Sunday, April 15, 2018

15 April 2018

Easter 3  Luke 24:13-35  15 April 2018
They were on the road, the two of them, walking toward the village of Emmaus, walking along and talking as the sounds and the smells of Jerusalem faded in the distance and the seven mile stretch of road, a day’s journey by foot, unfolded before them.
And what were the words they were sharing, the conversation they were having?  It was all about the events of the past few days in Jerusalem.  Such a time they had not ever experienced before.
For these two, Cleopas and one whose name is not known to us, were disciples of Jesus, and what they had seen and heard during the previous week had shaken them to their very core.
The past week had been the week of the Passover.  It had begun with a celebration – Jesus came into Jerusalem and many people welcomed him and shouted his praise.  Then there was Jesus’ angry appearance in the Temple, when he drove out the buyers and the sellers.  There was time for more teaching, and listening to Jesus’ words, as he told all who would listen, parables; commentary on paying taxes, and predictions of the future and the end of the age. 
And then … the part which was too much to bear, the part which was so hard to talk about … the arrest of their beloved Jesus, his trial, and his death on a cross and burial.  Jesus was dead and gone.  Their hopes were dashed, and it seemed as if their lives were over now too.  How could this have happened to their teacher and their friend, the one on whom they had laid so much of their hope?
And now … and now the two of them were on the road to Emmaus, perhaps going back home to the lives they had left behind when they became Jesus’ followers, walking and talking and the conversation no doubt dragging them down further and further into the pit of despair and hopelessness and sadness.  It must have been a miserable time for them as they walked along those seven miles.
So miserable, in fact, that they didn’t even seem to notice as a stranger caught up with them and joined them in their sad walk.  “What’s going on – what are you talking about that’s made you look so sad?” he asked. 
So they told him the story as they knew it – all about Jesus, this one they had followed, this one on whom they had pinned their hopes and dreams for the salvation of their nation.  They even told this stranger about some unbelievable business they had heard:  an empty tomb, and angels – but no one had actually seen Jesus arisen and alive.  To them, it was all too much, the capping sadness to a time of sadness and failure.
Their words – Cleopas and the other disciple walking toward Emmaus – their words blocked The Word for them.  They had even heard about Jesus’ resurrection but their sadness and grief at what they had seen in the past few days blocked them from realizing that what had happened was all part of what God was working out, for them, for the world.
Their words – Cleopas and the other disciple walking toward Emmaus – their words even blocked them from realizing that this stranger who had joined them in their journey was Jesus himself.
No wonder Jesus’ words to them were so hard.  Doubtless we would expect a soft, kind word if we were in this situation.  But Jesus knew that this wasn’t a time for soft words – it was time for a wake-up call to these two, a jarring word to shake them loose from their mourning and self-pity. 
Because they had been there and heard, when The Word about what all these events meant had been spoken.  This Word had been around since Moses, and all the prophets.  And Jesus himself had spoken this very Word to them in all that he had done and said in the time leading up to his death on that cross. 
Now Jesus spoke this Word to them again, retelling the Story all the way from Moses up through the events of the past week, describing and teaching and explaining to these two, so that they would believe those words of the angels, that he was alive and not dead anymore.
And finally, as Cleopas and the other disciple ended their journey and invited this stranger to share the evening meal with them, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus.  The Word that Jesus had spoken to them had done this.  And they knew it.  “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Their hearts were on fire.  And this fire drove them right back to where they had come, back to Jerusalem, back to the other disciples, where they shared this Good News with each other.  Their faith had been strengthened.  They finally understood all that Jesus had been teaching them in the days leading up to his death.  They understood and believed what he had been preaching and teaching.  Their hearts were on fire because they had heard the Word.  They had seen a lot – but in the end, their faith had come through hearing the Good News about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Their hearts were on fire.  Their hearts were on fire with the flame of hope and love and joy that came from hearing the Word of the Gospel.  Their hearts were on fire and this fire drove them back to Jerusalem, back to share in this joy with the other disciples, and eventually back out into the world, after they received the promised Holy Spirit from Jesus, the “power from on high,” at Pentecost. 
Their hearts were on fire. 
Can we say the same thing here, this morning?  Are our hearts on fire like the hearts of those disciples?  Are our hearts on fire with the flame of the living and loving Word of God?
For we’ve got more of a witness to Christ’s power and truth and salvation than Cleopas and the other disciple did, as they walked that lonely road to Emmaus.  We have been baptized into Christ’s Church, many of us have been raised in this faith ever since we were babies, some within these very walls.  We worship nearly every Sunday.  We like being Lutherans.  We even know how to respond when someone says, “The Lord be with you.”
But are our hearts on fire?  Are our hearts on fire with the flame of hope and love and joy that comes from hearing the Word of the Gospel? 
The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian church, knew all about “hearts on fire.”  He called on that church to “not quench the Spirit.”  What did he mean by that?  How did he think that could happen?
It had happened to those two, Cleopas and the other disciple, on the road to Emmaus,  They had heard Jesus’ words to them before the cross, explaining all that was to happen, interpreting the Scripture to them before he died, but their own internal spin on what these words were to mean blocked the fire from building within their hearts; their grief and sorrow at what they perceived had happened, their hopelessness prevented them even from recognizing Jesus right next to them, as they walked that road.  Only Jesus’ risen, living Word to them could remove the obstacles, could rekindle that fire within them, so they could return to Jerusalem with joy, to share their joy with the others, and then be sent back out to set more hearts on fire with Jesus’ Word of hope.
So what may be blocking that fire from burning bright within us today?  Guilt over something we’ve done … or said?  An old argument, never laid to rest, that churns at our inmost parts, perhaps waking us up in the night?  The tears and sorrow of mourning a failed friendship or relationship … the suffering or death of a loved one … the loss of dear friends who have moved far away from us, or who we have left in moving far away from them?  The changes and chances of life unfolding before us?  Our own pride that keeps us from admitting that we need some help, we need another’s presence, we aren’t as young as we used to be?
All of these flame quenchers, these fire retardants, are very, very real.  As real to us as the pain and sorrow of losing their friend Jesus and all that he meant to them was to Cleopas and the other disciple as they walked that road to Emmaus.
Yet there is hope for us.  Hope as real as one who came unknown and unrealized to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus.  Hope that comes to us in this community of faith, as we too hear the Word proclaimed to us … the Word that is at the center of all we do here … the Word which creates us at the font and which feeds us at the table … the Word which says to us:  “You are valued, not because of who you are or what you do or don’t do or can’t do … but because of Whose you are – you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.  You and I are brothers and sisters of the Lord.”  This Word is a life-changing Word.  This Word will set our hearts, even our whole lives, on fire with the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This Word is the Word of Jesus, once dead but now risen, walking with us on our own personal roads to Emmaus, wherever those roads may take us.  This Word is the Word of Jesus, The Word that calls and calms, which forms and forgives.  The Word that says death is not the end; but instead gives us the promise of eternal life.  And this Word brings us all together … each of us, distinct individuals, each with our own gifts, our own needs, our own pains, our own sorrows … brings us together as Jesus’ body in this world … to proclaim this Word to others who in their own pain, their own need, their own sorrow, need so desperately to hear it, too.
So may that fire burn bright within you this day, and always.  May it burn so bright that others will see it, and feel it, and talk with you about it, as they walk their own roads to Emmaus.  For that…that … my friends in Christ, that is what this life, this faith is all about.  Hearts on fire!  Amen. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

8 April 2018

Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31
8 April 2018

Perhaps – perhaps, you came to worship today, and wondered, maybe even hoped, that, after our Lenten season of Sharing our Doubts Together … and last Sunday’s, Easter Sunday’s, not-so-satisfying text, about the women running away from Jesus’ empty tomb in fear, and not telling anyone about what they saw … well, perhaps, you thought, “Well, now, we’re in the season of Easter, and we’ll be all done with THAT.”
EHHHHHH!  Wrong!
Because here, today, as on every Second Sunday of Easter, we have the story from John chapter 20 of Jesus’ first appearance to all his disciples … all of them save for Thomas, who isn’t there and can’t believe the Word of Easter to be true.

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” it’s said, and perhaps that is how you feel toward this text … especially, after all, if you’ve been part of a liturgical church which follows the lectionary cycle, and you’ve heard this story 10, 15, 35, 60, 80 years in a row. 
I get that.  There are years when I’ve felt, not gift, but oppression from this text … years when, coming off a glorious Easter experience, that it’s frustrated me to have this text of “doubting Thomas” thrust in my face.  There have been years in the past when I’ve chosen to lay this text aside for a season, so we can hear, and I can preach on, something else … perhaps John’s Gospel account of the actual Easter event, pushing the joy of that Resurrection Day out one more week … just so we didn’t have to deal with Thomas.
And that’s probably OK to do, every once in a while.
But not too often.
The joy, the gift, of a lectionary cycle is that it was created, set in place, by a prayerful, careful group of church leaders, over the centuries … we trust and believe that God’s Spirit guided them as they selected these texts, so that the message proclaimed from week to week would be far less about the one proclaiming it than about what is actually in the words of the text itself.
And there is most certainly Word to be heard, and meditated on, and prayed about, in these well-worn verses of chapter 20 of John’s gospel.
Two points in particular are most evident to me, this morning, and those are the ones I believe we should think and pray on today.
First, note that this gospel’s core message is about Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples … his immediate faith community … the absolute core of what, who will be The Church on earth in the wake of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.  These men and women are going to be the ones who will take forth the Word about the New Thing which God has done in Jesus Christ, take it forth into the world.
So what does Jesus do, to and for them, as he meets with them for the first time?
He wishes them peace.
He gives – the word actually suggests that he “tosses” them, the gift of the Holy Spirit … a gift which is caught, and not taught.
He grants them the authority of the same religion-shattering act which he brought, which set the religion of his place and time on end … he sends them forth to forgive sins.
So here is the core message, to Jesus-followers, of every time and place since then … we, you and I, are called and gathered together in that same Holy Spirit which Jesus first gave his disciples that Easter evening … a gift so important, so necessary, that Jesus wasted no time in giving it to them  … this is the REAL Pentecost moment, the real transference of holy power from Christ to his Church … what Jesus says, and does here, is to establish the Church … the community gathered together in his name, in every time and place … Jesus establishes the Church as THE community, which, who, is to provide radical hospitality, and welcome, to all in his name … and how this will be done, is that the Church … WE … are to be a people, a community, a gathering and happening, who are all about bringing, showing forth, playfully giving … tossing out as a gift, if you will … the gift of God’s forgiveness, revealing life lived in living, breathing relationship with God … bringing it into the world, so that others can catch it, catch the Spirit, catch the faith, and pass it along themselves to others.
THAT’S our charter, our mission and vision statement, our core values, all rolled into one. 
Everything else … staff, buildings, committees, projects, task forces and teams, assemblies and social statements … everything else we, the Church, are about is given life and breath and informed and driven by this gift of Jesus, given immediately after he rose from the dead, given so that the Church, that WE, might bring that same message of Resurrection … life, where before there was death … and forgiveness, where before there were broken relationships, fear, loneliness and despair.
That’s the first message for us, from these well-known words.  Church, people who gather and work and live in my name … Jesus says … to you, I bring forgiveness … to you, I insist that you share the same, my forgiveness, my grace and peace, into the world.
And the second message flows forth from the first.
In the face of such radical welcome … hospitality … grace, peace, forgiveness and love … the natural human reaction … isn’t to receive this gift in joy … but rather, to greet it with suspicion and doubt. 
Thus Thomas … long derided, “doubting” Thomas … Thomas is here, as a representative, a figure, a person of … US.
Now, as for that “doubting” business … I’ll say again what I shared this past Lent, and in years before that, with you. 
Nowhere in this text does Jesus use the word “doubt.” 
A true translation of Jesus’ words would go something like these:

“Do not become unbelieving, but believing … unfaithful, but faithful … distrusting, but trusting.”

Nowhere here does Jesus deride, denigrate, lessen Thomas’ faith-word, faith-speech, faith-apparent-lack-of-faith.  Rather, Jesus meets Thomas where he is, gives him a bodily and a spoken word of encouragement, care, love … as Thomas struggles with, wrestles with, his a-faith / faith dilemma … and, indeed, it is Thomas who gives the only confession of faith in this whole passage.
Yep, Thomas.

“My Lord and my God.” 

Curiously enough, this was the same phrase that Caesar was demanding his subjects say of him … so Thomas not only makes THE confession, THE statement of faith in Jesus in these verses … he also makes THE counter-cultural, counter-worldly power and authority statement of his, of all, time.  Jesus – the risen Lord Jesus – not Caesar – not power, not wealth, not king or queen or president – JESUS IS LORD.
Take this message to heart, people of God gathered here this Sunday, gathered here behind our own shut doors, gathered to worship our risen Lord Jesus.
It is the “doubter,” the faith-wrestler, the faith-seeker, who here makes this strongest confession of faith, as to who Jesus is, to and for him, to and for the world.
The community which Jesus creates with the sharing of his Spirit is to be a community which includes a-faithers, wrestlers, seekers, “doubters” like Thomas.  The community of faith which the risen Lord Jesus creates, calls and gathers, makes strong and wise and holy, is to be one where, in which people like Thomas … and here, don’t lie to yourself, because we have all been, we all are like Thomas, in one moment or another … this faith community in Jesus’ name is to be a place, a people where faith is caught, playfully, lovingly shared, in Jesus’ spirit of grace and hope and love.
And so I believe it’s a good thing, a very good thing, that this story of Thomas comes around every year after Easter.  It serves as a check, a guard, a Word and a witness to us … should we start taking faith, Church, ourselves SOOOO seriously, that we lose the life-giving, free-flowing, joyful sense of faith tossed and caught, shared freely within and outside these walls … this text comes around to remind us, that it’s Jesus’ gift, his Spirit’s gift, who, which brings us together … who, which empowers us, not to be a “holy huddle” but, instead, to be sent forth in love, to freely forgive and reveal life, life to be lived and shared in relationship with God, into the world God loves.
And this text is also a reminder, that our community is to show itself … we are to show ourselves, forth, as broken community, broken and made whole community … community made up of … drenched disciples … drenched in our baptism to be, not perfect … but … forgiven, forgiven faith wrestlers, seekers, “doubters,” people who are fully human even as our Lord is fully human, people who do not deny but embrace the full range of human emotion … we welcome ALL, wherever you, they, we are on our faith journey … because it’s in that struggle, in that honesty, when, like Thomas, the truth of Jesus’ coming as one of us, living as one of us, suffering and dying as one of us, and rising
again …
… it is in all of that, this messy, wonderful business of LIFE as it really and truly is for us, that Jesus comes to us … gives us his Spirit, calls forth our confession, and sends us forth as authentic people into this world God loves ...
… authentic people who serve an authentic Lord, who is big enough, and loving enough, to meet each of us as and where we are, as we live into this faith-walk where he meets and calls us …
… authentic people, who show forth Jesus as best we are able, real flesh and blood people, forgiven, forgiving, living, loving, playfully sharing his Spirit into a world of people who are just like us.
Loved by our Lord. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

1 April 2018

The Resurrection of our Lord B

Isaiah 25:6-9 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 / Mark 16:1-8
1 April 2018

So here we are.  Easter Sunday, once again.
And, once again, as is the case every three years, our Gospel text is from Mark.
Note that I didn’t say “Easter story” or “Resurrection text” because, in Mark’s Gospel, the event of the Resurrection only comes through the words of that young man, dressed in a white robe.
We don’t see the Risen Jesus.  No one in the story does.
And it all ends with that rather bleak, disheartening last sentence –

It may not be Your Favorite Version Of The Easter Story but it sure is appropriate for us, people of Faith, as we’ve just come through a Lenten season of Exploring and Sharing our Doubts Together.  We are reminded of the words of author Anne Lamott:

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely.

As well as those of another author, Flannery O’Connor:

When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead.  This goes on.  You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness.  Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you.  It is trust, not certainty.

Well, today’s Gospel text is certainly one dripping with doubt. 
The women run away in fear, and don’t tell anyone.
How come this story, Mark’s story, is so different from the others?  Matthew, and Luke, and John?  Matthew and John both have the risen Jesus there, at the empty tomb or nearby, meeting the disciples, meeting Mary, showing, proving, that he is alive.  Luke reports the women believe when they see the empty tomb, and they go back to tell the other disciples.
How come Mark’s story is so different from the others?
For the answer to that question, we’ll have to go back.  Way back.  To about the year 65 of this era.
For it was at that time that Mark’s Gospel was written down, into much the same form as we have it today.
You can get a sense of Mark’s history if you dedicate a couple of hours, and simply, sit down and read the whole Gospel of Mark, all the way through.  It moves fast.  From the opening words:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God …

the Gospel moves fast … things happen immediately, Jesus is moving and active, and events start right away, and grow and build to the climax … Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, his arrest and suffering, his death on the cross, his burial. 
Right up to its final words – which are before us today:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

It’s almost as if … the author wanted readers to be purposeful – mindful of time – necessary, and urgent in their proclamation and living out the faith.
The Easter story in Mark is short.   The women go back home and don’t tell anyone what they heard or saw.
Except that, THEY MUST HAVE.
And, likely, they started at the beginning …

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God …

This ending, so abrupt, so short … it necessarily drives you, drives us, back to the beginning. 
The beginning of the story, to tell it.  To tell it urgently.  To tell it authentically, honestly, from the heart.
When Mark’s Gospel was being written down … in the years 65-70 of this era, world events, world events which worked themselves out as local events for the people of Judea, the people in whose place this story occurs … these events would have necessitated this.
Jesus-followers were in exile.
They were being put out of their Jewish faith, out of the synagogues by their own family, friends and neighbors … they were being pushed out of Jerusalem, as the final revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman occupiers was coming to a head, and soon the whole nation would fall, the Temple would be destroyed … millions would die, the people of God’s promise, those left alive, would be scattered … as would be those who followed the Way of Christ.
Jesus-followers were in exile.
With this, we, Jesus-followers today, we, too, can relate.
While on the one side, these days, there are some who claim Jesus’ name, but their words and actions are so, so far from the cross-shaped life to which Jesus calls us … they mistakenly believe that power, the theology of glory, is what the Christian faith is all about … and they will do anything, say anything, support and follow the most Christ-flouting examples of unrepentant non-faith … to grasp and grab and try to hang onto any shred of their former glory.  Glory that is neither of Christ, nor his Cross.  It never was.
And then, on the other side, and largely, because of our own silence in the face of these power-grabbers, are those who have been driven far away from communities of faith … people who will not know that there is a place, there are people, who have heard the true word of Christ and strive to submit and obey … people who repent, and rise in forgiveness and hope … people who gather around Word and Meal to be strengthened for service, other-service, service to others, the cross-shaped way of life, lived through us, into this world.
We are, indeed, people in exile.  We feel like we have not been in this place before.  We are afraid for our future, wondering, where is Jesus in the midst of all this.
And yet …

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Let the words about these, our forebears in the faith, be with you this Easter morning, you, today, people in exile.
For the Good News for you today is the same as it was for them, and as it has been throughout the ages.
They who heard and saw, TOLD.  Spoke.  The Word of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and hope, in Jesus Christ.
That’s how Paul – even himself, years removed from our Easter scene in Mark - could say what he did …

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the 12 … last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

The Word of Promise and Hope won out.  Life won out.  The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ was told, again and again, that word, creating community, creating communities of hope and forgiveness, promise and life …
… even to us, here, today … The Word of Promise and Hope still comes … bringing life to us and to all, as we gather around Jesus’ Word, as we receive Jesus’ meal of forgiveness and life … as we are strengthened for service to go out, silent no more, and speak the Word of Hope and True Life into a world, a time and place, so desperately in need of hearing and receiving it.

Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

May this morning, may this worship, be for you, the Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, once again … and begun anew, raised to life once again, may you go forth to tell, to share, to live the Cross-shaped, wondrous life that really is life, into this world that God gives, loves and saves through Jesus the Christ.

Friday, March 30, 2018

29 March 2018

Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 31-35
At Redmond Presbyterian
29 March 2018

No one interrupted my dad’s dinner.  NO ONE.
When dad got home, dinner was always just about ready, and in that scene so common to the 60s and 70s but as equally uncommon today … the entire family was called together and gathered to the dining table.  Grace was said, and food was passed and eaten.  The adults would share about their day – well, dad would inevitably complain about his, having a captive audience who were duty-bound to keep quiet and listen.
Woe to the one who would interrupt dinner.   
The phone might ring, and mom would excuse herself to get it, but dad would shout, “tell them to call back, hang up!”
There would be someone at the door, and mom would excuse herself to get it, but dad would shout, “tell them we’re eating dinner!”
There was no TV on in the background, no radio, no books at the table – no distractions from the Task At Hand.  Shut up, listen, and eat.
And don’t interrupt.
And so, every Maundy Thursday, when this text comes around, the nine year old in me wants to pull an “UMMM!” and point the finger at Jesus.
UMMM!  He got up and left the dinner table!   UMMMM!  He stopped eating and started to do something else!  Wash people’s feet!  Yecch!  He’ll have to go wash up again before he goes back to eat!  UMMM!
But that, of course, would be a huge enterprise in Missing The Point Entirely.
So let’s get some things straight.
First, what we have here, in John’s Gospel, is most certainly NOT the scene which the other three Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – describe for us, as happening that evening.
Their story is of the supper itself – the meal that becomes, for Jesus-followers, Holy Communion.
Pr Austin will tell you more about that in a few minutes.
No, for John, the ‘big deal’ is NOT the supper – its only mention, is that the day is the festival of the Passover, and these verses come “during supper.”
Jesus – presumably, the host of the meal – gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, and starts doing the work of a servant – a slave – in washing his disciples’ feet.
What’s going on?
Plainly, for John, SERVICE is the high mark of the faith, of following Jesus.
Not ceremony.  Not pomp and circumstance.  Not liturgy, or pastors, or music, or congregational structure and organization, or other such “churchiness.”  All of which are secondary – nice additions, things, over which, too too many church people get “wrapped around the axle” and hung up on the differences between them.  Martin Luther called these “adiaphora,” things about which people – and denominations – may be different, may even disagree, but as they are not central to the faith, they should be allowed to stand as different.
Yes, the meal happens – and perhaps, likely, John didn’t go into detail about it because, being the last of the Gospel writers, he was familiar enough with the other three accounts – and Paul’s, on which Pr Austin will share – that he figured, he didn’t need to say anything more.
But he did need to emphasize service.
Because service IS central to the faith of following Jesus.
A faith without service is no faith at all.  It’s self-serving:  with churches existing primarily for themselves, country clubs under the cross, one hour a week places of convenience and pleasantries, nice places to visit but in this busy world with people looking for authenticity and meaning and purpose, they’re not central to life. 
Service isn’t about nice on the surface pleasantries.  No, it is about the Cross.  Less of us, and more of Jesus … Christ, here, living, showing, SERVING, as a slave, a servant, to others.  Taking on the task of the least, washing feet.
And so we should little wonder that what we see, in so many congregations, today, is that fewer and fewer want to be part of them.   Other things, other activities, take the church’s place, in peoples’ lives and in the life of our communities, when other-service takes a back seat to self-service.
Service is about less of us, and more of Jesus.  Serving Jesus in and through others.
The Cross is what following Jesus is all about.
Lutherans like Martin Luther.  Lutheran pastors like to quote him.  And most Lutherans like to hear his words – that is, until they rub too close. 
Here are some of Luther’s close-rubbing words that are especially good for us to hear tonight, as we consider other-service:

It is a matter of necessity that we be destroyed and rendered formless, so that Christ may be formed within us, and Christ alone be in us … real mortifications do not happen in lonely places away from the society of other human beings.  No!  They happen in the home, the market place, in secular life …
He who is not crucianus, if I may coin a word, is not Christianus; in other words, he who does not bear his cross is no Christian, for he is not like his Master, Jesus Christ.

This is what Jesus shows us as he washes his disciples’ feet.  He interrupts his meal – the highest meal of his faith – to take on the lot of a slave, a servant, for them.
He encourages his disciples – them, and us – to do the same for one another.
And he gives a commandment – a new commandment, the mandatum for which this day, Maundy Thursday, is named: 

Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

He or she who does not bear their cross … does not wash another’s feet … does not lessen themselves in service to others, as Christ is formed in and through them … is no Christian, for they are not like their Master, Jesus Christ.
Some churches do foot washing as part of their Maundy Thursday observance.  The Pope regularly does this on this day, this pope, most particularly, making a point by going to communities of poor, or sick, or handicapped individuals, and he washes their feet, as an example, a sign, of this service into which Jesus calls us.
The foot washing episodes of which I’ve been a part have come at the end of weeks of other-service together.  Usually with teenagers.  Usually, in some kind of a difficult place, like the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, or the Yakama Reservation here in Washington state, places where the service had been hard, the lessons learned, painful, but faith, strengthened, nurtured, made more resilient, through those times together.
Times of painting and repairing run-down houses in the hot sun.  Times of working with the children of these poverty-stricken communities, and seeing how the systems at work in their lives, systems of addiction and abuse, systems of violence and neglect, have formed them in ways much different than our youth were used to experiencing. 
These closing worship times were often emotional experiences, as the events of the week just past came back, as site leaders washed adult leaders’ feet, and then, we washed the feet of our youth.
I suspect for the disciples, in what would be their closing worship time with Jesus and each other, that the sight of their rabbi, their teacher and master, washing their feet, was quite emotional.  We only have Peter’s words here – and Peter, always the emotional one, of course gives us an emotional response … ah, but it is enough for us to go on.
What is important for us in this life of faith … this life in which we are called to bear the cross … is once again, here, tonight, right before us.
Word, and meal.  Given and shed for you.
For you, to be strengthened for service.  Called to be sent, in service.  Washing others’ feet, in whatever ways that presents itself to you daily.
His gifts are here, so you may live into his commandment, his mandatum, not just on Maundy Thursday, but all year long.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

25 March 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord
Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 22
Sharing our Doubts Together (finale)
25 March 2018

And so …
In many ways, we’ve come full circle, during this season of Lent, this season of Sharing our Doubts Together.
Back on Ash Wednesday, we began this journey with these words of author Anne Lamott, encouraging us to “rest in the messiness” of our doubts for this season:

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.

And then, those stark, aching words of Psalm 88:

You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?  Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?
O Lord, why do you cast me off?  Why do you hide your face from me?

Those words, I said that night, remind us of other words of doubt, words spoken by God’s Son, himself, even Jesus, from the Cross:

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

That was six weeks ago.  A lot has happened over the course of those six weeks.  A lot.  I hope, however, that you have been able to resist the urge to tidy things up in your spiritual house … that you have let the papers lie where you cast them, the mail pile up, the blown-in pollen come to rest a while, perhaps now it’s so thick you can write your doubts in it … or, write them down up here, at the prayer station, your doubts, your struggles, your questions and wonderings.
Those words of Psalm 88 were accompanied by our lodestone verses for this season, Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, and that night, leading us off with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Ah, but again, full circle.  You can’t get much more poor in spirit, than to be in the place where all you can say is -

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

And so we have those words of Psalm 22, today, as our closing verses for this series on Sharing our Doubts Together.
When we hear those words, we probably, usually, always think of Jesus on the Cross, that Good Friday scene, the Passion of our Lord.
But, they do have their own sense of meaning, of their own time and place, coming hundreds of years before Jesus quoted them on the Cross.  We’ll go there in a few minutes.
Ah, but first, we need to acknowledge that this is, indeed, Palm Sunday, of the Passion of our Lord.  The first day of Holy Week.  The day which starts with such celebration and revelry, as Mark’s gospel conveys to us.
What we may miss in our reading of this text, though, is how politically charged it all is. 
We’ve been spending most of the past year in John’s gospel, so today’s reading from Mark is the first we’ve had in a long time from this gospel writer.
So we need to have our memories jogged.
Mark is the Gospel which starts out with these words,

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

But Mark’s Gospel was good news in the midst of terrible news.  Most likely written down in the years 65-70 of this era, these were the years when Jerusalem was under siege by Rome – the final years of Temple-centered Judaism.  Mark’s Jesus is one who unapologetically comes to “bind the strong man,” that strong man being, the powers that be in the world, anything and anyone who stands in opposition to God’s rule, God’s way, the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Jewish believers who followed Jesus, those readers and hearers would recognize this, in the very verses we have before us today. 
They would remember these words, from the story of the Maccabees, those Jews who threw off the invading Greeks in 167 BCE … these verses from the book of 1st Maccabees, being about the triumphal entry of Simon Maccabeus into Jerusalem:

The Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. 

But there’s more going on here.  Those singing “Hosanna” to Jesus as he enters Jerusalem are the common folks … those so often looked down upon by the religious and political elites.  They are the ones who are welcoming Jesus and giving him the warm reception … perhaps, likely, themselves remembering those words from the Maccabees … and looking for their own political moment for throwing off the yoke of both the Roman invaders and the leaders of their own religion.
And yet … and yet, once Jesus gets to Jerusalem, all he does is look around in the Temple, and then, he leaves the city again, going back out to rural Bethany with his disciples.
The message is clear:  This Jesus, he will not be another Maccabee, another political revolutionary, come to challenge church and state by riot and force.  Whenever you set yourself up to challenge the status-quo, the powers that be … you are going to be, at one time or another, bitterly disappointed. 
And doubt, undoubtedly, sets in.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

And so we’re back to our Psalm.
As I said, we who follow Jesus, naturally, normally, associate these words with Good Friday, his speaking them from the Cross.
Ah, but they originally came hundreds of years before that event, and have their own significance independent of Good Friday, if we have ears to hear.
Jewish tradition interprets this Psalm as a lament by David over the future exile of the Hebrew people, into Babylon … indeed, liturgically in Judaism this Psalm is read on the feast of Purim, as a remembrance of Haman’s threat to destroy the Jews, as recorded in the book of Esther.
The words are a lament.  Perhaps they could also be, like Psalm 88 … the words of one with a serious illness.
Recall how Psalm 88 begins and continues:

O Lord, God of my deliverance … you have put me at the bottom of the Pit, in the darkest places, in the depths … I call to you, O Lord, each day; I stretch out my hands to you.  Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the shades rise to praise you?

Here in Psalm 22, the Psalmist appeals to God’s sense of history:

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved.

The Psalmist also feels abandoned, dehumanized, mocked by others, in much the same way as Job:

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let him rescue the one in whom he delights.”

Down, down, down goes the feeling, the mood, of the Psalm … and then, suddenly, there is a turn, in a different direction:

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you … all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

What’s happening here?  For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in Discipleship, he hears these words, and through them, he moves back to Christ.  For Bonhoeffer, this move from death to life is none other than the link between all who follow Christ, and what will happen to them … to us … in the words of our lodestone verse from the Beatitudes for today, which also brings us back, full circle, to the beginning of this season of Sharing our Doubts Together:  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven -

In judgment and action those who follow Jesus will be different from the world in renouncing property, happiness, rights, righteousness, honor, and violence.  They will be offensive to the world.  That is why the disciples will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Not recognition, but rejection, will be their reward from the world for their word and deed.  It is important that Jesus calls his disciples blessed, not only when they directly confess his name, but also when they suffer for a just cause.  They are given the same promise as the poor.  As those who are persecuted, they are equal to the poor.

And so it now all comes together for us … Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, guiding us into the events of this week we call Holy … moving inexorably toward the Cross … toward suffering, and death … even as the word for all Jesus-followers is the same … in the world, you will experience, you are entitled to, it will come to you, as you follow Christ, just that which Christ experienced.  This is the Theology of the Cross … a stumbling block to all who believe that faith is the Golden Ticket toward worldly power, political power, glorious triumph … lilies and roses and flowers on the Cross … Easter all year long. 
It is our reminder that there is no Easter without Good Friday. 
And for some, for many, in this life, this life is a lot more of Good Friday than it ever feels like Easter. 
We doubt.  We hurt.  We wonder, and sometimes we even ask:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

If you’ve heard, if you’ve learned anything in the past few weeks together, I hope you have learned that it is all right to doubt … to rest in the mess, the uncertainty, the dreck of this life for a time.  To wonder, where is God, in the midst of a world, a time, where, if you are at all paying attention, if you are human … YOU WILL DOUBT.
And so … on our way once again to the Cross … we close with these words of another struggling doubter in the faith … the author Flannery O’Connor, writing in The Habit of Being:

I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.  I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.  A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.  It is much harder to believe than not to believe.  If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this:  keep an open mind.  Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead.  This goes on.  You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness.  Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you.  It is trust, not certainty.

And so, blessings on your struggling, and stumbling, as we make our way together, toward the Cross, once again. 
For through it, as through death itself, there is Christ, with us, for us.   For blessing.  For God’s kingdom, in this world.  And for life.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

18 March 2018

18 March 2018
Sharing our Doubts Together
5 Lent
Micah 4:1-4; Romans 12:15-21
Matthew 5:1-12

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Jesus’ followers are called to peace.  When Jesus called them, they found their peace.  Jesus is their peace.  Now they are not only to have peace, but they are to make peace.  To do this they renounce violence and strife.  Those things never help the cause of Christ.  Christ’s kingdom is a realm of peace, and those in Christ’s community greet each other with a greeting of peace.  Jesus’ disciples maintain peace by choosing to suffer instead of causing others to suffer.  They preserve community when others destroy it.  They renounce self-assertion and are silent in the face of hatred and injustice [directed at themselves.]  That is how they overcome evil with good.  That is how they are makers of divine peace in a world of hatred and war.  But their peace will never be greater than when they encounter evil people in peace and are willing to suffer from them.  Peacemakers will bear the cross with their Lord, for peace was made at the cross.  Because they are drawn into Christ’s work of peace and called to the work of the Son of God, they themselves will be called children of God. 
-         Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Discipleship.”

This week, instead of ending the message with Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the lodestone Beatitude for the day, we begin with them … a clear, concise word, reflecting on what Jesus is saying to his disciples, then and now.
Peace.  It’s a ubiquitous word but a slippery concept, for us and for all, throughout the ages.
And it’s likely, that elusive nature of peace, that makes it so fraught with doubt for us.  Is there such a thing as real, true peace?  Can we ever have it?  Will it ever happen?
Our Scripture texts today give us three distinct images of peace, which are for our meditation, exploration, and living into.
Let’s begin with Paul’s words to the Roman church, as they relate to personal peace:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

Notice, though, how easily personal peace intertwines and is actually interdependent, with our second image of peace, community peace.
Indeed, this is no mistake.  For Paul, as you read through his letters, you can get the distinct impression that he was not at all about “the individual.”   And you’d be right about that.
For Paul, the life of faith is the life lived in community, one with another, no one, out on their own, no one, clamoring for their “individual rights.”  For Paul, to be a follower of Christ, means the other always comes first, and not just one other, but others. 
And so, to have individual peace, you must have community peace.
Our peace as individuals is all wrapped up with the peace of others with whom we live and work and serve.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

This verse reminds us of another, of Paul’s words, coming in his letter to the Galatians:

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 

And another, from Ephesians:

We must grow up in every way … into Christ … from whom the whole body, jointed and knit together … promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Our peace, then, is wholly and totally dependent on the peace of others.
Which, admittedly, is easy when everyone gets along and agrees with one another.
But what about when they – when we - don’t?

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is the Word of God from Jesus, when he calls his disciples to “turn the other cheek,” later on in the Sermon on the Mount … here, Paul echoes those words, which are all about “loving your enemies.” 
Granted, there’s a bit of schadenfreude motivation here … for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.
But still … even with that … we don’t want to love our enemies.  We want to hate them.  Many of us would like nothing better than to walk up to their front doors, knock, and when they answer, punch them in the gut. 
Ah, but that’s not the way of Christ … the way of peace.
This is the “tough word” around which Bonhoeffer creates our opening word, from “Discipleship.” 

Jesus’ disciples maintain peace by choosing to suffer instead of causing others to suffer.  They preserve community when others destroy it.  They renounce self-assertion and are silent in the face of hatred and injustice [directed at themselves.]  That is how they overcome evil with good.  That is how they are makers of divine peace in a world of hatred and war. 

Now, a commenting word here.  I firmly believe that Bonhoeffer – Paul – Christ – NONE of these, would have their words used to defend abusive people; they would never advise those who are being abused, to simply, cow down in those relationships, just take the abuse, over and over and over again.
If you are in an abusive relationship, with a parent, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, an employer … YOU NEED TO GET OUT.  For too long the cross has been cheap-pasted over abusive relationships, “oh, you just need to love him or her more.”  BULL.  Get out and get out now.  Call the police.  Report the abuser to the authorities.  Get legal help.  Don’t listen to those who want to make God out to be the Abuser in Chief.  Because he’s not.  HE IS NOT.
That kind of word just leads to more and more doubt … and, sadly, more, people walking away from the One Relationship that will not abuse them … a relationship with Christ. 
Shame on the Church for ever, ever, telling people they need to “stay and take it.” 
Jesus died on the cross, so YOU don’t have to.
We recall that even Bonhoeffer, even this Cross-bearing advocate for peace, even he, plotted Hitler’s death.  Yes, to kill him.  It was never a decision into which he entered lightly.  It was one which came with much repentance on Bonhoeffer’s part.  But it was one he knew he needed to make.  And so he did.
Personal peace and community peace.  You see, these are tough to live into.
But what of the “biggie?”  What of “world peace?”
This is what Micah’s words are about:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
 and their spears into pruning hooks;
 nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
 neither shall they learn war any more;
 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
 and no one shall make them afraid;
 for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

These words are also present in the second chapter of Isaiah – it’s likely that Micah was a younger contemporary of Isaiah – but they are also commonly heard among us in places, times, among people, whose life’s work is, in the words of Holden Evening Prayer, “for peace between nations, for peace between peoples.”
They are engraved on a wall across from the United Nations in New York; and depicted in a statue on the United Nations grounds there.
There’s even an art exhibit at Magnuson Park, in Seattle named after this verse – Swords into Plowshares - maybe you’ve seen it – 22 fins of decommissioned US Navy submarines, appear around the park.  Another by the same artist, is in Miami.
Ah, but “world peace,” other than the statues and the liturgies, it’s kind of become a running joke, hasn’t it?  I mean, what’s the line that beauty contestants always say … “I’m hoping for world peace.”  There’s even that bumper sticker … “VISUALIZE WORLD PEACE” … and its punning alternate, “VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS.”
It’s become such a joke, because, to many, it simply seems unattainable.
In the past 50 years, we’ve been through multiple wars, invasions, police actions … spent billions upon billions of dollars on defensive and offensive weapons … and seen thousands upon thousands die as a result of war, of one kind or another.
And every day, we hear of more violence, more bloodshed, more death and destruction.  VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS is a whole lot easier, than the good wish on which it’s based.
No wonder, the doubt.  The questioning.  The wondering.  “Where is God?” 
And yet.
And yet … we are once again called back to Paul’s words in Romans, Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount … that any approach to world peace can only be, one life at a time, what you do, what I do, with each other.
If there’s no world peace, it’s because there’s none of this kind of peace:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

So far as it depends on you.
One who took that word to heart was Dr. Martin Luther King.  Hearing, living into, the words of the Reformer for whom he was named, that despair over the world, each other, and ourselves serves to drive us to Christ … to repentance, to mercy, and to hope. 
King refused to give in, and give up on peace.
And so we close with a true word of hope.  The speech Dr. King gave as he received that worldly symbol given to peacemakers … the Nobel Peace Prize … on December 10, 1964.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall Overcome!

And we shall.  We shall! 
In Jesus’ name.  Amen.