Sermon: Always Gettin’ What Ya Want

Always Gettin’ What Ya Want1 Sam. 8:4-20, 11:14-15

Click here for the audio.. This might be a good week to do so, since then of the preached sermon differed from the end of the manuscript..

This morning the lectionary, that rhythm of readings used by many churches, begins the summer of David. I thought it would be fun for us to spend some time this summer joining in that journey. We will follow David through ups and downs, highs and lows, and we will be witnesses of God’s work through out this season. We will partake in the presence of the Almighty, as God lifts us David, and shakes God’s head in disgust – we will hear where God is doing the same with us, and through it all we will understand the ferocity of God’s love for God’s people – through the good and the not so good. 

So as this summer of David begins, you might be asking your self, “Self, Pastor just read the Scripture and we didn’t hear about David. Instead we heard about Samuel, the People, and Saul. What gives?” Well, friends…this week serves as sort of a prologue – a set up, if you will, for all the things that are to come.

This morning, as the Summer of David begins, I would like for us to spend some time on the subject of what happens when you Always Get What Ya Want.

Let’s pray….

Let’s set the scene, created the context upon which we will be spending our time this morning. As we begin this reading this morning, there is no nation of Israel so to speak. There are the 12 tribes of Judah, the people known as the Hebrews, but there is not certified nation state. Think of it as a confederations of states working who share a common identity, yet have no overarching national governing structure. When it comes to defending land or protecting people, it can be an iffy proposition to get some of the other tribes to help.

There have been a series of Judges lifted up by God to help lead the people through times of trial (usually of their own doing), in fact there is an entire book of the Bible that chronicles the exploits of these Judges. It is the action movie of the Bible. There is intrigue, there are battles, there are love stories…it is the book where some of our favorite and head scratching stories come from … The strong man Samson and his lady love Delilah, The warrior Deborah, and Gideon come to mind as epic stories of battle and intrigue, but then there are the head scratchers like Ehud and Eglon – the throne room killing (those of you in Wednesday Bible Study can explain that to some who might not know), we have the story of Jephthah having to sacrifice his own daughter…the Judges ruled the tribes, but when their need was done the settled back into obscurity.

Enter Samuel, the boy who spent his life in the service of God. He is called upon to be a Judge for the people of Judah. He is called upon by the people to fulfill a specific request. They have all gotten together at the Hebrew National Convention and created a platform and have decided that they need a King to unite the people and create a unified Nation State. They are tired of being a loose confederation of states and want and anointed leader to bring them together. They saw that Samuel’s two sons (next in line to be judges) were crooked and could be paid off by the highest bidder, the would let the Koch Brothers dictate their decisions and not the Voice of God.

Now, one would think that Samuel would be pleased at this…it would take some of the burden off of his shoulders, after all as a called prophet of the most high he would serve as an advisor to the King. However, that is not the case. Samuel is angry. He is livid. He knows this is a big mistake. You see, God’s plan never intended for there to be a King. God’s plan was that the people would trust God’s faithfulness…You know, the God who brought their ancestors out of slavery, the God who tore down Jericho’s walls, who raised up Judges again and again to restore them … That God…the plan was for God to provide for them, but noooo, now they were telling Samuel, that wasn’t good enough. They needed someone they could see to be their leader. So, Samuel, does what a good judge does. He says to the people, “Let me pray on it.” And he does. 

Well, God answers the prayers of the people. God says, “Y’all are gonna get what ya ask for.” Samuel tells them as much, but tries to convince them by letting them know it isn’t going to be a bed of roses. The king will have a draft in war time and your kids are gonna die, the king will take from you, he will uses your girls as “bakers,” he will enslave you…are you sure you want to do this. And like a child not quite comprehending consequences the answer is a resounding, “YES!”

And after a couple chapters of telling the story of the soon to be monarch, we see Samuel anoint Saul. King of the Hebrews. The people rejoice with gladness and praise to God. Samuel, shakes his head, “always gettin’ what ya want.”

****

The people want a king. They want that thing that the other nations have. The nations that are always attacking them…they want a leader they can see. They want to have the perception that someone is in control. That someone will get them out of the problems they have. The people want a king.
In my pondering and preparations for today it occurred to me that, even though we live in a democracy, we still love our kings. We are always putting a crown on something that helps to give us meaning. Be it our duly elected president, but even more close to home – all of the things we elevate to royalty. This happens not just on a personal level, but on so many levels. 

There are holes that we need to have filled, and the way we do that is by crowning something. Elevating it to the place of prominence.

At home we do it. Often times it is out of a sense of necessity or desperation. Like the people of old who were tired of being over run by the foreign forces, we get tired of the mountains of our lives. The mountains that grow so high that when the eventual avalanche comes we don’t know if we will survive. 

The mountain of bills that just seems to keep growing. You pay one off, only to have the hydra head sprout two new bills. We shuffle our resources as much as we can, You cut costs, you try to be responsible, but when there is no additional income, the cuts can only do some much before you are overwhelmed by the avalanche of anxiety. So you pray of a king. You try to find fixes that make sense, that will work. So the credit card application that comes in the mail gets crowned as the way to pay off the other bills, if you untie them maybe you can pay them. But you become enslaved by the 25% interest rate and soon the avalanche begins again.

You might crown the king of beers and bow to the potentate of chemistry to alter how we feel. Thinking that this newly crowed king will take away the problems, but you don’t see the manipulation of the crown royale. You don’t see how the addiction has become a prison and traps us, yes, other problems seem to disappear, but you don’t see the damage done by this ruthless king because he has blinded you with a false sense of security.
Churches do this when they elevate pastors to places of royalty. Sorry, to tell you, but we are mere mortals not miracle workers. The new pastor comes in crowned the one to save the church. The one to take all that has happened before and create a new land. Churches will throw money to programs and projects that worked in the past and haven’t worked in a decade, because at one time those programs were the shining crown jewels. And as they bow down to these kings, these ones, they begged for, they don’t see the world around them changing and the mission of the church changing. 

Politicians are crowned ever 2, 4, or 6 years to be the next savior of the nation. Each one comes to office wearing the crown. They come to office anointed by the electorate, only to get caught up in the worship of ideology and partisan politics. These kings are the ones who get drunk with power. Who begin to create policy that’s only beholden to the highest bidder, or is guaranteed to slaughter the enemy leaving behind only one choice. 

These “leaders” begin to worship their own image. They bask in the glory that has painted them the savior of their party. The prostitute themselves, selling their souls, and forget that they were once anointed. But like Saul, that anointing can be revoked.

And we do all of this not because we have intended to ignore God, but because we want to see something. We want to put our faith into something tangible. We want to trust that which we can see. That which we can know is there. And we, either on purpose or not, forget the faithfulness of God. We forget that through all of the mess, through all of the upheaval, God is always present and is there to get us through. To get you through. The faithfulness of God is the stead fast rock that will not be moved. And even when we crown kings to be the ones we follow, because we know the rest of the story – the story that those begging Samuel did not know – we have the possibility to depose the kings we adore and again stand on the steadfast rock.

We know, that even while the people forgot God’s faithfulness, God cold not forget God’s promise. God took their mess and even through it made something beautiful. Through their mess God made a way out of no way – God, through the line of a King they were never supposed to have came to earth – brought God’s kingly rule to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see the result of God’s faithfulness. We see the embodiment of what the Kingdom of God would look like…

God takes this line of kings and through them write the story of God’s faithfulness. We, looking at the rest of the story see how God, in God’s eternal love for God’s people, takes unexpected people – the screw ups – and creates the blood line of God’s incarnated self. We see how, even as a King was not God’s desired plan – God took that screw up and answered the prayers of the people – just not how they could immediately see it. God created the blood line that would lead to the true king being bore in the barn stall of bethlehem. The king who would would ride in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The king that would be crowned on a bloody hill and installed in an empty tomb. Through the bloodline of kings we get the king of kings.

In Jesus we see a king who does the opposite of that which Samuel warns – we have a king who sacrifices himself for his people, who does not enslave but liberates, we have a king who is not a king of battle but the lord of love. Through Jesus we get a peek of what what it is God intends for us. Life, freedom, and love. The hallmarks of the God who died of calvary’s tree. 

The people of Samuel’s age did not know what was to come, they just neglected to remember what had been. They were the children of a faithful God – there were the children who crossed a Red Sea, who wandered through the wilderness to the promised land – led by a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were the children who fit the battle of Jericho and lived through the time of the Judges – where were the inheritors of God’s faithfulness yet they forgot and wanted a king.

We have many crowned kings in our lives, but even through the illegitimate coronations – God is faithful. Let us remember that. Let us remember as we come together in worship – as we become part of the story of faithfulness. As we sing the songs of faith, hear the recitation of the Holy Word, as we pray for and with each other and as we eat the Holy Meal – let us always be reminded of the faithfulness of a God who uses even our screw ups to bring about all that is good. It is the faithfulness of God that fills us and sustains us. 

It isn’t the pastor who is going to make the church grow – it is the people of God working together and trusting in God’s faithfulness that will grow and redefine the church.
It isn’t on our own that you will get through the difficult times. The stiff upper lip will only get you so far. The false kings will only continue to battle against you, but it is God’s faithfulness that life up people to walk this journey with you. It is God’s faithful ness that will shine like a pillar of fire leading you to a land of healing and recovery, stability and abundance. And those things won’t be what they world says they look like, but they will be a place of peace that when you get there you will know surely it is God who got yo there.

It isn’t Fox News or the Koch Brothers that will give us true leaders of change. It isn’t the RNC of the DNC that are the arbiters of promise, but it is God faithfulness that will raise up leaders – that will lift up a Joshua or a Deborah; a David or and Esther; an Isaiah or a Mary that will speak truth to power. That will lift up the voices of the voice less. That will be bearers of God’s faithfulness.

Because God’s faithfulness promises liberation from captive kings – will release you from your Babylonia captivity – it will free you from the idolatry of ideology, from the obsessions of society. Through the faithfulness of God you have see the promise that is our future as followers of Christ, you have heard the promise that is to come when in the end we will be raised up at the end of days, but friends – the rest fo the story is that even now we are made free. Our king has come and has freed us from the chains of captive kings, the chains that enslave us and hold us captive. The king of kings and lord of lords has come to embolden the Holy Spirit in us. Because God’s faithfulness frees us to and compels us to be apart of this new and living kingdom. 

For our God is good all the time. All the time our God is good.

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. 


Sermon: A Resurrection Fire

Click here for the audio link.

A Resurrection Fire

Acts 2: 14-21

Last week we encountered the power of a Resurrection Economy, and how the world can be transformed by an economic system based in the human personality and in love rather than the world’s economy that denigrates the human personality and is only accountable to the highest bidder. 

This week, in the third Sunday of Easter, I will preach on the subject of a Resurrection Fire! 

[Pray]

The words we heard from Peter this morning are the first words preached by a pastor of a church. It is the day of Pentecost and those who had been gathered in the upper room have had the world altering experience of the Holy Spirit land upon them. Tongues of fire had burned their spirits and given them the power to speak in other languages. Like the prophet Isaiah, it was as if an angel flew to them with a burning coal in its hand – a coal removed from the altar – and their mouths were touched by the Holy Fire. The heard the call and cried, “Here am I – send me!”

Consumed by Holy Fire, Resurrection Fire, they leave the sanctuary of the upper room and start to ignite the world with the resurrection fire. The tell of the Good News of Jesus – who was crucified and risen. They speak to the world and burn into existence a new world. 

To those who could not hear the word – it seemed like these disciples had been dipping into the new wine a little early. Consumed by Resurrection Fire – they seemed drunk to those whose hearts were close – to those who tried to control a wild fire that seemed out of control.

But lightening had struck and a wildfire had begun to burn. And to those who could not hear – it was dangerous, but to those who could hear it ushered in a new and renewed world.

This resurrection fire burns like a wild fire. As the fire burns away it also lays the foundation for something new and beautiful. It nourishes the soil – the soil that was laid at the foundation of the word – it nourishes the soil and allows for new seeds to grow. It creates a place where the old soil is renewed and where new life can spring forth.

The wildfires we have seen on the TV for the last several years are heart breaking in their devastation. They are terror inducing for those whose homes are in the fire line. And for the most part they are human made – through intentional arson or unintended accident. They are fed by 100 years of forrest mismanagement. 

For a long time, the status quo was to put out a fire as soon as it started. Contain it so that it would not spread out of control. It wasn’t until the last 30 or so years that the benefits of wildfires was understood.

It wasn’t until some forestry folks in Yosemite Park realized that there were not many new Sequoia trees beginning to grow. And if they did sprout, they would soon be killed by the massive undergrowth along  the forest floor. Then a fire hit one of the Sequoia groves and in the aftermath they say an abundance of trees beginning to grow. 

It turns out that the cones from a giant sequoia tree will only open in fire. The heat causes cone to open and the seeds to fall to the ground. It is only through wild fire that some of the oldest and most massive trees in our nation can begin to grow. The fire destroys that which gets in the way of new life and nourishes the new.

Another analogy is that of the city. There are areas of cities that developers have determined blighted – or areas called the swamp. And instead of working with people in those communities, and trying to created a controlled burn – something that tries to revive the community – instead they come with with bull dozers and destroy that which is there. They build their new and shiny condos, they call it an up and coming neighborhood and yet the soil that was there. The very foundation of that neighborhood has been paved over. It serves no purpose. It is forgotten and as a result it fights back – trying to preserve its place.

In these newly forests of glass and steel – there are upticks in crime as the roots of the community – the people who had been there struggle to be seen – to be heard. And as they fight for their survival – the new members of the community begin to see them as invasive plants. Not seeing that they were the native plants who gave this place its beauty and diversity. And in seeing them as invasive plants they being to figure out ways to remove them. To displace them. 

And in doing so they form cliques and groups that create and us vs. them mindset. They begin to dehumanize those who were there first and claim the place as mine instead of ours. And as this happens they fail to set their own roots in a community and they begin to move away. They turn on each other. They turn on the new people who move in because they haven’t been there for the long haul. And the cycle continues. And anytime a change strike of lightening hits the land and the embers of a wild fire being to burn –  it is put out because it threatens the way things have been.

We have been conditioned to see fire as a threat, and the resurrection fire can seem threatening – like the end of the world. It will appear as if blood and fire and vapor of smoke – the sun covered by the curtain of smoky darkness – the reflection of the moon will be as blood – but through the resurrection fire will come the great and glorious day of the Lord. And in those days – those who are consumed by the wildfire – by the resurrection fire – will be saved!

But it is terrifying. It is unnerving. It is upsetting to see those things we love being consumed. Fearful that they will never return.

I hear the voices say that things aren’t they way they used to be. Or that we have to do things a certain way because that is the way it has always been done. Churches are notorious for these kinds of words. And, yes, it is out of love. Love for the institution; for the memories; for the sake of posterity. There is a memory of the way things used to be – when the sanctuaries were full. The choir loft has songs raising to the heavens. The Sunday schools were over flowing with children. The heart behind those concerns is the soil that can bring new life to the church, but the fears – the holding on to – the insistence on an old status quo is the underbrush that prevents new life from spouting.

When the desire to hold on to the way things were is stronger than the vision to move forward – the church begins to suffocate itself. And conversely when the church is all about moving forward with out nourishing itself in the rich soil of history – it runs the risk of growing but with out the deep roots and at the slightest hint of conflict will falter. Churches are like the forests or the cities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the what was, the what is, and the what can be. There is a dance that can only be described as Holy. And when the dance moves – when it finds the rhythm and begins to really move – something beautiful happens. The flames of rebirth begin to burn. When the partner of the past and the partner of the present begin their tango – the future is built and a resurrection fire beings to burn.

Beloved friends, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church is at a crossroad. We spent the Lenten season walking along the cross road with Jesus. We went with him to the cross of calvary. We were there as the women cowered in fear on the day of resurrection, and here we are. Here we are in this Resurrection season – the embers of resurrection fire beginning to burn. The embers are smoldering waiting for the breath of the Holy Sprit. They are ready. Are we? Are we ready to let go of the way things were? Are we ready for the Holy Sprit to take a hold of this place and lead us into the future? Or are we more content with the status quo – because it is safe, because it is comfortable? Are we ready to embrace our deep roots in faith, to learn from the wisdom of the elders? To embrace their witness, or we going to bulldoze over them and give no mind? Are we ready for this dance?

Are we ready for what the Holy Sprit has in store? Are we ready to take that next step? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come an burn away that which has been stunting our growth – our spiritual growth as well as our mission growth? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come and nourish the soil that we call home and being something new? 

The Holy Sprit is about to descend on this place and take us away. Are we ready? Like the song says – people get ready -there’s a train a comin’ – you don’t need no ticket you just get on board.

Because when that resurrection fire comes. When it comes it will rain down like the fire on the altar built by Elijah. It will come like the tongues of flame at Pentecost. It will come and:

Our Sons and Daughters will prophesy –

Our young ones will see visions –

Our old ones will dream dreams.

Even the unexpected ones will prophesy because God’s Holy Spirt will be so strong in this place – no one will leave untouched.

When the resurrection fire of the Holy Sprit is unleashed – it will be the beginning of a new day. It will be the unleashing of God’s great reign. It will be what carries us into the future boldly singing:

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow –

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Thanks be to God!


Easter Sermon

On the Road

Mark 16:1-8

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(prologue)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The resurrection story we just read from Mark may not be the one you are most familiar with. Where is Peter running to the tomb? Where are the angels? Where is the spectacular? The reading to day ends with the women frozen by fear and Jesus moving on the road. 

Now you may say, Pastor, why didn’t we read the rest Mark 16? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene then the twelve. Then he commissions them and ascends to the right hand of God the Parent. Well, (It is Bible Nerd time) if you look in some translations, after verse 8 you see a note that says “shorter ending” and then around verse 10 “longer ending.” The longer ending of Mark was the accepted ending of the Gospel until around the mid-1800s when Constantine Tishcendorff discovered a codex or book of scripture at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the supposed site of Mt. Sinai. This codex had several differences between it and the common cannon of the day. One of the most noticeable is that the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8, the ending we heard today.

But why not just keep reading? Well, it turns out once they were able to study the codex it turns out that it is the oldest of the existing manuscripts of the Bible. It dates to the mid-third century, around the same time as the fathers of the Western Church were beginning to nail down the cannon. It is the oldest complete manuscript we have. And it’s validity of Mark ending at 16:8 is confirmed by the second oldest complete manuscript the Codex Vaticianus which dates from around the same time.

It is thought the other endings were added not by the author of Mark, but by disciples of Matthew and Luke who thought that the Mark’s Gospel ended too abruptly and that it needed a similar closure as their gospels. And maybe it does, but for today, let’s see this ending for what it is…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the opening words of the Gospel of Mark!

(Scene 1 – To the tomb)

The day did not begin with good news. The women solemnly gathered their oils and ointment. They filled their bags with new cloths and spices to anoint the body of the one whom they loved. The one who was crucified a few days before – who died a criminal’s death. The last several days had been a storm of emotions. The thunder and winds that accompanied his death were but weak symbols for the grief they felt. 

There watched from a distance as Jesus was lifted up like a common cut-throat; they watched as the one who rescued them, who welcomed them, who treated them as women of honor, was left hanging on a tree. He was so strong and yet compassionate; so fully of Holy Fire yet a friend; so tired yet so willing to listen – Jesus called them friends and now they watched – hearts breaking into a million pieces as he cried out.

They could not hear the words he said, but the moan they heard was one of total abandonment. In that cry they heard love poured out. They remembered how time and again Jesus healed the sick and exorcised the demons only to be ridiculed and taunted by those who were the religious leaders. They saw that no matter how hard he tried to show the Reign of God – everyone missed it. And now, from the distance, they see how such love is treated. The grief was accompanied by dread.

The dread brought with it fear. The words he spoke reverberated in their ears…”I will tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.” “If anyone wants to become my follower let them take up their cross and follow me.” Is this what he meant? That they should suffer as he has. Fear slithered into them like a serpent through the grass. Grief, dread, and fear seared their psyche as they watched from the distance.

And now, days later they make their way to the tomb – wondering how they will move the stone sealing the door. Eyes cloudy with tears they did not realize at first what had happened, and like the sun making its way over the horizon early that morning it dawned on them that the tomb door was opened. The emotional triad climbed to stratospheric proportions as they saw the empty tombs – 10,000 questions filled their heads. “What happened?” “Is he still there?” “Was his body stolen to be displayed as a criminal?” Questions echoing then the empty cave as the entered in and saw a first the empty place where he was laid and in a flash they saw someone sitting there – who must have been there the whole time. 

He was the boy who had been following Jesus of late. They could not place where he came from, but he was beautiful. Young with the complexion of a divine being, he sat there in the tomb and said, “Shhh. Don’t be alarmed. Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified? He has been raised! He’s not here! Look, see. But, go, tell his disciples and especially Peter, who denied him, that he is going a head of you to Galilee. When you get there you will see him, just as I told you.”

The grief, the dread, the fear drove them from the empty tomb. They fell to the ground weeping. Afraid. They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.

(Scene 2: At our tomb)

The women, seized by fear told no one what they had seen. They were blinded by the tomb and all that death brings. They could not hear what the boy was saying, let alone believe that it was true. They were trapped at the tomb – stuck on death’s doorstep.

As we gather together this Easter morning, it is easy to cast blame on the women – how could they not tell, we ask? What was wrong with them? Friends we have had 2,000 years to process the grief. This, for them, was a fresh wound and the bandage had been ripped off slowly and the pain was all too fresh. We have the blessing of tradition and the retelling and retelling of this story to help us come to grips with the fact that the tomb was empty, and yet, even so how many times are we trapped at the tomb afraid to follow Jesus to Galilee?

How many times have we stood there silent when what is going on demands that we speak out? 

When we see a stranger being taken advantage of – or even a friends, How many times have we said, There but for the grace of God go I?

What about the time we watched as someone was beaten up when we were at school and we could not muster the courage to say, this is wrong? The time we sat in silence as the bullies prey on the weak? 

We are frozen at the tomb when he hear the cries for help and pretend that we don’t.

When the news gets so depressing that we shut off – 130 killed intentionally by a pilot, 147 Kenyans murdered by terrorists.

When the public discourse has become so divisive that anyone who disagrees with us is labeled the enemy and must be destroyed. Laws are passed that open up the slippery slope of discrimination, and pizza places are threatened to be burned down – all because there is a failure to see each other as precious in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean – this fundamental principle is lost because we are trapped at the tomb.

We are trapped at the tomb to afraid to stand up to a system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown men – a system that determines how many prison beds to make by third grade reading scores. A system that is paid by how man beds are filled. A system that has privatized parole and drug testing, making it too expensive for a returning citizen to pay the fees, especially when there are no jobs open to someone with a record. We are trapped at the tomb afraid to name the injustice.

We get lost watching from the distance – we stand trembling at the tomb – afraid – just as afraid as the women because we can’t see it. We can’t hear the good news because there seemingly isn’t any.

(Scene 3: It’s empty!)

But while the women were cowering in fear, while we are paralyzed and afraid – the tomb is empty! You hear that, the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t in it anymore. He has been raised and is on his way to Galilee! He is on the road home. He is calling for us to join him on the road.

While lost in our fear and afraid to take up the cross, something amazing has happened – Jesus has been raised and is continuing the work of the Reign of God. He wants us to join him on the road. He wants us to see the empty tomb and rejoice and come with him as he continues the work. He even leaves us a messenger to tell us that he is not there. He has been raised. But even so, the messenger’s voice gets lost in the confusion and chaos. But Jesus keeps on going, and will be waiting in Galilee. 

Jesus is going a head of us on the road to raise up the valleys and make low the mountains. Jesus is headed to Galilee to make the rough ground in front of us plain and the rugged road a broad valley. Jesus knows that the idea of resurrection is implausible – illogical, and he knows that it is hard to make sense of, and yet – there he goes – in front of us. 

It seems obvious that at least someone who was there that day so long ago overcame their fear and made their way to Galilee, or was it that when the looked up they saw Jesus there on the road. They say that he was in front of them leading them. That the risen Christ is proof that nothing – nothing is impossible of our God. I would like to think it is the later. That in their fear and through their tears they looked up and saw Jesus and in seeing him, their hope was restored. There ahead of them they saw the promise of the rebuilt temple. The temple that is a living connection between God and humanity.

And as they saw Jesus on the road and were empowered to take the steps toward healing, we continue to see Christ on the road.

As two mourning disciples were headed home to Emmaus, Christ was on the road.

As the persecutor Saul was on his way to arrest and torture the new people of the way, Christ was on the road. On the road reconciling the world to himself. On the road forgiving and renewing.

As the stones were being hurled as Stephen, Christ was ahead of him on road – welcoming him to Glory.

As Perpetua and Felicity were in the gladiators ring, and the wild beast charged at the, Christ was on the road ahead of them – giving them a message for the ages. The power of the Risen Christ is stronger than even death.

Move ahead ahead in time to the doors of Wittenberg and Martin Luther nailing to the them the 95 theses that began a reformation that fundamentally changed how the faith is understood, and there is Christ on the road promising protection during the upcoming trails.

There on the road is the Risen Christ when another Martin Luther, this one a King is leading and oppressed people to the promised land. Across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the risen Christ is ahead parting the sergeants of segregation.

Christ is on the road ahead, leading you out of the valley – away from the tumult of the tomb. 

The risen Christ is ahead of you making a way out of no way. Clearing away those roadblocks that keep you from God. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road as voices rise up against discrimination and call for reconciliation instead of retaliation.

The Risen Christ is there on the road ahead, turning over tables, as people, fed up with a status quo of the haves walking on the backs of the have nots, as the people stiffen their backs and say no more. We are not the playthings of those with power, but children of the living God. The God of life. The God who takes the shackles of death and smashes them forever. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road of sorrow and grief, building resting spot. Places of sabbath, of rest, of reflection and grace. The risen Christ there on the road with you.  

Beloved – This is the day that puts to and end, forever there roadblocks that keep you from the love of God. This is the day that being afraid at the tomb is turned into joy that empowers new life – a resurrected live. This is the day that the promise of Christ is fulfilled for Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

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.