Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Cross Reveals the Truth about God and about Ourselves



 

            Being that you all are in a call process… 
it might be worth mentioning that the letters to the Corinthians, 
if you read between the lines,
is the story of a kind of a call process, 
followed by a call process gone wrong. 

 

            The Corinthians desired a candidate who spoke and acted like Sophists
a type of traveling Philosopher in the ancient world.

            They hoped for a candidate 
who would speak with unparalleled eloquence, 
after all just as the city state of Elis was famous for their Olympic Games, 
so too Corinth was famed for their yearly Speech Contest
—as far as they were concerned, any candidate that didn’t follow the formula of Plato’s Rhetoric was spitting nonsense.

            They hoped for a candidate 
with a big ego, 
a Guru essentially
—who would be susceptible to manipulation, 
who would seek patrons to fund him and disciples to fight his battles for him, 
centering his own person and philosophy as the end all be all for the congregation.

 

            Instead, they got Paul.

            Paul, 
a ragged, zealous, driven man 
who forsook eloquence to take on the mantle of a messenger
who sublimated his own desires, 
so that all may know Christ crucified and raised… 
They wanted a philosopher, 
but got a man with one message
—the message of the cross…

            The Cross reveals 
the truth about God 
and the truth about ourselves.

 

Prayer

 

            The cross reveals the truth about God

            Where is God found most fully present? 
Hung on a cross

 

            A cross. To Paul, 
a religious Zealot before his bewildering-magnificent experience on the road to Damascus, 
the cross was proof that God did not work through this man, Jesus of Nazareth
—for it is written in Deuteronomy: “Those who die upon a cross are accursed.”

            Cursed it might seem, 
the very one who is Blessed of God.

 

            A cross. To Paul, 
a sophisticated citizen of the Roman Empire before that strange and sacred encounter with Jesus
—understood those killed on a Roman cross to be seditious, traitors, criminals…

            Seditious it might seem, 
the very one upon whose shoulders all real authority rests.

 

            Yet this cross, cursed and rebellious
—it is where God’s actions are most clearly seen.

            This place that might be seen as less than nothing, 
a place to put those who need to be disappeared, 
those who are low and despised in the world,
who society does not want to see, 
other than an example of what not to do
—this place, the cross, becomes the example of how God acts in the world.

            How God takes that which is nothing, and makes it something… 
the place that is shameful, weak, foolish
—and turns the whole world on its head, 
creating something out of nothing!

            Right!

            From the very start, this is God’s way. 
God creates from the formless void, 
from the shadowed deep
ex nillo
—out of nothing.

            Friends, this means that All that is, seen and unseen
is an unparalleled gift from God!

            Gracious gift
—that’s the truth revealed about God on the cross…

 

            Revealed too, throughout scripture:

            The God we find enthroned on the cross. Is the God whose cradle is a manger. 

            The God whose Wisdom is found not when King Solomon is at the height of his power, 
but at the end of his life when he can no longer grasp it.

            The God whose prophets included among them:
Ezekiel struggling with PTSD 
and Jeremiah, so young he worries he wouldn’t be taken seriously.

            The God who spoke through stuttering Moses, 
gave a child to Sarah and Abraham in their old age
saved Hagar and Ishmael at the point of death in the desert...

 

            The same God who works among the Corinthians… 
the Corinthians who were the descendants of Roman Slaves and Roman Soldiers
left in Greece to found a colony, 
left behind when the Triumphant Ones returned to Rome.

            “Not many of you were wise, powerful, noble… but God chose you!”

            Corinthians, Paul is saying
you don’t need to pretend any more, 
The Cross reveals the truth about ourselves!

 

            The Church in Corinth, 
obsessed over their Spiritual Gifts, 
as if they proceeded from themselves, not from God.

            The Church in Corinth, 
managed their money as if it was their own, 
instead of a gift from God for them to steward.

            The Church in Corinth, 
abused their Baptism, making it the basis for cliques and divisions, 
instead of understanding it as a means of Grace, death and new life in Jesus Christ.

 

            But all of it
—all of it is God’s work. 
We just get to be some version of Paul, 
messengers of the cross. 
Ambassadors of the Crucified King.
Little letters to the cursed of this world
 
Announcing that God is at work there, here!

            Among those who’ve been ground down—the cross.

            Among those who are heavy laden with tears and trouble—the cross.

            Among the humble disinherited—the cross.

            Among those yearning for the righting of the world—the cross.

            Among the kind and compassionate—the cross.

            Among the heart on their sleeve sincere—the cross.

            Among those who make peace—the cross.

            Among hunted, haunted, and mistreated—the cross.

            Among the cross-scorned of every age
—the blessed cross of Christ reveals the presence of God.

            And where Christ is, 
there is life, wisdom, justice, holiness, and, restoration.

            Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Corinth and Us

    


      Back when I was Dean of the Middle District, the Bishop asked me join a consultation committee

—to listen and make recommendations to a church that so conflicted that they needed outside mediation.

         If there was any congregation in the ancient world in need of such a committee, it would be the Congregation in Corinth.

         Paul’s relationship with this Church was never a smooth one; in fact, he almost dives into a depression by the time he gets to writing 2nd Corinthians. 
Yet, these challenges he runs into make for rich theological fodder. 

         Doing the hard work of reconciliation and calling to account, 
naming as precisely and pastorally as he can 
the conflicts, misunderstandings, and mistakes
makes for a timeless sort of letter. 
The kinds of Church conflicts in Corinth, have for generations helped the whole church interpret who we are 
and how we can be in relationship with each other and the wider world.

         The opening chapter of 1st Corinthians addresses: 
-divisions, 
-the relationship between the -church and culture, 
-the nature of Baptism, 
-and the centrality of the cross.

Let us pray

 

         When Paul writes that he wished there to be 
“no divisions among you” 
he does so with his tongue in his cheek… 
after all he knows there is not simply two factions, 
two divisions among the Corinthians 
but, up to 20 different factions fighting, over 11 different issues… 
and that’s just the stuff he gets around to addressing.

         If you read the letter closely you might notice that there are two separate families who write letters to Paul explaining what’s wrong.
Corinth fights about everything from: 
who can marry who, 
to who manages the money…

         Just in today’s portion of the letter, we hear of the community lining up in cliques based on who baptized them 
and that they thought Paul spoke too plainly, 
unlike Apollos
—a famed Christian rhetorician.

 

         Now many of these divisions can be traced back to one particular place
—the Culture of the city of Corinth itself… 
the Church was a new thing, especially to these Pagan converts… 
And as such, they imported their categories of thought and ways of doing things into the church… 

(This isn’t that hard to imagine, is it? 
Even using Robert’s Rules of Order to run a meeting is importing a parliamentary system… 
For that matter, it should come as no surprise that most protestants in the United States have some type of three-fold governance
—in our case the National Church, the Synod, and the Congregation, 
mirroring the Federal, State, and Local governance of the United States of America)

         -Why did the they assume Paul would speak with unparalleled eloquence? 
Because Corinth was famous for a yearly speech and debate competition, 
so no one was taken seriously in that city if they didn’t speak following the formula of Plato’s Rhetoric.

         -Why did they assume the person who baptized them was the leader of their faction, a sort of guru?
Because that’s what traveling philosophers did, 
they collected disciples and centered their own person and philosophy as the end all be all, 
and encouraged vigorous, even over the top, debate between rival philosophical schools. 

 

         Questions of Church and Culture are always with us…

         The church ought to try to speak the Gospel in ways our neighbors can hear and understand. 

         BUT there is also a danger of confusing the cultures around us with the message of Jesus.

         The church always ought to struggle with the tension between 
being relevant and contextual, 
and selling out or losing our voice.

 

         The good news is that Paul offers an example of how to navigate the tension between Christ and culture, 
and division in the church, as well… 
the lodestone, 
our true north, 
the measure of all things, 
is Christ crucified.

         Whose Death and Resurrection do we join in Baptism? Jesus Christs!

         Does God want a debate society? No, God wants disciples.

         Was God presented to us in fancy speech? No, God hung on a cross.

 

         The power of Christianity is never that we’re the height of religion or culture, (we’re salt and light)
never that we’re the best of any generalized phenomena, 
we should not be looking to be top of the heap. 
Being cool, or outwardly successful, 
allied with the politically or socially powerful,
those are not marks of the Church. 
         Ultimately the Church exists only because God wills us to.

 

         The God we find enthroned on the cross. 
The God whose cradle is a manger.

         The God whose Wisdom is found not when King Solomon is at the height of his power, 
but at the end of his life when he can no longer grasp it.

         The God whose prophets included among them Ezekiel struggling with PTSD and Jeremiah, so young he worries he wouldn’t be taken seriously.

         The God who spoke through stuttering Moses, 
gave a child to Sarah and Abraham in their old age, 
saved Hagar and Ishmael at the point of death in the desert... 

         Ultimately, at the very start, God creates from the formless void
ex nillo
—out of nothing. 
All that is, seen and unseen, an unparalleled gift from God!

 

         All these examples assure us that it is God who acts. 
Sarah, Ezekiel, Solomon
—none of them, 
save by the Spirit’s action, 
would be wise, prophetic, or mother of God’s people.

         It is always by God’s grace that we are saved… 
is a gift of God for the people of God. 
Thanks be to God.

 

         Yes, Paul’s relationship to Corinth can show us how to be faithful people of God. Grounded in God’s Grace, 
the power of God clearly seen in the cross. 
Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, 
united in one body, 
telling the world of God’s love, 
however we can. 
A+A

Monday, January 16, 2023

Testimony, need, experience, testimony

          John’s Gospel is likely the most sophisticated of the four Gospels. It tells the story of Jesus in a pattern-rich way…

         If the first three Gospels are a thread
—telling the story straight and plain, 
John’s is a woven garment. 
Repeating points and setting up a series of set pieces that build one upon each other 
until the Gospel’s pattern becomes your pattern.

         One such reoccurring pattern is how people meet Jesus
Be it Andrew or Peter, 
the Samaritan Woman or the Man who took up his mat and walked… 
they all follow the same patterns. 

         Testimony, need, experience, testimony… 
for John that’s how the Gospel is proclaimed, 
how the faith is formed.

 

         First someone points to Jesus. 
They testify about him to others, 
they tell people about Jesus.

 

         Then, the person who hears about Jesus, has a need.
They need something that Jesus can, and will, provide.

 

         Next, they experience Jesus first hand,
They meet him, and receive what they need, 
but in a deeper way than they ever expected. 
For example, the woman at the well needs water, and receives it, 
but also enters into relationship with Jesus
—the Water of Life.

 

         Finally, this causes them to repeat the pattern, 
they themselves go out and tell people about Jesus! Testify that they know him.
They become the catalyst for someone else to meet Jesus.

 

Testimony, need, experience, testimony

 

Prayer

         John proclaims, “Behold, Jesus the Lamb of God,” testifying to another odd feature of John’s Gospel
—you see, John shifts the date of Jesus’ crucifixion to coincide with the slaughter of the Passover Lambs
—in order to make sure we hear John the Baptist’s proclamation
Jesus the Lamb of God.

         Have you ever fallen short? 
Do you feel your guilt? 
Have you been enslaved to powers beyond your control? 
Are you a stranger in a strange land? 
Do you fear Death?

         Well, come and see! Experience the Passover Lamb, the one who saves as the people were saved down in Egypt. Death looks upon the blood on the doorposts and passes over. The one who is an offering for sin, 
he puts away guild and shame. 

         Let’s tell folk about our good news. 
We’ve been found by the Lamb of God, 
who is overcoming the power of Sin, Death, and the Devil!

 

         Another near obsession of the Gospel of John is dwelling… and we know that the Spirit dwells with Jesus
—heaven is pulled apart so that heaven and earth might come together
Look! He is the Son of God!

         Does God seem far off, or even abstract? 
Has the connection you once had to the Divine feel far off? 
Does it seem like the stories of God are just that, stories, that they have nothing to do with you? 
Is Transcendence just too big?

         Well, come and see! 
The one who can say I AM and put a period after the statement, 
is state side, 
is here with us! 
The Creator and the creation are not far from one another. Heaven is open, and God has come to dwell with us. 
The Invisible God is made visible in Jesus Christ!

         Let’s tell of this truth, heaven has drawn near. 
God knows us as intimately as a new parent knows the scent of their baby’s head.

 

         They call him Teacher… They trade question for question
—“What are you looking for?” “Rabbi, Teacher
We want to be with you, 
we want to dwell with your teaching so that it becomes who we are! 
Where do you dwell?

         Does it sometimes feel like you don’t know the way to go? 
Are there so many options that they all blur together? 
Do you lack a goal or habits that help? 
Do you want to know how to be human? 
Do you wonder what it means to live a good life?

         Look to Jesus
His teachings are excellent, and their burden is light. 
It is the Law of Love. 
There is a flow to it
—Spirit breathed, addressing his era, and also giving us a pattern to live our life even today.
There is a connection to a community practicing how to be little Christs in every age.

         Let’s try to follow Jesus’ teaching, 
so people will know us by our love, 
and come join us in discerning together what is right, 
how to follow the way of Jesus.

 

         Something incredible must have happened during that day they dwelled with Jesus. 
By 4pm Andrew went from calling Jesus Teacher, to declared, “We have found the Messiah!”

         In this world where everyone claims to be something special, 
every event is billed as one of a kind, 
every scrap of news “breaking news”, 
wouldn’t you like someone to be the real deal? 
When every authority figure has feet of clay
—they are human, o’ so human, 
wouldn’t you like to see someone with real authority, 
legitimacy and gravitas because they are good?

         Look to Jesus, 
the Chosen one, 
the one upon whom authority rests, 
who’s presence is the reign of God, 
the righting of the world.

         Let’s tell folk that the Kingdom of God has come near!

         

         I hope our own ears are open to the Gospel, 
sometimes we’ve heard it so often, or in such a particular way, that we don’t truly hear it anymore.

 

         I hope we can be honest about our needs… 
when I first was called to Spruce Run, 
I set up “one-on-one” conversations with various long time residence of Lebanon Township
—“community stakeholders” is the formal term
—and I asked them about this place, specifically I wanted to know what people here need

and I think they wanted the new pastor to feel like he and his wife had moved to a good community… 
so to a one they said, “There are no needs here.”

         But that’s simply not true. 

We have young kids committing suicide, 
parents who can’t provide for their children, 
young adults who feel they have no role models to follow and no vision for a better future, 
families just barely holding it together, 
old folk who genuinely are casting about looking for a purpose to their lives… 
being honest about our needs.

 

         I also hope we can be honest about how God has already showed up in our lives. 

         Some of you have amazing stories about God bringing you through 
astonishing situations, 
harrowing journeys, 
and the depths of despair…
         Other with humble stories of finding meaning in your life on account of your faith,
Catechisms keeping you grounded well into old age,
Prayer lives richer than what’s on the surface 
there is so much Godly wisdom stored up here among us…

 

         I hope we can find a cure for what is often call “Lutheran Laryngitis” 
that is, the average Lutheran talks to someone about their faith once every 22 years… 
you all have some amazing experiences of God in action
—testimonies that truly could move people and be good news for them 
if you would only share your stories… 
share the good news of the God we find in Jesus Christ.

 

         I pray John’s pattern of meeting Jesus might be a pattern for us as well.

Testimony, Need, Experience, Testimony.

Amen.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Baptism: God’s first and last word to us


        
 There are many famous last words: 

“Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.”—Oscar Wilde

 “Oh wow!”—Steve Jobs

 

         Similarly, there are famous opening lines:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”—A Tale of Two Cities

“All this happened… more or less.”—Slaughterhouse Five

 

“Rosebud”—Citizen Kane

 “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”—… well, The Sound of Music.

 

         Often times these first and last words tell us a whole lot about the person who said them, or they lay out a plot or mystery clearly…

         And Matthew confronts us with his own set of first and last words… 
Today we read Jesus’ first words found in Matthew’s Gospel
This baptism fulfills all righteousness.

         Jesus’ last words in Matthew are on a similar subject
—Go to all the nations and Baptize them in the Triune name, for I am with you.

         The good news Matthew offers us is about the righteousness of baptism and Jesus’ presence in it, with us.

         

Prayer                                

         Isaiah writes to his people at a time where everything seems to have gone wrong. They’ve been kidnapped and dragged off to Babylon, 
the king and his sons are dead, 
the Temple is destroyed… 

         It would NOT be irrational to:
-wonder if God has stopped speaking
-think that Divinity’s last words have already been spoken…

 

         But Isaiah writes about one who will make things right
—a servant of God, a beloved, one who pleases God
—who will make things right
-who will erase the I and N from injustice, so that justice reigns. 
-One who will teach the Babylonians and the various nations who have oppressed Isaiah’s people, how to be upright… 
-One who will do a new thing!

 

         And not only that
—all this, making things right, 
…will be done without shouting, 
or breaking, 
or even so much as a jolt, that would put out a candle.

(To be clear, this is “Vegan Lion CafĂ©” territory!)

         The wild thing about Isaiah’s promise is that 
this Relentless Teacher of what is right, 
this bringer of justice, 
will do so in a way that itself is just and right… 
It won’t be an “ends justify the means” kind of thing, 
because the means and the ends are one in the same… 

         In other words he’s going to make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

 

         Some six hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, 
their meaning was still astonishing. 
So much so that even John the Baptist couldn’t imagine such a reality… 

         When he tells everyone about the one who comes to make all things right:

         He warns the faithful that the Relentless Teacher will make things right like a lumberjack, chopping down bad trees.

         He warns them that justice will be meted out the way a farmer winnows his threshing floor, burning chaff with an unquenchable fire.

         Yet when Jesus comes he does so requesting to be baptized, 
humbling himself before John, 
showing the way he will make all things right.

 

         I think that is what Peter means in his speech to Cornelius’ family, 
who he has just baptized, 
when he uses the phrase, “Peace by Jesus Christ.” 

         Jesus’ Lordship, 
the kind of baptism these early Christians are baptized into (and we are as well) 
is a peaceful joining with Jesus
—being part of the righting of the world, 
without breaking the world in the process.

         It’s about impartiality, doing good, and healing the bedeviled, 
life beyond death, holy meals, God conversations, and forgiveness, in Jesus name.

         That’s the kind of Baptism we are baptized into…

 

         Baptism—in a way, God’s first words to us, mirroring Heaven’s words to Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

         God’s first words to us, “You belong to Christ. You are God’s Child.”

 

         This water, 
God’s words of promise
—together… 
Oh wow!

 

         It simultaneously kills us and makes us alive!

         The Old Creature in us
—that which would right the world with wrongs, 
Sin, Death, and the Devil,

is spiritually drowned,

         So that the New Creature
Peace by Jesus, righteousness fulfilled in Jesus’ faithfulness
—Forgiveness, Redemption, Salvation that sticks, 
might live in us.

 

         Baptism—in a way, God’s last word to us. “I am the God of peace, 
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus; 
I am with you even at the end and beyond the end.
I see you, a sheep of my own fold, a lamb of my own flock, a sinner of my own redeeming.”

 

         Baptism, God’s words for us from first to last
—a bath joining us to Jesus’ gentle righteousness, 
Water and Word poured out upon us, 
so we, and all the world, might know peace by Jesus.

Amen and Alleluia.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Books in 2022

Series:

This year was a year of reading multivolume works. I finally completed Robert Jordon’s 14 volume “Wheel of Time” series, a series I read in Junior High and High School but never finished (I gave up on the series after what seemed to be a blatant Deus Ex Machina).

I also read Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” Trilogy, and Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” Trilogy.

I made a valiant attempt to read both Douglas John Hall’s “The Faith” Systematic Theology trilogy and Andrew Root’s “Secular Age” trilogy (until I realized it is an ongoing series with at least five volumes, so far). I intend to finish reading the Douglas John Hall books in the new year, and will read the third Root book then too, but won’t be picking up the other 2 or 3.

Fiction:

There were two works of fiction that stuck out for me. One was Tendai Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a young adult alternative history/horror book. The other was The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk, a granola hippie pagan classic I can’t believe I never ran into while at the U of O.

Non-Fiction:

I read The Warmth of Other Suns for the New Jersey Synod’s book club and was so taken by it I’m currently re-reading it in order to facilitate discussion at a local library’s book club. Additionally, Chernow’s Grant biography was both thick and good.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Sermon: Holy Disruption

          Disruption seems to the be word of the week…

         The giant winter storm sweeping across the country has disrupted folk’s travel plans, disrupted power… disrupted… it would seem… Christmas.

 

         Here in the church, we had all five bulletins printed ahead of schedule, 
our secretary and her family had headed out for vacation.

         It seemed like we had things in order… 
I’d even had time to send a thank you note to the Synod for the Fund for Mission Grant that paid for three ministries here at Spruce Run…

         Then folk started to come down with Covid, 
this included both our Bell Choir Director and our Director of Music.
We had to do a sort of Musical Chairs with Ushers, 
Assisting Ministers, 
the whole works.

 

         These last minute audibles are one more example of how we’ve had to do things these days
—and I’m not just talking about the Church, 
but our lives in general:
“Hold all plans loosely, and be ready to pivot.”
An attitude that can be exhilarating in small bursts… 
but three years in… 
it’s getting heavy.

         So heavy that the basic Christmas message: 
“Jesus turns the world upside down! Disrupts the status quo.”
might feel like bad news
instead of good news

 

         We’ve been turned upside down enough… 
we’ve held our plans so loosely we’ve lost ‘em, 
and pivoting yet again feels like the spinning of a helicopter rotor.

         Whenever any new disruption erupts, all we can say is, “Oh no, not again.”

         

         And we’re not alone in this… 
the Holy family had their lives turned upside down because 
the powers that be decreed, 
and so everyone in the empire was tossed into turmoil, 
including pregnant Mary… 
traveling at an inopportune time, 
a dangerous time, 
her and Joseph’s feet slapping against pavement and sand 
in order to arrive in Bethlehem. 
Arrive like uninvited guests, 
their room mean and low, 
complete with a rough manger.

         So too the Shepherds have their world turned upside down, 
or perhaps inside-out or outside-in
—heaven piercing the cold night sky, 
a messenger of God among their lambs
what is this? 
Not “oh no, not again,” but a panicked and terrified, “Oh no!”

 

         But, this panic gives way, Thank God. 
The travails of travel are overwhelmed with the cries of a new baby born, 
the mean estate of the manger transformed into a crib of joy. 

         The shock of an Angel’s arrival is replaced with the words, 
Be not afraid!”  
The proclamation of Good News. 
“Savior, Messiah, Lord.”

 

         A figure unlike those you’ve experienced, 
the Augustuses and Quiriniuses of the world, 
they disrupt for disruption’s sake, 
dehumanizing for the sake of ego… 
“Not this one,” the Shepherds are told, “as His sigil, 
that is His sign of authority
—will be soft strips of cloth and a meager manger.”

         You see, the kind of turning Mary sings about in the Magnificat, 
the kind of upside down Kingdom Jesus brings
—it’s the Prophet Daniel’s promise of a Humane Kingdom, 
instead of a Monstrous one… 
-instead of force, coercion and cruelty, 
-creativity, wooing, and peace.

         That’s what this Kingdom of Heaven stuff we’ll be reading about this year in Matthew’s Gospel is all about
—when folk are close to Jesus they know what real authority is, 
they know what God’s Reign is like, 
they experience God making all things right.

 

         They get to go and see this thing God is doing, 
this uncontainable story
—Christmas.

         And we do too…

         You see, the point of the “God conversations” we’ve been marking with marbles moved from container to container, is as much about listening as talking

         As Lutheran Theologian and Martyr to the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”

         It can be hard to do, 
but we get to ask our neighbors what God is already up to, 
because we know, like the Shepherds, that God has already arrived, 
we get to rush out and see the sight
—manger and cloth. 
We get to go and find out how we can be part of the Kingdom of God 
in our own back yards. 

         When done right, God conversations can be a kind of mutual proclamation of the Gospel.

 

         This good news, God’s gentle rule, the Kingdom of Heaven, 
can seem impossible
—it is after all so different from our ordinary experience of the world, 
it can be jarring, 
it can be like going directly from a battle field to a birthday party…

         For that reason, Mary ponders it
—picks apart the proclamation she has heard, 
and puts it back together again, 
hearing it afresh and making it digestible and meaningful to her.

         The shepherds too, 
they have to go and see Jesus for themselves, 
experience the good news the angel told them about.

 

         And, as the Pastor of this congregation, I am privileged to see how those connections get worked out in our community. 
-An all age Christmas pageant putting a fresh spark into an old story, 
-gentle music and silence making the Christmas promise relevant in the midst of mourning,
-receiving Holy Communion for the first time in a long time,
-nursing home residents remembered
-hungry folk fed…

         I could go on, 
but you see my point, 
the Kingdom of the Christ Child, the reign of God, 
is found in small mundane moments made holy by God
—the Son of God born among us, a vulnerable baby.

 

         And so, celebrating God’s holy disruption among us, 
Jesus Christ born in our world of tumult and turmoil…

like the shepherds let us praise, the Prince of Peace,

like the angelic hosts let us sing Glory to the Newborn King. 

Amen and Alleluia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Sermon: Jesus Wept

         Jesus Wept is a Christmas Verse, 

a central message of the Christmas story.

         Yes, these verses are placed at the moment of Mary and Martha’s grief for their dead brother, Lazarus… 
The miracle to come is Lazarus called out of the tomb, 
but the first miracle is already there, Jesus wept

         Jesus wept, he wasn’t there for the sisters, 

         Jesus wept, he is late to the public period of mourning, 

         Jesus wept, outside the tomb.

         It’s about Jesus being there, 
even in his absence
even when late
even face to face with death
Present in disappointment, sorrow, the grave…

 

         Jesus wept… a Christmas story… 
It is the story of a baby experiencing the chill air outside the womb, 
and wailing in response.

         The doctrinal statements of the Church, 
that Jesus is fully human, 
takes on a fleshy poignancy there in the manger.

         God enters into this beautiful/awful world, 
fitting into our space. 
Wailing with us.

 

         The Christmas story is about God’s presence, 
and solidarity, 
with humanity… 
it is an ongoing reminder that you’re not alone. 
We’re not alone. 
Not alone in our tears, fears, worries, or losses
—God enters into them all… Jesus wept.

 

Prayer

         Do you know what tears do? 
Firstly, they lubricate our eyes and remove grit. 
They also remove stress chemicals, and… 
weeping is a social signal of empathy.

Empathy
—having compassion for… 
suffering with… 
tears tell us the other person is suffering with us

         Jesus wept—signifies to us that God has empathy for us… 
God is com-passionate
—suffers with… 
God suffers with us. 

 

         Yes, the baby who wept at the manger was the man who wept along with Mary and Martha for Lazarus… 
but not only that.  

         -at the desolation of Jerusalem written of in Lamentations, 
a beloved city experiencing widowhood, abandonment, and exile.

         -With the Psalmist in the darkest valley and before the most frightening of enemies.

         -at the world’s groaning, joining us with sighs too deep for words

 

         Jesus wept… 
that reality is what makes Christmas so hard for those with tender hearts, 
and hearts tenderized by the weight of this world… 
God born among us, 
means among us as we are
as we live and as we die… 
but that doesn’t make for a good Christmas special
that doesn’t fit well on a Christmas card

That doesn’t feel like the stereotyped “reason for the season” 
but it is.

Jesus wept

 

         Jesus wept
         With and for a young local poet I know who took his life this year.
         With folk who’ve lost their job, folk suffering from hunger.

 

         Jesus wept

-Alongside people abusing substances and those struggling to escape addiction.

-With people in physical and mental decline.

-Standing between abuser and survivor.

 

         Jesus wept

In the midst of changed lives
—even good change, that’s the weird thing about being embodied human beings

—even good change causes us to experience grief… 
that’s why I’m so glad God is embodied and experiences those tears too
—God can fully be with us in our griefs, 
even if they seem irrational, embarrassing, or even goofy…

         Jesus weeps with us in the darkness of the Longest Night, 
as a not insignificant subset of human beings experience a sort of collective sun downingthis time of year…
In fact, cultures around the world respond with blow out festivals and lights galore, to keep back the night.

 

         Jesus wept

While holding our isolation, uncomfortable memories, overscheduled lives, 
and excessive expectations.

At every disappointment and all the comparisons that we make with other people, 
because we’ve not internalized the truth that comparison can be a type of self-injury.

 

Jesus wept

Cries, 
compassion, 
suffering with, 
empathy, 
God in the flesh, crying

 

         Jesus wept

A child born in this world of ours.

A world that weeps.

A world that groans.

A world whose groans are labor pains, like Mary’s… birthing a new world.

With us.

 

         Jesus wept… weeps, 
with us.

Right here and right now.

Candle light in the night.

Community gathered, 
lifting up names, 
naming experiences, 
holding out hope.

 

With us

In the complexity of our grief

Out of our unsaid or weakly spoken words

Hidden in the small things we often miss 
or disregard as unimportant

In our impulses to reach out 
and as kindness to one another.

 

Jesus wept is a Christmas message. 
It takes seriously that God comes to dwell with us. 
Takes seriously too all our experiences of this world. 
I pray God meets us in this long night. 
Amen.