TRINITY SUNDAY B 2015 MAY 31, 2015 OSLC

May 31, 2015  

There are two big words that come to my mind on this Sunday where we honor the Trinity while admitting that, to the core of our beings, we do not understand the Trinity. We accept, we proclaim, we exclaim, we admire – but we don’t understand. We celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, the day God birthed the church. Now the church takes this squinty eyed, can’t quite look at the brilliance of God but we’ll try anyway, day to talk about the God we have experienced.

And those two big words are transcendence and immanence.

Transcendence means to surpass, to exceed, to be beyond. So whatever we can possibly picture of God’s beauty, God’s greatness, God’s holiness, well, simply put, God is far more than that. Immanence means to come among. It’s a homonym, a sound-alike word. It sounds like “ I m m i – imminence”, which means soon to happen, about upon us, coming soon. “I-m-m-a –immanence” means right here, contained, dwelling among us. I think you know that this is theological word to describe Jesus as fully human, God dwelling among people, God a human being.

Transcendence – otherness; immanence – dwelling among us: these big words are basically opposite, paradoxical, yet we need both words and both ideas to talk about God. The God we describe today, our God, the God we cannot know but can only experience partially, that God is an awesome God, reigning over whatever existed before the whole solar system was put into the heavens. That God is an awesome God, born of a woman, dwelling in the poorest of homes, experiencing migration, exodus to Egypt, homelessness, alienation, poverty, backwater living, with Joseph who was a handyman and most likely a jack of all trades, a man who got hired for daily or seasonal labor, as his teacher and provider.

Since the beginning of December, we have focused on the immanent God, God dwelling among us. We have yearned for the cradle stories, the manger stories, the baby stories. We have taken comfort in His healings and teachings and His power over the devil and all the little devils of the world. We have found unspeakable love in the cross and the life He offered for us. We have found hope and joy in the empty tomb which means the story is not over, for God or for us. We have watched in fascination as He was ascended into the heavens. We have felt his breath and his power blow across our heads as wind and fire became his lasting and powerful gift.

We have focused for the last 6 months on his immanence, his presence contained in our world. Now we step back to admire God’s uncreated beginnings, God’s wonder working power, God’s personal interest in the world God has made, God who is before and God who is after, the beginning and the end.

A bit of awe is indeed in order.

In last Sunday’s New York Times, there was an interesting article about awe and its effects on humans. Researchers in the East Bay area, Berkeley CA and its environs, tried some experiments to see how awe affected humans. On the campus of UC Berkeley there is a grove of 200 ft. tall Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees. They are so tall, awe-inspiring to many who walk by them. So participants in an experiment were taken there. Some were told to look at the trees, others told to look at the nearby science hall. Then a minor accident happened right in front of them, a planned accident. Someone came by with a handful of pens, tripped, and dropped them. Those who had been looking at the awe-inspiring trees, compared to those looking at the rather more ordinary science hall, picked up more pens to help the person who dropped them.

In another experiment, people were given 10 lottery tickets for a cash drawing. The tickets were theirs to keep, but they could also share with an unidentified person who didn’t receive any tickets. Those who reported more awe in their lives, those who had more regular wonder and beauty in their worlds, were more generous to the stranger by 40%. So in a scientific journal there is this recently published article by these researchers that says that those who are more filled with awe have a decided tilt toward the collective rather than the individual, and are less narcissistic and more in tune with the common humanity we share. That’s a very good thing for humanity. The authors are concerned that awe deprivation, which might come simply because Americans are out much less taking time to get outside and travel and encounter the great sights of nature, this deprivation is leading to more individualism, more self-focus, more materialism, and less connection to others. This country needs more awe, they say, just for the good of humanity. This country needs more awe. I would agree.

I would say we all need more awe. It is what puts more than our human connections in line. Awe is what reminds me that I am but a creature, and there is a mighty and wonderful power at work that I have no control over. And when I think about Jesus, or when I feel God’s prompting of my heart, that awe-inspiring God reaches down to impact my life in world-changing ways.

So we have the story of Isaiah in the temple today, God’s throne and God’s temple before him. God is sitting on the throne, and all poor Isaiah can think is that he was a dead man. But God, from the throne, sends a seraph, an angel with six wings, to cleanse his unclean lips with a live coal. And the coal doesn’t kill, it cleanses. And God, holy God on the throne, asks this powerful question “Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?” And Isaiah heard the sound of his own voice, speaking in response: “Here am I, send me”. He was cleansed so that God might use him in a powerful way.

Awe leads to service. Awe leads to a changed heart. Awe leads us to do new things because our heart is overwhelmed with thankfulness.

And Paul talks about the gift of Pentecost, God’s spirit, God’s breath, God’s living presence, as that power which leads God’s people from fear and dying into life and serving and telling the world, witnessing to the things that fill us with awe.

And Jesus, coming to a man in the nighttime, talks about water and grace and wind and spirit. He talks about being born again, a new birth, and Nicodemus, his visitor, thinks he could never squeeze into his mother’s womb again. But Jesus talks about something that is just as difficult, squeezing ourselves into God’s kingdom. We can’t do it. God does it for us, grace and gift and new life coming straight from God. We are born from above. And the word for “above” is “anothen”, which doesn’t mean so much “from above” as “from top to bottom”. On Good Friday the curtain of the Temple was torn “anothen”, from top to bottom. And we are to be made new, from above, from top to bottom, from the top on down. This is an attic to basement kind of overhaul of our being that Jesus is talking about.   This is a big time renovation that only God can do for us. It is God’s purpose and it is God’s gift.

God wants to offer the world this overhaul, this top to bottom reformation and re-creation. It is the work of God to do this for humanity that most leaves us in awe. We know how hard it is to take our little assignment books out as the Scripture is read or as the pastor preaches, and write down our notes for what we are to do this week. We know what it is like to have our little note pads at the ready to have God give us our assignments, and then we don’t even make it to Monday morning before we forget our assignments. We know that this overhaul, this spiritual remodel, is so necessary, and we know we cannot pull it off. So God sends His Son into the world to save the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world would have new life through Him. God not only gives the assignments. God does the assignments with us and for us.

Top to bottom new life, that’s God’s gift. Being re-made, re-born of water and spirit, that is design for us through Jesus.

So we just ponder these things, look at them, think about them.   Awe flows over us, I hope.

And love. And thankfulness. And the willingness, as people filled with awe, to do even more than the researchers discovered. We will live not for ourselves, but for the God who put the stars in the sky and Jesus on the cross and the Spirit in my heart.

We will listen for the voice of God, coming through all the clutter of this world, and we will hear this word from the throne: Whom shall I send? And I know there are people here today, awestruck people, who will say: here am I, send me……..into the world loved into existence by our awesome God.

 

EASTER 7 B 2015 – MAY 17, 2015 OSLC

May 17, 2015  

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; John 17:6-19 

It is an incredible thing to be part of the Church. I hope that little Jaxon will always know that. Sometimes it seems a lot like a busy meeting. We couldn’t have a church if we didn’t sit down and plan Sunday School curricula, and sit in front of a phone and call on people to be teachers. We wouldn’t be a church if we didn’t sit down and plan how to remodel our bathrooms so that in providing handicap accessible places for the most basic of human needs, we are truly welcoming everybody. We wouldn’t have a church if we didn’t get a bunch of people together to figure out how to manage the boiler system, and if we didn’t have people mow the yard, and if we didn’t take time to envision how the world might know what God is doing here.

The first Christians were having a meeting. In the very first chapter of Acts, which is to say in the very first chapter of the book which is our only New Testament history of God’s new and emerging Church, Luke tells us that they called a meeting. The book starts with the Ascension, and then the disciples are told by two men in white not to look into the sky, but to get back to Jerusalem. In other words, after you watch you teacher and Savior go up into the air and disappear from sight, you stop standing there with mouth agape, and you go back to work. And when they got back to Jerusalem, Peter spoke up and said that someone had to replace Judas. They needed a 12th apostle. The ancient teaching of the Jews was that God’s people needed one leader for every 10 people. Luke even tells us there were 120 in the gathering at that time. So they needed 12 people.

They acknowledge that effect that Judas’ death had on their mission, and they needed to find his replacement.

Sharon and I were out driving around Cashton yesterday, trying to snag some good flowers and herbs. It was a beautiful day to drive through God’s good creation in this region. It was a very pleasant morning to watch Amish at work, disking the ground in preparation for planting, with 4, 5, and even 6 horse teams at work in the fields.

Do you know how the Amish pick their preachers? One of their cardinal spiritual viewpoints is that one must be humble, so they do not have people who say they want to lead, or are meant to lead. At one of the two communion services held each year, when there is an opening for a preacher, the congregation nominates people. The preacher will be one of them. Any man with more than three votes then gets ushered up to the front row. The bishop picks as many hymn books as there are people chosen. He writes out a bible verse, and he puts it in one of the hymnals. The hymnals are all mixed up, and then each person in the front row picks a hymnal. They open them one by one. It is often reported that when one of the men opens his hymnal to find the verse, knowing he is selected, that he begins to weep.

We don’t know if there was weeping in old Jerusalem, but apostles were very important. They wanted a leader who had been with Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to his ascension, the event remembered this past Thursday, 40 days after Easter. So we are right in synch with the timing of the early church. This event, this selection of a leader, would have happened on this same Sunday in the life of the Church.

And there were a couple no-name persons. I say that because they do not have big Biblical stories written about them, and for the most part they are not the baptism names usually chosen by Christian parents today. The no-names are Matthias and Justus, and the group casts lots. It was the old practice. It was also how Jesus’ clothes were divided up by the Roman soldiers on Good Friday. Lots were cast, a kind of dice rolling or picking the biggest card or drawing the biggest number kind of thing. Matthias was chosen.

The church had its first business meeting. And then they got to the business of the church. What was the business of the church? Well, Jesus had been praying for them.

Jesus had prayed that they would stay as one. The first business of the church was to stay together, united, one family. It is family quarreling and inner disagreements that turn people off to the church. People yelling at each other never brings more people in.

And people choosing sides, meaning picking favorites, never quite works either. Jesus prays that this church, his church, would be one.

The business of the church is more. It is to protect each other from the evil one.

It might not be fashionable to talk about the evil one, or the devil. But in today’s baptism the parents and sponsors are going to promise to renounce this evil one, which is to say, to pick sides with Jesus and have nothing to do with the words and thoughts that will lead us away from God’s love. I told the baptismal group yesterday that the devil is the name for the very personal temptations that come our way, temptations that seem so tailor made just for us that they indicate that some force other than Jesus has clear knowledge of who we are.

Our work is to protect each other from this evil one. That is a clear recognition that there is a battle going on, even when we do not acknowledge it or talk about it. There is a struggle that involves me, and if I am involved, then it involves the family of which I am a part, God’s family, the church. So the church works to protect each other from the evil one, and from turning on each other, and from turning away from Jesus.

Is that why we have business meetings? It’s a new thought, isn’t it? We are seeking unity, and helping one another in our spiritual struggles to stay on board with our calling to follow Jesus.

But the incredible thing about this thing called Church is that we trust the leadership to people like Matthias. He knew Jesus. That was his qualification. He knew Jesus, and he could tell others what he knew Jesus had said and done for him.

So we tell our faith stories, and that keeps the church alive. We know Jesus is at work in our lives and in our world. That is enough.

We tell our children how much God means to us. We talk about our spiritual struggles, and we tell them that Jesus defeated the devil, and the world, and each person whose self-interest keeps us from locking our eyes on Jesus. We tell our children that we live with this struggle every day, but we have been chosen by God to lead and to serve.

And when they ask when that business meeting happened, we tell them that we don’t remember. We don’t’ remember, because that business meeting happened on the day we were baptized, and God chose to make us part of his kingdom and his church and his family. That business meeting happened, and the littlest member of the church became part of the meeting, part of the story, part of the fabric woven together in this place.

When we are looking for people to lead, we are looking for anyone of any age who is able to speak of faith and of what Jesus has done. Jesus said that he told his secrets to the children, not to the wise, because the children would understand what he was saying. And he told us not to forbid them from coming to him, ever.

We take untrained people of all ages and we put them in charge. People who know Jesus is what we are looking for. There was not a graduate school for our church council members. Our Sunday School teachers didn’t go to seminary first, or even to a 2-year Bible school program. They just went to work, like Matthias had done 2000 years ago.

It’s time to go to work. We have followed Jesus from birth to ascension. We have heard Him and watched Him. We go out to teach, to baptize, to call our leaders, and above all, we seek to be God’s people united in love and joy.

Jaxon, we all welcome you into this incredible place called Church.

 

EASTER 6 B 2015 – MAY 10, 2015 OSLC

May 10, 2015  

MOTHER’S DAY

JOHN 15:9-17 

“You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Those words ring from today’s Gospel. That, and all the talk about love. Who knew that this conversation was meant to all converge on Mother’s Day?

Our life is a gift. Do we have to say that today, on Mother’s Day? Who chose their mother, anyway? They gave us life, they put us here. It is not a matter of our choosing. We were birthed into existence. I am of that generation of dads who were present at our children’s birth. I can only hope that the first thing they saw was their mother, not me. She did the hard work, not me. She wrapped her body around them and ushered them into existence.

Even though we didn’t choose our mom, I hope we will always be able to say that it’s a great blessing. We have been blessed through the one who births us into new life.

I talk about it often, that the most unfair thing in the world is that we did not get to choose the family we were born into. We are giving thanks for that family we didn’t choose today, with a bright shining focus on our mom.

But moms did more than give us life. They choose to grace us with the gifts that shaped us. They chose to clothe us, cook for us, make beds for us, teach us games and songs, read to us, soothe our aches and pains, give us clean places to call home. They have done so much more than we ever noticed.

We are not honoring machines today, gadgets, or things. We are honoring living, breathing, gift-giving, grace affirming, loving and embracing people. And they chose to love us, even if we seldom said an appropriate thank you.

When Jesus says to disciples of every generation that we did not choose him, but he chose us and appointed us to bear fruit, we should ponder what that means.  We didn’t choose Jesus. Jesus grabbed us. We didn’t choose to be disciples. Jesus found us. We didn’t choose to be Christians. Christ came to us. Being born of God is pure gift, and that’s worth celebrating today as well.

And yes, parents may have carried us to the baptismal font, which makes it amazingly clear that we didn’t choose Jesus. Jesus grabbed us just the way we are, weak, baby-ish, without a lot to offer back. Jesus just takes us and makes us family, God’s children, people who receive God’s whole attention and Jesus’ whole life.

Which is love, isn’t it. Love is that which accepts what it finds, and honors it. Love welcomes one in, with no entrance test. Love finds room, even if it is a tight squeeze. Love receives what is handed to them, and rejoices in it.

That is exactly what happened when you and I were put into our mother’s arms at our birth. I doubt if there is a single mom who yelled out at that moment “Look at what I am stuck with!” as their baby was handed to them. Feel free to ask them today, if you are able. There was joy, tears, hugs, touch, deep connections being made from that first encounter with you.  That is what God is doing with us. God never says “look at the turkeys I am stuck with”, but grabs us and loves us and says “welcome to the family, kiddo. You didn’t choose me. I chose you to bear much fruit.”

Jesus wants us to bear fruit by living in love. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Jesus says. Abide is a word that means to sojourn, to stay, to lodge, to remain. And the word for love that John’s Gospel uses is agape, which is love that expects absolutely nothing in return, but will give us everything. I want you to know no other life than one lived in love, Jesus is telling us. I have given you everything. Try sharing some of that.

We really want to believe that our world is centered around each individual’s freedom of choice. We really want to believe that we have the opportunity and the right to do just about anything we want to do. There will be a lot of commencement speeches this weekend and in coming weeks that will say something like “you can do whatever you set your minds to. You have unlimited potential”.

I was watching a football special last night on Marcus Dupree, whom many said would be the best running back ever. As a high school senior, he ran for over 2900 yards. As a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, even though he didn’t start the season, he ended up with over 1400 yards. But he didn’t make it as a pro. He didn’t even finish college doing well. We don’t always have unlimited potential. We might have unlimited hopes. Our hopes and dreams don’t always match reality. That’s where love comes in. Are we ready to offer love, expecting nothing in return, to people who let themselves and us down?

But we do have opportunity after opportunity to love, to accept freely, to offer a gift of acceptance, to give without any thought of return. We didn’t choose God. Jesus chose us, and called us to be people whose every movement is toward God. If God is love, and Christ is God, then every act of love increases Christ’s sway on the universe, said one commentator. God’s dwelling place, God’s abiding place, is among humans. That’s the Christmas miracle. And humans have this incredible opportunity to receive the gift, and respond as people who are blessed beyond measure.

We didn’t pick our moms. Thank God they put arms around us and held on for our dear lives.

We didn’t pick God. Thank God that God’s arms have been wrapped around us since the beginnings of our lives. Thank God that God has chosen us, chosen to stay with us, stick with us, and never say “look who I’m stuck with”.

“As the Father has loved me”, Jesus told his disciples, “so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” There is no better place to put moms and all their children than right into those words. May our lives be a picture to the world of how real that can be.

EASTER 5 B 2015 – MAY 3, 2015 OSLC

May 3, 2015  

FIRST LESSON – ACTS 8:26-40 

Today we are doing something incredibly exciting and incredibly important as a congregation. We are receiving new members. This is exciting because it means some new life is growing among us. Please understand, we don’t get new members to add to our numbers, or to recruit new givers and big dollars, or even to give our long-term volunteers some relief with new ones. Granted, all that is good stuff when it happens, but it is not why we welcome new members. Don’t even let them think that. We delight in new members because that means the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing, and the breath of God is bringing us new people to share our baptisms with.

Yes, baptism. We are going to use words from the affirmation of baptism service when we officially welcome each new member, centering in on what kind of life God is leading all baptized Christians into. So, isn’t it wonderful that we have a baptism story for today’s First Lesson?

And if you have been playing along, so to speak, listening each week, you know that I usually preach on the Gospel, or a mixture of all the texts, but today I will focus on the First Lesson. Usually our First Lessons come from the Old Testament, but in the 7-week Easter season they come from the New Testament. God’s Church wants to hear what difference the resurrection of Jesus has for the world that came after Him. We want to know what people were saying about Jesus, and how that changed their lives, so that we can be changed, too.

So the eighth chapter of Acts starts with strong words. Saul, later baptized into Christian faith as Paul, has helped kill one of the first seven deacons, a wonderful man named Stephen. Then a strong persecution started for the church, and led all but the apostles to leave Jerusalem and scatter for their safety. And Saul began arresting people, and the Bible says he went door to door arresting people, both men and women, and dragging them off to jail. Now that’s not a very good response to the resurrection!

And one of the scattered ones was Philip, who went to the region of Samaria, a region usually not on friendly relations with Jews like him. He doesn’t hunker down or hide. He proclaims the Messiah to them, Acts says, which means he tells them all about Jesus being the Son of God, the anointed savior, the one they had been waiting for ever since the prophets proclaimed God’s hope to them. There was great joy in the city, we are told. Demons were cast out, and paralyzed people were healed in Jesus’ name. Luke, who is the writer of Acts, tells us that Samaria accepted the word of God. They allowed this story of Jesus to take over all their old stories.

Philip was open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit wouldn’t just let him take refuge. The Spirit of God said “Tell everyone your faith story. Tell everyone about Jesus who has loved you into a new existence. Tell everyone about the One who has made a total difference in your world.” So he did. And the church welcomed new members, lots of them.

And one day, of all things, an angel of the Lord comes and says something to Philip that on the face of it is totally bizarre: “Get up and go toward the south, to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza” Now the phrase “to the south” can also be translated “at noon”, one of those interesting footnotes on the bottom of your Bible pages, so now let’s get this picture straight: Philip is to go out into what amounts to a desert, the wilderness, and he is to do it when? At noon. Who in their right mind goes into the desert at noon?

But, as I said, Philip is very open to the prompting of God’s Spirit. Now, let’s ask, how does anyone get open to the prompting of the Spirit, anyway? Let me suggest it comes from prayer, understanding always that prayer is also listening to God. And we can pray really bold and life-changing prayers, like “God, where do you want me to be today?” “God, who do you want me to talk with today?” :”God, where will you lead me?” If we are listening, we might go to some amazing places and meet some very interesting people.

I think Philip was doing that. Having listened to the voice of Jesus on earth, Jesus who taught him to pray not only what we call the Lord’s Prayer, but many prayers, I am pretty sure that’s what Philip was doing. And the angel answered his prayer, came and led him to a place he would never go to on his own.

But then a stranger comes, a high-ranking Ethiopian who works for the queen, and he is riding in a limousine, a chariot out there in the desert. We are told he was a eunuch, and that means that his maleness was changed, or perhaps it simply means he was gay. Eunuchs were not allowed into the temple. Eunuchs were kept from Jewish worship. And not only was he kept from worship, but he was reading from the great Jewish prophet Isaiah. Philip had the Holy Spirit-led inspiration to ask him “do you understand what you are reading?” And the Ethiopian didn’t, but here was a great response: “How can I, unless someone guides me?”   The Spirit of God was opening up an incredible opportunity.

Now, Philip could have clammed up. He had a lot of good reasons not to say anything. He didn’t really know the guy. You know how you aren’t supposed to talk politics and religion in polite company, and this was some really big official he was with. What if he inserted foot into mouth? But he didn’t clam up. He took all that Isaiah was saying, Isaiah who wrote about a suffering servant who would save his people, Isaiah who wrote words we usually read on Good Friday about a sheep who before his shearers was absolutely silent, and told this man that this was who Jesus was, and this is what Jesus had done. Jesus was God’s answer, God’s promise for the world.

Now, perhaps the eunuch then said: “What do I do next if I want to believe in Jesus and follow Him?” And Philip would have said something like: “Well, we have something called baptism. Jesus went into the Jordan River and got baptized, and in his last talk with us, he told us to go into all the world baptizing people and teaching them to observe what He commanded. But, hmmm, sorry. We’re just hanging out in the wilderness at noon in the heat of the day. No water. How about waiting for adult inquiry classes?

But things get even better. There’s some water by the side of the road. Go figure that one out. Where in the world does a pool of water come from, out there on the wilderness road?   “Look”, says the Ethiopian, “here is water!”, and there is an exclamation point in the text. “There shouldn’t be water, but its here. What will prevent me from getting baptized?” And Philip who had been with Samaritans who were hated by the Jews, bringing them into God’s new family, now took a person who would never get inside the Temple and brought him into the court of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Baptism happened right there. God was at work right there between total strangers.

And then, after they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God snatched Philip away. I’m not sure I can totally explain that to you, other than that the Holy Spirit of God is always moving, and I think that means Philip had to keep moving, but we are told for sure that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Here’s a happily ever after happy ending, and it all started with a persecution and people being dragged from their homes while others like Philip fled the town.

God was pushing Philip beyond himself. God was pushing the Ethiopian beyond himself. God was spreading the message of Jesus to Africa, to Ethiopia, where they still tell this story today. God was pushing the church beyond itself. God was working to bring new life and new faith even when people were being jailed for talking about Jesus.

And where in the world did that water come from??? And where did the man on the chariot come from? God, people, God. That’s the only answer. It is the answer of people who pray crazy prayers about letting God show us the way.

That’s what happens when we are open to the Spirit. God grows faith.   God brings water to us, right at noon in the desert, just when we need a bubbling spring. God connects to new people. God grows a church and brings in a new member.

The pushing, prodding, inviting Holy Spirit will take us to places we could never imagine, and bring us into the lives of new people we could never imagine meeting. The pushing, prodding Holy Spirit will break down barriers, tear away boundaries of what is clean and unclean, open the doors of the church to people who were not welcomed in the past, and keep us from ever choosing who gets in and who stays out. The door is wide open.

Now where in the world did that puddle come from? The Spirit of absolute welcome and abiding joy knows.

 

EASTER 4 B 2015 – APRIL 26, 2015 OSLC

April 26, 2015  

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; I John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18 

The eastern phoebes are back. I have a bird feeder that I watch with great delight, but these birds do not come to my birdfeeder. They are members of the flycatcher family. They catch bugs in the air. But they come to my house anyway, even if the feeder doesn’t work for them. And they are incredible harbingers of Easter hope. For, you see, they choose to build a mostly ugly mud nest right below my upper deck, right where the girder meets the house, under the door from our bedroom. More significantly, their nest is always directly above my garden hose. This means that the coiled garden hose, something I use often when it is time to water my annual flowers, always is covered with their white exclamation marks. They give me multiple bird memories just exactly where I want to put my hands. Yuck.

So, being much bigger than they, and perhaps much meaner, I started out a few years ago by destroying their nest. I simply took said hose, turned on the water, and picked on them. I sprayed their mud into mush. The mud and the little bit of straw mixed in would dissolve into nothingness on the ground. But then they came back. They built again, and again. They taught me about stubborn hope. They are so intent on bringing life into the world that they will build and build and re-build, even if there is a bully in their neighborhood, even if violence is in their world.

So I watched them this weekend, with mixed feelings, but honestly, the feeling of awe as I watch them is winning out. Theirs is an incredible hope, a stubborn hope, a hope of bringing new life against all odds in a violent world.

Is that not what we are doing here today? Are we not proclaiming to everyone who is recovering from any big battle like heart disease or stroke or cancer, or battling with the crud, or putting up with aging that changes our bodies, or living with family members who do not get along, that we have a stubborn hope? Is that not what we are proclaiming when we reach out in passing the peace to seat mates who have buried loved ones or carry other burdens on their hearts? Our God, the God who in the Old Testament was mobile and lived in a tent, that mobile God of the New Testament who walked into town after town in Galilee, that God who was driven out of his hometown of Nazareth and almost put to death there, that God who walked into the capital city during the Passover festival and met violence and hostility and bullies, that God is giving us stubborn hope. That God is walking beside us, his rod and his staff comforting us. We proclaim “He is risen” and Easter people go about the work of building nests, creating new homes, homes for the gospel which is the Good News of Jesus. We are about nesting against all odds, setting out messages of joy in all of God’s good gifts. Our actions spring forth as a message to the world that God is here to bring new life, even when we feel that we are walking in a wilderness, or building a nest with a big bully in the neighborhood.

Or, to quote Psalm 23, even when we walking in the valley of the shadow of death. We will build nests of stubborn hope, and proclaim that God is so close that God is my walking stick, the rod in my hand, and will hold me up when my ankles twist and my feet stumble and I wonder if I can ever finish this walk in the wilderness.

Peter, in today’s First Lesson, is approached by a beggar who wants money, and he says: “silver and gold have I none, but this I have for you – in the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.” And the lame beggar springs up with joy, shouting and laughing and praising God, life made completely new against all odds. Peter built a nest of hope in this person and the community which surrounded him. And Peter promptly gets arrested. So he stubbornly builds another Easter nest against all violence. He uses prison as an opportunity to proclaim to the authorities that the One whose name had the power to bring working energy to paralyzed limbs is the very same Jesus whom they had crucified. He takes prison as a place to build a nest of hope, and uses incarceration as an opportunity to proclaim Good News and bring new life in a bad situation.

I John 3, from which we will get the theme for our synod assembly and about which we will hear much more in coming weeks, says that we know we were enemies of God. We did not stand up for Jesus, or like the crowd, we blamed him for upsetting the world. We were complicit in his death. And knowing that we were God’s enemies, we know that the love we received from Jesus in spite of who we are is meant to be shared with the world. We are to love in truth and action, not just with words. We know we struggle with faith and obedience every day, but Christ Jesus has built a nest in us, and we are called to live in love and make that love a sign to the world of our stubborn hope. The one who laid down his life for us, the shepherd who will lay down his life for his sheep, that Jesus gives us the energy to building stubborn nests of hope. And we see people in need and respond in the name of Jesus, just as Peter did. We love in truth and action. We simply cannot help but living life this way, building nests of love in the face of violence.

And when we pray the 23rd Psalm, saying “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul”, with a heart eager and open to God, we are calling out to God “You are the one who can nest right here”. I need you to bring Easter to me. I need you to bring life back to me. I need you to chase away the fear and lay out that table in the presence of my enemies and help my cup to overflow again.” You, You God, shepherd me, please. We are praying for companionship, for God and us to stay together, be nested together, and not be separated.

And when we cry out “You”, we are hoping, I believe, that others will overhear us and wonder if we are talking to them. Maybe they will wonder which “you” we are talking to, wondering if they are the ones we are talking about or talking with. Maybe as we pray “You” in our prayers, our neighbors will hear their name along with God’s and love us in truth and action, as we cry for an end to violence and hatred and racism and all the isms, as we cry for justice and mercy among God’s sheep.

We are building nest, practicing a stubborn hope. The Eastern phoebes teach me that. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field have so much to teach me. We build nests, and set tables, we put out bread and wine, we welcome people to feast and dine, to eat and drink with overflowing cups in the presence of all our enemies, and we pray “May you, God, be here among us, flesh among us, that we fear no evil”, and “may you, dear people of God” hear our prayers and cries and nest with us, that together we fear no evil, for God is with us, God’s rod and staff comforting us, as we dwell together in God’s house forever.

 

EASTER 3 B 2015 – APRIL 19, 2015 OSLC

April 19, 2015  

Happy Earth Day, Happy God of creation day! And today, two weeks after Easter, we celebrate that God has visited God’s earth with life and hope and joy. God is alive among us, ready to reclaim and renew. We are claimed by God, loved by God, made new by God – earth and creatures and people.

Two men were walking home. It was what they did back in the day when they didn’t need an annual Earth Day to be eco-friendly. And they picked up a guest, a traveling companion, a walking partner who needed a bit of help getting caught up on the weekend’s news. He didn’t seem to be very literate about the stuff that got these two guys excited, stuff like their attachment to Jesus of Nazareth, and their broken hearts that the Passover week and all its celebrations had been broken by Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion. They had hoped that he was the one sent by God to redeem Israel, but he had been killed. And then there was more news, hours-old and unsettling news. His body wasn’t in the tomb, and they heard reports that he had been seen alive again. The women who had gone to take care of his body were reporting that an angel at the tomb had said that Jesus was alive. And these two men were perplexed and bothered and worked up and astounded as they walked home with this stranger. And then the stranger showed his Bible knowledge to them. He began to tell them how all the things of Scripture were being fulfilled in what had happened that weekend. They had a walking Bible study with him, but they didn’t know who was telling them how this was the plan of God to fulfill all that had been promised. It was the necessary way for the earth to receive its finest day, the day when God would finally be glorified among all people.

And when they arrived home, it was late afternoon, about time to eat. So they invited him to come to their home. “Stay with us now, for it is evening, and the day is almost over” is how Luke’s Gospel records their invitation. And the stranger accepted their kindness. When it came time for the meal, He broke the bread and blessed it, and then they knew. This one, this wonderful Bible study leader, was Jesus. And he disappeared.

So the same two guys went back to Jerusalem, 7 miles back on the road they had just walked, to tell the disciples one more story to add to an incredible day of stories. They plunged into the twilight, and I am sure darkness settled before they got back to the group they had earlier left. Today’s Gospel began “While they were talking about this…”, which is these two guys telling everybody else about Jesus making Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread, Jesus just showed up again. No 7 mile walk, no long conversation – He just showed up, right in the middle of the darkness and the confusion of Easter evening. . And the whole group was startled and terrified, Luke quickly tells us. The Gospel story begins with Mary being terrified by the angel’s appearance. It ends with the disciples being terrified by Jesus, the One given to Mary to bring to our world. As much as we would like to have God come to explain everything, I doubt if we would take the appearance of Jesus any more calmly, would we?

And here is Jesus’ response: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” And then the invitation comes: “touch me and see. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like mine.” And then follows this question, a response followed by an invitation followed by this very basic question: “Do you have anything to eat?” Of course He would ask that. He hadn’t stayed around the house of those two guys long enough to eat anything! Maybe if Jesus would just stay in one spot long enough, there would be time for a meal!

But Jesus had places to go, people to see, and a purpose: He opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Always the teacher, God in the flesh, now God in the risen flesh, had Bible study time to lead. He opened to them the Scriptures, Luke writes, the second time that day that the Jesus of Easter led a Bible study. He showed them again how the sacred writings had really talked about the chosen one of God suffering and rising from the dead on the third day. And then Jesus added these words: that repentance and forgiveness of sins was now to be proclaimed to all nations. And finally he brought them all into the story by saying: you are witnesses of these things.

Frightened, startled, doubting: these are not exactly the kinds of emotions most of us think about on Easter. Even after they get to see his physical presence, the touching of his body and the eating with them, we are told they were disbelieving and wondering. So Jesus just sat and ate with them, and talked with them, leading a Bible study and explaining the Scriptures so that they understood.

Do you want to know why we come to church on Sunday of all days of the week? It is because all time has been rearranged by the resurrection on Easter. And do you want to know why we still come to church at all? Every worship is Easter evening all over again. We gather to eat together, and to ask Jesus to unpack the Scriptures for us, and to join us in the eating while we listen. And we celebrate forgiveness among us, and we repent of the wrong we have done. In that time of forgiveness and repentance we are sure to include our forgetfulness and our disbelief and our wonderings and our doubts that have caused us to lose the very witness Jesus commanded us to be. And then we end with a blessing, Jesus breathing on us and sending us out with joy so that the world might hear our witness. That gathering on Easter evening night becomes the very shape and form and reason for what we do every Sunday, every weekly Easter remembrance.

Day after day we reach out, in invitation, just like two men did with their traveling companion. We do it to stranger and Jesus alike. “Stay with us, for it is evening, and the day is almost over” is the cry of our searching and open hearts, waiting for God to be revealed to us each day. And may all Creation be renewed by the blessing of Jesus among us.

{Play St. Olaf Choir “Stay with us” by Egil Hovland}

[For those reading this on line, hear the National Lutheran Choir sing this song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmO0MUBr1Fk . ]

EASTER 2 B 2015 – APRIL 12, 2015 OSLC

April 12, 2015  

There is an incredible flow in our texts, from unbelief to excitement to strong witness. Let’s stop to think about all this today, one week after Easter.

Let’s go back to a happy time. That’s what the disciples were doing there, on the first day of the week, still celebrating the unbelievable. They were living in joy and amazement. And Thomas was the outlier, the one lacking a joyful experience of a living encounter with the risen Jesus, and he was not really happy about it. In fact, he was a bit distressed, and even distrustful of the stories of the others.

Let’s you and I go back to a happy time, one week ago yesterday. That’s what the disciples were doing, going back one week. What were we celebrating last Sunday? Of course, it was the Wisconsin men’s basketball team victory over the previously undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. Now suppose there was someone who came to church last week and hadn’t watched the game, and heard us all talking about the wonderful 7 point win, and that person said “No way. Didn’t see it. Didn’t happen.” What would we say to that person?

That is exactly where the world sits today, as we talk about Easter. Are we going to say “Didn’t see it. Didn’t happen”? Will we live in disbelief and distress about not quite being able to accept what other people are celebrating? Is Easter joy for other people, but not for me today? Thomas could tell that his friends’ lives had been changed. I think, on some level, he wanted his life to be changed as well. You and I are asked to believe the witness of over 500 people who were met by the risen Jesus, even if we are not able to see Him walking among us. We share life with Thomas. We are asked to believe the stories of others. I hope no one here misses out on their joy.

And Jesus came, not leaving Thomas out of this joyful scene. It might have taken a week, but Jesus came to Thomas. The real miracle throughout the whole story of Jesus is that God has hands and feet and a side to be touched. The miracle is that God would be touchable among us at all, whether in the manger at Bethlehem, or here in the upper room as Thomas and Jesus have a reunion. Thomas knew Jesus had a real body. He wanted to touch it if he was going to believe the rest of the Resurrection story.

I think we all can relate to the feeling that Thomas had of missing something special. Others had tickets to a great concert; we had to work. We weren’t in a position to see something special; some else got to shake the hand of someone greatly admired.

We were sick and had to stay home; they were feeling great and got to see something incredible. We all know what it is like to feel that we missed out.

And we know, in this story heard every year one week after the resurrection, that it is the power of the wounded Jesus that makes the power of the resurrection most real. It is Jesus who has suffered with us, more than us, in fact, which opens our heart to receive life-changing hope and reality. We need to know his wounds are real in order to believe that Easter might be real.

One week before, the night of the day we now call Easter, when Jesus had shown up in the room with the disciples who were all abuzz about the morning report, He breathed on the disciples, gave them his breath and spirit, and told them to forgive others. It was an incredible continuation of Holy Thursday night, when He washed feet and told them to love one another just as He had loved them. Jesus was trying to make faith happen every day, not just when we get surprised by God’s sudden appearance, or by the story of excited people who have witnessed something great. Jesus was giving an abiding presence that would not leave, even if He went back out of that room.

If you love the Badgers, you will have faith in them even if they are not in the Final Four next year. When we love Jesus, we will have faith in Jesus even if Jesus is not in our room, even if we are having a Thomas kind of day.

When that happens, God’s spirit breathed on us, faith flows out to others through us. That was our reading from 1 John, a kind of post-Easter world view. We declare to the world, in our actions, in our love, in our kindness, in our faith against all odds, that Jesus is alive and has touched our beings. Filled with the lasting Spirit of Jesus, we walk in light, Easter shining light, not in the darkness of despair nor frustration nor the feeling of being left out. We simply shine. We are changed people. We seek to find God’s light, live in it, and shine for other people to see. It is the shining reflection of God’s living light in us that will allow others to hear the story, all the Thomas’ in the world, even if they have felt left out so far.

We will not let anyone be left out of the story that Jesus is risen and wants to meet them. Jesus has breathed on us. We know Jesus is real and His wounds are real and His resurrection is real. We will declare, in word and deed, that the unbelievable has happened, and we know it is true.

 

EASTER B 2015 – APRIL 5, 2015 OSLC

April 5, 2015  

Mark 16:1-8 

The Easter story we are most familiar with is from the Gospel of John. It has the 3 women heading out to the tomb to anoint the body, a big surprise for them when they get there, angels who try to clue them in, a run back to tell Peter and the disciples about all this confusing stuff, and Peter and John running back to the tomb to check this report out. And the quote from the angel hangs in the air: “He is risen. He is not here. Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”

This year we are in Mark’s Gospel, and it ends suddenly. Some would say weirdly; others would say badly. It is a strange enough ending that it would be easiest to duck and run and just preach from John. There are at least 3 endings, if not 4, to the Gospel of Mark, because the original ends so abruptly that people wanted to smooth over its rough edge: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing anyone, for they were afraid”.

This ending hits so close to home. This is raw and realistic and oh too honest. The story ends with the disciples, and yes, these women were indeed in the circle of friends and disciples, clamming up. They have the greatest story of their life, they have a life-changing occurrence right in front of their eyes, they have angels and an empty tomb to talk about, and they say nothing. Wow. That’s never happened to us, has it? None of us has ever clammed up when we have been given a chance to tell the world “He is risen. He is risen indeed.” Right?

The messenger at the tomb, a young man dressed in a white robe, had said this to them: “Go, tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Have you ever been in a bed, at home or in the hospital, feeling sicker than a dog? You lay there and think about something like “When I get out of here, the first thing I am going to do is……and you ponder, and come up with ‘go to Disney World’, or something closer to home like ‘eat a pizza with all the toppings’, or ‘get out on the boat and watch a beautiful sunset from the water’. Or have you been in jail, or talked with someone who has been? What do they want to do the very first thing? – have a beer, have the ability to choose their own TV channel, hug their kids and their friends.

Here on the first day out of the prison of death, the first day out of the stone bed where his body was laid, wouldn’t you, if you were Jesus, just want to go someplace and make a big statement? “Pilate, what’s up, doc?” you say as you stride into the palace. Wouldn’t you hightail it straight to Caiaphas at the high priest’s home and say “You could never hold me. Your charges were a big fat pack of lies”. Wouldn’t you want to go to the crowds at the market and make them really drop their jaws as they saw you shopping? What would you do and where would you go if were just up from the dead after an unfair trial and a quick and perhaps illegal execution?

We are so thankful when a wrongly accused person is released from death’s row. We are thrilled when a sailor missing at sea for 66 days is found by a passing freighter and reunited with his parents. We thrilled, many years ago, when hostages came home from Iran after 444 days, and when John McCain and other prisons in Vietnam ran off their flight to freedom to hold open arms for family rushing toward them in greeting.

We love it when there is a reunion, after an escape from death and intense depravation and separation. Wouldn’t you think Jesus would go for just such a scene on a very public stage? But no, that’s not the way of Jesus. God’s choices are not our choices. The messenger just said “he is going ahead of you to Galilee, that’s where you will see him.” Jesus would be heading home.

Galilee is where at least ¾ of Jesus’ ministry took place. It is where he grew up, it is where he called his disciples, it is where he stayed in Capernaum, it is the home of most of the people he healed, it is Jesus’ geographical back yard. It frankly was a cosmopolitan place, with far more Greek and Roman influence than down in Jerusalem. It is where the ancient trade routes from Damascus, Syria and from Lebanon all crossed. There was constant trade and constant interaction with people of many countries.

When Jesus chose not to meet his disciples in some public display at the Temple or the governor’s palace or the home of the Temple officials, or even to come to the market place, Jesus was choosing an ordinary, wonderful place, a crossroads called home. And what was waiting was intense. If you were Peter, would you want to go back home to meet Jesus and have to try to explain to Him why you denied Him three times? If you were any one of the disciples, would you want to go back to explain why you ran away in the Garden of Gethsemane? Would you like to talk with Jesus about why you were a no show at the cross? All this was waiting for the disciples as they came back home. Jesus said He would meet them there. It was both exciting and very threatening. But here the story rings with warmth: “you might abandon me, but I will not abandon you. I know you want to go home. It’s been three long years. I will meet you back home”.

Easter means we don’t get to tuck Jesus safely away in the cemetery.   Easter means we can’t keep God at a distance. Here is where we find God: God comes home with us. Easter means we don’t get to dispose of Jesus by sending him away to some exotic locale. He’s going home to meet us.

Resurrection, as told by Mark, is not just about an empty tomb. It means that God brings us to a decision point. All through Mark’s Gospel, the disciples are a bunch of knuckleheads. They are thick headed, sometimes seeming to be about as dumb as rocks. And the women of this Easter morning scene are told to go back to Galilee, right with the other disciples. Go home. Jesus will meet you there. What will they do?

They are stunned. They don’t know what to do. They are frightened, we are told. Come on, give us a break. Of course they are frightened. First they are a bit fried from being at the scene of the death of Mary’s boy, killed in such a brutal and public way. Now he’s gone. What is anyone supposed to do when shocked and tired and overwhelmed? And this strange man is telling them a strange story.   And Mark writes this ending to the Easter story: “terror and amazement seized them, and they told nobody”. We are left hanging. What will they do? The ending is so uncomfortable.

We want to rehab them, we want them to go do something good, we want them to tell somebody. Isn’t that what Easter is all about?   But the point of Mark’s Easter story is that the disciples never do get the point. They are still no more trustworthy than they have been at any other time. But more than that, they are disobedient. They have been told to tell the disciples, and then to go back to Galilee, but they tell no one. So we can add to the stories of the denial by Peter, and the running away and scattering of the disciples this Easter morning story: The women were disobedient. Should we be surprised?

The ball was in their court. And they froze.

The ball is in our court. Will we freeze? Or will we tell stories of Jesus who meets us in the most ordinary of places, our homes and our home towns, calling us to follow Him?

These poor, failing, disbelieving, stumbling disciples that Mark lifts up before us, what will we do with them? And we gulp, and admit that they sound a lot like us. What will we do? Let’s go finish the story, let’s go home to meet Jesus, let’s see where that will take us.

GOOD FRIDAY 2015 – APRIL 3, 2015 OSLC

April 3, 2015  

There are a lot of different ways to approach death. Many emotions flood over us when we lose someone we care about. We just sang the song “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Death is present with us today. We are suffering. We did not come to church as tourists today. We came because our hearts have been touched by death. And perhaps, as we hear about the loss of Jesus, we are brought back to many other losses we have felt: not only death, but loss of friendships, loss of a sense of place, loss of job, loss of friends, a sense that events have left us stranded as the world moves full speed ahead.

We have a plain cross before us, mounted large and hanging high. It is plain, a so-called “Protestant cross”, without a body on it. You know the old saying: “Protestants have a plain cross, Catholics have a crucifix”. That’s not exactly true. In the old English Lutheran Church, we had the corpus, the corpse, the body of Jesus hanging starkly white against a black cross. It was placed in a niche above the altar every Sunday that I led worship. But for a generality, that phrase works. And when we have a plain cross, perhaps we miss some of the pain of the story. When we have a plain cross, perhaps we deny the pain of death and the gruesome and horrible things that people can do to one another, including to Jesus. In a large way, a crucifix, a tortured Jesus on a cross, tells today’s story even better. We cannot deny the whipping and lashes and thorn wounds and nail holes when we see that suffering body in front of us. An empty cross only tells part of the story.

Here are some words from Sundays and Seasons, our bulletin resource: “In Good Friday worship, we accompany Jesus to the cross with other witnesses who show various ways of being present—or not. A fearful Peter denies Jesus. A group of women keep watch and weep for Jesus on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take care of his lifeless body. Watching, weeping, caring, and even denying are all common human responses to suffering. Becoming aware of our own witness and responses, we can be present more compassionately to Christ crucified, wherever and whenever we encounter him in suffering and injustice.”

It seems to me that the cries that I listen to with hurting people are often aimed at God.

The spiritual struggle after facing an illness or a loss often comes down to this: “Couldn’t you have done something, God? Couldn’t you have changed the grand design of my life? Couldn’t you have given me a kinder, fairer, gentler outcome?” In other words, “God, why are you picking on me? Cut me some slack.” Or even more pointedly: “God, you can’t be my God if you treat me this way. I’m holding you accountable for my pain”.

God’s answer hangs before us today. God’s love is not proven by the measure of the size of our struggles. We are not loved more if life is calm and loved less when grief comes close. God’s answer is clear. God walks into the pain, the rejection, the torture, and the death that might come to any one of us. God chooses to be emptied of all strength and power so that the glory we see is the glory of one who embraces humanity and forgives his accusers. The cross becomes the throne of God. If we want to see where God is on one of our many bad days, we look to the cross. There the heart and mind and action of God is most fully known. I will go to the cross, I will go to death, I will go to the place where dead people dwell, for you and for all – that’s the message God is speaking in agony today.

We have seen so many murders and deaths on TV that the numbers are beyond counting. I worry that they desensitize us to pain and cruelty. My favorite show, as many of you know, is NCIS, and every episode begins with a murder. I have seen too much death and way too many corpses. But every time we go to the funeral home for one we know, every time we lovingly touch the body of someone dear to us, there is no holding back. We weep, we have lumps in our throats, and our eyes betray our feelings. Reality gives us a gut check.

When in Jerusalem, Christians flock to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is so much to see in the building, so many candles, so many paintings, so many altars, that at times one is both overwhelmed with a sense of the holy and made a bit claustrophobic. But near the main door is a stone, surrounded by short little raised outline. It is called the “Place of Preparation”, the spot where the body was taken down from the cross and made ready for a hurried burial. The scene all day long, if one just stands there as I have done a number of times, is of people touching the stone, sitting by the stone, a piece of simple rock, touched by the hands and falling tears of people for whom this story becomes so real. There is indeed a place where this all happened, and there are cold rocks which bore witness, even when disciples were hiding. Reality gives us a gut check.

The Gospel of John has told us this story in rich and real detail. We have been told that the slave’s name was Malchus. We learned that Peter warmed himself at a charcoal fire, not some burning wood bonfire. We have learned that the wine offered to Jesus was sour. Each of John’s vivid details helps us to know that all these events really happened. They are John’s gut check for all who will listen.

But I also hope you heard in John’s telling of this story that Jesus was really putting all power on trial. Jesus is accused of blasphemy, yet the crowds are the liars. The religious authorities and civil powers all want to rush to judgment, even if their policies and procedures are not according to their manuals and the standards of justice they would expect for themselves. The powers would rather rush this story to a conclusion than get caught up in legal niceties. And it is clear that those who use the sword to solve problems are given a big push-back by Jesus. God puts all these systems on trial, and then Jesus is lifted up on the cross. John exalts Jesus, even though the end of the story brings real death.

We really want life to make sense. We really want God to make sense. For God to do that, God turns everything around. God gives the world a gut check. Who are we? What did we do to God? What do we say to God? Where were we when they crucified my Lord? And then God begins to make all things new. Death comes first. But hope does not die. God is enthroned today, right where God chooses to be found, among the hurting and the suffering and the grieving and the lonely. We ponder that, listen to that, and hope today. We hope that God will not let this story end right here. We hope that God will not forget us. We hope, and we tenderly reach out to God, with all the pain that needs healing. And we pray, today of all days, that God is truly making all things new, and that the story will unfold around us.

HOLY THURSDAY B 2015 – APRIL 2, 2015 OSLC

April 2, 2015  

Tomorrow night, on our Good Friday, our Jewish neighbors start Passover with its great first meal, the Meal of Unleavened Bread. In our first lesson, we heard about the institution of the great meal and the beginnings of this wonderful feast. Change was brewing in the air. Moses was telling the Hebrew slaves in Egypt to get ready for something new. There was a quick meal of roasted one year old perfect lamb, and unleavened bread. ‘Matzoh’ is what our Jewish friends call this bread today. ‘Taboun’ is what our Arabic friends call it today, a big round flat piece which is used to dip into sauces and veggies and to be the accompaniment with every bite. Then there was the plague that would bring such pain that others would be pre-occupied with death and grief, and they would flee and start on their journey back to the land of their ancestors. And the command from God through Moses ends with the invitation to remember this event of God’s gift of freedom and life every year, and to make of it a festival. In other words, this was to be a time of joy and gathering and meal and eating and remembering God’s goodness every single year.

Paul, in giving us the first version of the words we call “the Words of Institution”, the crucial words of Jesus at the heart of every Holy Communion, joyfully says he received this from the Lord and he hands it on to the Christians in Corinth, Greece. His pastoral letter which we call First Corinthians was written down and published before any of the Gospel stories of the life of Jesus. In chronological order, this is the first page we have with Jesus’ words added to the Passover that was celebrated 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. There had been some problems in Corinth with the potluck meal that was held before worship, the meal often called a “love feast” or “agape meal” where everyone was to be welcomed and fed. Factions had arisen, and food wasn’t being shared equally, including some who were taking the wine and getting drunk before church. Paul wanted them to remember what was central, a brand new covenant and lasting relationship Jesus has given us, a covenant that shapes for all ages how we receive Jesus and how we receive the world Jesus came into with love and forgiveness. Paul wanted to restore the joy of the meal and the joy of the Communion in worship that followed. Change was brewing in the air for them. It was needed. They were being asked to recall what Jesus had taught them and reform their ways.

And the Gospel from St. John for Holy Thursday takes us into the setting that was put together in that upper room in Jerusalem for this first meal of love and forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to figure out what mood to have during these Great Three Days. Probably most of us come to worship today and tomorrow in more of a subdued and restrained way. The music for the most part is somber, and so are we, I think.

I will never forget an ecumenical worship on Good Friday in my first parish in St. Louis. The African-American Baptist choir wasn’t used to Good Friday services. It wasn’t in their tradition, but they wanted to join with other Christians. So there in our deepest reflection on the death of Jesus they burst out singing “Up from the Grave He Arose”! They had the day wrong, but on second thought, I’m not sure they had the mood wrong. John’s Gospel and the story of Holy Week are tinged with joy and excitement, and the word “glory” is splashed all through it. There is joy, I’m very sure, in the upper room as the disciples gather with Jesus to eat this communal, festive, Passover Seder. It is always rich with good food, good drink, good people, good feelings. And Jesus does nothing to take away the joy. In fact, it might help today to think about any meal where you have planned and baked and cooked with love and care, and now have a house full of guests. We might have a little apprehension about how the food items are turning out, wanting everything to be perfect, but we are joyful for the day and the event and the occasion we are celebrating. So it was on that Passover night. Joy filled the room.

And Jesus was sitting down. He gets up from the table, and took off his outer robe. This is a bit like stripping down to work clothes. He began to wash the feet of the guests, and they protested. Peter became the point man for the protest. Peter questioned this action. Jesus told him he wouldn’t understand now, but later he would. And Peter told him that he couldn’t go through with it. And Jesus said he needed to do this if he was to share with Jesus. I think Jesus was saying that this is what you do if you want to partner with me. In fact, this is what you do if you want to graduate from my school.

Notice that Jesus is called ‘Teacher, Rabbi’. If we are partners in this together, just let me wash your feet. And Peter responds “Just throw me in the shower and douse me from head to foot!” I think there was laughter here, joy here, recognition here, comraderie here, something special going on. I can just picture those guys around the table laughing as they offered to be the first one to dunk Peter. I don’t think it was a somber mealtime at all. I picture laughter filling the room, maybe even other guys getting in line to douse Peter.

Except that Jesus knew that the one who would betray him was eating with him. Yet he went ahead, served everyone, washed the feet of everyone. I believe Jesus washed Judas’ feet. I will leave that for you to ponder. What does it mean to be a servant to the very person who will betray you? How does that shape our world? How does that guide us in our life with any person who is difficult for us to love, and who is doing things to us that we cannot understand? Let Jesus show the way at this meal.

Remember, this is a festival meal, a meal of joy. It’s a meal of acceptance, including the betrayer. It’s a meal of new beginnings. It’s a meal, John the Gospel writer tells us, where Jesus is glorified. This kind of serving, and the serving yet ahead that night and in the coming trial and looming cross the next day, all this will be the very thing that causes Jesus to be glorified. This is what causes us to lift the Name of Jesus above all other names.

I couldn’t ask for a better backdrop to talk about glory than Wisconsin men’s basketball being in the Final Four. (And yes, for Joe Pinzl, our Spartan, Michigan State as well.) We know greatness, don’t we? It’s being able to be on the national stage. We know glory, don’t we? It’s found on the top of the ladder, when the victor cuts down the nets. Against that, the stuff that will keep people up late this Saturday night, maybe even giving some people an excuse not to get up for sunrise service, or even for a 9 am Easter service, we are given God’s standard of glory. It is Jesus, washing the feet of those who ought to serve him, including the betrayer.

Glory is here, in this service, in the Jesus we meet. And God is getting up from the table today to embrace you, and offer to be your servant. And ever the rabbi, ever the teacher, he gives us a command. We are given a lifetime assignment: to love another. “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another”. When Jesus says this, he calls his audience “little children”. “Little children, I am only with you a little while longer. Class is about over. The school year is about to end. Here’s your assignment. Go do what I’ve been doing. Love one another. In fact, that’s how the world will know you have studied at my feet. This is how the world will know you children have stayed awake during your lessons. Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

How do you think Jesus is looking as He says these words? Stern? Smiling? Radiant? Ready to party? I don’t think he was somber. There was meal to dig into. There was a new story to tell. There were a few more hours to teach those disciples and us in the deepest way what God wants us to know to the core of our beings. I’m going with ‘smiling’.

And perhaps, when we come back tomorrow, and visit Jesus hanging on the cross, we might see in arms outstretched the shape of One who still had a hand extended toward us, hands blessing the world, hands serving us to the very end.

In the Passover comes the blessing at the end, from Numbers 6, the one that still hangs in the air this year:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Then the gathering all shouts together: “Next year, in Jerusalem”.

Jesus said that blessing to his disciples, I am sure, ending the liturgy and singing the hymn, and then they went to the Mount of Olives. And I think, in their memories of this Thursday night , Jesus’ face was smiling on them, urging them to graduate with honors from disciple school, going out in the world loving and serving and embracing, washing the feet even of those who betray us.

 

 

 

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