case Study: The Best Construction

April 14, 2013

It’s a phrase that you learn if you grow up Lutheran.  Put the best construction on everything, in association with the Eighth Commandment about not bearing false witness against our neighbor.  Luther’s idea is that we don’t simply abstain from doing harm, we seek to do well to our neighbor.  This means choosing to evaluate our neighbor’s words and deeds in as positive a light as possible.

What does this look like, though?  I mean, it’s easy enough when you get along with your neighbor and everything is hunky dory.  But what if that’s not the case?  
I’m a big billiards fan, and a few months ago I treated myself to a new shaft for my pool cue.  The guy I bought it from also offered to clean up my existing shaft (the cue is 20 years old, and needs some light maintenance and a new tip from time to time).  He told me it would take a week or so, and since he does this in his spare time, and because I had a new shaft to use, it was fine with me.
I was moderately surprised to get a call from him the next day saying the shaft was ready.  He came and dropped it off and life was good.  Until I started examining the shaft later in the day and realized it wasn’t mine.  I called him up to report the mistake and he apologized, said he’d pick it up and get me mine back as originally scheduled.
A couple of weeks passed before I called him up to ask him about the shaft.  He indicated he had it and would bring it the next night to a tournament we were both going to be playing in.  But when he gave it to me, sure enough, it wasn’t my shaft again – it looked like a pretty low-quality knock-off job.  In fact, it looked exactly like the one I had already given back to him.  I gave it back to him (again) and told him I wanted my shaft back.  He promised that if necessary, he would order me a new one from the manufacturer and it would be in hand in a couple more weeks.  
That was two months ago.  Given the busy season of Easter I didn’t push the issue and call him again.  Not that it didn’t cross my mind.  But I had resolved to do so next week.  Which is why I was very surprised when I came in the office today to find a shaft in a sealed plastic bag.  He had dropped it off a day or two earlier but hadn’t called to let me know.  
I could be really irritated that it has taken four months to get this resolved – and I am.  I could be frustrated at the lack of professionalism – and I am.  I could also be very skeptical about whether or not this is an actual quality replacement part for my shaft or not – and I am.  It’s sealed in a bag, but I have no idea where it came from or even how to find out.  I could be very suspicious about it and assume that it’s a cheap shaft rather than a quality one, and I certainly am suspicious based on how the whole affair has been handled.
But what to do about it?  I’ve deliberately not talked about the issue with the guys on my pool team very much.  I’ve wanted to try and do the right thing by not bad-mouthing the guy for his lousy service.  I’m sure he likes to pick up business from the guys in the league, and until I knew for sure that he wasn’t going to make good on his promises, it wouldn’t be right to bad-mouth him.
I need to put the best construction on the situation.  Which means not bad-mouthing him.  Even though I’d like to.  It means assuming that (since there’s no danger or lives at risk) he has done what he said he would, and ordered a replacement shaft from the same manufacturer as the original shaft.  I have to assume this, and keep telling myself this, even if I don’t really believe it.  I have to act like I do, and pray that I come to a peace about it.
Which is not what I would like to do in this situation, but I want to put the best construction on the situation.  
But why bother?  What if Luther’s wrong about his particular interpretation of the Eighth Commandment?  To try and sort this out, I have to be able to determine what sort of resolution should be hoped for in this situation, recognizing that different situations may warrant different answers to this question.  
Instinctively, I want to be right.  I want an apology.  I want him to prove to me somehow that this shaft isn’t a piece of junk.  Yet at the same time I have to acknowledge that it isn’t possible for him to do this.  My trust in him has been destroyed.  He could show me a receipt and it wouldn’t prove anything.  Unless there’s some sort of serial number on the shaft that corresponds to the receipt (which I really doubt there would be!), I’ll always have this doubt.  So what to do about it?  If I can’t be right, if I can’t be vindicated, what other options do I have?
I could remain self-righteous about the situation, which is what I want to do.  I could complain to everyone and anyone I met in the league and warn them against doing business with this guy, which is what I want to do.  But is that fair?  Maybe it was an honest mistake.  And maybe he really has done what he said he would do.  I have no real way to know for sure.  What if my complaining was really bearing false witness against him?   Hard to be self-righteous while violating one of the Ten Commandments.
The other alternative is to take Luther’s interpretation.  Assume the best.  Put the best construction on the situation.  It doesn’t mean I necessarily have to do business with the guy again, and I doubt I will.  But it does mean that I should refrain from bad-mouthing him to others.  I can provide honest feedback about his timeliness.  But I should also be able to say that he did eventually do what he said he would.  What this solution provides is the possibility of restored relationship.  The possibility of looking this guy in the eye some day down the road and not being mad or hurt or anything.  The possibility that I’ll be able to shake his hand and look him in the eye and say Good to see you again.  That seems like a pretty good goal.  
Certainly, if this were a life-or-death situation, I’d need to be a lot more careful about how to put the best construction on something.  You don’t allow someone to get away with something dangerous to themselves or others for the sake of best construction.  There are times when we need to err on the side of possibly bearing false witness, because the alternatives are far worse.  
But if I’m honest with myself, this is rarely the case.  In which case, I have to try and put the best construction on the situation.  Not because I want to (I don’t).  Not because he necessarily even deserves it.  But because as near as I can tell, it’s the right thing to do, and the best way to remain faithful to the Eighth Commandment.  
Applied theology is very often no fun at all!

I’m Not OK, and Turns Out, Neither Are You

April 13, 2013

At least this is what the professionals would have us believe.

I have no doubt that modern psychology and psychiatry offer some very beneficial tools for helping people.  But I also tend to think that these sciences have mushroomed.  What is normal, after all?  And if everyone is abnormal, what does this say about our concepts of normality?  
The upcoming release of the latest (5th) edition of the now-monumental Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – aka the Bible of psychiatry – indicates that pretty much everyone suffers from psychiatric disorders of one sort or another.  The previous edition determined that 50% of all Americans will suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric condition in their lifetime.  I imagine that the new edition will only increase that statistic.  Not that 50% of the population will actually get diagnosed, but they could. 
Sure is interesting for a variety of industries, such as the insurance industry, and the pharmaceutical industry, not to mention the psychiatric industry.  
So, while I pray and hope that y’all are doing OK, apparently you likely aren’t (whether you know it or not).  Because I’m certainly normal.  
Really.   

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

April 10, 2013

I’ve seen most of the Batman movies that have come out since the initial rekindling of interest in the character in the 1989 Batman movie.  I haven’t seen all of them, (and I’ve blogged on even fewer of them) and I don’t think I’ve missed a whole lot.  So watching The Dark Knight Rises is not any sort of religious experience for me.  I am curious with how the character has been portrayed on screen over the last 50 years or so, but that’s about it.

If this is intended to be the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s reboot, it’s visually impressive enough, but beyond even the broadest limits of the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to make any movie or book possible.  All of the various plottings and timings in this movie were very unrealistic and extreme.  They served as a distraction rather than adding any real sense of urgency.  If you find yourself asking constantly Really? that’s not a good thing.  
Batman comes out of retirement to face a mysterious villainous force who ultimately takes all of Gotham hostage under the ostensible and very superficial auspices of grass-roots populism.  Taking a city hostage by violence and threat and then attempting to pretend or convince the hostages that they themselves are the source and goal of this act is pretty far-fetched.  It evokes some of the imagery and rhetoric of the initial Occupy Wall Street efforts, but in doing so, demonstrates the faultiness of that movement’s methodology and direction.
There are lots of interpretations out there about the deeper meaning of this film.  Ultimately though, I chose to watch it for the entertainment value rather than do a lot of speculation on the deeper themes (which I agree are certainly there – I’m just too lazy at the moment to really chase them very far).  As entertainment goes, the film keeps your attention but constantly nags at you regarding the impossible-to-believe nature of things. There’s no back-story (or flashbacks) to really explain Catwoman or her origins.  The whole timing of Bruce Wayne’s destruction, rehabilitation, escape and return are just ridiculous and wholly unnecessary.  The idea that even a debilitated Bruce Wayne would ever allow himself to be casually robbed by a cat burglar seems silly all on its own.
The one thing that I found myself thinking after the movie is that nobody in the city must have guns.  Otherwise, the heavy-handed strategies of Bane & his hoodlums couldn’t have lasted very long.  Once the population showed that they were not going to be brutalized by these thugs, Bane would have had to drop the populist front he tried to create, and reverted simply to his role as hostage-taker or, more specifically, intended mass-murderer.  In light of the current debate over gun control, it seems rather telling that the population of Gotham has enacted some level of significant gun-control.  

Movie Review: Red Dog

April 8, 2013

Our kids have been talking non-stop about Red Dog since they watched it with their grandparents some time ago.  When we stumbled upon it at a RedBox kiosk while on vacation, I thought they were going to actually explode.  

The movie alleges to be based on a true legend (what exactly does this mean?).  A stray dog befriends an entire mining community on the outskirts of western Australia in the 1970’s.  
As a whole, the movie is light and humorous.  Koko the dog is an adept performer surrounded by a motley assortment of gruff but likable misfits.  Of course, there has to be a romance.  Frankly the movie would have been just as good without this element, and this element could have been handled without the sexual inferences.  Likewise, there are a few stray profanities that add nothing to the story whatsoever, other than moving it up to a PG rating that was probably deemed commercially-wiser than going for the family-friendlier rating of G that might have spelled economic disaster.  At least in it’s Australian release, the film appears to have been somewhat successful.
If your kids are old enough to deal with death and sadness, then this is overall a great family movie.  Nothing very deep here beyond themes of loyalty and not judging books by their covers.  The characters – while likable – are rather one-dimensional and predictable.  But the actors (and actress) do a decent job with what they’re given.  

Movie Reviews: The Hobbit

April 7, 2013

Was finally able to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey today.  As a big fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, I had high expectations for this film, despite being already irritated that it was being treated as a three-part movie instead of a two-part film.  

I have to say I was pretty disappointed.
While the film remains visually impressive in some respects (particularly the opening scenes in Bilbo’s home), it seems clear that Peter Jackson is striving to make this story more than it really is.  As such, there is a lot of additional material and story added to fill out the film.  Unfortunately, this severely alters the flavor of the story, making it quite a bit darker than the book.
Examples include the creation of a running grudge match against Thorin and a new character called the Pale Orc.  Instead of having the somewhat random series of adventures and misadventures that Tolkien’s book calls forth, we have a much larger, darker, even interrelated series of events that seeks to make this more of an epic and less of a spunky little story.  
Martin Freeman is a very fitting Bilbo, and doesn’t push the limits of credulity in his performance.  Ian McKellen remains convincing as Gandalf, though he does look older than he does in TLOTR, which is problematic since these events are taking place 60 years earlier.  Richard Armitage makes for an impressive Thorin, perhaps more impressive than the book warrants.
So, not happy with this first installment.  I can already see where some of these superfluous narrative threads are going to lead by the final installment.  It isn’t that it’s bad, per se, but rather unnecessary.  If you haven’t read the book, you won’t find any of the movie really problematic.  But you also won’t know that the movie is a much darker creation than the book, with a more pervasive sense of foreboding than the book engenders.  
Read the book.  Read it to your kids – it’s great for that!  The movie?  Well, that’s going to need to be more of a judgment call based on the age of your kids and what they can handle visually. 

Thought for the Day

April 7, 2013

The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls – the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.


~ Henry David Thoreau ~
I’m on another literature jag, a bit of a break before moving into some overdue theological reading.  I finished W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.  It’s been on my to-read list for roughly 30 years.  When I stumbled across a copy (that had originally belonged to my maternal grandfather) in our library, I decided to have a go at it.  The book looked small enough, but the pages were wafer-thin (mind the link, it’s not for the faint of heart), the print was small, and it was over 700 pages of turn-of-the-century drama.  
It was interesting to read once I got into it.  A study of coming of age, overcoming adversity, dealing with the dreams and fantasies of youth, and probably a lot of other things I can’t think of at the moment.  The protagonist is painfully self-centered, as is most everyone else in the book.  He also moves from being a Christian to an atheist, and I suppose these two features make it a thoroughly modern story.  
Now I’m moving through a short compendium of thoughts from Henry David Thoreau.  I’m not much of a fan of the transcendentalists any more (though they were appropriately attractive when I was a high-schooler).  But here and there are some interesting tidbits, as above.

Reading Ramblings: April 14, 2013

April 6, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: April 14, 2013,
Third Sunday of Easter

Texts:
Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 30; Revelation 51-7)8-14; John 21:1-14(15-19)

Contextual
Notes:
Easter is not just a day, but a liturgical
season, just as Christmas is. The season of Easter lasts 50 days,
until Pentecost Sunday. The Old Testament readings for this season
are replaced with readings from Acts, representing the newness of
God’s work through the Church. The Gospel readings emphasize the
appearances of Jesus following his resurrection.

Acts 9:1-22: Stephen has
just been stoned to death, and the young man Saul that we were
introduced to in passing at the end of chapter 8 now becomes the
focal point of Luke’s narrative. What a transformation we see in
Saul! What an amazing turnabout from persecutor of the Church to the
man who will be its greatest advocate! The resurrected Jesus Christ
is already demonstrating the power He has won over all things and all
persons, so that not even the most passionately committed enemy of
the Gospel is safe from the transforming power of the resurrected
Savior.

The readings today have a common theme
of transformation and rescue. Here we see a most dramatic example of
how the resurrected Jesus Christ can change people. Throughout the
rest of the New Testament, this transformed Saul will preach
powerfully, proclaiming the truth of Jesus as Messiah and ultimately
offering his life for his faith. If you think that you – or
someone else – is beyond the power of God to change, if you feel
that prayer is pointless, remember Saul and the road to Damascus.

Psalm 30: A psalm of
praise acknowledging and worshiping God for transforming the
speaker’s situation, leading them from hopelessness to joy, from
defeat to victory. This transformation is complete, and all that
remains is to give thanks and to encourage others to give thanks for
what God has done for them.

Revelation 51-7)8-14:
John has heard the seven letters to the seven churches and
described the glory of the throne of God, but now attention shifts in
the royal court of God. Who will open the scroll with seven seals?
Who is worthy to open this document? Only the lamb that was slain,
the sacrificial lamb, the Son of God who through his blood has
purchased back all of creation. The glory offered to this lamb makes
it clear that the lamb is co-equal with God the Father who sits on
the throne. Indeed, the lamb appears ‘in the center of the throne’,
and is further embellished by the Holy Spirit of God, manifest as the
seven horns and seven eyes. This is a Trinitarian moment in
Revelation, where the equal glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is
worshiped and glorified in full. While Easter emphasizes the role of
God the Son, we remember that the actions of God the Son in his
incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension all happen
within the context of obedience to God the Father and empowerment by
God the Holy Spirit.

John 21:1-14(15-19):
What a beautiful and honest story! Are the disciples bravely going
out to confront the world, confident of their message of the
resurrected Christ? No. Peter, having already seen the resurrected
Lord, has no idea what to do next. He has received the Holy Spirit
and the authority to retain or forgive sins, but his next best idea
is to go back to what he was doing before he ever met Jesus –
fishing!

How
often are we like this, reverting back to our habits and comfort
zones even after we have experienced the clear presence of our Lord
and Savior? Yet Jesus does not rebuke Peter and the others for this.
Instead, he lovingly offers Peter the chance for full
reconciliation. Peter may have seen the risen Christ with the other
disciples in the upper room, but he evidently doubted whether or not
Jesus could still love him after he betrayed him three times.
Peter’s fervor for his Lord is tempered perhaps by a nagging fear
that his Lord and friend can’t or won’t forgive him for his weakness.

But as Peter denied Christ three times, he is offered the opportunity
to affirm his love for Christ three times. We see what forgiveness
looks like in Christ – the past is erased, and we are freed to
serve our Lord with glad hearts and clear consciences. Once again,
we are assured that forgiveness is real, and that the power of the
risen Jesus Christ is strong enough to change any person, heal any
wound, and empower people for service to one another. The Peter who
once rejected his Lord out of fear will face not just the Sanhedrin
but the Emperor of Rome with a resoluteness of purpose that is
shocking! This is the power of the resurrection!

Reading Ramblings: April 7, 2013

April 5, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: April 7, 2013,
Second Sunday of Easter

Texts:
Acts 5:12-20(21-32); Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

Contextual
Notes:
Easter is not just a day, but a liturgical
season, just as Christmas is. The season of Easter lasts 50 days,
until Pentecost Sunday. The Old Testament readings for this season
are replaced with readings from Acts, representing the newness of
God’s work through the Church. The Gospel readings emphasize the
appearances of Jesus following his resurrection.

Acts 5:12-20(21-32): The
readings from Acts for the season of Easter are not chronological.
The intent is not to maintain an accurate time line, but rather to
show the development and continuation of the Church after the
resurrection, even though these passages are related to
post-Pentecost events. This passage captures the excitement of the
followers of Jesus after his resurrection, the fascination of the
people as well as their fear, and attempts to keep the disciples from
preaching in the name of Jesus. We see disciples who had been
huddled in fear a few weeks earlier of arrest, not only not fearing
arrest, but willing to disobey direct commands of the Sanhedrin in
order to remain faithful to the Gospel. These men clearly had
something major happen in their lives! The rabbi they had watched
die on a cross had appeared to them again – alive! What could the
world possibly do to keep them quiet, now that they had received
assurances of eternal life?

Psalm 148: I’m not
positive, but I think this is a psalm of praise. I can’t add much to
that!

Revelation 1:4-18:
John experiences this vision and writes it down somewhere around
90-95 AD. He is the last living disciple, and the only one not
martyred for the faith. He has not been unscathed, however – he
has been exiled to the island of Patmos. But you can’t tell from
this passage any waning of fervor and excitement over his Lord and
Savior, can you?

This is not an apostolic letter but rather a divine vision, a
prophetic work. John defines clearly who he is writing on behalf of
– God the Father & Holy Spirit (represented by the seven
spirits) (v.4), and God the Son (v.5). It is this Son who is the
firstborn from the dead, meaning first to be resurrected to new life,
and therefore due the honor of King of kings. It is this Son of God
who loves us and has freed us by his sacrificial death, providing us
with new identities in him, and for which He is due all glory and
honor. Verse 7 quotes from Zechariah, and reminds us that Jesus has
not simply come and gone, He is coming again.

John then describes his encounter with the resurrected and glorified
Jesus (vs.12-18). John is commissioned to tell what he sees by no
less than the Son of God in his glorified incarnate body. This
figure would be truly terrifying had not John just testified to his
great love for us, and reinforced by how the Son of God speaks to
John as he prostrates himself, no doubt terrified.

John 20:19-31:
It is traditional for this to be the first Gospel reading after
Easter Sunday. The story of doubting Thomas resonates with us still
today as we come to grips with the challenge of a resurrected man.

The
disciples had good reason to fear – if the Pharisees could
orchestrate the arrest and execution of a fairly high-profile person
like Jesus, with crowds waiting to hear his every word, it would be
no problem at all to get rid of the much-lesser known disciples.
Jesus demonstrates one aspect of his post-resurrection body –
physical barriers are no match for him. Did he simply appear in the
room? Did He walk through the door? Did He cause the lock to unlock
so He could open the door conventionally? We’d love to know more
details, but clearly Luke doesn’t think this too important. What
would keep out a normal human being could not keep out the
resurrected Son of God.

No doubt anticipating their shock, Jesus greets them in a friendly
manner, and quickly demonstrates his identity by allowing them to
examine the marks of his recent crucifixion. This is truly Jesus,
and not an imposter or a ghost. He has a physicality that his
followers recognize and can feel as well as see.

The giving of the Holy Spirit here seems to be a foreshadowing of the
full outpouring of the Holy Spirit to come on Pentecost. Jesus
clarifies that the power of the Holy Spirit is real, not simply for
healings and other miraculous events, but as testimony to the state
of a person as forgiven or not forgiven. The Lutheran Church
maintains that this remains an important function of the congregation
through the Called Pastor. Those who refuse to repent of persistent
and public sin in their lives face the Church’s declaration that
their sins are not forgiven. It is not the nature of the sin that
results in forgiveness being withheld, but rather the attitude of the
person. Those who do not acknowledge their words or actions as
sinful – as defined by Scripture – stand outside the grace of God
by their refusal to acknowledge their sinfulness. While the
exercising of this authority can be a very traumatic and even
divisive one in a congregation, it is important. A congregation and
pastor that refuses to discipline communicant members who refuse to
live in accordance with the revealed will of God risk not only the
salvation of the unrepentant individual, but the salvation of those
who, seeing how some are not called to account for their sins, might
begin to consider their own sins of no cause for concern.

The account with Thomas demonstrates that forgiveness and acceptance
back into the body of Christ is always the goal. It is the goal of
Jesus himself, the goal of the Holy Spirit that dwells in each
Christian, and the goal of the body of Christ the Church. Discipline
and counsel are always directed towards this end in Christian love
and humility. As quickly as Jesus welcomes Thomas’ confession of
faith, so the Church ought to just as quickly accept the repentance
of any member, and not hold former things against them.