Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter vigil

Easter Vigil
          Louana and Justin, I see a stream coming to a temporary stop in a pool—right here in this church.
          The stream becomes a pool of living water, bubbling up into this Baptismal font of ours
—your Baptism will make you a part of this stream of living water.
           A stream longer than we can imagine,
teaming with living things,
clear and fresh.
It has touched every shore and refreshed parched lips in every nation.
          This stream,
this stream is God’s actions for God’s people.
Let us pray

          This stream flows back so far, we almost don’t recognize its beginning.
          It gets split from the land somewhere there at the start, after God simply speaks forth creation… calling it by name—
          Instead of wrestling away control of the universe from the Formless Void,
God just calls it by name.
Both the Word, and the Spirit hover over it as a gentle dove.
Light and Order arrive,
splitting dangerous water and calling forth all that is good and very good.
And with that there is rest, and it is a holy thing, the start of this stream.
          This stream slides through the Red Sea, as God’s people shutter in fear and unbelief, crying out in despair.
          It observes the pillar of cloud and Angel of God, in all their glory and light, swinging around to confuse and stave off the Egyptians and protect the Israelites.
          The stream is split in that Sea, as Moses and his people cross over to the other side—from Slavery into Freedom.
          The violent oppressors are destroyed, the People rejoice.

          This stream goes through the Rivers of Babylon, as the people of God weep, separated from their homeland, again in slavery. Working the Babylonian lands, for the sake of their oppressors.
They labor, but are not paid,
work, but are not fed…
          And to this, a Man of God speaks of bread without price
and wine and milk and water, that satisfy.
He promises that the people will be fed.
          He speaks these promises with full confidence, because they are not his own promises, but the Word of God, which will not return empty, instead it does what God calls it to do.
          Just as at Creation, the Word creates a new situation for these weary exiles yearning for rest.

          And this stream slips into the throne room of the Pompous and Idolatrous King Nebuchadnezzar.
The stream sees the foolish satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, justices, magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces,
and the bowing of every peoples, nations, and languages.
It hears the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensembleand is not impressed.
          It evaporates at the blazing light and astounding heat of that fiery furnace, but holds out hope—knowing salvation often comes through flame… and is proved right—one like a god saves the three men who would not bend the knee and the king proclaims, “No other God delivers in this way.”
          The three men stand their ground and are found free even while enslaved in Babylon.

          This stream feeds into the garden, there with Mary.
Distraught because someone has moved her Lord. But then, called by name—
created anew by the voice of Jesus Christ—
He says, “Mary.”
And she knows! It’s him!
She goes out and proclaims that Good News to the other disciples. “I have seen the Lord!”

          This stream finds itself alongside Paul somewhere in Greece or Turkey. The stream is made to go deep into the ground,
 into the grave,
and runs through that story of slavery to Sin—of that slave master-Sin dying,
and the resurrection of Christ bringing us into freedom with God
this very stream baptizes Paul’s people into Christ’s death and then comes up again, raised with Christ!

           And here—right now—is this stream. Pausing briefly for you two’s sake. God will call you by name in a non-violent act of Creation—call you by name as Jesus did to Mary.
          You’ll be asked to resist the powers which enslave you.
          Through Water and the Word the Spirit will claim you as God’s children.
          You’ll be brought through that stream to the other side
—to freedom,
finding rest.
          You’ll receive a candle, the light that shines and is called good,
the flame between Egypt and Israel,
the blazing light within which we find one-like-a-god delivering us.
          You’ll be welcomed into this stream, as it continues forward with God.

Good Friday

          Take a moment and look at the cross. (Pause)
          Take a look at those envelopes on it.
Inside of each one a petition,
or prayer,
or sin,
or need,
or just something we want Jesus to work on with us. (Pause)
          At this time, I offer everyone one final chance to put something up on the cross, then we’ll continue with this homily.
          If you remember back a few weeks to two children’s sermons I preached, you’ll get a feel for the content of those envelopes on the cross.
          When we read of the Samaritan Woman at the well… when we read of her struggles, and the living water she received from Jesus
—that she’d had 7 husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband,
I wrote “Abandoned 7 times” and nailed it up on the cross.
          Jesus took that pain and suffering,
took it on,
and transformed it,
transformed her into an Evangelist, preaching the good news to her people.
          When we read of the Blind man healed on the Sabbath
…when we read that convoluted story of people not recognizing him, and badgering him about his sight, once his condition was gone
… how they drove him out, because they could handle him as a blind beggar, but couldn’t handle him as a man who sees, and who told them what he saw, who he saw—that he saw Jesus Christ
… when we read all of that,
I wrote, “No one really sees me,” and nailed it up on the cross.
          Jesus took that pain and isolation and transformed it,
Jesus gave the nameless a name and went out of the city walls with that man, was with him in abandonment
—God drove out from the city walls,
out here with us.
          And those are just two—
two situations written down and nailed to the cross.
Two situations in which Jesus shows up in the midst of disaster. Two things nailed to that cross with Jesus.
Two among many.
          And on this Good Friday we remember that Jesus is here for us,
in the midst of us,
in our sin
for our sake…
That he follows us into death itself,
that we might live.
          That upon that cross is not only these petitions and prayers and sins and needs, but also our Savior himself.
          That he went to the place of the Skull.
          That his clothing was divided in a dice game as he died.
          That his family and his friends watched on at his execution.
          That he thirsted and that he died.
          That he was abandoned by everyone, for our sake.
          That he was driven out beyond the walls of Jerusalem, for our sake.

          This is what we remember tonight. God for us, even when being for us, means death.
          Jesus Christ, God’s own Son
--Jesus Christ, God with us,
crucified on that cross.

          And yet, there is one more thing nailed to that cross—the words “The King of the Jews” written in the most popular languages of the time.
          A small sign of hope, tacked to that cross with our Savior, and with our petitions, sins, and stuff.
          A small sign pointing us forward, to tomorrow.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Love One Another

We sometimes talk of last words—
“famous last words,” as the saying goes.
          Alexander the Great, on his death bed, was asked to whom he would give his vast empire. He responded, “To the strongest.”
          In contrast, Martin Luther’s final words were, “We are all beggars, this is true.”
          Playwright George Bernard Shaw, went out with the sardonic comment, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

          Tonight, we commemorate not a last word, or last words, but a last command.
          Jesus, on the night he was handed over, said to his disciples, “I’m giving you a new commandment, and it is this: “Love One Another.”
          Jesus’ last commandment is “Love One Another.”
Let us Pray

          “Love one another.”
          Such a simple phrase, really.
          It even bears a striking resemblance to Bill and Ted’s, “Be Excellent to each other… and party on dudes.”
          And if it was a phrase only “Love One Another”… words only… it would be just as superficial…
          It would be like George Bernard Shaw’s version of dying—it would be Easy.

          But the kind of love Jesus speak of is anything but easy.
          The kind of love Jesus speaks of is like Comedy—it’s hard.
          It’s not cognitive ascent to the idea of love—knowing love—but instead doing love.
          Doing love as Jesus loved.
          As Jesus concretely demonstrated and gave us an example.
          Loving as a master who empties himself and becomes a slave.
          Loving as one clothed who strips down in order to serve.
          Alexander the Great may have passed his empire on to the strongest, but Jesus calls instead for weakness.
          He calls on us to act with the recognition that we’re all beggars, so that we might serve all
—serve our brothers and sisters, so that everyone knows we are Jesus’ disciples.

          We are commanded to love one another.
          Look at the person next to you. (PAUSE)
          Think of your neighbor—on each side of your home, not just the one you like. (PAUSE)
          Remember that person you don’t see eye to eye with about how the church is run. Them! (Pause)       
          Think of the Catholic Ukrainian and Orthodox Russian—that’s the one another we’re talking about.
          The Orthodox Putin and Congregationalist Obama. Despite themselves they’re brothers in Christ.

          We are commanded to love through our actions as much as our words or our emotions.
          It’s one thing to say, “I love you.”
          It’s another to bear with that person through thick and through thin.
          Because this type of love isn’t swooning or seducing.
          It’s the wiping of a fevered brow.
          It’s moving that person across the country or teaching their kid to read.
          We are commanded to act with humility—love with humility.
          To never think ourselves above a task.
          To never think of someone below our station to serve them.
          To meet people where they are.
          To recognize we are all beggars—siblings at the foot of the cross.

          Love in such a way that our Lord, stripped and knelt down before us in service, is honored.
          We are to be little Christs
          With bowl and towel
          Wiping dust off the feet of our friends
          Intimately and kindly making Christ known.

          This last command of Christ is to love as disciples love.
          Disciples of Jesus.
          Jesus who has always loved us, right through to the end.
          Who washes our feet.
          Jesus Christ who loves us.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: The Donkey Makes All The Difference

            The King is coming to Jerusalem for coronation.
            He commandeers a ride on a donkey and a colt.
            Fulfilling scriptures as he marches in to the Holy City—The City of the King.
            Surrounded by his subjects—the ground he walks on sanctified and his steed’s steps honored with branches—a natural royal red carpet rolled out for him.
            “Save us Mighty King—Blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord—Salvation in the highest heaven!” They sing.
            And the whole city shook, wondering at his presence.
            “Look! Look!” the crowd acclaims, “The Prophet—Jesus from Nazareth.”

            Imagine what that must look like, to the eyes of some.
            God is on the move, and out for blood.
            The king will restore what once was, recreating the Kingdom of David.
         Perhaps, like David, a few heads will roll—perhaps Rome will play the role of Goliath, and get decapitated and its death will lead to Jesus’ kingship.
a scared city,
his name shouted in the street,
a royal welcome,
God on his side,
a king arriving.

            Every sign points to power!
            Every sign points to Jesus the Middle Eastern Potentate.
            Every sign point to resistance, a coup, a restoration of an old and legendary order.

            Every sign, save one… a donkey.
            A donkey.
            Because the Donkey makes all the difference.
            Say it with me, “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”

            Let us pray.

            “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”
            The Donkey throws off the easy assumptions about what Jesus is doing.
            It reminds us, on this day of triumph, who Jesus is.

         The Donkey makes all the difference.
            It points us back to Jesus’ birth.
            Born to a young peasant girl, not a regal queen or the wife of a Caesar.
            He is laid in a Manger, not an opulent crib.
            Instead of a settled childhood, his family fled to Egypt away from the wrath of Herod.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.
            It carries Jesus to Jerusalem and onto his fate—to that cup he must drink.
            If he’s a king, he’s a very strange one…
            At his coronation he will be crowned with thorns, not a Diadem.
            He will be enthroned on an implement of execution—a cross, not an imposing jewel encrusted throne.
            His royal court will be two thieves, not the best and the brightest, the wise men of his age.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.

           The Donkey proves that the emperor has no clothes, because the true King comes in humility.
         The Donkey promises us that our Savior comes in the mud and the blood of real life.
         The Donkey short circuits our longing for a King and gives us a Brother.
            The Donkey gives value to the least of these.
          The Donkey points us to the real Jesus.

The Donkey Makes All the Difference.