Our God Is a God of Mission : Called … Gathered … Sent

Our God Is a God of Mission: Called…Gathered…Sent

On the Festival of The Holy Trinity, we come face-to-face with the mystery and the awe of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. This mystery of Almighty God is almost beyond our comprehension. We might have a lot of questions: Who is God? Where is God? What is God doing? Does God care? We’ve all heard people say, “It’s not so much a matter of what you know, as who you know.” There’s actually quite a bit of theology in that comment. The one we know is Jesus Christ. We know God, the Father through God’s Son, and we know the Holy Spirit because in the giving of the Holy Spirit in our baptism, we are then able to come to faith. The Holy Trinity is more than a doctrine; it is the heart of our faith. We can know God because we can see what God has been about in creation. We especially are aware of creation in the seasons of the year; spring shows us so many signs of God’s creating – new life in newborn animals, new buds on the trees and flowers, green grass replaces what was brown and dormant in the winter, seed being planted that will yield a harvest. We also see the cycles of life turning constantly in birth and death, in watching our children grow from infant to toddler to children in school, curious, playful, stretching and growing in all ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Adolescence, young adulthood, the middle years of life, the process of aging is markers we can see and experience. Constant changes – nothing seems to stay constant except the fact that everything changes.

I wonder if that’s not part of what these disciples are thinking about as they make their way to the mountain that Jesus directs them to. Hadn’t they been on a mountain before? Hadn’t their lives been turned upside down in constant change ever since they met up with this Jesus? What next? What would Jesus expect of them when they meet up with him on the mountain? It didn’t take him very long to get down to business. He doesn’t offer excuses or say that he’s sorry things hadn’t turned out the way they might have hoped. There are no excuses – it has been what he said it would be. He came into the world to be the Word of God in the flesh, to be light in the darkness, to be food for those who are spiritually hungry. He came into the world to redeem the world – a world that had long forgotten their purpose for being. He gives his life so that the price for sin, the debt would be paid, once for all. And his resurrection is his promise that he would overcome sin, death and the devil, so that nothing can ever separate those who believe from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In his coming, God gives Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. And now there are instructions for how to go on from here. Jesus commands them to GO! Jesus commands them to make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He commands them to teach these new followers that they encounter to obey everything that he has already commanded them, these 11 gathered with him. Jesus doesn’t say, do this if you feel like it, if you wish to, if there isn’t anything better to do on any given day. Jesus says to these followers, and to us, that through our baptisms we have a relationship with him and with God, and we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit which will stir in us. There now is a difference between knowing God and knowing what is expected of us as opposed to the idea that we can do this when we get around to it, if we ever do, or we can do it if we desire to do it, if we feel like it.

Aren’t we a lot like children even as adults when it comes to tending to our spiritual responsibilities? I remember so well my son and daughter saying, “I don’t feel like it.” “I don’t want to go” “I’ll do it later.” “It’s not my turn.” “Who left you in charge of handing out the orders?” Can you picture the disciples standing there hearing what’s now expected of them? He says “GO”, they’d rather stay. Jesus says, “Make disciples of all nations”, and they thought that was what they were, who said anything about sharing this role with outsiders? Jesus says “Baptize them”, and they wondering how – like John down at the Jordan River? He says, “Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and they’re likely saying like “what?” “in whose name?”, “do they deserve it?” He says, “Teach them to obey everything that I commanded you”, and they’re not sure they can remember everything. Jesus says, “remember … remember I am with you always.” Perhaps it was then that things clicked for them. “I am with you always.” A promise! Not that he would be in the future, but that “I AM” with you now and always! He had promised from the beginning to be with them for the long haul, whatever that was going to be, and now they were beginning to understand something of what the long haul would be. And then they went. They didn’t build booths on the mountain; they didn’t take a sabbatical and ponder it. They went, and became the first missionaries. God is a God of mission, not maintenance. God is always active, always doing, always creating, always forgiving, always present. What those disciples found out in their brief three years with Jesus was that following him was never predictable and it was never dull. And following certainly came with a wide variety of challenges, disappointments, joys, and everything in between. They likely were stretched in ways they never thought possible, pushed beyond what they had thought possible, and they were certainly pushed and prodded to go beyond their comfort zone. In this gospel lesson, it says that some doubted. Perhaps they doubted what it was they were experiencing; perhaps they doubted their abilities to do what Jesus was commanding them to go and be about. But it didn’t stop Jesus from being directive with them, and it didn’t stop the mission that God had sent Jesus for, and now Jesus was sending them.

It becomes our story; it becomes what we are to be about. We want to stay, and yet we are commanded to Go. We want someone else to do the baptizing and the teaching, but Jesus says that we are called to do this. Perhaps most of you are thinking that you aren’t called to these things, but as these followers become mission-minded and go, they take this commission to the next group of followers, and to the next, and to the next, and then it becomes us who are the next. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the disciples moved on to preach in Jerusalem, and then beyond there. They realized that this message, this Good News, was meant to be shared; in fact, they were commanded to share it. Lives are changed. People like Saul have their lives changed; they are transformed and become the “Paul” who can’t do anything other than hold this message up, confronting and challenging others to change their lives and live lives that have been redeemed, bought with the price of the life of the Son of God. It was the core of who they were; it is the core of who we are. It is the heart of our faith. We are witnesses to this Good News. We are called, commissioned, and we are sent. We are participants in the mission that God has intended for us to be a part of from the moment of creation, from the moment of our own birth. God is calling us to be courageous in our daily lives to be witnesses. God is calling us to set our priorities in order, to put God first and then all other things will be in their proper perspective. God’s calling us to be people on a mission. God has marked you, chosen you, and called you to be a witness. You’ve got your own faith story to tell, your own witness to give. If you don’t tell, who will? And perhaps there is one or two or more among you who is being called by God to serve God’s Church. If we don’t ever ask the question, we may never know. Aren’t we something, God? Are we all you hoped we would be? Help us, God, to be all that you created us to be. Give us the courage to go for you. And thank you, Gracious Father, for your son, Jesus Christ, and for your promise of your presence and your love! Amen

Texts :

Genesis 1 : 1 – 2 : 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13 : 11 – 13
Matthew 28 : 16 – 20

 

” POWER SURGE “

“POWER SURGE”

We’re celebrating the festival of Pentecost, the flame of the tongues opening hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s what Jesus had promised his followers, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. It was that which was promised by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit….Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Power in the name of the Lord…The Holy Spirit is poured out so that we can name our power source and speak of God’s deeds of power. This power, the Holy Spirit, will come alongside of us and be with us as an advocate, a helper – one who doesn’t free us from challenges, but empowers and equips us so that we can work together for the “common good”.

I’ve been thinking about power connectors, things that have to be connected to a power source so that they can function to the best of their capabilities. The power surge protector shuts off when too much power comes at one time, power that will damage pieces of equipment, like a lightning strike hitting a TV, computer, DVD, refrigerator. It shuts off power that will damage, destroy, possibly could even kill. Other kinds of connectors are a power cord and an extension cord. It links the appliance with the direct power source. It makes it possible for the appliance to work, for the computer to turn on, link us with the internet, connects us with network links for consumer business, for educational purposes, for research, for connections with work associates, friends and family through e-mail. The power source provides us with entertainment on television, allows us to use our DVD, I-pad, and other electronic devices; it is used to charge our phones, keeps our perishable food products safe for us to eat, unless we leave them unattended and unused for too long a period of time. The power source provides us with working appliances that enhance our quality of life. I further examined the power surge protector… the information that came with it says to use it only in dry locations. We apparently are not to use it where there is a water source – a precaution against electrocution. I know that’s true also of the other cords, and true of any device that connects itself to a power source of electricity. Now I’d like to make our analogy more human, more us.

It’s been 50 days since Passover for the Jews. In Acts we read that there was a sound from heaven, like the rush of a violent wind, like a tornado, filling the entire house where they are gathered. This wasn’t a gentle breeze blowing. Divided tongues of fire rested on each of them, they are filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Can you even begin to imagine this? Talk about a power surge! Can you imagine what it would be like to be there and have one of these believers now empowered to tell the message of God’s powerful deeds, of God’s powerful love for us? Can you imagine what it was like for these believers to be power-charged from heaven, to know that the power surge came from God’s throne! Can you imagine what it would be like to understand in your own native tongue the message delivered by someone who appeared to be from another nation, but speaking so you can understand their message, so that you could grasp it, you could get it? We hear that they were amazed, astonished, bewildered, perplexed, says they even “sneered” and suggested that the disciples were drunk. If we were there, might we not also feel like they did? Might we think they were hallucinating or on drugs? This is just the opposite of the story of the Tower of Babel, where their language was confused and the message spoken not understandable. Here, the power given brings clarity; the message is understandable to every tribe, every nation, to each person. The message is with the listeners’ grasp. Amazing!

Some of these believers had not shared in the experience of the 12, have not been with Jesus and other followers. They weren’t with Jesus when he promised to send the Advocate. They weren’t present for the final words of encouragement, of direction and explanation. Jesus reminds them that there’s more for them to hear, but at that particular time, as his time leading to the cross nears, they can’t hear all that they need to know. It is the Spirit of truth who will come and guide them, will speak and declare all that is from Jesus and from God. What amazing days these must have been for the close-knit band of followers. The church was just beginning…infants in Christ’s love, in Christ’s message. There were these 50 days since Passover, since the Resurrection, final words, final meals together, words of guidance, words of encouragement. Words of promise! The power surge from heaven comes…the tongues of fire are visible marks of the Spirit’s coming. No surge protector! They are now power charged, as if an extension cord now connects them to the Spirit of Truth. They in turn are empowered to go and tell. The first evangelists are given their mission statement…go and tell. Here we have the first Evangelism Committee, and they’re not supposed to stay secluded in the upper room. They have walking papers and are empowered to be about ministry. They are to proclaim the mystery of Easter and gather the community into the Triune God. They are not asked if they’d like to change and grow – they are changed. The church will grow!

Today we began worship with music and the Confession and Forgiveness, linking our baptism to the power source we have as we have been made children of God. If I were to bring out a power cord, plug it in to a power source and then headed for the baptismal font, I would hope you’d be a bit nervous about that, as I would be getting quite a jolt from the electricity connecting with the water. That power connection would threaten to destroy me. But I tell you that as you and I stand at the baptismal font, remembering that we are wet people, baptized and wet with Christ’s promise to send the Spirit of Truth into us, we are empowered by the Power Source, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God; it is a power surge that is life-giving, life-sustaining, life-changing, transforming us. We empowered to serve. We have a mission statement to tell the mighty deeds of God handed down through the generations.

Our own mission is to understand that we are a worshipping, learning, witnessing, and serving community of forgiven followers of Jesus Christ. We have a powerful message to share where we strive to foster spiritual growth in ourselves and others through all our actions and decisions. We welcome and value the talents of all who are brought to us by God’s will. Have you, who are empowered through your baptism, told the mission statement given by God that you are chosen, loved, forgiveness, reconciled, and that there is a feast here for you? Have you told others that we celebrate who we have been? Have you told others that we are excited about who we are today and about the possibilities for who we will be in the future? Have you told others that there is a place here for everyone? We likely have “dropped the ball” on telling others that we really do have something special that we are about – that we want them to come WITH us, sit WITH us, and work WITH us as we carry out the mission we’ve been given. We often bemoan the fact that we are declining, but it also is a fact that we have declined in inviting others to come and be with us, partner with us for the “common good” of our community as well as our church. We need to sense the breath of God blowing on us!

Today we are welcomed to the banquet feast. We share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; we are recharged with spiritual food that fills us with Jesus so that we can go out and share this good news. I urge you to take seriously that God is calling you and listening for your response –send me, Lord! Send me to feed children, clothe and help the needy, be a witness in all that I say and do. Make the message clear so that all who hear can understand it, can get it. No need for a power surge protector. God is with you! God IS your POWER SOURCE! Thanks be to God!

Texts :
Acts 2 : 1 – 21
Psalm 104 : 25 – 35 , 37
I Corinthians 12 : 3b -13
John 20 : 19 -23

BE MY WITNESSES

BE MY WITNESSES

Ascension Day was Thursday, and those who gathered in worship services heard scripture that spoke of Jesus being lifted up. It is the same words used as he is lifted up on the cross to be crucified. The image and the actual meaning of the verb used for ‘lifted up’ put Jesus’ resurrection in proper perspective. He is lifted up not in a direction, but in a place beyond the political scene, lifted up beyond the Roman Empire. He is lifted up to have power over sin, death, and the Devil. He is lifted up to have a place in people’s hearts. He was lifted up not to be captured in fine paintings; he was lifted up to become the head, the name above every name.

John’s gospel has painted us many pictures of who Jesus is. He is the Word made Flesh, who came to dwell among us, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the crucified one, the resurrected one. He is the one who sits at the head of the table, our great high priest. He is the one who makes God known to us. In this High Priestly Prayer, Jesus speaks in terms of endearment of “those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” He then asks for God to protect them … he knows what lies ahead for them – they would be hated, persecuted, killed for their witness, for their testimony. They would be hated for the kind of love they wanted to bring to the world. Jesus knew the struggles, the challenges that would come to those who loved and served him – not just in the days ahead for the disciples and followers present with him even to the day of his ascension, but for those followers who were yet to come, followers in 2017 as well. There would be all kinds of worldly powers which would seek to pull them away, divide them, scatter them, makes them less bold in their witness. There would need to be faithful followers who would devote themselves to prayer and coming together to be nourished in scripture and in the Supper he established. As the Acts text closes today, it says, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

There is so much more to our human experience than often meets the eye. There is so much more to our life journeys than ever is recognized, ever is told. Some years ago, I attended the production of “The Laramie Project” at Augustana College. This theatrical event speaks about the importance of acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness in our diverse and changing world. This play is more than just a story about Mathew Shepard who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on October 6, 1998. It’s not a play about homosexuality, gay bashing, or hate crimes, but is a play about the impact this horrendous crime had on the townspeople of Laramie, and whether we are consciously aware of it, it’s about the impact it has on us. The characters share what they witnessed and how it has impacted their lives. The play’s author, Moises Kaufman, tells how he and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie six times to conduct interviews with the people of the town. They transcribed and edited the interviews, and it is presented in a unique format of townspeople and the experiences also of those doing the interviews.

What was striking to me during this drama was the way living in, through, and telling of this story teaches us something about ourselves and about our human natures. There are the religious leaders of the community with varied doctrines, and yet one boldly steps forward to beg of the interviewers to “tell the truth, not to make it more or less than what happened.” There were interviews with his college professors and his advisor; the emergency room physician who was the person who found him, who came to believe that God directed his bike ride so that Mathew would not die tied to that stark fence. There was the gay-bashing preacher, infamous Fred Phelps, who proclaimed the perfect hate of God, and yet beyond that is the witness of those who experienced God’s amazing grace and God’s perfect love beyond this hateful crime. There was the testimony of his parents, particularly his father, who asks that Aaron Winkleman not be given the death penalty but a life sentence so that every day he would remember that Mathew did not have that day because of Aaron’s hatred. There was the message that something good did come out of such evil, such hatred. There was the message that it matters what we teach. There was the message that we need to think about what we do with what we learn when we encounter hate in our world.

When I think back to the experience of being there at the play – immersing myself in the witness of the characters portraying those who actually were interview, I think of the importance of nurturing and nourishing one another. We are called to love not hate. We live in the midst of tremendous atrocities even in just this week: children killed in their own alleys, people shot because they were bystanders not even involved in the conflict of others; children and youth killed at a concert in Manchester and Coptic Christians killed for the sake of control and power. We are lifted up to be witnesses to the one who prays that we will all be one, not divided by color, race, social status, gender; witnesses to God’s unconditional love, who bathes us in baptismal waters, claims us and names us, loves us to death in Jesus Christ, who is raised up above victorious over hate, over sin, over death. It matters what we teach – that we teach respect for God, that we teach that we gather to worship out of love rather than duty. It matters that we teach each generation to be stewards, teach the importance of generous hearts and giving because we are loved and we give back out of love. It matters that we teach responsibility, accountability, and discipleship as core to who we are as children of God. It matters that we teach the love of Jesus Christ and the grace and love of God. Every day of our lives should be a day that reflects the love of God as we interact with others and with all of creation in our actions and in the words we speak. It matters that we continue to proclaim beyond this last Sunday in Easter:

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Texts:

Acts 1 : 6 – 14
Psalm 68 : 1 – 10 , 33-36
I Peter 4 : 12 – 14 ,  5 : 6 – 11
John 17 : 1 – 11

 

” My Rock, My Living Stone “

“My Rock, My Living Stone”

The familiar gospel text we so often hear at funerals, the words spoken to Christ’s closest friends and followers after he’s washed their feet, told them of the coming betrayal, that Peter will deny that he knows him, and eats with them the Passover meal, but now tells them that they will eat this in a different way from this night on. Body, blood, given and shed for you. New Covenant, eat, drink, remember. He speaks words to them that they can’t begin to wrap themselves around, and yet in just hours they would be more vulnerable, more heart-broken, more frightened than they might ever have imagined. They will wonder if things will ever be the same, if they will ever be able to find their place in the world, in their families and their communities. They can’t begin to imagine what these words will come to mean to them. And they have many questions… don’t we? Their hearts were troubled, not knowing what was really taking place, what the future would look like, how it would all turn out. Aren’t those some of our questions as well?

It’s so important that we know that we have a place for us. We all long to find our place in life – a place in our family, a place with friends, a place in our work-a-day world, with our colleagues and co-workers, with our neighbors. Most of us go to great lengths to carve out our place, although some of us may do it less consciously. We begin in our childhood seeking love and a niche to fit into. As adolescents we are especially aware of what others’ are wearing and we want to dress like that, too. That seems to follow many of us for the rest of our lives. Just catching a few minutes of television here and there this past week, I realize just how fashion cycles, and we’re back to wearing things we wore twenty years ago. Bermuda shorts and seersucker are back big time for summer fashion. Flip-flops continue to be foot fashion. Even nail polish colors cycle…we wore some of the funky colors that we watch everyone now wear. There are those of us who are non-conformists and want to say that it doesn’t matter – we’re our own person and we don’t need time-specific fashion, hair styles, or the latest slang or text-messaging to speak for us. We are who we are. Yet, I believe that internally we all long to know that we belong, that there’s a place for us.

We feel more secure when we know our place in life and our place in relationships. We can find security in knowing that there is a place for us in God’s kingdom. Jesus reassures us that he has gone to prepare a place for us and that he will come again to take us to that place to be with him. He makes it very clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Not only do we hear these words of reassurance in John’s gospel, but Stephen’s witness to us as he is stoned for his convictions and testimony shows us that he knew that he belonged to God’s kingdom, and that Jesus would receive him even as he dies confessing his faith. Jesus is Stephen’s living stone, his strong rock, his tower of strength, the one who redeems and receives him, rescues him from his enemies. Jesus is the cornerstone of Stephen’s faith.

Our world may try to show us other cornerstones: build your life on athletics, build your life on academics, build your life on how many acres you farm, build your life on how much you earn in the work force, build your life on so many competitive cornerstones calling you, promising you success, wealth, popularity, happiness. But like the old Sunday School song of the foolish man and the wise man and where they build their houses, sand or rock, if we’re not rooted, grounded in our faith, our houses, our lives will go “plop” or “crash” like the house built on the sand. We hear strength in the Lord being called “my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, my tower of strength.”

In 1 Peter we hear that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We hear that we have a place with the one who has become our cornerstone, Jesus Christ our Risen Savior. We bring ourselves and our children to our baptismal fonts to claim a place in God’s kingdom as a child of God. We are washed and made new. We are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are chosen. The cornerstone of our life is Jesus Christ. As we have grown in our faith, we have continued to build our lives on that cornerstone, a foundation of faith for each of us. Our faith communities, our parents, our sponsors, were called to witness the promises that Christ has proclaimed to us in his life, the mission of his serving, healing, teaching ministry among us, his death and victory over sin and the devil, and his resurrection that gives us lives of hope and a promise that there is a place prepared for us in eternity. We then become the witnesses and the ones to proclaim what Christ is doing in our lives and in the world; we share the good news that Jesus Christ is our rock, our living stone, and a place is carved out for us in his earthly and heavenly kingdoms. We have the calling and the opportunities to be Christ’s hands and feet, to serve and go; his mouth to share God’s Word, his heart to love God and love one another. We have the promise that he will take us to himself. I picture that to mean even in this day and in this earthly kingdom that where Christ is, we are called to be. And we live in the hope and promise of being with him for all of eternity. So even with the questions Thomas and Peter and the others had, and even with the questions we ask and hope for answers that will reassure us, we can still trust that Jesus is the way; that Jesus always tells the truth; and Jesus promises us life – abundant life, life eternal. We are children of God, and nothing can separate us from our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior, the Risen Christ. He is our way, our truth, and our life. That’s good news! Let not your heart be troubled! Alleluia, Amen.

Texts :
Acts 7 : 55 – 60
Psalm 31 : 1 – 5 , 15 – 16
I Peter 2 : 2 – 10
John 14 : 1 – 14

” Shepherd Me, O God “

“Shepherd Me, O God”

Our text starts out by Jesus saying – very truly – or better yet, “I tell you the truth”. Jesus always tells us the truth. At first it sounds a bit like an Abbott and Costello routine with who’s on first – “who’s the gate, who’s the gatekeeper, whose voice, who is the Shepherd?” Even as Jesus makes the “I am” statements, it sounds like he has multiple identities. And there are other players in this scenario as well, bandits and thieves, those looking for what they can get by snatching it away. He also notes that there are thieves and bandits out there, those who will try to steal you away from the fold. Sometimes we are our own thieves and bandits. We steal from ourselves when we wander off and forget to come back to be fed and nourished with others in the flock. I wonder what you know about thieves and bandits… what steals you away from being who you want to be? Who or what steals you from Jesus? And what about this abundant life? It seems like there’s at times a very fine line between what offers us abundant life and what steals life from us.

We had sheep on the farm I was raised on. There were at least three sheep that I can say knew my voice … Ike, Skeeziks, and Emma. I was about six when Ike was born on a wintry night in the era when Ike Eisenhower was President. He came to the house to be warmed up and his mother refused to feed him when taken back to the lambing pen. So he became a bottle baby and it was my job to give him the early evening bottle. As he grew he would follow me around the barnyard from chore to chore, knowing that I usually would stop at the grain bin for a pocketful of oats. At six, I believed he loved me because I loved him and took care of him. Growing older, I began to realize that he probably loved me more because I fed him. We had a relationship – they trusted me and linked me to sustaining life in those morsels of oats and pasture they grazed in. Skeeziks and Emma were ewes in the flock, and they too sought the pocket-filled treats of oats, but did allow us to have a brief ride clutching their wool-laden backs. They also tend to have weak hearts, and too much exertion or running can drop a sheep in their tracks. They were easily spooked and would run themselves into corners in an effort to get away from their perceived enemy. They were fragile creatures in many ways, and needed watching. Because of their boxy structure, if they ended up on their side on a hillside, they could not right themselves and would suffocate. It was the shepherd, the one tending them, who needed to come and help them get back in balance, to right them. They also preferred to be lead than pushed or driven from behind. They wanted the shepherd to be the one out front, making sure things were safe for them.

We may not want to see ourselves as these fragile creatures, but we get ourselves boxed in corners, too. We sometimes have trouble getting in balance unless we have assistance to get back on our feet. Jesus, our gate, is here to guide us, to right us and help us find our balance, to offer us food that will nourish us spiritually – more than a snack at his table, but real body and blood that fills us and strengthens us. This gate, this shepherd knows us, calls us by name, and is with us to do battle with that which is evil and steals us from being about God’s mission and steals our very lives in ways that we sometimes can’t describe. Jesus acts as our passage way to the abundant life that we have been promised. Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is the door, the gate, and Jesus knows us, calls us by name, leads us – tells us the truth. We enter the gate to God’s Kingdom through baptism, being named and claimed, made a child of God, and the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us. Jesus Christ indeed is our Good Shepherd, and models for us how to care for God’s sheep, and how to lead. As he is our gate – our door, so we can lead others through this gate so that we might grow in faith and grow in our own faithful serving. There are many thieves and bandits – those things that steal us away from an abundant life… it might be the latest fad, such as those new “mud-stained” jeans that cost over $400, or food, beverages, vehicles, or electronics that promise us a better life if we only add them to our lives.

The text from Peter today speaks to us about being disciples, followers who can be about God’s work with conviction because Christ has already cleared the path, destroyed sin, death, and the devil by his sacrifice on the cross for us. Sometimes we can use the excuse, “I don’t get all this Bible language – I don’t understand what God’s trying to say to me.” It’s baseball season, and perhaps some of us are more into baseball than others, have a team we especially root for. One of my favorite players from years ago was Ernie Banks who played for the Cubs. He used to say, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame … let’s play two!” Ernie loved the game and he loved being on the field, playing through some rather dismal losing seasons and some very near challenges for the pennant. He was always eager for the new season of spring training and those summer days of game after game, giving it his all. We are in a variety of seasons of our lives. Some of us are just beginning spring training; others have been playing for many innings and have had a variety of kinds of seasons – losing, struggling, elated with great hits and moving up the ladder of success. Some have retired but still love the game and keep coming to the ball park because “it’s a beautiful day for a ballgame.” God is our manager, Jesus our coach, and regardless of what part of the season you’re in, it’s a beautiful day, week, year, lifetime for God’s game. Let’s hustle out through the gate of Jesus Christ and play our best ball for the mission of God is in front of us, and we’re being called to give it our best effort. There will come that day when we will be called to God’s Hall of Fame, and that’s a promise worth hustling for. That’s an Easter Promise the Shepherd keeps for us. AMEN

Texts :
Acts 2 : 42 – 47
Psalm 23
I Peter 2 : 19 – 25
John 10 : 1 – 10

On The Road Again – Our Road To Emmaus

On the Road Again – Our Road to Emmaus

It is the same day as the women and Peter and John visiting the tomb and finding it empty, the first day of the week and these are other disciples, Peter and possibly James, Jesus’ brother. It was not what they had hoped for. What has taken place is far from what they had hoped for, that after all the sacrifices they had made that things would have turned out differently. Can you imagine walking along and encountering someone on your walk who joins you and asks you what you’re talking about with your companion, or perhaps you’re alone and talking to yourself, and they ask you what’s on your mind? For some reason you just don’t recognize the person for who they are and begin to fill them in on something they’re already aware of – in fact, they are a key player in your thoughts and what’s going on. It’s a peculiar kind of irony that they are a core piece of what’s on your mind, on your heart. Emmaus was like that: people trying to tell the only one who knows what is going on about what has happened. The first irony of everyone’s Emmaus is the “the irony of trying to tell the only one who really knows what is going on.” Cleopas (Peter) and James are neither going to Galilee to meet the risen Christ nor staying in Jerusalem to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as he told them. They had been told where to go and wait for Jesus; that he would come to them following his resurrection. And now they encounter this talkative stranger and describe to him the brokenness of their dreams and hopes. They had been convinced that Jesus was a great prophet, a prophet of marvelous deeds, a prophet who gave great promise of delivering Israel to the golden age that would surpass Solomon’s. With sadness they spoke of the travesty perpetrated by the Jewish synagogue and state officials, the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Now the rumor out and about was that he had risen. They question this stranger – hasn’t he heard – is he the only one in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? What irony – Peter and James were talking to the only one who knew what really happened on those three days. They were talking to the prisoner interrogated, to the king mocked, to the Son of God who knew all too well what it felt like to be scourged. They were talking to the only one who had seen the possibilities in Pilate, the fear in Peter, and the desire to do in Joseph and Nicodemus. They were talking to the only one who could describe death, death by crucifixion, death from the victim’s point of view. The irony was that they thought they were informing him, telling him what he needed to know.

This is everyone’s Emmaus! Don’t we always want to believe that we are the only ones who know what really is going on, what the “real” truth is? Don’t we know all too well what it’s like to have those hopes and dreams that are crushed or things don’t turn out as we had hoped? It is evident in the calling of the disciples that Jesus knew all that was to be known. It was evident in his announcing the future that Jesus knew all that was to be known about going up to Jerusalem and suffering many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, dying and rising again. It was evident in his teaching the disciples how to pray that Jesus knew all about the needs of others before they formulated a statement of their needs. He knows! Jesus knows! He knows the most secret and explosive needs, those most carefully guarded and seldom admitted, those absolutely protected needs that bring tears to our eyes when we think we are alone and unnoticed.

Jesus also knows that we need to be appreciated, affirmed, not criticized; understood, not ignored; forgiven, not judged; lifted up and loved, not put down because we forgot to pick up something at the grocery story. He knows what burdens us and makes us sad and worn with worry. He knows how hard it is at times for us to share what is on our hearts with others. And yet, we seem to have a need to fill him in on every detail. I can really identify with this as I’m a verbal person; it’s how I process things, I talk them out loud so that I can “SEE and HEAR” my words outside myself. Others are quite the opposite; they process internally, they see and hear their words inside themselves. The irony of all of this is that we think we understand what is going on more than the only one who really knows.

The second irony of everyone’s road to Emmaus is the “irony of not listening to the only one who knows what is going on.” Luke is not telling us something new when he says in our text, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Jesus has been doing that, precisely that, for three long years. In his first sermon in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, he quoted a passage from Isaiah that described the work of the messiah and then declared that that passage was fulfilled by Jesus himself. In his farewell discourse in the upper room he again made it perfectly clear that the events of the day were his fulfillment of the Scripture. At his Ascension Christ again explained what was happening in terms of that which had been proclaimed in Scripture. He knew! He knew what was happening. He had told them and was telling them again. But they couldn’t perceive it; they couldn’t hear the truth and recognize it for what it was, what it is. They almost went through that day without recognizing the risen Christ. There is everyone’s road to Emmaus. It is the irony of not really hearing the only one who knows what is going on. Jesus says where two or three are gathered in his name “I am there among them.” He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” Clearly Jesus is telling us what is going on. The only one who really knows says that he is coming among us; to call us, to prepare us, to empower us, and to equip and to send us out as witnesses. This is not one of those take-it-or-leave-it occasions placed low on the priority list. This is the Risen Christ saying that he is coming among us to complete the call to us and to set a fire in our bones that won’t be quenched until we are covering the earth with the good news.

The good news for us is that the risen Christ does come among, comes in a familiar pattern, promises to meet us in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. It’s the very time that Peter and James recognize him, in the place where he promises to meet them, meet us. Perhaps in the horrors of those three days, they now have a flash-back to a meal in an upper room, blessing, breaking, giving, sharing himself. Now they knew, now they could believe their eyes. What a wondrous moment for them. And it is our moment as well. We are all on journeys, roads we walk when we are filled with pain, confusion, sometimes stumbling. At other times, joy-filled, with steps of certainty. It is on these roads where we encounter Jesus, the one who calls us in our baptism to vocation, to be servant of others, to repay out of love what we have already been given out of love. It is on these roads where we come to grips with who we are, what motivates us, which fork in the road to take. It is on these roads where we discover who is core to our joy and fulfillment, our grief and burdens carried. On these roads where we have Jesus with us, are our own hearts not burning within us while he talks to us on our own road? To really think about our own hearts burning with Jesus in the core?

In the sacrament, Jesus comes to us and our eyes are opened – when the bread is broken and placed in our hands. He knows our fatigue, our sorrow, and our tears and heavy hearts. When the bread is broken and placed in our hands, our spirit puts together prayers that are otherwise too complicated to be expressed in words. We say, “Amen, let it be so” as a way of acknowledging the awe and wonder in this gift, this presence of Christ for us, in us. Perhaps faintly at first and then more firmly we are actually able to hear Christ, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for YOU for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Everyone’s road to Emmaus is that rare moment when our despair is sacramentally shattered in this awesome gift of Christ’s presence for US – YOU AND ME. We know that we have experienced the risen Lord and can leave the table, fed and nourished, our hungry hearts are satisfied because he comes to fill us. We celebrate that Christ walks with us on our roads, meets us and feeds us so that we may be all that we are created to be – because he knows – he’s the only one who really knows who we are and who we are called to be. Listen! Our Risen Lord is calling! Let us proclaim to the world,

“Alleluia! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Texts :

Acts 2 : 14a , 36 – 41
Psalm 116 : 1 – 4 , 12 – 19
I Peter 1 : 17 – 23
Luke 24 : 13 – 35

 

EYE WITNESSES

EYE WITNESSES

Easter Sunday was just a week ago. Some of you came and saw the sun shine through the windows of the church, casting sunbeams into the sanctuary. It didn’t matter whether it was at 9:00 AM at Tabor or 10:30 AM at First – God’s Son was shining in our worship. The time you came didn’t matter, but that you came to worship the Risen Christ was the importance of the day and the importance of your presence. Today the faithful return…the hidden Easter eggs have been found, the candy eaten. The color-dyed eggs have now made their way into potato salad or egg-salad sandwiches. It isn’t that today isn’t just as important as last Sunday because we again gather together to worship and praise the Risen Christ. Yes, Easter Sunday is indeed the most holy day of our Church year. As Easter people, those who are witnesses to the Risen Christ, we continue to gather in churches throughout the world to express our Resurrection faith that Jesus is “my Lord and my God”, just as Thomas declares in today’s gospel.

This Sunday Thomas gets a rather bad rap on this Sunday that follows the Festival of the Resurrection. He is remembered for his doubts… his desire to see what the other disciples got to see for themselves, Jesus standing among them. How soon we forget that Thomas courageously stated at Bethany as Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem, stating that he will be arrested and crucified there, “Then let us go so that we may die with him.” What about the time when Jesus is speaking to the disciples about his going away, and he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-4) Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” It was Thomas who was paying attention and asked the important question.

Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus breathed on the disciples giving them the gift of the one he had promised, the Holy Spirit. Thomas was seeking the truth that had already been shared with the others, who are quick to tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” Can you imagine how that would sound coming from Simon Peter, the one who wanted to build three booths and keep the transfiguration all to himself; Simon Peter who wasn’t so sure he wanted Jesus to wash his feet, but then asked that not only his feet, but his hands and his head. The Simon Peter who said I’ll never deny you, who denied his Lord three times. Why do we label Thomas the doubter when Peter and the others had their own moments of doubt and denial? As Thomas gets this opportunity to stand in Jesus’ presence post-resurrection, touching, feeling, seeing for himself, he makes his faith confession, “My Lord and my God!” Why do we tend to remember the worst about him rather than his eye-opening experience where his doubts are dissolved as he has his faith confirmed?

Thomas is also called ‘the Twin’… might we be the other twin? What about us? In what ways are we like these disciples, hiding behind locked doors? Jesus had told Mary to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee; what are they doing hiding in the house? Are we hiding behind our own doors of doubts? Are we somehow hoping that we won’t run into the Risen Christ and have Jesus reveal himself to us? And if we discover that we are indeed standing in his presence, what are we afraid he will ask of us as he reminds us that in our baptism we too have received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Are we afraid he’ll ask us to keep our words of promise? Are we afraid he’ll ask us to go and be witnesses to this peace, this shalom he offers to us, to the whole world? What would it mean for us, for the world, if we truly lived out this shalom, this wholeness in relationships with God and with one another that would lead to well-being and harmony for every person? I’m sure we think it would be wonderful, but how in the world do we live it, live into it, give it, share it, experience it ourselves? Our children may turn to you to have their doubts put to rest. As grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, baptismal sponsors, Sunday School teachers, mentors, choir members, and brothers and sisters in Christ, your faith, your witness to the Risen Christ, his life, death and

resurrection, the love of God come down for us, for forgiveness of sin, and for the promise of life eternal; these will be the truths that they will need to hear over and over as they explore and learn them for their selves.

Our baptism is our entrance into a life-long journey, a life-long learning just who this Jesus is, and who this God is who calls us by name, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and marks and claims us with the cross of Christ forever. We have just scratched the surface by the time we do our confirmation preparation and studies. There is so much more to experience, to study, to learn. We often short-change ourselves when we “hang it up” on Confirmation Sunday, when we see it as a graduation rather than a truly new beginning of exploring our maturing faith. We are all gifted in different ways and God wants to use us and those gifts for the mission given to us to be about. It takes prayer – at home and in our sanctuary, it takes time and being present with one another. There are a multitude of tasks to be done in order that ministry can take place and can continue, and no one person can do them all.

We all have our doubts, our fears, or questions. God, in Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, does not leave us alone behind locked doors, but sheds light in our darkness and welcomes us to “come and see”, to take this good news that Jesus comes into our lives out of love, makes us children of God, and promises to never leave us. Let us be as bold as Thomas to profess our faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Texts :
Acts 2 : 14a , 22 – 32
Psalm 16
I Peter 1 : 3 – 9
John 20 : 19 – 31

THE EMPTY TOMB OF JESUS SPEAKS

THE EMPTY TOMB OF JESUS SPEAKS

The road to Jerusalem runs through a cemetery… from Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus and his followers then continued their journey to Jerusalem for Passover. We’ve been on this Lenten journey that has brought us to an Upper Room, then to the Garden of Gethsemane, and into Pilate’s courtyard. The journey then led to the Mount of Calvary at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Joseph of Arimathea has asked for Jesus’ body as he is taken down from the cross. He has a tomb in the garden cemetery where he wishes to lay Jesus’ body. It is almost time for the Sabbath, and he knows he will have to hurriedly prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Nicodemus has brought burial spices, and their rabbi-teacher-friend is now laid to rest in this rock-hewn grave. The one who had no bed but a manger, now lays in a borrowed tomb, sealed by a stone as the Sanhedrin fear that he might just fulfill what he said he would do – rise from the dead. Or perhaps his followers would come and snatch the body and make claims of this resurrection.

What if we come to the cemetery in the garden where they have laid our Lord. We often go to cemeteries to visit the place where our loved ones have been buried. There is some connection, even though we know their souls have gone on. What if the empty tomb of Jesus could speak to us? What would the empty tomb tell us?

First, it would tell us of death – of suffering, grief, and death. Others have made the pilgrimage to the site of Jesus’ tomb to remember his death and resurrection. The Roman Emperor Hadrian tried to discourage this by building a temple to Aphrodite over the spot, but it just made the place more obvious. Then Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, tore it down and built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there. It has been knocked down, burned, and rebuilt many times, and most recently it has been refreshed and opened for those making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and Holy Week. It looks like a miniature church inside a big church, covered with marble and gaudy ornaments, with the remains of the hollow cubicle of rock hewn from the original cliff. However, all the glitter and gold does not keep it from being what it was – a tomb, one that held suffering, grief, and death. It holds all those who grieved his

crucifixion, and not matter how hard we try to pretty it up, death is awful. Oh, we have words that we say to try to comfort others, but yet the pain of death remains. We don’t like death even when we know as Christians the promise of eternal life has victory over death. The tomb says that our infinite, eternal God is now connected to the finite, mortal human beings in their deaths. Jesus Christ, Son of God, took on human flesh like ours, was born, lived, suffered, died, and was buried as we are. The tomb says that God knows all about it, knows our pain. The tomb of Jesus always tells us that God is not far away from our own pain and suffering. As the 23rd Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The empty tomb says Jesus has been there, but now he’s risen and alive. He has made it safe for us to go there too. He will be with us all the way to heaven. The empty tomb also speaks of love. Death can provide for many different things to happen in families. Sometimes it brings everyone closer together, at other times, it seems to be the moment of great divides. Sometimes fences are mended, sometimes bigger walls are built.

Love brought Joseph and Nicodemus together to lovingly lay Jesus’ body in this new tomb, to prepare his body with the spices Nicodemus brought, and tenderly wrap him in grave cloths. Others who loved Jesus had left the crucifixion to mourn, to gather with those who had scattered before the courtyard trial, and had gone back to the Upper Room. Love brought them together in their grief and pain. On this first morning of the new week after Sabbath, the women wanted to go to the tomb to give Jesus a more proper burial, to complete what had hurriedly been done on that Friday afternoon. Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well as Johanna and perhaps others as well planned to go out of love to where Jesus’ body lay. Matthew’s gospel tells us that there was a great earthquake. There is an angel present and the stone sealing the tomb is rolled away. Those precious words: “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.” Can you even begin to imagine their amazement as they see for

themselves that he is not there? Fear in the midst of this experience and yet with great joy, they obediently run to share this good news. And even more amazing, Jesus meets them as they are running to tell. They took hold of his pierced feet and worshiped him, and Jesus speaks those precious words that they have just heard, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The empty tomb of Jesus speaks of love! It proclaims what Jesus fulfilled all that he said he would. He has descended to hell to let the Devil know that death could not hold him, that God has been victorious of sin, death and the Devil. And now he has risen as he said, and there is the promise of forgiveness of sin, forgiveness of betrayal and running away; there is the promise of life eternal, salvation has conquered death. Love has one. The empty tomb of Jesus tells of life. Those who had felt threatened by Jesus, condemned him to die, knew all along he was the Christ, the promised son of David. They wanted him death; he threatened their jobs and their control over the people. Could it be that what worried them is knowing Jesus really is who he said he was and that he might walk out of the tomb alive, just like Lazarus, whose resurrection they had witnessed? Therefore, the stone in front of the tomb was meant to hold him. But love and life could not be held by them or by the stone. Listen to the empty tomb! It tells of God’s love being more powerful than death, and Jesus lives, and our sins are really gone. Because Jesus lives, eternal life and resurrection have been won for every sinner. We know because of the witnesses, those who saw it for themselves – Mary Magdalene, Mary, Jesus’ mother, the disciples who meet Jesus on the Emmaus road, and those to whom he meets back in the Upper Room, and in a private appearance to Peter. We know because we have been invited to “Come, see… the tomb is empty.” We know because in our baptism, we have been made children of God; those promises of forgiveness of sin and life eternal are promises for us. Paul tells us in the Book of Romans, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, in order that as just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The empty tomb of Jesus speaks and tells us that newness of life is ours! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Texts :
Acts : 10 : 34 – 43
Psalm 118 : 1 – 2 , 14 – 24
Colossians 3 : 1 – 4
Matthew 28 : 1 – 10

” THE BLOOD OF CHRIST “

“THE BLOOD OF CHRIST”

Given and shed for you … Life-giving blood shed for you. We know the importance of blood. Pulsing through our veins, sustaining our lives; blood sent to our brains, to our vital organs; precious, necessary for life.

Luther’s Small Catechism, With Awe and Love, has been our Midweek services’ theme. We’ve moved from Ten Commandments to the Apostles’ Creed and what we believe, to the Lord’s Prayer, and then the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. We’ve been on this journey whether we realize it or not, because Lent happens whether we engage our journey or not. Our Sunday gospel lessons also paralleled our midweek lessons. We heard how about the words Jesus has spoken to heal those who could not see, could not speak. We’ve heard how his heart has remained true to God’s will. We’ve heard how things change when Jesus comes into our lives.

Where have our feet taken us during these six weeks? Where have we stood, where have our feet taken us: in a grocery store line, in the church aisle to come to the communion table? What words have come from our mouths – words of kindness, words of direction, words of sorrow, words of comfort, words that express love for another? What have our ears heard, our eyes seen? Have we felt our heart tugged at by the needs of others or by our love and caring for others?

This day … there is preparation for Passover. Feet that have walked mile upon miles to reach Jerusalem bring followers together in an upper room. Feet that took a betrayer to work out a plan now gathers at table with the others. We see the picture of the 12 gathered. There likely were more than just the 12 men there; Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Lazarus, Salome, Johanna, and others were likely there as well. Jesus’ stands, ties the towel around himself, and pours water into a basin. He kneels and washes feet … dusty, smelly, calloused feet. What is he doing? Why is he doing this? Washing … making clean … serving, loving. Now he puts words to his doing, his washing. Do you know what I have done TO YOU? He puts into words

what he has shown them, to be servant, to not see one above another, to love – to love even the one who will betray him in just hours. Jesus says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done TO YOU….If you know these things, you are blessed if you DO THEM.” Do them to another, love one another. He says, “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.”

It didn’t end in that upper room. It didn’t end in his sharing the bread and telling that this would become his body which would be given for them, for us. It didn’t end in his sharing the cup and telling that this would become his blood, a new covenant, a new way of being, that it would be poured out for the forgiveness of sin – their sin, our sin. Eat and drink, remember me, Jesus says. Remember that God is always acting. God lovingly remembers God’s creatures and the creation. When we do this, when we eat, when we drink, we remember the blood of Jesus Christ is given in love, given to fulfill the mending of our relationship with God. Precious, life-giving blood shed for us so that we are enabled and empowered to love one another, given and shed for us so that we can start over. Given and shed for us because God is gracious and we are redeemed, bought with the price of Jesus’ blood.

Today … our feet bring us forward, and we hold out our hands to have them washed and anointed, moving on to Christ’s table, we hold out our hands to receive his body given for us, his blood poured out, shed for us. Our mouths proclaim that he is our Lord and Savior. Our ears, our eyes, hear and see the gifts given for us. Our heart beats in our chests, beats in love for the One who gives his life for us, and we love because he first loved us. We are given the strength and the heart to love one another. We are the body of Christ, we live in the blood of the covenant given to us that we love one another as we have first been loved. Amen

Texts:

Exodus 12 : 1 – 13
Psalm 50 : 1 – 15
I Corinthians 11 : 23 – 26
John 13 : 1 – 20

It’s More Than The Parade

It’s More than the Parade

From the crowd came the affirming shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” They shouted their hosannas to the one they believe came to save them. In a few days the same crowd turned in contempt and scorn, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” It’s as if humankind just can’t quite open its heart to the God who saves through sacrifice. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy of our Lord’s passion and suffering. Here is the one who has the power to redeem their souls if they would let him. In his very hands he had life for them, not only life after death but life in this world, with more love, more peace. But they mocked and reviled him, turned their backs on him, betrayed him. The blood they trampled in the dust of Calvary was God’s gift to them, but they simply refused to accept it. This is the real tragedy and passion of our Lord – then and now – our rejection of the grace of God. You say, “not me”, but we are all guilty, either by commission or omission. We can be hard-hearted or fainthearted; there are those times when we just will not have him if it means that such sacrifice must now come alive in us. We call ourselves by his name, many, but not all, observe the holy days or at least Christmas and Easter. We wear the cross around our necks and over our hearts, but when it gets right down to it we too are a part of the crowd that turns on him. We scorn and forsake him by the way we live our lives, by the attitudes, the prejudices, the little hates, the good we refuse to do for one another, our envy and jealousies. We mock Christ as if we had slapped his face as those we read of in our gospel reading. In our own Jerusalems, he is despised and rejected. The cross he carries is not nearly as cruel and burdensome as our betrayal and denial are.

We don’t want to see it and we certainly don’t want to admit to it. We deny that it is us; we get stiff-necked, hold back love because we feel short-changed or our feelings are too easily hurt; we love only those we deem loveable. Yet Christ keeps coming back, keeps sharing himself with us, returns to love us, returns to forgive us, returns to offer himself for us – over and over. We know when we’ve been nudged to change, when we go the extra mile, when we forgive seventy times seven, when we turn the other check, when we

love one another, including the stranger or the neighbor that we really don’t think needs our love, when we go out of our way to help someone in trouble. We know in our heart of hearts, in that soul place inside of us, what it is Christ asks of us. Yet we tend to say can’t we get by with just a little bit of sacrifice – not the whole giving up self for the other thing. Holy Week makes us uncomfortable. We’d rather just come for the parade and go home happy. We’d rather not take off our socks and let Christ wash our smelly feet. We’d rather not watch as he sweats blood in the Garden as he prays that this cup might pass away. We’d rather not see the betrayal, the kiss, the mockery of a trial, the beating. We’d rather not sense the weight of the cross as he staggers and falls. We’d rather not hear the hammering of nails and the cries of pain. We’d rather not stand at the foot of the cross and see the life snuffed out of this one who comes to be the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd. The passion and suffering of Christ is not something that could be half-way. It was a total sacrifice, once for all, for us.

Christ gives his all for you and for me. His grace keeps on coming, is offered over and over in baptismal waters that cleanse us and give us new life, in his life-giving body and blood, shared in the meal he commands us to eat. For he says, “Take, eat – this is my body given for you. Take, drink – this is my blood poured out for you.” Today as Children of God, we come to the table he has spread for us. It is a gift. It is not earned, it is not ever fully understood for what this sacrifice really is – it’s beyond our comprehension. We can’t fully understand how someone could love us so much that they would give up their life for us. God loves us beyond our understanding. God sent Jesus to be the Word that came to earth to live with us. God’s Word is a living word, a word of hope and promise, a word God does not give cheaply nor does God ever forget the promise made to us. That’s why Jesus keeps coming back, keeps loving us, keeps sharing his grace with us. It’s a forever Word. Eat and drink, know that Jesus died for you. We can start over – and over – and over. It’s not just the parade; it’s what came after the parade. You’ll need to come back over and over to keep hearing the rest of the story. You’ll need to come back over and over to eat and drink and to remember a love beyond all love. Amen

Texts :

Matthew 21 : 1 – 11
Isaiah 50 : 4 – 9a
Psalm 31 : 9 – 16
Philippians 2 : 5 – 11
Matthew 27 : 11 – 54