Saturday, May 25, 2019

Quo Vadis, Domine? Easter III

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Easter III, May 5, 2019
John 21:1-19
          After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
          3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
          4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
          When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
          11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
               15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

          Holocaust Remembrance Day began this past Sunday at sundown.  It was a day made even more poignant—though that hardly seems possible—by the mass shooting at the Chabad of Poway, a synagogue just outside of San Diego.  So as the world remembered the atrocities which killed two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, along with thousands of gay men, disabled persons, Roma, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the same kind of hate brought down a mother and grandmother, and injured three others.
          They were all killed for the same thing—for having the audacity to be who they are.  They could have hidden.  Lori Gilbert Kaye could have chosen to stop worshipping at her synagogue when it became clear that the wizened grip of American anti-semitism was strengthening and spreading.  When she heard the shouting in Charlottesville.  Or read about the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
          Instead, she chose to be a Jew.  Faithful to the command to worship.
          In doing so she joined the millions who have stood proud as children of God, rather than cowering in fear. 
          Like so many of them, she fell victim to someone who also claimed to be faithful to God’s commands.  The Poway shooter belonged to an “Orthodox Presbyterian” church.  His “manifesto” contained some essentially correct Christian doctrine, alongside the idea that God would be pleased by his actions.
          The claim of faith does not justify.
          Right doctrine does not sanctify.
          We are justified—aligned with God—by God’s own action at the cross in Jesus Christ.
          And we are sanctified—made holy—by the daily struggle to honor and keep the commands of Jesus, all of which rest upon his command that we love one another. 
          Tradition teaches that after St. Peter became the preeminent Apostle of the emerging Christian church in Palestine, he went to Rome.  When he heard rumors that Emperor Nero wanted him dead, he quietly left town.  He was traveling east on the Appian Way when he encountered Jesus.  Peter asked Jesus—in Latin, of course—Quo Vadis, Domine?  “Where are you going, Lord.”
          Jesus replied that he was going to Rome, to be crucified again.  And once again, Peter was forced to face his fear.  He left the Via Appian and returned to the Via Virtus:  the Way of Virtue.
          And he was crucified there in Rome, at the behest of Emperor Nero.
          Many scholars believe that Jesus was referencing Peter’s future crucifixion at the end of our text for this morning, when he said, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
          Certainly this text is another place in which we see Jesus and Peter engaged in the daily struggle of sanctification.
          As the text opens, we see Peter trying to get back to some kind of normal.  “I’m going fishing,” he announces.  “We’ll come with you,” six other disciples call back.
          And they go out into the lake and catch nothing because that makes a good start for a miracle story.
          At this point the lesson reads more like a 1950’s grade school primer than a sacred text.  But slowly a post-resurrection narrative emerges.  Jesus shows up.  Nobody recognizes him.  Even though they saw him way back in Chapter Twenty.  When they do realize that it is Jesus, Peter—inexplicably naked—puts on clothes, and in true Peter fashion, jumps in the water. 
          Sanctification is a daily struggle, friends.  The struggle is real.
          Peter is such a great model for us of the struggle, isn’t he? 
          Those who remember the way John tells the Passion and Resurrection stories might remember that the last time we saw Peter, he was racing the Beloved Disciple to the tomb.  Both of them went into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings and no Jesus, but John tells us that only the Beloved Disciple “saw and believed.”  And then they both went home.
          And before that?  What is Peter’s last named act before the Resurrection?
          Denying Jesus in the courtyard.  Three times.
          The struggle is real.  Even for someone who walked daily with Jesus…who was part of his inner circle—privy to his transfiguration, praised for his confession, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”  Living out the values of Jesus is hard.  Loving everybody is hard.  Some of those folks don’t make it easy.
          But Jesus is with us in the struggle.  Remember that the next time you are fishing naked.  Jesus is with you.  Put some clothes on.
          Even when we fall down, even when we deny Christ, he is with us, brushing us off, standing us up, sending us out to try to get it right the next time.
          He could have given up on Peter.  I mean, Peter looks pretty hopeless there at the end of this story.  You really couldn’t blame Jesus if he decided to take those keys back and give them to Nathanael.  Or Mary Magdalene. 
          Sit with that delightful image for a moment, and then come back, because, of course, that’s not what happened.
          What happened was breakfast.  After the miraculous catch of fish, there was ordinary fish, and bread.  And a seemingly ordinary question:  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
          Peter answered.  And Jesus asked again.  Answered, and asked again.
          Imagine being Peter.  We don’t have to imagine--John tells us that he felt hurt, being asked a third time whether he loved Jesus. 
          That had to be hard.
          Now imagine being Jesus.  Having to ask the disciple to whom you gave the keys to the kingdom.  The first bishop of your church!  “Hey, so do you love me?”
          Imagine what it is like for him to have to ask that question of each of us.  “Hey, do you love me?”  Because people who love Jesus also love other people.  Not just by being nice to them, but by working to make sure that they have food, and clothes.
          Just saying you believe in Jesus doesn’t convey that you love Jesus.  You follow Jesus into all the hard places he goes.  Out onto the margins and the streets and the alleyways. 
          The claim of faith does not justify.
          Right doctrine does not sanctify.
          Loving Jesus with your hands, and your feet, and your whole body—that sanctifies.  That makes you holy.  Not forever.  You gotta wake up again tomorrow and do it all over again.  Wake up in the morning and ask the question, “Quo vadis, Domine?”
          Where are you going, Lord.
          Or, “Quo vadis nobis, Domine?”
          Where are we going, Lord?  Where is my opportunity to show love today?  Where can I serve you with my hands and my feet, and my heart?
          Perhaps I can work for an end to the hate which leaves bullet holes in synagogues and burned husks where there used to be black churches.  Perhaps I can sort food or clothing so that my neighbors may live.  Perhaps I can offer a kind word to a dejected friend, coworker, stranger.  Perhaps I am even being called to die…to old ways, in order that new ways of love and service might take root.
          Quo vadis, Domine?  Take me with you.  Teach me to love you.

The Risen Christ Is Not Neutral--Easter 2

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Easter 2, April 28, 2019, Cross of Glory, Derby, KS
               19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
               26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

          This is a painting of an event.  Want to guess what?
          This is the fifteenth station of the cross at St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis, MN.
          If you know it’s resurrection, you can see it…maybe…
          One of the things that John’s gospel in particular makes clear is that it can be difficult to see and comprehend the Risen Christ.  On Easter Sunday, you probably heard the text which precedes this one, in which Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb.  What happened when she saw Jesus?
          The tomb was empty.  So she assumed NOT that he had risen from the dead…but that someone had stolen his body.
          Then she saw two angels…and assumed they had taken Jesus.
          Then she saw Jesus himself…and assumed he was…the…gardener.
          Finally he called her name and she realized who he was—it was Jesus, her rabbi, the one who had taught her so much.  And she was really excited.
          But it took a while…
          Later that day, Jesus appeared to his disciples.  He appeared in the room with them—a room that was locked, John tells us.  Appeared and greeted them in the way of Middle Eastern peoples:  “Peace be with you.” In Hebrew: Shalom ala CHEM.  In Arabic, As-Salaam alaykum.  This is still the standard greeting for speakers of both languages.
          Jesus appeared inside a locked room and announced peace.  Then he showed them his hands and his side.  And it was then—John tells us—that they recognized him.  When they told Thomas about it later—Thomas, the one brave enough to actually leave the room—he too demanded to see the marks before he would recognize Jesus.
          How do you think we would do if we were in that room?  Would we recognize him? 
          Do we believe that he dwells among us today? 
          Do you believe there are signs of the risen Christ around us today?
          Our text teaches that there are some ways to recognize Christ. 
          Christ bears wounds.  The risen Christ appears before us with wounds, often inflicted by systems that dole out power and resources unequally.
          Christ announces peace.  The risen Christ does not rule by the sword.  The risen Christ in our midst will always be one who lives by peace, not violence, or bullying, or demanding to be right.
          We may not always see Christ in our midst. 
          And we may see him, but avoid him.  You know what I’m talking about.  We careen around the wounded ones in our midst, fearful that they will want us to address their wounds, to help them heal.
          We discount the ones who announce peace, too, because they might ask us to be “announcers of peace.”  They might ask us to live the nonviolent way of Jesus, which runs quite counter to our culture, especially at this time in our history.  Not everyone likes “announcers of peace.”  Or “announcers of justice.”  Just look at the story of pretty much any prophet.
          If we are to be People of Resurrection, and as Christians, we can do no other, we need to understand this important fact: the risen Christ in our midst is not a neutral being.  The risen Christ in our midst demands that we be “announcers” of peace.  That we work to heal what is broken in our world, our neighborhood, our church, ourselves.  Because the risen Christ bears the wounds of misunderstanding which have been inflicted by every generation.
          And why is it so important for us to know how to see the risen Christ in our midst?
          Because people are looking for us to be the risen Christ in their midst.  More and more, people don’t know Jesus.  They’re not raised in the church, or if they are, they are leaving as kids.  Their window into Christianity, into the gospel of Jesus Christ…
          …is us.
          When they want to understand what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus means, they are looking at us.
          If it has made a difference in our lives, then perhaps it will make a difference in theirs. 
          If we are sharing our woundedness with the world, and willing to accept—and even try to heal—the woundedness of the people around us…well then this Christian church thing might be worth a look.  Might even be worth an investment.
          If we are people who share peace wherever we go, who rise about the troubled discourse of our time, then maybe this Jesus is for real.
          All around us is a generation of Thomases.  They want to believe in the risen Christ, but they need to see something.  They need to hear something…something that makes them believe. 
          They need to see people who are not afraid to show their wounds to the world.  People who are not afraid to be vulnerable, to speak a word of love and grace.
          They need to hear the announcement that there can be peace, that in our churches especially is a peace and love that is sadly lacking in so many other places.
          If we can be that, and do that, then people will see Christ in us.  People will be able to believe that we follow a God with the power to raise us up out of the tombs in which we find ourselves:  tombs of despair, frustration, pain.
          That’s a God people want to know.  That’s a Jesus people want to see.  They always have.
          And we have the power to show it to them.

Surprise!--Easter Sunday

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
Gospel Lesson                                                                                          Luke 24:1-12                       
          But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had followed him from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.
          4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
          10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

          So I was prepping this week.  There’s a lot of prepping this week.  And we were doing a new thing—the Even Greater Vigil.  So I was looking for fun stuff for us to do in the middle of the night here at church.
          And I thought, “Easter Karaoke!”
          Because I am a pastor and that is what passes for fun in my mind.
          So I head over to The You Tube and type in Easter Karaoke and up pops this [Slide 1].
          First song is by Elvis, but it’s one of his gospel songs—he did a lot of those.  So that makes sense. 
          Next song, “The Old Rugged Cross,” which I wouldn’t call an Easter hymn, but that’s a quibble.  Next is “Because He Lives,” which is an Easter hymn.
          And then Song Number Four.
          “White Rabbit,” by Jefferson Airplane.
          Some of you are perhaps too young to know that song.  So let me tell you that it is most definitely not an Easter song.
          But its inclusion in this list is, in a funny, paradoxical-and-therefore-most-appropriate-for-Lutherans-way, absolutely perfect.
          Because Easter is all about surprises.  Seriously, isn’t this the ultimate surprise ending? 
          [Slide 2] The news was out.  Jesus died a terrible death at The Place of the Skull. 
          They laid him in a tomb, and everybody went home.
          First thing Sunday morning, the faithful women went to the tomb.  They brought with them spices that they had prepared.  Frankincense.  Myrrh.  Aloes and ointments.  They themselves were prepared to encounter their Lord in the darkness of the tomb.
          But…SURPRISE!!!  [Slide 3]
          Christ is risen!
          Instead of a body, they found divine messengers.
          “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
          So they ran and told all the disciples, holed up in a room, and SURPRISE!  The men didn’t believe them.  They thought it was “an idle tale.”  The Greek word is leiros, and it does not mean “idle tale.”  [Slide 4]
          The women’s story is dismissed as utter nonsense of the worst kind…but Peter is still a little curious, so he goes to check it out. [Slide 5]
          And SURPRISE! It is Peter, not one of the never-wavering, always faithful women, who gets to unlock all of the doors of the kingdom and the church. [Slide 6]
          Peter, who hid in the courtyard and denied Jesus three times.  Peter.  So yes, the story of Peter is also a resurrection story. 
          That story (indicate Peter) is not so surprising.  Peter is a usual suspect when it comes to Church Fatherhood. 
          Much more surprising is the identity of those who do continue to profess and follow Jesus throughout his passion and after his resurrection.
          It’s women.  All the way through—beginning to end.
          But also a criminal on the cross.  And a Centurion—a soldier of the Empire—at the foot of the cross.
          It is often the unexpected ones who bear witness to the good news of God’s love—to the power of resurrection.  [Slide 7]
          It is often the unexpected ones who are living as Resurrection People.  So often it is the people on the margins who testify to how much God loves them and how much God has given them.  In the antebellum south, the dominant class refused to teach slaves how to read, in order to steal every last bit of their power.  So slaves taught themselves, usually reading The Bible.  And they wrote and sang songs of liberation.  “Wade in the water.  Wade in the water, children.  Wade in the water.  God’s gonna trouble the water.”
          Some believe that hymn is an instruction manual on how to use the Underground Railroad.  If so, it is an even more poignant testimony to the God whose story and promise is so often a song of freedom from captivity.
          In the most terrible times of history, God has been most present.  In our most terrible times, God has been most present.
          Maybe you find that surprising.  And maybe you already don’t, because you’ve been there.  You’ve experienced God’s abiding presence in your deepest darkness.  You already knew that about God 
          We know stuff, don’t we?
          Because we are Resurrection People.  We know that God triumphs over death.  We know that God is good.  [All the time.]
          We know stuff.
          But as Resurrection People—people whose lives are utterly changed by the good news that Christ is risen [Christ is risen indeed!]…
          …as Resurrection People, we also want to be ready for surprises.
          Resurrection People live expecting to be surprised. 
          [Slide 8]  Even when things seem bleak, when the news is not good at all…even then, God shows up to surprise us.
          [Slide 9—Resurrection Happens]
          Resurrection People live expecting to see resurrection happen all around us.  We are people of hope and peace, are we not?
          Resurrection People don’t stand around in tombs of cynicism and frustration.  We make our own news.  We co-create spaces of resurrection with God.  We fight for a living wage, and surprise surprise, it starts to roll across the country.  We take our faith out into the streets and the alleyways, knowing that our surprising God will walk right alongside us. [Next 4 Slides]
          We venture into places where we are told we don’t belong, and we witness to our resurrected God.  We are unwilling to accept what the dominant class tells us is dead.  We are unwilling to let our own hope die.
          Because we are Resurrection People.  Living the sheer audacity of the knowledge that Christ is risen.

          One more Easter surprise for you—under your pew, or under a pew nearby—is a note for you from God and a little Easter sweetness.  Most of them have nuts, so if you don’t do nuts, see me and I will switch out your treat.

          People of God, we are inheritors of a promise that continues to amaze and surprise.  We are witnesses to a God whose power cannot be contained…by tombs, by doctrine, by those who trade in temporal power.
          God is preparing multiple surprises for you.  All you have to do is step out into light and look for them.

Wondering Love--Easter Vigil

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Easter Vigil, April 20, 2019
John 20:1-18
          Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
          But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).
               17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

          Anybody ever come home, or gone out to your car, only to find that you’ve been burgled?
          It’s happened to me a few times—four times with my car, and twice in my office.  At home just stuff out of the shed.
          And every time it has happened to me, it has taken me from a few seconds to a minute or so to realize what happened.  Like, I’ve gone out to the car and thought, “Why did I leave the glovebox open?  That was dumb!”  And then I notice that things have been removed from the glovebox, or things are in the wrong place, or—worst of all—my mini-stash of coins and dollar bills is gone.
          And each time I think I probably should have realized what has happened sooner, but our minds don’t really work that way.  We seek out the most plausible answer:  “I left the glovebox open.”
          Then slowly, we start to see what has actually happened.  “Wait, my computer’s not actually in this office anywhere…”
          Here’s what I have never once surmised, in the midst of one of those situations—and I bet you haven’t either.
          I have never once surmised that the things missing from my car, or my office, or my shed were resurrected.  Never once thought that God had just spirited away my computer to fulfill the promises of the prophetic witness.
          Have you?  Ever thought that?
          So I raise that because it is easy from our cushy vantage point here in Two Thousand Years Later to judge poor Mary Magdalene for not realizing that maybe something supernatural had happened in that tomb.
          She does have a few clues, which could make you think maybe she should have realized what had happened.  On the other hand, her first thought is that somebody stole Jesus, while it always takes me a while to come to that conclusion.
          I always like having John’s resurrection narrative for the Vigil gospel, for a couple of reasons.  First, it says Mary went to the tomb in the dark, so good time parity.
          More importantly, though, this tale of resurrection makes sense to those of us who come out each year to sit in the liminal space between death and life.  Where Matthew and Luke both include an announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead in their Easter narratives, John lets us stumble along with Mary as she figures it out. 
          John’s story is a good old-fashioned mystery, from its first line.
          “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.”
[play Law & Order chung chung]
          Stone rolled away.  First clue.
          It’s fair to say that Mary is not exactly Sherlock Holmes, or even Lennie Brisco, because she solves the mystery first and then begins to examine the clues.  As soon as she sees the stone rolled away, she determines that someone has moved Jesus’s body, and she very doggedly sticks to that story as she talks to angels and then Jesus himself, all the while holding to her original narrative.
          And this is why I love this account of the resurrection on this night.  Maybe it is all a bit much for you.  I know it is for me.  Last night we were walking with the cross and listening to plaintive violin music.  Tonight the tomb is empty.
          What does it mean?
          Well, it means that Christ is ri…diculously good at the whole power over death thing.  And it means that we as his followers inherit our own power over death.  And it means that we belong to a God with a whole lot of power, and let’s be honest, it means a lot of things.
          It means different things for us at different times.  I know there have been times in my life when I needed actual resurrection.  And other times when I was ready to testify to others about God’s power.
          Tonight we get a chance to simply sit and wonder what it all means for us.  What does it mean to you that the tomb is empty?  What does it mean to follow a savior who has power over death and who has conferred that power upon you?
          And why does Mary think Jesus is the gardener?
          Tomorrow will be big and we will be dressed right and say all the right words.  Tonight is time to ponder, to peek into the tomb and wonder what it all means.
          Blessings upon your wondering.  Blessed be the mystery of this night.  [chung chung]

Consider Love--Good Friday

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Luke 23:39-49
          One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
               44It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

          Some of us are verbal processors.  You know who you are.  You figure stuff out by considering it.  Out loud.  From multiple perspectives.
          Others of us are what they call “mental processors,” who should maybe be called considerers, since verbal processors are also using their brains.  Considerers are harder to read, because we have to observe…and then think…and then think some more.
          Jesus had in his life folks who processed both ways.  James and John, the Sons of Thunder—definitely verbal processors.  Peter too.  And probably Judas, who quickly came to regret his dealings with “the chief priests and officers of the temple police.”
          But there were considerers around Jesus as well.  I think Good Friday tells their story, and why they are important to the story.
          At the end, as Jesus lay dying on the cross, many in the crowd beat their breasts and cried out, and then returned to their homes.  They processed out loud, and they called attention to the travesty taking place there in Jerusalem.  Those verbal processors were important in letting folks know what was happening as it happened. 
          The considerers, as one might expect, appear at the end of the story.  Verse 49:  But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”
          They watched. 
          As Jesus was paraded through the streets, they watched.
          As he was derided by soldiers and then criminals, they watched.
          As he hung on an instrument of torture, dying, they watched.
          They were bearing witness.  Marturia.
          They were the martyrs of the Chief Martyr.  Witnesses to the thing that God was doing in the garden, the courtroom, the road, and the hill called Golgotha.
          It took time to process what happened there.  On Sunday morning we will hear the story of some of the women, the first witnesses of the resurrection.  When they tell what they have seen, the men dismiss their words as “an idle tale.”
          It can take a while to understand the story we just heard.  And what we know will happen next.  I know I’ve been processing it for a while now.  Anybody else?
          Love is like that. 
          Make no mistake—this is a love story.  And love is not always easy to understand.  Isn’t it?  Sometimes it is hard to even recognize. 
          What God was doing at Golgotha has been studied, examined, translated, and considered for two millennia.  And still we come to it anew each year, trying to understand what we have heard, and seen. 
          We use big phrases like “substitutionary atonement” and “satisfaction theory” to try to wrap our minds around how God could agree to become human and then suffer and die on our behalf. 
          I heard something this week that helped.  A guy was talking about the sermon his pastor preached on Palm Sunday.  She was talking about the crucifixion and how hard it is to understand how God could allow Jesus, God’s only begotten child, to suffer.  And she said this:  “The cross is not something God does to Jesus; the cross is something God does as Jesus.”
          I’ve been considering that all week.
          God became incarnate in order to love us in a whole new way.  A way that can be hard to understand and maybe even to recognize.  Because it is love that asks for nothing in return, and honestly, we don’t get to see a lot of that.
          I invite you, no matter what your regular inclination is, to consider that tonight.  Consider the love that God shows us as Jesus.  Take some time to ponder just how much God cares for us and just how much God was willing to give up in order to become like us, to experience life as we do, all the way to its end.
          This consideration is our final act of witness for the season of Lent, and we come to it willingly, because witnessing is itself an act of love.  It is an act of love to stand and watch, and to tell what we have seen. 
          Consider this night how you will tell the story of God’s love as Jesus Christ.  How will you convey a love so strong, so radical that it gives everything and asks nothing?
          How will you witness to this almost incomprehensible love, before a world which is desperate to comprehend it?
          Consider that.  Consider love.    

Standing at the Wall--Palm Sunday

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
First Christian Scripture Reading                                                        Philippians 2:5-11
               5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Luke 19:28-40                       
               28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
          32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.”
          35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their
cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”  39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

          We begin, as we should this day, with a confession of faith.  Find another person, look them in the eye, and say, “Jesus is Lord.” Do it.
          The earliest confession of the Christian Church is “Jesus is Lord.”  Three simple words.  In Greek just two words, “Kyrios Iejous.” 
          Jesus is Lord.  Such a simple phrase, with so much power.
          It probably seems much simpler to us, now, because we don’t live under “Lords.”  In the early days of Christianity, to say “Jesus is Lord” meant that you valued the Lordship of Jesus Christ above that of the Roman gods, and the representative of the gods on earth who was…? 
          The Emperor.  In 27 BCE, Emperor Octavian took the name Augustus, signifying that he had divine power bestowed upon him by the gods.  You might remember Augustus from about seventeen chapter’s back in Luke’s gospel:  “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus, that all the world should be registered.
          Augustus is the reason that Jesus was born in Nazareth.
          But Jesus is the reason for the season.
          When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt, Augustus was no longer Emperor.  It was Emperor Tiberius who was insulted by those who cried out “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
          “Jesus is Lord” is a radical statement.  To bless a “king” riding on a colt, at the time of the Passover, when Pontius Pilate, the governor over Jerusalem, would be riding into town on a huge white stallion, at the head of an imperial procession—that blessing is a confession of faith which rings loudly in the halls of power.
          To say “Jesus is Lord” is to declare that our allegiance is solely to the one who rode on a colt, not a big white horse…to say out loud that our hearts are his, our hands are his, our minds are his.  To declare that we endeavor to have “the same mind” that he has, to borrow Paul’s phrase, written as advice to the people of Phillipi, advice that is every bit as resonant today:  5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

          Today we join our minds with his, as we gather, poised for the journey of Holy Week.  There will be much to do and many opportunities to worship together.  But before all that begins, I want to take a couple of minutes to simply follow Paul’s advice.  Let’s join Jesus and the disciples on the Mount of Olives.
          [Slide 1]  Imagine, if you will, what it would have been like to stand atop the Mount, staring across the Kidron Valley to the walls of Jerusalem.  For Jesus, knowing what was to come?  For the disciples, still shouting their praises into a wind which would soon blow hostile?
          So that picture is telephoto.  Here’s the whole view. [Slide 2]  And here’s a picture I didn’t take, but one which still shows the olive trees on the Mount of Olives. [Slide 3] That space is all tombs and graves now.
          [Slide 4]  Let’s just sit here with Jesus for a moment, imagining what he was thinking, and feeling.  Pause for a minute.
          Beyond those walls is judgment. 
          Beyond those walls is the arrogance and treachery of the powerful.
          Beyond those walls is suffering.  And death.

          The crowd of disciples will travers the Kidron Valley with Jesus, shouting their confession of faith:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”  A confession uttered in the time of Tiberius, which reaches back to the time of Augustus and an angelic announcement on a hillside.  And forward to our time, and the courage still required to say “Jesus is Lord,” when so many others vie for the title.
          It will take courage this week to walk across the valleys and stand in the streets.  To join Jesus in the Garden as he is betrayed. [3 slides]
          It will take plenty of courage to come to Golgotha on Friday, [slide] and to sit at the foot of the cross with the few who remained, while the others slid away. [slide]
          It takes courage to say “Jesus is Lord” today.  It takes courage to make the journey to the garden, the cross, the tomb.  But we have been called to go to those places, to be, literally, marturia—witnesses of Jesus Christ.  So we go.  With the words of St. Paul ringing in our ears, we go. 
          5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.  Hymn #808:  “Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song”