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!)  

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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?

Sermon for 4/7/19 John 12:1-8

**nb: part of this sermon was visual. The congregation saw pictures of things that cost around $54,000. This included farm equipment, a boat, 5th wheel camper, jewelry, shoes, and a handbag. **

This is a gospel story about extravagant love. It’s hard for us to understand how much the perfume that Mary rubbed on Jesus’ feet was actually worth. After all, we don’t use denarii anymore. So, to say that she used 300 denarii doesn’t actually mean that much to us. So how about this? Mary rubbed approximately $54,000 on Jesus’ feet. That was extravagant love. Now, I don’t know about you, but even to say $54,000 doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it. I  don’t know what $54,000 looks like. So, I thought I would help us to understand this extravagant love. Let’s take a look at what I found you could get for around $54,000.

Now that we’ve seen examples of that, maybe we have a better idea of how extravagant and obnoxious (in the best way) this act of love really was. We don’t know how much of a sacrifice this was for Mary, financially. After all, we’re never told that Mary is poor. I think we often assume that the followers and disciples of Jesus were poor. And while that may have been the case for some, we aren’t told about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ financial situation. How did Mary manage to get such expensive perfume? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it was about a year’s worth of wages poured on Jesus feet in an act of anointing and love.

Jesus doesn’t say much during this very intricate and very intimate ritual. We don’t hear from him until he tries to quiet Judas. Mary didn’t say anything. Jesus didn’t say anything. But they both knew what was going on. Her actions spoke very loudly. Mary doesn’t talk about how much she loves Jesus. She doesn’t talk about how she is preparing him for death. Mary doesn’t talk about the significance of using pure nard, which, traditionally was used to prepare bodies in ritual cleansing after death. The fact that this nard probably came from India to Palestine made it even more valuable. Mary doesn’t know that in a few days following her washing Jesus’ feet with this perfume, Jesus will show his love to his disciples by kneeling and washing their feet. This was not a thank you gift to Jesus for raising Lazarus. But none of that was said. It was all action. Isn’t that how love is or at least should be?

How might you have reacted? After all, to receive a gift worth $54,000 isn’t something most of us have experienced. Can you even wrap your mind around that idea? And what if the person giving you this gift did it out of love and with no intentions of getting anything in return? I don’t know about you, but I certainly couldn’t have been as calm and quiet about a gift like that as Jesus was. But then again, that is what makes Jesus Jesus. I don’t know that a lot of us know what to do with that kind of abundance. At the beginning of the gospel of John, we are told that Jesus has come so that we may experience “grace upon grace” (1.16). An abundance of grace. An abundance of love. So much so that it may make us uncomfortable. So much so that we may not know how to react. So much love and grace that we may actually be rendered speechless. Jesus loves us in a way that cannot be reciprocated. It’s just not possible. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love Jesus and Jesus’ world and Jesus’ people. But Jesus loves us in such a way and with such an abundance that we can never love Jesus in the same way.

What happens in these short few little verses is actually quite huge. Mary is preparing Jesus for his death. That is an abundant sign of love. Mary recognizes the humanity of Jesus and recognizes his inherent need for love. It isn’t very often that people are able to see Jesus as the human he really is. Jesus is so often in his role as the divine that we can forget that he is human and has actual human needs. And one of those needs is love. We all need it. It is so powerful when we receive it without having to ask for it. It’s so powerful when we receive it without any expectations. Mary isn’t just loving Jesus for who he is but for who he will become. Mary is loving Jesus into his future. Mary is loving him towards his death.

Jesus knows what he has to do. He is turning his heart, mind, and physical body towards Jerusalem. He will enter the week with the waving of palms and then quickly tried and executed. But, it was Mary’s extravagant love that allowed Jesus to show extravagant love to us. Whether you know it or not, we have all been recipients of someone loving us into the next stage of our lives. This is what Mary did for Jesus. In her love, Mary was basically telling Jesus “yes you can do this. You can go to Jerusalem. And I love you.” But remember, none of that was said, it was all felt through action. Mary loved Jesus into his future. And there has been someone in your life who has loved you into yours. There is someone who has loved you $54,000 worth, or maybe even more.

We have all had a Mary in our lives. That person who loves us beyond what we can imagine. That person who loves us in such a way that the “what’s next” seems a bit more manageable. Maybe it was a parent, a spouse, or partner. Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was a friend. But I have no doubt that we have all had that person who has empowered us to believe that we are worthy of love and made us feel love. This is just a small taste of how Jesus loves us. Jesus always loves us into the “what’s next.” We may not know it’s Jesus. But it is. Sometimes, Jesus sends familiar people to love us into the “what’s next.” And when someone loves us into our “what’s next” we are actually empowered to be who God created us to be. Again, when someone comes alongside us to love us into the next part of our lives, it is more than just lip service.

Mary didn’t tell Jesus she loved him, she showed him. There is something really powerful about being shown love. Much like I said last week, when someone shows you love in a physical, healthy way, you are recognized. And there is power in recognition. There is power in being seen. There is power in gaining confidence to move boldly into our futures knowing that we are loved. Who is loving you into your “what’s next”? Are you loving someone into their “what’s next”? Jesus is always loving us into our next thing. Even when we don’t recognize it, Jesus is loving us with more than just lip service. Everything we have in our lives is proof of Jesus loving us into the disciples he knows we can be.

Jesus took all the love given to him by Mary and all of his other disciples with him as he went into Jerusalem. And in his final breaths, in his death on the cross, in his blood poured out, Jesus took that love and gave it back to us. The blood poured out was loved poured out. Jesus has been loving us into our what’s next since his death. And in the empty tomb he showed us once again that we are loved. Because the empty tomb couldn’t hold all of that love. Love ushered Jesus into the resurrection. And, some day, may it be the same for us. You are loved, my beloveds. You are loved with love greater than $54,000. You are loved beyond what you can even imagine. You are loved into your “what’s next” which means you are loved into the person God created you to be. That is some powerful love! Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 3/31/19 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

If you were to open your bible to this passage, you would see, like all chapters and stories in the bible, this one has a title. Most of you know that this story is often referred to as the story of the prodigal son. Did you know, however, that the bible wasn’t originally constructed with those story titles. When Jesus told parables it’s not like he said “let me tell you the one about the prodigal son” and then proceeded with this story. The titles were added hundreds of years later. That made me wonder, then, what you might call this story. Because the titles can taint our interpretation of scripture. What if this story, instead, was called “the parable of the jealous brother” or “the lament of the responsible older child”? What if this story was called “a father’s embrace” or “a dad throws an undeserved party”? But really, what might be the most challenging is what if this story was called “God’s abundant obnoxious undeserved grace is showered on all people”? How might these titles color the ways in which we read this story?

I have no doubt that all of us could be any one of the three main characters in this story. We have all been the responsible older son or sibling. We have all been the father welcoming a lost child home with open arms. We have all been the son that squandered everything and filled with fear returned home with his hat in his hand. And who knows? Maybe depending on the day, you have been all three. Of course, we could also be the grumbling scribes and pharisees heard towards the very beginning of our reading. Grumbling about the way Jesus does things and how we may not really be on board with his ideas and his ministry.

If we were to read all of chapter 15, we would see that this story isn’t unique in the idea of the lost being found. In verses 4-7 we hear of a shepherd going out to find his one lost sheep. Looking for one sheep out of 100 doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, until you are the lost sheep. Then, we hear about a woman who finds her lost silver coin and is so elated that she calls her friends and neighbors to rejoice. There is amazing healing that can be had in repentance and in the power of being found. I think that there is healing power in being found because what that means is that you have been recognized. You have been seen. You have been deemed to have value and worth. You are worthy of celebrating. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

At my last check up with my bariatric team at Iowa City, I was prepared for the worst. The scale hasn’t been moving as much as I would like. I’ve had a lot of victories that don’t show on the scale. But, I knew that my weight loss since my last appointment wasn’t great. I prepared myself mentally for the shame, lecture, and questioning that would come with my appointment. I had my defenses up. And I should have known better. What I got instead was support, suggestions, a follow up appointment, and most importantly, grace. Sometimes I forget that while I talk about grace a lot, I need to bask in the moments that I receive it. That was one of those moments and I am so grateful. That was a healing moment for me.

This is more than just a nice story or a parable that should give us reason to pause and think. What is happening here is that God, through Jesus Christ is talking about what the crux of Jesus’ ministry is, has been, and will continue to be. Jesus will find the lost, redeemed the forgotten, and celebrate the redeemed. This means all of us, my beloved. After all, Jesus didn’t care that there was a celebration for a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost human. All called for a celebration of unbridled joy. And when it’s us on the receiving end of this celebration, this unbridled joy, this abundance of grace, it feels amazing. It feels redemptive. It feels like we’ve been found. Because we have.

But, if we’re going to be honest, it can also feel incredibly unfair. I think it’s important that we speak to that fact. God’s love and grace and mercy are amazingly healing and redemptive but they are also incredibly unfair because God’s love and grace and mercy are given to those that, honestly, don’t deserve them. The other 99 sheep didn’t wander away. The other 9 coins stayed put. The older son stayed behind and worked his back end off. And now there’s a celebration? It feels like a slap in the face. In fact, it feels worse than that. Because it feels like I’m not valued. I’m not important. I’m not worthy and let’s be honest, that’s a pretty crappy place to be. The idea of God’s grace for all sounds amazing in theory. But, when we watch how it plays out in day to day life it can feel unfair.

The brother doesn’t want to go to the big “welcome home celebration.” After all, the other brother gets to wear the good clothes, the expensive jewelry, and eat a calf the older brother probably worked really hard to fatten up. So excuse him if a party of redemption doesn’t sound like a good time. This is all too often our thinking whether we realize it or not. We want a party, for sure. We want to be celebrated. We want to be lavished with extravagant gifts. But, we also want to be in charge of the guest list. Once again, we find ourselves in the sinful position of wanting to control God’s grace: who gets it, how much they get, and whether or not they are worthy.

God’s grace isn’t fair. People we don’t like are going to receive grace and amounts we think are a little too much. There are going to be redemption parties thrown that we want to ignore and protest. But, the redemption of one means the redemption of all. If God is not going to let one sheep stay lost, one coin stay lost, or one human stay lost, you can rest assured that God is not going to allow you to stay lost. As I said earlier, there is healing power in being found because that means you have been recognized. And I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I wouldn’t mind being recognized.

Like all of you, I am so many things to so many people that sometimes I lose my identity. I am grateful for those moments when God reminds me who I am. I am grateful for those moments when God reminds me that I have value and worth. I am grateful for those moments when God reminds me that I am worth finding! And maybe you need that reminder too. So hear me now, my dearests. You have value and worth. You are worth the biggest party, with the best clothes and the best food! Your value is greater than all the diamonds and rubies in the world. You have value because of who you are, which is child of God. You are worth finding. And no matter how lost you may feel sometimes, maybe even today, you will be found. God will find you and come running towards you with great abandon ready to embrace what once was lost.

God’s grace isn’t fair. But this is good news for us. This is good news because we certainly don’t deserve it. But, we get a lavish, redemptive, grace-filled party anyway. No matter what our sins make us think or believe, we will never EVER be lost from God or God’s love. I need you to hear that again because there are so many powerful forces in this world that don’t want you or me or anyone else to receiving healing redemption. There will never EVER be a time that we are lost from God or God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.