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...

Monday, April 30, 2018

April 29 -- Paul in Athens (Easter 5)

Friends in Christ, if Paul was to wander through your life — your daily routines, where you spent your time and your money, where you made sacrifices: the things that bring your great joy, the things that get you really upset, and the ways you speak — if Paul was to wander down “your street”, stand at the center of your personal “town square” (the Areopagus) — WHAT WOULD HE NOTICE?  

The question is not: “Are you/is anyone religious?”  The question is: “In what ways are you extremely religious?”  Everyone worships something.  The word worship, broken down, “worth-ship”.  What’s worthy of your sacrifices?  That’s what we worship.  Lots of people go to church but don’t worship God.  Because God’s not worthy of their sacrifices, the church is not worthy of their sacrifices: traveling the world is what’s truly worthy of their sacrifices.  Clothing or hobbies or housing or sports or fancy alcohol or knives or guns or shoes or concerts or cars or crafts are what’s truly worthy of their sacrifices.  We all have our thing, I think.  What’s your thing?

The best way for Paul to wander down any one of our “streets” is for him to take a look at our credit card statements, right?  Or however, if you even can, track how and where you spend your money.  (I was shocked at how much this past tax season my family spend on food — organic, locally sourced, healthy food.  It’s more expensive.  We’ve admitted that’s a place we’re willing to make sacrifices.  I guess you could say it’s one of our idols.)  What’s on your credit card statement?  That’s the real “giving record,” right?

That’s where we can see where we really make sacrifices.  I know the whole, “but it’s not just about money when it comes to church” idea.  And that’s true, but so often, I think, we can hide behind that.   So much is about money...  x2 That’s why Jesus talked about money all the time!
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt. 6.21; Lk. 12.34).  What is it that you treasure?  What is it that you protect?  What is it that you make sacrifices for?
This was true in the ancient world as well, as Paul walked through the streets of Athens, “Athenians,” he says, “I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”

But there’s something else:  Paul notices that there is an altar to an unknown God.  You see, the people of Athens — like us today — worshipped all kinds of gods.  I think it was more overt then: maybe less shame about it.  They made sacrifices openly to the gods of sports, food, parties, travel, transportation, music, crafts and weather.  (We worship weather here in San Diego, don’t we?  Willing to make sacrifices for beautiful weather?)  Same back then!  But there was this one altar that was unmarked.  It was like the fill-in-the-gap altar...

...and Paul seizes on that image to introduce them to a different kind of God.  Now that altar was in fact, a fill-in-the-gap altar:  Like today, the people lived in great fear.  If you didn’t sacrifice to every god, if you didn’t appease every god, then trouble would inevitably befall you.  So just in case, there was this little “fill-in-the-gap” altar.  Just in case you missed or forgot about a god or two.  You could sacrifice at the altar of the unknown god.
       Paul seizes on that to draw them into a new understanding...
See, it’s like, there was “something else.”  The people even knew it.  This way of living and worshiping at all these altars, this way of being extremely religious was coming up short.  

Don’t we see that too?  Do you ever feel that?  All these things we worship, and yet, somehow, it’s never enough?  

We’re always pouring more and more out at all these different altars?  Everyone and everything is happy to take our sacrifices, our money, our time, our devotion, our energy, our whole lives.  But it’s like they’re never appeased.  The gods are never appeased, and they’ll just keep taking…  (Just talking with dear friends about the tolls that stress takes on our bodies...  
..the frantic pace at which we run, from altar to altar to altar. “I see how extremely religious you are in every way!” Paul exclaims.)
But then there’s this one other little altar.  This little tiny chapel, this insignificant table.  This ugly, old cross.  Laughable really, in the shadow of all the other towering altars.     

But Paul seizes on that little altar, and takes that fearful theology (study of God) about that altar — how that can be like Christianity now too: fearful theology — and fills it with incarnational theology.  God is with us.  This little, tiny, insignificant altar you see here, Paul says, “I proclaim to you that the God who made the world and everything in it, [the God] who is [composer and conductor] of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands…[this God] allotted the times of [our] existence and the boundaries of the places where [we] live, so that [we may] search for God and perhaps grope for [God]...though indeed [God] is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In [God] we live and move and have our being….’”  

We don’t grope for God, as if God is some object of our attaining.  We are IN God already.  My whole life changed with I started to accept that.  [say it again]

This little, un-named altar is an entry point into experiencing a God that is above all other gods!  A God who’s got the whole world — the whole universe — in a loving embrace.  A God in whom we “live and move and have our being.”  A God whose name is love, in Jesus Christ.  

This is where Paul takes us...along with his ancient hearers.  Paul preaches of a God who is beyond time and space, who is above all our petty obsessions and weaknesses, who holds us even as we try to appease other gods!

This little Altar, this Book, this Water doesn’t contain God (God doesn’t live, cooped up in here)!  But they do, we confess, carry God.  This little altar, this old book, these drops of water, point us to a God who is loosed in, with, above, below, all around and throughout this entire universe!  

We cannot encapsulate or domesticate this God of whom Paul speaks!  All we can do is give ourselves up to it — this holy movement — sacrifice ourselves to what we’re already in: 
God’s hands. 

...Think of when children are angry and restless in their mother’s arms: there’s no use in trying to overpower her, “Just rest. Just breath. It’s OK.”  Can’t we be like restless children running from altar to altar to altar?  (Paul was once a restless Saul!)

Friends in Christ, we are truly IN Christ.  Not every day do we get to reflect on the all-inclusive, all-loving, all-surrounding embrace of a God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”  Being in Christ is where we find ourselves.  So now all we we can do is enjoy it, take a breath...and go make disciples.  Go invite others into this understanding, into this joyful awareness.  Tell them that we don’t have to make all these other sacrifices at all these other altars!  Go, make disciples by pointing them to the water and the word of life, and this community of love, this bread of heaven and the wine of salvation.  For simply in this following, there is peace.  

Peace that is fuller and deeper than any other peace that any idols can offer.  Jesus calls us away from those, to come and follow, make your sacrifices here, and make disciples.  You are Christ’s witnesses to these thing:  you have a job to do!  It’s a blessed burden, a labor of love.  Thanks be to God, who holds us and this whole cosmos now...and forever more.  Go spread that Good News.  Breathe.  It’s gonna be ok.  Because God’s got us.  AMEN.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 22 -- Paul, Silas & Earth Day (Easter 4)

A common theme in this text is people getting annoyed.  You ever get annoyed?  Paul gets “annoyed” the actual word in Greek with the servant girl.  And our little skit here comically assumes that the jailer and jailed may have been annoyed, in turn, by Paul and Silas’ singing.  You ever get annoyed?

Today is Earth Day.  And in my experience.  Taking care of the planet can get annoying.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is almost synonymous with annoying.  The other day I saw the classic movie Ghostbusters again.  And I had forgotten that the EPA were the annoying bad guys.  But it’s not just a governmental agency that gets annoying.  It’s the practice of caring for the environment: recycling, reducing our carbon footprints, consuming less, trying to keep in mind the other creatures of this planet, and generations that will come after us.  What a pain in the you-know-what!  So annoying, right?

I even fancy myself as an environmentalist.  And trying to be mindful about using less, consuming less, protecting more, teaching our children.  So annoying!  We’ve turned our kids into little energy extremists: Micah with the lights, he’s always turning them off, and when he was a little younger, he’d even start crying when we’d leave lights on: “You’re destroying God’s earth!”  True story.

But today on this Earth Day, on this Paul and Silas day, perhaps on this annoying day...I want to invite you to start simply by paying attention to what’s annoying you.  God is working in that to bring about joy, peace, forgiveness and liberation.    

There is joy, peace, forgiveness and liberation that comes from that young girl’s constant crying out...which is what Paul was so annoyed about.  Do kids ever annoy you?  Katie annoys me when she asks constantly while we’re driving, about why we we don’t bring all those homeless people we see downtown or at the stop lights asking for help — “Why don’t we bring them home and give them some money, Daddy?”  

Do you know what scholars believe that slave girl really was?  She wasn’t just a little fortune-teller, she was exploited, as young girls always were, sexually! And that was the system, much like the child sex trafficking big business that’s happening right in our front yards here in East County.  That was just the way it was, and she was annoying the system with her recognition of Paul and Silas‘ identity:  “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!”  That’s all she kept crying out.  And out of her annoyance, came liberation from the demons.  A disruption to the system...the death of death!  

Think we’re seeing that now?  With American children across this nation, staging walk-outs of their schools and “annoying” us with marches and protests, waving banners and crying out constantly for freedom...from gun violence and the right to learn and live peacefully?  Disrupting the system...pleading for the death of death.  Like the little girl in the story: it’s not like kids have that much power to change anything...or do they?  She persisted, and annoyed Paul enough to get that demon cast out!  The death of death.

And then Paul and Silas: from annoyed to annoyer!  (Maybe that’s a stretch.  I love that they sang in jail!  We all should think about singing in jail!  But let’s just stick to the annoying theme...)  I’m convinced that their singing is what broke them out of there.  Their hope in the midst of despair, their being free while chained up.  And their staying...even when the doors finally opened and the shackles fell off.

I’ve told it before but I love this story about hope in the darkness: about when one of the Metro lines in Washington DC went down back in 2012, and a whole train was trapped in a dark tunnel.  

The newspaper article about this quoted the maintenance crew that had gone running into the dark tunnel with their flashlights and equipment to figure out what the problem was...and as they approached the train, sitting dead in the dark, they heard singing.  Someone on the train had started singing “Lean on Me”.  And the whole place was rocking by the time they got the problem fixed.  Probably wanted to stay and finish the song before they disembarked the train and walked out of that dark tunnel!

Think a few on that train might have been annoyed when the singing started?  Rolling their eyes or even telling the singers to shut up?

Pay attention to what’s annoying you...because God works in that to bring about joy, peace, forgiveness and liberation.    

And that goes for taking care of God’s good creation too.  Lutheran professor, mentor and pastor Joseph Sittler had this great quote:  “Nature is the theatre of God’s grace.” x2  Even if caring for the environment and those who advocate the most for it might be a little annoying, think about that: this earth is the theatre, the stage, upon which God’s grace gets played out!  

And here’s how I’m going to tie Paul and Silas in with Earth Day:  At the end of this text, the jailer, one might perceive him as their former enemy, actually invites them to his home, his house, his family system...that is, his oikos (in the Greek) or eco’s.  Every time you see “house/home” in this text, try reading instead “ecosystem”.  The jailer invites them into his eco-system, where he is baptized, along with his whole household, along with his whole ecological-family.  And there in that house, in that ecosystem, upon this planet earth, they are invited to live into their baptismal vocations!  

You know, when we baptize and confirm in the Lutheran church we ask among other things, “Will you strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”  Hopefully that has a new ring on this Earth Day...maybe an annoying one.

Pay attention to what’s annoying you. God works in that to bring about joy, peace, forgiveness and liberation.  

Like Paul from annoyed to annoyer.  From agitated to agitator.  We are called to work for the healing of creation, for the healing of earth, the forests, the waterways, the species, the ecosystems.  Write letters, protest, speak up, run for office, pray, sing out, cry out...If you get involved in the advocacy and protection any of our earthly home, you become an annoyer.  
And that’s where this text and this context, I believe, is pointing us, calling us today!  To “let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth, give freedom’s light to captives, let all the poor have worth…”  (HoD we’re about to sing.) 

Friends in Christ, God stays with us, even while we’re locked down!  The Holy Spirit moves in our midst and puts a song in our hearts!  Nothing can lock us in, not even death itself..for Jesus has conquered death and the powers of sin, and busted us out, liberated us to live and serve this earth and all its inhabitants!  Let the healing and “liberation-living” begin, in Christ’s name!  AMEN.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15 -- Paul's Conversion (Easter 3)

Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the one who knocks us off our horses (always a sign of war back then) and calls us back to him.  AMEN.

Can you imagine a mass murderer traveling around Syria?  
Can you imagine a man hunting down and killing his own people traveling on a road to the city of Damascus?  It hasn’t been hard to imagine this week, with Syria dominating the headlines.  Assad now and Saul way back then, both killing their own people.  Brutal, fearsome, monstrous.

Interesting to hear in this text about God’s response to a murderer.  We have this in-credible conversion story today of Saul, who was “still breathing threats and murder” — don’t you think an ancient version of an airstrike would have worked better on Saul?  Do you believe this conversion really happened?  Could a murderous monster become the greatest apostle the church has ever seen?  Saul, Acts tells us, was the guy who stood and watched St. Stephen, the first martyr, die at his feet!  A cold blooded killer.  He was literally hunting down Christians, dragging them out, and executing them.  How do you think someone like that ought to be handled?  
So Saul has this incredible experience on the road to Damascus.  He hears a voice, he’s blinded by the light…
But the real miracle, I believe, is what happens when he arrives in Damascus.  
* Reflect this week on your own conversion experiences.  On the ways you relate to Saul, the once-evil things you’ve done or said, but God helped you to see the light...

* But the real miracle, I think, is with the Christians in Damascus, starting — but not ending — with Ananias!

Ananias lays hands on this murderer...not because he wants to, but...because God has asked him to. 

That’s powerful.  How many of us would lay hands on our people’s murderer...because “God told us to”?  Such a person in our day in age would probably get ostracized, be called a traitor or a weakling...or who knows what bully names.  That person would be seen as a crazy person, hearing voices.  But Ananias had a vision.  He had his questions.  But God says I need this man.  So Ananias is faithful: “Here I am, Lord.” 

But there’s more.  It isn’t just about Ananias, here.  It’s about the Christians in Damascus.  It says that after Ananias’ prayer, Saul-who-is-renamed-Paul gets food, vision of his own, and strength.  The next verse (we don’t have it in our reading), says “he stayed in Damascus for a time.”  

Saul, i.e. Paul, is nurtured by the Christians there.  I’ve often envisioned this story as a snap — a holy flip of a switch — and suddenly the evil Saul becomes the Apostle Paul.  But it’s not!  It’s a process.  It’s a process that requires Christian community.  

The task of the church is, and always has been...to get more money.  To get more people in the pews so that we can brag at our synod assemblies to other Lutherans about how great our church is.  To huddle up and take care of just the ones we like the most.  

No, the task/call of the church is, and always has been...to love our enemies and nurture disciples on their journeys of faith.  Caring is a central part of this, but it doesn’t stop at just those we like.  We are called to care for our enemies too.  And not just because of this passage:  Jesus said it!  “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

And we, Christian communities, are called to walk along one another in our rehabilitation processes.  Nurturing each other in the faith.

This brings me to our dear Vern.  And Annie, too:

Now, Vern was never an evil, cruel character like Saul.  That’s become obvious to me.  Vern wasn’t perfect, but I believe he always had a good heart, even while it may not have been a healthy heart.  Vern always had a good heart.  

But he wandered/wondered for many years.  He was lost.  He hurt.  He struggled.  Like we all do at times.  And yet Annie was always praying for him, laying her hands on him.  “Annie-nias”, right?  Praying for him.  Loving him.  Taking care of him.  And Annie always hoped he’d come to church, and find the good things that are here: Christ at this table, Christ in this community, Christ in the baptismal waters.  And on September 23, 2012, I guess you could say Vern fell off the horse, heard a voice.  We welcomed him officially into this congregation.  

But that was only the beginning.  For 6 years, Vern has been with us here, not only faithfully worshiping, but also lovingly serving.  Vern rang the bell: calling people to worship, and telling this whole neighborhood that somewhere people are giving praise to God!  He was on Church Council for a time.  And whenever he spoke we listened...because he spoke from the heart.  Vern’s wisdom came from his heart.  (It’s ironic and so confusing that it was probably the same organ that failed him.)

Here’s what I’m trying to say:  Vern was nurtured by this Christian community.  And it takes that Holy Community.
“Annie-nias” couldn’t do it by herself with a fervent prayer and a laying on of hands, right?  She needed her brothers and sisters in the faith to gather around and walk along through the times, as Vern too got up, remembered his baptism, took some food (as the text says) and regained his strength.  
Like Saul with the Christians in Damascus, Vern stayed with us for a time.  And we were made better through him, and through our leader Annie’s faithfulness.   

And today we give thanks.  Today we remember that God’s got Vern, and all sinner-saints in the eternal embrace.  No need to worry about Vern now.  His heart is just fine.  Today we not only remember Vern, but we cling to the faith/words/prayers of the ages as we comfort one another in our grief.  We lean into God’s grace, in Jesus’ defeat of death through the Easter resurrection.  Because he lives, Vern’s gonna be just fine.  And so will we.

What we can receive from all of this joy and sorrow today are some blessed reminders…

*to be kind, good-hearted to one another, like Vern was to us.  
*to look for more conversions on our own roads.  God’s not done with us yet!
*to continue to be about the Christian work of nurturing disciples.  Whatever the future looks like, *whatever the church looks like, may our mission always be to nurture disciples.  
* and finally, to trust in God’s incarnational, resurrection presence with us.  We are not left here alone:  

God’s Holy Spirit is not just swirling around among us, 
Christ is in us, 
forgiving us, 
and calling us back, 
to stop it our ‘old’ ways, 
to take some food [altar], get up, and follow in Jesus’ way of peace and resurrection hope. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8 -- Thomas (Easter 2)

Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Risen Christ.  AMEN.

“If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Verse 23.

In 2010, Sister Sandra Marie Schneiders, professor at the Jesuit School of Theology presented a fascinating insight to a group of scholars on this verse 23.  

The idea was that we’ve inserted and assumed a word into our  English translation of vs. 23, and it changes everything:  Schneiders points that in the Greek, there is no word “sins” the second half.  So an alternative, perhaps more accurate translation would be, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain any — or ‘hold any fast’, or even ‘embrace any‘ — they are held fast/embraced.”  The second half of verse 23 is about retaining/holding onto people...rather than sins.  The word “sins” is not there in the Greek!

This, she argues — along with Lutheran scholar, the Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore — that there is not only room for Thomas’ needing proof, it’s far more in line with Jesus’ actions and the over-arching theology of the entire Gospel of John.  “Retaining sins”, holding one’s sin over their head, doesn’t really fit with John’s Gospel, especially with all this peace-breathing that’s happening both before and namely after the resurrection.   
This text is John’s version of the Great Commission: (In Matthew, it’s “Go ye therefore…”).  But here, in John —  
“Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Then he breathes on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit... 

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; and whoever you hold, they are held (whoever you embrace, they are embraced...whoever you love, they are loved).”  That’s Holy Spirit power!  That’s power that’s greater than Pilate and the Roman Empire.  That’s power that’s mightier than all the muscles and ammunition we can even imagine.  That’s Holy Spirit power.  Jesus breathes this on the disciples and on us too!  This is way more in line with John’s Gospel, than “retaining sins”?  Can’t you just hear the echoes of Jesus actions back through John?!!  

On Good Friday, Jesus offered community to his beloved disciple and his own mother from the cross.  And so Christ’s sermon there, was to go and care for one another from this day forth, to offer beloved community to everyone, love flowing outward, from the cross.  And in the foot washing, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus offers this intimate cleansing and tangible forgiveness to us, and now we’re called, to turn and offer that same cleansing and forgiveness to each other and beyond!  First we receive it from God — that’s our being commissioned — then we in turn, and go, and share with the whole world, both locally and globally.  And it’s all through John, the raising of Lazarus, the woman at the well, the blind man, the feeding of the 5000 (one church in our synod, this past Lent, offered huge loaves of bread, and the “rule” was, you had to share with someone)...all the way back to the beginning of John’s Gospel where “the light shines in the darkness,” and gives life to all people.  

Now post-resurrection — as we wade into this 50-day Easter season, basking in the peace that our Risen Savior breathes on us — here it is again:  first we receive from Christ forgiveness and embrace, then we turn and offer it to one another and to this whole world!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  He is risen indeed!!  

This is the “in-deed”!  Turning and offering both forgiveness and embrace.  

“Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; and whoever you hold, they are held (whoever you embrace, they are embraced).” 

Who is it that you’re holding?  They are held in Christ.  I’m holding Annie (in this season of grief and chaos in her life), and so — in the resurrected Christ — if I’m holding her, then she is being held.  Do you see?  Whoever we hold, God holds.  Holy Spirit power.  (Remember when Jesus said to Pilate, you have no power over me.  Now Pilate has no power over us either.  We’ve received the Holy Spirit.)

Whoever we hold, they are held.  Whoever we embrace, they are embraced...  
And whoever we forgive, they receive the very forgiveness of God!  That’s embrace of the Risen Christ.  Holy Spirit power.

And how all of God’s children need that embrace and forgiveness!  How all of God’s children...in our neighborhoods, and workplaces, and schools and shopping malls, and sports arenas and on the roads, and in the hospitals, and the courthouses, and the banks, and the halls of power, and the back alleys, all of God’s children...in every nation and every language need that embrace and peace and forgiveness that the resurrected Jesus so abundantly breathes.  

He gives you that same breath this day, that same power to forgive and heal.  In a moment we’ll offer that peace of Christ to each other.  And the symbols are the same there too.  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Today is John’s Pentecost. 

It isn’t just shaking hands or giving hugs to your favorite people around you:  it’s war ending, walls coming down, conflicts forgiven, creation restored, death itself is destroyed! Jesus’ resurrection offers true peace.

If you’re doubting that’s really happening when we shake hands every Sunday, when we share the peace of Christ with each other, then you’re not much different than the faithful Thomas, who just wanted to see more.  

Let’s not forget that it was Thomas, back in John 11:16, who urged the disciples to go on to Bethany, despite the danger: “Thomas said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” 

Maybe Thomas was already out there, doing the “Sent work,” when Jesus first appeared to the disciples on Easter evening.  I mean, why wasn’t he locked behind the doors in fear?  Maybe he just wanted to see more!  Often the most active are also the most cynical.  But there’s room for that in Jesus’ embrace.

It’s hard to believe that war ends with the [names…] shaking hands here at SVLC on Sunday morning.  It’s hard to believe walls are coming down as [names..] hug each other.  There’s no evidence that creation — the air and the water and the soil — is restored, as [name…] say to each other peace be with you.  “Unless I can see it and touch it, I will not believe that death has been destroyed!”  But there’s room for that in Christ’s embrace.  And now, in our embrace as well.  

And “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  AMEN.  

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 1 -- Resurrection of our Lord (Easter Sunday)

The first time I ever presided over Holy Communion (big deal!) was on Easter morning.  It was during my internship in StL, MO.  I had to get a special letter of dispensation from the Bishop of the Central States Synod, Bp. Gerry Mansholt...because this was going to be “an extenuating circumstance”:  See, it was at 6am.  Sunrise service outside, IN A GARDEN actually...well sort of it was in St. Louis‘ Forest Park...at 6am! ;)  So there was no one else to do this.  And it was going to be pouring down rain!  Talk about April Fools’: rain and cold and wind on Easter Sunday at 6am.  Extenuating circumstance?  No pastor in their right mind would do this.  

I loved it! (about a dozen of us, very special memory)  I wish it was raining and cold today too..but that’s OK.  You can certainly imagine rain and wind and cold.  Rain and wind and cold on Easter reminds us to think twice about not romanticizing Easter.  I love all the lilies and trumpets and food and fancy outfits and being warm and dry and hunting for eggs and eating chocolate and clinking glasses and being with friends and family...but the first Easter morning was void of all the comforts and all the fanfare.  It was just another morning, it seemed.  Maybe it was even raining or cold or windy, when they approached the tomb?
Judy (CG) gave Katie a gift, a book with a quote on the cover:  “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”  It’s especially perfect because she gave it to her after hearing about our big move to Virginia in a few months, and Katie, as you can imagine, was really feeling down about all this.
While Easter is a joyous time for us, I hope we don’t forget that Easter is also a scary time.  It’s scary because of what happened: Jesus has risen from the dead!  But its even scarier because of what it means:  Because Christ has died, and because Christ has risen indeed, it means that we have new life.  NEW LIFE!  And while that has celebration written all over it, it’s also absolutely terrifying...a downpour:  rain and cold and wind...  
Maybe it’s been too long for some of you, and it hasn’t happened yet for others, but I wonder if any of you had a similar experience as me around the time of high school graduation:  I remember this great mix of absolute ambiguity, excitement…and total fear.  It was a strange time.  I was thrilled that I was done with one thing...and absolutely terrified of the great unknown that was college, lurking out there on the near horizon.  I mean, I had only really ever lived in Houston...and now I was moving all by myself, not knowing anyone, all the way out to California to go to college!  My friends were going all over the country for college, too.  

So what did we do?  We went to parties. We went to our homes, and stayed out late, and clung to the relationships we knew.  I remember even making new friends with classmates I’d hardly hung around with in high school...probably because we shared the familiar, a common comfort zone.  It was like we were all huddling together even tighter the summer after graduation.  I really felt that.  It was a response to our fear — the rain, wind and cold that was the great unknown.  The NEW LIFE we now had.    
I laugh: “Then the disciples returned to their homes” (v.10).  They see Jesus’ body gone, one of them even “saw and believed” right there on the spot.  We hear “they don’t yet understand,” but it sounds like they’re starting to put the pieces together.  They are witnesses to none other than Jesus’ resurrection!  But they return to their homes?! What!? (contrast to shepherds at J’s birth)

The Gospel of John really does a good job of describing this fear that overwhelmed the disciples after the resurrection.  We’ll hear even more of that next Sunday when they literally lock themselves in the the upper room, they’re so afraid.  It’s like their fear builds the more they huddle.  Yes, the Easter story is filled with great joy (that’s Mary Magdalene’s story), but we’ve been in that joy, this year in the YEAR OF JOHN all week actually — Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday— I keep saying, in John, “it’s ALL good,” Jesus is all powerful and in control.  No need to be sad for Jesus.  Christ’s Passion is a “feast of love,” as we sang on Maundy Thursday.  “Jesus sacrifice bunted us home and now we’re free,” we celebrated on Good Friday.  Easter too is a story filled with joy.  

But it’s also terribly frightening…because of what it means.  Everything is new now!  In a way, Christ’s death is the good part — that’s why we call it Good Friday.  Why?  Because Christ’s death brings hope and comfort, it means that Christ identifies with our suffering in the deepest sense.  You know the old African American spiritual: “Nobody knows, the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows, but Jesus.”  Jesus takes on our pain and all the pain of this cosmos, he gets right down next to it, takes it on himself.  (Sacrifice bunting and getting called out: it’s the worst!)    

But he doesn’t just die, in all that love for us and for this whole world.  (That’s Good Friday.)  He also conquers death.  (That’s Easter.)  And that’s super scary!  That’s rain and wind and cold.  That’s April Fool’s.  That’s a mess.  That. Changes. Everything.

The fact that Jesus lives, and therefore we do too, despite all the cruelty and pain and suffering of this world and this life, that changes everything.  Our being freed from sin and death is not the end of the story, because now, post-resurrection, we live anew with Christ.  Everything’s different.  Christ didn’t just die, breaking the chains of sin and death, and then leave us. Christ came back-to-life to stay with us in our new and liberated state!  

We have been taken off of one path and placed onto another...far more drastic than moving ourselves off of a high school path and getting ourselves onto a new path.  The resurrected Jesus transplants us from one place to another.  

That’s scary.  That’s like suddenly being plopped into the dark, cold, wind and rain.  This new post-resurrection path we walk is muddy, friends in Christ!  It is challenging.  It makes me want to go back home too, huddle up with everyone and everything familiar, lock the doors, and go back to the life I knew before Jesus burst forth from the tomb.   But our NEW LIFE in Christ...what did Katie’s book cover say?  “...isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”  Jesus resurrection comes amid a storm!  

Rome still rules!  The temple leaders are still seething...the rain keeps falling.  Pain will keep coming our way, violence will keep coming our way, sorrow will come our way, anger and greed and war and death will all come our way, more shootings will surely come our way, more arguments and more confrontation, more division and more suffering will all keep coming our way.  That’s the storm, that’s the mud.  That’s the rain, cold and wind.  That’s the April foolishness of this world, and that’s what drives us back behind closed doors...  
But because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are now different.  We are in the world but NOW we are not of the world.  That means we stay/abide too, like Jesus:  We engage the powerful forces of evil, the Devil himself, and laugh.  We unlock our doors and our hearts and our minds, we touch the wounds of Christ, we now touch all that pain.  And that means we might, we probably will, get hurt.  We touch the earth lightly, following the example of Jesus, but that’s not how the world works.  So we might get hurt.  We live in love and peace, but everyone else seems to worship violence.  We trust in God, but everyone else seems to trust in money and guns.  The evidence is everywhere.  Just trusting in God?  That’s April foolishness to the world!  And for Christians, it usually doesn’t end well...in this world.  [pause]  But that’s OK:  Everything has changed because Jesus conquered death.  And so we don’t have to be afraid:  In the final end, it all ends well.  

In the meantime, we remain faithful and loving.  We stay and engage the evil of this planet with a robust — that is with God’s very — mercy, justice, hope, joy and PEACE.  Everything has changed…because of LOVE.  That’s scary.  And that’s good.  It’s what this Gospel is all about: dancing in the rain...for Christ is risen!  

March 30 -- Good Friday

Friends in Christ.  Did you hear that?  They just laid Jesus in the tomb.  That means, it’s finished!  Christ gave up his Spirit, commending himself to God, commending himself to himself if we’re Trinitarians.  This happened, the scripture says, at 3pm.  No more Jesus on the cross this evening.  He was there for 3 hours this afternoon...and three whole worship services here at SVLC this week: on Sunday, last night and all afternoon today.  He’s down at last, and peacefully laying in the tomb!

So now, all we get to do is give thanks...in the garden.

Here’s what I’d call tonight: Tonight’s a “Passover garden party”.  It’s not a funeral reception after a death.  We’re not crying and telling stories about how great Jesus once was.  This is way different.  We know how this is going to turn out!  We know Jesus is going to rise from the dead.  Tonight we just get to linger around the empty cross.  Party in the garden… that is, give thanks and be together.  It is serious, yes, but it’s all good, here in the garden.  Welcome to the garden, friends!

The garden is important: It all started in a garden.  Way back in Genesis.  That’s where Christians understand the fall of humanity to have taken place.  So what better location to redeem humanity (on a cross) than in a garden?!  Lush green trees and plants and flowers everywhere.  (What a blessing that our SD hills are nice and green right now.)  Life, right there where the cross is. “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified,” John says.  Powerful imagery, huh...

...but it’s a party, so that means excess:  More images!  You don’t just have one food item at a party, one drink offering, one friend.  Parties are about lots of good things.  We already have one powerful image: “the garden cross”.  But let’s pile another powerful image on!
Jesus is the Passover lamb!  This is unique to John’s Gospel.  In the other Gospels Jesus is celebrating the Passover himself.  [pause]  He’s around for it...in fact he completely re-defines it!  But he’s there, on Thursday evening in the upper room, right!

In John, Friday is the day of Preparation for the Passover (or Passover Eve) — the paschal feast/passover feast hasn’t happened yet...until Friday night.  The Day of Preparation — Friday/today in John’s Gospel — in the light of day, the priest would literally lead a lamb to the slaughter, and the priest would actually slaughter the lamb...in “preparation” for the Passover feast that night.  Here, Jesus is the lamb, the saving symbol — remember the Exodus story? — so that Death “passes over” the homes where the slaughterd lambs’ blood is painted on the doorposts.  Remember that back in Exodus?

It’s strange, kind of gory stuff for us today, I think.  But it’s the symbol that’s so powerful: here, Jesus himself is the lamb that saves us from death, and then (there’s more!) frees us all from slavery to the oppression of our sin.  Remember the Israelites safely passing through the Sea, escaping the murderous grip of the Egyptians?  That’s sin and death for us, through Jesus!  Because of Jesus we get safely past the jaws of death, and the grip of sin!

So theological!  Is your head spinning?

Here’s a modern image:  from baseball, of course.  Opening Day yesterday!  Perfectly timed for Holy Week illustrations.

You know what image I’m going to use from baseball for this Good Friday in the Gospel of John?

The sacrifice bunt!  Jesus gives himself up to get us home safe.  It’s like we’re on third base, and Jesus squeeze bunts us in!

Jesus brings us home this evening!  And ask any ball player: crossing that plate is the best feeling in the world.  That’s why Good Friday is so good: We’re safe!  We’re free.  We’re alive.  And Jesus, while he just got called “out” isn’t out for good.

This is Love Divine.  Divine sacrificial love.  Baseballs just an image to help us.  Jesus is love divine gushing out for you and for me and for this whole world this night.  Jesus love us — what’s not to love — but Jesus loves everyone.  Even all those people we fail to love!  

Now, having encountered this love — all we can do is give thanks, and turn outward and share it.  First we share our prayers for everyone in the world...

We have this longer prayer tonight, called the Bidding Prayer, because God’s love is so overwhelming, we can’t HELP but turn outward now and pray for every single person and thing in the whole world.  And that’s just the start of our love for them.  We’re not stopping with “thoughts and prayers.”  Jesus washed the feet of his betrayers and told us to do likewise…
We pray too for our enemies and then we wash their feet.  That’s the kind of Divine Love we follow and try to model our lives after.  

So we pray for everyone because God’s love is so overwhelming.  And finally, because God’s love is so overwhelming, we can’t HELP but come bask in the glory of the rough-hewn cross this evening.  Just linger and sing and pray and sit together and give thanks.
To the world, this cross is ugly foolishness.  But to we who are being saved, to we who have been saved, it is the beautiful power and wisdom of God!

This is a GOOD FRIDAY.  THIS IS A GREAT FRIDAY!  Jesus just bunted us home safe.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.