Sermon for 5/19/19 John 13:31-35

If this text sounds familiar, it’s because we heard it not too long ago. This text is always used on Maundy Thursday. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus gathering his disciples around a table and eating one final meal with them. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends, washing them in humble service. We aren’t that far removed from Jesus explaining all of this love to those gathered, even Judas(!) the one who would betray him. We aren’t that far removed from his trial, the denial of Peter, the nails in his flesh, all of it. We aren’t that far removed from Joseph of Arimathea carrying the dead, lifeless, crucified body of Jesus away and laying him in the tomb. We’re not that far removed from a display of love so hauntingly beautiful and yet so unbelievably disturbing. We’re not that far removed from any of that. We’re also not that far removed from the empty tomb. We still have alleluia’s on our lips.

It’s difficult to hear this text during Lent and reflect on the commandment given. Especially as we start to gaze towards the cross. The display of love that will be nothing short of a state sanctioned execution leaves us mournful, confused, and maybe anything but loved. After all, if Jesus loves us, why would he leave us? If Jesus loved us, why would we have to watch him suffer? If Jesus loved us, why make us wait and wonder for three days? But now! Now we are resurrection people. We’re empty tomb people. We’re “we-know-the-end-of-the-story” people. We’re alleluia people. And once again Jesus tells us that we should love one another. Now, here’s where the rubber hits the road. Here’s where I am going to lay it on you and I can’t promise it’s going to be easy. What difference does the resurrection make? What difference does the empty tomb make?

If we can’t love one another during Lent, what makes us (or Jesus) believe that the resurrection is going to change our ways? If we are only going to be resurrection people one day a year, instead of all 365 days a year, then why even go to the empty tomb? Why declare that death has lost its victory and sting? What I mean is that if you’re going to wave hi, acknowledge me, invite me to coffee, and give me a hug on Sunday but you ignore me all the other 6 days of the week, then what difference does the resurrection make? Because here’s the thing: when Jesus said we should love one another, it was not an option. When Jesus said we should love one another, it didn’t have parameters. When Jesus said we should love one another, he didn’t say “only if you feel like it.” Jesus said love one another. Period. End of story. But oh how often we want to add to that story. “Love one another, but…” or maybe “love one another, if only….” What about “love one another, until…”  

I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t place a period where God puts a comma. I’d like to propose that we not add qualifiers to Jesus’ commandments. If we take it seriously that God so loved the world, then we ought to see what that looks like played out through us, for us, because of us, and DESPITE us. See, before Jesus’ death, perhaps we might have been a little unsure about this love stuff. Perhaps it was hard to conceptualize such love because we hadn’t seen the cross. We hadn’t seen the thorns. We hadn’t seen the nails. We hadn’t heard the dice being rolled and his clothes ripped from his body. But now, now my beloved, we have seen and heard too much to go back to lukewarm love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to qualifier love. We have seen and heard too much to go back to thinking that the love Jesus spoke of was just for us, from him. No, see the empty tomb changes our story and we have seen too much.

Do you know why Jesus leaves his disciples and us with this commandment that we should love one another? It’s more than just a nice thought. It’s more that something you might find embroidered on a fancy throw pillow. It’s more than just lip service. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because he will ascend into heaven. He will no longer physically be with us. Jesus tells us to love one another because the world needs love and we are the ones to give it. Jesus tells us to love one another because we are empty tomb, resurrection, on the road to Emmaus people in a world that is still bound and determined to stand at the tomb and bask in confusion and the pungent odor of death and defeat. Jesus tells us that we should love one another because we live in a world that believes death is the end of the story. Jesus tells you that we should love one another because so many LIVING people are already stuck in tombs of death and it is to us to roll that stone away.

We need to love one another because the noise is too loud and love is our mute button. We need to love one another because the world tells us our bodies aren’t loveable. We need to love one another because the world tells us our contributions aren’t enough. We need to love one another because hateful rhetoric is more commonplace than civil discourse. We need to love one another because too much blood has been spilled in the streets, on our college campuses, in our elementary schools, in our places of worship and religion all in the name of power and white supremacy and neither can be our God. We need to love one another because people are starting to believe the lie that hate can win. We need to love one another because we have seen too much, heard too much, felt too much, and the world needs to know a different story.

We need to love one another because we are resurrection people. We need to love one another because death will never have the final word. We need to love one another, my beloved, really, and maybe most importantly, because the alternative is just too damn dark and depressing. People don’t want to hear about our Jesus; this Jesus of love. Instead they want to hear about a Jesus that looks like them, talks like them, thinks like them, votes like them, legislates like them, worships like them, and loves like them. But Jesus loves like Jesus: without barriers, without exception, without even anticipation that love will be returned. Jesus loves with service, with humility, and with hospitality. Jesus loves like the cross mattered but the empty tomb is our glory song. And if we so “love to tell the story” but our actions show anything but love, our words are useless. Love one another. It is an action. Not an option.

Advertisements

Sermon for 5/12/19 John 10:22-30

I love that this text falls on this Sunday of all Sundays. The Sunday when we celebrate our graduates. The Sunday that reminds parents that soon you will send your own sheep out into the world, trusting that the shepherd will guide them. This is also the Sunday when the sheep (perhaps) are excited about the next step and can’t wait for the shepherd to fall asleep because there’s a ragin’ party happening in the next field over. Now I am sure parents of new or soon to be graduates won’t like what I’m about to share. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t real sure what I wanted to do. Same with college. When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to be a dentist. No joke. One semester in and a review of all the math and science classes required quickly talked me out of that. When I graduated from college, I knew I was bound for further education, like a Masters degree, but I had no idea what I was going to do in the meantime. But, God knew. God always knows. Because God knew me, called me by name, and I followed. Maybe God had to repeat my name several times and point me in the right direction, but eventually, I followed.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing over and over again, but, to be honest, some things are worth repeating. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, and if so, it’s good to hear it again. If not, this will come as good news, I hope. God knows you. And I don’t mean that in a “that’s cute…are we Facebook friends?” kind of way. I mean that God knows you. God knows all your highs, everything you brag about even when you’re trying to be humble. God knows all of your lows; the darkness, the secrets you try and even hide from yourself. God knows it all. And God calls you by name. This is a relationship, my beloved. This is a relationship of love and caring, and yes, abundance. There isn’t anything at all, not even death, that can come in between you and your relationship with God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been in a mission since early on. We hear from the very beginning that God so loved the world (see John 3:16). Not only does God love the world, but God sends us Jesus so that we may have life and have it ABUNDANTLY! Not only that (!) but God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but save us and grant us eternal life. That is Jesus’ mission: to love the world. And the world includes us. The call to discipleship also includes us. We are part of Jesus’ flock, we are Jesus’ sheep. So, how will we respond to the mission to love the world?

Unlike actual shepherds, Jesus always has room for more in his flock. There is always more room for the lost and forsaken to be in his care. And should we be the ones to wander off, should we be the ones to become a lost sheep, Jesus’ voice will always be louder than anything else. No one and no thing can ever keep us from being in the care of Jesus. I think this needs to be heard loud and clear, my beloved. No one and no thing or event will ever snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. And my goodness, we have no shortage of things or forces in the world that desire to snatch us out of Jesus’ hand.

If we just take a cursory look at everything society tells us should keep us from church. Heck, sometimes the church tells us that these things should keep us from church. Divorced? I’m sure you’ve been told some things by the church. I have a mental illness. There are some who might believe that maybe I just haven’t prayed hard enough. That’s a nice thought but have you tried Zoloft or Prozac? Financial difficulties? Well, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Society (and at times, church) is so concerned that we only display and show our best selves that anything other than our best selves is considered a failure. If you think I’m wrong, consider this. Instagram (a photo-sharing social media website/platform) has 24 different filters. This does not include the additional abilities to edit, lighten/darken, or change the coloring on each picture. Snapchat (another social media tool) has 24 different filters that can turn your face into a dog or add a halo or whatever and an additional 21 different filters that change the look of your picture (without turning you into a dog or whatever). We always have to show our best selves, don’t we?

That feeling may exist with church too. We have to show our best selves. It’s like cleaning before the housekeeper shows up. It’s the same theory with the people who think they need to get in shape before they go to the gym. We feel like we must do something to ourselves before we are worthy to be in God’s company. “I can’t go to church, I’ve been divorced.” Or “I can’t go to church, I haven’t been clean long enough.” Maybe “I can’t go to church, they don’t know I’m out.” I think the one that breaks my heart the most is “I can’t go to church, the walls might fall down and I doubt God even knows who I am anymore.” Oh my beloved, none of this is true. God knows you. God knows you intimately. God knows you like you know your own children. God knows you like you know your most beloved loved one. God knows you in such a way that you will never be let go. The barriers we attempt to put between us and God are nothing but excuses for Christ to demolish. Jesus stood at a tomb, the stench of Lazarus’ dead body filling the air, and stood there and called. And Lazarus, knowing Jesus’ voice, rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. Do you think Jesus is going to allow our excuses to stop him from searching us out, calling our name, claiming us, tightening his grip on us, and reminding us who we are and whose we are? No. Nothing will keep us from Jesus. And nothing will keep Jesus from us.

Parents, I’m talking to you now, parent to parent. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be concerned. Your child will never go where God is not. Your best defense against anything is prayer. And graduates, I’m talking to you now. This is a time when many wrestle with their faith. I know I did. I tried to do away with God for a while. It didn’t work out well. No matter how much wrestling you do, no matter how much space you try to put between God and yourself, God will never abandon you. God will never lead you astray. God will always love you no matter what.

Fellow sheep, listen up: we are in the grasp of God. We have a shepherd that calls us by name and we follow. There is room in this flock for many many more. So, if you see a stray sheep, wrangle that one in. There is enough love for all. God is our shepherd and provides. There is enough love for all.

Sermon for 5/5/19 John 21:1-19

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) In the second half of this reading, Jesus addresses Peter three times. And each time Jesus addresses him, he calls him “Simon, son of John.” There is something about that identity. This is the third and final time since the resurrection that the disciples have seen the risen Lord in the Gospel of John. Peter previously tried to deny Jesus three times. He has tried to go back to fishing. But, during breakfast, with the familiar smell of a charcoal fire wafting in the air, Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter: identity.

What is your identity? Maybe the better question is how many identities do you have? How many of those can you wear at one time? I have several: pastor, wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, Bearcat, activist, and on and on. But, my most important identity, at least to me, is my baptismal identity. I am Jealaine Rae, child of God. As great as that sounds, I don’t always remember that my baptismal identity is my primary identity. But, it is my baptismal identity that allows me to respond to all of my other identities. It’s easy to forget that though. When I’ve gone from a day of visits, to a council meeting, to home in time to hopefully read stories and do bedtime, grab a late dinner, put a load in the laundry, I forget that in all of that God claims me. I forget in all of what I do that God knows me.

A challenge also arises when we desire to forget, leave behind, abandon, or even deny our identity. While Jesus was on trial and Peter was in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire, those gathered around asked Peter “you are not also one of this man’s disciples are you?” And Peter responded with “I am not.” (see John 18:17, 25) Talk about a denial. But when Jesus appears to Peter and the others after the resurrection, he does not desire to shame or guilt Peter. You notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter for an apology or ask him to repent; neither does Peter offer it. And it may be easy to think that Jesus asks this question of “do you love me” three times to remind Peter that he denied Jesus three times. But, this is not the case. Jesus is simply reaffirming who Peter really is, who Peter has always been, who Jesus needs Peter to be now.

I believe there are times when we all desire to deny our identity. Any parent will tell you that there have been days when you want to scream “my name is no longer mom” (or “dad”). The ladies who helped with Lucille’s funeral can attest that I came back from the burial, grabbed my lunch, and went to seclude myself into my office. I actually said “I can’t people anymore.” At the same time, there may be those times when we flex our identities a little more. My dad is a fan of the idea that whatever he says goes, because “I’m the papa!” For extra emphasis, he’ll sing like he’s in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There has been more than one occasion when I introduce myself I make sure that I emphasize that I am “PASTOR” Jealaine Marple.

But there are those times when we desire to deny our identity out of fear. There is the worry that we won’t meet expectations. There is the fear that we will meet expectations and then more will be expected of us. There is the fear of disappointment. There is the desire to deny our identity because we may be judged on that identity or even rejected. And that hurts. And if we’re going to be honest, sometimes we deny who we are because there is a fear that we won’t be liked or even loved for who we truly are. We don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to be without a community or support system. So sometimes, identities get denied. What happens when we wish to deny our identity of “child of God.” Moreover, why might we want to deny that identity?

Jesus lays it out for us in this conversation with Peter. Just in case you thought this conversation was just for Peter, it is for us too. The resurrection has happened and we are faced with the “now what.” If we profess and confess to love Jesus what is that going to look like on a practical level? If we believe that “God so loved the world” (see John 3:16) what will that look like as we encounter the world on a daily basis? Jesus is the good shepherd. We hear that in John 10. Jesus even says in John 10:16 that there are “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Meaning, there are sheep, people, who have not yet come to know Jesus but Jesus is going to make them part of his fold as well.

So we fast forward to this conversation and Jesus says to Peter, “feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” For Peter and for us, this is our identity as disciples. This is our identity when we say we are children of God. This is our identity in Christ. We are to care for one another. We are to feed one another. We are to love one another. With an assignment like that, I can understand why Peter may not want to be a disciple. I can understand why going back to fishing, even on a bad day, looked a bit more appealing.

I can understand this because the world can be really hard to love. The problems of this world seem impossible to solve. Hate, violence, injustice, war, and power all seem to be the preferred language. If we’re going to be honest, our identity as children of God and as disciples has the power to just break our hearts over and over again. We are going to run into broken systems, people who feel broken, corruption, and what may feel like speed bump after speed bump. That much hurt has the power to not only make us deny our identity but leave it behind altogether. Sometimes, yes, it would be easier to operate in the world as someone who doesn’t know Christ. Sometimes it would be easier to turn and look the other way. It would be easier to not care.

But Christ calls us to something better and deeper. And yes, it’s going to break our hearts. And God is going to take those broken pieces and use them and keep us moving forward. We don’t do this discipleship thing on our own. While we may desire to leave behind our identity as children of God or identity as disciples, God has made a permanent mark on us. As much as we may try and ignore it, God’s love projects us forward into service to others in the world. The problem with our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ sees it. The joy of our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ see it. Our identity in Christ is secure. God has a firm grip on us, even on the days when we struggle. God has a firm grip on us even in the moments we’d rather have nothing to do with God. Peter has seen what life in Christ looks like: abundance upon abundance. We have seen it too. This is what discipleship is: to witness God’s abundance upon abundance and then make that happen for others.

It’s not an easy identity. It’s not a glamourous identity. But our identity in Christ is quite possibly the most rewarding identity we have. We may not see or experience that reward until we are in God’s kingdom, but the promise is there. We have seen the empty tomb. We have experienced the risen Lord. Soon we will be fed. Then Christ sends us out to feed the world. Our identity is love. Our identity is hope. Our identity is intertwined with the proclamation that alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/28/19 John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) I know that we all have things about us that are unique. But have you ever noticed that there is somewhat of an instant bond among people that find out they share the same unique qualities? It’s like you’ve finally found someone who understands your troubles or just how awesome you really are. I’ve seen this with my twins (my brother and sister) when they meet another set of twins. I’ve seen this with those of you that are left handed (because you make it very clear where you want to sit at dining tables). I’ve seen this with Chris and his fraternity brothers and their special handshake. I’ve also seen this among veterans, no matter the battles they’ve fought. Even if you have nothing else in common with this other person, there’s something to be said about sharing unique qualities. I’m a firm believer in knowing you are not alone. There is power in that. It’s powerful when you find out you share unique qualities with someone else. It’s even more powerful to find you share experiences with someone when those experiences weren’t so pleasant. As I said, there’s something to be said about knowing you aren’t alone.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost the sense of community, the sense of belonging. Now, I don’t mean “we” as in this church. But, more often, I wonder if we as a nation have lost that. That’s an easy thing to lament. When we talk about how things “used to be” part of what we miss is the sense of community and neighborhood. I used to play on the street where my childhood home was located. We would play kick the can for all hours of the day until Jan Corley would yell out her children’s name “EricPattyRobin” and we all kind of knew it was time to go home. This doesn’t seem to be the case any more. We don’t always know our neighbors names. Our kids can’t go outside by themselves and use the streetlights as a signal to come home. I imagine there are several contributing factors to losing our sense of community. Perhaps that’s why then when we do realize we’re not alone, especially during our most challenging times, that a sense of community and belonging is all that more powerful.

I think that Thomas gets a bad rap sometimes. I think he’s not doubting, as his nickname often portrays, but rather, I think he simply wants to know he is not alone. He wants to know he’s not alone in his questions. He wants to know he’s not alone in his wonderment. He wants to know that the wounds left on his heart from mourning the death of his friend Jesus will soon become scars. And as much as we don’t like to see those around us hurting, isn’t it powerful when we’re hurting and we look around and see that others are hurting too? We don’t wish it upon others, but to know we’re not alone in grief, sorrow, and suffering makes the grief, sorrow, and suffering a little softer. I think this is part of why we have funerals. I’ve always said that funerals are for the living. We want to know we’re not doing this alone.

I also often think that sometimes, as a Christian community, we don’t always want to deal with the ugly. We don’t always want to deal with grief. We don’t always want to deal with scars and wounds. I think this is the same reason why people think they can’t come to church until they have their life straightened out. There’s a fear of judgement. Because we’re all so perfect and everything. The church hasn’t always done a good job of meaning it when we say “all are welcome.” But we all have scars. And whether we know it or not, we bring those scars with us every Sunday morning. They aren’t always seen. They aren’t even always acknowledged. But we all have them. And when are scars are exposed to others, then that’s when we really get a chance to be Jesus to and for one another. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I want to be part of a community of faith that has some scars. Because scars are proof that you have lived life. Scars are receipts for the lessons learned. I would rather be part of a community that acknowledges it has scars and wounds than part of a community that works really hard to cover it all up. Scars make us human and when we see and acknowledge one another’s scars, we see and acknowledge one another.

Again, I don’t know about you, but to have a savior who is willing to let Thomas touch his wounds tells me that we have a savior who would be willing to let us touch his wounds. We have a risen Lord that wants us to feel seen, validated, and understood for all of our scars and wounds. And so much so that the risen Lord is willing to let Thomas and us feel his wounds. We serve a God who has been through some stuff! I find a lot of comfort in that. I need to know that the one I turn to the most, Jesus, knows what it is like to show up, again and again and again, over and over and over, scars and all and be willing to be seen. That kind of action gives me courage. Jesus wants you to be seen. Jesus wants you to feel like you’re part of a community. Jesus wants you to feel love. And in order to do all of that, Jesus is willing to show you his wounds. Not his scars. His wounds; still fresh from a state-authorized execution. Once again I say there is power in knowing you aren’t alone. There seems to be even more power in knowing you aren’t alone and your companion is Jesus.

Did you notice what Jesus did? Thomas needed proof. I don’t blame him. Thomas needed to be shown without any hesitation that Christ was indeed risen. Thomas needed proof before he was willing to be part of a community of believers. He was hesitant. I don’t blame him. Jesus didn’t shame Thomas. Jesus didn’t make Thomas feel guilty. Jesus just did what Jesus always had done: he made Thomas feel loved and feel seen. By showing Thomas his wounds and allowing himself to be touched, he made Thomas part of a community. What do you need to be seen, my beloved? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need in order to start letting your scars and wounds be seen? What do you need to tell your story. And your story is your whole story, not just the cleaned up parts that make you sound really good. What do you need to tell your whole story that tells about how despite it all, you’ve been redeemed? Because those are the stories we need to hear. Those are the testimonies the world needs. We don’t need prettied-up Christianity. We need Christianity that’s a little rugged, a little torn at the edges, a little rough, but all real. The world doesn’t need any more clean-cut sparkly clean Jesus. We need disciples who will show the wounded Jesus. Because the wounded Jesus feels like someone that could know our story. The wounded Jesus sees us.

There is power in community. There is power in being seen. There is power in showing up with your scars, your wounds, your tattoos, your stories, your histories, your prison records, your speeding tickets, your indiscretions and proclaiming a risen Lord anyway. The tomb wasn’t empty with an asterisk. The tomb was empty, period. The risen Lord sees you, scars and all, and loves you just the way you are. No catch.

I want to share a quote with you from one of the shows I’ve been binge watching lately. It was the drama series, The West Wing. The Chief of Staff, Leo McGary, played by Jon Spencer tells this story. “This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’ That’s the power of not being alone. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)  

Sermon for 4/21/19 Luke 24:1-12; Easter Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) The women were not to be believed. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, all of whom had never left Jesus’ side, by the way, weren’t to be believed. They had seen the empty tomb with their own eyes. They had seen the two men, assumed to be angels, in dazzling clothes. They had been terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They had gone to the tomb, prepared to care for the one they loved so dearly just one more time. The women were going to anoint Jesus’ body as was custom. But instead, they found that the stone had been rolled away and alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And the women did the next logical thing: they went to tell the other disciples. All the men heard the story and did not believe the women. They said it was an idle tale. Even better, the original translation, the original Greek makes it more accurate to say that what the women were saying was garbage. The women were not to be believed.

Now, it’s a bit unfair to us because we know the end of the story. We know that the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was who he said he was. But can you imagine that first Easter morning? It was early morning. The sun had just started to peak over the horizon. The women probably walked to the tomb in silence, still wrapped in grief. The only noise that might have been heard was the soft shuffle of footsteps and the birds waking up. The women were prepared for the task ahead of them. What they weren’t prepared for is what greeted them and they go from grief and mourning to shock, awe, disbelief, and maybe a little bit surprised in a matter of moments. What a way to be reminded that God’s ways are not the same as ours. God’s plans are not the same as ours.

The women went to the tomb prepared for death. They clung to the idea of death. I can’t blame them. I mean, who in their right mind would have approached that tomb thinking “I don’t think he’s gonna be there.” That’s not how death works, right? Death, up until this point, was the end of the story. The women had grief filled hearts, souls, even grief in the way they carried their bodies. So it seems a strange question from the angel. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The women were in shock and had no answer. But the logical answer might have been “because we’re not looking for the living…” How were they supposed to know? But then, they remembered. Then the women remembered everything that Jesus had told them. It was true! It was so true, right? Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Now, it’s quite possible that the angel could ask the same of us. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Much like the women, we want to tend to the dead things in our life. We may be so focused on the dead things in our lives that we miss the things that are living and are indeed worthy of praise. We are ready to anoint ideas and ideals that are long dead. We cling to what used to be, what could have been, what should have been, what might have been that we miss the angel staring directly at us ready to proclaim life to us and we’re just prepared to tend to death. The words of the messenger should propel us maybe even challenge us to stop hanging on to the dead and move into new life.

The angels, the messengers, the men at the tomb, whatever you want to call them are a reminder that the risen Lord dwells in new life. The risen Lord dwells in the “what if’s” of life. The risen Lord lives in the place where we leave behind what we think we know is true and sure and instead step into uncertainty and vulnerability. And all of this sounds great in theory, but we still tend to the dead. We tend to dead ideas, dead relationships, dead opportunities, and dead internal messages in the hopes that new life will spring forward. And new life always comes from death, but perhaps we’ve missed the messengers pointing the way. If you don’t believe that we hold on to death, then listen to me now. How many of you (maybe especially you ladies) have a range of 2-10 different sizes of clothing in your closet? Are you holding on to the idea one day… one day will come when you fit into those again. I am not shaming you or your body. But how freeing would it feel to live just as you are, right now? Just as God created you to be. A new life!

Or, how many rooms, storage closets, side cabinets or whatever could we go through in this church and find example after example of things we’re holding onto “just in case?” I guarantee you there are relics in this church that have not been used since before I was born and that was in 1978. Are we tending to the dead? Are we grasping onto death so tightly that new life doesn’t even have a chance to spring forward? Maybe you’re tending to a dead relationship? You keep praying and trying and changing and hoping but nothing changes in the relationship. And sometimes that happens. Some relationships are cyclical. But, new life comes from death. And the women knew. The women dropped the idea of preparing the dead quickly and moved on to proclaiming the risen Lord!

The women knew, they remembered, and they believed. They responded by being the disciples they had always been and went to tell all the others that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) They left the idea of death in the dust and instead ran to life. They used their voices to speak truth, which is exactly what God asks of us. And they spoke the truth (even if it was scary or seemed a little absurd) and do you think that just because the men didn’t believed them that they stopped telling their story? No way! They took risks. They risked rejection. They made themselves vulnerable. They stopped at nothing to make sure that anyone and everyone knew that death wasn’t the end of the story.

How do I know? We’re here today, aren’t we? We weren’t there all those years ago but Mary and Joanna and all the others were. They saw an empty tomb. And thanks to them, thanks to those women, we no longer have to cling to our dead ideas and ideals. Because thanks to them, we too have seen the empty tomb. We get to pass along the story. Thanks to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, we are here this day, hearing the story from yet another woman (me) who is telling you that death does not, cannot, willnot, have the final word. Let the scales fall from  your eyes and your hearts and look into this empty tomb with me, my beloved. Stop preparing for death and start living for new life and resurrection and redemption, and love! Be amazed with me! This isn’t an idle tale, this is my testimony. I have seen the risen Lord! And now you have too! Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/19/20 Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Good Friday

No matter what I think, no matter how hard I try, despite any length of prayer, fasting, scripture reading; no matter what I do to try and prepare for this day, I find myself woefully unprepared for it all. Of course, I don’t mean the practical things like this sermon, worship preparation, and the like. But, I find myself unprepared for the reality of what happens on this day. And the kicker is, much like all of you, I know the end of the story. I know it doesn’t end this way, but damn if it doesn’t feel like it today. For me, this is the reality of my faith. Today is what separates me from those who don’t believe or who have yet come to believe. Crux to my faith, and yours as well, I’m sure, is what occurs today. What happens on the cross informs everything I believe to be true, how I treat other people, and how I interact with the world.

Something deep within me was calling me to take a different look at this familiar scripture this time around. Please understand, I don’t want to let us off the hook, per say. But, I think if we just look at the cross as the forgiveness of our sins, we might be missing the whole picture. That idea is not wrong, of course. The problem is that sin has such a wide definition. We in western culture especially like to appropriate it in situations that are not actually sin. We may wonder what a person did wrong in order to receive a diagnosis. What person failed in that prisoner’s life? Well, what was that black man doing to cause him to get shot? We victim blame a lot in western culture and want to blame sin. Instead, I started to think about and wonder what else Jesus took upon himself as he hung there between two criminals.

Please understand, my beloved, I am not ungrateful for Jesus’ act on the cross. It literally saved my life and yours. But, I want to believe that it was more than just my sins Jesus was taking on. Maybe, selfishly, I’ll admit, I want to know that I am not alone in my troubles. Maybe, again, selfishly, I want to know that what keeps me up at night isn’t all me. Again, not that my sins alone isn’t enough. But, I also know that the God I love and that loves me, and the God that I preach and teach and that I declare loves you is more. God is always more and God is always more than we can imagine. I also understand that my life is never going to be free from trouble. I don’t think that’s what the cross is about. After all, if we never encountered troubles, whatever they may be, then we may never know the sweet sweet power of redemption.

We hear in chapter 53, verse 4 that “surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Infirmity is a word we don’t hear used as often as we maybe once did. What does it mean? It means physical or mental weakness. It is used more now with people who are elderly; they may be referred to as infirmed. But, don’t we all have some kind of physical or mental weakness? Here are some synonyms for infirmity: frailty, weakness, impairment, illness, instability, affliction, complaint, hesitation, uncertainty, indecision, and irresolution. And when it says “he has borne our infirmities” it means Jesus carried them or supported them. This day isn’t supposed to bring good news, I know. But for me, it brings relief. The cross is another reminder that Jesus carries all my troubles. I think the cross is another reminder that for everything in life that bothers us, there is the cross. I don’t know anyone who is without instability, affliction, hesitation, uncertainty, indecision or irresolution.

Again, I don’t want to assume this about you, but I know for me that I have wondered so many times if Jesus has any idea what I’m going through. The feelings of abandonment are real. There are times when I feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above water and about to drown that I feel like Jesus finally starts paying attention. I know this isn’t the case. But again, damn if it doesn’t feel like it. There is something in me, something that wants more. There is a longing. And not a passing fad kind of thing. This is a deep, soulful, pain in my gut kind of longing. This longing is the longing that begs for things to be better. This longing is the longing that begs for more love. This longing is the longing that begs for less pain. Not no pain. Just less of it. This longing is the longing that begs for the darkness to not be so dark, and the quiet not to be so silent, and for the voices to not be so loud and for the hurts that I carry to not continuously rip my heart out time and time again. This longing is a longing for Jesus.

I guess this longing is for Jesus because he does know what it is to suffer. He does know what it is to be betrayed. He does know what it is to be heartbroken. And he knows what it is like to go through all of this over and over and over, time and time again. On this day, we sit in our grief. That’s a strange place to be. The world doesn’t like grief. It often wants to hurry us past grief. But we’ve all been in a rut of grief at least once in our lives. Maybe it’s the loss of a spouse or partner, a friend, or a child. And the world comes to the funeral, maybe brings a casserole or two, but then says “that’s enough….move on now.” But the world doesn’t seem to get it. The world doesn’t know our grief. And if they did, they would not rush us past it.

But Jesus knows grief. Jesus knows loss. Jesus knows feeling forsaken. Jesus knows pain and suffering. And that, my beloved, at the intersection of pain, suffering, death, greed, grief, loss, longing, and just…whatever. That’s where we’ll find Jesus. On the cross. Reminding us that we are not defined by our sin, our transgressions, our iniquities, even our sorrows. We are, instead, defined by Christ’s death. For all the schooling I’ve had, for all the books I’ve read, and for all the speakers and podcasts I’ve listened to, I still can’t fully explain what happened that first Good Friday. I can’t explain how one simple act saved my life, and yours. This mystery of faith will most likely always remain a mystery. But what I do know is that the cross promises so much more than forgiveness of sins. Jesus bore my iniquities, yours too. At a time when my heart, soul, and mind so desperately long for Jesus (and maybe yours too), I find myself once more at the foot of the cross, being reminded.

Sermon for 4/18/19 John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Maundy Thursday

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? We should love one another. And for Jesus, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s isn’t a passing thought. He says exactly what it is right there: a new commandment. What that means is that it’s not optional. However, we make it optional; perhaps a little more often than we should. I’ve been thinking about this commandment off and on for the last few weeks, honestly. Knowing that Maundy Thursday was coming up, that’s just how my pastor brain works. And I’ve come up with a theory that I haven’t quite fleshed out all the way yet, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. If we actually, truly, really loved one another the way Jesus commands in this gospel, it would be an act of civil disobedience.

Let’s first start by talking about what civil disobedience is and how I’m using it in the context of this message. So, a common definition is “the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government or occupying international power. … it is a non-violent action” (wikipedia). Martin Luther King Jr is probably one of the best and well known faces and voices of civil disobedience. But he was also known to say that it should be “a display and practice of reverence to the law” (ibid). Since Dr King, there have been several attempts and demonstrations of civil disobedience including women’s marches, Black Lives Matter marches, and marches and demonstrations against school violence, just to name a few. I don’t necessarily think that these protests, marches, and acts of civil disobedience are always a response and distrust of our government, although many may feel that way. But, I really believe that it is the citizens of this country that know our government can do better and so we demand that it does.

Jesus was probably the original example of what civil disobedience looked like. After all, we have example after example of how Jesus didn’t live by the rules of the Roman empire. He also didn’t live by the hard and fast rules of religion though either. If you are able to think back on different Bible stories, we can cite many examples of this: healing people on the sabbath, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, flipping tables, and then facing Pontius Pilate head on, with no reservations, no lies, no excuses Jesus enters Jerusalem. And in what was probably one of his final acts of ministry, Jesus engages in civil disobedience. He does so in a super mundane way (at least for us): he shares a meal with his friends and then washes their feet. Who knew that this act of love could be an act of disobedience, but that’s exactly what it was and that is exactly what it continues to be.

Up to this point, Jesus had more than enough opportunities to turn his back on his disciples or just plain leave them behind. But we know that’s not how Jesus worked. The love and grace that Jesus showed his disciples and us is really disobedient. How? Because since the inception of time, we have been told to fear “the other,” put ourselves first, watch out for number one, and only surround ourselves with people who are good for us and to us. Jesus kind of ignored all of that and surrounded himself with a group of good-enoughs that, even in the end, would abandon him. Despite this, Jesus took the form of a servant and got on his knees and washed the feet of those around him, even Judas, the one who would betray him. I doubt I could have been so brave and so loving.

Let’s look at who is at the table again and maybe the idea of loving these people will start to sound more like an act of disobedience. “Judas, who he knows will betray him; Peter, who will deny him; James and John, who will be unable to keep watch and pray with him; and the others who will forsake him in his hour of darkest need. We will watch in wonder as Jesus’ response to this inner circle that has disappointed him over and over and over again is not to chastise or scold or punish, but to take a towel and a basin of water and gently was the ugliness of each one in turn” (Tisdale, “Feasting on the Word” p279). Society tells us we shouldn’t love the people that surrounded Jesus. But, Jesus does.

Society, the news media, social media, and our government spends a lot of time trying to scare us. Have you noticed that? Fear is a hot commodity in this nation. If I could buy stock in fear, I would be very very rich. But, I’d rather buy stock in love and live in poverty. We are to fear people who have brown skin. We are to fear people who have accents. We are to fear people who even dress a certain way. We are to fear people based on who they love. We are to fear people based on how they vote. We are even to fear people based on their favorite news source. Don’t believe me? If you watch Fox News, you probably have heard that the people who watch MSNBC or CNN are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. If you watch MSNBC or CNN you may have heard that the people who watch Fox News are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. See, it can be said of everyone. This is why, my beloved, when Jesus tells us that we should love one another, it is an act of civil disobedience.

Now, I know that some of you have never engaged in civil disobedience or for some of you, maybe it’s been quite some time since you’ve done that. You may be wondering where to get started. I think Jesus has the ultimate answer in this scripture: sit down with people, have a meal, listen to their story, and then, wash their feet. I mean, “the fact that Jesus spends his last meal with his friends, pleading that they love one another in spite of their own difference and disagreements, is compelling, to say the least” (ibid). I have found that it is almost impossible to hate someone once you are able to see their humanity. When you share a meal with someone and you are able to look one another in the eyes and listen to one another’s stories, it is harder to wish ill upon that person. I understand that we may not be able to literally wash feet, but perhaps we can ask ourselves how we can be in service to one another. Being in service to one another may be another act of disobedience.

Soon, we will all come to this table. We come not because we are worthy or holy, but because God, through Jesus Christ invites us, warts and all. It is a place where we come and Jesus washes us clean, washes all the ugliness out of hearts, and feeds us time and time again. No one is turned away. No one is told no. No one is fed with stipulation. Because bread broken and wine poured is what love looks like. Believing that we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus is disobedient because the world doesn’t want to believe that such a grandiose meal exists! And while this body was given “for you” and this blood was shed “for you” let us remember that is also a plural “you” as in “all y’all.” The same people we are told we should fear get fed too. The same people we are told we should hate get fed too. Allowing yourself to be loved by God is a disobedient act. Who knew disobedience could look like and feel like redemptive love?