April Fools' Day
I remember, as a youngster, finding great glee in April Fools’ Day. Who doesn’t want to pull one over on their parents, and when everyone is scrambling around getting ready for work and school, what’s a more perfect time? After all, the success of April Fools’ Day pranks depends upon people not having time to really think about things, and especially upon one not realizing it is April 1st.
So, things like, “I can’t find my homework,” and “I need twenty dollars for the field trip,” and “you are supposed to meet with my teacher today at 10:00,” can all be disconcerting to a parent who is fixing breakfast or trying to get ready for work. Then, wait for it, “April Fools’.”
Of course, the flip side of that for me was to pay such careful attention at school that classmates wouldn’t be able to fool me. As I recall, the crafty ones still got me, and I may have gotten a few of the ones who were less crafty than even I was.
Nowadays though, most things seem so serious, and life is so stressful, that I don’t really plan any pranks. I mean, we could have had people show up at 10:00 and said to them, “What breakfast?” or had them come at 10:45 only to find a note on the door proclaiming, “April Fools’.” But those would have been counter-productive to being the church, to being a church family, and so they wouldn’t have served any good purpose.
I have begun with this “foolish” part of today, because that is, in essence, what the Romans tried to do in referring to the followers of Jesus. The Romans killed Jesus, and were secure in calling his followers a bunch of fools. Of course, come that morning on the first day of the week, very early on that day, it became obvious that something was going on, something beyond what the Romans had believed could have ever happened. Either someone had stolen Jesus’ body, or, don’t say it, it’s too outrageous, he actually rose like he said he would.
Interestingly, that first one, that Jesus’ body had not necessarily been stolen but had at least been removed, was one of the options Mary Magdalene considered. When she is met with the questions, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”, she supposes the person asking is the gardener, and says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Now I don’t suggest that Jesus himself pulled off a really good April Fools’ Day joke, but his presence there, in the early morning mist, when only the gardener would have been expected to be roaming about, works just like one. But instead of revealing some kind of trick, Jesus reveals himself, simply by calling Mary by name.
With that, Mary recognizes the risen Jesus, and after a few moments together, returns to tell the good news to the disciples - “I have seen the Lord!”
Now Peter and John had run to the tomb when Mary first told them that someone had taken the body out of the tomb, while the rest of the disciples waited to hear their eyewitness account, which was of finding only the strips of linen and the burial cloth, but no Jesus. And now, Mary comes to them with something else entirely, saying that she has seen more, has actually seen Jesus alive.
Now if it had been me, after hearing the news from the first two, I think I would have asked Mary to take me to Jesus, so that I could see for myself. After all, we have moved from the first option, that someone had stolen or removed the body, to the second, more outrageous, option, that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.
Then, that night, Jesus comes and stands among the disciples, and gives to them his peace. Jesus, who had died – Jesus, who had been buried – Jesus, who was sealed inside the tomb – Jesus, whose body was nowhere to be found – Jesus, whom Mary claimed had come to her in the early morning mist – Jesus, appeared to them as well.
They now knew that this was no joke, no attempt to fool them. Here he was, standing in their midst. Jesus, risen from the dead.
Now, truth be told, that is still a rather outrageous claim to make. Not for you and me perhaps. After all, we are here. But even being here, don’t we too want to hear the story once again? Don’t we too want to be told the good news once again? Don’t we want to know for sure that it is true, that Jesus Christ is risen? Common sense, after all, tells us that this can’t possibly be true. This just couldn’t happen.
Now, we can understand new life. We can understand, and indeed witness, a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. We see buds on trees, and flowers blooming. We understand new life emerging. We see bulbs in the ground that appear to be dead, but from whom leaves and flowers emerge. We can understand new life. But new human life? That just can’t happen, right? How does that work?
It does defy so much of our human experience, thereby asking us to take a step in faith. The Romans weren’t able to take that step. They believed, knew, that Jesus’ followers were fools for believing this nonsense. And indeed, there are still those who consider Christians to be fools for believing that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. But we are a blessed people. We are part of the family where Jesus reigns as Christ, our Messiah. We in our faith know, without a doubt, that that incredible event, almost too good to be true, was indeed true. It was no trick. It was, and is, real.
We have believed in the power of God, bringing forth the new life Jesus experienced, coming to us as the best news ever. And I know it is true, because I have experienced the power of Christ in my own life.
And let those who won’t take that step in faith call me a fool. I would rather other people consider me as such, than for God to say to me later, “I gave you this gift, and yet you considered it mere foolishness.”
Yes, we are a blessed people. We have stepped closer to our God, accepting the greatest gift of all eternity, His Son, and we can truly believe that Jesus Christ has risen. For He has risen indeed.
(Posted by Rev. David McAllister on April 2, 2018)
What would you do with $50?
Most of you have probably heard this parable, the parable of the talents, at least a couple of times. When Jesus told it of course, as with his other stories and parables, he wasn’t just telling a story, but he was inviting people into the story. He was always inviting the hearers to imagine their place in the story.
Now, we could see ourselves as the harsh, demanding landowner, to start. If you crave power, that may be your choice. Or, if you want to seem as much like God as anyone in the parable, then the landowner would be your choice as well.
But I think what Jesus really wants us to think about is the three individuals to whom the money is entrusted. The first two, of course, double the money given to them. That’s a pretty good return in just about any setting. I know I would be happy with that.
After all, if you are making one percent on any savings account that you have, then you are doing better than just about anyone else. If you are making six to seven percent in the stock market, then you are doing well there too.
Now I admit that Jesus in the story says that the landowner came back “after a long time” away, and so profits may have compounded for those two people, but still, a one hundred percent return is very impressive indeed.
And, since they have shown themselves to be responsible with what they were given, which in today’s financial valuations equals about $5000 for the first man and $2000 for the second man, then they are given responsibility for more of their master’s affairs.
Then…then we come to the third guy. He was afraid of the landowner, afraid of his boss. Now before we start to get down on him too hard, have any of you ever been afraid of your boss, afraid that you could lose your job that you need so much? Have you ever been afraid of making mistakes and getting fired because of them?
Maybe not. Oh, but maybe so.
In any case, the third man is afraid. He knows his master’s reputation. So, he hides the money under his mattress. Maybe he just didn’t trust banks. After all, there was no FDIC insurance back then. But for whatever reason, he hides the money so that he can return it to the master intact, not one penny missing, well, not one drachma that is. And the master blows up at him. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the master takes the money, and gives it to the man who started with five and ended up with ten. Now do you hear that? He gives it to the one who has ten. That implies that each kept the money they ended up with. So, not only does the third guy lose face and gets fired, but he has the original money taken away from him, where he could have ended up with that one talent plus a little interest.
So, where do you see yourself in the story? I would expect that many of you would say you are the first person, who was dancing all the way to the bank. But maybe you see yourself as the second person, still having a job, but not in the financial department, or even the third person, walking out the back door with head hanging low, trying to not see any of your friends.
A teacher once asked a class of students, at the end of the school term, what they each thought they deserved in his class. The students came forward one by one and gave the grade they thought they deserved to the teacher. Then, when the grades were posted, each student got exactly what they said they believed they deserved.
Now, if you were honest and really thought you deserved a “B,” then you got that, and should have been satisfied. But if you were clever and thought, “If this guy is going to ask, well then I’m going to say I deserve an ‘A’ even if I don’t, because perhaps I will be rewarded for my resourceful thinking.” After all, the worst that could happen in such a situation would be that the teacher would say, “You have got to be kidding, you delusional student, you’re getting a “C” and lucky to be getting that.” But other than that reprimand, what did the student lose?
Getting back to the parable, what would you lose by going ahead and saying that you see yourself as the first person in the parable?
Now I would still say that honesty is the best policy, but creativity and cleverness have their place in life as well. And I am going to give you an opportunity now to be creative, and perhaps even clever.
I wish I had the funds to do this in reality instead of in the hypothetical, but in your imagination I am going to give each of you $50 now, and you think about what you would do with it, because I expect you to do something with it and bring the results to me at the end of four weeks. Think about it. What would you do with that $50 in order to bring the returns back in a month?
Are you the first person in the story; the second person; the third person?
And let’s make this even better, let’s say that God, and not me, has entrusted you with money, with the $50. What would you do? For God, you know, has entrusted you with more than you realize.
It is interesting, of course, that in the reading in most translations, it is “talents” that are given by the master to the three persons. A talent would be worth, as I said earlier, about $1000 in our day. But it wasn’t lost on the youth that the word can also be used to speak of our skills, of things we are good at, of gifts that God has given us.
So, what God-given talents will you use in order to bring a return from the $50 that has been entrusted to you?
(Posted by Rev. David McAllister on May 9, 2016)
Forgiveness is such an interesting, and at times evasive, quality. We read about it repeatedly in the Bible. We pray about it often, in word and song: such as, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” - words, which I think at times hold great meaning for us, and at times stand in danger of becoming only words which we speak from memory and even in boredom.
Forgiveness. It’s hard to argue with it much. We long to feel God’s forgiveness ourselves. We want it. And, we hear Jesus’ commands to forgive one another.
There are really only two things that trip us up with forgiveness. The first one is, “Who can you not forgive? Who has done something, which is for you, unforgivable?” And the second issue with forgiveness is how many times we are supposed to do it. Peter asked that question of Jesus way back then. We still ask it. Even when we know the answer that Jesus gave Peter, which essentially was that the number of times is endless, we ask sometimes hoping that Jesus might give us a lesser number to achieve.
If Jesus ever had any reservations about the limits of forgiveness, he set them aside when, on the cross, he spoke words that echoed in people’s ears and hearts: “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Forgive them, because they have no idea about the consequences of their actions.
How often do we do things and then say, “Oh, I’m sorry, forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” We too do things without thinking. We too say and do things without having an idea as to their impact on others.
Among those for whom Jesus intended forgiveness in those powerful words he spoke, was one who denied even knowing Jesus, and who did so three times.
Peter was scared. He was afraid for his own life. He was looking out for his own skin. And in some sense, he didn’t fully know what he was doing.
Jesus had told him, of course, that Peter would deny knowing him, three times before the cock crowed, three times before morning. Peter wouldn’t believe it, until of course he heard the cock crow and realized that Jesus’ horrible prediction had come true.
But with Jesus, forgiveness came naturally. Remember back earlier in his travels with the disciples, when the woman caught in adultery was brought before him? He didn’t negate the fact that she had sinned. Nor did he preach a sermon about sin and forgiveness. He simply invited the one who was there, who was without sin, to begin her punishment by casting the first stone at her. No one could do it. They all knew they had sinned in some way or other. Jesus didn’t condemn her either; he forgave her. Then he told her to go on her way, and to not sin again.
When we are forgiven, when someone graciously says, or God says, “I forgive you, because I truly believe that you did not know what you were doing,” then we are given a second chance.
And when we are forgiven, then what? We know, of course. We are to go about changing our lives.
Jesus told the woman whose life was spared to go and not sin again. Go and do things differently. Go and live differently. Go and be different.
And when we are forgiven, when we are given a second chance, then we too are to accept the gift and to go and be different. For truly, when we fully receive that forgiveness, when it touches the depths of our hearts, then we can hardly help but set out to be a changed person.
(Posted by Rev. David McAllister on April 5, 2016)