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Sermon: The Widow’s Might!

The Widow’s MightMark 12:38-44

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And now a reading from the JAT Version:

As Jesus taught the disciples and those gathered round he said to them, “Beware of the preachers with their toothy grins who walk around saying you will have the best live ever. Watch out for those who always want to sit at the Dias, who hound you form money to buy new planes, those who promise prosperity. They make their livings off the pensions of widows. Yes, they put on a good show, with their upbeat music and long winded prayers. Listen, they just don’t get it. They will receive greater condemnation.”

Then, taking those with him, he sat across from the temple treasury in the court of the women. He sat like a judge watching the crowd giver their offerings. Sure enough, the rich came by and threw their money into the places making lots of noise, so that everyone knew how much they were giving. 

Behind them all comes a widow. And Jesus watches as the put two coins – which equal about a penny – into the plate. You couldn’t ever hear it touch that sides. 

Then he called to his disciples and said to them, “Listen up. Pay attention. This poor widow has put in more than all of the rest. For they all gave a bit of what they had, but she – in her poverty – gave all she had. Everything. She has nothing else to live on.”

Let us pray….
The widow’s mite – m.i.t.e – is what this story is often called. It is another of the flannel graph favorites, right? I still see the white felt back ground with the golden interior of the temple in the middle. Jesus in his white robe with the blue sash sitting off to the side with the disciples. I see the potted palm trees. And I see the woman, humbly dropping her last two coins into what looks like a treasure box. How many of you remember either seeing something similar or even using the flannel graph to tell the story when you taught Sunday School? This is one of the few that I can still see vividly. This, Moses and the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; Sadhrach, Meshach, and Abendigo in the fiery furnace; The Christmas story; the man being let down through the hole in the roof; and the crucifixion. But I remember this story, too.

Partly I thing this story is so memorable because it has been used to tell us, or teach us, how to give sacrificially. It has been used as a tool to make me feel guilty when I didn’t give enough in church or Sunday School; now, I am not saying it was intentional because that is how this story has been used for many years. It is the epitome of the Stewardship sermon – If she can give all she has, why can’t you? Right? How many have experienced that? 

Now, sacrificial giving is important. Giving is important, that is how our ministries survive. That is what make them grow and allows us to the That Church on the Corner. We have been blessed by people who have known this and understood that offering our gifts is part of our call as disciples of Christ. They have given endowments to us that are allowing us to get through these lean times when we are not as big as we once were. Their giving is allowing us to do ministry. Your giving is keeping us open to the neighborhood. Your gifts are what keep the lights on for our art students who come through the doors every Tuesday. Your giving is what sustains the food pantry that feeds our neighbors. Your offerings are what allow our doors to be open seven days a week and allow us to be that church on the corner – open to all who need a place to come and rest from the chaos of the world. Your giving is what lets us be a beacon of God’s Reign, God’s Justice here on the east side. Our offerings, past, present, and future are being used to further the the Reign of God. 

All of that said, though, I don’t think this story is as much about the sacrifice as it is an indictment of the corruption of Government and church and in the end, and most importantly, I understand it to be a testimony of hope.

In our Wednesday morning Bible Study we have been leaning to read the Bible as a whole and in context. We have been working to take it out of isolation, and read the stories we encounter as part of a larger story. One of the reasons the story of the Widow’s mite has become so popular is because it has been read in isolation. As as story in and of itself. When, instead, it should be read as as story with the context of the Gospel of Mark and the Bible as a whole. If we do that, then our perspective of the situation shifts.

Mark is a manifesto of Radical Discipleship. Mark’s Gospel is the story of and for those at the bottom. Jesus is always among the crowds, and not the elite crowds. No Jesus is there with the sick, the destitute, the unclean, the outcast. Jesus, in this telling, is the embodiment of Radical commitment to God and the ways of God. This telling of God’s story from the bottom is in direct contrast the ways of the Greco/Roman order of shame and honor. In this Gospel the last are the first and the first are the last. The call to become a disciple is to empty ones self of that which keeps you from God, and to trust in the ways of God. We have seen this over the last few weeks when we encountered, first the rich man who could not let go of his possessions to follow Jesus, and later in contrast the poor blind beggar Bartimaeus who left all his possessions behind just to be near the healing hand of the Son of Man. 

Understanding that Mark has a message of radical discipleship, then we can begin to hear this story again – new, with fresh ears. 

Prior to this event at the temple, Jesus has had run ins with the church council. He has staged a protest by cleansing the temple of the money changers. He declared that the place of worship is not to be a bank that lends a high profit margins, but is to be a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE. This challenge to the status quo signed his death warrant. How dare he say that all should have access to God, how dare he upset the status quo, how dare he challenge the church council and demand that the priestly class become like the mere rabble in the court of the gentiles.

On the steps of the temple his authority has been questioned. Surely a man of God would not have such hostility toward the temple. He refused to tell the church council because they refused to see.

He confounded them because he told them that people should pay their taxes to Caesar and to give to God what is God’s. He was angry that they sought test him with this kind of stupidity. 

Jesus defined radical discipleship by telling them that the first commandment is to Love God with one’s whole being and then to love neighbor. Doing those two simple things were what was required to be near the Reign of God. He blew past all of their legalism and rules. He opened wide the access to God and did not have time for their nonsense.

Finally he is with the crowd again, today, at the temple and he has had enough. He finally breaks it all down. He tells the crowd to watch out for these clowns. They are nothing but false teachers. They claim to be righteous. They are like the candidates running for office that say they are for the common person while they are accepting donations from billion dollar corporations. They are like the ones who claim to wear their religion on their sleeves all they while they make policies that demonize the poor, that cut assistance to the needy. They write laws that turn people into statistics instead of flesh and blood. They send drones to bomb villages in the hopes of killing a terrorist; all the while leaving hospitals in ruins. These priests in the temple are making money from their defrauding the widows. Demanding that in order to receive the right kind of care in their old age they sell all of their assets and become totally reliant on the government’s…i mean the priests’ benevolence.

Jesus is standing on the capitol steps calling the leaders of the land frauds. This is the context of today’s reading. This is the world in which this widow lives. She is the lowest of the low in the greco/roman society. She is totally dependent on the goodness of others. She is very example of who the offering is to be helping.

Notice, that Jesus does not praise the widow, he does not hold her up as a paragon of sacrificial giving, rather he names how she is being exploited by the very ones charged with caring for her. She has given everything she has to live on to the temple – the very institution responsible for her wellbeing per the very same scriptures the pharisees build stumbling blocks with. They are worried more about what is going on in peoples’ bedrooms or if they are eating the wrong kind of food. They were too busy talking about building up walls to keep people out; they were too preoccupied with keeping their status with their corporate benefactors. They were engaged in dropping bombs more than they were about feeding the hungry. They were busy preaching prosperity – siphoning more money from the poor; they wanted a new fancy Jet so they said it was God’s will that the widow help pay for it. Jesus sees what is going on and names it. And he is angry.

Sitting on the steps of the temple watching this happen, Jesus is seeing what Amos saw; what Isiah saw; what Jeremiah saw. Jesus is watching as the very ones he identified with were being used as pawns by the powerful. He witnessed the command to care for widow being broken right before his eyes. As a woman she wasn’t even obligated to make an offering. As a poor woman, even less so, and yet she did probably because if she didn’t her well being would have been ignored. You get what you pay for.

Even in the midst of this even, the widow shows her might. I picture her not sheepishly dropping her penny in the offering, but instead I see her proudly, strongly making her way to the box and preciously placing her coins in the plate. I see a woman with a weather worn face, small children at her ankles. I see a woman who knows what is happening – she knows she is being exploited. I see a woman seeing Jesus in the temple. A woman who like blind Bartimaeus gets it. She understands what this man has been preaching. What this Jesus has been proclaiming. I see a widow who has stepped into radical discipleship. I see a mighty widow doing what the rich young man couldn’t. And she is doing this not out of piety or necessity. She is doing this because she has hope in the promises of God. Her story isn’t a moral lesson to be learned or a stewardship sermon to be preached. Her story is a testimony of hope. It is a witness to the promise of God that she would be cared for – that she is worth more than the world says she is. 

The widow’s might comes when she steps into the line of Rahab, the prostitute who opened her doors to the spies of Joshua’s army. Who trusted in the promise that God would liberate and free her from her life of exploitation.

The widow’s might comes when she step into the story of Naomi giving of her self so that Ruth could find security and bear the son that would become the grandfather of David. 

The widow’s might came when she trusted in the promise made by Elijah to the widow of Zarephath that God would provide for her until the new rains fell and her garden would grow again. 

The widow’s might came from hearing the story of how the widowed mother of Peter’s wife was healed from the brink of death by the touch of Jesus; how a 12 year old girl took in a breath of new life; how a bleeding woman was healed by touching the hem of his garment. Her might came from trusting in the promise of God that the way of discipleship leads to the cross, but in that death will come new life. Her might came from watching as Jesus confronted the very people who failed to protect her; from hearing how in the Reign of God the last will be first and the first will be last.

The widow’s might came from trusting that with God she will never be alone. That with God comes the power to survive; the power to fight through another day; the promise of God is that you are never far from the Reign of God.

So, let that be the good news for you this day.Let this story of the mighty widow give you the power to step out from that which is seeking to hurt you. Let her faith in the promise of God give you the faith you need to take a risk in your journey as a believe. Speak out at school when you hear someone being bullied. Make noise when you you see someone being neglected. Take the risk to meet people you might have tried to avoid. Do not be like those on TV who say that I am righteous; no live like the one who is righteous. 

And I promise you, when you do, when you step out like the mighty widow – when you take the chance and embrace the story that is the story of salvation; when you trust in the Lord you will be freed to give fully into the reign of God. You will be able to say – you will be able to live in the words of the 146th Psalm:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will sing praise all my life long…happy are those whose hope is in the LORD their God who made heave and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. 

The LORD sets the prisoners free; 

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; 

the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down

The Lord loves the righteous

The Lord watches over the stranger; upholds the orphan and the mighty widow, and brings ruin to the wicked.

The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Emerson Avenue Baptist Church, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

Thanks be to God


Sermon : Sacred Tears

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Sacred Tears

Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
This morning we celebrate and remember the Feast of All Saints. This is one of the oldest Feast Days in the history of the Church. In the beginning the early church remembered the lives of the martyrs on the anniversary of their earthly deaths, however during the mass persecutions under Roman rule so many were martyred – assassinated anonymously that it was decided that there would be one day in which all of the saints who have died would be remembered. Honored. And this is why today we remember those saints in our lives who have ended their earthly lives and are now living in the promise of the waters of baptism. 

As Protestants, and more specifically Baptists, often the idea of saint is a difficult one for us to wrap our heads around. When we hear the word we often think of statues of St. Francis outside of homes, icons of the Holy Mother Mary. We don’t understand why some in the larger church pray to saints. This difficulty arises because we understand anyone in Christ to be saints. Don’t we? In our tradition we don’t have to be canonized or have investigations into our lives to determine that we are saints, but rather because we are in Christ we are already a saint. So as we celebrate and remember this day those who have gone before us, let us do so in the sure and certain promise that we are among them and they with us in the great cloud of witnesses.

Let us Pray….
Jesus wept. One of the most famous of all verses in the Bible. Mostly because it is the shortest and therefore the first one many kids learn when they are having memorization competitions…at least that is what I did. I needed to remember at least one. I wonder though if it is remembered so widely because it says something so deeply profound about Jesus that consciously or subconsciously it burrows itself into our beings. This is the lord of all, weeping. The son of God, with tears pouring down his cheeks. It doesn’t’ say Jesus wiped away a tear on his face. No it says, Jesus wept. I imagine it being a huge, snot bubble, gasping for breath cry. Not the macho man trying to keep his cool, but rather the soul shattering lament of a man whose heart is broken.
These tears, these sacred tears come about when he arrives at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. We don’t know a whole lot about Lazarus, but we are told that they were close. The relationship between Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and Jesus had to have been an important one because there are two incidents recorded about their friendship in two separate Gospels. They are characters that appear in both Luke and John, something that doesn’t happen except for John the Baptist, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the disciples. It seems only those intimately associated with Jesus are named let alone mentioned in multiple Gospels. 
Jesus had received word days earlier that his friend was ill. And instead of taking the quick way to Bethany he delayed his travels and eventually Lazarus died. Only the did he make his way to the home of his friends. 
On the dirt road entering the village Jesus is greeted with the ailing of Lazarus’ sister Mary. Like the father running to meet the prodigal son, Mary breaks through the crowds of mourners, through the throngs of family to meet her friend on the road. Falling to her face in the dirt she wraps her arms around the legs of Jesus. Looking at him, her tears turing the dust on her face into mudslides, she cries out, “Lord, you could have saved him. You loved him. If you would have come he would be still living.”
Reaching down to his friend, he helps her up, his heart ripping to shreds, he says nothing for along time. His mind is not thinking, but his heart is crying out – compassion, mercy, frustration, anger, all the emotions fighting each other like a whirlwind in his chest. His throat choking up. He whispers in her hear, trying to keep it together for her sake, “Where have you laid him?”
“Lord, come and see.”
With those words the sacred tears begin flow. He can not hold it in any longer. His tears mix with hers in their embrace. Each one holding the other up. Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps so deeply that those around him grow concerned. They have never seen him like this, even when the news of his cousin, John the Baptizer, death. Jesus is weeping, a soul shattering lament.
The witnesses to this whisper to themselves, “If he was going to react like this which didn’t he save him? He healed the blind. He could have kept him from dying.”
Jesus and Mary amidst their mourning make their way to the tomb, and Jesus feels the doubts and questions of the whispering witnesses. This weeping continues, now with he added emotion of disbelief. How could these people not allow him to grieve the death of his friend? Are not his tears just as healing as making Lazarus well? Are not tears a gateway to the Divine, though which we come into the presence of God? 
Greatly disturbed, still weeping, he tells them to move the stone and open the tomb. “Lord, he’s been dead for four days. His spirit is gone. He has begun to return to dust, his flesh is rotting, and the stench will be too much,” Lazarus’ other sister Martha says to Jesus. Afraid of what might happen, she tries to stop him. She can not see through her tears and into Jesus’ sacred tears.
She is trapped in her grief. He is gone. Lazarus is dead. Her brother will never again tell the slightly naughty jokes around the dining room table. Her brother will never hold the child she may one day have. Her brother will never again wake her in the morning with the cooking of the morning bread. He is gone Her grief is all she feels. True as the grief is, sincere as it is, through her tears that is all she is able to see – unable, yet, to see the sacred tears of the man next to her.
Our tears come in those times when the pain we have can find no other expression. The constant numbness in your legs, the ache in your knees, the kink in your backs. The diagnosis that this suffering will be will you the rest of your life. The tears come when the pain is too much. They are the rising of the pain seeking escape. Like the steam pulsating is way out of a pressure cooker, waiting for the final release. Seeking a resolution they cloud our sight. Leaving us wondering, searching, despairing. They wash over you.
They wash over you when depression and anxiety wrap around us like a boa constrictor squeezing life from its prey. Gasping for air, the light around you begins to fade. Spots of appear, the disappearing of hope. You feel your pulse pounding in your neck, in your head, you feel your heart starting to let go. The grip of anxiety and depression, seeks release in your tears. But you you can’t let them go because it will mean you are weak, your try to hold them in and as you do your breath becomes tighter and tighter.
For some the tears you shed are of shame. Afraid that if you tell your family your secret, that you are in love with someone of your own gender, you are afraid they will throw you out. That they will no longer call you their child. Your tears come because you are not free to be the person your were made to be. Shame, depression, fear form the tears.
Bullies attack you at school or at work. And the long walk home is then only place you can cry. Alone by the side of the road the tears flow.
Others it is the loss of loved ones. You can’t stop the tears flowing when you remember your son, gone long before he should have been. Your unborn child, never tasting the sweet air of this life. Your parents, the rocks of your lives. All of them have left you here alone. In your grief it is like you are having an out of body experience. You don’t even know the person shedding tears.

 
We cry out like Martha, “Jesus, if you would have been her you could have saved him. 
And through her tears, through his tears, she hears, “Did I not tell you if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
Looking toward heave, his arms lifted high, through the gasps in his weeping. His tears breaking down the barrier between heaven and earth, falling to the ground. His tears clearing the way for the pain to escape so that new words may come. New tears may fall, tears not of pain or grief, but tears of release, tears of joy, tears of thanksgiving. Looking toward heaven, through sacred tears, Jesus utters a prayer, “Through these tears, I thank you for having heard me. You always hear me. Let them believe.”
“LAZARUS COME OUT!” Jesus cries. Falling then, to the ground his tears puddling underneath him. Watching as in that fallen salt water a bloom rises, hear hears a din from the crowd, “Look, Look.” They say. He looks up and sees his friend resuscitated and emerging from the tomb. Running to him, not caring what the purity laws say, he says to those following him, “Unbind him and let him go.”
Tears are not something to be ashamed up. Tears are the waters of baptism we carry in us. When they fall, they free us to be closer to God in a way that we can never imagine. They become sacred tears reminding us that we will see the glory of God. Because ours is a faith rooted in the sacredness of tears. Rooted in the the truth of life. Rooted in the promise that one day there will be a time of no more tears. That one day God will make his home among us. That one day all this will pass away and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Our tears connect us to that promise because we know that Jesus wept. And through is tears he shows the glory of God. 
When the tears come through the pain in your body, your tears are sacred. They are true and they are yours. Your tears are the tears of the one who knew pain. They are the tears of the one who hungered for forty day, they are the tears of the one who felt the nails in his flesh. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of Christ.
When the depression and anxiety are squeeing the life out of you, your tears are sacred tears. They are the tears of the one who knew loneliness, they are tears of the one who knew betrayal. They are the tears of the one who knows what it is be be abandoned by those he loves. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of Christ.
When you are afraid. Your tears are sacred because they are the tears of the one who wanted the cup to pass him by. They are the tears of the one who wanted to deny who he way. But they are the tears of the one who was accepted by his Father. They are tears of joy that come with the embrace that says I love you as you are. They are sacred tears because they are the tears of Christ.
When the bullies attack you, you tears are the tears of the one mocked and scorned. 
When you are lost and alone because everyone has left you. Your son, your daughter, your parents, your friends. When their lives on this earth are no more you weep with the very tears that Jesus wept with. You weep with the sacred tears of Christ weeping for his friend.
When you are crying those snot filled sobs that leave no room for words, you are weeping with the one who descended to hell. You are weeping with sacred tears.
And when you weep with sacred tears something happens. Something begins to turn. Something begins to grow. Instead of our tragedy informing our theology our theology informs out tragedy. And we begin to see that our tears, painful as they are, are sacred and they are they very waters that run by the tree of life. We see that our tears, full of sorrow and grief as they are, are sacred tears and are they are waters of the Jordan. We see that our weeping will last the night but joy comes in the morning. We see that our sacred tears are the bearers of new life. The are the irrigation channels of healing and hope. They are the river rolling on and the mighty streams of justice. Our tears are sacred.
They are the tears of Abraham making his way up the mountain with Isaac bound turned to joy when the angel of the Lord stopped his knife wielding hand.
They are tears that rolled down the cheeks of the beaten and bloodied Joseph and they turned into tears of reconciliation and forgiveness as he beholds his brothers – lost but now found.
They are the sacred tears of a weeping Naomi turned into tears of love when Ruth says I will stay with you.
they are the tears of Job, sitting on the ash heap, turned into tears of understanding when God is revealed in the whirlwind.
Pouring off the face of the prophet Jeremiah, his shed his sacred tears proclaiming the justice of the living God.
Elizabeth’s tears of sorrow for never being able to conceive a child were a sacred prayer and were transformed into tears Joy at kicking of John in her belly.
Mary, hearing the news of the angel, shed sacred tears – tears that would flow the rest of her life.
They are the tears of Jesus. Jesus who knows the pain and hurting. The illness and anxiety. Jesus how feels loss and desires understanding. They are the tears of God with us.
And our faith in that God promises that there will be a time when these sacred tears will run no more. Their flow will cease. Because we will be in the presence, we will be in the very presence of God. Our faith says that while our tears on earth may flow it is only for a time. Our faith is the faith that knows this present darkness but looks forward to what will be. Looks forward to what will be because we get to touch it now. We are the body of Christ. When we shed our sacred tears we are the body of Christ – touching that space where heaven and earth meet. We are the body of Christ on Calvary ready for that great resurrection day. We are the body of Christ so loved that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Our sacred tears are that reminder. 
Our sacred tears remind us that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nether the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither heights nor depths; nor anything in all of creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in our Lord Christ Jesus. Jesus who wept with sacred tears.
And this is why we celebrate this feast of All Saints. We celebrate to remember those we love. We celebrate to give thanks for lives lived. We celebrate to shed our sacred tears and be reminded that we are a part of something greater. We are the inheritors of a promise that is beyond our imagining. We celebrate because God is faithful to God’s promises. We celebrate because God’s story doesn’t end at the grave it goes on for ever and we are here and now a part of that forever. So, go from here today unafraid. Be in touch with the world. Let it touch your soul. Let it break your heart. Let us make you angry. Let us show you joy. Let it lift you up. Go unafraid to cry. Unafraid to weep. Go from this place with sacred tears and watch them reap new life where ever they fall. 

Thanks be to God.


Sermon: Sent

SentMatthew 28:16-20

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Here we are at the final act of worship. Act 4 – Sent by God into the World. This is the final act of worship and the first act of moving from a believer to a disciple. Formed by the previous three acts of worship – Gathered into community by God’s loving grace, Strengthened by the proclamation of God’s word and assured of our place in God’s ongoing story, led to respond through the sharing of our gifts and the elevation of prayers – Now, God sends us into the world. Sent, shaped by the thing that is called worship. Shaped by the hand of the God who created the cosmos. Shaped into the disciples who are sent into the world, even into the margins – were are sent into God world – for now our worship has ended, but service begins.

Let us pray…

The women came into the upper room breathless. Gasping they began to tell the strange story of what has just happened in the garden. About how the stone was rolled away. About how there was a messenger from heaven who told them Jesus was not there. About how in their fear they fell and saw the nail pierced feet of the Lord. Breathless they told the men that they were being sent back to Galilee. They were being sent back to where they came from; back to the streets. 

The disciples had been holed up since Friday when they watched their savior bleed. Murdered by the state, having been on death row for a crime he did not commit. They looked at the women like they were speaking in a foreign language. There is no way this happened. Some of them saw Jesus’ side pierced and gasped as the blood and water drenched the parched land. Others, unable to bear the pain he was enduring ran and found shelter in the place where they had their last fond memory of their master. His upper room where they shared the passover feast.

And now, these women had the audacity to tell them they were being sent. Sent from the safety of this sanctuary they had built. Sent back into the very place and to the same people that crucified their lord. 

Unable to believe the reluctance of the men, the women turned and left. They began the walk up the dusty paths back to Galilee. Seeing their determination, the men followed. At a distance. 

For five days, the parched desert landscape and it wind swirled sands stabbed their skin. For the five days it took to walk from Jerusalem to Galilee their minds were reeling with the events. Remembering how they had been called. Gathered by Jesus – the fishermen called from their boats, the tax collector from his office, the zealot and the twin. And the women, they remembered how he had dined with them, called them by name. Treated them as though they mattered. How he appeared to them first, knowing they were the ones whose faith was strong. 

Gathered together they shared the stories of the words he had spoken. Words that brought them into the Reign of God. Words that were dangerous and world changing: Love your enemies; blessed are the poor; turn the other cheek; sell all you have and follow me. They shared the stories that told of God’s love – about how the prodigal son was welcomed with open arms; about the love a stranger and enemy showed to a fallen man. The reminisced about the healings; the lame walking, the blind seeing, and the possessed being brought to renewed life.

As the days passed, as the fire flickered they broke bread together – remembering that final meal they had with him. Seeing how this meal now was something different, they felt his presence as they shared the bread and wine. They joined hands and prayed the prayer that he taught them. 

The sun now rose over the mountain and they saw his silhouette. Through the shadow of his outstretched hands they saw the light piercing the darkness. Knowing it truly was them they sprinted from their place to the top of the mountain. The women fell at his feet. They all worshiped, even though there were lingering questions in some of their minds. Once again he had gathered them together to worship.

Then came his words: “Friends, All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, now. Go and make disciples of all people…of all people. Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them, help them understand and observe all I have taught you and told you. Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.”

Sent. They went to where the Spirit blew. Some to Jerusalem, some to Egypt and Northern Africa, some as far as India. They went as disciples, gathered, empowered, fortified. They were sent in hope.

Friends, we are gathered this morning, only to be sent from this place into the margins of the world to proclaim the love, the grace, the unparalleled mercy of our God. This is why we are here. This why this church has been here these 94 years. Many have gathered and many have been sent. 

This being sent, though is a daunting task. It is something some of us would rather not deal with. Even when the Good News of the Risen One is announced, the safety of our upper room is more appealing. The safety of our sanctuary is what comforts us. 

We say to ourselves, if people really want to believe they need to come here. Why don’t they? Why don’t the food pantry guests, or the dance or art students come? We know that the Good News is true and is found here so why don’t they come?

The thing is, even as we believe the Good News, we don’t trust it. We don’t trust that it is as powerful as it claims to be. We don’t trust that when we are marked in the cross of Christ we have been anointed for something special. We don’t trust the words that Jesus said, “Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.”

And it is easy to understand. The world outside of our doors can be a frightening place. There is bad news everywhere we turn. Like the disciple sheltered in that upper room – we don’t know what terrors might be waiting for us.

This week as the public execution of a news reporter and her camera man shocked our nation; we stay safe in our cocoon – it is dangerous out there. When the worship of firearms and the idolatry of the second amendment is more important that human lives. When anyone is allowed to conceal carry, leaving the decision of life and death into their own hands, up to their own mood and temper, it is safer to stay in our sanctuaries.
As race baiting politicians try to paint their racists platforms in the guise of defending jobs and keeping us “safe,” when they want keep the entire nation safe behind walls as the expense of families, lives, and basic decency – it is easier to tune out and turn off. Isolating ourselves from the world.

When the chance of peace through diplomacy threatens ideological and warped theological ideas – when some are determined that bombs are a better deterrent than peace – it is safer to stay where we are.

We want to be where it is safe and warm. We want to be swaddled in the comfort that is our sanctuary. It is natural. Self-preservation is important. But when we do that. When we insist that people come here, when we refuse to engage the world, when we don’t emerge from our cocoon, we will die. 
Churches are doing this all over this country. They have been so consumed with saving themselves, of remaining safe, that they have forgotten the command of Jesus. They refused to emerge from their cocoon the beautiful thing God has created them to be and instead die from malnutrition and lack of air. 
We are gathered by God to go out into the world. Unafraid. Boldly. To not be trapped in the safety of our sanctuaries. It is a challenge and it isn’t easy, but have have been gathered into this place to metamorphose into the beautiful creation God has made us. We are fed by the word and respond in love.

It is hard to step out in a world of violence and proclaim, blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. But it is easy when we trust the good news. when we trust that Jesus is with us today. Tomorrow. Forever. Event to the end of the ages.

It is easy to do when we trust in the power that Jesus gives us. 

We see it. We see it every day in this place. When we have reached out into the world – we see little girls in tutus running around the building. We hear Spanish coritos being sung in our alls. We see hungry mouths being fed. We watch as beautiful art unfolds before our eyes. And none of this has happened because we want to stay safe. We have moved our of our cocoon and said to the neighborhood this is what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is what happens when believers become disciples and engage the world around us. This is a place where there is safety and where there is the building up of people who love the lord. 

Sisters and brothers, we have been gathered by God into this place to go out into the world and share the Good News. The good news that there is a God whose love for is is so profound that he can lead a wandering people into a promised land. 

Whose love is so deep for us that when we face giants we have nothing to fear.

We have been gathered by a God who promise that the walls that get in our way will come tumblin’ down.

That when we are trapped in the a fiery furnace, it will only cause the chains that bind us to melt away. 

That when surrounded lions, we can trust they will wait to eat something tastier than us. 

We have been gathered by a God who was born to a teen aged mom in a backwater town to a laborer father.

We have been gathered by a God who feeds us with the word of life: There is rejoicing when you are found; that God rushes to meet us; that God is the one who heals our wounds; mends our hearts; creates in us clean hearts.

We have been gathered to uplift each other in pray, not alone but in a community. 

And we have been gathered to be sent into the world. Sent to bear this precious good news. Sent to change the world. 

“All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, now. Go and make disciples of all people…of all people. Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them, help them understand and observe all I have taught you and told you. Go boldly. Unafraid, for I am with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever…even until the end of the ages.

Thanks be to God.


Sermon: A Resurrecting Community

A Resurrecting Community

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Click here for Audio

Now, let’s hear that last part again from the JAT translation. 

Then the LORD GOD said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole church. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your hearts, and bring you up from your pews, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Promise. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your hearts, and bring you up from your pews, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’ 

[Pray]

Today is the feast of Pentecost. It is the day in which we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles in that same upper room where they had been hiding, and today we remember that is was the breath of God, the Ruach of God, the Holy Spirit that resurrected those dry bones of the apostles and pushed them out into the streets to proclaim the promise that is found in the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. The promise that the young will have visions and the elders will dream dreams. That everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the day of Pentecost. They day of rejoicing in the promise of the Holy Spirit. The person of the trinity who is our helper and sustainer; who gives scared apostles the power to preach through their fear; the breath who life to those bones in the valley. This is the day of Pentecost – the birth of a resurrecting community.

So why is it we cry, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely,” when we ought to be rejoicing that breath has been put in us and we are alive? Why have we, the church, the whole church especially in the United States, become like the old bones in the valley? I think it is because we have forgotten to breathe. We have been holding our breath for so long, trying to do things on our own, on our own terms, by our own rules we have forgotten to breath and let the Holy Spirit do her work. We have strangled out the breath of God – the breath that has been working in the places like the continents of South America, Asia, and Africa. While we have been trying to do it oun our own, the breath of God has been giving life to the places we forget about.

While we are over here strangling ourselves with preachers who claim that if you give the right amount of offering or if you help them buy a $65 million dollar plane you will be blessed. While there are loud and tyrannical voices belching out toxic vitriol that hurricanes and avalanches, earthquakes and tsunamis are cause because of gay marriage or women’s rights; while there are people in the church who use the Bible as a hand grenade instead of a blueprint to salvation; while hiding behind their faith politicians are cutting aid to those most in need and dropping drone driven bombs on innocents – the breath of the Holy Spirit is in place like Ghana where the Ghanaian Baptists are actually teaching people how to fish and building up stronger communities raising up dry bones. She is blowing in Philippines where Samaritana Transformation Ministries has been working quietly for 20 years transforming the lives of sex workers – bringing the hope of new life where there was only a valley of dry bones. The Holy Sprit is breathing life into the church of South Africa the church is working to change a climate of nationalistic violence by empowering leaders who have a vision of God’s Shalom for the world. 

The Holy Spirit is blowing again in Jerusalem as the church is doing its reconciling work bringing Jews, Palestinian, and Christians to the table. She blows in Chile as the church brings healing to those who have suffered for years the hell of political imprisonment. And daily, their numbers are being added to. Yes, there are problems, but more than those problems, there is a recognition that the only way to live is to breath and so the church in Africa, Asia, and South America is breathing deep from the life giving breath of God. And the church in the United States wrings its hands wondering where all the people are. 

The greatest enemy of the church in the United States has not been those who seek social changes, it has not been the creation of subsidized healthcare, or those who fight for marriage equality. No, the greatest enemy of the church in the US has been the church itself. It has forgotten who it is, and has withered away and is now lying in a valley of dry bones alongside all of those it has hurt in the process. Their sinew flayed and nerves exposed, pain and hurt have become the dominant feelings instead of grace and hope.

And this is similar to what was going on in the time of Ezekiel. The priest Ezekiel was among the first of the refugee/prisoners taken from Jerusalem to Babylon, Ezekiel and Jeremiah were contemporaries. He was there as the armies of the foreign empire came in and took over the city of God. And while in Babylon he heard God speak and call him to the prophetic vocation, and the message was that even worse was to come because the people of Judah had become so self-centered. They had turned away from what it is God wanted for them to accomplish – away from what it was God called them to do. They began to see themselves as the crown of creation, the place to be, the place to be seen – and in doing so they forgot that they were supposed to be caring for those in need. 

Things got so bad that that God refused to pay attention to their worship. They were just showing up on Sundays to save face – going through the motions – they were not going to church for true worship of the Living God who rescued them from the slavery of Egypt, who brought them through the wilderness into the promised land. They did not come praise the God who rescued them from the hands of the enemies, who time an again sent judges and kings to rescued them. No – they came to church because it was the thing they had to do and because of that, because their was no heart in their worship they grew arrogant. And they began to behave even worse than those in Sodom. The Lord said through Ezekiel to the people of Jerusalem, “This is the sin of your sister, Sodom – she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They grew arrogant and treated each other as objects.” Things were bad.

Add to this the fact that, now, they were prisoners in a foreign land. Captives to Babylon. Everything they knew had been wiped out – their livelihoods,their homes, their way of life, and even the Temple that they now realized was the house of God. Life had fallen out of them. Breath had left them, and they were rotting in a valley. A dry and dusty valley. Their bones mixing with the bones of all those destroyed in their conquests. There was no life left in them. The mighty had fallen. 

And in the midst of this despair, in the middle of this mess the Lord God reaches out God’s hand and drags Ezekiel to this valley. He pulls the prophet by the and sits him squarely in the middle of this valley of the shadow of death – the dust causing him to cough. The flies biting his skin. The smell of rotting flesh. The pall of darkness that accompanies the grim reaper. And God puts him in the middle of this mess and says to him, “It’s up to you. I need you to trust me. Prophesy to these bones. It is time for some resurrecting. Tell these bones to get up. Tell them to stand up. Tell them it is time for them to rise once again. Say to them, O Dry Bones…GET UP! Hear the word of the Lord – Tell them I am going to re-sculpt you. I am going to put the sinew back on. I am going to cover you with skin. And I am going to breathe life back into you like you have never felt before. I am going to fill your lungs with Holy Breath.”

As Ezekiel said the Thus saith the Lord, the bones began to rattle. Them dry bones began to connect. They began to find their mates. The foot bone connected to heel bone. The heel bone connected to leg bone. The leg bone connected to the knee Bone. The knee bone connected to the thigh none. They thigh bone connected to the hip bone. The hip bone connected to the back bone. The back bone connected to the shoulder bone. The shoulder bone connected to the neck bone. The neck bone connected to the head bone. Now hear the word of the Lord! Them dry bone resurrected and became bodies of men and women. They became the bodies of the fallen Jerusalem. The fallen of Israel. They looked all right, but something was wrong. Something just wasn’t right. 

“God,” said Ezekiel, “God, something ain’t right here. Something is wrong. These folks are looking like they did before Jerusalem fell. They are looking like the same folk that messed things up in the first place.”

“Ezekiel, I ain’t done yet. Prophesy now to the breath, man, and tell the breath: Thus saith the Lord, ‘Come four winds. Come and breath upon these slain. Breathe upon this resurrecting community. That might live.”

And there, in that valley, the wind flew in from all four corners of the earth, and it filled the valley with holy breath. And together, the people of God inhaled that divine breath and something happened. As the Holy Spirit breath made its way into their lungs, their blood vessels, as it made its way into every fiber of their begins they begin to rejoice and praise God like never before. They lifted holy hands and sang to the lord a new song. They knew they had been saved once again and their graves had been flung open. They knew that the Sprit of the lord hand entered into them and they would live. They would live as a resurrecting community.

They began to lives lives of hope and began to trust that the God who raised their dry bones would not stop until they were fully God’s again.

That, friends, is the message for today. That is the Good New. God ain’t done with the church. God ain’t done with you. God ain’t done with me. God is shouting to us DRY BONES, GET UP!!! 

God is say that even though there are buffoons who are claiming to speak in my name they are nothing but false prophets. Hear my word, says the Lord. Get up. Breath this holy breath.

God is saying if you want true prosperity, trust me. It ain’t going to be what those preachers say it looks like, but when you trust me – when your put your faith in me you are going to live a life that will be in touch with eternal life. It will be in touch with prosperity that isn’t of this world, but is of the God who created the cosmos.

God is say my Word is not meant to be something to beat others down with, but is to be used as the bread of life. When it is opened up, holy breath comes out and fills you. 

God is saying it is time for you to get up and breath the breath i am putting in you and live!

So, friends, I am here to let you know that God isn’t giving up on you. God isn’t giving up on the church. God will not let the bride die. God is going to breath life into you like you have never felt. 

Because this is the God who did lead the Israelites across the sea – on dry land.

This is the God who tore down the walls of Jericho.

This is the God who took took some stones and killed a Giant.

This is the God who was there in a fiery furnace.

This is the God who closed the mouth of lions.

This is the God who walked on water.

This is the God who calmed the sea.

This is the God who said to Lazarus – Get up.

This is the God who said to the devil – shut up.

This is the God who said to death – you ain’t no match for me.

This is the God who said – I promise to send you a helper.

This is the God who sent tongues of flame.
This is the God who breathed life in to them dry bones.

So, I’m here to let you know this is the God who is going to touch every cell of your body and bring you a newness of life like you have never experienced. And on top of that this is the God who is going to raise you up into a community of resurrection. A community so filled with the breath of God that they break free from the bonds of this world and all that stands against God and they breath that Holy Breath into every place they touch.

And it starts with one. And then another. And then another. And soon there is a chain reaction of resurrecting happening that hasn’t been seen since the Cave door blew open. 

So, I want to know is there anybody here today in need of some Holy Breath? Is there anybody here today in need of some resurrecting? Are your dry bones longing to breathe again. Is there any body here that needs to hear the word of the Lord.

Now, I want to know is there anybody here who has been touched by the Lord? That has had their lives resurrected? That has been trough the valley of dry bones only to come out on the other side. Is there any body here willing to reach out to one of those who are need of Holy Breath and give some divine CPR? Some resurrecting resection – some prayer?

If you are need of resurrection and you want to feel the breath of God raise your hand and if you are raised up and you want to pray for some of those in need get up. Get up and go to them and share with them the breath of the one who saved you. 

And as you are praying as you are breathing. I want to let you know that this is the church that was there on Pentecost. This is the church that lives. This is the church that breathes. This is the church that will never die. 
This is where the chain reaction of the big bang begins. When one is resurrected then another then another. There will be nothing that can stand in the way of God’s bride. Of the Resurrected church. OF the resurrecting community.

Thanks be to God


Sermon: A Resurrection Prayer

A Resurrection Prayer

John 17: 6-19

Click here for audio.

I don’t know if you have heard about the recent Pew Research Poll about the state of Christianity in the United States or if I have only been inundated by because most of my friends are church nerds, but this poll stated that in the year 2015 the number of people declaring themselves unaffiliated (not tied to any religion or faith tradition) grew from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, and that number of professed Christians fell from 78.4% to 70.6%

Needless to say these findings have many crying that the sky is falling and wondering what will become of this country. Is the end near for the church? Churches are in a panic because they see this as a harbinger of years to come. Seminaries are wondering if they will have students to fill the seats. But, if you can’t tell from my tone, none of these are worries for me. Yes, the numbers are shocking, but in them I see hope and promise. I see an opportunity, and I hear Jesus’ pray over the disciples being prayed over us anew.

[Prayer]

In today’s gospel we find ourselves in the middle of Jesus’ prayer at the last supper. It is strange that we are hearing about an event that happened before the crucifixion on this the seventh Sunday of Easter. But if we hear his words, if we hear them as they were intended, this resurrection prayer is laying the foundation for the church to come. It is clearing out the rubble and the impediments of and laying a firm foundation upon which the church would be built. 

This prayer comes at the end of what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. For the previous four chapters in John’s Gospel, Jesus has been spelling out what is about to happen. He has washed the disciples feet, sent Judas on his way, told Peter he will deny him. Jesus spoke to them about being the true vine of God, send from God. He tells them the world will hate them because the world hated him. Gathered around that table, their world is crumbling down.

Imagine what it must have been like to hear these words from your best friend. Some of us have in a way, when our mother tells us that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer or that you will have to have assistance in your own day to day lives. Some know the pain of loosing a child before her or his time, or are still struggling with the grief of loosing a parent.The pain is all too real. And most of us can relate to the soul crushing, spirit draining experience the disciples must have been going through on last night of Jesus life. It is all too real.

But in the midst of the crushed souls and drained spirits, Jesus begins to tell them that something extra ordinary will happen to them. That because of all these things, because of them, they are now co-workers in the work of God. They have been grafted into the vine of God. They will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them in their new lives. He commands them to love one another as he has loved them, and when they do – the world will know whose they are. 

And then he prays for them. He prays that they will be strong. That they will remember that when it is dark, they are marked with the love of God and they are a part of God just as Jesus is a part of God. He prays that whatever fear they have will be allayed and that remember they have the one thing that the world can never take from them  – the authority of the Name of God. Love. 

Jesus sends the disciple out into the world, not away from it. They are sent into the places where love is absent in order to bring the love of God into those darkest of places. And Jesus pleads for their protection. He knows the road is hard and the journey dangerous. He knows that there are many who will refuse to hear the message they bring and will even kill those who bring it. And yet, Jesus prays that the disciples go into the world and be protected from the evil one. That they face the dangers bravely and boldly, secure and confident in the one who sent them.

And finally he prays that the disciples be set apart, sanctified in the truth. The truth of the name of God. Set apart in the world changing love of God. And set apart they are sent out. 

Jesus’ prayer lays the foundation for the church that is yet to come. A fledgling church that will have its brand new world upturned.

This passage from the Gospel of John was written for a community of believers no more than 70 years old. They were the second generation of believers and had seen the temple in Jerusalem destroyed – their center of worship. They had seen the beginnings of persecutions. That had experienced Rome doubling down on their oppression. This new community of believers is hearing these words of Jesus as their own world is in chaos. These foundation words. This resurrection prayer.

So this prayer of Jesus for his disciples is also a pray for this new community of the resurrection. A new community that formed after Christ rose and ascended. A community that settled at the corner of Emerson Avenue and New York in 1921. Jesus prayed for the community of disciples gathered here today. 

This resurrection prayer for this resurrection community is the foundation for the building up of God’s beloved community. A community that binds us together across lines of age and gender; race and sexual orientation. This prayer is a prayer that is for this church today. Jesus asks that God protect us, that God give us strength, that God give us a voice to be bold in this world. That we be more than just pew sitting people and that we go out side of this church and testify – give witness to the amazing love of God. He asks these things so that we may be united together, made strong in our story. That we  have joy in Christ. And in that joy we are set apart. We are sanctified in truth. 

When the people of God rise up in testimony to the love of God, to the redeeming message of God – change happens. This past Monday, the voice of God was heard loudly proclaiming, “everyone is worthy of redemption,” as the city council stopped the mayor’s bid to build a new criminal justice center. A center that would do nothing to stop crime, but that would be built on the premise that the beds would be filled – the 1500 additional beds would be filled. The thought behind this new jail was that we would keep the beds full. It gave no thought about the fact that what is needed is opportunities for those humans returning to life after jail. The money for the additional beds could have been spent on job training and half-way work. For mental health treatment instead of inmate warehousing. 

I, along with a coalition of churches and pastors called IndyCAN rose our collective voices and gave witness to the name of God – the Love of God and confronted the evil in this plan. We built a coalition of voters, we put faces to statistics, and we spoke the truth of a God who loved humanity enough to die for it in order to save it. And we changed the city council’s mind. They were set to rubber stamp the mayor’s proposal, but the refused to sit still and had to testify to the love of God. And the voice of God, the voice of love, won. The criminal justice center as it was presented by the mayor is all but dead. 

When the people of God rise up and speak with the authority of they name of God – walls come a tumbling down. When the people of God are set on the firm foundation of the resurrection prayer of Jesus – are embrace by this words – all things are possible. And we are sanctified in truth – in the joy of Christ.

We are enveloped in the love of God. Marked as holy, set aside for more than we can ever expect. We are the light of God’s love in a world that does not know God. And we are one. The body of Christ.

And yes, there are things that will try to take us down. The evil one is always trying to turn us away from God’s love and to trust in our selves as the sole authorities. This has happened since the earliest days of the church – the gnostic heresies that questioned the humanity of Jesus; the church becoming the church of the Roman Empire – immersing is self in the state; the ignorance that fueled the crusades and the inquisition; current interdenominational conflict. The evil one is always trying to tear the people of God away from the truth of God – the love of God. The evil one is good at making sure we trust in ourselves more than we trust God.

Our personal animus against each other; our idolization of the past; and our idols of the future; the way we thing change is the only thing or that things can never change; we trust our own narrow interpretations of scripture rather than being informed by 2,000 years of interoperation and tradition; we pride our selves on our exclusivity. Theses things that drive people away from the church – because we are more concerned with ourselves that the love of God.

But again, when we open ourselves up to the power of this resurrection prayer – when we allow ourselves the humility and the grace to realize that we are called by Jesus. When we are able to hear Jesus saying, “I love you. I have called you. I have called you as an individual. I have called you as a church. You are mine. You are good enough for this task, because I have called you by name.” When we hear Jesus praying for us – for us – our elders will dream, our young will see visions. They will cross lines and work together – hand in hand, arm in arm, giving witness to the love of God. And nothing will be impossible. 

When we open ourselves up the status quo, the mission becomes more important that the status quo. The doors are open and we go out. We don’t just sit hoping people will walk in to the church – we walk out into the world – set apart in the the truth of God’s love, marked by the cross of Christ, named beloved of God – we walk out and show everyone we meet that the love of God for us and for them is stronger than any evil that may come. And then maybe people will find their ways into our community – but we the onus is on us to leave the safety of the church. But even so, that is not the point. The point is that we are faithful to God’s promise. That we trust the foundation laid for us in the resurrection prayer of Jesus.

That we are witnesses of a God who so loved the world that he gave is only son, so that all who believe will not perish, but here and now begin living into the reign of God – the truth of God – the love of God and be saved by a God whose love knows no bounds. We are witnesses to the great joy that is the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. 

In this prayer we are told we are part of God’s divine plan for the word. That we have bee call to a time such as this. Hear the prayer again with new ears:

I have made your name known -your name of love – to Emerson Avenue Baptist Church – the ones you gave me from they world. They were yours, and you entrusted them to me. They have kept your word. And they know that everything you have given me is from you.

I am asking on this church’s behalf, not on behalf of the world, but I am begging for those you have given me – those gathered at Emerson and New York – because they are yours. Your beloved.

All mine are yours and all yours are mine! and I have been glorified in them.

And now, I am no longer in the world, but the church is. I am coming to you. Holy God, protect Emerson Avenue in your name -your name of love – so that they may be one as you and I are one.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name and by your authority. I have guarded them and not one was lost…

But I am coming home, and I am saying these things so that they may have joy in them and that their joy be made completed – for they are yours. That church on the corner.

They have a tough task ahead because I have given them your word. But don’t make them complacent, don’t keep them from the world – send them out, but protect them, too, from the evil one.

Set them apart. Make them holy. Sanctify them in the truth of your name – in your love.

As you have sent me – I and sending you Emerson Avenue Baptist Church into he world.

Beloved, The foundation has been poured. we have a wonderous and difficult journey ahead. Can we do it?

Thanks be to God. 


Maundy Thursday Meditation

Final Instructions

John13:1-17, 31b-35

Click here for audio.

Contagious laughter caught fire around the table

Memories of days past; the jokes and jibes

They danced across the table in terpsichorean splendor

The brothers banter; the fisherman’s stories

Joy was in this place

The meal filled them; lamb and roasted root

Wine and sweets to fill their too long empty bellies

The fire painting the wall in undulating shadows

Joy was in this place

He, though, was too quiet 

Something in the shadows made him look two times

His thirty three years

Heaviness weighed down his shoulders

Like the pack on a mule

His eyes distant, as if he were in a far different place

And as the laughter spread

He stood silently, grabbed a basin and a towel

He began to wash, wash the dirt stained, callous hardened, heat cracked feet of those who followed him

Was joy in this place?

As the dust from the feet began to coat his hands

They said to him, “stop,” but he would not. Could not.

The master was on his knees solely focused on the foot in his hand.

Inspecting every inch, the crags, the ingrown nails, the broken blisters

His hands served them love

They said “stop,” but he said this is how it is

This is how to love

Love one another

Take off the outer protection of power

Come down to the floor

See the foot in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

See the person in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

Regard them not as strangers but friends

Beautifully and wonderfully made.

This is how they will know you love me –

Love one another. 

Love one another when…

When neighbor is pitted against neighbor

When laws seek separation rather than unification

When your streets run with blood

When a neighbor is shot and killed, crucified

When your home has been turned upside down

When you are judged on the color of your skin and not the content of your character

When you are told who you are allowed to love

When…

Love one another

Amarse los unos a los otros

Just as I have loved you

Just as I have washed your feet

Just as I have brought life when there was death

Just as I have healed the sick, the blind, the lame.

Just as I have loved you

There is joy in this place

In these final words

In this last meal

During the end days

There is joy in this place

When love shines

When partisanship of political persuasion rise

When animus arises one against another

Let the love shine

Embrace the stranger

Hug the outcast

Love the unloveable

Hold on to the one who disagrees

Love one another

Love one another and the rest falls into place.

In the words of the King born in Atlanta; 

The King through Montgomery and Birmingham;

The King who made it across the river in Selma;

In the words of that King – fueled by the Prince of Peace:

“Now, we got to get this thing right. 

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, 

and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. 

Power at its best, 

power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, 

and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. 

And this is what we must see as we move on.”

Love is the word made flesh.

Love is the one who kneels and washes the feet

Love is the one who sits and eats with those the world had thrown aside

Love is the one beaten, mocked, ridiculed, forgotten

Love is the one crucified

Crucified not for God, but for us

Crucified because the violence of the world could not understand 

pure love; gracious love; forgiving love; empower love;

Love: the word made flesh

Love is 

Rewriting the story

Correcting the misreading

Flipping the script

Love is 

the power that brings us closest to God

Closest to the divine spark that started it all

Love is poured out for all to see 

On the tree of Calvary

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.

They will know you are mine when you love one another.”


Sermon: Unraveled at the Crossroad

Unraveled at the Crossroad

Mark 15

(Prologue)

This day begins with the joy of Palm Sunday! The anticipatory zeal of the kingly entry into Jerusalem. The final push toward the glory of Easter. This day begin with the joy of the coming of the anointed king to restore order and take down the powers of the world.

This day ends, though, with the king being laid inside a rock hewn tomb. Killed a criminals death. Rejected and alone. This day ends with the fabric of reality becoming unraveled. 

As Jesus enters Jerusalem there is a tiny thread in the fabric of reality sticking out. He enters the city firmly aware of the cosmic shift that is about to occur, but the people are waving their palms – ready for the king to free them from the grip of Roman authority – if they only knew what freedom really meant.

Their cries of Hosanna – Lord, Save us – echo through the streets just as they did when the Maccabean’s delivered Jerusalem from the hands of Antichous Epiphanes – the last of the Greek overlords. They palms then, as they now hoped – would usher in a rebellion, and this new messiah would deliver them. Their eyes fixed on him, they waited for the rallying call – only when it came it was a cry from a cross and they were nowhere to be found. They throw their garments on the ground making way, unaware that one loose thread would change the world. Unaware of the unraveling at the crossroad.

(Scene 1: A worn garment)

When the disciples were told to get the colt for Jesus, they had no idea what was about to happen. He had been telling them for days that his life was about to end, and that he was about to undergo great suffering. He had told them about how they would have to pick up a cross to follow him, but they had no idea what any of this meant. They just went along with him, almost blind to the reality of which he spoke. 

Their aloofness was amplified when they witnessed the reception into Jerusalem. They had never seen anything like it. They had heard about the reception of Pilate when he arrived in the city, this had to be similar. People were throwing themselves at Jesus – he was the king come home. They watched as he went to the temple. Looked at it and then left the city for the night.

In that moment they were wrapped in a garment of awe. A garment of power they had never felt. They were with the new King of the Jews! Now was their time. Wrapped in this garment of awe, they were completely unaware of the loose thread that began to pull away.

They next day the went to the temple, that place where God lived behind the giant fabric veil in the Holy of Holies. They went with Jesus to pray and to study, but when their got there Jesus went nut. He tore apart tables and threw out the money changers. They watched as the temple authorities took notes. They heard Jesus claiming the temple for God and not humans. They did not see the thread in the Holy of Holies beginning to pull loose, they just knew that the garment of awe was unraveling.

Jesus came to the temple the next day and their world unraveled more as the authorities pulled threads out in their accusations of Jesus.

More threads were pulled when Jesus dared talk of destroying the temple and rebuilding it. More unraveling  at the talk of wars and rumors of wars. Threads ripped when they were told they would be persecuted.

The garment of awe was slowly being unwoven leaving them naked and afraid.

Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Humanity – the one who would bring about God’s final judgement and their warm garment became less so. He spoke of the necessity of staying awake for they would not know when the Son of Humanity would come and they shivered in the cold – no warmth to be found. 

They watched as his feet were anointed and he spoke of his own burial – and they shook naked and cold. 

Then as they heard him say one would betray and another deny – their world unraveled. It spun out of control as they watched his arrest and his trial. They saw him naked on the cross. Their world had come completely unraveled on the crossroad. The garment of awe they wore a few short days ago was gone and they were now naked and shivering – their world unraveled.

(Scene 2: Unraveled)

Our journey is not so unlike the disciples. We come to church ready to be wrapped in garment of awe. We know the great things Jesus as done. Many of us have seen first hand what happens when Jesus is present. We have seen loved ones healed; we have have been healed. WE have made or are slowly making our way through grief – accompanied by Jesus. We have felt the warmth of family or friends just when we have needed it. Like the disciples we have walked along the crossroad with Jesus and seen and heard amazing things – and we are wrapped in a garment of awe.

And then it happens, the unravelling begins. The elation of the moment gives way to the reality of the world around us. The garment of awe is unraveled one tread at a time.

Within in 48 hours this week 5 lost their lives to the lead of bullets in seven shooting incidents. Their deaths were barely a blip on the radar – murder has become so routine that it is just passingly mentioned on the news – a pull on the tread.

Our state has become a tinderbox of emotions as the specter of discrimination hovers like the shadow of Jim Crow. Laws passed that implicitly allow for discrimination cloaked in the garment of religious piety – threaten to obscure the image of God in one another. A tug at the thread.

Your friends are getting sick; growing old and more frail by the day; your children are involved in things that make you sick to your stomach; your rent is due and the money is gone; your table is bare and there are mouths to feed; your job sucks your soul; your world is unraveling one thread at a time. And that garment of awe that was so warm unravels leaving you naked and shivering. Fearful and wary. 

And in the cold we grab for whatever can keep us warm. Pills. The bottle. The comfort of power when we act out against people we love. 

We try to find something in things garments studded with deception and lies. We wrap our selves in self-centeredness and self loathing. Our world is unraveling and we cling to whatever we can that promises to keep us warm.

(Scene 3: The great unraveling)

And as the world is unraveling. As Jesus is tried and convicted. Crucified and mocked. Something is happening. Though the disciples world is unraveling and all they know seems to be disappearing – something is happening in the Holy of Holies. That loose thread is beginning to pull. That loose thread is beginning to tug at the fabric of reality.

As Jesus is on the cross another unraveling is happening – an unraveling that will mend all the torn garments of the world. The garments pulled apart by outside  forces and the ones ripped apart in grief. The garments left on the roadside for the coming of the king and garment  hung out to dry. There is an unraveling about to happen that will mend all the torn garments.

There on the cross as the noon day sun was swallowed by the clouds. And Jesus – alone and naked on the cross – his life unraveled – cries out totally alone, “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” As Jesus lungs bellow for the cry of one totally unraveled – the words shoot through the clouds into the heavens and into the ear of God. They cry of the dying Jesus travels though the cosmos and into the throne room of God and in that cry. In that confession of utter abandonment. In that gasp something happens. With the final cry fro the carpenter from Galilee the fabric of reality becomes unraveled.

The thread in the temple tares and the veil between God and humanity rips apart from the top to the bottom. The separation between God and the world is forever destroyed. The fabric of separation is unraveled and in the cry of Jesus – the broken are restored. The torn are mended. The ripped are sewn together. In the unraveling of the veil there is not longer any things that separates our cries from God!

(Scene 4: Unraveled at the crossroad.)

The thread that comes form the unraveling of the veil between God and humanity is the very threat that begins to weave together the brokenness around us.

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the healing that we feel when the hand of a friends holds ours. 

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the peace we feel in the middle of the chaos.

The tread of the veil weaves itself into the anger we feel as innocent lives are lost daily. It is the thread that gives us strength to look at our neighbors not as threats but as children of God who need to be loved.

The thread of the veil that on one side touched God and on the other touched the world is the thread that will unite God’s children in the face of discrimination.

The veil between God and humanity was unraveled in the cry of Jesus on the cross. The fabric of reality was unraveled in on that cross in Jerusalem all those years of ago – the the divine thread continues to weave its way into healing and reconciliation.

Beloved friends – the world around us is unraveling, but because of the cross we can see God is present in the unraveling. God hears the cries of God’s people. God hears the lament and wailing – the cries of confusion. So when the news gets too much to bear; when the pain is to great; when the grief too deep and anger too real – remember that on the cross of calvary – the great unraveling occurred and in all of that – in all of that – there is no longer anything that can separate you from the love of God. For the veil is torn. 

When the world is unraveling around you – with the veil torn know that God is now with you – so nothing can be against you. On the cross God gave everything up for you – ripping apart all that would separate you. For on the cross – in the great unraveling – who will separate you from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress? Persecution or famine? Nakedness or peril or sword? No – in all these things you are more than conquerers through the unraveled loved of God! Nothing- neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, no blood in the streets, nor unjust laws, nor piles of debt, nor hospital stays, nor tears, nor anything all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The veil is torn and the fabric of reality forever altered. The cross of Calvary. They cry of Jesus restores that which is unraveled. Makes new that which was old. Mends the broken and heals the hurting. The veil is torn and the fabric of reality is made new. 

Thanks be to God.