Saturday, April 30, 2011


First Sunday of Easter A
John 20:19-31

As I was preparing for a Lectionary Study this week, I came across the web Bible Study called Faith Lens, published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The study started off talking about a television show that I enjoy viewing called Mythbusters.  Here's how contributor Bill King describes the show:

Nominated for an Emmy and hosted by the jauntily bereted Jamie Hyneman and “stuff maker” Adam Savage, Mythbusters scientifically tests urban myths, outrageous propositions, and conventional wisdom.  The show has a particular fondness for myths which involve explosions, making a mess, or disgusting materials (they made a candle out of ear wax).  Some have called it “the best science show on television,” and few would dispute that it is the zaniest.  The show sometimes does silly things, like constructing a lead balloon, just to see if it can be done.  But beneath the laughter is a serious purpose, to illustrate how science separates fact from fiction.

What's so cool about the show is how Jamie and Adam try to test out urban myths.  Sometimes they are able to "bust" the myth and show that it's not true.  Other times they are able to verify that the myth is true, and still other times it's plausible.

When you read this week's gospel in John about good ole "Doubting Thomas" you might think about how Tom wanted proof of Jesus' existence.  There will be talk about how doubt is important in the life of faith and we will try to hold him up as a modern hero who didn't just want to believe something because someone told him.

These are all good things to note in the text, but what if there's something more here that we aren't seeing.  What if this text is not just about doubt and faith, not just about the Risen Savior, but also a message for the church,  the body of Christ?

In his lectionary reflection this week, Russell Rathburn expresses his interest in the actual body of Christ:

After crashing through all that at break neck speed, John slows it down to spend the majority of this verses focusing on his Body. Thomas says he wants to see the Body, see the wounds. Jesus arrives and very graphically shows him the wounds, and in a very intimate gesture, invites him to place his finger/hand inside them. There can be no doubt that this is the Body of Jesus the Christ, very man, very God.

That Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead is the foundation of the Christian faith. This Sunday’s reading starts and ends with it, giving just a verse each to the Great Commission, Pentecost, the rest is all about the Body. After so much emphasis on the Body of Jesus through the Lent and Easter seasons, how do we preach with out one? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe? There really are not any other options are there?

The question that hits me here is Russell's talk about the body of Christ when there isn't a body anymore.

But what if there is a body?  What if Christ's ressurection wasn't only about the physical resurrection, but also about how the ressurection lives in the life of the gathered community, the Church?

Thomas wanted to experience Jesus for himself.  He did not want to rely on the experience of others.  Belief for Thomas was not about accepting creedal statements, but about a relationship and if he couldn't experience a body, then what's the point?

Now for a moment, think about the body of Christ as the church, because in the here and now that's what modern Thomases are looking at when they want to see Jesus.  They aren't looking to just accept a doctrinal statement, but they are looking to commune with the Body of Christ.  In this present age, there isn't a physical body to talk about, but Christ is found in the Church, the folks who believe in Christ and abide with him.

Maybe, just maybe, if the church can live as a community called, gathered and sent by God to preach the good news, then our modern Thomas will see Christ.  Maybe if we live as a community of forgiven sinners, then our modern Thomas will see Christ.  Maybe if we welcome all to the doors of our churches, then our modern Thomas will see Christ.

As you prepare to preach or teach this Sunday after the Ressurection, think about what it means to be the Body of Christ in our world.  How do we witness to the Living and Risen Christ?

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cruise Control

Easter Sunday A
Matthew 28:1-10

I have to believe that one of the most beautiful inventions has to be cruise control in cars.  There's something kinda cool about pressing a button and having the car basically drive itself during long trips.  All I have to do is sit back, relax and the car drive itself.

Okay, I don't just let the car drive itself.  I do have to keep my eyes on the road.  Cruise control doesn't mean I get to excuse myself from driving- I still have to be alert and ready for any changes on the highway.

Easter can be both a blessing and a curse.  It's a blessing of course because Jesus defeated the powers of death and arose on that Sunday morning long ago.  But it's also a curse, because it comes at the end of a long week and we are just plumb tired.

But maybe what really makes Easter a curse is that we've done it so many times.  We sing the same songs and preach the same sermons year after year.  I don't know about others, but there have been moments when I feel that this has all be done before.  Ressurrection is so first century.

It's easy to go on cruise control when it comes to Easter.  But I wonder if doing that means we miss what might be going on in the story.  I wonder if we miss how this old story is not so old in reality.  Maybe in reading this story again, we will see where new life is springing up in our own lives.

The gospel text today has a lot going on, but I want to focus on one group of characters: the women.  If you want an example of what it means to live without hope, it has to be the two Marys.  These women had a close relationship with Jesus and believed that this guy was special.  Then he ends up getting killed.  They come to the tomb on Sunday morning without any hope.  Another idealist is killed.  Cynicism wins again.

I think back to my time in Clinical Pastoral Education.  I remember meeting a young man who lost one leg in an accident.  I would spend time in his room where he would say very little to me.  His face was one not simply of sadness, but one of profound grief.  He was only 21.  He had a future ahead of him.  But the future was now more cloudy and his face told me had little hope.

That is what these women felt.  There are times in our lives when we feel that there is no hope that things will change.  No hope that someone will get better; no hope that you will get that job; no hope that a loved one will quit drinking.

And then, there's an earthquake, and an angel appears saying that Jesus is no longer at the tomb but alive.  I have to believe the Marys thought it was a joke.  But if they thought that, they didn't think it for very long.  Matthew says the left with fear and great joy.  As they run to tell their friends the good news, they meet Jesus, alive and well.  Where there was no hope, there was now hope. 

The message of Easter is one of hope, but it starts in a place where there is no hope.  It starts in the way things are in the world.  If someone is dead, they kinda stay dead.

But hope has a different agenda.  It can bring life where there was no life and healing where there was sickness.  It reminds us that God is there with us, even when we feel abandoned.  Hope is there even when everything is tell us that there is no hope.

As you go to your faith communities this Sunday, please don't operate on cruise control.  Read the Easter story again and think about the two Marys.  Think about the disciples or the guards.  Read the story again and pay attention.  Think about hopelessness. Think about helplessness.  Think about love. Think about hope.  Think about it all and believe the good news that Jesus is alive and well.

Christ is Risen!

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hope Will Heal

By Dennis Sanders

Lent 5A: April 10, 2011
Ezekiel 37:1-14

I actually remember when I first heard this scripture.  It was at a Sunday Morning service at the Baptist church I grew up at in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.  I had to be about 10 years old at the time and I remember thinking how odd this scripture was.  I mean, what was this about dried bones coming back to life?  None of it made sense.

Flash forward three decades and a whole lot of life later, these words from the prophet Ezekiel make sense, at least that whole valley of dry bones part.

As I read this text, my thoughts drifted to my home state of Michigan and how it's faring these days, which is not well.  The census figures came out recently, and the news was not good.  Detroit, which was once the nation's fourth largest city, lost 25 percent of it's population in the last 10 years.  What was once a city of nearly 2 million in 1950 is now a city hovering around 700,000.  The changes in the US auto industry have ravaged Detroit and most of southeastern Michigan, leaving utter devastation in its wake.  My hometown of Flint had close to 200,000 when I was born in 1969.  These days, it hovers around 100,000.  In the 1970s, around 80,000 people worked in the many auto factories that dotted Flint and the surrounding cities, including my parents.  Now there are less than 10,000 working for the auto industry. The loss of so many jobs can take it toll.  In towns like Flint and Detroit, where there were once neighborhoods filled with well-maintained homes, there are now places filled with rotting houses and crime.  Its always hard to come home and see how far Flint and most of Michigan have fell.

Ezekiel is taken to a valley filled with dry bones by God.  Our prophet surveys the devastation and then hears this strange question from God.  "O mortal, can these bones live?"


I know there aren't supposed to be dumb questions, but this really seems like the dumbest question to ask.  These were bones.  Oh, and they were dry bones, so there was zero chance they were going to come back to life.  It seemed like there was an obvious answer to God's question, but Ezekiel was smart and replied that only God can know.

God keeps talking about how God will put the bones back together with muscles and skin and finally with the very breath of God.  Life would come from where there was no life.

God then explains to Ezekiel what this whole exercise was about.  The Israelites were in exile, far away from home.  They felt cut off from everything they knew and felt like those dried bones.  But God had a plan.  All was not lost.  God told them they would come back to their homeland and not only that, they would receive God's spirit.

As we continue our Lenten journey this week, it might seem odd to have a story about hope in it.  After all, we are on a journey towards the Cross and this is supposed to be a "somber" time.  Hope is something that feels more Advent than it does Lent.

And yet, maybe it makes sense to have this passage of hope in this dark time.  As I think about the economic devastation that is Michigan, I am reminded of stories that point to hope, that point to something that says, "despair will not win."  I am reminded of a recent article in my hometown newspaper about folks moving into Flint at a time when so many are leaving.  They see hope when others see despair.

In many mainline Protestant churches, there is a sense of feeling like dry bones.  The glory days are long gone and there might be a sense that there is no hope.

But God counters our despair by saying that God will save and restore us.  God will bring us back from the graves to life.  God gives us hope, not in a fairy tale-ending, but that God will be with us and breathe life into us.

This Sunday, I hope that you can acknowledge the dry bones that are in your life and in the lives of your congregation and community.  I also hope you can preach...hope.  Remind them, remind yourself that even when there seems to be no life, when the bones are raw that God will come and knit us back together, bone by bone.  Hope will heal.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Photo:Abandoned, decrepit Victorian-era home in Brush Park, Detroit, Michigan from Wikipedia.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This Is the One!

By Dennis Sanders

Lent 4A: April 3, 2011
I Samuel 16: 1-13

If you want to get great interview tips, you might not want to read the Bible.

For some reason, God just doesn't seem to pick people with the right skills for the job. God always seems to pick the smallest, or the weakest, or the youngest candidate for whatever God wants done.

This week is no different.  The text opens with the prophet Samuel feeling blue.  In chapter 15,  Saul, the king of Israel did not heed God's instructions and was rejected as king.  Samuel leaves Saul in a huff and the long-standing relationship between them is broken.   Samuel was in mourning over the loss of a close friend.

We have no idea how long Sam is sad, but God then tells him enough is enough: it's time to get up and anoint a new king.

Samuel makes the trip to Bethlehem and meets a man named Jesse who has seven sons.  Our man Sam gets introduced to Jesse's oldest, Eliab.  The text never says that Eliab is handsome, but you can guess he had to be a looker.  Samuel is excited and tells God that this has to be "The One."

"Nope," God says. "He's not the One.  You see, you humans like to look on the outside, but I tend to look on the inside."

You know the rest of the story.  God ends up choosing David, the youngest of Jesse's sons.  The Message version of this text refers to David as a "runt."  When David is presented to Samuel you hear God saying "This is the One!  Anoint him now!"

Like I said, God is an odd God.  The people God chooses to do God's work in the world are more times than not, people who are not qualified for the job.  Gideon was chosen to be the leader of the Israelites, even though he was a fraidy cat. Jonah preached God's judgement and repentance to the people of Nineveh, even though he hated them and tried to get out of the job.  Let's not even start with the disciples of Jesus who somehow were the ones that helped found the church.

Our culture, our world is always attracted to that which is new, shiny and beautiful.   We are interested in the person that has the most awards and the most degrees from the finest schools.

But God tends to look at other things and as followers of God's Son, we are also called to look at people with God's eyes.  God seems to be able to do mighty things by choosing the weak, the cowardly, and the outcast. 

This coming Sunday, many churches will focus on the text from John 9 on the blind man that was healed.  It's an important text, but I hope pastors and Christian Ed teachers will consider using the 1 Samuel text as well.  In our congregations are people who are dealing with unemployment and feeling useless.  There are others who deal with issues of self esteem and depression.  Some struggle with substances like drugs or are in recovery and working hard to stay clean and sober.  Whole congregations deal with declining membership, declining budgets and empty buildings.  This text gives hope, the hope that God can use them to do God's work in the world- even if we don't measure up.

Working at an urban church, we tend to get a lot of people who come literally from off the streets.  It's really easy to judge these folks and not seem them as God's own and potentially as God's anointed.  But the fact is, they can be used to do God's work just like the richest person in the church.

As we walk our Lenten journey, let us have ears to hear and eyes to see when God might just point to someone we least expect and tell us that "this is the one" who will join us in God's work.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Photo: Samuel Anoints David from the Brick Testament.