April 21, 2014

This Jesus God Raised Up

By Katherine Willis Pershey |
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Katherine Willis Pershey
The Upper Room Disciplines is a best-selling book of daily devotions published annually by Upper Room Books. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the first reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.
 

 

 

Read Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Peter speaks these fiery words on Pentecost Day, but the theme of his address is pure Easter. The message Peter and his fellow apostles have for the Israelites (and, in good time, all the world) is extraordinary. Jesus died a horrible death, but God
raised him up.

While Jesus’ crucifixion took place in public, thereby becoming an all-but-indisputable fact, the resurrection of the Messiah is a different matter. On this topic we settle for the testimony of witnesses. To believe the Easter story we must first determine if we believe Peter. We know well Peter’s less-than-stellar record as a follower of Jesus. We not only remember Peter’s density and desertion; we cringe at the way he incriminates the Israelites. You crucified and killed him, Peter taunts; his accusation reverberates throughout history, leaving a shameful wake.

Why should we believe this imperfect apostle? Is his biblical interpretation pointing to the incorruptibility of Jesus’ flesh persuasive? Is his confident delivery convincing? Can we perceive the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his words?

In all honesty, I can come up with no good reason to believe Peter—at least no reason that relates to Peter himself—or any of the other eleven witnesses with whom he stands that Pentecost Day. The person bearing witness of the good news may be a reformed scoundrel or a sinful saint, a relapsed drunkard or a child with a reputation for crying wolf. I believe Peter’s testimony because what he says about Jesus is profoundly true in my own experience and that of others through the millennia.

Jesus, the holy man from Nazareth, the one through whom God did deeds of power, wonder, and signs, could not be held in death’s grip—and because of this, neither can we.

God of Easter, we hear the good news with glad hearts; make us witnesses with Peter. Amen.

 

Katherine Willis Pershey is the associate minister of the First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Katherine was one of the founding editorial board members of Fidelia’s Sisters, a publication of The Young Clergy Women Project. In addition to maintaining a personal blog, she has contributed to publications such as the Christian Century, A Deeper Family, Comment, Gifted for Leadership, and the Englewood Review of Books. She is the author of a memoir, Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family (Chalice Press, 2012). Katherine and her husband, Benjamin, have two daughters. She can be found online at www.katherinewillispershey.com.

 
April 17, 2014

Weeping with Those Who Weep

By Trevor Hudson |
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Trevor Hudson_author_pastor_speaker

The encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene [recorded in John 20:11-18] reminds us to take seriously one crucial New Testament ministry — the ministry of weeping with those who weep. This is important. We can become so absorbed in our own pain and the stories behind it that we do not see the tears of those around us.

We forget that the risen Christ, who meets us in our tears, calls us to embody his presence in a deeply wounded world. He calls us always to follow him to those places where people are struggling and in need and to share in his ministry of wiping away their tears. One way to accomplish this task is to weep with those who weep.

How, you may be wondering, can we do this? The answer is simple but not easy to implement. We begin by learning from Jesus. What would Jesus do if he were in our place?

We watch him take the initiative and reach out to Mary in her tears. We listen as he asks her to put her weeping into words. We observe as he listens without judgment or condemnation to the story she shares. Then, in dependence on his Spirit, we learn how to follow in his footsteps as we meet and interact with those who suffer in our midst: how to take the first step in getting closer to others in their pain, how to ask those questions that will help them to discover the voice of their tears, how to listen with respectful attention and interest to what they say. As we go about learning these ways of weeping with those who weep, we participate in the resurrection practice of wiping away the tears of others.

I witnessed this type of resurrection practice a few weeks ago. I was preaching in a church in Cape Town and noticed a man crying. After the service I saw one of the local leaders, an internationally recognized author and theologian, go across the sanctuary and speak to the weeping man. I joined the rest of the congregation in another room for refreshments. When I returned to the sanctuary about an hour later to fetch my Bible and sermon notes, the two men were still sitting together, the one listening intently and the other speaking. From a distance I could see that the first man had stopped crying.

Later that day I had lunch with the leader and his family. I asked him about his encounter after the church service.

“What happened between you and that crying man?”

“I saw him sitting there weeping; so I went across, sat with him, and asked if he wanted to speak about it,” he answered.

“Where did it go from there?”

“His story just poured out. In all my years of ministry and listening to people, I have seldom come across a story of such intense pain and misery.”

“Were you able to be helpful?”

“There was nothing practical I could do,” he responded. “But the one thing I asked was whether we could meet again for him to tell me more of his story.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“I don’t know for sure. But I’m convinced that new life will come when he has been able to tell his story fully to someone who will listen.”

This leader was sharing in the ministry of weeping with those who weep. Do you see how similar his actions were to the way in which Jesus reached out to Mary Magdalene in her tears?

First of all, the leader was aware enough to look beyond himself. He was not preoccupied with his own needs or with his own group of friends.

Second, he took the initiative and approached the person in need.

Next, he asked him to share his story of struggle and listened to it. He didn’t provide pat answers or offer the person easy solutions. Rather, he gave this desperate person room to speak freely and openly about his pain.

And lastly, he assured the man of his ongoing care and concern. Four simple steps, but steps that made it possible for this caring leader to become a wailing wall for someone who needed one.

Ideally, this process demonstrates what the church needs to be like — a community where we can come together, tell our stories, share our pain, and find hope again.

This article is an excerpt from pages 33-37 of Hope Beyond Your Tears: Experiencing Christ’s Healing Love by Trevor Hudson. Copyright © 2012 by Trevor Hudson. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.
 
Trevor Hudson is part of the pastoral team at Northfield Methodist Church in Benoni, South Africa. He travels widely and leads conferences, workshops, and retreats in a variety of settings.
 
April 14, 2014

Voices of Holy Week: Mary of Bethany

By Michael E. Williams |
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Art courtesy of Thinkstock
The Upper Room Disciplines is a best-selling book of daily devotions published annually by Upper Room Books. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the first reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

 

 

Read John 12:1-11.

Mary speaks:

When Jesus spoke I would hang on every word. Why wouldn’t I? After all, he had called my brother, Lazarus, back from death. He wept from his own grief or perhaps because he shared ours. He was that kind of friend.

Judas was jealous of my close friendship with Jesus. He never made a secret of that. In fact, all of his disciples were jealous of the love he showed toward my sister, my brother, and me at times, but Judas took no pains to hide his envy. I think they recognized that while they were simply his disciples, I was his friend. I learned as much, if not more, from his friendship as I did from his stories and teachings.

For someone who never sought to lord his presence over others, Jesus was an imposing figure. When he came into a room, all eyes went to him. When he spoke, all other voices fell into silence. This made some people, especially very powerful people, afraid of him. I never once feared him; but others did, and that made me fear for him. There were those who sought to end his life, silence his words. He spoke often of his death as if it were a tragic but certain ending, a sure thing. While I had no power to call him back to life, I could at least prepare him for the worst. Martha and I had prepared our brother’s body for burial.

At the sound of Jesus calling his name, our mourning turned into dancing as Lazarus limped from the tomb—his death clothes still carrying the fragrance of nard. My one remembrance from that time is that I poured my only treasure, my precious nard, over Jesus’ feet. Love as extravagant as his calls forth a similar extravagance from us. Don’t you think?

Loving God, teach us to reflect the extravagance of your love in our lives. Amen.

Michael Williams is senior pastor at West End United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of numerous articles, stories, poems, plays, and books and served as General Editor of The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible series from Abingdon Press. Michael has been a featured storyteller at the National Storytelling Festival and has taught at the National Institutes of Storytelling. Michael is married to Margaret, and they have two adult daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth.
 
Photo illustration courtesy of Thinkstock.
 
April 10, 2014

Accepting Weakness

By Sarah Parsons |
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Sarah Parsons author of A Clearing Season

Our culture values strength, and we define strength in traditional American fashion: the rugged individual steps out into the frontier, battles the elements and animals, and manages to wrest prosperity from a barren land. It is an amazing story, and self-sufficiency is an important form of strength.

However, in focusing so much on self-sufficiency and sheer might as strength, we miss chances to honor more subtle, yet equally powerful, forms of strength. Strength in a Christian context can mean something entirely different; in fact, God’s strength turns our culture’s notion on its head: paradoxically, divine strength is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What does this mean? How does weakness exemplify strength perfected?

The capacity to express vulnerability is a great human strength. We sometimes wish our vulnerabilities would disappear so we wouldn’t have to worry about hiding them. Without these pesky vulnerabilities, we could convince the world that we have it all together, that we have no unsatisfied needs, that we can care constantly for others and never need care ourselves.

It is hard to let people see our vulnerable parts — our fears and insecurities, our sadness and shame. To express vulnerability requires courage. Only in exercising this courage, in bravely showing our “weakness” to another, do we achieve a form of real power — the power to ask for help when needed.

Over the last few years, I have changed apartments several times and always find moving an ordeal. Before I viewed vulnerability as a strength, I didn’t ask for help with moving. I moved a lot of boxes myself or asked one or two people — usually my parents — to help me. Consequently, moves that could have taken a few hours took several days or a week. As I have learned more respect for my vulnerability — my natural human limitations — I’ve discovered a greater power to take care of myself. Admitting that I can’t move an entire apartment alone feels at first like an admission of weakness; but admitting it, I gain strength — the power to reach out for help and receive it.

Human beings need care, especially during childhood when our lives depend on it. But we also need it as adults. No one, not even the most rugged individual, is entirely self-sufficient. Christ’s Good Shepherd image speaks directly to our need for care: here is the One who knows that we need care and seeks us out and provides for us.

By admitting our weakness, we take the first step toward embracing our true power, no matter how shameful we consider our weakness. Accepting our vulnerability is yet another way in which our hearts break for God. We break away the mask of false self-sufficiency and admit that we depend upon one another, that we depend upon God, that we are limited and human — weak by nature and strong by our ability to connect with others and ask for what we need.

Reflect on these questions:

  • What are your favorite defenses? How have they protected you over the course of your life?
  • How have your defenses created barriers between you and God or between you and others? How would you like them to serve you differently in the future?
This article is excerpted from pages 38-40 of A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent by Sarah Parsons. Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Parsons. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.
 
Sarah Parsons is a therapist in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a bachelor of arts in religious studies from Yale University, a master of divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a master of science of social work from the University of Tennessee.
 
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