YGRHRN

A sermon for Easter 7; Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19

 

In my trolling. around trying to find better ways to organize all the organizing tools I use I have come across a website named IFTTT, which means “if this then that.” Examples of what it allows you to automatically do are upload attachments from emails to google driver; or if it going to rain tomorrow add a reminder to your calendar. Today’s reading from Acts is another example that there is nothing in the world because it is an IFTTT story.

The “If this” is if the number of Jesus’ chosen followers is not twelve, and the “then that” is to choose a replacement. But why 12, why not 11, or 13? In ancient times numbers had meaning beyond count; 12, like 7, is a number for completeness. 12 has from her earliest days been a part of Israel’s history. In Genesis, Jacob has 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel (Keener and Walton).

Part of Jesus’ teaching is the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, so there must be 12 leaders for the 12 tribes of the new Israel (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen). In his opening lines Peter says the scriptures must be fulfilled, in verses we did not read (18-20), Peter cites the psalms (109) as reason to fill the empty apostle’s place (Wall). So far, we see the need for the 12th man is the symbolic restoration of Israel, and so that Israel will be whole (Allen). Restoring the Twelve also addresses any question of divine faithfulness. God’s fidelity is involved in the presence of the Twelve (Wall). There also the implication that as the Twelve are complete Jesus followers are ready for whatever is ahead of them (Keener and Walton).

The next sentence (2 verses) lays out the requirements. He must be male, and here the word is male (Bratt). He must be with them from the beginning (John’s baptism) until the Ascension and have been an eye witness to everything (Harrelson). He must become, with the remaining 11, a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Wall).

An aside; this is not the only description of an apostle in the New Testament. Paul uses the apostle, which means “one sent” to refer to many followers, not just the Twelve. Both the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are depicted as apostles to the apostles (Harrelson). It is worth noting all the people sent with the first word of Jesus’ resurrection are women. An Apostle can be anyone sent as a witness of God/Jesus/Spirit.

Back to the story from Acts. The next step is nominations. Nothing is said about how this happens, only that 2, Joseph called Justus and Matthias, are proposed.

The third step is that the group prays. In Luke prayer surrounds all significant moments. Here the story touches on the reading from the Gospel according to John which recounts Jesus praying for all the disciples. Jesus asks the Father to protect them as he sends them into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 17:15-19) (Lewis). Prayer encircles the entire community, who follow Jesus, as they prepare to make this decision. It reminds them they are always encircled by divine love. And it connects them to divine wisdom, power, and insight (Epperly).

The final step in filling the Twelfth Apostle is to choose. Following common practices of the day they cast lots. They are not engaging in magic, which is forbidden. They are continuing the trust they place in God in their prayers. Saul casts lots, the Urim and Thummim, in 1st Samuel to a question (1Samuel 14:36-44) (Harrelson). Lots are used in Joshua (19: 1-40) and Jonah (1:7-8) (Wall). Urim and Thummin are typically restricted to priest, so the disciples are likely using a lot marked for each that are placed in a jar that is shaken until one falls out, or something similar (Wall). As we heard Mathias is chosen.

It is curious to note this is the last time we read about Mathias in scripture. After a dozen or so chapters Peter is no longer heard from. In fact, all twelve chosen apostles fade into the background (Harrelson; Wall). With this realization suddenly “If This Then That” doesn’t seem to carry the meaning of this story. Perhaps the message is “Not That, This.”

There other succession stories in scripture, there is nothing particularly significant about this process (Wall). And while it does remind us to trust God’s quiet voice far more than our carefully constructed processes, the story is not about process, or us, the story is about the continually “in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth” (Allen). While it is true that God works through Peter, and Matthias, and the other chosen apostles, and disciples, and the whole host of those who believe, and doubt, the story is that God’s kingdom continues to make its way into the world right here, and there, and everywhere, right now, and tomorrow, and forever. The story is that even in the in between times (and remember the Spirit has not yet arrived) the Kingdom is present, God is present in the in between times.

There are lots of people living in between times. I am living between having retired and being retired; between living at 1121 and living at 6651 or is it 15. Some of you have kids who are between one grade and the next. There are kids between parents. There are parents and loved ones between this type of care at home and another type of care perhaps not at home. There are people between this job and the next. We are approaching election season, so we are between our current representatives and the next. There are all kinds of betweens, and God is present in all of them. When our trusted symbols are no longer available; God/Jesus/Spirit is available to you. Today’s story from Acts isn’t “If This”, nor “Not This” but “YG-RH-RN” Yes, God is right here, right now.

References

Allen, Amy Lindeman. Commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.
Bratt, Doug. Easter 7 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. “Prayers Needed.” 13 5 2018. Working preacher.
McCormack, Jerrod. “In the Space In-Between, Easter 7 (B).” 13 5 2018. Sermons that Work.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.
Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

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Witnessing: Working the Work God Has Given Us to Work

After a short break to begin adjusting to life as a retired priest, I have returned to weekly preaching.

A sermon for Ascension on Easter 6; Acts 1:1-11

We had been at Scout camp for nearly a week. Every day the camp leader was doing things for various groups of Scouts. We watch, we listen, we ask questions, we do the things we are asked to do – most of the time. Somewhere in all that I think we help. When we gather the next to the last morning, nothing was laid out. Our camp leader comes around the corner and just before we get anxious he calls us to follow him. We hike out of the Scout Camp through no man’s land, which was off limits, so we had never been there before, to the Cub side of camp. He leads us to a spot, explains that a group of new Cubs Scouts, who have never been to camp before, are arriving the next morning, and this site needs to be ready. We can see that everything that was needed is there, neatly stacked, ready to be put to good use. He looks at us and says “It is your task to have this camp ready for them when they arrive.” Then, he turns and walks up the hill into no man’s land. We stand there for some time, staring at the top of the hill. Then someone speaks up “Well it’s time to put to use everything we have heard, and seen, and been taught and practiced this week.” And after a short pause, we get to it. I won’t say there are not any challenges, there are. I won’t say there aren’t disagreements, there are. I will say we have everything we need. I will say that by nightfall we have done what we were called to do. And the next day those Cubs arrive to a campsite all set up just for them.

A couple millennia and 33 some odd years ago a young Mary accepted the calling of her angelic messenger to be the mother of the Son of God. Some 30 years later, two of John the Baptist’s followers heard a young rabbi say, “Come and see.” and they do. The next day this young rabbi says to another “Follow me.” and he does. For the next three years a growing group of men and women, Jews and gentiles, common folks (Gaventa and Petersen), perhaps a Temple priest, a member of the Sanhedrin, perhaps a scattering of folks from one prestigious group or another follow this young rabbi. They walked all over Israel, Galilee, and parts of Samaria. They watched, they listened, asked questions, went where they were asked to go, did what they were asked to do. They witnessed miracles; people healed, outcast restored to the families, untouchables reconnected to their communities, thousands feed, unbelievers become believers, outsiders reveal profound faith. They were uncomfortably close to direct challenges to Jewish authorities, and Roman overlords. They came to believe. They understood this young, itinerate rabbi, from nowhere, was who he said he was, the Messiah. They put everything they had into the promise he was going to restore the world. They believed everything would change. And then at the last Passover, he died. No, he was killed by jealous, angry Jewish political, business, and religious authorities. He died at the hands of a fearful Roman governor, who knowing the charges were false, authorized a crucifixion. He died abandoned by that hopeful band of ordinary folks. But then, he was alive again. No one believed the women who went to anoint his body. But then he showed up in the middle of a locked room. And did it again a week later when Thomas was there. For the next couple of weeks, maybe 40 days (Harrelson), they watched, listened, asked questions, and did the things they were asked to do.

The followers grew in numbers, strength, courage, and hope. They asked him “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). To their surprise, he answers, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority…” (Acts 1:7). But he is not finished, continuing

… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

After that, he goes up into the sky. The disciples are standing around looking up into the sky. Then suddenly two strangers speak up, Why are you staring into the sky?” Just this side of an uncomfortable pause they continue “This Jesus will return the same way you saw him go into heaven. Here begins the rest of the story. Here begins our story, my story, your story.

Today is the 6th Sunday in Easter, Wednesday is the feast of the Ascension when Jesus returns to heaven. The disciples want to know if now is the time when it will be like they think it will be. Jesus tells them that is not anyone’s business except God’s. He also tells them that there is more to come, that by the power of the Spirit, they are to be his witness here, there, all the way to the ends of the earth; with an emphasis on the ends of the earth (Gaventa and Petersen). Their witness is to proclaim the truth about the one true God against the alternative visions of all the nations’ cultural-theism (Harrelson) (Keener and Walton). Their witness is to upset all competing authorities, local, national, empire, religious, business, whatever, and to bring salvation to all (Gaventa and Petersen). Their witness is to promote Jesus’ message about the overarching presence of the kingdom of God (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus shifts the emphasis away from the expectation of his imminent return toward practices of witnessing the gospel day-to-day (Harrelson). The two men description of Jesus’ return does remind the disciples of the end of days as written in Daniel (7:13-14) (Keener and Walton); so even if it cannot be known where, or when, or how, it is nonetheless a divine promise.

All these thoughts are divine forces shaping our calling as witnesses. They define what we are witnesses too; they define where we are to witness; and by implication, they define how we are to witness. But, none of it matters when all we do is to stand around staring into the sky; and there are an amazing number of ways to stare in to the sky. As a Scout the sky can look like a hill top; as a faith community, the sky can look like anything from a program we are excited about to a controversy we are angry about, or anything that diverts our attention. As a city, county, state, or nation it can be anything that threatens us, drawing us to seek other means of protection that diminishes our trust int God. You get the idea, there are many things that keep us from doing the work we are called to do.

You have heard my take on Godly work, drawn from the story of the man born blind in John 9. The disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned?” which is a staring into the sky question. Jesus answers

No one sinned. This man was born blind. Now is the time for us to work the works given us to work.

All those years ago, when I stood with my fellow Scouts, all it took was one of us to speak out, and then all of us began to work the work that had been given us to work. The Book of Acts is a series of stories of one person speaking up and the community beginning to work the work given them to work.

In the Ascension story, I see two challenges for us. Learning what is your, what is our favorite way of staring into the sky. And secondly, to follow the Spirit’s nudging us to speak, thereby unleashing the Spirit driven power which empowers all of us to be witnesses to the love of God revealed in Jesus to the end of the earth, which from Jerusalem looks at lot like right here and right now.

The Ascension is the story of Jesus’ return to Heaven. It is also the beginning of the story of our witnessing, our working the work God has given us to work.

 

References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Acts 1:1-11. 29 5 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Empty Tomb

A Sermon for Easter; Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8

Happy Easter!
April Fool!
Which is it?

Speaking of surprises, I grew up with surprises. My earliest is when to our mom’s dismay our grandmother brought out his enormous plate full of chocolate balls with cotton centers; we were surprised.

One Sunday lunch a fabulous a carrot frosting cake came to the table, everyone was excited; only my grandmother couldn’t cut the cake pan beneath the frosting; we didn’t see that coming.

One Christmas morning, after the appointed hour we all rushed down the stairs into the family room; it was gone! the tree, the stockings, the mountain of presents, the plate of cookies, the glass of milk all were gone, Christmas was gone! We had not been Grinched everything had been quietly moved to the living room still, we were really surprised.

For her 40th birthday, 40 individual small happy birthday cards were taped to our back door, all from mom’s best friend to her complete astonishment. Not to be outdone, 40 individual thank you cards were clipped to the bush by the friend’s back door, who was flabbergasted.

One Tuesday, when one of mom’s best friends was coming over for coffee all three sets of 12 settings of china/dishware were missing; they could find a cup to drink anything out of, they couldn’t believe it.

One day after school I got to the school parking lot, my blue Chevrolet Impala was missing, I was completely shocked; I caught a ride home when I got there ~ there it sat; for a second time, I was completely shocked.

A dozen rose stems were to be delivered for mothers’ day, she wasn’t home, she never expected them, but wasn’t in near as much shock as the prim and proper neighbor who had to deliver them.

At midnight one April 1st a gruesome groaning emerged from the 20-foot-high atrium in my parents’ front entry; while investigating they came upon a 12-foot-tall knight; my folks were astounded.

We enjoyed April Fools day, no matter what date someone decided it may be on. All the surprises were followed by uproarious laughter, and we still enjoy reliving the stories. The only criteria limiting our imagination was trying to gauge the response of the person to be surprised. I grew up with surprises This morning’s gospel continues the Gospel surprises.

Jesus giving a loud cry and breathing his last (Mark 15:37) was a surprise. All his followers, hiding in the dark corners still expected the Messiah to prevail, no one sees Jesus’ death coming. The Centurion overseeing the soldiers, completely used to crucifying Rome’s troublesome people, is so taken aback he says Truly this man was God’s Son! (Mark 15:39). The Temple authorities and priests, cleaning up after Jesus tirade, are smug in their knowledge that the upstart rabbi will die and would no longer disrupt their carefully crafted ways. The darkness covering the land catches their attention, the moment of deepest darkness, when the earth shakes so hard that rocks shatter, and tombs spill their dead startles them. The wondrously embroidered great curtain of the Temple being torn, ripped in two, from top to bottom, completely shocks them (Mark 15:38, Matthew 27:51, Luke 23:44).

Early morning of the day following next Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten Jesus’ body from Pilate, wrapped in a linen cloth, and placed in a rock hewn tomb; but he had not anointed Jesus (Mark 15:43). They were determined to give Jesus a proper burial anointing. They know the door of the tomb is sealed with a great stone and wonder who will move it for them. The women are astonished when on their second look they see that the stone has already been moved; yes, this is unexpected; but now they wonder what other surprise awaits them (Logue)? Entering the tomb, surprise! the women meet a white clad angel who reassures them saying

… you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. … Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7).

His words stagger them. They are amazed and terrified. They flee. They say nothing to anyone. Here ends the Gospel.

Really, here is where Mark’s Gospel ends. Yes, when you look in you in your bible, you will see “The shorter ending” and “The Longer ending” that includes appearances, and a commissioning. But, they are not in the earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel. They have been added at some later date. Apparently, someone believed it is not right to end the gospel with us hanging in surprise. But why not? The empty tomb is a surprise.

Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman Empire, representative of the empire and all of its power, the personification of politics is surprised. King Herod, who presided at one of Jesus’ trials, representative of a culture economic self-interest is astonished. The Chief Priest, representative of religious aristocracies is amazed. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the teachers and lawyers who rigidly guide daily life didn’t see that coming (Curry). I suspect they would walk through their memories, and may be their records, of Jesus to look for clues that explains this surprisingly empty tomb.

And that is exactly what Mark invites us to do. The angel tells the women to tell the disciples, specifically, Peter, to go to Galilee and Jesus will meet them there. After introducing us to John the Baptist, in verse 9 of chapter 1 Mark writes In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee (Mark 1:9). By the angel’s words, Mark invites us to go back to the beginning and re-read the Gospel story, knowing the ending, and look for the clues that reveal what’s happening (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Black; Hoezee).

The disciples lack of faith during the storms at sea, Peter’s inappropriate response to the transfiguration, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denials, the disciples’ desertion, all are driven by fear, isolate them from Jesus (Perkins).

Reading these, and all the gospel stories through the wisdom of the empty tombs reveals that

fear does not have the last word
hatred does not have the last word
violence does not have the last word
bigotry does not have the last word
greed does not have the last word
sin and evil do not have the last word
even death does not have the last word;
the last word is God, and God is love (Curry).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb teaches us that the Resurrection matters (Lewis), and that there are no resurrection-free zones or times (Epperly).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms the truth of the curtain laying shredded on the Temple floor. The barriers between God and humanity are ripped asunder; the spirit of God is on the loose (Ruge-Jones); God’s love is no longer contained in a temple;

[God’s love] can go anywhere and reach anyone.
Even those who are different from us.
Even those who don’t deserve it.
Even those who don’t believe.

God’s love now permeates the whole universe and continually pulls us from death into life, with each breath we take, from the beginning of time until the end (Cox).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb confirms that resurrection is not limited to our future but invades our daily lives right now (Lewis).

Reading the gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb highlights God’s shattering all human expectations, all of our expectations (Black).

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb, reminds us that no matter how different tonight is, that no matter how dark the abyss, no matter how stripped of all worth we may feel, we are always more than dust and breath, we are God’s creation lovingly made in God’s image.

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb assures us that more than waiting for you, God/Jesus is with you right here, right now and always will be, even when, especially when, you are terrified, and dare not speak to anyone.

Reading the Gospel through the wisdom of the empty tomb draws the Hallelujah from our hearts (Cohen).

Hallelujah He IS risen!

(congregation)The Lord is risen indeed, Halleluiah!


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 16:1-8. 1 4 2018.

Cohen, Leonard. “Halleluiah.” Various Positions. Columbia, December 1984.

Cox, Jason. “Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion:.” 25 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Curry, Michael B. “Presiding Bishop Curry: Easter 2018 Message from the Holy Land.” 26 3 2018. episcopalchurch.org. <https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/presiding-bishop-curry-easter-2018-message-holy-land&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 16:1-8. 1 4 2018.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 1 4 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection Matters. 1 4 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Logue, Frank. Look Again, Easter (B). 1 4 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Roth, Diane. “April 1, Easter Sunday .” 5 3 2018. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/article/living-word/april-1-easter-sunday-mark-161-8>.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Townes, Miles. “When Easter Sunday falls on April Fools’ Day.” 21 2 2018. christiancentury.org. <https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day&gt;.

 

 

 

It is Finished

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

 

It is finished: three years of ministry, teaching, healing, and signs of power.

It is finished, three years of increasingly tense encounters with Jewish authorities.

It is finished: arrest in the dark of night the all-night trials before Annas and Pilate,
and Peter’s denials.

It is finished: the mocking abuse of soldiers and police, the Jews desire for the release of Barabbas Bar – Abbas son of ~ father.

It is finished, the Jews’ proclamation they have no king but the emperor.

It is finished ~ crucifixion.

It is finished.

 

It is finished Jesus, the intenerate rabbi from Nazareth is dead. Two marginal, mostly secrete followers, remove the body, prepare it with myrrh and aloes, wrap it in a linen cloth, and place it in a tomb.

 

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do, the messianic hope is gone, the promise of restoring the House of David is vanquished, the potential of glory is lost, the ring of Hosanna has dissipated.

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do. The hopeless stand at the edge of the abyss, they ponder ~ what’s next; all their bearings are gone; they’ve no clue how to orient themselves.

 

It was a grand idea, a half a decade in the making, thousands of hours, other opportunities shunned, and suddenly, unexpectedly the realization that it is finished! Standing at the edge of the abyss, with no idea what is next, lost, unable to find any bearings. It is finished. There is nothing left to do. The edge of the abyss is terrifyingly real. ‘Nothing’ is an all-consuming experience.

Some of you have similar experiences; unexpected death, unanticipated diagnosis of severe illness, job loss, financial collapse, the failure of a long-perused dream or ideal. You know the feeling; it is finished! there is nothing left to do! Tonight, we recall the moment when all creation knew it is finished! there was nothing left! Tonight, we recall the moment the cosmos teetered at the edge of the abyss, of nothing. We bring our collection of it is finished experiences with us. Through them, we connect with this moment, with each other with all humanity, with all creation.

All of us want to move on. There is the urge to swap stories of how we moved on; or not. There is the desire to tell each other “It will be alright.” never knowing, never saying what ‘alright’ is. None of us – none of us is eager just to be just to exist at the edge of the abyss, when everything is done, when there is nothing left.

But; here we are. And it is exactly where we should be. Standing at the cross-shaped abyss, that like some divine black hole is stripping us, sucking away all pretense of glory, power, wealth, position, privilege, success, accomplishment, knowledge, wisdom, wit, piety, and, righteousness, eradicating all pretense ~ until

It is finished.

There is nothing left.

Nothing, except ourselves, our souls, and bodies; dust and breath, just as God created us.

 

My hunch is ~ we should stay here awhile.

My hope is ~ we will.

My prayer is ~ we can.

Tonight is different

 

A Sermon for Maundy Thursday; Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-171, Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26:26-30 Luke 22:14-23

 

Tonight, is different.

Tonight, is a Passover remembrance.

Not quite 3500 years ago the Jews in Egypt slaughtered sheep, smeared the blood on their door posts and lintels, so when the Lord strikes Egypt, each Jewish home will be passed over. The night is marked as a perpetual remembrance as the first month of the year.
For all generations, since then this night has been a festival to the Lord.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

Jesus has been anointed by Mary.
The Jewish authorities are plotting to kill Lazarus,
whom Jesus raised from the dead.
Jesus has made a spectacular entry into Jerusalem; all Judea is following him.
Some Greeks sough Jesus out. The authorities are right,
the whole world is following Jesus (John 12:19).

Tonight, is different.

The world is different.
Judea is different.
Jerusalem is different.
Is it possible this is what it felt like in Goshen in Egypt all those years ago?
Who knows.
Maybe it does.
Maybe it doesn’t.
What matter is that tonight is different.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.
It is the remembrance of the remembrance,
even if the traditions are no longer in synch.
Tonight

he took bread, …  gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:19-20).

            Tonight, we do this in remembrance.
But more than this, because tonight is different.
Tonight, Jesus becomes the servants to servants.
Tonight, Jesus washes servants’ feet.
Tonight, he washes their feet, that they may wash each other’s feet,
that in perpetual remembrance all generations to follow
will wash each other’s feet.

Tonight, is different,
the remembrance of washing each other’s feet awakens the remembrance
that we are known as followers;
as people of The Way,
because we love each other;
we love each other enough
to wash each other’s feet.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

There are no lambs to slaughter.
There are no door posts nor lintels to smear with blood.
Oh, there is slaughter enough,
enough blood will be smeared from wars and insurrections,
from school hall ways, to street corner disputes,
from abusive homes, to rage at those who are different.
And death will take its toll,
fathers and mothers,
sons and daughters,
friends and lovers,
confidants and amigos
have and will die.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

Tonight, we share blessed and broken bread.
Tonight, we share the blessing poured out in the new covenant.
Tonight, one way or another, we humbly submit to being washed,
accepting the most divine love given us that we may share it with all the world.
Tonight, is different.
Tonight, is a perpetual remembrance that eternal life
is incarnate,
is sacrificed,
is resurrected,
is ascended,
is right here, right now and will be, as it has been, eternally present.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.
The world is the same
Judea is the same.
Jerusalem is the same.
The United States is the same.
Washington is the same.
Arkansas is the same.
Little Rock is the same.
Mississippi County is the same.
Blytheville is the same.
But tonight,
is a night of remembrance, of washed feet, broken bodies, and blood shed,
forming the covenant of universal eternal divine love.
And therein is the hope that tomorrow and all that follows will be different.

Tonight, is a night to remember,
that tomorrow
can be
will be
different.

 

 

An Uncertain Pilgrimage

A Sermon for Palm Sunday:
            The Palms: Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
            The Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:15-19                        The Passion: Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]

 We don’t often get to hear the two stories together. They are part of the same story within Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus’ unexpected journey to Golgotha. It just might raise awareness of the unexpected journey that you that we are on. It is a story fraught with mystery (Hoezee). It invites you to confess what is disturbingly mysterious in your life right now.

Jesus’ journey begins on a borrowed colt. Roman soldiers’ commandeered animals for their use, all the time (Keener and Walton). The promise to return the colt makes Jesus’ request different, so, we know this story is different (Perkins). Animals that have never been ridden are often preferred as dedications to God (Keener and Walton). It also reminds Jesus’ disciples of Zechariah’s return to Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9) which draws on Jacob’s last words to his sons assuring them the scepter, the staff of office will never leave Judah (Gen 49:10) (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen, Zech.). Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is deeply steeped in Israel’s history, full of promise.

The people are perhaps aware of the stories. Even if they are not, they shout “Hosanna” they shout “Save us” (Gaventa and Petersen Mark) they shout “Savior” (Lose). Their shouts express their hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations. They are worn out by continual occupations. They want to be welcomed as friends in the promised land. They hope to improve day to day life. There hasn’t much hope for a long, long time. So, they turn to Jesus.

Their expectations are also steeped in history. Throwing their garments in front of Jesus is a reflection of religious festivals and the army commanders throwing their cloaks on the bare steps for Jehu as he had been anointed King over Ahab (2 Kings 9:13) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Perkins)

We are used to this being a triumphal entry. But not so much for Mark. He avoids this sense by keeping the celebration on the road and out of the city (Perkins). A reason that at this early point in the story there is an air of uncertainty (Epperly).

When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes directly to the Temple, takes a look, and then goes to a nearby town because it is late in the day. This is a curious decision given all the effort to get there and it adds to the air of uncertainty. The next thing we hear is that Jesus is at the Temple. Temple is huge covering more than a quarter of Jerusalem (Keener and Walton). It is also prominent in the life of Jews. It is where God lives; it is the only place where you can offer required sacrifices. It is intended to be a house of prayer for everyone (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus’ “house of prayer” is a reference to Isaiah’s proclamation that the foreigner, the eunuch, all those who choose to keep Sabbath and God’s ways, all those who love the name of the Lord, who are God’s servants God will bring to God’s holy mountain, give them a place, a name. God will make them joyful in God’s house of prayer, accepting their offerings and sacrifices because God’s is a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:3-7) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Unique to Mark is Jesus keeping anyone from carrying anything across the Temple grounds, probably meaning through the gentile court, which was open to anyone. Not much written about this verse. Still, it strongly suggests that Jesus has authority in/over the Temple (Perkins).

Our story ends with Jesus leaving the city at evening. The prior verse And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). leaves the air of uncertainty even more uncertain.

As we heard, Jesus’ entry captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation. What has worn you out? Where or to whom do we look to save us; to be our savior? Do we, like ancient Israel did, ask for a King “to fight our battles for us” (1 Samuel 8:20)?

Jesus and his disciples are not the only visitors in the Temple. It is Passover, Israel’s biggest festival. Jerusalem is crowded, they had to leave town to find lodgings. Would you leave home, journey across the county, the state, the country, the empire for a Holy Week or for an Easter pilgrimage (Perkins)? Jesus’ presence in the Temple assures you that you are welcome, there, or where ever you are, whoever you are, just as you are. It is an extension from Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the 1st Temple (2 Chron 6:32).

Bruce Epperly notes that Philippians invites us to look at our all our decision-making in terms of relationships rather than power (Epperly). Do you, do we seek salvation on our terms, or are we willing to be transformed by our relationship with God? Are we willing to acknowledge that Rome, or China, or Russia or whoever they are is not the threat to our lives? Are we ready to confess that we ~ are the threat to our lives (Lose)? Even as we seek safety from the many forms of harm others may do, or seek to do us, will we confront our own complicity in violence and injustice, so that our relationships with them may be healed? Will we accept the need for our own thoughts, known and unknown about other people, money, and social bounds to be transformed, so that we don’t give in to demonization and so that our relationships with the others may be healed (Epperly)?

Since the moment of our baptism, our confirmation we have been wandering through the wilderness. We call our journey many things. We seek all kinds of individual, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual forms of shalom to make us whole. We have just heard the story of one pilgrimage to a point of shalom. We have witnessed through holy writ the first step of the final commitment. Today begins Holy Week. Today you are invited to commit to entering the shadowed valley (Ps 23). The goal is freedom from the continual devilishly appealing whisper that You too can be like God. The uncertainty challenges our wisdom, our belief, our trust. Today the beginning of your pilgrimage is right here, right now.

 


References

Cox, Jason. Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday (B). 25 3 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 11:1-11. 25 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lose, David. Palm/Passion B: Cries, Confusion, Compassion. 25 3 2018.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

See and Hear

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16, John 12:20-33

Good morning. It is good to see all the kids here this morning. I know all of you know how special each of you are. Here is a story that reminds me of that.

All moms are on high alert when they bring their newborn baby home. They see and hear everything that is within reach of their baby. When a mom saw her oldest child, J keep edging up to the baby’s room she watched. J welcomed her new brother. Mom hadn’t seen any signs of jealousy or anything like that, but still, new moms watch. J would go to her brother’s room and stand by the door if it was cracked she’d peak in, if not she’d listen. Then one day, when Mom was more relaxed and not keeping the hawk eye alert on, J quietly when in. Mom missed J, automatically looked down the hall and noticed the baby’s room’s door was half open. She quickly went to see what was up. She did not hear anything that alarmed her, so she paused at the door to listen. J was standing by the baby’s crib, one hand, and her forehead on the railing. Quietly she said, please tell me what she looks like, I am beginning to forget what God looks like.

It is interesting to ponder how as we grow up as we learn some things we also lose our ability to see and hear other things; it raises a question about how we grow up (Kubicek).

 In the Gospel this morning we hear that some Greeks ask to see Jesus. It is an indication of their desire to know him. Certainly, through the stories they have heard, they have come to know about Jesus, which has led to them to seek to see Jesus so they may come to know him more fully (Shore). Their request makes no demands, there are no appeals for proof, they just want to be in Jesus’ presence, just as Andrew wanted to follow Jesus after John the Baptist’s witness (John 1:35). People do desire to see and hear Jesus. However, as we grow up, either birthday by birthday, or by education, or through life’s hard taught lessons, that desire seems to be more and more suppressed. We seem to lose the ability to see Jesus, or God, or the Spirit right in front of us. Notice the officials cannot see who Jesus is, and the crowd cannot hear God’s reply to Jesus’ prayer “Glorify your name.” People think it is either thunder or that Jesus has lost his mind and is talking to himself (Kubicek). And while there is a lot of Sunday School material teaching stories about Jesus, the opportunities to learn how to see Jesus, how to hear Jesus, are rare. One commentator wrote that seminaries don’t teach it, creeds don’t mention it, the catechism doesn’t teach it, yet here it is (Kubicek).

I can attest to the truth, that seeing or hearing God/Jesus/Spirit can be a life-changing experience. Thirty or so years ago, I was home alone with our daughters. N was upstairs asleep. H and I were playing Candy Land. It was important to me that she wins, so I was trying to manufacture a win, by making mistakes. I should have known better, H was very smart, and never did miss much, and every time I tried to make a mistake, she saw me and corrected it. Because it was Saturday the TV was on PBS, the kid’s shows were over and an interview with Joseph Campbell was on. I do not know the question. I only know part of the answer

 … there are many paths in life. When you are on the right on you know it. When you are on the wrong on, you know it. And if you ever sell out for money …

My house of cards collapsed, and I heard “Go get ordained.”

A bit of background. As an acolyte serving at the altar was always a special place and time for me, there was a kind of mystical magnetic draw to it. Somewhere in my last year or so in college, in a moment of existential, or identity crisis I sought out a priest. So, it is not a total surprise to hear those words, although it was completely unexpected.

After decades of occasionally pondering I am beginning to see that the only way I would hear the divine voice was to be so focused that all the concerns of the world were blocked out. It was only playing as a child, with a child, that the walls I had built, to protect myself from the world, faded away, and that God’s voice could be heard. As I sought to obey that call, I shared the experience, ~ but with caution. I did not want to over-interpret it. And ~ I was not sure how it would be received. Which tells us something about how such experiences are interpreted in many situations.

Our Lenten sermon themes are lentil soup, and what we sell our Christian birthright for. This morning lentil soup is looking a lot like grown-up expectations and interpretations of the world. We have forgotten how to be little children. Though Esau called it “that red stuff” this morning lentil soup is gray stuff, a mixture of everyday life and light. It is a good thing to have grown up expectations and interpretations of the world. Everyday life in the world is complex and at times dangerous, it takes grownup experience and wisdom to make your way through. At the same time, Jesus’ teaching that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be like little children (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) we have heard is true. It builds on my seminary class Psalm, ~ 131

  1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore. (Psalms 131).

The psalmist shares the way to live in divine hope, which is our soul’s being calm and quiet like a child with its mother.

The ever-alert understanding it takes to get through the day contrast sharply with the calm and quiet of a child with their mother. Lentil soup is an artful mixture of both.

John is challenging the balance of the two. In his day, and in ours, there is a much greater emphasis on ever alert understanding than calm and quiet. Go to the self-help section where ever books are sold and see how many books offer ways to negotiate or manage your life to be successful, compared to how many offer ways to calm and quiet your soul. John does this in sharing the relationship between God and Jesus. John writes that Jesus’ soul is troubled, which is an expression of a grown-up understanding of the situation he is in, he now knows his death is rapidly approaching. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, here, Jesus does not question his purpose.

He is so perfectly united to the Father that, in [John’s] Gospel, he does not struggle to obey the divine will; instead he prays for the Father’s glorification … [he knows] looming tragedy is not the last word (Gaventa and Petersen).

John’s lentil soup is more divine light than human awareness. This morning’s vision of lentil soup is as much about the blend of what is in it, as it is about its ingredients.

We have also been asking what we sell our birthright for. This morning it is an abundant wheat crop. Jesus shares the one-line parable about a wheat seed dying so that it will bear much fruit, which we tend to equate with abundance. Have you ever asked yourself “Does wheat seed produce fruit?” Of course not. So, what is Jesus, through John, saying? Throughout scripture, Jesus uses the phrase “bearing fruit” to describe how a community of his disciples should look and sound. In Jesus’ one-line parable “bearing fruit” is a metaphor meaning to lose one’s life, by leaving ever alert understanding of our self-interest aside, to become part of a community of faith (Shore; O’Day). To hate, or reject, or rebalance one’s life is to follow Jesus as a part of the community of disciples who witness to Jesus after his death, resurrection, and ascension (O’Day). This morning we see the temptation to sell our birthright, of an abundance of fruit in a community of faith, for an abundant wheat crop.

Adjusting the ingredients of a recipe is a challenging thing. It requires knowledge of the ingredients, how they interact, and which flavors complement each other. It is also an art that emerges from a calm and quiet soul. You are not alone in your effort to balance your recipe for lentil soup. You are heirs of Jesus’ invitation to Andrew to “come and see” (John:138) and to Phillip to “follow me” (John 1:43) (Lewis; O’Day). You are heirs of seeing and hearing to know the “swift and varied changes of the world” and the calm and quiet of your soul which together bring you into eternal life in which you know, right here, right now, what God looks like, what God sounds like.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kubicek, Kirk Alan. “This Voice Has Come for Your Sake, Not for Mine, Lent 5.” 18 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Seeing Jesus. 18 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 12:20-33. 18 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.