18 June 2017: Healing and Liberation

18 June 2017
Matthew 9.35-10.8

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Jesus is traveling. Going from village to village teaching, curing every disease and sickness. In each town, in each crowd, he sees the same thing – people are fragile, worn out, on the edge, broken, harassed and helpless as the gospel readings says. Quickly Jesus realizes there is more to be done than one person alone can do, and so he calls his disciples, the ones he has been teaching as they travel, and though they are novices and rough around the edges, Jesus sends them out to do the same, saying: Everywhere you go proclaim the good news: The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons.

Marching orders.

As modern day followers of Jesus, we pay particular attention to the followers of Jesus long ago, watching how they followed, what they did and said, where they hit road blocks, and where they did well. In this reading, the marching orders are clear: Go. Proclaim. Cure, raise, cleanse, cast out.

Clear and yet they are from another time and place. Most of us don’t encounter lepers on a regular basis. Health care workers cure the sick. Our scientific sensibilities scoff at any notion that we might raise the dead, and as for casting out demons … well … And in no time at all we have distanced ourselves just far enough from these seemingly clear marching orders that we no longer feel compelled to respond as did the first disciples. Those were words for that time and place. Not here and now.

Take a second look. Cure the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leper. Cast out demons. What I notice about these specific actions, these signs that the kingdom of heaven is near, is that they are all about healing and liberation. Healing in body and mind and soul. Healing bonds of relationship and community. Healing the broken places in the hearts of individuals and of whole communities.

And liberation … How many little deaths do we die each day we are alive? Deaths of disappointment and unrealized hopes, deaths of loss of identity, relationship, purpose. And we may not think of demons within us but we certainly know the power of being caught by something beyond our control. Feelings of fear, hopelessness, despair. Anger. Pride. Envy. A desire for power of some kind.

Healing and liberation … signs of the kingdom of God in our midst …

If we as individuals can see the need for healing and liberation in our lives, is it any surprise that whole peoples, entire communities, a country, the world are also in need of healing and liberation?

June 20, Tuesday, is World Refugee Day. The fact that we have such a day is reminder enough of the need for healing and liberation in our world. Refugees leave home because their lives are in danger due to war or violence, persecution, natural or human caused terror, hunger, lack of opportunity to provide for their loved ones. They flee seeking healing and liberation, neither of which are available as long as they stay where they are. Oh God, we pray for healing and liberation from war and insecurity.

These last few days provide other reminders of the world’s need for healing and liberation.
In particular, the acquittal in Minnesota of a police officer in the death of a black man named Philando Castile last summer, and the second anniversary of the racially based murders of nine bible study participants at Emmanuel AME in Charleston, a domestic act of terror. We have to acknowledge that our country, our communities, our hearts are in need of healing and liberation from the sin of systemic racism. It may cause you a twinge of discomfort that I say this. But discomfort is not a good enough reason to avoid telling the truth.

We have a problem with racism in this country. Few of us set out to act in ways that exert power over another based on the color of skin or the ethnic origins of a person, but we cannot continue to deny that racism – one group of people using power over another based on race – that racism pervades the systems and institutions we live in. And unless we talk about it, it will continue to simmer. Oh God, we pray for healing and liberation from racism.

The hung jury of a celebrity accused of sexual abuse of women is a reminder that our communities are in need of healing and liberation from the casual mistreatment of human beings, created in the image of God, who are women. Casual mistreatment and casual dismissal of what women bring to this world, to relationships, to work and positions of authority, to our life together. Oh God, we pray for healing and liberation from abuse.

Father’s Day reminds us that we need parents who love us as we grow. We need fathers and father figures to model the many ways of being a man so that our children, boy and girls, grow up knowing men are strong and gentle and everything in between. Today reminds us how many children don’t have fathers, don’t have parents to love them and protect them as they learn to navigate their lives. Oh God, we pray for healing and liberation from abandonment.

The shooting at the Republican baseball practice, injuring Senator Scalise and others is yet another reminder that we need healing and liberation from violence as a means of communication, and healing and liberation from easy access to and ready use of guns as a tool for harming one another. Oh God, we pray for healing and libration from violence.

Following Jesus is about playing our part to make sure that healing and liberation are available to all. That the fullness of life, the wholeness of being human, and connection to community are the opportunity of all people.

In ways large and small we are sent by Jesus to raise awareness. To stand with others. To advocate for the voiceless. To systematically undo the systems that work against women, children, people of color, victims of violence and war, anyone who does not have power in a situation. To resist evil. To cure, raise, cleanse, cast out all war and insecurity, racism, abuse, and violence. To strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of all people.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Beloved in Christ, we are disciples sent out to work for healing and liberation. And we are the crowd that longs for the words of Jesus.
The good news today is that Jesus still sees the crowds with compassion, for we are still harassed and helpless, still in need of guidance.

And because this life is some times full of bad news and hard work. And because following Jesus is at times demanding and uncomfortable. And because we need a reminder of the good news that Jesus is not just sending us out to do what seems impossible but is also walking along side us … a song to accompany us …
Stand as you are able and sing with me.

Peace before us,
Peace behind us,
Peace under our feet.
Peace within us,
Peace above us,
Let all around us be peace.

Love, light, joy.

Thanks be to God, and thank your for following Jesus.

11 June 2017: Seeing the Trinity in Cambodia

11 June 2017: Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28.16-20celtic-cross-4-public-domain

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

I have to be honest. I’m jet lagged. Travel weary. And a bit soul worn as well.

We spent Pentecost Sunday at Angkor Wat, one of a huge complex of temples built in the 11th century. Originally Hindu, they were converted to Buddhist places of worship a century or two later when the Khmer people became Buddhist. It is a stunning complex. Huge. Elaborate etchings and sculptures still visible and breathtaking all these centuries later. Almost nothing is off limits and people wander through ancient limestone hallways and doorways. The light is magical, bringing the delicate etchings alive.

Earlier that week we visited a school that was converted into a center of torture during the 1970’s brutal regime of Pol Pot. Of the estimated 17,000 people imprisoned there, only 12 survived. The rest were killed either on the grounds of the school or in one of the 300 or so killing fields scattered across Cambodia, one of which we also visited.

We then spent a day and night in the village of Krous, where our daughter Mallory has lived since last August, working with a Lutheran church teaching English, literacy, and computer skills in a country where education still is very hard to come by and most children drop out after only a few years.

During our travels in Cambodia we saw the large garment factories owned by Chinese or Indonesian or Thai companies taking advantage of the low cost of labor. We saw endless vistas of rice fields yet learned that rice production in Cambodia is insignificant in comparison to neighboring countries, leading to malnutrition and stunted growth in children. While we were in the country, provincial elections were held, yet the truth is that corruption runs rampant and 40 years after the genocide years, Cambodia continues to struggle politically, emotionally, and economically.

It was a phenomenal trip and I am still overwhelmed by gratitude to be able to be in such a place, seeing these sights, learning about this country that I first knew of in 1982 from refugees.

So why am I telling you all this? After all, most of you have never been to Cambodia and never will visit. But Cambodia and her people, her forests and rice fields, are part of God’s good creation. Even when we know little to nothing about a place, it is still a part of us and we are still a part of that place, because we all are part of God’s creative force. So there is that.

But I also tell you all of this, because it was through this experience that I pondered – and pondered – today’s gospel reading. The context in which I heard these last words of Matthew’s gospel known as the Great Commission was one of rice fields and palm trees, of ancient ruins and a people still traumatized by genocide, of the crazy busy city of Phnom Penh and a quiet village of Krous.

You might think that it was the Great Commission itself that stuck with me: Go. Baptize. Teach. And while I indeed thought of the ways that these words have been used in the past to send people out in mission it was not these words but the final line that I could not shake: Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Let’s be clear, the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel were one hot mess. First, there were only eleven. Judas, the betrayer is gone. The inner circle broken. Second, they went to Galilee based on the direction of Mary Magdelene and the other Mary. Two women who had gone to the tomb, experienced an earthquake, seen the angel roll away the stone, and hear the angel tell them that Jesus was risen and would meet them in Galilee. Then as they ran off to announce this good news, Jesus himself, newly risen met them on the road and again confirmed that he was going before them to Galilee. Meanwhile, the other disciples, were left behind where accusations were brewing that Jesus’ disciples had stolen away his body. Imagine the scene when the women come breathless into the room and say: We have to go to Galilee. Jesus is waiting for us there.

No wonder when the eleven saw Jesus they worshiped him and some doubted.

In their confusion and doubt Jesus tells them to go, baptize, teach. In other words, continue my work, says Jesus. Yes you. And when you are quite sure you can’t or an incapable or doubt, remember I am with you. Always.

I am with you. These are comforting words when the way is tough and when we doubt ourselves. In Matthew’s telling the words come from Jesus but what I hear is not Jesus is with us but God is with us: God, in all the fullness of the creating and pursuing, unconditional loving and abundantly merciful Father/Mother. God in the flesh who did not hold on to divine beingness but took on the form of a servant, living – walking, eating, sleeping, worrying, praying – and dying as one of us. God the Spirit brooding over all creation, bringing light and life, energy and breath to all. God with us. In all things, at all times.

In the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, on Pentecost Sunday, I heard a whisper of God the Holy Three in One. A whisper that transcended human made religious construct drawing my attention to the vast scale of God’s vision when God created humankind. Humans that could imagine, then create temples of beauty for the sake of honoring the holy. God the creator at work in all places and at all times. If Angkor Wat can point to God, where else? Now I want to look even more closely, even more far and wind for signs of creator God.

In Mallory’s village I experienced God the sustainer. It has not been an easy placement for Mallory. Some of the daily relationships have been challenging, stretching her in new ways. And yet, Mallory is remarkably grounded, self aware, able to hold on to healthy perspective, and above all, finding compassion for others and herself. This year Mallory has become more Mallory and a new Mallory because of the sustaining work of the one who knows the fullness of human life and has walked with her even when she is not fully aware of it. And I wonder … how is this sustaining God walking with me, with you, bringing us to some new way of being, of living, of loving?

And in the most heartbreaking day of our visit, at the torture center and the killing fields, I clung to the promise of God the Spirit blowing new life in places of deep, deep pain and death. So much pain. So much death. Through the stories told in these places, the reverent attention to a painful chapter in the history of this country, I have to believe that the redeeming Spirit of God is indeed at work. Pictures of victims, clothing remnants, and yes skulls and bones housed in a memorial all bear witness to our capacity for evil and to the capacity for life and love to overcome evil. This is the work of the Spirit of God.

Remember I am with you are words of comfort. They are also challenging words. For if God in the mystery of the three in one and one in three, is indeed with us in all things and at all times, then what are we doing? How then shall we live?

If the creator of the universe is with us why do we, do I, hesitate to risk, to reach out beyond our comfort zone, to love with abandon?

If the word made flesh is with us why do we, do I, find it so hard to trust ourselves, to believe in the goodness of humanity, to see Jesus in one another?

If the Spirit indeed dwells in us why are we, am I, so flat, so full of doubt, so prone to follow in the ways of scarcity and fear?

Where do we see God the creator here at home? In the ruins of grand visions, sold churches, abandoned dreams? How is God the sustainer holding you, holding us while stretching us to new ways of being and living and loving? Where is God the Spirit of new life at work, redeeming what is dead, bringing to it new life?

In the beginning God created all that is, and it was good. You don’t have to travel to a new place to see with new eyes. God is opening our eyes all the time to see God at work all around us. And for that I say, thanks be to God.

21 May 2017: Always be ready to give an accounting of the hope that is in you (A sermon when I had nothing)

21 May 2017: Easter 6
John 14.15-21 (also Psalm 66.7-18, 1 Peter 3.13-22)shoot in dry land

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Most days I really love John’s gospel.
I love the story of the wedding at Cana, the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus washing the disciples feet.
I like that in John’s gospel the language and images are lyrical and mystical, and by that I mean that there are many pathways into what John is describing and many places that the words take me, expanding my image of God and God’s work in the world:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God

Usually, when I read the gospel and other readings for Sunday, something jumps out at me. That thing may or may not be what I ultimately go with for a sermon but it is always the starting place.
This week, this reading from John, did not have the usual affect.
I read it and … well, nothing.
No jumping out at me starting point. Just … nothing.

It’s not much fun, and at times it is downright painful, but the truth is that some times the preacher feel like she has nothing.
Which is when, though spoken in a different context to a people truly suffering Peter’s words speak to me:
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.
Today that means that means that I will tell you about the hope that is in me, and what I know to be true, even when I don’t feel it.

It begins with the line from the Psalm: Bless our God … who has kept us among the living.
No matter the struggles of life – slippery slopes, burdens, rivers, fire, and rushing water
God listens.
God does not reject the psalmist’s prayers or our prayers.
God does not remove God’s steadfast love.
God brings us to a spacious place.
I find hope in this testimony, this quiet yet strong reminder that no matter what era of human existence we inhabit,
No matter what our particular experience of difficulty, no matter how our patience and strength are tested,
We stand in the middle of a long, long line of people who have testified to God who keeps us among the living.
This is a place of hope for me.
God has my back even when I do not always feel it.

The other line that reminds me of where I find my hope come from the reading in Acts.
In Athens Paul sees signs of a people who long for God, who search for and grope for God even though God is not far off but right here.
Among these people who know nothing of the scriptural narrative or experiences of life that have shaped Paul,
Paul connects his experience of God to the words of contemporary poets who said:
In God we live and move and have our very being.
This way of understanding God has been fundamental to my spiritual life.
Some days I am very aware of my being and living in God.
And when I don’t feel it, on days when it feels like I have nothing, these words remind me that even in my emptiness, God is, and my emptiness is in God.

Nothing in life is separate from God.
Nor is anything wasted in God’s economy.

When I return to John’s gospel, I stop after the first line:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Huh. Is this an if-then deal?
I do a little digging and discover that the Greek could just as easily have been translated: Ever loving me you will keep my commandments.
Jesus was speaking to his beloved friends in an intimate meal at the end of his life, so it is safe to assume that love was present and active between them.
Ever loving me
Which means that Jesus was not giving instructions, a step-by-step process to find love, God’s love.
Instead, Jesus was naming what was already real and present among them.
The love that binds us, this love, it is God’s love for you flowing between us all.
And because of this love that flows through us, how we live takes on particular shape.
Loving God. Honoring the humanity and dignity of others. Setting boundaries that promote health and wholeness.

Then I consider other lines that I know to be true even when this week they inspire nothing profound in me.
I will give you an Advocate. I will not leave you orphaned.
You will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.
I am, we are, not alone.
The Holy Spirit walks with us. In all things. In all ways.
Here is hope for the living of our days.

When I remember that I am not alone, that the Holy Spirit moves in and through me – and you …
When I remember that it is God in whom I live and move and have my being …
When I remember that God wants for us life, keeps us in the land of the living, has our backs …
This changes everything.

I’ve been running long enough now to know that I can run 5-6 miles any time I step out the door.
Yet many days I walk out the door not feeling like I have 5 or 6 miles in me.
But I trust my legs and my lungs, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Steadily.
Because of past experience I know I will run the distance, even when I can’t feel it.

I’ve also lived long enough to know that God keeps showing up in life.
Even on those days I don’t feel that God is anywhere near.
I go about the day – steadily – and because of past experience I dare to hope that eventually, in time, I will again feel God’s presence …
Will again see God in a smile or a word, in a conversation or silence, in tears or laughter.
In those moments I open up again and can feel God within me.
God who was always near.
God who has my back.

I’ve come to worship every week long enough to know that God meets me in this time
Even on days I don’t feel God is anywhere near.
No matter what I bring with me, known and unknown,
The familiar patterns steadily moving us towards the moment when bread and wine are raised and blessed,
Then held and tasted …
For this Jesus suffered and died
That we might always know that we are God’s beloved people.
People who, filled with God’s love and with the Spirit walking beside us,
Take God’s love into the living of our days.

This is my testimony of hope.

16 April 2017: Two Suddenlys and the Parentheses of an Empty Tomb

16 April 2017: Easter Day
Matthew 28.1-10mary and jesus at the tomb

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

For all it’s joy, today’s celebration rings hollow if we do not begin where it all began.
For our alleluias to mean anything we must begin at the beginning.
With Mary and Mary setting out at dawn, not to put on pretty new clothes or eat pastel colored candy, but going to see the tomb.

I doubt they had slept much. The hours since Jesus’ death were no doubt emotionally and physically draining, and yet … death makes it hard to actually sleep deeply. Likely, the two Marys were hardly aware of the dawning of a new day. They simply knew that now there was enough light to see where they were going.

And so, in shock and disbelief, grief weighing heavily on them, the two women walked out of town to the place where not long ago – and yet a lifetime ago – Jesus had been laid in a tomb after suffering that humiliating sham of a trial, and death on a cross like a common criminal. How could this have happened?

Mary and Mary set out for the tomb, knowing that once they arrived they would not be able to tend to the body, for a large stone had been rolled in front of the opening to make sure Jesus remained where he had been laid. And yet, even if keeping vigil was all they could do, the tomb was the only place where it made any sense to be. Just a few moments of quiet … that was all they needed before facing a new day without Jesus. Before facing a day with more questions than answers. Before facing a life that now held more uncertainty and even danger than just a few days ago.

Then … Suddenly!
An earthquake! An angel.! The stone rolled away! The angel sitting on the stone, his appearance like lightning, his clothes white as snow!

The guards froze in fear.
The angel speaks: Do not be afraid. He is risen. Come and see, then go and tell the others.
Mary and Mary, hearts pounding, even as joy rises, do as the angel says.
Then turn and run home.

Then … Suddenly!
Jesus is there! Jesus is in front of them!
They fall in joy and disbelief at his feet and worship him.
Jesus speaks: Do not be afraid. Go, tell the others.

In two moments, marked by the word ‘suddenly’, everything changed. The arrival of the angel, then the risen Jesus, shifted the ground under the women. Mary and Mary went to the tomb expecting death and found life.

But while the suddenlys function to catch our attention, it’s what happens in between them that is significant. These two suddenly moments function like parentheses in the narrative of the story, interrupting the flow of the narrative, calling our attention to something important:

The tomb is empty, Jesus is risen, just as he said!

Mary and Mary went to the tomb (expecting death) and found life.
Mary and Mary went to the tomb (expecting death) but it was empty.

Here’s the thing …
What happened in the parentheses of those suddenlys did not change the reality that death had come. Jesus still died. His disciples still knew the pain of grief. Abuse of power and violence had their moment. God held an anxious creation.

And the truth is that we still know death and fear, and pain and grief today. We know all too well that abuse of power and violence still have their moments. And God still holds an anxious creation.

But what happened in the parentheses of those suddenlys long ago, interrupted the flow of the narrative, and shifted the direction of the story in ways that are still unfolding today. Now – even now – death and fear and pain, estrangement, loneliness, and despair, are always held within the parentheses of an empty tomb.

An empty tomb which reverberates to this day with the good news that God’s love is stronger than death. That life is stronger than fear. That joy lives because Jesus lives.

Mary and Mary went to the tomb (expecting death) and found life.

We come today expecting … what?
Familiar faces? Joy-filled worship? Rousing music? Inspiring words?
A shift from the mundane?

No matter what we are expecting, its probably not Jesus himself.

And yet, suddenly, or perhaps quietly …
Jesus shows up.
In joyful alleluias sung and spoken. In hopeful alleluias whispered in our hearts.
In the bread and wine we will soon share.
In the everlasting love of God.
In all this, Jesus shows up.

And when Jesus shows up … it changes the direction of the story of our lives.
Making today the first day of your new life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

15 April 2017: The Night When Alleluia Wins

easter vigil

15 April 2017: Easter Vigil
Romans 6.3-11, Matthew 28.1-10

This is the night!
After weeks of practicing new and new spiritual practices

After hearing the stories of joy and hope of Palm Sunday

Quickly followed by the story betrayal and abandonment

After washing feet and hearing the command to love

After quietly giving thanks for the cross even as death is real

After waiting through a night and day of death …

This is the night!

 

I love the liturgy of this night,

The way it begins with one small light

One voice proclaiming in the darkness

The light and life to come.

In growing light the liturgy leads us through the history and story of salvation,

Beginning with creation, then the flood,

The story of Exodus and the freeing of God’s people from slavery

The strong poetry of Isaiah proclaiming salvation for ALL

The valley of dry bones brought to life with the breath of God.

 

With these stories of broken and redeemed ancestors,

People of oppression and freedom, persistence and hope,

Ringing in our ears,

This is the night when we stand at the baptismal font and again say ‘yes’

To being one of the faithful

Say ‘yes’ to being one of the broken and redeemed

Say ‘yes’ to being one of the claimed, marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Who knew we were so bold?

So bold to stand and say yes to light and life

 

Even as bombs fall and warring tensions rise

Even as illness creeps in and bodies fail

Even as estrangement and loneliness persist

Even knowing the stories of the past, our past

This is the night

We stand and say yes to light and life.

 

I don’t know about you

But I just felt a mini earthquake in my insides

A quivering in my belly

A shadow of doubt.

Who am I to claim life in death,

Or hope in the despair of darkness,

ANY way beyond such powerful forces?

 

Quite frankly,

I’m not one to do so.

And neither are you.

But Christ is.

Thank God.

 

Do you not know

That because Christ lives, we live?

Do you not know

That because Jesus died and was raised

Death has no power over us

And not just death at the end of life,

But all the little deaths of living

All the ways we die to the fullness of life

And relationship with one another and with God

Because of pride and envy, judgment and fear.

 

Do you not know

That because the tomb where Jesus lay is empty

Hope is born anew in us?

That space is made in this life

For joy and love and beauty and goodness

No matter the forces of evil around us.

 

Do you not know

That united with Christ in the death of baptism

We are united with Christ in life?

That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ?

 

This is the night we claim God’s promises –

That though death is strong

Life is stronger.

That although fear and anguish, pain and despair run amok in us

Hope rises in the cracks

That even when darkness settles in and the end is bad

It is not the end for light shines on.

For this is the night when alleluia wins

When God’s love triumphs over all

Setting us free to live in hope

For the sake of spreading the good news of this night.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

14 April 2017: Good Friday Reflections

  1. John 18.1-11: Am I not to drink the cup?good friday

Jesus went with his disciple across the valley to a garden
With lanterns and torches and weapons
A place of rest becomes a place of violence
Judas betrays, Peter reacts
And in the presence of soldiers, a sword is pulled.

How many times a day do we react with violence?
Violence of thought, word, or deed?
Thinking judgment, speaking hurt,
Acting in willful ignorance of the needs of those around us?
Wishing to hold on to what already is
Hoping to avoid more work or engagement with others
Driven by weariness and despair and fear.

Jesus sees it:
Put away your sword
Put away your fear
I will drink the cup the Father has given me.

  1. John 18.12-27: Denial

Everything happened so quickly
Arrest, taken to court, questioning
For those following along
It was almost impossible to know what was happening
Fear was rampant, anxiety, uncertainty
How many lives were at risk this night?

How many lives are at risk tonight
In our world full of fear?
In this time overflowing with violence?
We can’t fix all the brokenness
We can’t stop all the violence
We CAN
See it
We CAN
Choose not to deny it.

  1. John 18.27b-40: What is truth?

Indeed, what is truth?
Who has truth?
Do we recognize truth when we hear it, see it?
Criminal or innocent
Terrorist or freedom fighter
Martyr or faithful
Stubborn or persistently directed
Human or divine
Son of God or country preacher.
What is truth
When truth is shaped by our vantage point?
Is there only one truth?

  1. John 19.1-16: Silence to power

In the face of power, Jesus remained silent
Mocking did not prompt a reply
Neither did the crowd’s cries of ‘crucify him’
Jesus did not explain or justify or defend
He simply brought his full bearing –
Fully human, divinely full –
To the moment.

His best response to the abuses of power
Was himself.
One who was willing, able, to go where the crowd sent him
To death.
Not in payment for mistakes,
Not to make up for our lack,
But to show us that there is no where we go –
No suffering, no darkness, no despair, no death –
Where God has not already gone before us
Where Jesus meets us.
Where holy power makes us whole.

  1. John 19.16b-27: Your mother. Your son.

I can imagine few things worse
Than watching your child die.
Powerless to do anything to save his life
Powerless to do anything to ease his suffering.

If there IS anything worse
It has to be Jesus’ experience –
Watching his mother watch her child die.

From his perspective
High on a cross
Jesus can see his mother,
yet is unable to do to go to her
unable to embrace her
unable to whisper words of love and encouragement.

Jesus who healed the sick and blind and deaf
Who reached out tenderly to children
the lame and maimed
the cast out and forgotten
Cannot …
prevent grief from overcoming his own mother.
Cannot himself shelter her from the suffering
of the days and weeks to come

So he does what he can.
He gives her to his beloved disciple
And gives his disciple to his beloved mother.
He makes sure she has someone by her side
to comfort and console and provide for her in her grieving.

In this act it is as if
he turns to each one of us
And says, ‘Here …
Here is one to love you
as I love
Here is one for you to love
as I love.’

So simple, so impossible.
Love from the cross becomes
Love that erases all that divides us from each other
Until we love all
as deeply as our own mother,
as deeply as our own child.

  1. John 19.28-30: Sweet love

The last movement of this night
Is a sweet act of love.
Joseph, Nicodemus, and the others
Tend to death with tenderness and dignity
Spices, clean linens, a peaceful garden
An empty tomb yet to hold death.
They prepared his body and laid him there.

Now we wait.
We wait for love to move in us.
To sweeten our hearts and minds
To transform us into beloved of God.

This is the holy work, the unending work, of our Good Friday God.

13 April 2017: Love to the End

maundy thursday stained glass

13 April 2017: Maundy Thursday
John 13.1-17, 31b-35

Jesus loved them to the end

Knowing what Judas would do
Knowing that betrayal was moments away
Knowing that his beloved friends would abandon him before the end of day
Knowing that he would be exposed and humiliated,
Spat on, slapped, jeered at by Roman officials and community leaders
Knowing that he would be offered soured wine to drink
Knowing that pain and suffering, that death itself, was near
Knowing that few loved ones would be with him as he hung on a cross
Knowing all this,
Jesus loved them to the end.

Jesus loved them to the end with love that looked like
Gathering around a meal with those he loved knowing it was the last time
Love that looked like putting on the form of a servant
Getting down on his knees in front of his friends’ feet
Dirty, calloused, travel worn
And washing them

Love that looked like once again
Patiently, carefully
Helping Peter, dear Peter, understand what Jesus was doing and why
Love that was action and words and more than they could understand in the moment
Love they would only understand later
Loving them like this
Jesus loved them to the end.

An ending that certainly didn’t look good
Because, you know … death
And not simply death, but death after all those other not good things:
Betrayal, abandonment, humiliation, exposure
A bad ending to be sure
Still, Jesus loved them to the very end of that bad ending.

 

I’ve heard it said:
If it is a bad ending, it’s not the end

The disciples didn’t understand until later
That the words Jesus spoke that night around the table
Changed the ending
Were the beginning, in fact, of a different ending
This is my body, my blood, my self
Given for you.

From then on, bread broken and wine shared is no longer mere bread and wine
Now it is the very presence of Christ
A tangible sign of the new ending that has no end
For the love of Christ that carries us
Through the darkest, loneliest,
Most difficult times of suffering we will ever know,
To death itself …
This love of Christ is without end.