It Makes No Sense at All, sermon 9/28/14

Matthew 21:23-32.
28 September, 2014

Audio link here.

It Makes No Sense at All

It makes no sense at all! None. Nadda. Zip.

Jesus comes into town ridding on the back of a donkey. At first he is mocked and ridiculed by the powerful elite – both the temple leaders and the roman empire. This backwater teacher who has been riling people up up north has made his way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and he tries to make a scene, but he is on a donkey. He is ridiculous looking. They have seen him on the outskirts of town beginning the ride, but as he makes his way to the city walls something in their passive perception shifts and they notice that instead of jeering and mocking crowds gathered – people are waving palm branches. An act intended for royalty. They are shouting ‘Hosannah in the Highest!’ they seem to be welcoming their messiah. Their warrior king riding victorious on his steed. They are seeing something the leaders can not see. Their future is opened before them.

It makes no sense at all!

The rabbi makes his way into the city, through the heart of the city. The chief priests and elders ware watching form their perch at the pinnacle of the temple. The legion of Pilate in town for the festivities anxiously watch as the what could be the roots of rebellion begin to stir. Jesus makes his way to the temple.

The noon day sun was shinning and illuminating the golden edifice of the Holy Mount. The smoke form the altar was rising above the temple giving up an odor pleasing to the lord and looking like the cloud that lead their forbears through the wilderness into this – their promised land. The cacophonous jazz of animals, ceremonial music, thousands of people in many languages, sang to the power of the God who was being remembered this week as preparations were being made for Pesach.

Followed by the multitudes, Jesus stepped off the donkey and made his way up the stairs – the same stairs his parents found him on all those years ago when they had come to celebrate this very feast of remembrance. He walked with the stride of a man coming home after a much too long absence. He walked like a son returning home to his Father, as he ascended the stairs with each step the pace quickened. Longing to be in the Holy Place, he began sprinting through the Hulldah Gate into the Court of the Gentiles. There he was greeted by the familiar scene of booths and tents selling animals for sacrifice.

This was a common and long held tradition, but what had happened over time was that instead of providing goods at a fair price – theses salespeople knew they had a monopoly and began to gouge their prices. What was intended as a way for the poor to buy necessary sacrifice had become a money making scheme and the chief priests and elders were of course getting their cut. The poor were being denied their sacrifice because of the love of money. This scene drove the peaceful rabbi, Jesus, to begin to turn over the tables. To release the birds in the cages, and give the animal to the people. This scene of oppression could not be tolerated in the Temple. If they had been selling at a fair price and not scamming, I am sure Jesus would not have been upset – for by being fair all would be able to worship God.

Of course the tearing apart of the temple was witnessed by the chief priests and elders. And they made their way to the to the court of the gentiles. They found the man from Galilee and began to scream at him as he was healing those who came to him. The hurting. The sick. The broken. The oppressed. They saw him and saw the future was wide open.

It makes no sense at all.

After all who needed were healed, Jesus got up and left the temple. Knowing there were daggers being stared into his back as he left. That night he went to Bethany. Slept like a son come home. The future was wide open.

The next day, he and the twelve – followed by those who left the temple with him – made their way back to Jerusalem. He passed a fig tree and cursed it and it withered and died. The disciples were astounded. He had the power to control nature, they knew, but now he had authority. They knew that there was a meaning to this. But it wasn’t clear – but Jesus knew that he those who carry themselves with grander and elegance can just as easily be dead and withered on the inside. Their future was stunted.

Into the temple they went again, this time they made it no further than the gates when who appeared but the chief priest and his friends. They saw the scene yesterday and were not about to let him agitate the people again. Pilate had heard about the shenanigans at the temple yesterday and had sent an envoy to let them know in no uncertain terms that he could easily put an end to this festive, and thusly, put an end to their profits.

The chief priests and elders began to question Jesus about the authority under which he acted, and he, in good rabbinic tradition answered with a question. Knowing that John was acting under the authority of God, he wondered if they would admit it – he knew they knew. But fearing loosing their own authority, and handing it over to Jesus, and fearing that if they said that John was acting on his own there would be a riot – they answered with an assured, “We don’t know.”

“Then I am not going to tell you by whose authority I act,” Jesus said. “But hear this parable and tell me what you think. There was a man with two boys. To the first one he said ‘Go work in the vineyard for me.’ ‘Dad, No,’ said the first one, but later he went and did his work. The dad said to the second son, ‘Please go do some work in the vineyard.’ And this son said, ‘I go, Lord.’ But he did not go. Now, which one of the boys did the work of their father?”

Looking at him like he was an idiot, they said, “Duh! The first one.”

With his sideways smirk that told the disciples that he knew they did not get it, “Amen, you are right. And so it is in the Kingdom of God, the tax collectors and prostitutes will be there before you. If you didn’t listen to John who came in justice and holiness – and you didn’t believe him (and you know whose authority he was under) – and the tax collectors and prostitutes did listen and believe and their lives were changed; you saw all of this and you still didn’t believe.”

They all looked at each other and the leaders grumbled, “It makes no sense at all.”

***

Like the second son, the leaders, who from their perches of power showed all the outward signs of devotion; leaders who glowed with their polished piety; who knew all the verses by heart; who not only offered sacred scarifies, but were the ones to do the sacrifice – these leaders were always saying – I go, Lord. They would paint the proper image so all the people would know they were the ones whom the Lord favored.

But when it came time to actually do the work – the work on behalf of the father, and not necessarily work that would profit them, they had better things to do. If they had to get their hands dirty, the disappeared.

We don’t know where they went. We just know that the job was left undone. Perhaps, after being filled up at church on Sunday they got their dose of the Holy and didn’t need more. The weekly routine was complete and the ritual met. They were fed for the moment, and that is what was needed. We don’t know.

We do know that they couldn’t see what Jesus was seeing. That, like the prophets before him, God really wasn’t interested in all the polished piety or skillful sacrifice. God was seeking workers who could see what God sees. Their long term view is askew. They can not see the future God has set before them.

The first son, the one who says he won’t go and work, but later goes to the vineyard, begins doing the work of the Kingdom of God. Again, we don’t know why he said no initially.

Maybe he as angry at the father? Maybe the father had let him down one too many times. Maybe the father had take all of his friends and peers away from him. Maybe the son had his own family to take care of and was too busy trying to survive to acknowledge the work that the father has set before him. Maybe this son was trapped in a cycle of violence where if he showed allegiance to his father’s gang and rival gang would try to take him out. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he had been let down one too many times; maybe he had been working in the vineyard with of the father before only to have been beaten down and ignored – told that his methods were not the way it has been done in the past. Maybe this son wanted to work for the father but was scared off by other workers.

We don’t know why he chose tell the father no. But we do know that he ended up working, and I want to believe it is because he could see the long story. He saw the future that working in the vineyard would give. A future that was wide open, and the father’s blessing – his inheritance.

I know many times I have found myself on either side of this story. Saying yes, and not doing; saying no, and going to work. This is the beauty of this passage. This is one of the main points of Matthew’s gospel. We are called to work in the vineyard. The future is open and the future is ours. Through Christ, God has given us the opportunity to be co-workers in the vineyard.

And the future is ours. The future is open – and that makes no sense at all.

Jesus comes to town on a donkey and the people see the future that God is bringing to Jerusalem. The future where the powerful are laid low and the low are lifted high. The king comes on a donkey. The powerful see what is – the poor see what could be – what will be. The future is open – for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus turns the tables in the temple and the people see the release of the captives; the shame of debt and inequality are abolished. This is the future in which all debts are paid and no one is held in bondage by anyone else. This is the future of liberation. And yet the powerful see their profits disappearing. They see their corporation crumbling. They see their own power being knocked over. They see the world as something the need to fight to hold on to; and the poor see the world as God intends – an upsides down empire. The future is ope to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus heals the untouchable. Kisses the lame. Hugs the leper. Embraces the elderly. Blesses the children, there in the presence of the Holy of Holies. Jesus reaches out the outcast and brings them into the Kingdom of God. But what the world sees, what the powerful see is a man who is humanizing the immigrant; they see a man who is giving voice to the voiceless telling them they are something when the powerful demand they are nothing. What they see is people beginning to see themselves as the image of the Divine that they are. They are seeing their world crumble and God’s world rise. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus curses the fig tree – showing the world how the majestic, in the blink of an eye, can fall and crumble – how the institutions of power and oppression will eventually rot from the inside out. How a government that reaps profits from prisons – prisons that are guaranteed an 80% fill rate; will crumble from the inside because hope is extinguished. Families are destroyed. People are thrown in jail because they can’t afford their parole officer; profits determine law and people are ignored. The future is open for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus acts on the authority of the one who is the planter of the vineyard and has called us all to be workers. To be workers for equality. To be workers for justice. To be workers for the Reign of God. Jesus acts on the authority of the one who waters the vineyard in the life-giving waters of baptism and is giving a place for each of us to work. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

God’s vision of the future is not one one either/ors, but both/ands. God’s vision of the future makes no sense at all because God calls us all to the table. God calls us, and we may go willingly right away; we may say no and show up later. God calls us all – even those who say yes and don’t show up. The call to work is not taken away. The future is open to us. God’s future is open.

A future that makes its mark on the present. Jesus shows what the future looks like. Jesus paints the picture. Our job is to continue with the work. Showing the world that in God’s future radical hospitality is the way – that at God’s table all are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you are here without documentation; it doesn’t matter if you are gravely ill; it doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or if you are struggling to find a place to live; it doesn’t matter if the world tells you are what we aspire to be; it doesn’t matter if the world keeps beating you down; it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor; it doesn’t matter because God’s vision of the future is the future that welcomes all to the table. And it makes no sense at all.

God’s future welcomes all to be workers in the vineyard. It says come to work when you are ready, because this is yours. This is your inheritance. This life is a gift that is yours and I will keep inviting you to work. Because in God’s vineyard there is grace. There is peace. There is love. And it makes no sense at all.

Thanks be to God


Sermon from 9/21/16 – Beloved, Local #2016

Matthew 20:1-16
Note: This is the first time I have done a first person sermon. It was quite fun. The setting was a Union Meeting, there were union signs around the sanctuary.  The audio link is here.)

Beloved, Local #2016

Thank you, Mr. President for allowing me to come and speak this morning.

Sisters and brother, Mr. Mattthews, our union president invited me to come and speak to you this morning about organizing a new union. As you know we were previously proud employees of the Corporate State of Mammon, Number 1 and affiliated with the United Workers of the Empire (UWE). We fought for and won many battles to make sure that we were paid more than anyone else. We fought and won battles that insured that we were seen as the standard bearers of the Empire work ethic. What was our was our and nobody was going to take it away. We lived and breathed the motto “What’s best for Me is best for US.” Though we worked together – we did not work with each other.

As a Mammon local we were fighting for our survival not only as a part of the Empire, but as fighting for a way of life that that insured that a certain status quo was maintained. The leaders of the UWE kept reminding us that we had a place in the system that was important, we were the cogs in the machine that kept the Empire rolling along. We were told not to question the ethics of the leaders because they knew best. We were told watch your back because there is always someone trying to climb to the top using you as a step. We were told that we were beholden to Mammon because it was what made the world go round. We were told that in order to keep the machine going we needed to keep focused on our own business and not worry about the business of the others.

You remember who the others were, right? The others were those workers who refused to be at the pick-up corner at dawn. That wasted their times playing with their families. That would rather be outside the auspices of the UWE. We were told they were the creatives who spent their days with their heads in the clouds rather than being contributing members of the Local. We were told they were the ones who had turned their backs on the UWE by daring to be in relationships that were focused on each other than for the benefit of the Empire. We were told the others were the ones too old or too sick to work, too young to offer meaningful suggestions, too differently abled to be helpful. We were told that we were important because we were what made the nation run.

But something happened this spring that Mr. Matthews and I agree should change the shape of our Union. It happened to me and that is why he asked me here this morning. This thing that happened shifted how I understood my role as a worker and how I understood the Union. What happened to me showed me that everyone is deserving of of Loving Wage. Everyone is able to be a part of the Union regardless of their ability, and most importantly it showed me we should no longer be part of the United Workers of the Empire – no longer cogs in the Corporate State of Mammon, but rather we should change our affiliation to this new organization called Beloved Community United (BCU) and we should organize as Beloved, Local #2016 where the last are first and the first are last – but we are all here.

***
So this thing that happened. It happened back in Early May.

We were there at the corner waiting for someone to hire us. Up drives this nice truck. I mean it was sharp. Clean. Freshly waxed. It had tools in the box, ladders on the side. It looked too legit to be there to pick up us day laborers. Some of the guys disappeared thinking it was probably an ICE (Immigration and Customs) raid. It looked like a fed coming to bust some of the workers, but out stepped this sharp dressed man.

He told us he was the owner of this new vineyard that was being planted on the outskirts of town – along the White River by old US 37, south of the city. None of us had ever done that kind of work, but he said he would hire us and tell us what to do. He offered us a fair wage – about $20/hr for a full days work. Man, those of us who were not afraid of ICE were ready to jump – nobody pays that much. Usually they just say a flat rate for the day that is close to minimum wage levels.

So he picked up a bout 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a big job, the sun was barely up an he was taking about half of the people gathered. We told him we were UWE and that if he didn’t pay us what he agreed to – there would be repercussions. I flashed the piece I always carried just to make sure he got the point. We shook on it and hoped in the truck and the car that we didn’t see earlier.

When we got to the vineyard, it was an area of open farm land right along the river. We were going to be out in the sun all day, and the bugs – the mosquitos were already out. It told the man to make sure we had plenty of water – it was going to be hot.

So he laid out what we were to be going, some of us were to be tiling the land, they had the joy of sitting ont he tractors that tore into the soil. Those of us with out the driving skill were showed a stack of lumber and told that trellises were supposed to be built. We had to dig post-holes and secure the cross bracing so that then new vines would have secure places to grow. Even with 2 dozen of us, this was going to be a good several weeks of work. It was good news. This new vineyard was the place to be.

About 8:30 the boss come to the field and drops off some food for us, the most delicious bread I have ever tasted. Something about it totally revived me. And the water in the cooler, was, I don’t know, there was something about it. And it seemed, even as the sun began to bake down that the cooler didn’t empty. It couldn’t see where the water line was, but there had to be something feeding it. He told us we could take a break and when we were ready, we could get back to work.

Just as were we about to get back to work the truck arrives with some more of the people from the corner. Needless to say, some of us started to mumble and rumble. This was his plan, to keep adding workers until the work is done as quick as possible. A job we thought would take a few weeks was now being reduced to a few days.

More tractors tilled and more post holes were dug.

Noon rolled around and the boss brought out lunch for us. That never happened. This guy must have had money to throw away, because he had the most amazing tuna salad sandwiches. He also brought out smoked salmon and this nice french bread. We were eating like kings, and he kept telling us that we cold have as much as we wanted. The platters were always full.

But then it happened, he had to have been buying us off because another truck load of laborers showed up. I was beginning to see what was happening. He wanted to keep the workers fresh so they worked fast. He might be paying well, but if he could finish the work in a day it would be worth it because he could begin the planting and maybe have have a harvest by the late fall. He was going to profit by exploiting us.

I called the Local office and talked with Mr. Matthews. He told me to keep an eye out for this boss man. He told me to see if my thoughts were correct, and if they were, tonight to give him a call and we would be there in the morning ready to picket and fight. We would sully his name with other workers, so only the “others” would be there to work for him and he would get nothing done.

I threw my food away and went back into the field, angry at this deception. I thought I would be able to feed the family for the summer with these few weeks work, and now I might be able to grocery shopping once.

Fuming those of us in the first shift kept working – the new guys dared to stop and eat lunch first.

We kept working and then at three, more came. I got those of us in the first and second waves of workers to slow down. If he was going to keep refreshing the workers, we would slow work so at least we might be able to come back tomorrow.

Finally the sun was beginning to arch past the hottest of the day and the boss’s son came and brought us some dinner. He even ate with us. But he didn’t sit at the table with us, but rather sat off to the side waiting to be invited to the table. That wasn’t going to happen, I don’t care how good the food was, he and his dad kept cutting our hours.

As were were finishing eating we saw the truck pull up. The son had told us we had one more hour of work today, the land was tilled and the trellises were up. We just had clean up to do and we would be done with the job.

Out of the truck come more workers.

What was the point? Why was the boss bringing people when were were cleaning up? I called Mr. Matthews and told him to rally the troops. We would be marching tomorrow.

We finished cleaning up the work tools and put things back where they beloved.

The what would have been weeks of work were over and now it was time to get our day’s pay. Our one day’s pay. The boss call all of us workers under the lunch canopy gave us towels to wash our selves down with, and let me say, when that water from the towel washed over my face – it felt like I was getting a new life. It was just as refreshing as the water from the cooler that never seemed to empty. Anyway, the boss called us over under the canopy and began to pay out.

Now instead of paying those of us who were there the longest first – he began paying the guys that were only there for an hour. I really didn’t know why he wasted his time to go all the way to town to get them and drive all the way back here just to give them an hours wage – but you see, when he paid them, he gave them what we agreed to – and not just the hourly rate but the whole day’s worth.

I could feel my cheeks beginning to burn, either something really good was going to happen – or we were going to get shorted something fierce. I had a feeling we were going to get shorted, and lo and behold – what happened? The three o’clock workers got the same, then the noon, then the nine, and then us. WE ALL GOT PAID THE SAME! This is outrageous.

“Hey, Boss Man,” I said, “that ain’t how it works here in the Corporate State of Mammon. You better get ready because UWE is gonna be coming after you. It isn’t fair that you are paying these lazy bums the same as us who was working out in the heat all day. You agreed to pay us fair, and now you are paying them the same as us. That ain’t right.”

Then it happened, the boss looked at me and just with him looking at my it felt like I was kicked in the chest. I lost my breath and I had to sit down. He looked at me, and he wasn’t angry. No, you see, when I have stood up to bosses in the past they would usually either drop and run or start stammering and pay what was due. But not this time. Not today. No. This time the boss just turned and looked at me, and it looked like he was about to cry. And it wasn’t a scared cry, but sad. Like that look your kid gets when she hears that her grandma can’t make it for dinner or like when you lost your dog. It was heartbreak in his eyes.

“‘Friend,” He called me his friend, “I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” Then his tone changed a little bit, it was almost like he was giving me an ultimatum, but there was something in his words that kept me there. “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

I just stood there looking at him. I didn’t know what to say. But as I sat there the whole day flashed before my eyes. I started the day with no work. I got work. I was give work that fit my skills. I was given water when he didn’t need to give water. I was given lunch when I didn’t ever get lunch from there jobs. The water was always there. The bread was always there. Every time more people came there was enough work for them. I looked out at the vineyard, and then it really hit me. I had been so focused on all my work that what I thought I was getting done was enough, but when I looked at the vineyard at the end of the day, there was still so much work to do. We would have had 100 more people there working and the still would be work to do.

The boss gave me work when I didn’t have none and then instead of leaving me to do it all myself kept bringing help. The boss kept bringing help because there was work to be done. Hard, hot, dirty work, but it never got tiring because the boss kept watching after us. And at the end of the day we all went home with not only a living wage – but a loving wage.

The last got paid first – but we all got paid. And we all were part of the boss’s work force, and to this day – everyday I am going to the vineyard to work.

So, you see, This boss needs workers and needs them organized. And that is why Mr. Matthews asked me to speak to you. To tell you about this new way of organizing. As Beloved, Local #2016. Where we rally together to make sure everyone – regardless of their ability is guaranteed a living and a loving wage. Where acceptance and grace are more important that skills and know how – that stuff comes when we work with each other. In Beloved, Local 2106 we lift up the young and teach them and raise them to learn how to work in the vineyard, and we care for the old who have been working in the filed longer than we have been alive. We make sure everyone gets the care they need regardless if they have “earned” it or not. If they are sick, we help. If they are hopeless, we give hope. If they are angry, we sit with. If they are sad, we walk beside.

In Beloved, Local # 2016 we, too paraphrase my hero – Tom Joan – we say:

Whenever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, we’ll be there. Whenever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, we’ll be there..we’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why, we’ll be there.

We’ll be there, because in Beloved Community United we have learnd what it is like when the first are last and the last are first – because we have all been there at one point or another and at the end of the day – no matter what we got our loving wage.

Thank you very much, and have a good afternoon.

Union Meeting


Peace Prayer

This is the prayer I offered at the Irvington Peace Rally on September 7, 2014.

Let us Pray:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,

We are gathered together here in this place
heavy of heart.
Hearts drowning in grief as the river of death
rages through out city;
Hearts drowning in the tears of
fathers & mothers, sister & brothers -
lives torn apart because of life
too soon gone;
Hearts drowning in anger at those
who so carelessly kill.

Grasping for air, O God,
we cry to you!

We cry here in this place
turning to you.
Seeking that your river of life
wash over the rapids of death and destruction.
For you are the author of life
& the give of breath!

But we, also, come seeking forgiveness.

Forgiveness for the church – your church -
who has spent too long sitting
at the rivers edge -
to afraid to step in and turn the tide.
Forgiveness for neglecting to love
our neighbors as ourselves.
For letting their problems remain theirs
& not seeing their problems as ours.
Forgiveness for turning away from life
& embracing hatred of enemy,
for refusing confession,
for running from reconciliation,
from being afraid.

We come to you confessing our brokenness
& need of repair.

We come knowing that you take the broken heart
& mend it in to a new and stronger thing.

We come in faith.

As we seek peace in our city,
we ask for your guidance,
your direction,
your spirit.

We seek your peace in our city,
& we come in faith, knowing
you are the one who brings streams of shalom.

Just as you brought peace from
the bonds of Pharaoh’s chains;
Just as you brought peace to a
starving Ruth & Naomi;
Just as you brought peace
back from Babylon;
Just as you brought peace into the word,
born in a barn -

We know you will bring your peace.
& your shalom will be known
when your people step
out of the raging river of fear
towards the living waters;
when your people
come together
not as black & white,
Hispanic & Asian,
LGBT & Straight,
but

Your peace will come when we all band together
bound together,
in our mutual web of destiny.

The destiny of a Beloved Community.

A community that stands not
at the rivers edge,
but in the raging rapids reaching out and saving life.
A community that stakes one broken and left for dead
and cares for her.
That mourns with those who mourn.
Praying that your healing & comfort
rest on the grieving – whose joy and hope seem ever erased.
To be a community that sees everyone
as bearing your divine image -
even the perpetrators of violence;
for your mercy & grace are for all people.
All are redeemable.
All are yours.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,

We are gathered here in this place
with hearts ready to be healed.
In a city that needs healed.

Give us the power to be bearers of your light;
of your transforming;
redeeming;
reconciling;
never ending peace.

Wash us in the river of life -
was your city in the river of life -
Made new to make new.

And the people of God who love God say – Amen & Amen


Feast Of Fools

Click here for an audio link.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
14 September, 2014
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Feast of Fools

Christ was a fool.
We are fools.
Thanks be to God.

****

What? Is that not enough? I suppose you think I should talk a little longer. Break it down a little more?

Well, today is the day in the year that we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross. In a story worthy of Indiana Jones, legend tells that in her quest to discover as much as she could to prove the existence of Jesus, Constantine’s mother, St. Helena came to the site that was traditionally said to be the place of the Skull, golgotha. Residing at this place was a temple, erected by the Emperor Hadrian, there was a temple to the goddess Venus. The story goes that in her quest, Helena had the temple razed, destroyed and below the foundations of the temple she discovered the three crosses. And at that site she had built the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, this this was also the site of the tomb of Jesus. As the brick were laid, almost immediately pilgrims came to venerate the holy cross. To come to the holy relic and remember and give thanks for the gift of the cross.

On September 14, 326 – the site of the holy cross was consecrated and so began the fest of the Holy Cross.

For centuries there has been a fascination with the cross. For centuries there have been arguments as to whether it should be depicted with Christ upon it of removed. For centuries this symbol has been the domain of fools.

****

I mean, think about it, we claim as our chief symbol a device that was used to commit capital punishment. It would be like the United States electing to make the electric chair its national symbol.

The cross was a device used by the Romans to inflict the most brutal form of punishment upon political enemies. Being beheaded devoured by wild beasts would have been welcome relief to a prisoner being crucified.

Death on the cross was a slow and painful death. One suffocated to death by being slowly strangled by ones own weight. There was not only the pain of being nailed to the cross, but the mental anguish of hanging there naked knowing that there was nothing one could do to save oneself.

The cross was used as an instrument of terror by the Romans to keep their precious peace. Crucifixions did happen behind garrison walls only witnessed by those invited guests. No, they were public lynchings where some would gather and picnic to witness the spectacle. Bets would be placed on how long death would take. But as some reveled others were repelled. The purpose of public execution was to teach a lesson to anyone who might consider rising up against Rome.

The historian Josepheus tells of a response to rebellion that led to 2,000 people being crucified, lined up like street lights along the road. Peace was kept by the threat of terror.

Not only was it used as a device of death for Rome, it was seen as a place that marked God’s curse by the Hebrew People. In the Torah, it is said that one who is killed on a tree is cursed. But the curse goes further saying that if one is killed on a tree they must be buried before sunset or the very land will be cursed. The Romans would leave the dead bodied to feed the vultures, and the bodies would not be buried. Death on a cross was a double curse.

And it is this which we venerate.

It is this thing of curse that that we lift high. It is this tree upon which Christ was crucified. It is foolish.

We are fools. Christ is a fool.

*****

It makes no sense at all for us to hold up this instrument of death. It is a scandal for those who want to see God in signs and miracles, and it is foolishness for those who are seeking to know all the answers. It makes no sense at all for us to lift high the cross.

There is enough death around us, why be reminded of it.

Why be reminded of death when daily the news speaks of blood shed in our streets?

Why be reminded of death when the dogs of war are howling the blood soaked strains?

Why be reminded of death when children and adults are trapped at the border, seeking shelter from the shadow of death?

Why be reminded of death when daily we try to hang on to life the best we can?

It is foolishness.

Why not just say that we know we are saved and we will get our golden crowns in the great by and by? Why not just say let the world go to pot, but give me Jesus? Why not put on blinders and say that I am not worried about what what will happen when I die? Why not?

All of this cross talk is foolishness.

It is especially hard for us as citizens of the United States. We are a people who celebrate the individual. We lift up the ones who succeed, who show us the American dream revealed. We celebrate hard work and individuality. We praise those who climb up the ladder of success. It is in our DNA.

And in the American Church this is the same story. The story of the church in the Untied States has been the story of individual salvation. That when one turns to Jesus, nothing else matters. That once saved, glory is mine. Oh, that will be glory for me.

The prosperity Gospel has take root here because it echoes our ethic of if I do it myself, God will bless me. The image of God gets covered by the Idol of self.

The American Church has forgotten the cross and begun to worship at the altar of the individual. Because the cross is ugly. It doesn’t fit into the the American ethos. It is foolish and doesn’t make any sense.

All of this cross talk is foolishness.

It is foolish because we are looking at it from the point of view of rational and sophisticated people. We want there to be logic behind everything.

But Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.

We think of fools as simple folks who allow themselves to be duped by the world. But in actuality, a fool was a subvesive. A radical. A truth teller who used prophetic imagination to speak truth to power. Christ was a fool.

From the moment of his incarnation, Christ was a fool. His very presence sent tremors of terror through the titans of power, so much so that his death was desired.

He was the fool sitting on the temple steps as a boy challenging the conventional wisdom of those who the world thought were wise.

He was the fool who walked into the wilderness seeking temptation after being anointed God’s beloved.

He was the fool who stood in the synagogue and dared say he was God’s anointed one to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.

He was the fool who told his disciples not to respond with violence, but stand strong and turn the other cheek. To walk the extra mile. To stand naked. To be fools against he conventional wisdom of the world.

He was the fool when gathered the wiggling and questioning children into himself.

He was the fool when he touched the lepers. He was the fool when he sat with the sinners. When he loved the adulterer, the tax collector, the gentile.

Jesus Christ was a fool when he, like the court jester, would poke at and needle the pharisees, trying to get them to see the foolishness of the Reign of God.

He was a fool. He was a fool when he was in the governors court and stood in silent protest. He was the fool when he was dressed and mocked in fake royal garments and had a sign posted above his head. He was a fool when he let himself be crucified, because what kind of king would allow that.

Christ was a fool. The message of the cross is foolishness.

Jesus died on the cross, so that we could become fools.

On the cross of foolishness we see something other don’t see. We see a foolish God who came and lived and walked among God’s people. We see a savior. We are fools.

We are fools because when we see the blood in our streets we see Christ crucified.

We are fools because when we hear the dogs of war braying the song, we hear Christ crying, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

We are fools because when we see the innocent killed, and the guilty prosecuted we see Christ crucified. We are able to use our imaginations and see the cross of Christ in our midst. The fool Christ continually crucified for those who are being saved.

In the foolishness of the cross, there hangs the death of the world. On the cross hangs the strange fruit of human arrogance and sin; of our brokenness and blindness. On the cross hangs a foolish God who gave all of God’s self. For us.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God!

The foolishness of the Cross is the Wisdom of God!

The wisdom of God takes a symbol of death and terror and transforms it into a tree of life and and stake of solidarity. The wisdom of God takes that which the world calls foolish and turns it on its head.

The wisdom of God take the cross and on its wooden beams states in unequivocal terms you are not alone. You are not alone in your pain and your suffering. You are not alone in your questions and your doubt. You are not alone when you are afraid or when you are in grief. You are not alone because I am with you.

The wisdom of God is wisdom that empties itself so fully that God is visible in all of our suffering. The wisdom of God is wisdom that takes humanity not just as a collection of individuals, but rather a people of God.

The wisdom of God takes a broken and dysfunctional church and uses it despite itself.

The wisdom of God is a wisdom that sees the foolishness of an instrument of death and terror and says – that ain’t all there is. That isn’t what all of this is about. Come on and bring death and terror, but in my foolishness – I will mold it and make it life and hope. I will take the cross, the worst you have to offer – and turn it into the best I can offer. I will take all of your your hate, your death, your isms and turn them into foolishness because I AM.

The wisdom of God says that the wisdom of the world dies on a cross, but my wisdom is foolishness and Death isn’t the final answer. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because it doesn’t make sense when one can only see death. God says, my wisdom is foolishness because I came and died in order to defeat the wisdom of death.

This is the feast of the Holy Cross. This is the Feast of Fools.

Christ is a fool. We are fools.

Thanks be to God.


Sermon for September 7, 2014

Never Gonna Give You Up
Ezekiel 33:7-11

Imagine with me being in a foreign place. A place where you have been brought against your will. You have seen your home ransacked. Your city devoured. You were there as the invaders infected everything you held dear.

You, along with the others your tribe have been dragged nearly 1,600 miles through desert. Bound captive you are walking through the scorching heat of the Levant Sun. You are in a group of exiles who tried to rebel against the Babylonian Empire. You fought and you lost. The words of the prophets ring in your ears. Echoing their warnings. Weary you finally arrive in along the river Chebar. In despair you are surprised when you are allowed to build a home, a new way of life. You are allowed by the Babylonians to settle in this new land, not as slaves, but as exiles – away from your home, your temple, seemingly your God.

As your roots begin to grow along the banks of the new river, you begin to hear rumblings about another rebellion starting in Jerusalem. And as you do, you remember the words that were called out before your exile, “TURN AROUND – REPENT”, says the LORD, “TRUST ME! Do not trust in your own might but in the Lord of the fighting angels.” As these rumblings of revolution reverberate, a voice comes from the walls of your new city.

A voice set as a sentinel, screaming his message to Jerusalem. Ezekiel, whom you thought just got into some of the weird mushrooms, has been sending prophetic warnings back to Jerusalem. The man, born in the line of Joshua and a priest of the temple, gives warning to the inhabitants of his homeland.

The warning he shouts is the same as the prophets prior, “Turn around and Seek the Lord. If not, destruction will fall upon Jerusalem – the mighty edifice of the temple like the walls of Jericho will come a tumblin’ down.” He shouts, because he has no choice, for he has been set there by the hand of God to be the warning blast, he shouts, “Why do you seek death, day after day, for the Lord desires life?”

Through his tears, the priestly prophet, speaks, “The Lord says, I hear your questions. You ask why you are suffering, why you are abandoned. I tell you, it is because you have turned from me. Destruction will happen unless you repent. Unless you turn your face to me. You have brought this on yourselves for becoming a self-centered people. By continuing to turn to yourselves, you will bring your own destruction. Why do you keep seeking death. I am never going to give up on you, I will keep sending prophets, watchers on the wall, I will keep screaming, but unless you turn around and see me – see each other as I see you, you will die. Seek life, and you will be saved. I have no desire for this. My joy comes when you seek life.”

As the prophet shouts, you mourn for your homeland, that they will seek life and not be far from home like you. On, the willows there, you hang up the lyres, unable to sing for joy, but instead join in the prophets cry.

****

I don’t know about you all, but I am happy to be starting a new weeks. This past week is over and it is one I hope to not experience again – for good long while.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

Another journalist was slain by a group of people so evil that life to them is nothing but a joke. Life, unless lived in their very misguided and uninformed interpretation of their holy word, Life is worth nothing. The miss that their prophet calls for people to live in cooperation. Their prophet seeks for community be be built rather than destroyed. Yet, they take one word, one phrase, and use it to interpret all of their scriptures. Blood is on their hands. Blood is on their hearts. And one more of many is left laying in the desert sand.

The dogs of war are barking. They are braying for us to intervene and attack. Dogs of war, those hell hounds, are blood thirsty in seeking revenge. They are hungry to avenge the death of one while ignoring the path of destruction left in their wake. They do not see those left in their dung grow into the very groups they seek to avenge. The perpetual motion of war and revenge is countered by resistance and hardness of heart. These spin in a dance of death, that does not hear the cry of the prophet – turn around and seek life. The deadly dance spirals ever more and ever more inward until all the world outside blurs into one indiscernible blob of nothingness.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

Self centered greed mocks those who are risking their very livelihoods to demand a wage that pays enough to provide for their families. Those who dare to think they are owed a wage that would grow hope are mocked and ridiculed for being somehow deficient and less than. They are tuned into objects of derision. They are told they are stupid and insufficient members of the human race because they are the ones who serve us. They are the servants to the ruling class. How dare they seek to survive.

And yet, as they are mocked and told that we can not afford to pay 10 cents for a cheeseburger – they are told that the assistance they need because they can’t afford the food they cook, they are told their assistance is being cut. They food stamps are being slashed. They medicaid reduced. They benefits the ruling class are paying for to provide – costing more than a 10 cent increase in a quarter pounder – are being cut causing hopelessness. Destitution on multiple fronts.

And as the hopelessness grows and hatred begins it is relentless beat, they tangle with hubris and austerity. Again the black dance of death begins its precious pirouette. It begins the inward spin leaving in its wake resentment and retribution. The hate and hubris blend into one cyclone of destruction. Unable to seek life, death to the enemy would be welcome.

The news this week has not been one to instill hope in the human race.

It makes me want to throw up my hands and walk away. The warmongering, the classicism, the racism, the homophobia, the sexism, the ageism, the relentlessness of the dance of death around me makes me want to give up and run away as fast as I can.

The sin around me, begins to gnaw at me. I am sure at you too. When we are captive to such bad new all the time, the sins of the world make us scream why don’t you get it? And we begin to judge the world. It become a dangerous place to live. We begin to judge those we don’t understand, those we disagree with, those we are afraid of. We begin to see the world as something other than us. And as we do our self-righteousnes begins to twirl with our sense of superiority and we become part of the dark dance, oblivious to anything around us. We become shortsighted and unfocused. We begin to believe we are the arbiters of Justice. We begin to think we are God and are the ones in control.

And as we are caught in our own dances of darkness, we hear a watcher on the wall crying out. We hear the voice of the prophet in today’s text scream at the top of his lungs. “Stop the dance. Face the bandstand. Seek the bandleader. Seek the Lord and see what the Lord sees. The Lord sees a people lost in their pain. Lost in their despair. Lost in their anger. Lost in their wilderness.

“The Lord hears the cries of her people. The Lord hears you saying, ‘Where are you? We know we are broken and need fixin’. How, O Lord, can we heal?'”

The prophet turns to the band leader and and with a nod the the prophet speaks the words of the Lord.

“The Lord, says, o people. O, people of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church, The lord says, ‘Turn and face the band stand. Listen to my words, I ain’t never gonna give you up. I want you to stop your dance of death and dance with me. I want you to seek life. Not just your own but your neighbors and even more importantly your enemies. I want you to dance with me and see me in everyone. I want you to turn around and dance with me.

Because, O my people, because you are mine and I am yours. You are my creation. My love. I hate that which destroys you and want only to be with you. But you often leave me to dance with another. You leave me to dance in the dark with those things which cause you to forget me. Turn around and dance with me. I ain’t never gonna give you up.”

The words of the prophet carry across the eons in into this building. The words of the prophet are calling us to dance with the one who ain’t never gonna give us up. The darkness we face is not of the Lord’s but because we have turned away from the light of the Lord’s stage and sought shelter in the dark. Sought shelter in ourselves.

But in the end, the Lord want nothing more that for us to turn around and see the Lord. To see the glory of the one danced with Miriam on the other side of the Red Sea. To see the glory of the one in whose presence David danced. To see the glory of the one danced as the exiles left Babylon to return to Jerusalem. To see the glory of the one who danced with Esther and Ruth. Who danced with Mary and Elizabeth. Who danced at a wedding in Cana. Danced on the very grave of death.

The Lord calls to us saying I ain’t never gonna give you up. I want to dance with you in you sadness and and your joy. I want to dance with you in your fear and in your rejoicing. I want nothing more than dance with you. Turn around and face the bandstand. I ain’t never gonna give you up. I will keep sending singers to shout my message of love and forgiveness. Of mercy and grace. I will send singers, watchers all along the watchtower, to be bearers of my good news. Turn around and dance with me. I ain’t never gonna give you up.

May I have this dance.

Thanks be to God.


Get Up. Stand Up.

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Matthew 16:21-28
31 august, 2014

Get Up! Stand Up!

(Scene 1: The Prophet’s Cry)

O, Eternal One – you know the anguish I am facing. Remember me. Do not ignore me. Pay attention to my pain. The are the words that the Prophet Jeremiah is screaming to God. Often called the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, is, in my opinion the most real of the prophets. He feels an unrelenting call to be the voice of God; the voice of Justice and at the same time seems to get none of the pleasure a being a divine voice should give.

He is ignored. Mocked. Beaten. Left for dead. Called a false prophet by others in the King’s court. The words of is mouth, though scripture say they shatter rock, seem to be feathers lobbed at a brick wall. He did not want this job. He tried his best to ignore it…to give excuses. But the words of God burned in him. He was told by the Eternal One that he was made for this time. That he was knit together in his mother’s womb to be God’s voice.

Eventually he took the word of the LORD and consumed it. Devoured God’s word and was filled with the joy and exuberance of a new convert. He had a fire burning in his soul to do something. Anything. “When I discovered your Words,” he says, “I ate them up. There were my great joy and my heart’s delight.” Many of us understand that feeling. That just back from church camp feeling. That just home from holiday. That worship service that cause us to walk just a little bit faster. Made our heart heat a little quicker. That filled with the Sprit kind of feeling.

The prophet took that exuberance – that joy, and began to do God’s work. He began to proclaim to the King and his mother, “Come down from your thrones, and take a seat in a humble place, for your crowns will be taken from you….there will be no city gates open to you. You and your people, Judah, will be taken into exile….for you have forgotten the Eternal One and trusted the lies of another. Therefore, I, the Lord, will strip you naked and everyone will see your shame. They will see how you have cheated on me with another.” (from Jer. 13)

Filled with the fire and the courage of one filled with the word of the Lord, the prophet stood in the face of the powerful and named the ways they cheated on the Lord. The prophet, strong and mighty, stood boldly in the face of power. Only to be laughed at. Only to be mocked…ridiculed…again and again. His work never seemed to bear fruit. Instead of repenting the King and the people of Judah, continued to ignore the Word of the LORD.

A dark cloud began to cover the prophet of the Lord. “Why aren’t things going the way I want them to? Why can’t the hear what I am telling them? Why won’t they come to church with me and repent? Why do they mock me? Why do they call me crazy? Don’t they know they better turn around or your wrath, o God, will turn on them?” He began to doubt his mission. He had been doing everything right. He had said the right word. He kept himself away from troublemaker. He isolated himself. He began to develop a superiority complex. He began to think it was all about him.

Self-pity began to replace the powerful word of the Lord. Self-loathing lit the path. This is about me – I am the one who is obeying you, the prophet, thought, why have you abandoned me like water from a thirsty man?

(Scene 2: Our cry)

Why have you abandoned us like water from a thirsty people?

We see it all around us. The liars and tricksters are the ones who are gaining in the world. We point fingers at “those people” are taking our hard earned dollars and wasting them on pop and chips. We have done what we were told to do. Work hard. Do right. Preach about getting to heaven. We have done it all, so why won’t people listen to us? Why won’t they get it? We go to church. We go to bible study. We faithfully give our tithes and offerings. We keep ourselves away from “those kinds of people.” So, why don’t we see results? Ahh…it doesn’t matter. We are going to heaven, so it doesn’t matter. Let the world go to pot. It’s time to give up.

I am sure this has been the thought process for many of us. I know I have thought this from time to time. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably think like this more than we care to admit.

Most of us here have experienced being filled with God’s Spirit. We talked about it on Wednesday in Bible Study. Those moments of pure joy. Pure exhilaration. Those times when we are “on fire for Christ,” and ready to conquer the world. We have been so filled with the Word of God that nothing will stop us. Like Peter when asked who Jesus is, we reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” We are blessed by being able to see Jesus for who he is. We are filled with Holy Fire. We are the bedrock of the church.

I can’t tell you how many times I came back from church camp or youth conference so filled with fire that I was practically bouncing off the walls. I would blast my Petra in the car, I would scream with Stryper. I was not afraid to wear the t-shirt that told the world I belonged to God’s Gym. The fire burned in my belly to tell the world about God.

I would gather at the flag pole praying for the school and the city. I would try to invite my friends to hear Christian Comedians, I wanted to save souls. I became a defender of God. I tried to protect God. When people would laugh, I would tell them they were making a mistake.Eventually it became hard. People started to mock me and make fun of me.And now, I was again like Peter telling Jesus what to do. It became about me. About how I felt. It became about making sure I was following all the rules. That I was isolating myself. I began to be weighed down with guilt. The fire began to go out.

I thought I had done everything right. But years later, I realized the fire that was burning in me was the fire of one who, yes, had devoured the word of the Lord, but I ate it so fast that I could not enjoy the taste of it. I was so hungry for something, that I thought it was all about me being fed and I hoarded it. I blocked the nutritional benefits by not letting them soak in. I sat like the weeping prophet longing for something that was missing.

When everything around us is churning in the chaos of the primordial sea, it is natural for us to seek shelter. To seek safety from the storm. We pray as the prophet did, as I did. We are doing everything right, aren’t we? Why are we suffering so? We have had the fire. We have devoured Your Word? We have screamed our belief from the mountain tops, and they all just laugh at us and mock up. They ignore our pleas. Why have you left us thirst?

(Scene 3: God’s response to the Prophet)

While he is shrouding himself in self-pity, the Lord speak to the prophet saying, “Are you done? Take your time, but when you are, turn around and look at me. Look at me. Taste the words. Let them nourish you. I will restore you. But hear them for what they are. Not words of piety to should screamed at people. Not words of superiority. Not words of your self-righteousness, but of my righteousness. Of my truth. Of my justice. Of my judgment. Of my redemption. Stop making them about you.

Get up. Stand up. If you speak my words instead of what yo think my words are, You will be speaking for me. Let the people come. Let them try to hurt you. Let them laugh. Let them mock you. When you speak my words…MY WORDS of justice, transformation, and redemption, when you speak my words, I will make you like a wall of bronze. Yeah, the words will hurt, but it won’t matter – they will not win. These are my words. Get up. Stand up. I will rescue you.”

In the middle of his self-pity, the word of the Lord comes to him and calls him out of himself and into the world that laughs at him and mocks hime. The words that the Lord had given the prophet were not words of an immature child, spewing out undigested fragments, but of words that have been digested, interpreted. Words that speak God’s truth in the face of power.

The mission of the prophet is no longer about him, but about the Word of God. God tells the prophet to Get up. Stand up. And be the voice of truth, of justice, of transformation.

(Scene 4: God’s responds to Us.)

Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are just getting in the way. Your belief is not enough. Just saying I am messiah is not enough. If you keep just saying that eventually you will think it is you you are talking about. You setting your minds toward human things, bringing glory to yourself and not setting your mind on divine things. Instead, my brothers and sisters, you are on the path of being a disciple. And being a disciple means bearing a cross. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

The Son of Man is coming in all his Father’s Glory. You will see. Many of you will see the son of Man in this glory before you taste death.”

Jesus is redirecting Peter’s thinking. He is pushing Peter and the disciples and us beyond just belief but into the steps of true messianic discipleship. Into sacrificial discipleship. Jesus is calling us our of our selves and out of the belief that we are the ones who name what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Jesus called me out of the accusatory and demeaning ways of my youth. My belief was strog – I ate the words up, but it was through the being laughed at, through the being ignored. It was through my walk in the wilderness that I began to savor the Word of God. That I let the flavor of justice touch my lips. That the aroma of grace infiltrated my nostrils. That the nourishment of God’s love push through my veins that I began to see what it was all about.

I saw the Son of Man in all his glory there on the cross. I saw what Jesus was talking about. I understood that being a disciple meant not trying to convince people that Jesus was the way, but that being a disciple was a way of living in The Way. The Way of standing up for the oppressed. Of giving voice to the voiceless. Of walking along side the broken. It was expressed not in judgmental accusations, but in a grace filled life. And it meant, still being picked on. It meant being ridiculed. It meant being mocked and laughed at – but this time it wasn’t because it was me pointing a finger at people; rather it was because I was acting in a way that made people see a reflection of the Reign of God. And you know what, It doesn’t matter to me anymore that people laugh and mock. Because I am not doing these things for myself, but for God. For the Reign of God.

The Reign of God where we are picked up. Dusted off. Given power. Given voice. The Reign of God where the four year old and the 104 year old can stand side by side and call each other sister. The Reign of God were are are promised, like the prophet of old – where we are promised that when we speak and act with God’s words – God is with us. That when we carry our cross, we carry it not for ourselves or by ourselves. That we carry it with the one who gave up everything for us. That we when we bear our cross we are carrying with us the Glory of God. The sacrificial Glory of God.

And when we are mocked and ridiculed – we get up and stand up and praise God because God is our strength that pulls us up.

When we are hurting and carrying too much trouble – we get up and stand up and praise God because God is our comfort – wrapping arms around us to keep us from sinking.

When the chaotic rivers of our life are tossing us to and fro – we get up and stand up and praise God because it is God who calms the storms. It is God who stills the sea. It is God who quiets the wind.

When we feel we need to defend God it is time to Get Up and Stand Up because it is God who is defending us. God doesn’t need our protection, but instead covers us with the wings of a mother Hen.

We get up. We stand up. Because when we are there on the ground it is God reaching down God’s hands picking us up.

We get up. We stand up. Because the way of disciple ship is the cross and the only way to get there is on our feet. And when we are walking along our own via dela rosa, on our way to our calvary, and the weight of the cross gets too heavy, the burden of our messianic discipleship gets too much to bear – when we fall there on The Way – There is Christ to pick up our cross and carry it for us. Leading the way to calvary, where in all his Glory he gives us everything so that we can go on.

We get up. We stand up. Because truly, that is all we can do.

Thanks be to God.


Made New

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Revelation 22:1-5
Ellenberger Park
24 August, 2014

Made New

These pictures from the pages of the Revelation of St. John are some of the most beautiful in all of scripture. If anything, John could paint a picture that triggers the divine spark in our imaginations.

These beautiful images are images of hope. Of that which we long for. They are images of a river flowing so freely and unobstructed that it has no rapids. Its current takes the traveler from the throne of God and the Lamb into the city of God. We ride on glass- looking into the river we see not only our own reflections but through the reflected images we see deep into the waters of space and time. We see all that was, all that is, all that is still yet to be. In this waters of life is the story of us – is the story of God’s through us – is the story of God with us.

Stepping into the city we notice something that we had not noticed before. We notice that the river is not flowing to God. Rather the river flows into the city from God. The river flows from God into the streets of the city bathing them in crystalline life. The divine spark touches every element of the city. The streets that were destroyed are made new. The eroding edifices – washed – shine like the stars. The river of live flows down the middle of the street towards a tree.

The roots of the tree are deep in the ground. Being fed by this overflowing river. And the waters of the river rise up the tree, combining their molecules with the molecules of the leaves in divine photosynthesis – and as the pules of life drives through the leaves the tree begins to bear fruit. Fruit that is never ending. Food with out end. No seed time or harvest. But always enough. Here in the middle of the city – the city made new – is the Garden of Eden. Made new.

A world without sin. Without war. Without the brokenness of Babble. And as we dine in divine light, there are no words on our lips other than praise for the one who brought us this far. Praise for the one who has marked us as God’s own. And as the day should draw to night – we discover that there is no need for rest for we are filled. We are in the midst of the giver of life. In deed, we have been made new.

Friends, these words are words of profound hope. The are the picture of the promise that one day – all will be made new. They are what was intended in Eden. And it is easy for us to get embraced by their beauty. It is so wonderful to hear these words. Especially when it seems everything around us in chaos.

Rather than a river of life, we have streets painted in the blood of children. Instead of eating from the tree of life, we don’t know if we are going to have enough to eat. Instead of everlasting light, the dark clouds surround us day and night and light is the elusive taunt of hope.

We hear words like these and we begin to build walls around us, hoping that if we do, we will be safe from all the trouble of the world. If we build the wall high enough, the fortifications strong enough – we will be able to gain access to this eschatological hope. This divine beauty. But what happens is that we being to divorce ourselves from the reality going on around us. We get so focused on Glory that we forget the reality of the cross – and that in the reality of the cross, we are already a part of this final scene.

You see, the message of the cross is one that breaks through our walls and fortifications. The message of the cross is one that rather than divorcing us from the reality of the world around us – draws us into it. In the reality of the cross, all things are made new.

In the reality of the cross, the rock filled rapids have been made smooth by a God who came to stand in the midst of the rapids.

In the reality of the cross, God’s own blood ran down the streets.

In the reality of the cross, a brown man raised his hands and was killed by the state because he refused to say that this is all there is.

In the reality of the cross, God came to live and die with us and in doing so made all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

On the cross hangs all of our grief, our pain, our humiliation, our sin, our brokenness. There hangs the powers of death and chaos. There hangs hate and hubris. On the cross God is with us. On the cross – the river of live begins to flow from the throne of God making all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

As the river of life begins to flow, it meanders is way through our mess. It begins to wash away the feelings of hate and hubris, pain and chaos. The river of life flowing from the cross washes the blood from the streets and makes its way into each of us.

Those of us gathered as the church have experienced the glory that is to come, and are not called to hide behind it. To sit wishing for it. But to be bearers of it. We have experienced being made new. We are not new beings. We are the same broken and mixed up people, but we have been made new. Through the reality of the cross.

We have experienced what it means to be told we are loved. To be held when we are hurting. To be carried when we can not stand. We have experienced what it is like to find a community that embraces us for who we are. And it is not ours to hoard.

These beautiful words are not just words of what is to come, but of what is. We are here as witnesses to it. Let us not be afraid anymore. Let us be those who have been made new.

When the streets are dark and bloody, we are to be the river of life helping rebuild community rather than erect walls.

When the dark clouds of depression overwhelm, we are to be divine light sitting in the darkness, present, holding, helping. Silent if we need to be. The divine light will pierce the darkness. We are just its bearers.

When the truth of racism, sexism, homophobia, any of the walls that we are told to build being to lay the mortar at our feet, we are to take them and say not in God’s name. We are to take the bricks of those walls and use to build a gathering place for all God’s children.

We have been touched by the reality of the cross and have been made new. We have seen the holy city. We have been tasted the river of life. We have been made new. Let us go and make all things new with the promise that what will be .. is.

Thanks be to God.


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