The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Love One Another

We sometimes talk of last words—
“famous last words,” as the saying goes.
          Alexander the Great, on his death bed, was asked to whom he would give his vast empire. He responded, “To the strongest.”
          In contrast, Martin Luther’s final words were, “We are all beggars, this is true.”
          Playwright George Bernard Shaw, went out with the sardonic comment, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

          Tonight, we commemorate not a last word, or last words, but a last command.
          Jesus, on the night he was handed over, said to his disciples, “I’m giving you a new commandment, and it is this: “Love One Another.”
          Jesus’ last commandment is “Love One Another.”
Let us Pray

          “Love one another.”
          Such a simple phrase, really.
          It even bears a striking resemblance to Bill and Ted’s, “Be Excellent to each other… and party on dudes.”
          And if it was a phrase only “Love One Another”… words only… it would be just as superficial…
          It would be like George Bernard Shaw’s version of dying—it would be Easy.

          But the kind of love Jesus speak of is anything but easy.
          The kind of love Jesus speaks of is like Comedy—it’s hard.
          It’s not cognitive ascent to the idea of love—knowing love—but instead doing love.
          Doing love as Jesus loved.
          As Jesus concretely demonstrated and gave us an example.
          Loving as a master who empties himself and becomes a slave.
          Loving as one clothed who strips down in order to serve.
          Alexander the Great may have passed his empire on to the strongest, but Jesus calls instead for weakness.
          He calls on us to act with the recognition that we’re all beggars, so that we might serve all
—serve our brothers and sisters, so that everyone knows we are Jesus’ disciples.

          We are commanded to love one another.
          Look at the person next to you. (PAUSE)
          Think of your neighbor—on each side of your home, not just the one you like. (PAUSE)
          Remember that person you don’t see eye to eye with about how the church is run. Them! (Pause)       
          Think of the Catholic Ukrainian and Orthodox Russian—that’s the one another we’re talking about.
          The Orthodox Putin and Congregationalist Obama. Despite themselves they’re brothers in Christ.

          We are commanded to love through our actions as much as our words or our emotions.
          It’s one thing to say, “I love you.”
          It’s another to bear with that person through thick and through thin.
          Because this type of love isn’t swooning or seducing.
          It’s the wiping of a fevered brow.
          It’s moving that person across the country or teaching their kid to read.
          We are commanded to act with humility—love with humility.
          To never think ourselves above a task.
          To never think of someone below our station to serve them.
          To meet people where they are.
          To recognize we are all beggars—siblings at the foot of the cross.

          Love in such a way that our Lord, stripped and knelt down before us in service, is honored.
          We are to be little Christs
          With bowl and towel
          Wiping dust off the feet of our friends
          Intimately and kindly making Christ known.

          This last command of Christ is to love as disciples love.
          Disciples of Jesus.
          Jesus who has always loved us, right through to the end.
          Who washes our feet.
          Jesus Christ who loves us.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: The Donkey Makes All The Difference

            The King is coming to Jerusalem for coronation.
            He commandeers a ride on a donkey and a colt.
            Fulfilling scriptures as he marches in to the Holy City—The City of the King.
            Surrounded by his subjects—the ground he walks on sanctified and his steed’s steps honored with branches—a natural royal red carpet rolled out for him.
            “Save us Mighty King—Blessed are you who comes in the name of the Lord—Salvation in the highest heaven!” They sing.
            And the whole city shook, wondering at his presence.
            “Look! Look!” the crowd acclaims, “The Prophet—Jesus from Nazareth.”

            Imagine what that must look like, to the eyes of some.
            God is on the move, and out for blood.
            The king will restore what once was, recreating the Kingdom of David.
         Perhaps, like David, a few heads will roll—perhaps Rome will play the role of Goliath, and get decapitated and its death will lead to Jesus’ kingship.
a scared city,
his name shouted in the street,
a royal welcome,
God on his side,
a king arriving.

            Every sign points to power!
            Every sign points to Jesus the Middle Eastern Potentate.
            Every sign point to resistance, a coup, a restoration of an old and legendary order.

            Every sign, save one… a donkey.
            A donkey.
            Because the Donkey makes all the difference.
            Say it with me, “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”

            Let us pray.

            “The Donkey Makes All the Difference.”
            The Donkey throws off the easy assumptions about what Jesus is doing.
            It reminds us, on this day of triumph, who Jesus is.

         The Donkey makes all the difference.
            It points us back to Jesus’ birth.
            Born to a young peasant girl, not a regal queen or the wife of a Caesar.
            He is laid in a Manger, not an opulent crib.
            Instead of a settled childhood, his family fled to Egypt away from the wrath of Herod.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.
            It carries Jesus to Jerusalem and onto his fate—to that cup he must drink.
            If he’s a king, he’s a very strange one…
            At his coronation he will be crowned with thorns, not a Diadem.
            He will be enthroned on an implement of execution—a cross, not an imposing jewel encrusted throne.
            His royal court will be two thieves, not the best and the brightest, the wise men of his age.

            The Donkey Makes All the Difference.

           The Donkey proves that the emperor has no clothes, because the true King comes in humility.
         The Donkey promises us that our Savior comes in the mud and the blood of real life.
         The Donkey short circuits our longing for a King and gives us a Brother.
            The Donkey gives value to the least of these.
          The Donkey points us to the real Jesus.

The Donkey Makes All the Difference.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Channeling Ezekiel

I was born during a time of great hope:
the Assyrian menace was receding.
King Josiah brought Judah back to the ways of God.
He even “found” the book of Deuteronomy,
So we could know more fully how to be God’s people.
My priestly family was overjoyed.
          But, that didn’t last. By the time I was a man, a new Empire arose and annexed Assyria and threatened us all. The Babylonians butted up against the walls of Jerusalem, and eventually we submitted.
The royal family and the priestly houses, including my own, were taken away, kidnapped…
At the age of 25 I was kidnapped, taken from the temple along with its wealth, taken as Ransom—taken away to Babylon.

          Babylon, that mighty city.
          That mighty city where our captors tormented us
          Asking us to play them a song:
          “Sing us one of those songs of your mighty Zion,” they’d say to us.
          How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
          Could we even remember Jerusalem?
          Could we speak of the Joy of the LORD, so far off?

          And after a time, these taunts and our responses to them, grew darker—new Exiles came to join us,
They told of the complete destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of God’s house,
my Home,
the Temple
          When our captors laughed, “Sing us a song.”

          All we could do was remember the pain of Jerusalem’s destruction.
          How it was torn down,
          That the walls fell
          The devastation by Babylon was total.

          All we could do was seek revenge,
          Yearn for pay back
          Even as we were captive in Babylon
          Locked away in the belly of the beast.

          We captives couldn’t sleep, it cut us so deeply, cut us to the core. We fought amongst ourselves, the first group of captives and the second, blaming one another, calling each other apostates.
          We’d wake up numb, or in cold sweats, from dreams of the death and destruction, hearts racing.
          The fetters they’d bound us with for the journey from our home to this hell never really left us, there was iron in our soul and we felt the captivity in our bones.

          We felt the captivity in our bones and believed God could not cross the desert to be with us.
          Then God responded.

Let us pray.

          When we first entered Babylon we were overawed by the giant Lamassus that guard the gates—a giant clay figure, a mix of Bull, Lion, Eagle, and Man, a sort of Babylonian Sphinx—it made us cower at our captor’s power.
          God responded by giving me a vision—Four Lamassus came in the night—tethered with invisible tethers.
Tethered as we were tethered on our trek from Jerusalem to Babylon,
as we were still tethered, our psychological bondage
—they were tethered like horses to a chariot—
What a chariot!

—the Temple itself,
my temple
—the place where God’s fullness, God’s heaviness, God’s glory resides
—the temple was the chariot—God followed us—on His inexpressible throne, followed us from Jerusalem to Babylon—God was with us, even then. God’s glory was mobile,
God’s throne had wheels.
          And that vision began a new chapter in my life—
God took those feverish dreams of destruction and replaced them with visions from heaven!
          And I want to tell you about one of them today.

          I was plucked up by the hand of God and put down amongst the slaughtered masses of our sisters and brothers—those killed by the Babylonians—the wrecked remains of our nation—mass graves.
          I saw the dusty remains of uncles and aunts, all picked clean by birds and by time—by the decades since our separation.
          They were so dry—they’d been dead for so long
—we’d been separated from the Promised Land and the Temple of God for so long.
          “Can these bones live?” Asked God.
          “You know,” I responded.
          “Prophecy to them.”
          Imagine that
—say what you never got to say
—speak to the dead,
speak to the horror we experienced,
speak to the loss.

          And I spoke.
          A rattling so loud it spoke to the wideness of our anguish came up echoing in that valley. They were united together again, bone to bone, then muscle to muscle, tendon to tendon, flesh and skin together all of it.

          There they were.
          A mass of our relatives
—the very people of God
—there in front of me.
          Yet they just stood there
without spirit.
          It was then it hit me, they were us too
—here in Babylon, separated, a mass of men with eyes gone dead,
the wholesome spark of life snuffed out by sorrow.
just standing, but cut off from the breath of God.
We’d become just like them here in Babylon, tired inanimate corpses.

          But then I prophesied again, to the wind from every time and place,
To the breath of God that has been with us from the beginning,
To the Spirit that hovered over the deep
I prophesied saying, “breathe upon these slain, that they may live, that we may live.”

          And the LORD God said to me,
“This is the whole house of Israel—the people of God
They may say that their innermost being is dried up and has went away
They may say that their hope is lost,
They may say that they are cut off from the land and from my promises

Well Mortal, say this to them:
I’m going to open your graves,
I’m going to bring you up from your graves.
You are my people!

My people, I will bring you back to the land that appears lost.
And you shall know that I am the LORD,
Because I, and I alone, am the one who opens graves
I, and I alone, bring up from Sheol
O my people.
My people, I will put my spirit within you.
My people I will enliven you.
My people I will plant you back in your native soil

Then, my people, you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken
And that I, the LORD, shall act.”    Amen.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

John 9:1-41

          As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
Another no name, like the Woman at the Well
Named after his condition instead of his person

          “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, "Whose sin was it that caused this man to be born blind? Did he sin, or did his parents?”
Did you hear that
They see sin as a discrete act
A controllable something
Twisted up with suffering
If I don’t sin
Then God won’t strike me blind
Then God won’t strike my son blind
If I don’t sin

“He didn’t sin, “Jesus replied, "nor did his parents; it happened so that God's works might be revealed in him.
This thing, hurtful and so defining
Defining him as “The Bind Man”
Can be re-defined by God
Revealing God
That which cripples us
That crippling act won’t have the last laugh
God laughs with us
Joy bubbles up when God upends our pain
We are the broken jar
Glued back together with gold
Our scars reveal majesty
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. The night is coming, and no one can work then. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Day and night again
Day and light stand for belief
Jesus brings belief to us
Jesus says I AM
With a period
For he creates
He creates faith

          With these words, he spat on the ground and made mud from his spittle and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Off you go, wash in the pool called Sent.”
Now that Jesus exits the scene—his longest absence in any gospel
I ask you to close your eyes until his return
To feel the difference between darkness and light
And see what it is like to open your eyes when he appears with you
(Close eyes)

          Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
          His neighbors and those who used to see him before, begging, began observing:
          "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"
          Some were saying, "Yes, it’s him."
          Others were saying, "No, it’s someone like him."
          But the man himself spoke
          “Yes, it is me, I’m the man,” he said.

How frustrating
When someone jumps the box you’ve put them in
You try to shove them back in their place
How frustrating when God acts
How liberating when God acts
Proving the identity given to you
The name welded to your flesh on account of your flesh
Isn’t the only name
For you are a beloved Child of God!

          “Well then,” they asked him, “How’d your eyes get opened?”
          He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to the Pool Called Sent and wash.' So I went, and I washed, and I could see!"
          "Where is he?" they asked.
          He replied, "I do not know."
Listen carefully
To how his testimony expands
How this man names his experience more fully
Each time he’s asked

I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          They took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees.
          Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had come to see.
          He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."
          Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath."
This question again and again
What is the purpose of the Sabbath?
Liberation or Rest
Can the captive truly rest?
No says Jesus
Only the Free can Rest
Only the Liberated can Relax

          But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?"
          And they were divided.
          So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? He opened your eyes after all."
He responded, "He is a prophet."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          The Judeans did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight. So they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"
          “Well,” his parents answered, "we know that this is definitely our son, and that he was born blind. That said, we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him. He’s a grown man after all, he can speak for himself."
          His parents said this because they were afraid of the Judeans; for the Religious Authorities had already decided that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be kicked out of the synagogue.
          Therefore his parents said, "he’s a grown man; ask him."
          So for the second time they called the man who had been blind.
          “Give glory to God!” they said to him, "We know that this man is a sinner."
          He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner or not. There is one thing I do know, I was blind, now I see."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
“I’ve already told you,” he replied, “You wouldn’t listen… Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become his disciples too… do you?"
The questions are so sharp in John
Last week, “He can’t be the messiah… can he?”
Brought a whole village to Jesus’ feet
Today “You don’t want to become his disciples too… do you?”
Cuts to the core of things
You are expending so much energy and words
It must be for good use, right?
Expending so much energy for negative reasons
Would reveal you to be the greatest of fools!
          “You’re his disciple,” they scoffed, "Not us, we’re disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."
          “Isn’t that a surprise?” The man answered, "You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything."
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          “You were born in sin from head to toe,” they replied, “but you are trying to teach us?"
And they drove him out.
Drove him out
Drove out because he saw
Because he sees
Driven out because he’s someone else
A blind beggar is okay
A man who can see
(Open Eyes)
          Jesus heard that they had driven the man out. So he found him and he said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
          He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him."
          Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."
          The man replied, "Yes sir, I do believe." And he worshiped him.
His testimony expands
I don’t know
He’s a prophet
I was blind, but now I see.
If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do anything.
Do you believe in the son of man? Yes sir, I do believe!

          Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who are blind may see, and those who do see may be blind."
          Some nearby Pharisees heard this and said to Jesus, "What? We’re blind too?"
          Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We can see,' your sin remains.
Did you hear that
Jesus sees Sin
As ignoring the works of God
Refusing to come to terms with the uncontrollable grace of God
A Because/Therefore God
Because I love you
Therefore you are lovable
Because God see his suffering
Therefore the Blind Man gets to see the Jesus
Because God acts for those in need
Therefore their needs are met
Sin is
Refusing to come to terms with a God found in the midst of suffering
A God drove out from the city walls
Out here with us
Jesus is driven out here with us. Amen.

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