God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 27 -- Second Sunday of Easter

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace on this side of the Resurrection!  AMEN.

We are on this side of the Resurrection!  We are Easter people in a Good Friday world, as some like to say!  We rest assured in Christ’s victory over sin and death, and we live lives that bear witness to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life!  So do you know what that looks like?  The plainest most down-to-earth, flesh-and-bone way that we bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  

Receiving God’s forgiveness and therefore forgiving others.  

It’s all about forgiveness.  

Go back a few chapters in this gospel with me:  The disciples have really been through a lot!  Boy, after all they’ve been through... They’ve been traveling with Jesus; they watched as the crowds welcomed him joyously into Jerusalem, praising him, waving their palm branches: “Hosanna to the son of David!”  Then remember how quickly everyone turned?  The temple leaders plotted to arrest him.  But Jesus keeps on and shares a special meal with them later in the week, where he gets down on his knees after the meal and washes their feet, the job of a slave!  Then they go to a garden, where the authorities arrest him.  At this point the disciples all run away, except Peter and one other who follow at a distance.  Jesus on trial all through the night, and they hide.  At one point Peter is spotted and accused of being one of Jesus’ followers.  He denies it, denies it, denies it.  In the morning, Jesus is sentenced by Pontius Pilate to death on a cross...with the angry crowd shouting:  “Release for us Barabbas, not Jesus!  Crucify Jesus!”  The disciples have really been through a lot...watching frightfully from the nooks and crannies of the city of Jerusalem.  Some of them stood at the foot of the cross, but most of them looked from a distance or perhaps never looked at all.  After Jesus was killed he was put in a garden tomb, a stone rolled in front of the entrance.  Remember?  

Boy those disciples have been through a lot!  And now they’re huddled together in a secret room in the city.  Doors locked.  Confused, scared, sorrowful, alone.  And I’m sure they felt so badly about how they had acted, I’m sure that they were burdened with guilt, how they had just stood by and watched, how they had denied him and ran away, back in that garden, how they could let Jesus receive that sentence, and just listen as the crowds yelled out angrily.  There must have been a lot of quiet in that secret room.  Maybe some blaming going on in their hearts -- “Well, if you hadn’t done this, Peter...”  “Well if you hadn’t done that, Philip!”  They were angry, sad, guilty and afraid. 

And then Jesus appears -- miraculously!  Doors were locked!  He appears...and the first thing he says to them?  “Peace be with you.”  What?!  After everything they had done wrong?  Peace?  But that’s what he said, and he said it again.  (And we now say it every Sunday.)  “Peace be with you” didn’t just mean, “Hey, how’s it going?  Good to see you.  Did you get my voicemail this week?  How’s your ankle doing?”  It means...forgiveness.

After all those nooks and crannies, all that hiding, all that running away, all that denying, betraying, all that just watching -- not saying or doing anything -- just watching from the nooks and crannies of the city...after all of it, Jesus offers peace.  

It’s all about forgiveness.  That’s what it means to live on this side of the resurrection.  
Jesus then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”  Now that’s power.  That’s what it means to have Holy Spirit power in John’s Gospel.  This is the Gospel of John’s Pentecost.  It’s not many languages in John -- it’s one language: The language of forgiveness.

This is not just another moral lesson for the Christian life:  it’s the lesson.  Forgiveness.  “Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “It’s OK.  Look, I’m OK.  Touch my hands and my side.  I’m OK.  It’s OK.  Forgive.”  And that forgiveness has to start with forgiving yourself.  It’s OK.

Thomas’ unbelief, I wonder, had more to do with him not believing that he was forgiven, that it was OK.  He needed to see and hear it for himself.  “Jesus said it, Thomas, he said it was OK.  We can come out from the nooks and crannies.  We don’t have to live frightened and quietly and pent up anymore.  We can forgive each other, Thomas.  And Jesus forgives you!”  

After all we’ve been through.  We’ve travelled with Jesus too, we’ve rejoiced with others, waved our palm branches with our lives, sang out Jesus’ name at some moments...only to deny, run in fear, stay silent, even betray him in other moments.  We’ve done our share of watching fearfully and silently from nooks and crannies too...  

And yet, YET, Jesus appears to us too, gathered in fear...if we’re honest.  The front doors of our church are unlocked right now, but how we too live behind locked doors.  Jesus appears to us despite...

And says to us, “Peace.  I’m OK.  So are you.  Now forgive.”

Thomas had to see it for himself.  And so do we.  And so we do.  In this bread and wine, Christ appears, and says to us “Peace.  I’m OK.  So are you.  Now forgive.”  In the Holy Word, Christ appears, and says to us “Peace.  I’m OK.  So are you.  Now forgive.”  In the waters of baptism, Christ appears, and says to us “Peace.  I’m OK.  So are you.  Now forgive.”  And in this community of faith (that our new members join today) -- with all our brokenness and all our blessedness -- Christ appears, and says to us “Peace.  I’m OK.  So are you.  Now forgive.”  AMEN.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20 -- Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Day

Listen to this sermon HERE.

They came looking, and he wasn’t there.  They’re told to go to Galilee...and the risen Jesus meets them, meets us, en route!

Grace to you and peace this Easter morning from our risen Christ who appears before us en route, whose feet we grab onto, who we worship and praise, who raises us with him, and tells us to go to Galilee!  AMEN.

"Then go quickly and tell his disciples...
indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee;
there you will see him."  Matthew 28.7
What’s this business with Galilee on Easter morning?  Where is Galilee?  In the Gospel of Matthew, Galilee was where Jesus and all the disciples were from.  Galilee is where Jesus grew up, where he called the disciples, where he preached the sermon on the mount, where he fished, where he ate, and slept, and healed, and worked...Galilee was where they were from...

Mary and Mary were looking for his body, dead in the tomb, but Jesus was alive and well and headed to Galilee.

Where’s your Galilee?  Where are you from? 

I don’t mean, necessarily, the town of your birth or your childhood.  That would mean Houston is my Galilee (or the fjords of Norway).  I mean more like the place and state of mind where you work, where you eat, where you sleep and fish and make friends, where you live.   

Where’d you came from this morning, this week, this past month?  Go back there.  “There,” the angel says, “you will see Jesus.”  Go back to where you came from...

Go back to the office, back to the courtroom, back to the hospital lab, back to the internet, back home, back to retirement, back to school; go back to where you came from.  But now, you will see Jesus there.
Maybe you’ve come from a place of sorrow or frustration lately.  This Easter Gospel ironically sends us back there.  Galilee isn’t all peaceful rolling hills, there’s lots of sorrow and frustration there in Galilee.  Had family friends visit Galilee: there’s even blood shed in those valleys.  But go back there, the angel says.  Don’t run from it.  Don’t ignore it or push your sorrow or frustration away, or bury it, or keep it locked up in the tombs of your hearts and souls.  Go back there.  Only now...[slowly] you’ll see Jesus there.  

Maybe you’ve come from a place of loneliness...or worry about the future or regret about the past or overwhelming anger.  Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus has already gone ahead of us to those Galilees, and will meet us there!  So you can go back there now too.  We no longer have to hide from those things that bring us down, even those things that drive us into the grave!  Because Christ is alive, because Christ Jesus has conquered death and the grave, now we can go there, face our Galilees, and find Christ right in the midst of them! [pause]

Those brave women in the story (interesting -- just sayin’ :) -- that the men in the story froze, they became like dead men, scared to death) but the women followed the angels directions, even though they were scared too -- says they were filled first with great fear and joy.  In other words, they were being both humble and honest.  Humbly and honestly, filled with both fear and joy go to our Galilees.  Let’s not be like the men in this story -- frozen, scared to death -- let’s be like the women.  We go now from this Easter day break -- this first sun rising of 50 days of Easter mornings -- with both fear and joy, humbly and honestly.  [slowly] Only now when you go to Galilee, you will also see Jesus there.  Jesus right in the midst of the pain, Jesus right in the midst of our worry, Jesus right in the midst of our regret or our great anger.  Because of the resurrection, because he rises from the tomb, because he lives eternal, because “thine is the glory, risen conquering Son” and he has promised never to leave us, we never have to “go there” alone.  

The resurrection doesn’t promise a painless, sorrow-less happily ever after, just rainbows and Easter egg candy all the day long, all our earthly lives long.  No, what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means is that we never have to go through all that alone.  And we never have to consider ourselves either unloved or unforgivable.  

Let’s go share that Good News with our lives!  The angel and Jesus don’t just tell the women to go to Galillee; go...and tell!  How about we share this good news too, not just make it our little secret (shhh...Jesus Christ is risen and we never have to go it alone again, but don’t tell anyone.)  No, let’s let our lives tell the story -- that Jesus through his life, death and resurrection gives us forgiveness without end, love and hope with out boundaries, mercy overflowing, peace beyond all human understanding, and joy.  

Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak has a chapter entitled “Back to the World” where he talks about leadership [pause] not as egocentric and immodest, loud out front, self-serving leadership but rather as being who God has made you to be.  He says: “If it is true that we are made for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation...even I,” he writes, “a person unfit to be president of anything...have come to understand that for better or worse, I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do.  If you are also here, doing what you do, then you also exercise leadership.”  Let you life speak.

Go back to Galilee...and tell everyone “He is risen” with your life.  How would you specifically say with your life, with your doing what it is you do, that “Christ is risen indeed”?  Go to Galilee, the angel says. There you’ll see Jesus, and, hey, tell others with your life.  

And then the surprise, as they are on their way, as they are en route, Jesus meets them already and says, “Greetings!”  And they worship him.  (That’s what we’re doing this morning.)  Here in this place Jesus is meeting us en route, on our way back to our Galilees!

Our Lenten devotional words are finished now.  40 words for 40 days.  So cool to be in so many homes over Lent and see those words in a prominent place...

Now that those words are done, try this as a faith-at-home practice.  Start talking at the dinner table or writing in your journal or tweeting or blogging or sharing your answer to this question “Where in your Galilee did you see the risen Christ today?”  Take your card when you leave.

Friends, with both fear and joy, I proclaim to you that Jesus is with us, through thick and thin.  Isn’t it interesting that only in Luke’s Gospel does Jesus ascend up into the clouds.  All the others, he stays right here, and today in Matthew, Jesus keeps his feet planted firmly on the earth, and specifically in “Galilee”.  I love that scene of the women grabbing his feet and worshiping him, worshipping Jesus, with his feet not lifting into the clouds, and no longer elevated and nailed to a cross, but planted firmly on the ground.  

But sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus has also gone ahead of us, not ahead, up, up into the clouds, but ahead, across the land into the Galilees of our every day lives.  The Gospel gets local.  Jesus who is named Emmanuel, which means God-with-us at the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, stays true to his name in the very last chapter, where he says, in Galilee, “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”  Christ is alive, and the the only place he’s going now is right back into our realities, right back into our everyday lives, right back to Galilee.  Alleluia.  Amen.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

April 18 -- Good Friday

Listen to this sermon HERE.

“It is finished.”  These are Jesus final words from the cross.
But what do they mean.  What is finished?!

Today used to be called the Triumph of the Cross Day.  Also, God’s Friday, but through the years and through translations and through the addition of another “o”, it changed to become what we call today Good Friday.  And it is.

Today is not a funeral for Jesus.  In the last 50 years Christians have almost started treating Good Friday as Jesus’ funeral...I think, in part, the 7-last-words-from-the-cross format has contributed to that--and that’s what I grew up with--but that’s mixing up the richness of the 4 very different Gospels, and loosing their uniqueness.  That’s like taking 4 paintings, one from Picasso, from Monet, from DaVinci, and from Pollock mashing them all together into just one painting.  No, we read only from John on Good Friday.  And there, Jesus does not suffer or show any fear at all...Did you notice that?  Did you hear any cries of pain from this narrative that the Evangelist John?  No cries like “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” -- as in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.  As one scholar puts it, such an outburst would be a “theological impossibility” for Jesus in the Gospel of John.  He goes on: “God and Jesus are united...and his death fills him neither with despair nor a sense of abandonment by God.”

Good Friday is good because of John’s version.  If we didn’t have John’s version, we would not have called this day Triumph of the Cross Day or Good Friday.  Since the fifth century, the Gospel of John has been called “the eagle” and symbolized as such -- “soaring the highest” as Luther said, “and seeing the farthest what Jesus’ death on the cross truly means.”  It means, that victory through the cross is ours.  Jesus reigns from the cross -- what to the world as a symbol of hatred and violence and oppression -- is to God the very place of love poured out upon the world.  The water of life gushing from his pierced side.  

It is because of John’s telling, that Christians call this day good and victorious.  And to pinpoint the exact moment, it is precisely when Jesus says, “It is finished.” 

So...again, what is finished?  What does that mean?

To unpack those three crucial words and to drive home the point even more in a different form, I want you to listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John’s Passion.  He never did services on the Seven Last (very different) Words of Jesus from the cross.  Bach plunged only into the pool of the Gospel John on Good Friday.  We were in Germany two years ago, where I learned what a theologian Bach was.  

This week I sent out a link of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, a two hour musical presentation of the chapters that I just read.  Anybody listen to it?  Bach’s Passion compositions so Luther-an in their structure in that they state the text itself directly first, then they comment on it, and Bach puts his listeners into the story...much like Luther did in his sermons, or many artists through the centuries do in their paintings -- many times putting even themselves -- into the biblical scenes they paint.  Bach does this musically with Jesus’ crucifixion.  Where are we standing during all this?

1:21:34  -- Jesus has just--in a beautiful aria--stated calmly “It is finished,” bowed his head, and gave us his last breath.  First compare to St. Matthew’s Passion, where at this same point: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” melody.  Compare that to what you’re about to hear...

Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen,
Jesu, der du warest tot,
Da du nunmehr ans Kreuz geschlagen
Und selbst gesagt: 
Es ist vollbracht,
Lebest nun ohn Ende,
Bin ich vom Sterben frei gemacht?
In der letzten Todesnot,
Nirgend mich hinwende
Kann ich durch deine Pein und Sterben
Das Himmelreich ererben?
Ist aller Welt Erlösung da?
Als zu dir, der mich versühnt,
O du lieber Herre!
Du kannst vor Schmerzen 
zwar nichts sagen;
Gib mir nur, was du verdient,
Doch neigest du das Haupt
Und sprichst stillschweigend: ja.
Mehr ich nicht begehre!

“Don’t cry for me,” Jesus says, to his mother and to the disciple whom he loved, “Don’t cry for me, but love one another.”  Don’t gaze up here at me now, turn to your neighbor and share this love that I have for you with them.

We’re going to sing “I heard the voice of Jesus say.”
Haunting?  Beautiful.  Come unto me and rest.  We take refuge in the cross, we glory in the cross.  And at the foot of the cross we can’t help but pray, not for Jesus but because of Jesus to pray for the world.  Let us glory in the cross this Good Friday: quiet joy.  

Let us lay down our weary heads upon Jesus‘ body, poured out for us in love.  Jesus bow of his head is a yes.  “And more we do not desire.”  AMEN.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April 17 -- Maundy Thursday

Listen to this sermon HERE.

I’m thinking about your feet this holy evening.

I’m wondering where your feet have taken you.  

Think about your feet with me for a moment.  Where have they gone?

Perhaps your feet have walked life’s bumpy road.  Valleys and hills, dark streets and maybe even gutters.  I wonder if your feet have been exposed through the years -- cut up by sharp edges, burned and hardened over time...

Or perhaps your feet have always travelled well.  Perhaps they toddled along on a soft nursery carpet when you were little, ran on a padded track in high school, and walked a gentle meandering suburban path into adulthood.   And now pedicured, massaged and slipped into comfortable, even expensive, shoes.

Maybe your feet have trudged through the mud of battle, laced up tightly in combat boots.  Maybe your feet have flattened out after years of wearing sandals in warm climates.  
Maybe your feet have never really been comfortable because someone told you that shoes say too much about you, so you best not go it sloppy.  Or maybe your feet never worked or looked quite like everyone else’s, so you’ve been hiding them and hiding from so many things.  I’m thinking about your feet this evening.

And I’m wondering if Jesus knows these things about your feet.  Does he know the roads you’ve walked?  The battles you’ve fought?  Does he know the steps you haven’t taken and wrong turns you have?  Does he know the pain that your feet have been through?  And does he care?  They’re good questions, very real questions:  Does Jesus care about what I’ve gone through, what I’m going through now, and what is before me? [pause]

We come to the end of our Lenten journey and we ask these questions.

And here’s where we stop wondering:  When Jesus pulls out a towel and kneels before us with a basin.  And takes your foot -- with all its imperfections and irregularities and sores and smells -- takes your tired foot in one hand and pours water over it with the other.  Here’s where we stop wondering if God knows our sorrows:  When that cool water rushes over your foot and you feel the shock of God’s presence, the surprise of God’s love, the refreshment of God’s forgiveness.  Here’s where we stop wondering:  When Jesus uses that towel to wipe our feet dry, with a tickle and a tingle.    

Even if Jesus doesn’t kneel before us in the same bodily form as he did those many years ago, but sisters and brothers in Christ, know that Jesus kneels before us still in a bodily form -- in the form of our bodies, as we kneel before one another and wash each others feet.

You may or may not choose to have your feet washed here tonight.  At the least, you will have a visual of this tonight.  And you will see Jesus tonight!  Don’t be mistaken: God is still here.  

I was reading about how they’ve done this in the Vatican, how the pope will wash top cardinals feet.  And they represent the 12 apostles.  Last year, Pope Francis rocked the boat in the Roman Catholic world by washing criminals’ and women’s feet.  Here in San Diego, they make a big deal about our Lutheran and Episcopalian bishops washing the feet of homeless people in Point Loma.  And while this is all wonderful and make for great photo ops, I’m concerned about such a narrow view of this practice...as if only popes and bishops can be the ones in the role of Christ.  

Jesus says in our Gospel tonight:  “I give you a new commandment [Maundy Thursday = Mandate Thursday] 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.”  It’s not about the super saintly people bending down and washing the feet of the sinners; it’s saints washing sinners and sinners washing saints and us realizing that we’re both, and that we’re called to help each other and care for each other, not because we’re going get prizes for it, but simple because Jesus told us to.  [unpack - be washed first and then turn and wash, off to the side]

Jesus Christ is our commander as Christ-ian people.  And our superior officer just commanded us to wash one another’s feet, to share one another’s burdens, forgive one another’s sins and wrong turns and imperfections and odors.

Jesus knows what’s about to happen to him, that he’s about to undergo tremendous suffering and be hoisted up onto on a cross to die.  And yet, he spends these final hours telling his disciples what’s most important: That we love one another...and this is what that loves looks like.  

Let us wash one another’s feet, tonight literally...and in our lives figuratively.  What does it mean to you to wash one another’s feet?  To swallow our selfish pride, to go the extra mile, to forgive those who have wronged us, to do the right thing, even if it means letting ourselves be ridiculed.  

The brother or sister who will wash your feet tonight is the face of Christ, the very body of Christ, knelt down before you, Don’t be fooled.  Look on one another this evening and remember, we are the face of Christ for this world.  They will know Christ only through our loving deeds...and here’s what that looks like.  Sisters and brothers in Christ, you are seeing Jesus before you tonight.  Don’t be like Peter, don’t be above it; let Jesus wash your feet here and now.  This is real, this us being the church of Jesus Christ, this is loving one another as he commanded.  

Christ takes our feet, no matter where they’ve been -- and our whole lives, no matter what we’ve done, into his hands -- lovingly holds us, washes us, forgives us, and commands us to do the same.  AMEN. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

April 6 -- Fifth Sunday in Lent

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Yesterday -- looking at “Serving all people following example of Jesus” in confirmation -- picking up trash in the neighborhood.  And we wore our yellow ‘God’s Work Our Hands’ SVLC t-shirts.  And when we were done my shirt was sweaty (and it was a cool day yesterday, and my trash bag was one of the smaller ones) -- but I had this thought, thinking about our text for today: that sweat is similar to tears.  It’s like tears of the body, which was quite an image as we talked yesterday about sin and Jesus.  The thought crossed my mind: perhaps our bodies were crying as we picked up the trash that our sisters and brothers in the neighborhood (at one point probably) had thrown on the earth... 

Bible's shortest and perhaps most 
profound verse: "Jesus wept." Jn 11:35
See, I’m not sure what is more amazing about this story:  Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead or Jesus crying…Jesus—who in the Gospel of John is clearly the very embodiment of God! —weeping.  

At first glance, the most miraculous of these two events is that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life after being dead for 4 days.  Amazing, right?  A joyous twist in the journey of Jesus to the Good Friday cross that we didn’t see coming, right?  Totally unexpected!

Well…amazing except for those of us who have heard this story many times, who’ve seen it in the movies...  For many students of the Bible, the very name Lazarus is synonymous with one being raised from the dead.  When we think Lazarus, we think “once-dead man walking.” 

If we’re not careful, this last and final sign of Jesus in the Gospel of John, which has risen to the surface of our attentions in these few minutes can just as quickly fall back into the corners of our minds as just “another great Bible story,” just another one of Jesus’ great miracles – something that happened long ago, which really has no bearing on our world or our lives today.

And this is where this second event comes in: Jesus weeping.  As a believer in Jesus, I think this is far more unbelievable.  It makes sense that God almighty has the power to raise someone who’s been dead: That’s what gods are supposed to do.  They are supernatural and all-powerful.  That’s what Jesus is supposed to do, and we all saw it coming, for Jesus tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  

What we might have skimmed over, however, what we might have missed -- which is easy to do because it’s the shortest verse in the entire Bible -- is that “Jesus wept” beforehand.  

What is that?!  What is God almighty doing crying?  Especially if Jesus who knows he’s God and knows he’s able to call Lazarus out from the tomb? 

For me, Jesus weeping is way more amazing and profound than Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead…because there’s nothing supernatural about crying.  There’s nothing divine about weeping: or is there?  Is this what sets our God apart from all the other gods?  You have to understand that Jesus is all-power, all-glory, all-wisdom, all-God according (especially) to the Gospel of John.  In John we detect no fear ever on Jesus’ part…all the way to the cross, all the way to his last breath, where he declares, like a king on his throne, “It is finished.”  Good Friday is truly good, because of the Gospel of John’s interpretation.  Jesus conquers all, Jesus fears none, Jesus is always in control.  

Except that…crying is an expression of losing control.  When emotions take over, because feelings run so deep…tears begin to fall.  I would expect Jesus to cry in the Gospel of Mark or Luke or Matthew, where Jesus shows more human attributes.  

But what is Jesus doing weeping in John?  Amazing.      

The over-arching theme of John is LOVE, love divine.  And today we see how that looks...

[slowly] Love divine means that the tears of God come first.  The tears of God precede the healing, the re-connection (thinking of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones); the tears of God precede the resuscitation and unbinding of Lazarus.  And the tears of God precede the resuscitation and unbinding that is before us as well.

[pause] Sisters and brothers, St. Paul reminds us again today that, in Christ, we die, and in Christ we live anew.  Through a baptism of tears your old self is drowned and your new self, your Christ-reflecting self emerges, from the tombs and the bands that formerly locked you up and held you down.  

Jesus weeps us back to life.  Those who are battling addictions, Jesus weeps us back to life!  Those who are grieving unimaginable losses, Jesus weeps us back to life.  Those who are out of work, or going through great transitions, or bored out of your minds, or scared about the future...Jesus stands outside our tombs – weeps first, then calls us, “Come out!”  Sweating while picking up trash, is a micro-snapshot embodiment of this reality!  Through the sweat and tears and into the light (foreshadowing of the death and resurrection: through the tears and into the light).  Those of us struggling with depression, Jesus weeps us back to life!  Sitting beside us, abiding with us in our darkness, promising never to leave us.

Those of us longing for peace in this world, amid bombs exploding, crowds teeming with angry protests, soldiers going numb to the emotional and psychological pain in order to survive it all.  (I was talking to a soldier...but not just soldiers.)  How we can numb ourselves to the pain of this world—conveniently forgetting about the hungry child, the battered spouse, the homeless college student, or the immigrant frozen in the desert night.  There is a certain “stench” to our ignorance of the world’s pains, and our hesitation to discipleship.  But when we go numb to the pain of countless and nameless others, as a survival mechanism, Jesus weeps us back to life.  Jesus weeps, and we are drawn into that sorrow, and that is the beginning of new life, just like we can be drawn in when someone around us starts to cry, starts to lose control, and we can’t help but extend a gentle hand, offer a hug or a gift...or start crying with them.  

Jesus weeps us back to life, one bone, one sinew at a time.  For those of us bound by fear, Jesus weeps us into freedom.  I always wondered, when they unbound Lazarus, did they pull the bands in such a way that he became dizzy with freedom?  Sisters and brothers, Jesus frees us from our fears, dizzies us with freedom.  And freedom from fear can be dizzying.  Freedom from whatever is keeping you from being the woman or the man that God is calling you to be...from whatever is stopping you from having the difficult conversation, or offering the difficult amount of money, or going the difficult extra mile, or just getting closer to another human being…which can often be the most difficult.  

It’s so hard getting close to people.  [hospital rooms]  Because to get close means to know even more intimately their pains, their fears, their deep sorrows.  And I don’t like pain and fears and sorrows – that stuff has got a stench.  I like happiness and flowers.  

But that’s not where Christ leads us…and that’s certainly not where Jesus abides.  Christ dwells among the ashes of our world, the stench of our lives, the valleys of the shadows of death.  And that’s precisely where Christ weeps us back to life.  

[pause] Divinity in the Christian faith is not something/someone distant and calculated albeit miraculous; it is incarnate.  Divinity is made known to us through a wet cloth – a tear-soaked rag, a foot-washed towel, a sweaty t-shirt.  AMEN.