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...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

March 29 -- Maundy Thursday

Grace to you and peace in Jesus, our crucified King’s name.  AMEN. 

So each of these words of Jesus bear so much meaning and harken back to previous events in the Gospel of John.  This is the grand finale, sisters and brothers in Christ.  And when Jesus says, “It is finished,” one scholar suggests, don’t you dare imagine it as Christ hanging his head in defeat; no, this is like Michelangelo looking up at the completed Cistene Chapel.  This is Jesus’ masterpiece!

But this is a little different this year: to be reading about and considering Jesus’ final words from the cross here on Maundy Thursday.  Traditionally, we remember the Last Supper tonight, and Jesus washing the disciples feet, right?  

But with our Narrative Lectionary readings we’ve been making our way through John’s Gospel, and Jesus’ action of foot washing was actually how we started Lent way back in February in Chapter 13.  So much has happened since then.  And yet the lesson of the foot washing, which is really what Maundy Thursday is all about, is exactly the same in our text here, as Jesus addresses his beloved disciple and his beloved mother:  Love one another.  

Maundy Thursday — that word “maundy”, you may or may not know, comes from the same Latin word that gives us “mandate”.  May as well call this day “Mandate Thursday”.  And what’s the mandate?  To love one another.  These are Jesus’ last words to his disciples around the table...with the wash basin, and the towel; and also now, hanging from the holy tree, the cross.  This is the King reigning down from his throne.  

One commentator called his final words here Jesus’ “cross sermons.”  No need to cry for Jesus here.  He’s busy preaching and teaching from his thrown!  Makes no sense to the world!…
...that celebrates the power of Rome, that celebrates the power and brute force of any mighty nation (including ours, for that matter).  Makes no sense to this world; it’s laughable even.  Jesus seems so insignificant to Empire: “Foolishness to the world,” writes Paul to the Corinthians (love Easter is on April FOOL’s day), “Foolishness to the world, but this One crucified is the very wisdom of God.”  

And we get pointed to what that wisdom (sophia) of God looks like in this slightly different “Mandate” Thursday scene, this year:  God’s wisdom (foolishness to the world) looks like this:  it looks like two former strangers become family members — “Woman, behold your son...Behold your mother.”

Jesus is using his dying breath to connect people, to build community.  Biblical scholars note that in we often talk about Pentecost as the birthday of the church...  But this scene of two strangers-become-family at the foot of the cross is really the birthday of the church as Jesus’ first worshipers are joined together in a mandate, and then sent out to love.  
Pretty powerful mandate.
And what is Christ’s mandate for you, as you meet one another at the foot of the cross again this year? 

What does “love one another” mean for you this year?  What stranger are you being told by Jesus to take care of from this day on?  What new community-in-Christ is being born this evening in you, at the foot of this cross?  Forgiven of our sin, (in a moment) filled with the sweetest bread and the finest wine, the body and blood of our preacher-teacher-Savior-and-friend Jesus: what now for you?  Who is Jesus connecting you to, who is your new family in Christ?  Who have you been missing all this time, but right there next to you is your mother, or your father, or your sister, or your brother, or your child?  

This is a feast of love, God’s masterpiece and wisdom, being offered here by Jesus.  

Jesus offers us one another.  Whoever is beside us...is our family, and we are commanded to love them:  

Whatever mailbox we’re next to back home, we are commanded to love them as family.  Whatever locker we’re next to, we are commanded to love them as family.  Whatever cubicle we work next to, we are commanded to love them as family.  Whatever nation we’re next to, we are commended to love them as family.  Whatever creature we share this planet with, we are commanded to love them as family.  Jesus offers us to each other — it’s like we never saw it until now!  And from this day on, from the foot of the cross, we care for each other anew.  

Friends in Christ, we are free, we are forgiven and we are fed...TO LOVE.  Thanks be to God, who pours out Divine Love for us this holy evening...and forevermore.  AMEN.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March 25 -- Crucified Messiah (Palm Sunday)

Grace to you and peace,

The palms of Palm Sunday are significant especially in John’s Gospel.  Last year, I unofficially called this day “Garment Sunday”, because we were in the Gospel of Luke, where they only spread garments on the ground.  Lots of social justice symbolism there, and we gathered coats last year to donate and give thanks for Jesus coming into our lives and our towns.  The other gospels do mention “leafy branches” being spread on this day, but only in John is the actual word “palm” used.  Interesting, huh?

In the ancient world, across all the cultures of the ancient world, everyone knew what the symbol of palm branches meant.  So much diversity then, as we have now, but everyone knew that when the palm branches came out, it was a universal symbol for...VICTORY. 

The Gospel of John makes it very clear for the readers (all the way back in Chapter 12) that victory is at hand.  

Only not the victory that everyone imagines: When we think of victory, even today, when we shout, “Victory!”  What kinds of images come to your mind?  Winners and losers.  Conquering, heroic generals and soldiers marching in the streets, having just violently, crushed the opponent.  Trumpets and loud sounds.  Horses, parades, flags flying high.  In the ancient days, they’d actually spray a perfume in the air, so it literally smelled like victory.  The loser is humiliated, and heartbroken — head hung low, like March Madness.  The winner, on the other hand, is crowned with trophies and flowers and medals...and palm branches wave high as a signal of all of this, as a sign of victory.

Only Jesus’ victory is different.  The victory is in the cross.  
The victory is a victory of love.  That’s very different.  

It almost seems to take the wind out of our parades and crushing opponents, and certainly out of our violence that we — like ancient Rome — can certainly employ to dominate.

This victory of Jesus, signaled in the palms, is a victory of love.  And we segue now from the palms way back in Chapter 12 to the cross and the place we’ve been for the last 3 weeks in Chapter 19.  Last Sunday, violence won the day — begetting more violence — and the angry crowd, the cruel Jewish leaders, and Pilate-under-pressure all seemed to result in Jesus being sent to Golgotha...only Jesus was actually in control of it all, unlike the way it looked on the surface.  Jesus was actually the one who put Pilate on trial.  Jesus, way back in the garden, actually turned himself in to the Jewish authorities. (18:4) “Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘Whom are you looking for?’… ‘I am he.’”  Totally calm and in control.  

[Ever annoy you?  There’s just not the feeling of Good Friday chaos and hopelessness in John’s Gospel!  Jesus is totally all-knowing and in-control.  And today already, he is “lifted up”.  This is the moment of his glorification...TODAY!  The crucifixion is Jesus’ glorification in John.  We get to glory and give thanks in Good Friday this year for weeks!  (Since March 7 we’ve been reading things that happened in John’s Gospel on Good Friday!  It’s a month of Good Friday!)  And it’s ALL GOOD.]

So a victory of love — what does that look like?  If it’s not about winners and losers, and humiliation, and military violence and crushing the opposition, then what could those palms possibly be about?  OK, so Jesus being lifted on the cross is a victory...but how do we understand that?  
We have a clue today: in the sign hanging over Jesus’ head.  Pilate unknowingly proclaims the Gospel by arrogantly refusing to change the sign.  The Jewish leaders were quibbling, wanting it to say something else, but Pilate says what I have written, I have written.  And here’s the thing:  Jesus is the king.  Jesus is the Messiah.  It seems a mockery of a king in the world eyes.  But in the eyes of Jesus-believers, this is an absolute and total victory of love...  

See, Pilate has the sign written in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek.  That’s basically every single language in the world...in their context.  In other words: [slowly] Jesus is for everyone.

In Hebrew, Latin and Greek.  For the insider Jews, for the persecuting Romans, and for everyone else in the Greek world.  Jesus sign was written in Spanish, in English and in Chaldean...if we think about our more common languages here in our neck of the woods.  But fill in every language you can think of: “It was written in Portuguese, Indian and Russian, in Swahili, German and Japanese, in Arabic, Hawaiian and Norwegian…” Jesus is for everyone.  That’s a victory of love! 

This crucified Messiah is not just for any one group, he is for all.  He loves all.  He loves the powerful Romans who think they’re in control of the world.  He loves the back-stabbing religious leaders.  He loves the crowd with all their baggage — all their self-centeredness, all their addictions, all their obsessions, all their pain.  He loves the outsiders who haven’t even heard about all this yet!  He loves the those who have died; he loves those not yet born.  He loves you and me, he loves our pets and he loves that last white rhino that is going extinct.  He loves the oceans and the deserts, he loves the mountains and the prairies, he loves the little toddler and the 96-year-old widow.  He loves the gay man and the bisexual teenager and the soccer mom and the divorced dad.  He loves the stars and moons and planets.  He loves the scientists and the atheists and the fundamentalists.  He loves the Fox News followers and the MSNBC loyalists.  He loves Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton and Steve Bannon.  He loves the members of the NRA and he loves all the children who protested yesterday!  He loves the East Coast and the West Coast.  And everywhere in between!    

As Jesus stretches out his arms on the cross, do you see how this is a victory of love?  It’s all right here on the cross.  This is actually THE moment of ultimate glorification, of being lifted up — you could say the “highest” moment in the Gospel of John!  We ought to sing “Lift High the Cross”!  There’s no ascension up to heaven in John.  Jesus abides/stays with us, it says over and over, and breathes the Holy Spirit of peace upon us.  The cross is as “up” as Jesus gets, thank God!  Jesus stays.

Yes, we know how the Gospel ends, that Easter is the celebration of life eternal, Jesus rising from the dead.  Yes, Easter next Sunday is the Great Day of Resurrection...  

But it’s not going to be a surprise at all to us!  Looking at this Jesus of victory on the cross even today!  It’s not going to be a surprise at all to us who look to and worship this cool, in-control God of universal, unconditional love, which has been pouring out, all the way through the Gospel of John!  

Once again, all we can do is give thanks, give our awe and our worship (that is, make sacrifices), and follow.  If Jesus‘ love is for all, then all are invited to come and see, to come and follow this one who goes to the cross in Divine Love.  You are invited into God’s love, and into Christ’s services anew this day.  Now that’s worth waving palm branches for!  AMEN.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18 -- Jesus "Condemned" (Lent 5)

Grace to you and peace in Jesus’ (not Caesar’s) name.  AMEN.

Friends in Christ, this is a painful text about violence.  

Violence begets more violence.  The Word Made Flesh chooses to enter into a violent world and is coming face to face with it again — from Pilate, from the Jewish leaders, from the crowd.  All succumbing to violence.  This is the way of the world.  It is the way of the state.  It is the way of our hearts.  

Whenever you see violence, know that it is the way of this world.  Violence is what happens when no other options can be imagined.  It starts with our children.  When we can’t figure out how to get our kids to do what we need them to do, even if that’s something good for them, what do we do?  When we’re all out of creativity and options?  We hit them.  Many of us were brought up this way.  We were taught and we teach them, hitting is the answer, when other methods don’t work.  

That early message, even gets affirmed later on.  When a bully is doing what bullies do on the playground, how many of us received the message, “Well, hit him back!”  The answer to violence is more violence.  And everyone cheers when the smaller kid hits the bully back.  Hitting back is always the answer, this world tells us. 

When we get older (although not too much older these days) weapons, beyond words and fists, which are already great weapons — heavier weapons get involved: knives and guns eventually fighter jets and bombs.  It’s a very natural progression.  When a bully hits you, hit back.  And you feel affirmed and powerful when you do.  Violence always begets more violence.  You hit me, well, I’ve been taught to hit you right back.  It’s no wonder this world this nation has been in wars since our inception.  It’s part of growing up.  It’s no wonder we individually have been in fights since our inception.  It’s part of growing up…in this world.  
Friends, we live in a violent world.  Let me notch it up:  this world = violence.  That’s the truth.  Some of us are disgusted by that.  Some of us are OK with that.  Some of us are even more than OK with it: some of us are teaching our children to affirm it and promote this violence that we’ve all inherited.

Violence begets more violence.  That is the way of this world.  And it’s all playing out here in Pilate’s palace, the current setting of violence in our scripture text for today.  

The story of Jesus’ has intensified here in Chapter 20 to unmask the violence that’s been there all along.  Often violence works under the radar — words: social back-stabbing, betrayal and slander.  Today, Jesus and Pilate face-to-face in front of the seething crowd, and this-world’s violence comes out even more, into the open.

And look what happens: Jesus actually is showing Pilate a different way!  Just has Jesus has shown so many in this Gospel — Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Nathaniel, the blind man, Mary and Martha, even and especially Lazarus was shown that violence and death don’t rule the day.  Jesus, one might argue, is starting to get through to the powerful Pilate.  I don’t know if you agree with that, but I’m reading that.  At the least, he gives Pilate pause.  “Who are you?  Where are you from?” Pilate asks, both curiously and even reverently.  

It’s like things slowed down for a moment, and Pilate gets this almost ecstatic (out of body) experience, where he leaves the ways of this world for a second and starts to see Jesus, who is not of this world…I wonder what he saw in those moments?  
But almost immediately, violence wins the earthly day, and the crowd snaps Pilate out of his Jesus with a dig at his loyalties.  

If you ever want to upset someone, anyone in this room, question their patriotism.  
Question their loyalties.  How many of us, if I called you un-American, would feel the hair on our neck go up?  Our blood starting to boil.  [Here comes the violence, right?]

How many of us would start to want to list all the ways, if you’re going to come at me — with insults and accusations around my loyalties — all the ways that not only am I a good American, I’m actually a better American than you are?  What do we call them?  Fighting words.

If you’re going to hit me, I’m going to hit back.  

That’s exactly what the crowd does to Pilate.  Violence snaps him out of his other-worldly experience of Jesus.  And violence then continues.  It’s been violent up to this point.  Flogging, mocking, crown of thorns.  And that’s not even enough for this crowd (of which we’re a part, if we’re honest).  And apparently it’s not enough for Pilate either, who gets snapped out of looking at Jesus.  

Violence begets more violence.  And our text today concludes with, “Crucify him!”  We cannot be surprised at this.  This is the way of the this world.  In fact, if you opt out of violence, what are you called? (All kinds of names, right?)  

One of our prayers of the people today: The cries of “crucify” still ring in our ears every time an innocent is punished, every time a guilty one goes unquestioned, every time your creation suffers from abuse and misuse. Forgive us and show us the way that leads to life…

All this violence talk is setting us up.  Friends, we’re so immersed in violence, I don’t think we can even see it.  We’ve been “attacking” children this week in our country walking out of school in order to stand up to violence.  That’s how saturated in violence we’ve become!  We’re entertaining, suggesting and in some cases demanding our teachers to carry guns as they teach our children about peace.  

Do you see?!  Maybe you do?  Maybe you don’t.      

Here’s where all this is going.  This text couldn’t be more timely:  

Jesus’ way is not the world’s way.  Jesus brings peace.  Jesus’ condemnation is not that at all.  There is this flip that the world cannot see.  The world sees the cross and Jesus’ sentence to crucifixion as a victory of violence.  

But we know that this condemnation is rather a reflection on ourselves.  Pilate is on trial before Jesus.  The crowd is condemning themselves.  The nation being judged, not doling out the judgement.  

Jesus is the king.  Everyone laughs at this, then and now: 

“No, he’s not!  Look at him, in that silly purple cloth and crown of thorns!”  

But Jesus is the king, and the scene is about to get even ore ironic: he is about to place on his thrown, that is, the cross.  Foolishness to this world, St. Paul says, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God.

The opposite of violence is peace.  The opposite of this world’s violence is Divine Peace.  

We don’t sing about God as a warrior; we sing about God as a shepherd.  

This is Jesus, and he loves you.  He loves this whole, violent world. 

This peaceful shepherd invites you now — just as he invited Pilate — to stop the violence, and come and follow and see.  AMEN.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 11 -- Jesus and Pilate (Lent 4)

Peace be with you in the name of Pilate.  AMEN.   ;)
Peace be with you in the name of Rome, who keeps the world at peace.  AMEN? 
Peace be with you in the name of the United Nations, the name of the United States of America, peace be with you in the name of the great peacekeeping powers of “this world.”  AMEN?  ;)

No.  Grace and peace be with you in Jesus’ name, the one who puts Pilate on trial — not the other way around.  AMEN.

Because this is the Year of John, and the passion narrative takes up the entire second part of the book of John, we are spending weeks here on Good Friday.  Started last week, while I was absent — you had the opportunity to reflect on Peter’s denial, that was Good Friday morning — continues today...

This year more than ever, because we’re spending a total of 4 weeks and 6 worship services on Good Friday, if we don’t come to understand why Good Friday is good (Christ’s absolute victory) in the Gospel of John, then I have failed you miserably.  It’s “all good” in John’s Gospel, you hear me?  Most years, we read through the entire chapters of John 18 & 19 just at the Good Friday evening service.  This year, we’re spreading those verses out over 4 weeks and 6 services!  So different, and so cool!  And so GOOD!

Today, Jesus is standing before Pilate...rather Pilate is standing before Jesus.  Jesus in John’s Gospel shows no fear, no pain, no signs of being intimidated in the least, and certainly no sorrow even and especially in Pilate’s souped-up military headquarters.  He cries at the tomb of Lazarus; not here.  

I go on base, North Island, just for a chapel service, and I get intimidated just going through the gates — heavily armed soldiers everywhere, ships in the harbor, war planes in the sky...Rome was the world’s superpower back then, you see…(there’s a reason I was reminded of Washington DC when I saw the architecture in Rome a few years ago).  Intimidation.  Pax Romana.

Jesus shows no fear.  Peace be with you in Jesus’ name.  Peace in the face of the greatest intimidation.  Jesus puts the ways of the world on trial here today.  Next week he’ll calmly say to Pilate, “You have no power over me.”
So Jesus is always offering truth, his way of light, eternal life in the Spirit, to both insiders and outsiders.  That is, to both Jews and non-Jews. We’ve seen this all through the book of John, and it’s still happening in our text today.  Sometimes insiders/Jews accept Jesus’ teaching.  (The Jewish leaders are clearly rejecting it.)  And sometimes outsiders accept Jesus’ teaching.  

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well, way back in Chapter 4?  Compare her to Pilate — both outsiders to the Jewish faith.  She is open to Christ’s truth and believes.  Pilate does not, and that’s cinched here when he shoots back arrogantly, in our text today, “What is truth?”  

Jesus is offering his teaching even to Pilate.  How ‘bout that?!  God so loves the whole world, remember?  Even this powerful heavily-armed Roman governor!  But Pilate rejects Jesus.  This scene is not that of a defeat for Jesus; it is unfortunately a defeat for Pilate, and the ways of the world that say that brute force, violence and intimidation win the day.  Wrong.  

The cross wins, friends in Christ. Doesn’t make sense to Rome.
Christ’s cross wins, and Jesus is on his way there.  He’s been referring to that moment through this whole book of John as his moment ultimate glorification!  Being lifted up on the cross!  Doesn’t make sense to Rome!
Christ is our peace.  Not Pilate, not Rome.  
God’s love is our hope, our future and our security.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, not of Pilate’s world.  Christ’s eternal life and light makes so little sense to the world that often it’s not even recognized.  

There Jesus is, standing right in front of Pilate, and Pilate misses it...
When have we missed it?  When have you missed it?  When has Jesus’ truth been right in front of us, and yet we put our trust instead in the powers and the ways, the idols of this world?  Brute military force, pax Romana, riches and fame...  

You know what Jesus was doing, in this text?  He was offering Pilate and an exorcism!  And he’s offering us one too, this day.

Pray with me for an exorcism:

“Take hold of us, Lord Jesus!  Take all the sinful, self-centered, violent, angry, jealous, hateful, fear-filled inclinations of our hearts and our bodies and our cultures and our minds...take all that rips us away from seeing you right before us.  Exorcise the demons that dwell within us, the idolatry of which we are guilty. Tear out our selfishness and fear!

“And fill us instead with your deep and abiding peace.  The assurance that your cross is never a loss but a victory.  Your way of justice and peace leads us to hope.  Saturate our hearts and our bodies and our whole lives with your love and grace,  your joy and the assurance of your presence, this day and always.  AMEN.”