April 29, 2010

The home of God is among mortals

I've been struggling this week. I realized that I had all these hopes and dreams coming out of seminary, but when the realities of day-to-day parish ministry took over, I got complacent, lazy even. Most of my time these days is spent in my office with my fingers on a keyboard. Sure, I'm studying scripture in order to preach the living Word to God's people. Sure, I'm praying for the flock of St. Paul's as well as my wider circle of influence. Sure, I'm doing the work of organizing and planning.

But, as the voice from the throne tells John of Patmos, "The home of God is among mortals." God has always shied away from being pinned to a location. He didn't really want a temple. When his chosen people were exiled to Babylon, they were amazed to find God active even there. God in Nineveh? No way!

According to the Catechism the ministry of a priest is, "to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God." (856, BCP) As you read that job description it sounds like the old chaplain to your members idea of the priesthood, but I think I read the pastor to the people differently than most.

When I read "pastor to the people" my first thought is not shepherd to the flock, but that crazy guy who leaves the 99 behind to search for 1 that was lost. Couple that with God's desire to dwell among mortals, a desire so strong that he deigned himself to become one of us, and I think that the chief responsibility of a priest is to be out, in the world, engaging people of all shapes, sizes, and creeds. Not with a Bible in hand to beat them with, or a collar around my neck to guilt them with, but with passion to show them that a) the church is all about love and b) that love is active all around them whether they know it or not.

It'll take some time and a lot of intentionality to reshape my personal ministry paradigm, but I have to get out of this box that I've built for myself. Sure, it is comfortable, but it is not why God called me to ministry and not why St. Paul's invited me to walk with them.

Pray for me friends, the tunnel ahead is long and dark, but I know the path is straight.

April 27, 2010

Sermon for Easter 4, Year C

I rewrote the ending in the pulpit, but didn't make that change here. You get my drift either way.

There is an age old saying that goes “the eyes are the window to the soul.” So, If you’ll bear with me on this pigged-out weekend, I’d like you to turn to your neighbor, preferably not your spouse if you can help it, and look deeply into their eyes. What do you see? Maybe a sense of humor? Maybe a tinge of sadness? Maybe some honesty? But, do you see their soul? Do you see what they are passionate about? Mostly, all you can see is the toll years have taken. Years of smiles and laughter. Years of tears and heartbreak. Years of allergies. The crisp replacement lens of a cataracts patient. The blank stare of an Alzheimer sufferer knowing that something used to be there. But if we are really honest, the eyes are not the window to the soul.
And this is probably a good thing. Can you imagine trying to get to know someone and all you could do is stare deeply into their eyes? Awkward right? I mean by now you may enjoy looking longingly into your partner’s eyes, then again maybe you don’t. But you most certainly didn’t get to know them exclusively by staring in their eyes. At some point you had to open your mouth and ask questions. It is the answers the these questions that give you a window into the soul. What do you like? What do you care about? What are your passions? What do you do?
This morning, we met someone new. Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, won’t be in our lives for very long, but as one of only a handful of people who died and raised again, we should take some time to get to know her. History tells us very little about Tabitha. She was a disciple, that is to say she walked with and learned from Jesus. She is one of very few women who are given that particular title in Scripture. She was a dressmaker. As far as we can tell, she made very fine clothes; tunics and otherwise that she was able to sell for a very handsome price. Dressmaking was her business, her main source of income, her household economy. Luke adds one other detail to his description of Tabitha; she was, as Luke tells us, dedicated to good works and acts of charity. When she died, the widows, who we can assume were the focus of her good works and acts of charity, gathered to do what people do when someone dies. They gathered at the house to mourn and to tell stories. What is interesting about this particular gathering is that the stories that the widows tell seem to be directly related with the tunics and other garments that Tabitha, the dressmaking disciple who was dedicated to good works and acts of charity, had made.
For Tabitha, dresses were the window to her soul, not because they were beautiful or expensive or for any material reason, but because these were the garments that she used to help the widows of Joppa. She sold them for good money and used that money to help others in the name of Jesus. Those dresses are the window to her soul, and in her soul we see a passion for the downtrodden and impoverished. Tabitha’s soul was filled with the message of Jesus and her life was one of good works, and the dresses told that story. But there are windows into your soul that are even more important.
The tenth chapter of John’s Gospel takes place over the course of three months, and for three months, it seems, Jesus spoke in the metaphor of sheep and shepherd. Finally, at the Feast of Dedication, somewhere in the eight nights of Hanukkah, the crowd had had enough. “Tell us plainly,” they said, “are you the Messiah or not!” Jesus' response was what? It certainly wasn’t to tell them plainly. His response was, “I did tell you,” which John never tells us he did, “but you didn't believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me...”
Jesus didn't speak plainly. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, his words weren’t what was important. Jesus was content to allow his actions speak for themselves. The works he did in his Father's name, works of healing and feeding; works of forgiveness and restoration; works that manipulated nature and turned water into abundantly good wine: these were the window to Jesus’ soul. Windows to his true identity. If people looked through him they would see the Father. If they wanted to know what God cares about, all they needed to do was look at Jesus. If they wanted to see how God treats his sinful and broken creation, they need look no further than Jesus.
And, Jesus says, if you've seen him for who he truly is, if you’ve been able to see through him to his Father, then you are his sheep and you will follow him. Follow him into acts of service. Follow him into compassion for all of God's creation. Follow him to the giving up of self for the betterment of another and to the glory of God. Follow him and be a window to the Father.
The eyes may not be the window to the soul. Tabitha teaches us that everything about us should be a window into our true self, the passions of our soul. People should be able see through us into our passions and our God. Be a window for God. Let people see God's love through what you do and how you live. Let people see God's passion through how you treat your fellow man. Let people see through you that the road to eternal life begins in the here and now. In the words of Peter, “get up!” Get up! Get out of the grave that you’ve made for yourself and be the window for God that he made you to be, and do it in this world, right now. Amen.


"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another."

Almighty God, please make it so that Jesus didn't actually say this. Amen.

I don't know if she remembers it, but there is a woman to whom I probably owe an apology. It was homiletics class and she had just given a sermon that I'm sure was good, but it was about the 10,000,000th "it is all about love" sermon that I had heard at VTS and the first one which I was asked my opinion about. I'd like to think I spoke to her out of love, but my guess is that wasn't the case. I was probably pretty short as I told her what I thought of the "it is all about love" theology that pervaded VTS.

It is all about love, in that context, meant it is all about a very shallow sort of inclusivity. It is about me, personally, and the Church, corporately, blessing everything that everyone does out of love. It was all grace.

Without judgment there is no grace. If I don't deserve punishment, my reprieve doesn't exist. It is lazy and sloppy theology, and it probably wasn't what the woman was saying, but it is what I heard.

So, when we inexplicably return to John's farewell discourse for Easter five and hear Jesus saying, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another" my head begins to swim with the need to preach what love really means. How does loving one another play out in forgiveness and reconciliation? How does it play out in the realities of life? How does it play out when we are called to love as Jesus does? How do we nuance love in 12-15 minutes?

I'm not preaching this week, thanks be to God, but I know I'll be swimming in love language anyway.

April 22, 2010

Symbols as Windows

The old saying goes, "eyes are the windows to the soul." I'm not sure I buy this. I mean, sure, you can see some stuff in peoples eyes, I can tell my daughter is smiling just by her eyes, but there is plenty you can't see. The hollow stare of an Alzheimer's patient does not even begin to tell you the story of her soul, her passion, her life.

Jesus said that his works testified to him. His works were the window to his soul. His acts of mercy for the poor, widowed, orphaned, oppressed showed that he cared for everyone, even those who society said weren't worth the time of day. His literal feeding of the multitudes was a window to the spiritual feeding he hoped to give.

In the Acts lesson for Sunday we hear about Tabitha and her ministry to the widows of Joppa. The garments that were left behind when she died were the window into her soul. Finely crafted and able to be sold for a good price, they would help feed and tend to the widows of Joppa. They were just tunics, but they showed Tabitha's love and her service to the Kingdom.

What testifies to you? What is the window to your soul? Your passion?

Are you gifted in prayer? Is your worn out Prayer Book your window?
Are you gifted in compassion? Is your hug your window?
Are you gifted in helps? Are your dishpan hands your window?
Are you gifted in administration? Is that big event your window?

When people looked through Jesus' works, they saw the Father. When people looked through Tabitha's garments they saw Jesus. What do people see when they look through your window? Is it about you? Or is it about showing the love of God in the world around you?

Symbols that point to us are symbols not worth having. Symbols that are windows to God, well they are worth decorating, cleaning, and showing the world.

April 21, 2010

no one will snatch them out of my hand

In reading some commentaries yesterday two pieces of information seemed especially important. The first is that John 10:22 takes place three months after John 10:21. Jesus, it seems, has been harping on the theme of sheep and shepherd for quite a while. It makes sense then that the crowd would finally say, "just tell us dude!" The second piece of background worth noting is the John's community was by far the most persecuted of the four Gospel Churches.

The persecution shines a bright light on what John chooses to share. That he chooses to share with his community Jesus' promise that "no one will snatch [his sheep] out of his hand" is a powerful statement of faith. Even when things are at their worst, Jesus promises eternal life. He doesn't promise safety. He doesn't promise an easy road. He just promises that he will be there every step of the way.

In this same exchange, with the background of awful persecution shining bright, Jesus also says, "my works testify to who I am." He doesn't say, "hide" or "lay low", but rather reminds his disciples through the challenge of his detractors that just as Jesus' works are a window to his Father, so too are we called to be a window to Him.

It isn't an easy road, but it is a fruitful one, the road called eternal life.

April 20, 2010

What are you looking for?

"The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep."

It is fairly obvious, but this is the difference between those with faith and those without - the ability to, or perhaps better said, the desire to see God at work in the world about them.

Is the miracle of modern medicine strictly human progress or God at work through his creation?

Was that nagging voice that told me to go to Pittsburgh my Sophomore year me being to lazy to put a spring break trip together or God at work helping me to meet my partner in ministry SHW?

Those who belong to the fold learn to see the world through a different set eyes. They learn to see God's hand at work in their lives and in the restoration of the whole creation. Those who choose not to see through those eyes, well they have their explanations too.

What are you looking for? Are you looking for God's work? Are you listening for the shepherd's voice? It is real my friends, hearken to God's voice.

April 19, 2010

on being a shepherd

It is 7:33am on a Monday morning and I am sitting in my living room with FBD watching Baby Einstein. Seriously, who would have thunk it.

I tell you this because this morning I'm realizing how weak my image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is. When we assume that sheep are stupid and need to constantly be led we weaken both our theology of God and of humanity.

In many ways, the relationship I have with my daughter is one of shepherd and sheep. In order for her to learn the ways of this world she needs people who will help keep her within the boundaries but within that space allow her to roam. She needs to learn lessons both about boundaries and about choosing the best of several good options.

That is, essentially, the relationship Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has with us, his sheep. His teaching helps us find the boundaries. His freedom allows us to make mistakes and learn the best of the many good options God has for us.

Don't be a stupid lamb. Learn from the shepherd. Grow in your freedom to roam. Be blessed by the Good Shepherd.

Easter 3, Year C Preaching Weekend

You can find my five15 slideshow here.

And here is my Sunday sermon.
When I was a kid, there was a show on PBS called “Lamb Chops' Play Along” starring Shari Lewis and her rag-tag group of animal friends; Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse, who was my favorite, and several others. Honestly, I would have no reason to remember the show except for the song that played during the closing credits; “The Song that Never Ends.” This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever, just because... this is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends.”
My sister and I would annoy each other, our parents, our selves, whoever we could, with that song. In fact, it popped back into my head on Thursday afternoon, and I've been cursing this sermon ever since. The Song that Never Ends began cycling through my brain as I pondered John's Gospel and slowly came to realize that John's Gospel is the Gospel that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends.
The first time it seems to be over, or at least that's what Pilate, the Chief Priests and the Scribes thought, is at the end of chapter nineteen. Jesus was flogged, mocked, forced to carry his cross, and then crucified. He was dead. So dead that the Roman Soliders who broke bones for fun, didn't even bother with Jesus, he was long gone. So his friends, the few that stuck around, anyway, took him off the cross, wrapped him in a linen cloth and placed him hastily in a tomb. It was finished, Jesus said so himself. The End. Finite. Over. Close Scene and cue porky the pig.
Just as it fades to black, however, the story reopens. John adds a PS. Mary Magdalene headed to the tomb while it was still dark on Sunday morning. She saw that the stone had been rolled away. A flurry of activity involving Mary, Peter, and John follows culminating with Mary, alone again in the garden, crying when a man she thinks is the Gardener calls her by name and she recognizes him as Jesus, her Rabbi, her friend. Jesus instructs her to tell the disciples that he his ascending to his Father. She finds them and utters those famous words, “I have seen the Lord.” Cue the music. Fade to black. That's a Wrap. Jesus just said he was headed to the Father, nothing more to see here. Unless...
John adds a PPS. That evening, the disciples are locked in a room for fear of the Jews and Jesus miraculously appears in the midst of them. He offers them peace, breathes his Spirit upon them, and commissions them for the work ahead. Thomas, one of the twelve, wasn't there and so a week later, the disciples are still huddled in the same room, still with the door locked, and Jesus appears and shows himself to Thomas who recognizes Jesus for who he really is; “my Lord and my God.” This time, John wraps the story up quite nicely by saying “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Twenty chapters. A great work. Send it to the printers. Done and done.
Ahhh... Not so fast. Seems the story still isn't quite finished. John has a P-P-P-S. Jesus shows himself yet a fourth time; this time on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We know from Matthew and Mark's Gospels that Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. So dutifully they go. And they wait. And they wait. We don't know how long they had to wait for Jesus to meet them, but we can assume it was long enough for Peter to get bored. “I'm going fishing,” he says. The rest follow suit. Fishing for them was not a hobby, it was a lifestyle, so they went all out. They got the nets and the boat and began to fish. And they fished. And they fished. And suddenly they had fished all night long and managed to catch nothing. It had been three years since they had fished all night and caught nothing, so you'll have to forgive them for forgetting that what happens next had already happened to them. What happens next is that Jesus shows up.
“You kids haven't caught any fish have you?”
They don't recognize the stranger on the shore line, but his question smacks them in the face.
“No!” they reply. Tom Wright puts an exclamation point on that “no” and I think he's right. These guys are on edge. They've had a pretty wild few weeks. First they came to the Holy City with their Rabbi riding on a Donkey with shouts of Hosanna ringing in the streets. And then, BAM, he was arrested, beaten, and killed. Three days later, Mary Magdalene is saying, “I have seen the Lord,” and that night he appeared to them through a locked door. Their "no" says a whole lot more.
“No! No we haven't caught any fish stranger, and we wouldn't mind if you just left us alone to not catch fish for a little while longer. Thank you very much.”
“Why don't you try the right side. Bet you'll catch something there.” He replies having no doubt heard the bitterness in their two-letter response.
By now the memories are beginning to return. Something inside them is stirring, maybe even their hearts are burning within them as they pull the heavy nets up one more time and heave them to the other side of the boat. And the catch was huge.
“It's the Lord!”
One hundred fifty-three fish!
He takes the fish and bakes it along with some bread over a charcoal fire and suddenly, they are eating breakfast together with their Rabbi. The first breakfast of Easter. "This isn't like their last supper, the last meal of their old life together, this is the first meal of their new life together," as Barbara Brown Taylor calls it – "a resurrection breakfast, prepared by the only one who knows the recipe." The bread has its own imagery – his body broken for the world. The fish has its own imagery – the disciples are called to be fishers of men. But in the end it is about gathering together again, inviting everyone, even Peter, back to the Table, restoring everyone's faith in the Kingdom and then reminding them of their call to follow him. It is a beautiful ending. And after a few more words, John's Gospel finally fades to black.
Except for the P-P-P-P-S. This is, don't forget, the gospel that never ends. It continues on with you and with me. Jesus continues to show up in our lives. He continues to restore our relationships. He continues to call us to follow him, to feed his sheep, and tend to his lambs. The Gospel that never ends goes on and on my friends in you and in me. It goes on in the flow of our life together from confession and forgiveness to breakfast around the Table to being sent out in order to follow Jesus to that next destination, that next work of mercy, that next chance to feed his lambs and tend his sheep.
Where do you find yourself in the Gospel that never ends? Are you, like Mary, called to shout with joy, "I have seen the Lord"? Are you, like Thomas, still unsure of where and how Jesus' resurrection fits into your life? Are you, like Peter, in need of God's forgiveness? Are you, like the rest, being called by Jesus to follow him? Listen for the Lord. He's calling you. He's forgiving you. He's ready for you to serve. This is the Gospel that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started living it, hopeful for what it was, and they'll continue serving God forever, just because this is the Gospel that never ends. Won't you join in? Amen.

April 15, 2010

my apology to the disciples

In tuesday's post I was awfully critical of the seven at the Sea of Galilee. I assumed, as I usually do, that they were oblivious to what was going on. I assumed, as most commentators do, that the act of fishing was, for them, a retreat to the old way, a return to life before Jesus. I assumed that that somehow in the course of less than 40 days they had given up on their resurrected Rabbi.

I no longer think that way, and I hereby offer the seven at the Sea of Galilee my apology.

Waiting is hard. According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus had told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. They didn't travel their to get away from it all, but to regroup. Jesus, like any of us who make a trip home, was busy. He had lots of people to see, and so, while the disciples waited for him, Peter decides to go fishing; not out of a desire to return to the old way, not because he gave up on Jesus, but because Peter liked to fish. But Peter and rest couldn't just throw a line in the water, pop a cold one, and relax. For Peter and the rest, fishing meant filling a boat with nets, pushing out into the Sea, stripping down, and working all night long. It was their habit, it was they only way these men could fish.

They didn't catch anything, but it wasn't because God was punishing them for giving up on Jesus. They didn't catch anything because God was waiting to give them a miraculous catch. God was waiting to mirror their original call to discipleship. God was waiting to assure Peter of his forgiveness.

So maybe they weren't just "Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time." Maybe they were in a lull in the midst of being faithful. Oh that I would take advantage of the time that God gives me in the midst of trying to be faithful.

April 14, 2010

the end?

Most scholars tend to agree that the 21st chapter of John is an epilogue, added later. They argue over when it was added and by who, but I'm not really interested in that piece of the debate. What I care about is why it was added. Why, after the nice, tidy finish of Jesus appearing in the upper room, breathing the Spirit, sending his disciples, reappearing for Thomas' sake, and then John's closing editor's note, does John (or pseudo-John, honestly who cares) then choose to reopen the story?

It reminds me of sitting in a movie theater, seeing the credits begin to roll and saying, "you know what, I'm not leaving yet, something else is coming." And sometimes it does. The best scene in 40 year old virgin is the Age of Aquarius song and dance routine.

John closes the scene and his book at the end of John 20 and then reopens it after a brief pause to say, "And you know what? They didn't get it."

Jesus appeared to them twice. They saw him. They touched him. They heard his commissioning words. The smelled his stinky breath. And then they waited. We don't know how long they waited, though it couldn't have been more than 50 days. And when it didn't seem like he was coming back a third time, they gave up, headed to Galilee and returned to their old lives.

And so the book gets reopened. Jesus comes back for an encore appearance, and this time, does whatever is necessary to get his boys off their butts and into his service. For most of them, it was the chance to be a part of another miraculous catch. For Peter, it was a return to the courtyard, charcoal fire and all, and the chance to say, "I do love you." For the Disciple Jesus Loved (a piece we don't get in the Lectionary) it was the knowledge that he'd be around for a good long while.

And, then, it seems, they got it. So John closes the book again. This time for good.

Today I give thanks that God reopens books and adds chapters of hope and restoration. I give thanks for encore appearances and words and signs that get us moving. I give thanks for second (third, fourth,...) chances.

April 13, 2010

back to work

Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two others are sitting on the dock of the bay... wasting time. John is clear that this is the third time Jesus has appeared to his disciples post-resurrection, and yet they still are wandering, blindly, unsure what to do next.

Peter, for one, decides to resume the routine and go back to work, and the rest follow suit. As the story plays out, however, Jesus' plan has nothing to do with fishing and everything to do with shepherding. Jesus wants Peter and the rest to get back to work, but this work is feeding lambs, this work is tending sheep, this work is preaching, teaching, and healing.

When we aren't living into our call as disciples, all we are doing is wasting time, but if we love God, follow his commands, and go to work; well, then all things are possible.

April 12, 2010

feed, tend, feed

The restoration of Simon Peter is a beautiful albeit puzzling post-resurrection scene. It is lumped in with a miraculous catch story and, at least in Year C, lies alongside the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.

What strikes me at first glance this morning is Jesus' tasking Peter three times.
1- Feed my lambs
2- Tend my sheep
3- Feed my sheep

As the rock upon which the Church is built, it seems to me that this three-fold call to ministry is, for us, a lesson in lifestyle. As so there are many questions left in this peculiar interaction.

Is there, in Jesus' mind, a difference between lambs and sheep?
What is the difference between feeding and tending?

Or, is the only thing that really matters the last thing Jesus says in this pericope?

"Follow me."

April 6, 2010

let everything that has breath praise the Lord

If you know me at all, you know I have a strong dislike of "Contemporary Christian Music." Its production value is usually lame. Its style is at least five years behind. Its system is no different than the big studios. Its artists are pretty and busty and unless they are really really good, there isn't an ugo among them. But mostly, I dislike CCM because it is lazy; its metaphors are lazy, the repetition is lazy, if you are going to praise God then you darn well better do it to the best of your God given abilities.

There are some exceptions. Just about any CC song based on a Psalm falls into my exception category. The Psalms were written to be sung. They were written with to be sung with strong emotion. They were not written to be plainsong to death or chanted by a tired, slovenly music director or read in somber unison by a parish eager to move onto the the sermon.

Psalm 150 can not be read with sadness. Psalm 150 can not be sung as a dirge. Psalm 150 tells you that as it begins with Hallelujah! and ends with "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."

This might prove both sides to my point, but here's a CCM attempt to live into Psalm 150.

April 5, 2010

an idle tale

Yesterday, we heard in the Easter Gospel that the disciples did not believe the women; they thought their story to be an idle tale. Keith named, very helpfully I might add, that there were some in the pews on Easter Day that thought the same thing, this Jesus stuff is just foolishness.

I think the feeling that Jesus has nothing to do with our lives continues to exist because so many of his followers, myself included, fall short of the prayer for Easter 2 by not showing forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.

Believing the Gospel is hard, but living it is near impossible. I want to think of me first. I want to succeed. I want others to pick themselves up. I want to live on easy street. And just about everything I want is completely counter to a faith in a God who allowed his only Son to take on human flesh and die at the hands of the powers that be.

But when we don't live that life, when we say we believe but don't live it out, we make the Gospel foolishness, an idle tale. Grant, Almighty God, that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.

April 2, 2010

Alone - Good Friday

Have you ever asked God for something and never heard a response? Have you every lifted your voice to God in prayer only to have it feel like it hit the ceiling and bounced back to you? Have you ever felt like God was far, far away?

I have. It sucks. It is a very lonely feeling.

I am both an introvert and kind of nerdy, so there were times in high school when it felt like the only one I had was God, and when even He was unavailable, when it was just me, floating in the universe, the feeling was very, very lonely.

This is, I think, the feeling Jesus had in the Garden. I think he felt more alone there then even on the cross. I think the wee hours of Thursday and into very early Friday morning was Jesus' return to the wilderness; the devil's ultimate opportune time.

As we prepare for the death of God, we must prepare for some very lonely times. From noon Friday until early Sunday morning the disciples were completely lost, completely alone, even in the midst of the group.

So too should we, if we are really walking the way of his suffering this week, feel the loneliness of Good Friday. Own it. Know the sadness. Sit in the pain. Its Friday, and though we know Sunday's comin', it ain't here yet.

April 1, 2010

Homily for Wednesday in Holy Week

I don't know anything about sheep, and neither it seems, does Bishop Tom Wright, but he at least knows people who know about sheep. A priest near Cambridge reported to Bishop Wright that when sheep are take to be killed, they know instinctively that the slaughterhouse is a bad place. They can smell or sense something which warns of danger. The truck carrying them stops, the gangplank is put down, and the sheep refuse to move. But those who are paid to kill sheep are crafty, and they devised a way of getting around the problem of wise and stubborn animals. Slaughterhouses keep a sheep on the premises, who is used to the place and does mind it any more. They take it up the plan and into the truck, and then it walks down again quite happily. The other sheep, seeing one of their own leading the way, will follow. The slaughterhouse workers call this sheep 'Judas.'
Satan wanted the Son of God dead. Satan wanted his final victory, but the people were stubborn. Jesus entered the Holy City to cries of "Hosanna!" He had been to the Temple and left it a wreck; literally turning upside down everything the people thought they knew about relationship with God. He taught his disciples that they could move mountains, that whatever they prayed for they could get, BUT that in order to receive forgiveness they first had to forgive. And the people didn't get whipped up into a frenzy. They didn't get angry at his blasphemy. They didn't try to kill him themselves. Instead, as Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us, they were amazed at his teaching. So much so that even the chief priests and the scribes knew they couldn't touch him out of fear that the crow would riot.
Satan is crafty. He had his Judas on the inside. Satan knew that the only way to get to Jesus would be to get someone from his inner circle, one who would know when Jesus had stolen away for a few minutes alone, to turn him over to them. And once Judas went down the ramp, once Judas, one of the twelve, chose darkness over light; well then the rest would follow. And follow they did. The crowd that was amazed on Monday was, by early Friday morning, crying out "Crucify him!" And it only took one person to get the ball rolling, Judas.
Satan is crafty, but God is craftier. God is the craftiest because John's text does not end at verse 30, "As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night." The story does not end in darkness. Without skipping a beat, it seems, Jesus is back to shining the light. He knows what the next four days are going to look like. He knows about the Garden, where even his closest friends will fail him by falling asleep. He knows about his arrest. He knows about the late-night passing of the buck. He knows that Friday will bring with it whips and wood and wailing, but ultimately, Jesus knows that Friday will not be a "Bad Friday." Friday will indeed be a "Good Friday."
When Judas was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him." Now God's plan for salvation is made complete. Now Satan's prideful trap has been set. The Son of God will die, but death will not be the end. The light will shine even in the midst of deep darkness. Satan is crafty, but God is good. It only took one man to get the ball rolling toward the Cross. It only took one man to take make that Cross reveal God's glory and and turn it into a symbol of God's great triumph. As we continue to walk with Jesus along the road of his suffering, may we remember that the devil prowls at every turn, but God's victory has been secured. May we not fall into the trap of Judas and follow instead our Savior to his glory. Amen.

Mandate Thursday

"Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me."

"Drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."

"If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."

Maundy Thursday is, quite possibly, the most counter-cultural day in the Church year. Even the most skeptical will bear with us as we eat the bread and drink the cup. They might roll they're eyes as we pray, but its what Christians do. When we talk of the Spirit and how she moves and leads, they'll talk of fate or the universe.

But when we wash each other's feet - that's serious. Feet were gross in Jesus time. Feet are gross now. And yet, once a year, we live into the Mandate of Christ, "If I've done it, you also ought to do it." We set aside all our pride, all our dignity and stoop down to wash the dirty, stinky feet of one who we might only know in passing. It is hugely counter-cultural and the central message of Jesus - we are servants.

When we serve one another, we serve God, and tonight, as we wash each other's feet, we are both Christ doing the washing and Christ being washed. May we take seriously this day Christ's mandate to serve, even to the point of washing one another's feet.