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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Period. A sermon on interpretation and who Jesus sees.

As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-41

My sermon from the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 26, 2017) on John 9:1-41.

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Get Me a Drink: a sermon on sharing even when you don’t know the full story.

[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labour.’

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’

John 4:5-42

My sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent (March 19, 2017) on John 4:5-41.

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Veribage: a sermon on letting Jesus be Jesus.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:1-17

My sermon from the Second Sunday in Lent (March 12, 2017) on John 3:1-17.

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