Sermon for Good Friday 2018; Isaiah 52:13-53:12

With sighs too deep for words, we come face to face with reality

Nothing stops the truth here. No fake news. No he said-she said.

No ignoring. No avoidance. At rock bottom, we finally come

Face to face with the truth.

Our condition is undeniable. The sin that keeps us sick is on display.

It’s finally time to stop running from the truth and instead

Embrace it.

It’s time to stop saying “I’m fine” when what we really mean is

Anything but.

It’s time to stop turning away help because we’re also

Ushering away hope.

It’s time to admit that our secrets keep us sick.

Our words have long been used to cut deep.

We’ve used the Bible as a weapon.

We use the label of “Christian” to justify hatred.

We engage in us versus them all too easily.

Pride comes before the fall and we’ve done our fair

Share of stumbling so we best be careful.

We’ve clung to the law of the land tighter than

We’ve clung to the law of God.

We value being liked over being right.

We’d rather be in a crowd of lost sheep

Than be slaughtered with one lamb.

We still discriminate. We still speak prejudice. We still devalue.

And the reality is, we may not be ready for the cross.

It is here, on the holiest of grounds, that we meet reality

And our reality is ugly. It’s just easier not to look.

So, we’d rather ignore the cross. Let’s skip straight to Sunday.

Bring on the empty tomb and bunnies,

No suffering for me, thanks.

But we cannot save ourselves.

We cannot even help ourselves.

We’re too busy polishing our own pedestals to even notice

The Savior being lifted high on the cross.

We miss the Savior because we’re too busy

Worshipping false idols. We bow before money.

We invest too much time worrying about the perception

Others have of us.

We spend too much time trying to keep up with the Joneses

Rather than keeping up with Jesus.

There is blood in our streets but, it’s not ours so why care?

Fellow creations of God lack basic needs of

Water, food, clothing, and shelter, but

Broken people are part of a broken system and we

Refuse to fix a problem that isn’t ours.

And the reality of it all comes crashing down on this day.

Because on this day, something rare happens.

When we meet at the foot of the cross. When we come face to face

With our own sin and what the price of that sin looks like, we realize

We are all equal. God looks on us all the same.

The cross is the place where our best intentions and excuses go to die.

The cross is where we put to rest our ideas of

Perfection and false equality.

At the foot of what seems to be humble wood, we stop the worship of false idols

And start the realization that a king looks like this.

A man. Beaten. Bruised. Tortured. Because we are so loved.

Our transgressions on display.

The suffering servant hangs. He does not complain.

Our instinct is to do something. But, oh we’ve done plenty.

Now we just watch. On equal ground with those we despise.

Sharing breath with those who would harm us.

Waiting with those we love.

Weeping with those we’ve ignored.

Face to face with the truth we can no longer avoid.

This suffering servant is suffering for me.

Because of me. On behalf of me.

To save me. From me.

The truth is ugly. The cross sets us free.

Alas did my savior bleed. For me. For you. For the world.

For freedom. For truth. For love. For forgiveness.

Undeserved. Unexpected. Humbled.

As he takes his last breath we cry thank you.

We weep for what we’ve done. Lamented what we did not.

Bow in adoration. There on the cross hangs our Lord and king.

The suffering servant suffers no more.

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Sermon for 3/18/18 John 12:20-33; Lent 5

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Oh amen. Am I the only one feeling the same way as the Greeks in our Gospel reading today? We have heard about this Jesus. The one who heals people, even raising people from the dead. We have heard about Jesus, the one who fed thousands. We have heard about Jesus, the one who walked on water. That’s all fine and good. We want to see Jesus. We’ve sung about Jesus. “Christ the life of all the living” and then “glory be to Christ forever, Lamb of God and Lord of love” sounds great! We want to see Jesus. It’s about this time in the Lenten season that I am reminded how long Lent is and how long Lent can feel. And for some, Lent is more than the time between Transfiguration and Easter; Lent can feel more like a lifestyle.

Allow me to explain. Lent is that time in the church that we anticipate God’s saving action on the cross and the empty tomb three days later. But, sometimes, we can get stuck in Good Friday, or even Holy Saturday. Does it feel like the world is working against you? Maybe you want to see Jesus. Perhaps the market reports (yes, I listen) don’t give you a lot of hope. That’s Lenten kind of feeling. Maybe keeping tabs on your loved one’s health has been more than exhausting and you’re ready for a break. Not death, but a break. That’s Lent. Maybe you’ve just had too much sorrow in your life lately. That can be the feeling of Lent. So to say “we wish to see Jesus” is more than wanting proof that this man, this messiah exists. To say “we wish to see Jesus” is about the desire for something more than the everyday.

“We wish to see Jesus” because we need assurance that there is more than this world. We wish to see Jesus because the world is in desperate need of love. We wish to see Jesus because people are still dying of hunger. Humans are being classified as “illegal,” babies are dying of curable diseases, people don’t have access to clean drinking water, the elderly have to make choices between keeping the lights on and life saving medication; yes please! We wish to see Jesus. Because if we see Jesus, if it finally happens, that means his kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. Praise God! The troubles of this world are no longer. Our long Lenten season is done. Not only is the tomb empty, but we’d be face to face with the messiah. We wish to see Jesus!

We wish to see Jesus because so many of us have our own struggles and issues. Seeing Jesus would mean that those struggles and issues are over. We wish to see Jesus just to prove the doubters wrong. Is that terrible? Those people who think there is no God or that this Jesus was just a man in history would come face to face and know the truth. We wish to see Jesus because while it’s great to hear about Jesus, it’s great to experience Jesus, it’s great to taste Jesus, nothing can compare with seeing Jesus. We wish to see Jesus because we’re just tired and ready for the next thing. And would it be so terrible if the next thing was Jesus? But, what would it mean for us to see Jesus?

As I’ve said before, being a disciple isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. When we proclaim that we are Christians, we best well act like it. Coming face to face with Jesus would mean that we would need to account for the times when we either didn’t act like Christians or we tried to hide our Christian identity. We can quickly become like the disciples that asked Jesus “when was it that we saw you hungry?” (see Matthew 25). Jesus will remind us of the way we treated the least of these around us. We wish to see Jesus, but does that really mean that we wish to see Jesus as the way we’ve pictured him? Do we only wish to see the happy Jesus full of love and not the Jesus that upsets societal norms by flipping tables? We wish to see Jesus, but does that mean that we only want to see the Easter Sunday resurrected Jesus, and not the Good Friday, hung on a cross for our sins, Jesus?

When we say that we wish to see Jesus we’re expressing a desire to see all of Jesus. And all of humanity is encompassed in Jesus. This means that when we see Jesus, we may see people we don’t expect to see. We may see people we don’t think deserve to be seen. Heck, we may even see ourselves. But, when we see Jesus, we are forced to come face to face with the us that only Christ knows. The us that has tried and failed, the us that has sinned and not repented, the us that has hurled insults and judgements the way the wind takes a feather. When we see Jesus, we’re forced to face our ugly. And that, my beloved, can be quite scary and also very humbling.

Do you know what we will see when our self-imposed guilt finally washes away? Love. When we see Jesus, we will see nothing but love. Our own self doubt, our own guilt, and our own sin may get in the way of that, but Jesus will have nothing but love for us. And with that love will come relief, and peace, and mercy, and grace upon grace upon grace. Yes, we wish to see Jesus. But, we don’t deserve to, that’s for sure. We will get to, thanks be to God. We wish to see Jesus and are willing to wrestle with all of the emotions and feelings that go along with that. We wish to see Jesus and stand before him admitting that we aren’t who we were created to be, that we have fallen short, that we have sinned before him and the whole company of saints. We wish to see Jesus and the cross that took away the sins of the world as well as the empty tomb. Because if we want Jesus to see the whole of us, then we have to be willing to see the whole of him. So God, we’re ready for our long season of suffering, heartache, and Lent to be over. We wish to see Jesus.

Sermon for 3/11/18 John 3:14-21; Lent 4

We all have those tasks that allow us to go through the motions. These are the things we do every single day without thinking about them. Sometimes it’s as mundane as making toast. Other times, it’s something where we should be paying attention, but we’re not, like driving. Whatever it is, routine can be a comfort. Going through the motions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And then, something happens. Something throws our world into chaos. Something disrupts this routine and it’s as if we must even be deliberate about telling ourselves to breathe in and breathe out.

           Chaos came into my world on Monday morning. I got news that a dear friend and fellow pastor had died. I met Ben Ahles-Iverson when we were both at seminary although he was a few years ahead of me. We became good friends. I set him up with his wife Mara and I preached at their wedding. He was a fraternity brother to Chris. And, until I knew otherwise, he was fighting cancer. That is, until Sunday night when it all got to be too much and Ben died. The cancer was too much for his body to handle. I forgot to breathe. I thought of his wife. And his daughter. And his family. When I finally gasped, my first emotions were not pretty. I’ve spent most of the week either ignoring God, avoiding God, or being angry with God.

           We all compartmentalize. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. It’s what allows me to do what I do. But, I can’t keep my friendship part of my brain and my pastor side of my brain compartmentalized this time. Chaos will do that to you. And the last thing that I want to do is stand up here and be fake and pretend to be some thing or someone I’m not. I am grieving deeply, my beloved. I miss my friend already and I want to cry out to God about how unfair this is. And there are few things comforting right now. One of the things that has comforted me over this past week is knowing that most of you have been here before. You’ve been in the midst of a chaos storm. And in the midst of a chaos storm when you literally have to remind yourself to breathe, I know the last thing we really want is to hear that God loves us.

           The age old argument is “if God really loves us then why does death happen? Why does cancer happen? Why do people have to suffer?” I have been with too many of you as you mourn your loved ones. Maybe you didn’t ask these questions out loud. Maybe you kept them to yourself. Maybe you were scared to ask them out loud because what would that say about your faith? Are we doubting God and God’s plans? Does our questioning mean we don’t believe in God? If we question God will God stop loving us? These are all very common questions with which we wrestle when we are thrown into chaos. Fear and shame keep us from voicing them out loud. Instead of lamenting out loud, we keep these doubts to ourselves and instead withdraw further from community and further from God.

           We don’t want to hear the promise of “God so loved the world” because in the midst of chaos, God’s love feels far away. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when our world is taken from us. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when the world is full of hurt, sorrow, and pain. And maybe it’s not that we don’t want to hear it, but we can’t hear it. We can’t hear it because we can’t feel it. This is why it is so important, my beloveds, to continue being disciples together as I’ve talked about so much lately.

           I’m not ready to deal with God. But, I got to feel God’s love through a hug from a friend. I am not ready to be on talking terms with God, but I got to feel God’s love through a phone call from another friend. I can’t hear about God’s love quite yet, but I was able to see God’s love in action as I watched my fellow pastors and classmates console one another on social media. When God feels far away, we need one another to be, as Luther called it “little Christ’s” to one another. Sometimes God’s love looks like a casserole. Sometimes God’s love looks like delivering some coffee and paper goods to someone who is mourning. Sometimes God’s love just looks like two friends sitting with one another, not saying a word but just being there. That is enough of God’s love when God’s love feels far away.

           Scripture makes us the promise of “God so loved the world” and I suppose the good news for all of us is that it doesn’t depend on us. God is going to continue loving you and me no matter what. I doubt God cares much that I’m not real happy with God right now. It’s not because God is uncaring but because nothing can ever stop God from loving me or you. God loved the world into being. God breathed life into every living creature. God wove together every mountain and valley and did so with love. God has guided us for generations with love. Nothing has been able to stop God’s love now and nothing will. I believe in the resurrection promise. I believe that the tomb will be empty on the third day. I believe that what God says is true. I believe it in my head. But, until I can feel it in my heart, I take solace in knowing that nothing can stop God from loving me.

           “God so loved the world” isn’t just a saying. It’s a way of life. It’s a way that we operate. Because if we truly believe that “God so loved the world” then we comfort one another in our grief. We celebrate with one another. We speak promises of accompaniment to one another. “God so loved the world” is why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and care for the sick. “God so loved the world” is why we get so excited when we baptize because we see proof of that love. “God so loved the world” is why we come to this table with hands outstretched because we get to taste proof of this love and we can’t wait another minute to taste that it’s true. “God so loved the world” is why we wish one another peace. “God so loved the world” doesn’t promise us a life without chaos. “God so loved the world” promises us that chaos, death, and evil never have the final word.

               

 

Sermon for 3/4/18 John 2:13-22

Over the last month or so, many of my days have included at least one activity. I have special clothes and shoes and everything for this activity. Yes, that’s right. I’ve been going to the gym. And I hate it. Well, hate is kind of a strong word. I’m not a fan. But I go. I actually try and make it a goal to go 6 out of 7 days a week. I stay for 30 minutes and I’m done. Yes, I feel better when I am done. But that doesn’t mean I like going. I don’t think I will ever be one of “those” people that answers my stress with exercise. That’s the biggest difference between my sister and myself. She gets stressed out and runs for 10 miles. I get stressed out and run towards Whitey’s. I wonder if I would feel different about working out if I thought about it as time with God instead. Thus comes the challenge of what it really means to believe in an incarnational God.

The odds are pretty good that I am going to use the word “incarnational” or “incarnation” a lot today. So, just to review I want to make sure you all know what I am talking about. We confess that we believe in an incarnational God. Which means we believe that God, through Jesus Christ took on the form of a human. Jesus was fully human and also fully divine. This does not mean that Jesus wore some kind of mask-like skin. It means that Jesus looked, felt, acted, and operated just like you and I do. Jesus was capable of all human traits, emotions, and actions. For some people, this can be a weird thing to think about. We don’t have an issue thinking of Jesus as divine. That’s pretty easy, actually. But, to picture Jesus as fully human, looking like and acting like someone we could interact with every single day may be a bit harder. But, and here’s where I want to make sure you’re really paying attention, God desires to be known. And we can’t get to know God through reading or through research. We just have to know that God is in us and feel it.

Instead of you telling me who God is, I want you to tell me how God feels. This is how I get to know God because of your stories. I don’t want to hear about how you saw God acting through other people. I want to hear how you felt God moving in your life. I want to hear how you felt God sobbing with you, laughing with you, groaning with you, and wondering with you. I want to hear how you encountered God through knowing with your whole heart that God is part of you and you are part of God. There are no books in the world that can replace a first-person experience. Are we brave enough to speak those words? I ask because it’s too easy for people to doubt us. It’s too easy for us to doubt ourselves. After all, who really is going to believe that God dwells in me? Who is going to believe that the all knowing dwells in  you?

“He was speaking of the temple of his body” (2.21). We can’t forget that God dwells in Jesus. This would be the same body to walk all over from Cana to Jerusalem, to every small town in between. This would be the body that would see a woman at the well, forgotten. This would be the body that would see a man blind from birth and heal him. This would be the body that would raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. And, this would be the body that would be hung on the cross, laid in a tomb, and resurrected. We cannot be church together, beloved, without first acknowledging that we truly believe we are the body of Christ.

This means that we first must believe that God dwells in us. We must believe that we have an incarnational God and for us, that changes everything. It changes and perhaps challenges everything because this means we don’t have a far off god that doesn’t care about us or doesn’t feel for us. We have a God that not only is near us, but in us, part of us. Do you hear me? This means that the Holy Spirit dwells in you. So, what you believe about your body is a direct reflection of what you believe about God. Additionally, what you believe about other bodies is a direct reflection of what you believe about God.

I think it is important that I repeat that again. What you believe to be true about other bodies is a direct reflection of what you believe to be true about God. If you believe that someone is less than because of their gender, then you believe God is less than worthy of your love and praise. If you believe that your white skin is somehow better than skin with more melanin, then we have limited what God looks like and made God in our own image. If you believe that bodies of only a certain size should be allowed to take up space, then how in the world can our God be everywhere? If you believe that perfection means 2 arms, 2 legs, and 10 fingers and toes, then we’ve once again limited what it means for God to become flesh. This means that when we view other people, we view them as keepers of God, just as we are. And when the body of Christ is being mistreated, it is to us as disciples to flip some tables.

Our incarnational God dwells in us too. Which means that the way we treat one another and maybe even more importantly, the way we treat ourselves, is a direct reflection on how we treat and view God. I am not going to the gym every day because I think God made a mistake in creating me and the body God gave me. I am going to the gym because I want to be a better mom and pastor. The incarnation allows us to discern what it means for God to be God in the form of humanity and what it means for humanity to be a reflection of God. Everything we experience is experienced by God and by the body of God. I hope it is a life changing revelation for you to know that God is not some far away being. God dwells in you and feels every single emotion you feel. God is not a being on high waiting to punish us. God is part of your flesh and bone waiting to experience life to the fullest.

The good news, my beloved, is that God does dwell in us. And although it may not always sound like good news, God dwells in everyone around us as well. This means we get to experience God through sharing our emotions and stories with one another. We can experience the incarnational God by being the body of Christ together. There is no sermon that will ever or can ever replace you proclaiming how the incarnational God has changed your life and how you experience the incarnational God changing the lives of those around you. We cannot forget that ministry is experienced, literally, in the body. We cannot separate ourselves from the body of Christ or from God incarnate. Thanks be to God.