Sermon for 4/1/18 Easter Sunday 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!) Did you notice what was missing from our reading today? On today, of all days, when we anticipate seeing the resurrected Jesus, he is nowhere to be found. The tomb is empty. He’s not here because Christ is risen (he is risen indeed, alleluia!) And the women, who throughout the entire Gospel of Mark have been told “don’t tell anyone what they’ve just seen” now are told to go tell everyone what they’ve just seen and they do what? The exact opposite. And then, Mark ends. Just like that. What a weird, jolting, almost uncomfortable ending. Now, we know that eventually the women must have gotten over their fear because, well, we’re here. So, the story of Jesus and the empty tomb must have made its way eventually. Ironic that we come to this place, on this day, to experience Jesus and he does not show himself. Nice April Fools joke, Jesus.

As the women were on their way to the tomb, their biggest worry was who was going to roll away the stone. Despite hearing that Jesus would rise again, they were prepared to continue with their mourning. They were going to anoint the body of Jesus as was custom. But, foolish love greeted them as the stone was already rolled away. And just in case there was any question about what was going on, the man in white confirmed that “he has been raised.” And sure, we can shake our heads at the women’s reactions. But, really, what would you have done? Shock is a perfectly acceptable response to finding out that someone you believed to have been dead has been risen.

This may sound silly to say as this is a story we’ve been hearing for 2000-plus years. But, the resurrection wasn’t the end of the story. Yes, it’s okay to be in shock but just like the women, we cannot stay at the empty tomb. The empty tomb is exactly that, empty. The empty tomb is like this invitation that Jesus leaves us to journey further. In fact, the man that appears in our story today tells the women and us “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” We can’t stand at the empty tomb and gawk because we’ve got work to do. The resurrection wasn’t the end of the story.

We don’t cry out “the tomb was empty” we instead declare that alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia). Then, with that declaration, we must figure out what that even means for us and the way we engage with the world. Seeing the empty tomb and everything is great today, but what in the world does the resurrection even mean tomorrow, or Thursday, or next week, next month, or even 10 years from now? The man at the tomb didn’t just verify that Jesus was resurrected, but pointed the way to what was next. This whole time Jesus has been preparing us for what it means to be his disciples. And now, all of the preparation, all of the lessons, all of the parables, and he’s back in Galilee. This can only mean one thing: it’s time. It is time for us to move from death into life and declare that the resurrection is real and that death doesn’t have the final word.

It’s time for us to show extravagant, foolish love to the world following the example of Jesus. Jesus is waiting for the women, for Peter, and for us in Galilee. We’ve still got work to do. People didn’t stop being sick because of the crucifixion. People didn’t stop being hungry because Jesus was laid in a tomb. People didn’t stop desiring love just because the stone was rolled away. The resurrection was great. It’s not the end of our story. Part of our call as disciples is to understand and live out what it means in a practical way to declare that alleluia Christ is risen. Why does that even matter? Core to our Christian identity is the belief in the resurrection. But the resurrection wasn’t a one time deal. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

See, the resurrection doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe it and live like it makes a difference in our daily lives. Resurrection means the promise of new life. And if you believe in a new life, in new chances, and in new opportunities for yourself but not for those around you then do you really believe in the resurrection? Because when we declare “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (he is risen indeed) we don’t ever add the caveat of “for everyone except you.” In the resurrection, God is making all things new. And this is amazing and life giving news! Because as long as we believe that the resurrection makes a difference and isn’t the end of our story then that means we all get a second chance. We all get a third chance. We all get a fourth chance. And on and on. Ya’ll hearing me out there?

The resurrection also insures that what passed for justice before Jesus’ death will stand no more. The powerful will be humbled. The poor will be made rich and the rich will finally come face to face with the reality that money is not their god. The hungry will be fed. The forgotten will be treated like royalty. The marginalized will be brought into communities and welcomed with open arms. The resurrection turns our world upside down; as well it should. Because as long as we know that Jesus is a man of his word, then we know we have nothing to fear. Not even death. And because we know that the resurrection isn’t the end of our stories, we have absolute and total freedom to operate in this world as the disciples he’s trained us to be.

Might we fail or mess up? Sure! We’re human. But, we’re also still learning every day. We will be humbled by our failures and rely on grace to pick us back up and keep going. We are not disciples because it makes us popular. We are disciples because we can’t help ourselves. That is what Christ has called us to do. We are disciples because we don’t worship an empty tomb, we worship the risen Lord. We are disciples because 2000 years later the world still needs to hear this story because love is in short supply. We are disciples because we have been challenged and changed by this resurrection. We may be like the women, scared and wanting to hide. But Christ is waiting for us. In Galilee. In Clinton. In DeWitt. In Goose Lake. In the areas we travel. In the world. And on this day, we cannot just stand at the empty tomb and wait. Christ has called us back into service in the world. The world needs to hear that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)

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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.

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.

Sermon for 2/28/18 Mark 8:31-38

Thanks to the way my brain works, sometimes I think about what happens in the Bible that we don’t get to read about. That’s where my mind went at first this week. I pictured Peter pulling his friend Jesus aside and saying “hey Jesus! Cool it with the talk of your death and stuff, okay?” And Jesus responding “get behind me, Satan” and then poor Peter moping off. I then pictured Peter passing another disciple on the road or something and that other disciple, we’ll say it was Andrew or John saying “why are you upset, Peter?” And Peter saying “it’s nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.” And the other disciple saying “oh. Okay… Well, I gotta go talk to Jesus about something.” Peter would respond with “yeah…I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

We don’t often get “fiesty Jesus” in our Gospel stories, but that’s exactly what happens today. Jesus is letting Peter, all of the rest of the disciples, and us know what it actually is going to mean to be a disciple. And it’s not easy. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I wonder if it was then that the disciples and all who were gathered listening to Jesus finally started to realize the life that they had agreed to and the life that they had been called to. For Jesus to say “take up your cross” wasn’t some kind of code word or phrase. The cross was a well known tool of torture and death. For Jesus, it would mean death. We have the gift of foreknowledge so we know that Jesus’ death isn’t the end of the story. The cross for Jesus and for us meant death AND resurrection.

Jesus always knew this was going to be his legacy. So he knew that taking up his cross meant doing what he had always done: preaching, teaching, siding with those who are marginalized, healing, and feeding. But, all of that is what ultimately got him arrested and hung on a cross. And in a way, the disciples knew. After all, Jesus just a few verses before our reading today asks Peter “who do you say I am?” And Peter answered “You are the Messiah.” (8.29) What did Peter think that meant? What does it mean for us? For us to claim Christ as the Messiah means that we claim our identity as disciples. And our identity as disciples means it is more than just saying we’re Christians. Being a Christian isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. Jesus challenges us to take up our cross and follow him.

What does that mean for us? Jesus tells the crowd “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Does Jesus mean we literally have to die for him and for the work of the Gospel and the work of ushering in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? In some cases, that has happened. But the death that Jesus is most likely speaking of here is the death of our selfishness, the death of our self interest, the death of the idea that being a Christian is easy. Because we know, many of us can speak of it first hand, that just because we wear the label of “Christian” and just because we may try and move and be in the world as Christians, does not make us immune to pain, troubles, heartache, and even death. Being Christian is not an easy ticket or way out.

For us, losing our lives means making a confession as to what we believe and then living like it. If, like Peter, we confess that Jesus is the Messiah then that means everything we do and say points to that fact. It means we have to be willing to take on the evil forces of this world that scream and compete for our attention when they tell us that Jesus doesn’t matter and that this world is cold and has no room for love. When we know that’s not true. We know that’s not true because we’ve experienced the greatest love of all in the form of Christ on the cross. But, and here’s the catch, it’s one thing to say that Jesus’ love changes the world. It’s totally different to act like it really does.

For us to take up our cross means to live in the promises of baptism every single day. To read scripture, pray, come to the table, work for justice in the world, and renounce the devil and all the forces that deny God. That’s what saves us. Not our works. Not our actions. Not our hopeful or feeble attempts. God’s grace alone saves us. Anytime we take our gaze off the cross, we have “traded the death and resurrection of Jesus with a more convenient and acceptable means of imagining what it means to follow Jesus” (K Lewis). Perhaps it is time for you and for me to answer the question for ourselves of “who do you say that I am?” Because as soon as we can answer that, we can start to recognize the times when we’re picking up our cross to follow Jesus or if we’re picking up stones to throw at Jesus.

To take up our cross means to examine, study, and emulate Christ’s sacrificial love. This is love given without expecting anything in return. And this is love received without expecting reciprocation. The greatest weapon on earth is love. And the greatest love comes from God through Jesus Christ. Nothing is stronger than that. So by picking up our cross, we’re agreeing to love the world even when the love doesn’t want to love us back. When we pick up the cross, we aim to love those whose only desire is to quiet our message. When we pick up our cross, we hope to love those who think they’re unloveable. When we love others like Christ did, it is not at the cost of ourselves. We don’t aim to put ourselves in harm’s way or open ourselves up to abusive situations. When we love like Christ did, we open ourselves up to opportunities to love.

And, maybe most importantly, when we pick up our cross, we leave this place living like we believe the benediction is true. The benediction is the last thing we say before we exit these doors. Right now it is “marked with the cross of Christ, go forth to love and serve the Lord” and we say?? (thanks be to God.) Yes! Thanks be to God that we get to do this! Thanks be to God that God has created us to love one another and the world! Thanks be to God that God goes with us when we do this seemingly impossible work. And thanks be to God we can come here week after week and be refreshed and renewed to then be sent out once again into the world to love. Jesus is inviting us, encouraging us, maybe even daring us to pick up our crosses and follow him. It’s all too easy to say no. But, it’s more rewarding to pick up that cross and start loving the world. Living fully into your baptismal promises, may you leave this place full of the love of God and powered by the Holy Spirit so that all who you encounter know that you belong to Christ.

Ash Wednesday 2018; Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

We come fully prepared, or so we think

Privately prepared for this public outing

Fasting on our mind, alms prepared, personal piety on lockdown

Oil is on our heads, our faces are washed. We are ready.

And then you meet us here, Lord

All of the preparations in the world can’t

Measure up to that face to face moment.

You see us. You see the real us, the real me.

The me you’ve loved from first splash to now.

You see what we’re trying to hide with all of these

Preparations

You see our secrets

You see our shame

We knew we couldn’t hide. But we tried.

You find us. You seek us out

Have mercy on us

We tremble in fear and are knocked to our knees

Humbled, but not humiliated

Thankful. Prayerful. Remorseful.

We thought we were prepared.

But in prayer, you find us.

In the meal, you find us.

In the darkness, you find us.

You always find us, Lord.

Sin is a disruption to our daily lives.

We can’t escape it by ourselves.

You are the only thing to set us free with your cross shaped key

We have failed in the ways you have called us.

We were silent in the face of injustice.

We were complacent in times of persecution

We were frozen when the moment needed movement.

We weren’t who you created us to be.

We desire to do good and fail.

We desire to love and instead judge.

We desire to serve and instead become self serving.

Forgive us. We beg of you, forgive us Lord.

We follow you from death to life

And our life now has meaning.

The only bags we need are the ones you fill with mercy

Grace

And love

The next 40 days we will hear of your travels,

Of your healing

Of your teaching, preaching, and learning.

And we will hear of your entry into Jerusalem

Shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!”

Will quickly escalate into

“Crucify him”

Our voices carry, but we’ll deny like Peter

We’ll say it wasn’t us but then the cock will crow

And yet

Yet

You meet us here.

In all of our brokenness

In all of our lost promises

In all of our failed attempts at love.

You meet us here.

And somehow. Some way

We are reminded

That we are yours.

That we’ve always been yours

That we will always be yours

You rescue us from ourselves

You save us from our sin

You remind us that we belong to you

You have marked us with the cross

And sealed us with the Holy Spirit

We are dust

And to dust we shall return