Sermon for Easter Sunday (4/20/14) Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia, Christ is risen! It feels so good to say that, doesn’t it? I have been almost craving Alleluias. It has been a long, rough winter. Death has touched our congregation too many times. Lent seemed longer than just 40 days. And here we are. Finally. God is here, in this place. God has always been here. And today’s story is so much more than an empty tomb. Today is so much more than fancy clothes. Today is more than chocolate bunnies, and hams, and plastic grass. Today is more than lilies, and egg hunts, and family gatherings. Today, my brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the day when we are reminded that the power of sin and death is no more. We will not and cannot be controlled by sin and death because of an empty tomb.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sure, Jesus said he would be raised on the third day, but don’t you think that there were those who were around during Jesus’ time that doubted? Would you doubt? If someone told you that after they died they were going to rise again after three days? Would you think “this seems like a logical thought process this person has going on” or something along those lines. I would doubt. I find myself being a lot like Thomas who wants to put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hand before he believes. And even though I’ve heard this story for years, even though I know what the ending to the story is going to be, that still doesn’t stop me from being amazed. I mean, a man who was resurrected. And it’s not like he was faking his death like some sort of soap opera star, he was legitimately dead.

And with something as simple and as complicated as a stone that was rolled away from a grave, everything changes. People were finally able to see that this man who had claimed to be the messiah all along really was who he said he was. We learn that with an empty tomb, we serve a God who keeps promises. With something as simple and as complicated as a stone that was rolled away, we are given life; a life full of grace, love, forgiveness, and a promise of life eternal. With something as simple and as complicated as a stone that was rolled away, we are free of our burdens; whatever chains kept us bound are no more.

Do you not hear? Do you not see? In the resurrection not only does Jesus have life, but so do we. Brothers and sisters, the tomb was empty for a reason. The tomb was empty so that we aren’t. We know that the cross isn’t the end of our story. God’s promise to us is the same it has always been and will always be. Who we are isn’t determined by society, our paycheck, our status in life, or even the voices in our heads. Who we are is determined by whose we are. We belong to God. We all belong to a God who thought we were worth dying for, yes, but who also thought we were worth a resurrection.

I don’t expect you to leave here and like a snap of the fingers be free of all your worries. I get it. There are still bills that have to be paid. There are still loved ones we worry about. There are still tragedies happening all over the world.  But the thing is, that’s not the final word. You have been called. You have been claimed. You have been declared worthy of dying for. It is so important to me, at least, that when we proclaim our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed that we say “he descended into hell.” See, because Christ went to hell that means I don’t have to. Death did not have the final say. Death will never have the final say. Evil has been defeated.

Just when we thought that a cross would be the final word. Just when we thought that his tomb would remain sealed. Just when we thought that maybe this Jesus might not be the messiah after all. You, yes you, have been redeemed. You, yes you, have been saved. Your sins, all of them, are forgiven. Do you understand how obscene this really is? God’s love, poured out through Jesus Christ is for you. You cannot earn it. It is given to you freely. There’s no catch. This love will always be for you. There’s nothing you can do that would make God take this love away. This seems radicle and almost offensive and indeed, brothers and sisters, it is. This God, the one who gave us Jesus on the cross, this God, the one who raised this same Jesus has a love that extends beyond our abilities to understand. For God so loved the world that we received Jesus. The world. That includes you and me. That also includes everyone else–whether we like it or not.

See, in this resurrection, God is making all things new. We know now that the things we thought had power and prestige will no longer matter. Leaders who oppress will be made to answer for the things they do. People who make victims of others will be made to answer for the things they do. Those who trash God’s creation, those who discriminate, those who see the hungry and naked and turn the other way–all of them will be made to answer before God. This God who makes all things new, expects, no demands, that we now see the world through the saving action of the cross, for ALL people. And by all people, God means all people. This means black, white, fat, thin, documented and undocumented, Democrat, Republican, left, right, gay, straight, woman or man, senior or child. All people have been saved by God’s action through Jesus Christ on the cross. If this makes us uncomfortable, it should. This isn’t the way we work, but it certainly is the way God works and the way God loves.

My sin isn’t any less offensive than yours. I’m not any better than you. I deserve the harshest judgement that God can give. And yet, that will not happen. It won’t happen to me and it won’t happen to you. This God who says “no…you are no longer bound by your chains of guilt, sin, and shame!” This is a God who says “I love you and I am willing to go to hell and back to prove it!” This God who said “my body and my blood for you, for the ENTIRE forgiveness of your sins.” This is the God who said nothing will keep us from the love we receive. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Our sins are forgiven. Our chains of sin and bondage have been broken. We are fed. We are loved. We are forgiven. The world will know of this God who loves us all. The tomb is empty and alleluia Christ is risen!

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Sermon for 4/18/14 Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. This Jesus, the man who everyone said was the messiah, said he was going to be handed over to death but I didn’t want to believe it. Here he is. Being paraded through the town as if this is a death to be celebrated. The crown on his head is crooked and the thorns have scraped his forehead. Sweat is mixing with blood as he struggles to carry what will ultimately be his execution station: a cross. The muscles in his legs flex as he steps, one foot in front of another. He doesn’t say a word. He occasionally looks up, but his eyes are mainly fixed to the ground. The guards surrounding him prod him along as if he is some sort of animal. What have we done?? The crowd had a choice. They could have released this Jesus of Nazareth and kept Barabbas but instead it was the other way around. I could claim innocence sense I wasn’t there but really, I’m just as guilty as the rest of them.

My sin and shame is ever present. With every pounding of the hammer, I am reminded of my shortcomings. The nails pierce his skin and my soul pangs in guilt. His slow, painful death, those nails, that sweat, that blood, that crown and thorns, all of it was for me. All of it was for you. He was despised and rejected. He suffered. His cries convict me. I want to hide my face in shame for what I’ve done. This must be a bad dream. People keep mocking him. I say nothing. “Here is Jesus, the king of the Jews” the sign says above his head. He didn’t ask for that crown. A king wouldn’t die like this.

He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. And yet, here he is. This Jesus, arms outstretched, on a cross for you and for me. And for what? What did he do? This is the strangest sign of affection and love I have ever seen. My brain struggles to make sense of this obscure valentine. How and why would one man take all of this on because of me? It is my sin. It is my shortcomings. And he willingly took them on. I don’t understand it. How did this man come to find me worthy of this? I’m not, that’s for sure, but he seems to think I am. He’s on that cross–not me. He’s suffering horribly and is terribly isolated. I want to look away yet I can’t.

Can I honestly say I would trade places with this man? I’m not that strong. I’m not that courageous. I’m not that humble. My sin, the same one that placed him on the cross, is too great and always gets in the way. The wounds in his flesh came from my transgressions. Blood is coming out of him and it is called “love.” I have trouble comprehending how his brokenness will make me whole. How is it that one man took all of this upon himself, willingly. That seems outrageous. I dreaded this moment. I wanted to stop every single step he took towards his final destination. I wanted to cry out or say something. But nothing. Nothing comes out of my mouth. My hands don’t reach to help him carry his cross. My feet stay firmly planted. My sin is what keeps me from moving and yet it is what motivates him. What kind of messiah is this?

I am the sheep that has gone astray and yet God looks for me. I think my way is the best way. I am too quick to judge and to slow to forgive. I want to keep people out of the kingdom. I want to limit God’s love. I want to say “no” when God says “yes” and I want to define comfortable by my standards–not God’s. I am too self absorbed. I abuse the resources God gives me. I hide behind interchangeable veils of self deprecating humor and snide self insults. I self medicate with loathing and anxiety. I doubt my abilities and gifts. I carry unspeakable burdens. How is it that I, a known sinner, could ever be saved? How is it that light will come from the darkness?

He said it was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. Kings and dictators would try and change the world with swords and guns. Who knew that what would really change the world is three nails? Captives will be set free. The naked will be clothed. The hungry will be fed. Justice, love, and mercy will prevail–all because of one man. I can’t stop this now. Do I even want to? It makes no sense, really. I now have to look at the world through this one act, through the lenses of a cross. My world has been turned upside down. What I used to know as fact is now questionable. Love has been redefined. Mercy has been redefined. Victory has been redefined. None of it makes sense and yet there is a comfort in the chaos.

As he breathes his last, I feel my burdens being lifted. I cry. I cry out of confusion. I cry out of gratefulness. I cry out of mourning. I cry out of shame. I cry. And when he cried out “it is finished” I knew he meant his life and the hold that sin has over me and you. I am no longer destined for a life of misery and torture. I am now destined for a life of overflowing grace, beyond my wildest imaginations. And so are you. He said this was going to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday; John 13:1-17; 31-35

It seems a strange story, really. Foot washing. I doubt you’ve ever been to a dinner party where the host gets up from the table only to start washing your feet. For most of us, it would be an uncomfortable or maybe an awkward experience, at best. I have found that people are very passionate about how they feel about their feet. I don’t know why that is. But, more than once if I’ve mentioned my enjoyment of pedicures, some people have responded “I don’t like anyone touching my feet…no way!” Or people wear socks to bed so that their feet don’t even have a chance of coming into contact with their partner’s feet. Warmer weather keeps teasing us and I know I will hear more than one opinion about open-toed shoes. People are quite opinionated when it comes to their feet. I like my feet. I like pedicures. I like open-toed shoes. I don’t mind if other people touch my feet. I sleep with socks on but only because I don’t like my feet to get cold. And if someone wanted to wash my feet I would probably wonder what in the world I did to deserve such an action.

We probably don’t give a lot of thought to feet. If you’re in fairly good health without any major problems with your feet you probably don’t think about them a lot. But, if you think about everything our feet do, it’s pretty amazing. This is not the only time that feet are mentioned in the Bible. Feet (along with other body parts) are mentioned several times throughout. In fact, one of my favorite passages comes from Isaiah 52:7 “how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace” See, God didn’t intend on us just using our mouths to share the good news of a Christ crucified for all, for the entire world for the forgiveness of sins. No, we should use our entire bodies, as a willing and able sacrifice to God in order to share the good news with whomever will hear. This includes our feet–our beautiful feet.

But again, this still seems a bit strange. Foot washing. There is a lot of vulnerability that happens in this story. Jesus removes some of his clothing and places himself in a position of vulnerability, where he is literally on his knees in front of his disciples. Yet the disciples are vulnerable as well. They are confused why Jesus would do this. They may be ashamed of their feet. They may be uncomfortable with this sign of affection. Or maybe, being stripped, having any part of themselves naked, having to show who they really are, was outright frightening.

No matter how many times I tell you or clumsily attempt to show you that God, through Jesus Christ, loves you, the fact is that I am incapable of such things, really. The love that God has for us is incomprehensible. It is immeasurable. And honestly, sometimes the love of God can be offensive. Sure, sometimes it’s easy to swallow the fact that God loves us. But, God loving our enemies? For God to love those whom we’d rather not? That’s offensive. And yet, that’s what happens. That is how this God, that we claim loves us, works. We serve an offensive God, brothers and sisters. We serve a God whose ideas of love, justice, righteousness, forgiveness, and mercy come no where close to ours. When it comes down to it, are we even able to comprehend this Jesus who kneels in front of us?

Simon Peter asks Jesus “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Simon Peter doesn’t want it to happen at first. He isn’t real excited about the idea. He doesn’t want to be loved in an offensive way. Simon Peter is unable to accept the love that Christ wants to show him through an act as simple and as complicated as foot washing. And if we’re really honest and truthful, brothers and sisters, I think we are often unable to accept the love that Christ has for us.

If we’re not unable to, we certainly are uncomfortable accepting the love that Christ wants to give us. See, the cross is offensive, friends. It was our sin, yes, that Jesus took upon himself on that cross, but it was also his love poured out with his blood, also for us. The idea of accepting a love with no strings attached makes us uncomfortable. Certainly there must be a catch. Certainly at some point in time I will do something that will brand me as “unloveable.” Certainly there is a burden I carry that makes me think that I am outside the realm of grace. I am almost positive that there is a stain or two in my past that would cause this love to be given with restrictions.

But no. That is not the kind of love Christ desires to give us. That is not the kind of love Christ desires to give to ALL of God’s people. The kind of love that God gives, through Jesus Christ is just as simple and as complicated as this: God loves you. That’s it. God loves you. Not “God loves you except that part that you hide.” Not “God loves you except for that one thing you did that we don’t talk about but we all know about.” Not “God loves you but sure would love you more if you did this, that, and the other thing.” None of that. God loves you. Are you starting to understand how offensive this really is? We are incapable of showing this love. At times, we are incapable of accepting this love. Because really, if we can’t love ourselves, how in the world do we expect God to love us?

But the cross isn’t about your perfection. The cross isn’t about your holiness. The cross isn’t about your obedience. The cross isn’t about you except that it is. See, the cross was about God’s perfection in Jesus Christ. The cross was about Jesus’ holiness. The cross was about God’s obedience in Jesus Christ. The cross was about God’s promise through Jesus Christ. And while the cross isn’t about us, it certainly was FOR us. We didn’t do anything to deserve it. We didn’t do anything to earn it. The cross was a gift. A really expensive and offensive gift. A really uncomfortable gift. We cannot return it.

Jesus was stripped of his clothing, for you. Jesus was beaten, for you. Jesus was given sour wine, for you. Jesus was mocked and derided, for you. Jesus was ridiculed and mocked, for you. What an offensive gift. When we gather at this table and we taste the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we receive offensive gifts. We hear the words “for you” not once but twice. We are eating the grace that God gives us. This bread and wine are tangible signs of God’s grace. A love outpoured over and over and over, for all who come forward, eagerly open their hands, and firmly believe that God is present in this meal. How offensive.

We are sustained by a life giving feast of body and blood. And everyone is welcome at the table. How offensive. A table where sins are forgiven. A table where it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done. How offensive. Bread for you: you who doubt yourself, you who who are you cloaked in shame, you who keep secrets, you who feel like hiding. Wine for you: you who question yourself, you who question who God made you to be, you who smile through tears, you who feel empty, you who have lost, you who feel lost. Yes, welcome to this table, you who need love, you who need forgiveness, you need reminding of worthiness, you who are broken, you who are bruised, you who have been knocked down but not knocked out, you who are angry, you who even question whether or not there even is a God. This table is for you too. This Jesus, the one on the cross, was and is for you too. How offensive.

Sermon for 4/6/14 John 11:1-45

It should come as no surprise to you that I have been thinking about funerals and death a lot. No, not my own. But, having three funerals in the last four weeks has got me to thinking about death. Honestly, I don’t know if we are accustomed to living in a culture that talks about death, that thinks about death, that even celebrates death. I think, when it comes right down to it, we’d rather not have anything to do with death. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t tell the younger members of our families that Fluffy went to go live on a farm when we all really know what happened to Fluffy.

I was having a conversation with the son of one of our members who recently passed away. It was in a moment of sheer honesty that he said to me “you must hate this.” The “this” he was speaking of was funerals. I paused for a moment and said “no.” See, sometimes we get bogged down in the life of the church, and that’s not always a bad thing. But, we have to talk about the details of the church. Who is going to play and what. What are the dates for VBS? Are we doing an Easter breakfast? These details. They’re all really important things to discuss. But sometimes, like I said, we get bogged down in the details.

There are precious moments when we are allowed to see these brief holy glimpses. Glimpses of how God really is moving and working in our lives. Moments when our guards are down and we are unprepared but grateful for the Holy. One of those moments is at the death of a loved one. I get the honor of being with those still here on earth and proclaiming that even in death there is the promise of life. I get the honor of promising that death does not have the final word. I get the honor of watching the Holy happen. I pretty much have the most amazing job ever.

Part of why I love doing what I do is because I know I don’t do it alone. All of us are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We are all called to proclaim that because Christ died, we shall live. We are all called to share the promise of life eternal to those who believe. We never do this alone because Christ is always with us, leading and guiding. Our Gospel lesson today is one that gives me great comfort because it reminds me that Christ has been in the tough places and anytime I’m in a tough situation, it’s good for me to remember that Christ is already there–waiting for me.

Jesus hears that his friend, whom he loves, Lazarus is ill. Now, if this were current day United States, Jesus would drop everything he was doing to be at the bedside of Lazarus, much like any of us would with our loved ones. But, instead Jesus stays for a few days before attending to his friend. Martha, who is understandably upset, says to Jesus “if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It is then that we see that Jesus goes to the places of death in order to proclaim life. What is ironic is that it is this proclamation that will ultimately lead to his death. This interaction with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha is one of the final straws that leads to his arrest and betrayal. But that doesn’t matter. Jesus is going to proclaim life in the midst of death.

For those of you that farm and plant crops, why do you do it? Year after year, generation after generation, why do you do it? You really have no idea whether or not you will get your money back, let alone make a profit. There’s really no telling what the weather is going to do. There are so many question marks yet you do it, many times over. I’m sure some of you are sitting here today anxious to get started on preparations for another season. Have you ever thought that perhaps you do this because it’s exactly what Christ would do: go to a place of death in order to proclaim life? It sounds strange, but stick with me here.

To the naked eye (or to someone like me) a field right now looks like it has no promise. The signs of winter are still very present. Ground up corn stalks are worn from the bitter January winds. There is debris from snow that was blown about. There may even be a dead critter or two. But, if you work these fields, that’s not what you see. What you see isn’t dirt–it’s soil. You don’t see death, you see life. You don’t see failure–you see potential. If farming is your life, I doubt you’ve thought of it this way before. But perhaps, just maybe, you continue doing this year after year because like all of us, you are called to the places of death to proclaim life.

This is completely counter cultural to what we’re used to. We attend funerals and call it
“closure.” But, in reality, we know, that death is not the final word. We know that the tomb was empty on Easter morning. We live in the promise that certainly if we were baptized into Christ Jesus’ death, we shall certainly be resurrected like Jesus. Sometimes we are called to places that stink (literally and figuratively) to proclaim life and to proclaim the good news. Martha is hesitant for Jesus to roll the stone away because Lazarus has been dead for four days already and there is a stench. But, how many times have you been with a loved one who is teetering between life and death and thought to yourself “this stinks.” But we’re still there. We are called to those places where the gap between the now and not yet is so small yet only the Holy can bridge the gap.

We must go to the places of death to proclaim life. We keep planting because we believe that God will bring something out of the ground. We mourn at funerals, yes, but we also celebrate a life well lived and we celebrate the hope that death is not the final chapter of our lives. We show up on Easter morning because we know that the tomb will be empty and Christ rose again–for us! Friends, we are surrounded by bad news every day. You only have to watch the first few minutes of the news to know that. There are people who are dying from preventable diseases; there are children in this country who will go to bed hungry tonight; in certain countries, women are denied an education; there are still hundreds of people in Malaysia that wonder what has happened to their loved ones who did something as mundane as board a plane. Death is all around us. Death is a reality, yes, but it is not the final word.

We have a God that loves us so much that we have a promise in Jesus Christ of life eternal. All of us will die, that’s the sad truth of all of this. For all of our sakes I hope it’s later rather than sooner. But, when we die, we complete our baptismal journeys, believing in the hope and promise that we will be raised again.

Going to the places of death to proclaim life isn’t easy. It isn’t the “norm” and it certainly isn’t what this culture is used to. But I believe that people are hungry for the good news. I think people need it and want it as badly as they would want a drink of water in the desert. Part of what we are called to do is to proclaim this good news to anyone who will hear it or who wants to hear it. Death does not have the final word. Yes, we still can be and will be sad when someone we love or care about passes away. But, I hope we can all take comfort in knowing that when the final days come and the stone is rolled away, all of us will be raised to life eternal. We will join all the company of saints who have gone before us. Sometimes we are called to the places of death to proclaim life because we know, death is not the final word.