Thursday, March 27, 2008

Double Dude: Thomas

Easter light be with you all!

Jesus' disciples had real world names, even nicknames. Simon Bar-jonah was nicknamed Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek. We translate those as Cephas and Peter. In other words, Rocky. Jesus gave him that name. Jesus called James and John the "sons of thunder". Was he describing their personalities, or body functions after they ate fiber? Andrew means "manly guy". Philip is literally "friend of horses". Horse Dude. Thomas comes from the Aramaic "Thoma", twin. Double Dude.

We know him, unfortunately, as "doubting Thomas", today a metaphor like "good Samaritan".

Maybe it's time to go back and re-read John 20 with open eyes and minds instead of two millennia-worth of predispositions.

So Jesus was raised from the dead... So....? Big deal! What does that mean, exactly? Do we have a genuine answer that comes out of our own life experience? Or do we only have 2K years' worth of stale sermons to regurgitate?

John 20 is the evangelist's answer to the question, "What does it mean?" John answers through two people: Mary Magdalene and Thomas.

Thomas is my hero. Thomas has guts. Consider John 11:16. Jesus, who has been blacklisted and marked for death by the religious establishment in Jerusalem for healing on the Sabbath, proposes to return to the Jerusalem slum of Bethany to bring life to his dead friend Lazarus. Everyone knows it could be a fatal decision. It is Thomas who says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Not Peter. Not James, John or Andrew. Thomas. Double Dude.

We begin the story in question at John 20, verse 19. Don't forget that this is set on the evening of the day when Mary M. has come running in with news far bigger than the empty tomb personally inspected by Peter and another disciple. "I have seen the Lord!" Mary exclaims.

Should have blown the doors off the disciples' safe-house. They are hiding behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews." Still. Even after they know that Jesus is no longer dead. So is "for fear of the Jews" more of a statement about the Jews? Or about the disciples themselves? Ponder that.
Jesus appears among them, gives them his peace (twice) and the gift of the Holy Spirit, without which they are unable to grasp the meaning of the resurrection or have faith. Hmmmm.... Jesus shows them the physical wounds in his risen body, but Double Dude is not there to see. So when the rest of the gang relates this encounter with the risen Christ and how they now believe, Thomas is at a significant disadvantage.

Thomas has guts. He has the guts to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. Thomas states the problem for every human being in relation to God. Unless Thomas is able to see, he will never believe. He will never be able to believe.

Thomas nails it. Thomas asks the question on behalf of the other 6.9 billion of us who were not in the room either. Thank you, Double Dude!

A week later, Thomas gets his chance. Jesus again appears. Thomas states his case quite opnely to Jesus, asking for only what the other disciples have already received, the ability to "see" Jesus as the crucified one who is no longer dead.

Jesus complies. He doesn't say to Thomas, "Get outta my face, you faithless fool!" He presents his hands and his side saying, "Touch. See. Believe. And by the way, not everyone else will get ths chance. But rest assured that the witness of my resurrection that you provide is genuine, and I will bless it with my Spirit and with faith. It will be effective for all who come after. That's how things will work from now on."

That's mighty good news for the rest of us who were not in the room.

If you have faith in Christ today it is because somebody told somebody else who told somebody else--for two thousand years. Somebody made it possible for you to "see", which in John's gospel is always how one comes to believe. For John, seeing is believing. The book is all about seeing. You didn't get there all by yourself, now, did you?

Who had the guts to help you "see"?

More next time about Jesus' words to Thomas: "Do not doubt but believe". The Greek says something a bit different from what we have always heard. 'Til then, happy seeing!


Pastor Roger

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter lilies


Lying long in loneliness
crucified by its own cares
A heart, hardened, hiding
In a silent, solitary sepulchre
of stone.

Dry and seeking solely seed
to make it green
The heart, once sown
from a clear blue sky entices rain
And lilies bloom where lately seeds of love were lain.

He is not here.
He is!


Easter blessings!

Pastor Roger

(c) 1970 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Collision Course: Mary Magdalene

Morning in the 'burbs...

Sometimes I look out my window and wonder why I live here. It's not like the compact little street of apartment buildings, small shops and businesses, tea houses, bakeries, the ceramic tile factory and the muffler shop in Yalova, Turkey where Jean and I first lived. I'm a farm kid by background and a city kid by the majority of life experience. The 'burbs are neither. I don't like lawns, but this patch of land that we are five mortgage payments from owning outright also gives us a garden space. My "farm". Seems like most of the area is on a collision course with what we are, though.

Several things were on a collision course in the gospel according to John as Jesus is crucified and laid to rest. But I realize that for most of my church-going history, almost no Easter preacher could ever say why Easter was so important except that it had somehow bought us resurrection--at some undefined time in the future, after we had died, whenver it was that Father God decided to send Jesus back to earth to at last usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God and take our glorified bodies to Heaven.

We had the details of what happened down pretty well. But what did it mean, for God's sake? No male preacher was ever able to say in ways that connected with me. I didn't feel any resurrection in my life.

I never thought about that much--indeed, couldn't see it--until I began to listen to John who told us the meaning of Jesus' resurrection through the eyes of two people in chapter 20: Mary Magdalene and Thomas, the twin. Ladies first. Thomas next week.

Mary of Magdala. We don't know much about her except that she seems to have lived on the s--t end of life until Jesus found her. Was she a prostitute? Had she been raped or sexually abused as a child? Was she homeless, divorced? Did she have a crooked nose, bad skin, ugly teeth? Did she have mental illness, the "seven demons" that were reported to have been cast out of her?

One thing is for sure, whatever she had come out of she found a fresh start among the followers of Jesus. I'm sure she had a servant's role in the group: cooking, shopping, serving, laundry, sewing, mending, whatever. I have no idea how the disciples regarded her or treated her. Roles were deeply cast back then, and expected. But for the first time perhaps in her whole life she must have felt love, acceptance and even the favor of God, protection from abuse, clucking tongues and preying males.

Imagine this fresh start in life being crushed, puverized at the foot of the cross. Look at the world through Mary's eyes and let that view soak awhile. It's one thing to have lived without much hope. It's another to have been given hope so briefly, only to have it ripped away by the public torture and execution of your hope giver.

One more thing. Handling a dead body, as the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem did, would have made them ritually unclean, very unclean. Mary M. was used to that. She'd probably been considered unclean most of her life. For "good" people a huge stretch, for Mary a way of life.

After the crucifixion, the male disciples are anything but an inspired bunch. They sequester behind locked doors, scared to death. Mary goes to the graveyard (surely in the company of other women, but Mary M. is the one John shines his spotlight on) just as it is getting light on the first day of the week. She wants to finish the job of preparing Jesus' body for burial. By her own admission she goes expecting to find a body, nothing else.

It is gone! Nothing but an empty hole and cloth body wrappings...

She rushes back to town, alerts the disciples. Peter and John run out to the tomb, find it empty, see the folded shrouds and "believe". Believe what? That Jesus is gone? But what else? They don't really know yet, and John doesn't say, except that they have no biblical basis to hope for or expect anything but a dead end at Jesus' grave. The guys go back to Jerusalem. At least they have a "safe house" to go to.

Mary? Mary stays. She stands weeping outside the tomb. Why?

Did it ever occur to you that Mary had nothing to go back to? The one shred of remembrance of the new life she had been given was the body of Jesus. Now even that is gone.

Empty. Devastated. Crushed. Hopeless. Inconsolable. What else could she possibly have felt? A stranger asks why she weeps, whom she seeks? Then the stranger she doesn't recognize calls her by name, and she returns the recognition. Instantly she has her arms wrapped around him like a tree intending to never let go.

Jesus says she must let go of the old Jesus she knew in order to inherit the one who will never leave her and be present through water, Spirit, bread and wine, community, the kingdom of God.

Mary heads back to town, stumbling at first, I'll bet, in her overwhelmed state. Then I'll bet she begins to run. The meaning of the empty tomb finally begins to sink in!

Nothing ends here. This is where it begins! Mary has her life given back to her again. It might be fair to say that Mary has her life given to her for the very first time.

Why does Mary get to be the first person on the planet to see the risen Christ and proclaim, "I have seen the Lord!" My only answer: at that moment in time no person on the planet had such a desperate need to see.

From nothing to being filled. From death to life. Emptiness is where God begins. God always starts with nothing. At the beginning that's all there is. Same is true for God's new beginnings. Perhaps even in your own life. Pretty fantastic collision course!

There wasn't just one resurrection that day. There were effectively two. Or perhaps 10 billion, including yours.

Christ is risen, and so are you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Roger

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sixth year, day one...

Hi, PDX!

Good Friday. Black Friday. It's where sin has been leading us. We have arrived. More on that in the next post...

I'm pretty good about anniversaries. They are important, and I continue to surprise my wife Jean with what I remember and observe.

Wednesday we had a memorial service for the "downtown fallen", as I call them. These are the people, many without homes, most with addictions and some mental illness--as well as great gifts and big hearts, who have died in our city's core during the past year. At the end of the service their names were read and candles were lighted in their memory. Then the woman who read the names added, "And for all our soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan." They lit as many of the remaining candles as they could in a brief time. Right on!

Some of these fresh-faced, clean-shaven young men (and women) will be on our streets in a few years, despite our best efforts which often fall far short of the real need. Alcohol, drugs and exposure will eventually kill the bodies where an untimely death of the soul has already occurred.

I don't see nearly as many of those yellow "Support Our Troops" magnetic ribbons on cars these days. And it's been a coon's age since I've seen one of those photocopied red-white-blue "Proud to be American" 8.5 x 11 sheets in the back window of a car.

So I've been grieving as the Iraq war enters its sixth year. And I didn't write on the anniversary, 3/19, when we started bombing. I've been waiting for someone here to say something about all this that made sense. And it hasn't happened.

So I have one simple request that will require about 39-40 minutes of your head and your heart. America, do you support the troops? Are you proud to be you? Then take a little time to listen to some voices that will never stand beside the president or one of the candidates. Take a little time to listen to people who have gone where our leaders and our news media cannot go. Hear what these voices have to say. This is what you own. This is what you have a responsibility to know, to think about, to pray about, and to act on. It's called the responsibility that comes with freedom.

1. Go to On the left sidebar scroll down to the program Fresh Air. Click on it and then select "past shows" and select the date 3/18. Listen to Terry Gross' conversation with Charles Sennott of the Boston Globe upon his return from Iraq. Listen to all of it. And especially ponder what he has to say about two things near the end: Afghanistan, and the lack of news reporting from overseas in our US newspapers/TV. Iraq has been far too dangerous for most US news agencies to even keep reporters there, and few can venture outside the Green Zone. So do we really know what is happening there? We don't. We should. We must.

2. Again, go to At the bottom of that sidebar, click on "more programs" and you will get the alphabetical list. Scroll down to "w". Click on The World with Lisa Mullins. When that page comes up, look on the right side for the link to Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's "Baghdad, City of Walls" narrated video. It's about 5 minutes. But I also suggest you take in his stories on "80,000 Angry Men" and the story on Iraq's orphaned children that are available at the page you will go to.

Listen. See. Think. Pray. Support our troops by informing yourself, now and when some of them are on our streets and under bridges in the future. We owe them that. We owe them better decisions than we have made in the past. We do.

See you at the foot of the cross.

Pastor Roger

Friday, March 14, 2008

Scar Tissue and Tenderizer

Happy Friday, PDX!

The young woman didn't feel up to it. After a day at the oncology research clinic she just wanted to veg. She does intake with patients who have come to offer themselves for experimental treatments. They are dying of cancer that hasn't responded to approved treatments. So they have come to be living laboratories so that perahps other people might one day be made well.

But after forcing herself out the door she came to the church home community gathering to be in the company of friends who could hear her and care for her, pray together.

She wants to eventually work in the salvage business. And, I hope, in the prevention business. She wants to salvage human beings from the scrap heap of the international sex trade.

I looked at her across the room. Such radiant skin, even when her inner candle was buring dim. She's not a parent yet. She's not even married. She hasn't yet gone into the work she plans to prepare for. So much heartache and heartbreak await her, as well as brief but intense joy from unexpected places. So much intense living awaits.

She could not begin to write the script of the next three decades of her life. No one can. But I could look back through the past three decades of my life and offer a comment.

"You are in the right place," I said. "This job you have now is preparing you to survive what lies ahead. God is giving you what you need. Tenderizer to make your heart soft enough to bend and bend again without breaking. And enough scar tissue to be tough enough to hold all the battered pieces of it together."

Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Read Matthew 26-27. Listen to the human drama taking place, all the painful reality of it. And see the hand of God at work inflicting both tenderizer and scar tissue on himself.

For us. Since no one else could.


Pastor Roger

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jay's Vision

Happy Monday, PDX!

It was a blessed night at Operation Nightwatch Evening Worship. Blessed in most ways. After worship I visited with a quiet man named Jay who has seen quite a bit of the West Coast and is back in Portland to take steps to climb out of life on the street. He shared with me his vision. It's simple and profound at the same time. Here it is:

1) Jobs for everyone in Portland who can work.
2) Housing for everyone in Portland so they can get off the streets if they want to.

Is that so hard? Sounds like the kingdom of God to me. What if we all shared that vision? And lived it?

Every city in the country has a desire to "end homelessness." That often translates into a program to end homeless people. What if we scrapped plans to end homeless people and adopted Jay's vision instead? One month of spending in Iraq would do this for every city in the country.


A blessed night, almost. Some of our regular worshipers were not there. Some have been worn down by the grind of winter and the stresses of life and seriously stumbled on their quest to stay upright. And some have just had another of those cycles of mental health that does to the mind what the flu does to the body. It's heartbreaking when they aren't doing well, ecstatic when they are.

And one little group of regulars could not be with us and have been out for several weeks now. In addition to everything else confronting them in their battles to stay even remotely clean and sober, body lice have attacked them with demonic vengeance. How do you live with that? How do you sleep with that? How do you get help for that? How do you trash all your stuff--even the infected squat where you have been sleeping--and start over again? How do you fight off the hammering of the addiction that demands to be fed when all your sources of meeting that demand are now off limits? When the only thing you can sell is unmarketable? How do you live one more day?

How do you do that and not simply jump off the Burnside Bridge?

Life can age a person ten years in two weeks' time.

I admire these profiles in courage.

We prayed for them last night. We'll pray for them fervently and richly. And we'll pray for Jay's vision. The Christ still walks the streets sowing seeds of the Kingdom.

Won't you do the same?


Pastor Roger

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Take Away The Stone!

Happy PST, PDX! Tomrrow will be PDT.

Jesus told them to take away the stone, the stone blocking the entrance to the cave where the grieving sisters had laid their brother Lazarus. It had been four days. In first-century Palestine you were really dead after three days. The soul sometimes hung around the body for two days, never three. That probably also ruled out any comatose people or extended fainting spells. Lazarus was clearly over the limit. Martha, the good housekeeper and detail person, noted what an act of foolishness it was to move the stone. There was already a stench from the inside.

Jesus talked to Martha about faith. And the men in the crowd moved the stone. Jesus called to Lazarus, and the dead man was raised to life. He had to be unbound from his grave clothes.

To begin with, Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in a poor suburb of Jerusalem. Bethany literally means "house of poverty". Jesus liked to hang out here among these humble folk living on the edge. He felt safe and welcome here. The little household of siblings received him and his friends.

So when word reaches Jesus on the road that Lazarus is seriously ill, the sisters hope Jesus high-tails it to their house to heal him. Jesus had healed many, even given sight to a man born blind. But that noble work of healing, especially on Sabbath, had gotten Jesus quite crosswise with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Some had tried to stone him, and he was in danger of arrest or stoning if he returned to Jerusalem and happened to cross paths with the wrong person(s).

Jesus takes his time deciding to return to Bethany and the Jerusalem area. Meanwhile Jazarus dies. Mourners arrive at Mary and Martha's house. Jesus is too late to save Lazarus. The sisters each inform Jesus of their take on things: If Jesus had just arrived sooner, He could have saved the man.

Mary and her mourners are weeping as the dialogue transpires. Jesus asks where Lazarus' body has been interred. They reply, "Come and see." Jesus begins to weep.

That little verse is so often cited as confirmation of Jesus' humanity. He began to cry. He could. He did that in the face of the grief and mourning of his friends.

But we usually overlook the words that come before Jesus' tears: "Come and see."

"Come and see'' could be called John's gospel in a nutshell. Come and see Jesus. Come to believe in Him and have life. Eternal life.

But this encounter in Bethany is the only place in the whole book where things are turned around. Instead of people asking other people to come and see Jesus, now the people ask Jesus to come and see. Come and see the grave where your dead friend is buried. Come and see dashed hopes. Come and see human frailty. Come and see death, God. Come and face it.

Jesus does and Lazarus lives. Again.

The story will be repeated from Good Friday to Easter. When the women set off at dawn to finish preparing Jesus' body for its final rest in the earth they ask, "Who will take away the stone for us?" When they arrive they find it already taken away. The grave clothes are folded as only someone who had finished the job completely would do.

For all that's broken in life let us pray, "Lord, come and see."


Pastor Roger

Friday, March 7, 2008

King of the Jews?

Hi, PDX!

Roman Governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he were king of the Jews ( Mt. 27:11). We have a problem with kings here in the U.S. We think we settled that in 1776 or 1789.

I have news. We want a king. Desperately. And we act as though we had one.

The area pastor has a food pantry at his church. He sees poor, hungry people all the time. And he said that government was all about big money and special interests. So far, I agree. But then he went on, essentially saying that he wouldn't be able to change a thing, that the only person he can have a political discussion with was a sibling in another state where he vacations once a year.
I heard capitulation, giving up without a fight. Now I sadly disagree.

We are in a war that threatens to bankrupt us and unravel balances of power that help prevent wars. Supposedly the war is to save us from enemies who "hate our freedoms" and supposedly have the power to take them away from us. Think about that premise a minute. Think about it all day. What "freedoms" would those be?

Recently I talked with a contemporary who grew up in Chicago during the Vietnam War. He quite calmly described his family as "white racists because that's what most (white) people were back then." His parents were as loyal as any Americans he knew. They pledged allegiance to the flag. They were as honest and as Republican as they could be. Christians, too. But they were torn down the middle. Their son was about to graduate college, and the draft awaited him.

They had a problem with the war and had very mixed feelings about having their son serve. They talked about Canada and told their son that if he went there, they would regularly visit him because they would not want him to come back across the border. They knew where that led.

The son of friends had gone to Canada. Then that young man's father died. He came back to the U.S. for the funeral. He was apprehended at the church and not even allowed to attend. He was sentenced to five years in prison. In prison the young draft dodger became known as a "pussy". The prison rapes began almost immediately. They continued for five years. I can't imagine what his anguished mother felt like, powerless to stop it. PTSD. Prison-trauma-stress-disorder.

The above was already well underway when my friend and his parents had their talk. They would sooner cut off their hands than have the same happen to their son.

"Now I have to stop you," I said. "I have a question. Maybe you know the answer, or maybe you don't care to say. But I must ask. In this whole process did your parents ever write one letter or make one phone call to representatives in Congress or to the President?"

None that he knew of. That speaks volumes. First class postage back then was only 6 cents, air mail 10 cents. Other than myself, I have yet to meet another person who wrote a single letter back then--either in support of continuing the Vietnam War or in support of a timely end. Not one. What precious freedoms were exercised here?

So I ask, what freedoms have enemies, terrorists included, ever taken away from us that we don't fall all over ourselves on a daily basis to surrender? Think about that a minute. Think about if for the rest of your life.

Could it be that we have completely deluded ourselves into thinking we live in a democracy when really we want to live in a kingdom? After all, if all the decisions are made by someone else we can freely complain and blame someone else for everything. And not do anything because we don't think we can.

Not the country I swore with an oath to put my life on the line to defend.

What kind of king do we want Jesus to be? And how does the "Jesus creed" of loving God and our neighbors as ourselves (thank you, Scot McKnight!) call us from inertness and blame to action and responsibility?

Ready for a little freedom exercise anyone? No enemy can take away from us what we have already surrendered. Without a fight.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Fog in the Mirror

Hi, PDX!

Short showers are my rule. Energy miser, I am. Except when I get one of those monster muscle tension headaches and I need to stand under the old Teledyne Shower Massage until the water runs cold. That's the only time I'm in there long enough to fog up the mirror. There are times that are life or death situations.

A foggy mirror. Stand in front of yours the next time it's really fogged up good. Stand and look at yourself a good while. Do you see anything that appears to be the "you" of your memories? Can you pick out unique features of your facial structure that make you "you"? Or do you simply see a vague outline and blotches of hair color and skin tones? Could you tell the you in the fogged up mirror from any of 5 million or so other people of similar coloration or build?

He was there at worship again tonight. Knows the work of N.C. Wyeth and especially that of son Andrew Wyeth, one of our favorite artists. He mentioned Wyeth's painting "Christina's World". I can see parts of it still in my mind. He knows the place named "Chadd's Ford, PA." He knows bits of John's Gospel that I haven't heard others there quote me.

On the street he has no name to those who walk past. He may as well be the blurred image in a foggy mirror. But as I placed the broken body of Christ, that little piece of bread torn from a small loaf, into his hand I addressed him by name: "_____, the body of Christ for you." You would not believe how his face brightened when he heard his name from a man who had met him only once before. His face brightened like a mirror wiped clean of all its fog.

This winter has been hard on folks, very hard. This morning it is foggy. But the fog is lifting. A smile on one face has the power to wipe some fog from others. God gave us these mirrors to be a reflection of being known by God.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Roger