The Right Time: Promise, Hope, and Faith

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:1-8

My sermon from 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2017) on Romans 5:1-80. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Yesterday, around noon, I was sitting at my dining room table, putting the finishing touches on a funeral sermon I would share a few hours later. When I was done, I gathered my things and headed out the door. And that’s when I noticed…the rain. By the time I was halfway down the block, it was pouring. This..wasn’t good because the funeral service I was about to lead was taking place outdoors in our Memorial Garden. When I finally got to church, I stood in the narthex, looked out the front doors, and did all I could to make the rain stop. I said a prayer. I stared intently at the sky, hoping the seriousness of my face would convince the clouds to back off for a little bit. But nothing I did worked. The rain kept falling. I then decided to move the service inside, hoping we could by some time, and give the skies another 15 minutes to clear out before we would bury ashes in the ground. We started the service, read the lessons, said our prayers, and the rain kept falling. Now I know it’s a bit presumptuous to act like yesterday’s rainstorm was specifically designed to interfere with what I wanted to do. But the rain came at the exact right time to upend the plans I made. If the clouds had stayed away for just one more hour, the service would have gone on without a hitch. But instead, the right time for the funeral was also the right time for the rain to fall.

Our reading today from the book of Romans mentions this…idea of the right time. Now, we call Romans the book of Romans but it’s really a letter. Paul is writing to a group of people in the city of Rome who believe in Jesus. We don’t know when this community was founded or who was first to bring Jesus there. Yet by the time Paul is planting churches all over the Eastern Mediterranean, a church in Rome had already been formed. Paul is hoping to visit this community and he introduces himself with a very long letter. The community in Rome seems to have some…concerns about who Paul is and what he’s teaching. They want to know more about what the gospel means to him. We sometimes make this long letter to the Romans seem like it’s Paul’s great attempt to put all his experiences of Jesus and faith and the church into a neat, cohesive, and coherent package that should be easy to understand. But I don’t think that’s Paul’s goal. He’s not trying to talk about Jesus as if Jesus is…some kind of fancy thought experiment, something we only have to keep in our heads. Paul isn’t hoping that the community in Rome will hear his words and then start nodding their heads in agreement. Instead, Paul is trying make Jesus happen to them. He’s trying to convey an experience that touches the core of all who hear it. Paul, using the only thing he has at that moment to share Jesus, uses a scroll and a pen to plant seeds of faith in those who hear it. And this faith doesn’t start by understanding an idea or a concept. This faith begins with a promise. In Christ, God has claimed you. In Christ, God has shown how much God loves you. In Christ, you are given a gift of faith that’s always in awe because the creator of everything has decided that this is the right time for you to know how much you matter. And you matter not because you are perfect or because you always do the right thing. You matter because God has created you. And that’s…enough. In a society that still makes up rules about who has value and who does not, God promises that even those society views as valueless are seen and noticed by God. The values of our society and of our culture are not the limit to the values God has. Everyone’s value is grounded in the relationship God starts with them and not the other way around. This promise God makes is a promise of hope. Because when your hope is rooted in God, it’s a hope no one can take away from you.

What Paul is doing in these short verses from Romans is to invite the community to live that promise out loud. This hope-filled promise begins in a God who sees them, knows them, values them, and won’t leave them on their own. This kind of hope isn’t wishful thinking or one that is so abstract and heady that we leave it out there, on the horizon, knowing we’ll never see if fulfilled so it never inspires us to live a different way. The hope that Paul sees is certain and sure and true. And it’s hope that knows God acts. In the words of Elizabeth Shively, “what God will do for the believer in Christ is grounded on what God has done.” God didn’t wait for us to be perfect before Jesus visited us. Jesus didn’t wait for us to understand everything he said before Jesus claimed us as his own. The God who acts is a God who doesn’t wait for us to catch-up. Instead, the God who acts is a God who comes to us first. Because the right time for God to meet us is always at our beginning. And God keeps coming to us over and over again because we need a lot of new beginnings. We need God to give us new eyes to see the world as it truly is. We need God to give us new hearts so we can love each other as much as God loves us. We need God to break the bonds of injustice that keep systems of oppression firmly in control. And we need God to keep giving us this hope that the God who has acted in Jesus won’t let upended plans get in the way of what God is about to do.

For people who are claimed by God, the trick to living your faith out loud isn’t trying to wait for the right time or right situation or right feeling to hit you before you start living. The trick is to always live in God’s love and hope and promise – even when the rain of sorrows, anxieties, fears, and hardships fall. Faith doesn’t mean that sorrows won’t come. Faith doesn’t mean that we never will be anxious. Instead, faith means that in spite of what comes, we live and act and believe that the future God has planned will actually come. And faith trusts this because Jesus has already come. Jesus has already called you by name. And once Jesus knows you, there’s nothing in this world that can push that promise away.

Amen.

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The Seed of it All: forgetting and remembering

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

Matthew 28:16-20

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017) on Matthew 28:16-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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What’s the last thing you forgot? I…don’t remember. I’m sure, if you asked my kids or my spouse or checked my email inbox which is my default to-do list, I’m sure you’d find the last thing I forgot to do. But when we frame forgetting in this way, we make forgetting seem like it’s only about a promise we broke or it’s something that happened when the busyness of life got in our way. But forgetting is more than that. Forgetting can feel like we’ve lost something. This week I stumbled on an article from the New Yorker written by Kathryn Schulz with the title “When Things Go Missing.” It’s an essay that starts in Portland in the summer when suddenly, according to Kathryn, everything “fell out of place.” She writes:

My first day in town, I left the keys to [my] truck on the counter of a coffee shop. The next day, I left the keys to the house in the front door. A few days after that, warming up in the midday sun at an outdoor café, I took off the long-sleeved shirt I’d been wearing, only to leave it hanging over the back of the chair when I headed home. When I returned to claim it, I discovered that I’d left my wallet behind as well….later that afternoon I stopped by a sporting-goods store to buy a lock for my new bike and left my wallet sitting next to the cash register. I got the wallet back, but the next day I lost the bike lock. I’d just arrived home and removed it from its packaging when my phone rang; I stepped away to take the call, and when I returned, some time later, the lock had vanished. This was annoying, because I was planning to bike downtown that evening, to attend an event at Powell’s, Portland’s famous bookstore. Eventually, having spent an absurd amount of time looking for the lock and failing to find it, I gave up and drove the truck downtown instead. I parked, went to the event, hung around talking for a while afterward, browsed the bookshelves, walked outside into a lovely summer evening, and could not find the truck anywhere.

Even on our best days, we’re forgetting something. One insurance company claims that we misplace nine objects every single day. That means, by the time [we’re] [Marcus is] sixty, [we’ll] [he’ll] have lost up to two hundred thousand things. Now, we mostly find the things we lose. But looking for things takes time. When you add up all the time we will spend in our lives looking for things we’ve lost, we’ll spent almost six months looking for our keys and wallets. We’re good at losing things because we’re good at forgetting. But we shouldn’t limit forgetting to just losing things. Forgetting can also be heartbreaking. I’ve witnessed an illness causing someone to forget their own name. I’ve been at the bedside of people who forgot how to speak English and instead, started speaking Spanish and Swedish and all these other languages they hadn’t spoken since they were six. Many of us have parents or siblings or loved ones who have forgotten who we are and who, at the same time, seem to have lost who they are too. Forgetting can be as simple as asking a friend to call our cell-phone because we have no idea where it is in our house. And forgetting can be as terrifying as losing who we are.

Which is why I struggle with our translation of Jesus’ last words in the gospel according to Matthew today. Jesus, after his death on the cross, after his resurrection, and after he has spent time showing his followers that the brokenness of this world is not the final chapter God has planned for us, Jesus makes one more public statement. He gathers his friends on a mountain top because, in Matthew, that’s where important things happen. Some of his followers are excited to be there. Others…don’t really know what’s going on. Even though Jesus is right in front of them, some of his friends doubt. But Jesus pulls them all together because he has one more thing to say. In a few short sentences, Jesus explains who he is. Jesus gives his followers a list of things to do. And then he ends on a word of promise, a promise that our translation today begins with the words: “And remember…”

Now, there is something powerful about remembering, especially during difficult times. When life is hard, we can remember that Jesus lived and died for you not because you are perfect but because Jesus loves you. Jesus is there with you while your heart breaks because his heart is breaking too. That’s… who Jesus is. But the words, “And remember…” can also be a tad terrifying because it seems as if Jesus is giving us a task to do that we’re not always cut out for. I mean, I have literally forgotten where I have put my shoes. And I have sent texts to my spouse, telling her to bring the plastic collar I wear around my neck, this collar that signifies my role as a pastor, because…I forgot it and left it at home. Jesus is asking an awful lot of us when he asks us to remember because there are times when we won’t. There are times when we can’t. And there are times when we’re experiencing so much joy and so much sadness that Jesus will be the last thing on our minds. When we take a step back and look at our entire life of faith, it’s easier to talk about what we’ve lost rather than what we remember because losses linger. Loved ones die. Friends move away. Relationships end. We lose our jobs, our sense of stability, and our bodies no longer work the way they use to as we get older, ill, and frail. As Kathryn Schulz writes further in her article, “We lose things because we are flawed; because we are human; because we have things to lose.” I’m not sure Jesus should rely on our ability to remember because forgetting and loss is sometimes all we have.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing in these last verses from Matthew. The Greek word that our translation translates as “Remember…” isn’t usually used in that way. Instead, it’s an interjection. It’s a shout. It’s the same word that announces the sudden appearance of an angel and lets us know that Jesus’ friends freaked out when the prophets Moses and Elijah showed up on a mountain. The word really means “Look! See! Hey, over here!” It’s pointing out something that is sudden, exciting, and totally unexpected. It’s a word to that let’s us know that whatever follows it, matters. Jesus doesn’t order his disciples to remember his promises, as if our actions can somehow make these promises true or not. Instead, Jesus is saying: “look! I am with you. I will be with you. And you cannot lose me like you will lose your car keys…or even your memory.” Once God knows us, we cannot stop God from coming to us. Once Jesus claims us in our baptism, we can’t ever stop him from loving us. Our faith and the relationship God has with each of us is too important for God to leave up only to us. Instead, God takes the initiative to claim us, to hold us, and to live with us because God says we are worth more than we will ever know. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend or being with something that we do or rely on whether we can remember who God is. Our relationship depends only on the promises God gives to us – a promise made real in the gift of faith itself. This faith moves us, this faith transforms us, this faith pushes us into the promise Jesus makes here. “Look! See! Hey, this is important.” No matter where we are, or what we do, or where we go – Jesus promises that little Marcus and all of us will never be alone.

Amen.

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Keep My Commandment: a sermon on dos and don’ts

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:15-21

My sermon from 6th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017) on John 14:15-21. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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In New York City, there’s an old, boarded up gas station located on Hudson Street. The entire perimeter is sealed by a 12 foot high chain linked fence and, inside it, is a dilapidated garage with a few white delivery vans parked around it. Along the sidewalk is an old, rusting, gas pump with its last sale still on the dials. The last time it was used, 9.87 gallons of gas cost 3 dollars and sixty-five cents. And because this is New York City, the chain link fence is covered in signs. The last time I walked by this gas station, there was one sign in particular that I noticed. On this giant old white sign, big black letters said: “Unapproved parkers will have the air let out of their tires and their license plates removed.” Now I actually have no idea if it’s even legal to do that but it’s quite a threat, isn’t it? I can totally see myself driving on Hudson street and thinking, for a moment, I finally found the last available parking spot in all of New York City. I pull in, thank Jesus for giving me the spot, and then I look up and see that sign. Those words are saying, in no uncertain terms, just…don’t. Don’t park here. Don’t interfere. Don’t get in the way of the people working here. Because if you do, there will be trouble.

That don’t….is sometimes exactly what we think about when we hear anyone in scripture use the word commandment. Commandments can sometimes be God’s version of a big white sign with big black letters that simply says “Don’t.” And we think this because the word commandment is dominated by the Ten Commandments we once learned in Sunday School or Confirmation Class or that we saw cross stitched and hung on a wall in our great aunt’s home. Don’t have any other god but God. Don’t take God’s name in vain. Don’t murder. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t desire something that belongs to your neighbor. Now, there are some commandments that are not “don’t” related like remember to keep the sabbath, to give that day fully to God, and to also honor your parents. But the “don’ts” outnumber the “dos”. And that ends up giving the word “commandment” an essence and a flavor. A commandment from God is seen, consciously or unconsciously, as God telling us “not” to do something. Commandments are God’s way of creating boundaries for us, fencing us in so to speak, so that we can stay on a straight and narrow path that will lead us to God. The thinking goes, if we stay within the boundaries God sets up, we will be okay. When we follow the rules, we show God and Jesus just how much we love them. And if we show God the right amount of love, then God will fully love us in return. The God of the “dont’s” will shower blessings on those who listen and will finally answer all those prayers that sometimes go unanswered. When the word commandment becomes a word that only means “don’t,” then the God who speaks those don’ts becomes a God who cares only about what you don’t do. And a God who cares only about what you don’t do isn’t the God Jesus is talking about today.

For Jesus, commandments are not about the “don’ts.” The commandments are always a do. And commandments are never fences that keep us on a straight and narrow path that, eventually, bring us to God. Rather, because God is already alongside us, the fences which hem us in are torn down by a love that breaks walls and never builds them. So to understand Jesus and the word commandment, we need to remember a passage in John that never shows up in the 3 year cycle of readings we use in worship. In John chapter 12, just 2 chapters before today’s reading, Jesus is giving his last public speech before John’s version of the last supper. A mixed crowd of many different ethnicities is gathered around him. Jesus is teaching, preaching, and showing signs of who he is but not everyone believes him. There are some that do but they refuse to share this publicly because they are afraid about what others might think. Instead, they remain quiet. But Jesus doesn’t hold their quietness against them. He refuses, at that moment, to judge them. Instead, he talks about his purpose, about his mission, about his goal to save them. He’s there to love and to show everyone who God is. Because seeing Jesus is seeing God. To see how Jesus loves, how Jesus heals, how Jesus embraces and prays and talks to everyone, even those who are his enemies….that’s who God is. Jesus is telling the world exactly what God says and showing everyone how even a Cross can’t stop God from saving them. All of this, Jesus says, is the Father’s commandment for him. This commandment for Jesus isn’t a don’t. It’s a do. It’s a live-a-human-life, love like God does, tell the world just how much it means to God even though this will lead to the Cross – kind of commandment. And Jesus, in chapter 12 verse 50, calls this kind of commandment….eternal life.
Commandments are more than “don’ts.” Commandments are a way of life that embodies God’s love. When Jesus shares his last public speech, he’s telling everyone that love is more than just a feeling and more than just being kind. Love is a way of life that is willing to sacrifice itself so that even a stranger can live and thrive. And today, when Jesus is in the middle of his long speech to his disciples, telling them that Jesus will be with them and they’ll never be orphaned no matter what tragedy befalls them or him, the commandments Jesus points to are centered in a deep and abiding love that even death can’t overcome. When we turn God’s commandments into a series of only don’ts, we sin. We impose limits on God’s love that simply do not exist. We forget that we have, through God’s promises, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus with us, forever. And it’s this spirit that empowers us to change these commandments of don’ts that we think are focused only on limiting what we do in our lives and instead see how God’s commandments invite us to help the person next to us – thrive. Instead of holding signs with big black letters telling others what we’re going to do if they get in our way, the Holy Spirit guides us to take down our signs of don’t and instead help others become the people God wants them to be. This might take some work on our part. And it might cost us some time, some money, and force us to break out of our comfort zone. But this is something we get to do because we are loved; we are chosen; we are, through our baptism and through our faith, part of God’s holy family. We are not orphans. We have Jesus. So let’s act like we do.

Amen.

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Who sees: What Jesus Power Do You Have?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

John 14:1-14

My sermon from 5th Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017) on John 14:1-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So which of Jesus’ amazing miracles – from feeding 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread to making a man born blind see – do you wish you could do? A few years ago, when I was an intern at a church in Manhattan, I was part of their altar guild. I was setting up the altar for communion before services one Sunday when the unexpected happened. We were out of wine. Jesus’ water to wine trick would have been handy that day. And later, I could have used his gift of healing when I sat at a hospital bedside, helping a family say goodbye to a loved one who was dying way too soon. There are plenty of times when I wish I had a smidget of that awesome Jesus-like power to make an immediate difference in the lives of the people around me. But…more often than not, that amazing moment of power, that awesome miracle, just doesn’t happen the way I wished it would. Which is why, I think, verse 12 in our reading from the gospel according to John can be…well…hard. Jesus says that the one who believes, will not only do what he did, but will do even more.

Now, Jesus in the gospel according to John, does a lot. He turns water into wine, heals a person who is paralyzed, he walks on water, and raises Lazarus from the dead. In total, there are 7 big signs that end up on Jesus’ resume. And when I compare Jesus’ resume to my own, I don’t really come close. One way out of this comparison problem is to remember that we’re human. We’re not the Son of God. We can’t compete or compare ourselves with Jesus, really. But…let’s not do that. Let’s take Jesus seriously. Let’s stand right in front of verse 12, being completely open about our own resumes filled with belief and doubt, struggle and selfishness, love and sin; let’s bring all of who we are – and stand before this word from our Lord who claims that if we truly believed in him, we could do more.

Standing there, alone before this verse from Jesus – it’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it? Because it seems like Jesus is giving us some kind of test that judges how much faith we actually have. If we can make a man born blind see, then we’re good. Our relationship with God is secure because a super power from Jesus showed up. Verse 12 feels like it gives us a way to quantify our relationship with Jesus, to see how much faith we have, and to show just how Christian we are to other people. And if walking on water isn’t showing up in our life as much as it should, then we might need to invent other signs, other signals, that show us how much God loves us. Our wealth; our power; our material blessings; our moral choices – we start to pretend that these are the signs that tell us if we’re with Jesus or not. It doesn’t take long before Jesus stops being Jesus, and instead he looks, and acts, and sounds an awfully lot like us. Faith stops being about knowing and trusting Jesus. Instead, faith becomes a strange attempt to chase after his supposed benefits – benefits that, in the end, are centered in greed, control, in being strong and being right, rather than in being generous, loving, vulnerable, and open.

In the race to compare ourselves to Jesus, we chase after what we think he can give us. We run without first listening to what Jesus actually said. And we forget that Jesus’ words are always spoken in context. Because when we are standing before his words in verse 12, we were not standing alone. We were surrounded by Jesus’ early disciples, by Philip and Thomas and Peter and others, and everyone is scared. Everyone is confused. When we stop for a moment and keep Jesus’ words firmly planted in his story, we hear Jesus talking today to his disciples right before his arrest and trial. Everyone is in one large room, having a meal. And in the middle of this dinner, Jesus gets up and does something weird. He stops being their teacher, being the one who is supposed to be served, and instead he serves others by washing their feet. Even Judas, the one who betrays him, gets his feet washed. After the washing, Judas flees into the night, to arrange for Jesus’ arrest, while Jesus keeps talking. He mentions his impending death. He shares who will leave him. And he promises that when push comes to shove and people want to know if these followers of Jesus know him or not, even Peter, one of his most committed disciples, will deny knowing him. The disciples are confused and scared. Jesus is telling them, that is just a few short days, their faith will fail.

These disciples, on any normal scale of what it means to be faithful believers and true disciples of Jesus Christ, are totally going to blow it once Good Friday comes. Jesus, in this passage, isn’t telling them how they can measure or judge their faith. He isn’t giving them a list of statements of belief that are the end-all-be-all of what it means to be a true believer. None of the verses today can be considered litmus tests that we can use to test whether someone is a true follower of Jesus or not. Because that kind of list, those kinds of ideas, won’t help the disciples live through what’s about to come. Every word in today’s reading is a promise – a promise that even when they can’t see him, even when Jesus feels far away, even when Good Friday and death itself comes, none of that can break the relationship Jesus has formed with each of them. Not even their own fear or doubt, not even their denial or their running away, can overcome Jesus’ love for them. Jesus promises to be with them, to keep coming to them over and over again, even when it looks like evil has won and God has lost. Even when all hope is gone, Jesus isn’t. And that relationship Jesus has with each of us – that Jesus has with this entire world – in the end, means everything.

So, if today’s text from John is about a promise Jesus makes to us, then what could possibly be that greater work Jesus promises? Jesus’ super power isn’t focused on the supernatural acts that we call miracles. Jesus’ power is the relationship he forms with each of us. It’s how even with our resumes full of all the ways we act like God and try to make our opinion or likes or wants be the only ones that matter, even then Jesus keeps coming to us over and over again. It’s through relationship, when our faith grows. It’s through the time and energy we put in with Jesus to struggle and argue, to ask questions and wonder, to shed tears of joy and of sadness with him – it’s when we dwell with him, abide with him, when we discover exactly who we are and who God imagines us to be. The greatest work we can offer to our family and friends, to our neighbors and strangers, is simply to show them our relationship with this Son of God who never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves. And that relationship is refined, maintained, and strengthened when we live our faith out loud together, in a community that isn’t perfect but one that clings, through all things, to this Jesus who shows us just who God is, and just how far God will go for us.

Amen.

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The Long Walk: Life Giving Living Through

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

My sermon from 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017) on Luke 24:13-35. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Font. Font is one of those words that means something different in the church than it does in the wider world. When we talk about fonts inside a church, we’re usually talking about the baptismal font. Our font is this little white box on wheels, with a metal bowl inside, and it’s the place where we hear God’s promises tied to something physical. With a little bit of water, we remember that we are part of something that is always life-giving. So a font in church is something physical; it’s connected to God’s promises; and the font is usually wet.

But fonts in non-church places are a little different. Fonts are everywhere. They surround us on signs filled with letters, on papers covered in words, and on little screens we carry in our pockets that show us the food are friends are taking pictures of every single day. The actual graphic design of those letters and words is called a font. And those fonts have names. There’s Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, and Helvetica. Some fonts are crisp, clean, and easy to read. Some fonts are so well designed, they make the actual words themselves look beautiful. But there are other fonts that…well…are not as pretty. They’re not crisp or modern or easy to read. They are fonts that are so curly and flowy and out-of-whack that the words themselves are lost in a spasm of weird design choices. The gold standard for that kind of font is….Comic Sans. Now, Comic Sans is actually a really good font for people with some kind of disability like dyslexia. And we might think that Comic Sans looks whimsical and fun like letters in a comic book but…from a design perspective…from a perspective that thinks it can read everything just fine – Comic Sans is really not. Comic Sans flows and moves in such a way that makes words feel out of place. And when Comic Sans is displayed on an electronic screen, the font itself just…doesn’t work. When we receive a message written in a font that is hard to read or in a font that is downright ugly, we don’t read it. We chose not to engage with it at all. The words appear too harsh, too tough, and too odd for us to take them seriously. Instead, we delete the email or toss that piece of paper aside and ask the person who sent it to send it again but, this time, in a font we can actually read.
But what if that ugly font was all we had? What if all the letters and words in front of us were in this harsh and unforgiving font that we wanted nothing to do with? Recently, I came across a short video that talked about an experiment where psychologists did just that. The experiment took place at a school. One set of classrooms kept all their handouts, papers, and computer screens in a font we all know and love. Everything was easy to read. All the words were beautiful. Everything was as perfect as a high school handout could be. The other classrooms, however, had all their handouts in terrible fonts. Some were incredibly dense, where all the letters were blocky and squished together. Some classrooms put everything in italicized Comic Sans. Nothing about the handouts or screens looked beautiful because the words were displayed in awful ways. Both sets of classrooms used these kinds of fonts all year long. And then, after finals were over and grades were in, the psychologists compared scores. They discovered that the students who suffered all year long with those terrible fonts did better than those who only had beautiful words. Those awful fonts forced the students to take each word seriously; to struggle through the bad design so that they could understand what was in front of them. The students who could read everything in beautiful and well-known fonts, didn’t. Their brain subconsciously disregarded the words because they looked so nice, so easy to read, so the brain acted like it had already seen this information before. Good design actually failed the students because the design itself didn’t invite them to fully understand what was in front of them. This font experiment showed that…sometimes…people need to sit with the ugliness, sit with things that are hard to see, and struggle through periods of shadow and sadness to truly unpack what’s there. Sometimes living through whatever we’re facing is actually the most life-giving thing we can possibly do.

In today’s reading from Luke, the story itself should be much shorter. Those two disciples should have listened to the women. The women had already gone to the tomb and discovered that Death was no longer the final chapter. The women ran and told others and Cleopas and his friend…heard all of it. The beautiful words of the resurrection entered their ears so….they should have listened….but they didn’t. Instead, they left Jerusalem. They vamoose from the city that killed their teacher and those two friends of Jesus tried to go someplace else. They didn’t know what to do with Good Friday. They were there when all the hopes and dreams they placed on Jesus were hung on a cross. Their expectations of what Jesus was going to do was buried when he was placed in that tomb. The healings, the miracles, the teachings – the dreams about a better future right in front of them – all of that was broken. In a few short moments, everything they thought they knew was undone. Cleopas and his friend didn’t know what to do….so they left. They headed to the village of Emmaus because the brokenness of their dreams, and hopes, and expectations was something that even a beautiful word couldn’t break through.

Cleopas and his friend couldn’t listen to the women….but you’d think they could have listened to Jesus. Jesus chose, right at that moment, right at the point when these two couldn’t even hear the good news – that’s when Jesus met them. And Jesus should have made it better right away. He should have introduced himself, called these disciples by names, and poof – end of story. But instead…Jesus joined them. He talked to them. He asked them opened ended questions that let’s these two disciples unload their mourning and grief and worry and confusion – all of that – onto him. Jesus gets everything they’ve got but he still doesn’t break their grief. Even his reasoned arguments about what God was up to couldn’t make the pain of these two disciples melt away. They couldn’t even notice how the core of who they are – their very soul, heart, and identity – is being…revived…and renewed in the midst of their current struggle. Instead, their long journey with Jesus is filled with questions, sadness, worries, and concerns. Their long walk with Jesus is filled with the grief that happens when our hope filled dreams are met by the brokenness of the world we actually live in. The two disciples take their long journey with Jesus not even knowing Jesus is there. But he is – because God’s love, by design, is not only meant for us at a specific moment. God’s love is not like the love we already know so we trick ourselves into thinking we’ve already gone through it. God’s love for us…is… a movement. It’s a movement through our lives and our realities. We don’t always understand why things are the way they are. But we do live our lives with a God who chose to live a life because your life is worth everything to God. And not just the good parts. Not just those parts where everything is joyous or happy or beautiful. All of your life, every bit of it, is worth everything to God. And since all of your life has value, Jesus promises to be there in the moments when your life feels like it’s nothing because there’s no journey, no pain, no sadness, and no Cross Jesus won’t go with you – through.

Amen.

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Locked: what Jesus does when the front doors are locked

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31

My sermon from 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 23, 2017) on John 20:19-31. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below. You should know that I modified the sermon, slightly, on the fly. I changed some of the tenses and where I put my pauses.

So who locked those doors? In our reading from the gospel according to John today, we know why the doors were locked. But we don’t know who did it. Many of the disciples of Jesus were together – in that room. All of them knew what happened to their rabbi, to their teacher. They were there when Jesus was arrested. They knew he died. And yet….many also knew that something had changed. John’s version of Easter morning involved disciples running to find the tomb empty and Mary Magdalene mistaking Jesus for the gardener. Some of the disciples, after they see the empty tomb, return to their homes. Mary, after Jesus meets her in the garden and calls her by name, went and told others what she saw. John’s Easter morning is full of movement. Everyone is rushing from one place to another and everyone is telling a story. The writing is so fast paced, no one has time to sit and reflect on what just happened. Instead, the empty tomb and the Risen Jesus is just experienced over and over again. Easter morning, according to John, is fast and furious and it doesn’t stop.

But in today’s reading, evening comes. Some of the disciples who spent the day rushing around are now together. We don’t know, officially, who is in that room. None of the disciples who see Jesus that first evening are even named. But let’s assume that the disciples in that room knew about the empty tomb and knew Mary’s story. And because the disciples here are unnamed, I think we’re invited to use our imagination and believe that all kinds of disciples are there. There are those in the room who were there at the start of Jesus ministry, those who met Jesus on the road and were impressed by his teaching and his faith, and those who shared a meal with him, were healed by him, and knew that he was different. These disciples knew Jesus. They now know the fullness of his story. They know that Jesus is raised from the dead and out there in the world so as the sun sets, they shut the doors, and lock them.

Now, as the sun goes down, there are things the disciples need to do. Torches need to be lit, candles placed on tables, and windows shut to keep the cold night air at bay. They need to do what we do when the day fades and night moves in. But the disciples are also doing something more. The disciples in that room are preparing for a new day. As Jewish people, they follow the Jewish calendar. New days don’t start at midnight or when the sun rises. For them, a new day begins at the moment when an old day ends. The day of Easter is about to close. The frantic pace and wonder of that morning is starting to fade. Now is the time to close the doors, secure the windows, and light some candles because something new is about to come.

So in the middle of these preparations to welcome a brand new day, someone gets up and locks the doors. We don’t know who does that. But we do know why they do. They are afraid. The disciples don’t know what the religious and political authorities might do now once night has come. Now, light and darkness are big themes in the gospel according to John. The light is always about being near to Christ, being in relationship with him. The shadow, the darkness, is a sign of being apart. When Judas left to go arrange for Jesus’ arrest, he went into the night. When Jesus was arrested, it happened at night. So the disciples, on this first evening after Easter, are afraid of what might happen next. They’re trying to keep themselves safe. They believe that the right kind of locked door will be able to stop the Roman Empire from coming in and doing to them what the Empire did to Jesus. That locked door does more than keep the night outside. It also walls them in. The walls and ceiling and doors of that little space become the limit where their light can shine. Because of their fear and what they know can happen out there, they choose to lock themselves in, creating a world for themselves that they think is safe. They believe they’re staying next to the light. They believe they’re keeping close to Christ. They can’t imagine anything but darkness being outside those doors. So Jesus does what they could not. He comes into that room from the outside, from that place of fear and terror and he goes through that door the disciples locked. The door was locked because the disciples knew the sun was setting. But they didn’t realize that a new day for the entire world started because the son rose.

As people, we’re good at locking doors. We know how to surround ourselves by walls of our making. As a church, the concrete cinder blocks and closed doors surrounding us right now can create this false experience as if what we do here is only for us. As if the Jesus we encounter in the Word and in Holy Communion is only for those who get it – for those who are already here, those who have already seen the risen Lord. But the Jesus we meet in here is also the Jesus who is out there. The Jesus who shows us God’s love through the very faith God gifts us – is the same Jesus who is loving God’s world out there. And the Jesus who promises to be with us, holding us, being present no matter what the world throws at us – that Jesus is already out there, ahead of us, living in the places where life might take us. Jesus isn’t telling the disciples to ignore their fear – they still lock that door the following week – but he tells them their fear cannot overcome what God is already doing. The world is full of Thomas’ needing to hear Jesus’ story from our lips. The world is full of a shadow that needs to experience the hope, mercy, and justice, that Christ, through us, brings. And the world is full of locked doors that need to be overcome by the love Jesus shows. The gift Christ brings to his disciples is a connection with the light and grace that nothing can overcome. His invitation to those in that locked room, as the end of one kind of reality turns into something brand new, is for those behind that door, and for all of us right here, we’re invited to go out, to share Christ’s love, to be that – kind of light – because Jesus is already out there.

Amen.

Ground Goes Boom: A sermon for Easter Morning.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Matthew 28:1-10

My sermon from Easter Sunday (April 16, 2017) on Matthew 28:1-10. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below:

Silence. Then noise. Noise. Then silence. When I lived in New York City, I craved the noise of the city street. On warm days like today, I loved to open the windows of my 5th floor walk up apartment and just listen to the traffic below. I would hear my neighbors, sitting on their fire escapes, talking to one another in languages I didn’t understand. And, just down the block, the Piragua man would be telling jokes while he shaved a block of ice to make a young child a delicious treat. But now, as a parent with two young children, my need for noise has changed. The traffic of city streets below my apartment window has been replaced by the sounds of plastic cars being launched off my dining room table. The words of my old neighbors are now overwhelmed by words from new neighbors led by a cartoon tiger named Daniel with his friends the Power Rangers, Peppa Pig, and Thomas the Tank Engine I now long for those seconds of silence I’m able to scrape together when the rest of my family are busy playing on the other side of the house. The sounds that fed my soul in the past do not necessarily feed me now. Sometimes, I need the noise of a loud city street to remind me that there is life in this world. And sometimes I need a bit of silence to remember all the life there is in me. We live our entire lives surrounded by cycles of noise and silence. When we’re in the womb, the rushing sound of blood pumping through our mother’s veins is as loud as a running vacuum cleaner. And when we’re a little older, one of the first skills we learn is how to sleep through the silence. We don’t always get to choose the silences and the noises that surround us. But we do learn how to live through them. The noise and the silence makes a rhythm we live out each and everyday. And that rhythm can bring us meaning, if we only learn to look for it.

When we listen to the gospel according to Matthew, we hear a rhythm of noise and silence that is the heart of Jesus’ story. When Joseph, Mary’s fiancée, finds out she’s pregnant, he wants to break up with her but he plans to do so quietly. God changes Joseph’s mind by sending him a very noisey dream filled with words from an angel. As Jesus grows up and begins to teach about God’s vision for the world and what God’s love actually looks like, his teaching and healings are met with a silence filled with confusion, fear, and jealousy. When Jesus is finally arrested and interrogated by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus stays silent. He doesn’t answer many of Pilate’s questions. Even the soldiers, when they are mocking him while he hangs on the Cross, get no real response. The rest of the world rages but Jesus…doesn’t. Instead, when death finally comes, the weeping of his disciples and the grumbles from the guards posted outside his grave cannot penetrate the stone walls of his dark tomb. For 3 days, quiet surrounds Jesus. For 3 days, he knows death. And then, once the sabbath day is over, a group of women leave the city. Since it’s before dawn, the city is still asleep. The terror and sadness of Jesus’ death still hung in the air. The women want to finish the traditional burial rituals for their friend. And I imagine, as they walked, they stayed quiet. They didn’t dare break the silence with even a whisper. So God, with an angel and an earthquake, breaks that silence for them.

Now, Matthew does something different in his telling of the resurrection. Not only do the women feel the ground shake, they hear the grinding of stone as the angel opens the tomb. They watch as professional soldiers faint in fright, their armor and spears clattering as they hit the ground. And, just in case that wasn’t enough, the angel, sitting on the rolled away stone, speaks. The silence of death isn’t broken only by seeing an empty tomb. That quiet is shattered by an earth that moves and bellows. Soldiers from the greatest military power in the world, fall over; their weapons clattering and announcing the failure of their power. These women followers of Jesus, disciples who clung to his teaching, heard his promises, and saw him die – they are having their expectations undone. The silence of pain they carried with them is being broken. The noise of the world is being undone by the love of God. And it’s after the ground moves and the earth shifts when the silence of death is finally undone by something very human and very soft. It’s merely a voice that shares the message. It’s a word that announces the promise. The angel says “Jesus is not here.” And with that, the rhythm of the world is undone. The women expected death – but now, only new life remains.

We know the noises that make up the rhythm of our lives. And it’s sometimes easy to point to the loud and over the top sounds that other people can also hear. But there are those noises that keep us silent. There are those thoughts and fears and concerns that stay with us, in our hearts and in our heads, never letting us go. They are the weights we carry on our shoulders and the troubles that burrow into our souls. They are the worries, anxieties, fears, and sadness that make us feel less than whole. No one else might hear the noises we hear. But they are loud. And they can push out hope. But they can’t push out God – because Easter is when the noises we know and silences we live through are met by the love and promise of Jesus Christ.

Because God decided that creation was worth living in. God decided that the sick, the poor, the outcasts, those who are afraid, and those who are weighed down – are worth friendship, healing, and love. The rhythm of noise and silence that makes up our lives will not be our final story. There is a new rhythm in our reality that God has already written. It’s a rhythm where the noise of this world is replaced with the noise of hope, generosity, and love. It’s a way of life where service to others is a language everyone’s speak. It’s a reality where our pains, our sickness, and our sorrows are embraced by Jesus Christ because you are worth more than any of the silence that has been imposed on you. Your rhythm of noise and silence, of fear and hope, is now in the hands of a God who does not let the silence of death win. Today we celebrate Easter. Today we remember that the rhythm of this world has already been changed. We celebrate the gift of God’s love that makes a difference now. Because Jesus did more than conqueror death; he lived through our noises and our silence and wrote us a new ending that will not be contained in a tomb.

Amen.

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Companion: Looking for what’s Hidden

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you 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.”

John 13:1-17,31b-35

My sermon from Maundy Thursday (April 13, 2017) on John 13:1-17,31b-35. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below:

One of the nice things about having cats again is that, when I’m eating, I’m never really alone. When I pull out a chair and take a seat at the dining room table, I notice the tips of cat ears sitting patiently on the other side. Pretty soon, there’s a cat on the table, hoping that today will be the day when I let him drink all the milk in my cereal bowl. It’s adorable and annoying, especially when they try to grab the spoon right out of my hand. Cats and dogs, are some of the most persistent, patient, and fuzzy dining companions we get to have. And even when we think we’re alone, we’re not. They’re there, lying in wait under an ottoman, or a chair, or the table itself. These hidden companions are part of the story that unfolds when we sit for a meal. And if we forget that they are there, we risk having our lunch swiped from us when we’re not paying attention.

Paying attention to our hidden companions isn’t just something to do at dinner; it’s important for tonight’s reading from John as well. These verses from John 13 are heard every Maundy Thursday. And they make us uncomfortable because Jesus does a really strange thing: he washes feet. And even if we don’t know why foot washing was a thing in the ancient world, there’s something inside us that knows that foot washing is just – weird. In the words of one of our high school youth at our youth group meeting last Sunday, foot washing is… “Gross.” Feet are in shoes all day long. They get dry and cracked. They literally carry us around, and we barely think about them, until they stop working the way we expect. Feet are also beneath us. When we look down, there they are. So when Jesus gets up, removes his clothing, wraps a towel around his waist, and kneels at the feet of his students – he, the Master, the Teacher, the one who was there before the world was, is suddenly beneath them. He’s below. He’s serving the ones who are called to serve him. And when we imagine what footwashing actually was like in ancient Jerusalem – a city without indoor plumbing, or paved streets, or people owning closed-toed shoes – gross doesn’t even come close to describe it. The one usually assigned to wash feet would be a slave or a servant. A teacher shouldn’t be a footwasher. And yet…here is Jesus…being gross.

So if our feet are washed, what does that bring? I mean, it feels nice when our feet are in good shape and look good but Jesus is doing more than giving his disciples pedicures. We need to pay attention to the hidden companions, the hidden verses, that accompany this text. And those verses are…everywhere. They show up in the very first verse, in the word “hour.” That one word pushes us back to the start of Jesus’ ministry in John, when he is at a wedding and the party is about to end prematurely because the wine has run out. Jesus’ mom informs Jesus and he says “my hour has not yet come.” So he makes some wine out of water. It’s a wedding party full of food and drink that starts Jesus’ journey. And it’s tonight, when his hour finally comes, that his ending begins with a dinner party. The foot washing is more than one act of service we’re asked to replicate and ritualize. The foot washing, in the words of Rev. Karoline Lewis in her commentary on John, “is somewhat of a microcosm of God becoming flesh, God dwelling with us, now no greater than we are” (page 181). When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he summarized his entire ministry. The foot washing is a capstone to the life that Jesus lived. It completes his narrative, this part of his story, and becomes“a pattern of being….that the disciples will now need to take on” (page 181).

And this pattern of being is hard. There are moments when we’re asked to love those we don’t even like. There are moments when we are asked to serve people we do not understand and people we don’t want to even try to understand. The life of love Jesus embodies upends our expectations of what’s normal. Even if we hear the call to serve all people like Jesus did, there are still some people we don’t want to love. There are some we don’t think deserve to be loved. And that’s why Love is hard; love is difficult; because love messes with our expectations and reveals to us what God really wants us to see.
And there’s another hidden companion to tonight’s text that we need to see. We need to hear what happens to that evil, hidden in the room and explicitly declared in verse 2. Among the disciples, sitting in the room, is Judas. He watches as Jesus washes their feet. He feels the water that Jesus pours over his toes. His feet are dried by his teacher, his friend, and his rabbi. And, in verses we do not hear tonight, after all of that, Judas leaves. He heads out, into the night. Now, Jesus knew Judas will do this. He knew his hour had finally arrived. And yet…Jesus still served. He still washed. He still loved everyone, including the one who will deny him, the one who will betray him, and the ones who will run away when the cross finally comes.

The hidden companion to Jesus’ command to “love one another” is Judas. In the act of footwashing, the disciples are confronted with the entirety of Jesus’ story. For some, that sparked confusion. For others, hope. And for Judas…well…he left. In front of the entire group, he just walked out. The fear and tension and confusion around that dinner table must have been palpable. And it’s in the middle of all of that when Jesus said “love one another.” Love. In the face of betrayal, in the face of fear, in the face of uncertainty and our unrealized expectations, just love. Jesus doesn’t tell his followers to be a hidden companion in a world that doesn’t always know him. He tells them to love like he did, in all the different ways he modeled throughout his ministry and in the many other ways God will inspire them to see. Foot washing was just the capstone to the story of love Jesus lived out. And as he served, so should we, being visible companions to each other, to our neighbors, and to the One God sent to upend the world through love.

Amen.

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A Wide Saddle: Jesus has a sidecar in Jerusalem

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11

My sermon from Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017) on Matthew 21:1-11.

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