#FOMO and Resurrection Sightings

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on April 8, 2018 (Year B Easter 2) the Gospel reading was John 20:19-31.

Have you ever heard of the word FOMO? It’s an acronym to describe one of the most prevalent anxieties in our society today. It means the fear of missing out. We now have unprecedented access to one another’s lives—at the touch of a button, I can scroll through a tidal wave of information about what my friends, family, and colleagues are doing right now.

But, that makes me ask myself… what am I doing right now? Am I on a trip? Out to brunch? Am I living my best self? Am I at that party, or concert? Am I missing out?

A January CBC article on the fear of missing out pointed to a pair of studies from UBC which “examined the mental health effects that FOMO can have.” The first survey showed that 48% of survey respondents felt that their friends had more friends—more social connection—than they did. The second survey linked these sentiments to “a lower sense of belonging and overall well being.” The research shows that we’re now spending more time, and more money, on trying to combat this anxiety—with trips, meals and experiences. We’re trying to combat that sense of “lack”.

It’s an emptiness that tells us our worst fears—that we’re not as special, or popular, or wanted, or loved, or smart, or capable, as everyone else.

***

Now, when I was preparing for this Sunday I laughed aloud while reading the gospel text because I could not stop imagining Thomas, sitting in his dusty robes and sandals, at a computer. I imagined him scrolling through selfies that the other disciples had posted of themselves and the risen Christ. They had big smiles on their faces as they celebrated together. And then, there was poor, poor Thomas—at home alone.

Of course, that’s not how it happened in John’s story. Instead, Jesus’ closest friends were gathered at a house following his death. And, I say his closest friends, because earlier in the story we hear of how many of Jesus’ followers deserted him. But, these Twelve (or eleven in this case) stayed faithful. So, his closest friends were gathered together, and they were filled with uncertainty and anxiety. And, a question hung in the air: What now?

What do you do with yourself when the revolution fails? When the king who road into the city with a parade the other week, is dead and buried this week? Rome hasn’t fallen.We are changed, but how do we return to how things were before?

So, they gather together—unsure and terrified of the Temple officials.

Then, suddenly, Jesus is there with them. They recognize him. They recognize his tortured body. They see, but don’t touch—this is a very important piece for John’s gospel—they don’t touch but they see his scars. And… it’s him.

So, they celebrate! Their friend isn’t dead, the revolution isn’t over, Rome and even death, can’t defeat him!

Jesus then gives them an important gift—a calling. He tells them the game plan, he gives them a mission and authority to carry it out. Their reward for their faithfulness is to receive his same spirit. …wow!

But, who isn’t there? Who doesn’t get to see, to celebrate, to receive?

Thomas.

Thomas isn’t there. Maybe he’s working, or picking up groceries, or visiting other followers somewhere else. In any case, he’s not there.

Instead, Thomas gets the leftovers—second-hand accounts from everyone else. And what is his response? I need to see too… I want to get what you got… I want closure… I want to see my beloved friend and teacher too!

Can we blame him? Should we really call him names, like “Doubting Thomas”? Is that fair? Would we have felt differently?

***

Jesus hears Thomas and comes back for him. When they’ve gathered in the room again, Jesus appears and offers for Thomas to see and touch his scars—so that he too will believe. Now, of course, Thomas doesn’t actually touch Jesus, instead, he recognizes him immediately and cries, “My Lord and my God!”

 

The resurrection, in John, is relational: Jesus appears first to Mary, then to the disciples, and then Thomas. This resurrection story is not possible without witnesses who knew Jesus, who recognized him. So too, God’s promises, in John, are relational—it is through Christ that we come to the Father. By seeing, hearing, and knowing Christ we come to know God and are transformed.

It is also relational, in the sense that Jesus comes to meet people where they are—waiting at the tomb, huddled together, or feeling totally alone in a room of friends.

***

Returning to our story, we then see Jesus address the reader, as he asks Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If this was a movie, this would be the part where Jesus swivels and looks directly at the camera.

This text is our ‘Thomas moment’, a way of having the risen Christ in front of us—to see and hear, but not touch.

The author of John and the other gospel writers have made available the risen Christ to us in their works. So that we don’t miss out so that we can know him—his life, his message, his death, and his transforming power.

This theme of transformation is integral to the Christian message. These people we’re reading about were transformed by their relationship with Jesus; and, so too are we.

Jesus offers us the Easter promise of new life—new life made available through relationship with him. We are offered the same new life as the Samaritan Woman at the Well, of Mary Magdalene, and of Thomas. This offer is particular, to our circumstances and our pain.

He may call us out of shame, out of oblivion, or out of rejection, but it is always into new life. Paul tells us that we die and are raised with Christ, and so we find ourselves part of this Easter story, resurrected and liberated from death—transformed through faith and made alive again.

What a great mystery to be part of. My prayer is that, over this Easter season, with the budding trees and other early signs of spring, you will reflect on your own resurrection story, of how God has called you into goodness and life abundant.

Amen.

 

Advertisements

A theology of ‘chosen family’ liberates us from toxic relationships

Written by Selina Mullin, a version of this article first appeared on Unfundamentalist.com on April 2, 2018

Does Jesus call us to forgive, accept, and maintain toxic relationships with family? Does Jesus want us to honour abusive parents?

For too long the church has preached a message that calls victims of abuse, both physical and emotional, to keep open painful and dangerous family connections for the sake of “Christian family values.” This kind of thinking always infuriated me, and I asked myself, is this how Jesus wanted us to live our lives? But, after turning to the Gospel of Mark, my answer to that question is now an emphatic hell no!

In Mark 3:19b-35, we read a strange story of Jesus rejecting his family. At the beginning of the chapter he goes home, and arriving there is swarmed by a crowd. His family hears about this and goes to investigate. Apparently, his behaviour post-Baptism and desert experience is radically different from before. Frankly, his mom and siblings are not happy about it. He’s just so different than we remember, maybe it’s who he’s been hanging out with? Maybe it’s a phase?

They try to intervene and a discussion ensues as to whether he has been overcome with an evil spirit. Sound familiar to any of my queer friends? Of course, little do they know he has been “overshadowed” by a spirit–but one of divine origins.

Fast forward a bit … in Mark 3:31-35 I think it is no coincidence that Jesus’s family is outside the gathered crowd of believers and followers; they are both physically and socially outside his circle. When the crowd tells him that his family is calling him, he responds with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33 NRSV)

Cold, right? Well, who are these people who tried to shut him up, tried to stop him from being who he is? Jesus makes a clear distinction between those within his circle and those outside of it—despite biology, it is faith and obedience that determine kinship for him. “And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’” (3:34-35 NRSV).

This promise of a new kinship is especially interesting in light of later developments in Mark. In Mark 10:29-31, Jesus says:

Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (NRSV, emphasis added)

With this new kinship comes a rejection of the old, but it appears to me that Jesus is not merely calling his followers to reject their families. This rejection serves a purpose: to better allow them to serve God and live out their faith. Jesus’s family attempted to hinder him in his work, from living out who he was after his transformative experience, so he rejects them. So, too, his followers might need to reject their own families if they try and prevent them from being who God calls them to be.

The Christian witness begins with a counter-cultural message that focuses on constructed kinship over biological ties, as seen in both Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. There are many similarities between the two, including the idea of faith and obedience as the key indicators of kinship in Christian community (Galatians 3, Romans 4). Paul’s communities are ruled, above all, by love, which has no place for toxicity (1 Corinthians 13 for the win!).

However, a shift takes place over the next few centuries of Christian thought, and we begin to see the biological family emphasized as a microcosm of Christian community (such as in later texts like Colossian, Ephesians, Titus, 1 Peter and 1 Timothy)—i.e. it became institutionalized. This shift led to what many contemporary Christians now view as the idealized “Christian family values.”

Yet, there is space within the biblical text for the idea of “chosen family”—for families we create for ourselves with or without biological connections. Jesus’s new kinship is based not on biology but on faithfulness, and prioritizes healthy community-based in mutual love and respect.

Jesus encourages his followers to disconnect from harmful relationships that hinder their faith journey, and I believe a modern parallel can be drawn with the LGBTQ2IA+ community’s emphasis on “chosen family.” For those who have been abused or rejected by their family, Christian community at its best offers a new family that honours each person as they are. Jesus, the liberator, frees us from the power of sin, death, and toxicity.

Rocks Can Be Hard of Hearing

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on February 25, 2018 (Year B Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38).

Immediately preceding the Gospel text we read today, we see Jesus challenging his students, asking “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter seems to get it right when he replies… “You are the Messiah.” An astute answer.

Jesus then begins to teach his students about what will happen to him, he speaks about rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. He shares how…

…he will not be recognized as a political leader by the established powers…

…he will not be heralded as the instigator of a new Jewish kingship…

…he has not come to take on the colonizing power of Rome…

…instead, he will be rejected, suffer, and die.

Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”

“Surely, this isn’t what a Messiah does?”

You see, Simon Peter, like the rest of the disciples, has a lot on the line here. Jesus isn’t just some spiritual leader whose inspirational videos he likes to watch after work while he’s on the elliptical.

Jesus is the man that he left his family, his livelihood, and his hometown for. Jesus is the man who was supposed to fulfil all of his expectations of political liberation!

**

We first see Simon, in the Gospel of Mark, fishing with his brother Andrew. Jesus calls them, and they drop their nets to follow a man who tells them he’ll show them how to “fish for people”.

We then find Jesus at Simon’s house, where he witnesses, first hand, Jesus’ miraculous powers. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick and Jesus heals her.

If Simon has a mother-in-law we can also presume he has more family—a wife, maybe some children. He then leaves to travel with Jesus throughout Galilee—maybe he leaves his family behind, or maybe them come with him—we’re not sure.

But, leaving your hometown is no small feat, in a world where family ties were the social welfare system; where livelihood meant life or death—it was a serious thing to unanchor yourself from your kin, and Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, spends time unpacking what it means to find a chosen family in Christ.

As he follows Jesus throughout the Judean countryside, Simon, who is renamed Peter, watches Jesus teach scripture, tame demons, command the weather, heal the chronically ill, and multiple bread!

Then we arrive at our text for today. Jesus has just told Simon Peter that he is not going to be the liberator that Simon Peter was waiting for. Can we blame him for his bewilderment? For his anxiety? How could this man, who Simon Peter gave so much up to follow, not be what he was expecting?

Have you ever taken a big risk, only to find it wasn’t what you thought it was? Do you remember the clammy coldness that spreads throughout your body when you realize what you’d done? What you’ve given up?

This is how I envision Simon Peter.

Because, he had good reason to believe Jesus was the person he expected: Jesus had taken on the scribes and Pharisees in religious debates, he taught with authority, and preached a radical message. Sure, he wasn’t from a royal lineage, he was some Carpenter from Nazareth—Mary’s son. And, yes he kept inviting the wrong kind of people to dinner—tax collectors and sex workers—but Simon Peter was also the wrong kind of person. He was an uneducated fisherman from a backwater town.

Jesus was going to usher in a new political reality! The oppressed were going to liberated from their chains of bondage, and Rome was going to be pushed back! Jerusalem would be restored to its old glory!

But here he was, here Jesus was, the messiah—the anointed one, telling Simon Peter that he wasn’t there to usher in a new era of liberation for Israel—instead, he spoke of rejection, suffering and death.

Is it any wonder that Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”

**

Jesus rebukes Simon, harshly. He calls him “Satan”, which means adversary—but adversary isn’t the only name Jesus gives him.

Simon, his given name, means “he has heard”, but earlier in the story Jesus renames him “rock”. He is the thick-headed disciple, who never seems to get it right. Peter, the too eager. Peter who falls asleep in the garden. Peter who denies his teacher. Peter, the one who doesn’t listen. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go easy on him.

**

Our expectations can cloud us from seeing things as they are.

My mother used to like experimenting with recipes when I was little. And, I remember distinctly this bright orange soup she made us once. She explained that it was called Four Potato Soup. Obviously, it had carrots in it because it was pylon orange, and I tucked into a bowl, taking a big spoonful. …it was awful. It was really gross tasting, and I told her. She was very used to this because she was always concocting new foods.

“Mom, this is the worst carrot soup I’ve ever tasted!” …she looked at me, puzzled. “It’s potato soup…there’s no carrot.”

It took a few moments for the cogs to turn—for me to realize that it was orange because of the sweet potato! …I took another bite… it was really delicious potato soup.

Mark’s Peter is too preoccupied with how he thinks Jesus should be, to be able to see him fully as he is. He isn’t listening to the “Son of Man” statements in Mark, these are the statements where Jesus reveals who he is.

**

Now, it can be hard to read this story and not want to criticize Simon Peter—I believe the author has written him as a foil for us. But we’re watching it all unfold on the page, from a distant place. We have a different understanding of messiahship, crafted from two-thousand years of Christian reflection.

But, we do carry our own expectations of who Jesus is—expectations that filter how we see him. We privilege some stories over others. It’s pretty easy to ignore the parts we don’t like—the things we’re not comfortable with.

Things like…

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I don’t want to hear that, that’s hard, that’s uncomfortable. I want to skip the rejection, suffering and death, and move right on to resurrection!

But, we are in the season of Lent, and in Lent we make space to focus on the uncomfortable parts—it is when we reflect the most on rejection, suffering, and death.

It is easy to become like Simon Peter, whose last words in this gospel account are “I do not know this [Jesus] you are talking about”. It is easy to ignore the parts we don’t like, that don’t match up with who we see Jesus as—instead of wrestling to hear him in the text.

We miss hearing him say that to follow him is also to be rejected, to suffer, and to die—but that new life is found there—an unexpected liberation is found there.

Can you hear these words being read aloud in an early house church, where believers were experiencing persecution and death at the hands of Rome?

Can you hear the words now, as Jesus proclaims that we can be made whole by exchanging the expectations of this world, for those of our creator?

My hope is that throughout this Lenten season, your ears will be attuned to the difficult things—but that by wrestling with them, you will experience more fully the liberation of Easter. Amen.