Richard Exley Ministries

Dancing in the Dark
Posted on April 17, 2009

Jesus’ experience teaches us that it is not only possible to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously, but that it is mandatory if we are to live as authentic human beings.

“When I was old enough to understand,” writes novelist Chaim Potok in The Chosen, “[my father] told me that of all people a tzaddik (a righteous, wise man) especially must know of pain. A tzaddik must know how to suffer for his people, he said. He must take their pain from them and carry it on his own shoulder. He must cry, in his heart he must always cry. Even when he dances and sings, he must cry for the sufferings of his people.”

I could hardly be considered a tzaddik, but that’s been my experience as well. Even as we celebrate the joys of life, there is another part of us that grieves for those who suffer so cruelly. And it is this brokenness, this spiritual sorrow that is our rite of passage into the ministry. It gives our life an authenticity it would not otherwise have. Thus it was with Jesus whom the scriptures refer to as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3) That doesn’t mean he was a melancholy man, but only that he carried humanities pain in his heart even when he was enjoying a meal with friends, or laughing with children, or celebrating at a wedding. Jesus’ experience teaches us that it is not only possible to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously, but that it is mandatory if we are to live as authentic human beings.

Category: Hope

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It May be Winter but Christmas is on the Way
Posted on December 08, 2008

Winter is not what it used to be. I’m not talking about the weather patterns but the impact of winter. One hundred years ago there was little or no electricity, few houses had central heat or indoor plumbing; automobiles were a rarity, and in winter fresh fruits and vegetables almost nonexistent. Make no mistake – winters were hard.  The snow piled up, travel was treacherous, houses were cold, the nights were long with little light and people were often hungry. The only bright spot in that winter wasteland was Christmas. When my late father reminisced about his childhood his memories of Christmas were special. He remembered few gifts but he did recall, with pleasure, hard peppermint candy, an orange and Christmas dinner. The way he remembered it it was the only meal the entire winter where there was more than enough food to go around.

In that context C.S. Lewis’ line, “It was always winter but never Christmas” is especially haunting. Think about it. Without electricity the winter nights were long and dark. Without central heat the houses were never really warm except right next to the pot bellied stove. Communication was limited, only the most affluent had telephones; the mail was sporadic, travel of any distance difficult if not impossible and there was seldom an abundance of food. Truthfully, Christmas was the only thing that made winter bearable, but what if there was no Christmas?

Times have changed; in the United States modern advances have lessened winter’s impact. Most houses have central heat and indoor plumbing. Electricity makes the night nearly as bright as day, snow plows clear the highways and only the severest winter storm impedes travel and then only for a time. Even the poorest families have cell phones, colored televisions and access to the internet. Yet, for many it is still always winter but never Christmas.

Category: Hope

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Posted on December 24, 2007

In the truest sense, Christmas is not just a holiday, it's a happening.  It's something that happens to you, something you haven't earned and definitely don't deserve.  It's something God does, a gift of grace, a sacramental moment.

 That's what it was for the shepherds that first Christmas so long ago.  After a hard day of tending sheep, they were sitting around the fire swapping stories -- telling lies most likely, as men are wont to do when they talk about themselves. Suddenly, the night was ablaze and they found themselves immersed in the glory of the Lord.  And out of the glory an angel appeared with a startling announcement:  "'I bring you good news of great joy...Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'"

 It's important, I think, to note that there is nothing at all in this account to suggest that anything religious was going on around that campfire.  Nor is there anything in the scriptures to lead us to believe that the shepherds did anything to precipitate that angelic announcement.  In truth, there is not a shred of evidence to indicate that they were in any way special; nothing to suggest that there was anything in their spirit, or nature, or life style that predisposed them to receive this angelic announcement. 

Category: Hope

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Mary Magdalene - The First Easter
Posted on April 05, 2007

When Jesus died, I lost not only by dearest friend, but my reason for living as well. Like Peter, I truly believed Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Now I don't know what to believe. As I watched Him die two days ago, something died inside of me. A black despair enveloped me, give birth to an all too familiar hopelessness.

For two nights and a day I have wrestled with my tormenting thoughts, and I am no nearer a resolution.  Was Jesus just a man, an extraordinary man to be sure, but still just a man? His death seems to prove that beyond question. Yet, if He was only a man, how do I explain His miracles?  More importantly, how do I explain what He did for me?

For years I existed in a nightmare world.  I lived in the darkness inside of me with those who had taken residence there -- malevolent spirits, abused and abusing. My name became a byword in the city of my birth -- Mary the mad whore of Magdala.  The life I lived I hated, as I hated myself, but I was powerless to change. I was a prisoner, and death seemed my only escape.

Then one day He came, this itinerant holy man, the one they called Jesus. I waited until he was alone, and then I approached Him, driven by the demons within.  It was not His help I sought, but His destruction.  With a well-deserved confidence I set out to make short work of this popular prophet.

Intuitively I knew He could not be approached as other men. With them I appealed to the weakness of their flesh, reducing them to puppets of their passion. He was different. His strength was His weakness. His compassion would be His undoing.

"Prophet," I called in a voice hardly more than a whisper, "have you a moment?"

Peering into the shadows where I stood, His eyes sought mine. It was as if He looked into my soul! Suddenly I felt naked. Ashamed. And a strange feeling it was for a woman such as I, a woman who had shamelessly sold her nude flesh to more men than she could remember.
He spoke a single word then: "Mary."

No man had ever called me by my name. Woman? Yes. Whore? More times than I would like to remember. Even sweetheart in the heat of passion. But never Mary.

Inside me the spirits were in a frenzy. "Flee!" they screamed. "It's a trap!"

As I turned to go He spoke my name again, and the darkness within eased just a little and then a bit more. Love washed over me, His love, and I found myself weeping. Almost without realizing what I was doing, I slipped out of the shadows and knelt at His feet. Reaching down He placed His hand on my head and said, "Be free!"

At His words the darkness was shattered; the spirits expelled!

Taking my hand, He drew me to my feet and looked deep into my eyes. "Daughter," He said, "your sins are forgiven."

There was no shame then, nor fear -- only love. A holy love, pure and clean. Gone was the madness within. Gone was my shame and sickness of soul. Gone was my brokenness and despair. Gone was all my sin, washed away in the light of His love!

If He was only a man, how do I explain that?

Yet, if He was indeed the Son of God as He claimed, what does His death mean? Is God now dead? Has evil triumphed over good? 

The answers are beyond me. All I know is that Jesus is dead, and I am alone.
Morning is just a smudge of light on the horizon as I enter the garden. For just a moment I am disoriented. Things look so different in the dark, and the tomb I have found is empty. 

Carefully I retrace my steps, thinking I must have taken the wrong path. No. This is the right way, of that I am sure.

But the tomb is empty and all I can think is that the religious leaders have stolen the body of my Lord. Wasn't it enough to kill Him? Must they now desecrate His body as well?

Weeping disconsolately before the empty tomb, the darkness threatens to reclaim me, and I cling to my sanity by my fingernails. Then through my tears I see a man approaching through the early morning shadows.  "Sir!" I cry, not even attempting to disguise my grief, "If you know where they have taken the body of Jesus, please tell me."

He answers me with a single word, a single word that dispels the darkness within. A single word that rescinds all of the madness of Friday. A single word that undoes all of the damage wrought by my grief. A single word that forever shatters the myth of death.

"Mary," He says, and like the first time He called my name, love washes over me, and joy.  Once more I know who I am, Mary Magdalene, beloved of the Father and the Son.

Not Mary, the mad whore of Magdala.  Not Mary, the abused, the rejected, the dirty toy of even dirtier men. Not Mary, the habitation of demons. Not even Mary, the bereaved.

With that single word, all sin and death have attempted to do and all hell's fury has threatened is undone.

"Teacher!" I cry, falling before Him, my heart undone. He's not dead, I think in amazement. He's not dead! Like the angels said, "He is risen!"

And then He is gone -- yet in a way I can't explain He isn't gone. I can't see Him, but I have the strongest sense the He is here, that He will always be here, nearer than the breath I breathe and more alive than life itself.

Category: Hope

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Once Upon a Cross
Posted on March 29, 2007

With Easter less than two weeks away I am obsessing about the crucifixion. Involuntarily I cringe as scenes from Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” stream through my mind. Crucifixion was a hideous way to die, cruel and barbaric, often leaving the condemned to writhe in pain for two or three days before they finally succumbed to death. To hasten the end the legs of the victims were sometimes broken, an act of mercy more than cruelty, the pain not withstanding.

Like a slide projected on the screen of my mind I now I see an image of Mary. Her face is a suffering mask and I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for her. How does a mother watch her son being nailed to a cross? How does she bear it? Suddenly I have another thought. Mary wasn’t the only one who had a Son die that fateful day. Jesus was the Son of God as well as Mary’s son. What was it like for Him? What did Father God feel as He watched His Son die? 

Pondering those thoughts, I consider what questions I might ask Father God if I could have a one on one conversation with Him regarding the death of Jesus.  I think I would ask Him how He could allow Jesus to suffer and die when He had the power to save Him. I might even ask Him what kind of a father would do that

Category: Hope

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