Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter 2014

Matthew 28:1-10, Easter A, April 20, 2014 

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Empty Child

The Doctor is a troubled man because he has experienced so much death and destruction in his many years. It seems like as soon as he begins to care for a new companion, he loses that person. Each mission that he encounters, almost always somebody dies. Whether that person is for him or against him, the Doctor grieves whenever a life is lost. Almost everywhere he turns, he faces the death of others, and sometimes his own death as well. 

So, when he meets a young child wearing a gas mask who cries out, “Mummy? Are you my Mummy?” he is grieved to his heart. When he finds others with the same affliction, he seems lost and confused. He wants to heal these people from their calamity, but he isn’t sure how.

Good Friday
Even in our own lives, we are faced with misfortune. We too have lost loved ones. We have been with others as they grieve over whatever tragedy they just experienced. We have known times that remind us of Good Friday. Just three days ago, we remembered how all of humanity played a role in Christ’s death. We walked with him to the cross. We shouted, “Crucify him!” We cried for this man that we love. 

But the story didn’t end there. We may have put Jesus to death, but God did not let that be the final word. Indeed, Easter is God’s response to Good Friday. God raised Jesus from the dead, and in so doing, God also saved the world. We all have life everlasting because Jesus died for us and God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ death and resurrection are two sides to the same coin. 

Resurrection retold
This turn from despair to hope, from gloom to joy is what we see in the Gospel lesson. Early on Sunday morning, it is about three days after his crucifixion. Two women, both named Mary want to pray near Jesus’ body. So, they go to the tomb.

As they approach it, the earth shook violently. They saw a man glowing in bright white clothing descend from heaven. They watch as man rolls away the stone and sits upon it. He must be an angel of the Lord. The Roman guards shake with fear and faint. Then the angel looks both Marys in the eyes. He tells them, “Do not fear.” Clearly, he has a prophetic message to share.

He continues, “I know that you seek Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here. He has been raised. Come! See the place where he was lying.” Here is unexpected yet good news for these ladies. They no longer need to grieve because the man they care about is not in the tomb. He is alive again!

Then the angel sends them on their way: “Quickly! Go. Tell his disciples that he was raised from the dead. Behold! He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now, here is something special. The angel sends the Marys to find the disciples and send them back home to Galilee. At that time, women had no legal authority, and their testimony could not be trusted. When they share the good news with the disciples, will they believe?

Awestruck by this angel and overjoyed that Jesus is alive, they run. Before they can reach the disciples, something amazing happens! Before their very eyes they see Jesus standing there in front of them. He says to them, “Greetings!” as if nothing has happened. Without missing a beat, they bow down before him, grasping his feet and praising him. Then Jesus says to them, 

“Do not be afraid. Go. Tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” Just like the angel said to do, Jesus also tells these women to send the disciples to Galilee. By calling them his brothers, in a way, Jesus implies that he has forgiven his ten who abandoned him and Peter who denied him. This is how Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and Mary his mother.

The Doctor Dances

Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaim God’s love to the world, starting that blessed day two thousand years ago and continuing today. Because of this, we can experience resurrected life here, now. We see a glimpse of this in how the Doctor responds to the child with the gas mask.

When the disaster is averted and the people are restored, the Doctor shocks his companion Rose when he is so overjoyed. The Doctor lifts up the child, ecstatic that the boy is healthy and reunited with his Mummy. With all of the others healed, the Doctor exclaims, “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives.” This somber man’s face lights up brighter than ever before.

Our Resurrected Life
This is what resurrected life looks like. This turn from deepest despair to great joy. Those moments of healing and restoration that bring a smile to your face. The news of a new birth, or a new job, or a successful treatment. In those moments, we know that Christ is alive. 

Resurrected life is like a woman’s body racked with disease being able to give birth and breastfeed.

Resurrected life is like an old building left vacant that now hosts a community theater.

Resurrected life is found in the two children baptized on the river this morning.

Resurrected life is found in you and me.

Resurrected life is like a sad, brooding man who can find a way to smile and shout with joy, “Everybody lives!”

What will you do with your resurrected life?  The angel and Jesus both tell the Marys to Go. Tell. We also are charged with this task. We can share our resurrected joy with the world! In word or deed, we can be the good news that others need to find. Like Kid President advised this week, “Tell a really good story with your life. Make it the kind of story people tell to remind each other how awesome things can be.”

Everybody lives. Just this once, everybody lives. So, go, tell the world how awesome life in Christ can be. Amen.

Good Friday

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

In the past weeks, the media has been covering the murder trial of Reeva Steenkamp. Although this trial is a world away in South Africa, America is curious about what happened to Oscar Pistorius. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, the world watched as this poster child sprinted around the track. 

A double amputee, we all wondered how dedicated this man must be to qualify for the regular Olympics, let alone the Paralympics that would follow. We were inspired by Oscar Pistorius. When he shot his girlfriend, we felt betrayed. Sure, it was his girlfriend lying dead on the floor, yet he betrayed our image of him. He was no longer a poster child for perseverance.

Sometimes betrayal hits a lot closer to home. There are certain places in public where we expect our privacy to be kept safe. Every time that we enter a public restroom, we trust that custodians keep the area clean, and we trust the building owners to keep the stalls away from prying eyes. We recently learned that one elementary school in Davenport was not so safe. 

Dishon Isabel betrayed the trust of his coworkers and the students he served when he placed cameras in a girls restroom. Now that entire school is recovering from the shock, disgust, and invasion of their privacy. We all can’t help but look around at the people we trust and wonder, “Are they capable of committing such a crime?” Public bathrooms don’t feel quite so safe anymore.

Sometimes betrayal hurts the masses. Paying bills, shopping, and checking account balances online are pretty standard practice for most of us. Life is easier when we can do these chores from the comfort of our own homes. Before providing personal data online, we are careful to check for the “https:” at the front of the web address. If the symbol to the left of the URL is a lock, then we know that we are safe. 
That was until last Monday, at least. On April 7, the media exposed what is now called “Heartbleed,” a flaw in OpenSSL that is used to securely transfer private data. Although unknown who has accessed this available data, it has been out there for quite some time. Now we all are rushing to check all of the websites that we use, change passwords, and even consider how our routers and mobile devices might be impacted. We want to trust that our personal data is safely locked away when we log out of various websites. We have been betrayed by almost everyone online. 

When we put our trust in individuals and institutions, we expect that they will protect our confidences. Yet time and time again, public figures and our very own family and coworkers turn against us. Sometimes it seems that no one can provide safety. Even so, the betrayals that we experience seem minute compared to what Jesus experienced. A murder trial in South Africa, a camera in a bathroom, even a security flaw are all trivial compared to what Jesus experienced during his last days. 

By the time he breathed his last, almost everyone had turned on him. Although Judas’ betrayal is most famous, so many others did so as well. Some publicly mocked and beat Jesus. Others simply ran away, afraid for their own safety.  

The text in John is so quick to judge Judas. Of the eight times that the gospel of John mentions Judas by name, he is either referenced as the one who betrays Jesus, or he is in the act of betraying. John makes it clear that the role that Judas plays in the gospel is to hand Jesus over to the Jewish leaders. Where our passion reading begins, Judas approaches Jesus in one of his favorite spots, knowing that he would be vulnerable there. Judas brought with him a large number of Roman soldiers and Jewish police. They were armed with lanterns and weapons. 

Now in the hands of the Jewish authorities, Jesus was put on trial. Annas and Caiaphas the chief priest, believed that it was better to have one person die “for the people.” So, they were determined to put Jesus to death. Unable to kill him on their own authority, they handed him over to Pilate shouting “Crucify him!” and “We have no king but the emperor.” This last one was the worst betrayal of all. Not only are they denying Jesus’ divinity, but they also are denying the Lord’s role as their king. These religious leaders betrayed Jesus and God in the same breath. 

Pilate is the last one with an opportunity to save Jesus. After interrogating him, he finds Jesus innocent. He does not think that Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God is a crime, yet he hands Jesus over to be flogged and mocked. Then, once again Pilate proclaims that Jesus is blameless, but he hands Jesus over to be killed. Out of fear of a potential riot, Pilate disregards Jesus’ innocence. 

Each of these people acted out of self-interest. They were afraid for their lives and their jobs, so they did what they had to do to protect themselves. In the process, they betrayed Jesus to the point of death. Despite everyone turning their back on him, Jesus continued to offer himself for us. 

At the last, Pilate hands Jesus over to death. As John portrays him, Jesus was in control of his fate the entire time. He knew that he needed to offer himself as a new Passover lamb, so he did. He never resisted any of his opposers. Instead, he willingly went to Golgotha. Upon the cross, he did not cry out in anguish. He did not show his suffering. Instead, he simply said, “It is finished.” Then his earthly life was over. 

Jesus died for you, that you might have life eternal. Jesus died for all, that the world might be saved through him. Jesus died for good, but not forever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Palm Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54, Palm/Passion A, April 13, 2014 

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Time and time again, our media turns on celebrities. Especially child stars like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Lindsay Lohan. They become famous when they are young and innocent, yet our nation’s media cannot wait until they fall from grace. Each of these stars has turned away from innocent stardom to try out overt sexism, breaking the law, and illegal drugs. In some ways, the media and - we as well - enjoy when they turn bad.

These young people face immense pressure from everywhere they turn. Their work requires intense focus and long hours. They have dedicated themselves to their craft before they may have even known what is all involved. Then, when they leave their recording studios, they are hounded by the paparazzi and other media. They are constantly invited to rowdy parties where they are exposed to all sorts of illegal activities. With so many pressures and power-hungry people around them, it is no wonder that they have fallen from grace.

In a different way, the people in our government are power-hungry as well. Both parties want control over the houses and senates where they serve, and they want control over their people too. Some of the elected leaders - of state governments in particular - have decided that they need to have control over women’s bodies. Dubbed the “War on Women,” men have been trying to turn back time by overhauling any social progress that was made in the past forty years. 

By reducing access to women's clinics, some women's health will suffer. With the gender pay gap, women are still not earning as much as men in equal jobs. 

The media and the government are only two examples of how selfish our nation is. They show us how self-serving, power-hungry, and destructive we are. Why do we enjoy other people’s pain so much? Why are we so bloodthirsty? Why do we want to control everything and everyone?

These examples show us how our society has not changed a bit since the time of Jesus. We see this in how the Roman government, the Jewish leaders, and the crowds are described in Matthew. As we read the passion narrative, we became the Jewish leaders and the crowds. We stepped into their places and surprised ourselves how we so willingly and defiantly proclaimed, “Let him be crucified.”

Truly, we did kill Jesus. Over and over again. Every year, we shout out, “Crucify him!” Every year, we don’t just hear this story, but we participate in it. We are no better than the Romans who beat and mocked Jesus. We are no better than the Jewish leaders who could not fathom that this Jesus truly could be God’s son. We are no better than the crowds who blindly followed whoever spoke the loudest. 

Every year, we are just as much in need of a savior as the year before. Jesus died at the hands of aggressive people just like us. As one scholar noted, “The world could not tolerate the presence of the Savior.” (Sermon Brainwave #347) Jesus, God incarnate, walked among us, teaching, preaching, and healing. Yet somehow all the good that he did made us feel uncomfortable. In the end, we mocked Jesus, thinking that we had won. How wrong we were. 

Thank God Jesus’ story isn’t over yet. Amen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The blind man sees

John 9:1-41, Lent 4 A, March 30, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The following is an imaginary conversation between the gospel writer and the characters from chapter 9. The format is similar to the commentary The Five Books of Miriam by Ellen Frankel.

(Responding to verses 1-5) The formerly blind man considers, “I suffered from blindness for most of my life, and I was ridiculed and rejected because of it. If this was not because of my sins or my parents sins, why did I have to suffer for so long?”
The evangelist John responds, “Not only your suffering, but everyone’s suffering is not directly related to their sins or to their relationship with the Lord. The Lord blessed you, however, by healing your eyes. You should be grateful that you could see for even one day. You were able to join your peers in a way that most of the ostracized never are able to.”
(Responding to verses 6-12) The man who was blind asks, “Why me? There are so many blind people in the towns and along the roads. Why did Jesus heal me? I am nobody.”
One of Jesus’ disciples replies, “It is exactly because you consider yourself ‘nobody’ that Jesus healed you. To my Rabbi, everyone is somebody and deserves to experience life to the fullest. Whenever Jesus sees someone who is shut out from society, he wants to help them.”
The formerly blind man continues, “So many people must ask Jesus to heal them. I hadn’t heard that he was special, nor did I even think to ask for him to heal me. Did Jesus really want to heal me just because I was sitting by the road?”
Jesus’ disciple answers, “It is true that many whom Jesus heals come before him requesting to be healed. Sometimes, he heals because they believe, but not always. Jesus healed you so that you might reveal God’s works to those who do not believe in Jesus.”
(Responding to verses 13-17) The Pharisees wonder, “Who is this man named Jesus? He doesn’t respect the Sabbath or other Jewish rituals, so he doesn’t appear to be a Jew. Yet he is able to perform such a miraculous sign. How could he be a sinner? The man who was blind says that he is a prophet. His identity is a mystery to us.”
John the Evangelist retorts, “How can you see Jesus right before you and not believe? How can you see the man that he healed and not realize who he is? Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus heals on the Sabbath because he saw someone who needed healing. He would not be around to return sight to this man a day later. Because Jesus is God, Jesus can do what God does - love the world deeply, always. Even on the Sabbath.”
(Responding to verses 18-23) The formerly blind man shares, “I would like my parents to know that I did not appreciate how they did not stand up for me. They were protecting themselves instead of rejoicing in my newfound sight. Could they truly have been that afraid of the Jewish leaders?”
His parents defend themselves, “You do not understand the depth of fear that we felt when we stood before the Jewish authorities. Yet, despite our apprehension, we did not lie; we shared the most basic facts about your healing. Just as you were pushed aside by our people when you were blind, we were afraid that we would never be able to attend the synagogue again if we professed faith in Jesus. We wanted to be able to celebrate with you in the synagogue.”
(Responding to verses 24-29) The Jewish leaders comment, “We have read the Hebrew Scriptures and we believe what is recorded there. Then this Jesus comes along and rejects much of what we hold dear in our faith. He is breaking our laws and acting with authority and ability that no human should have. Why should we respect him if he does not respect us?”
Jesus’ disciples interject, “You still cannot comprehend how Jesus can be a Jew, can you? Jesus did not reject any laws; in fact he intensified the laws that matter most. Jesus did not heal on the Sabbath to disturb you. He healed on the Sabbath because he saw a man who could not see. He healed this man so that he could bring glory to God!”
(Responding to verses 30-34) The evangelist John remarks, “You who were blind, how bold you are! You saw how your parents refrained from stating anything about Jesus. You knew that your right to worship in the synagogue was at stake. Where did you get the strength?”
The man who was blind answers, “Simple. The Jewish leaders had asked the same questions so many times by this point that I was getting angry. They clearly did not believe me at my word; they wanted more. I think they secretly wanted me to proclaim that Jesus was from God. Honestly, by this time, I truly believed it too. Jesus must be from God to be able to heal me like that!”
(Responding to verses 35-41) John the Evangelist asks the man who was blind, “What was it like to see Jesus face to face? I was not alive when Jesus walked the earth. I can only imagine what an experience that must have been!”

The formerly blind man replies, “Yes, hearing Jesus tell me directly that he is the Son of Man was exhilarating. After all that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders put me through, I was so glad to meet Jesus again. Jesus’ few words reaffirmed for me that all of my stress after the sign was worth it. I sat by the road for so much of my life, begging and wishing that I could participate in the life of my community. Then Jesus smears some mud on my eyes, I wash the mud away, and I can see. Then with my newly healed eyes I look upon Jesus himself. I hear him proclaim that he is the one that we all have been waiting for. Jesus truly is the light of the world!” Amen.