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the sermon for

the Resurrection of Our Lord

01 April, 2018

topical: holy baptism
In baptism, god doesn't, simply, change us.
God changes the way others see us!

Dear Emma (or should I say, Emma Dawn),

04012018It's around eleven o'clock, Easter morning. And about now, I should be preaching a sermon. But, this morning, I figure I'd write a letter to you, instead. You see, a little while ago, you were baptized and, chances are, at three months old, you won't remember any of it. Yes, you were cute. You smiled through the whole thing. And naturally, you didn't make any fuss at all. You were very patient with us, from beginning to end. Your mom turned you on your back, put your head over a bowl of water, and Lanie scooped up three shellfuls of water and poured them over your head. And just like that, you were baptized! Freed from sin and death! Joined to the dying and rising of Christ! Born a child of a fallen humanity; reborn a child of god! At least, that's how the hymnal puts it!

But between you and me, I think you were all of that, before today! Freed and joined and reborn, that is! I don't think baptism, really, changed you all that much and you were the same person carried away from the font that you were carried to it! God loves you, baptized or not! Loved you as much then as god loves you now! What happened, a little bit ago, was more for our sake than it was for yours! Sure, you were carried to the font and you were the one baptized. But it was so that we could see and hear and say, "Amen!" True, you'll never remember what happened, today. But we will! And you'll remember through us!

Your life's just beginning. And there'll be a whole lot more that you'll have to remember. The world's an amazing place, filled with wonder! Life's an adventure! Each breath! Every heartbeat! There'll be things that surprise you! And there'll be things that astonish! And what happened, this morning, isn't about where you go when all it's all over, when it all comes to an end. It's about who you are, about who you become, right here and right now!

The world IS an amazing place. But I have to tell you, it has its moments. There are times when it can be callous and unfeeling. If you haven't figured it out by now, we love you! But not everyone will. Not like us, anyway. Most won't notice that you're there and, even if they do, they won't care. The world will try to teach you not to expect too much from anyone. That it's all up to you. That life is what you make it. People will tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to. And then, when you try, when you do, they'll do their best to hold you back, put on limits, draw lines. They'll tell you it's all about accomplishing, achieving. Shoulder to the wheel. Nose to the grindstone. Pull yourself up. But the moment you show weakness, the moment you, no longer, can or can or will...

Well, that's why we brought you, here, this morning! High mountains make deep valleys. And bright lights cast long shadows. And those valleys and shadows have a way of making us feel smaller, less. We forget how special we are. How important we are. How much our life matters. So today, god wanted – we wanted – to tell you, to show you, that there is always us! When the world gets deep... and dark... you always have us! You'll always have us and we'll always have you! Even if you don't remember... even if you can't remember... we will! This moment! This day! This place god has given you! Among us! Among everyone like us! The world is an amazing place! But this place! This is the real world! Out there's the exception! In here's the rule! Inside these walls! Behind these windows and doors!

God could have waited to do what god did, this morning. Could have waited until you were older. Could have waited until you could remember on your own. But then, if god had done that, you wouldn't need us! You wouldn't need us to do your remembering for you! And so, you have us to have and to hold! At least, for a while! And we may not be giants, but you can stand on our shoulders, just the same.

And if there is anything we can teach, learn to believe in the sunrise! Learn to trust the warmth! Learn to have faith in tomorrow! Because that's Easter! That's the resurrection! Day always follows night! Spring always follows winter! And life always rises from the earth and the ashes and the dust! And love always – always – has the last word!

Bring good news to the poor! Proclaim release to the captives! Let the oppressed go free! Feed the hungry! Give the thirsty something to drink! Clothe the naked! Welcome the refugee! Defend the rights of the needy and poor! Learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. Change the world! Make it new! Recreate it in your own image! After all, that's what god has done, this morning! We listened! And we watched! As you became the person you have always been! A child of god! A sister of Christ! You may not know that, now! But we do! We do! By the love god has shown you – has shown us, this morning – god continues saving the world!

So, today, without a doubt, is a special day. For you! For us, as well! You were surrounded by family and friends, some of whom – most of whom – you'll, probably, never know. But there will be others, others just like us, who will do what we were asked to do! Remind you of this moment! When you were carried forward! When three shells full of water were poured over you head! Because it was in the splashes and the splatter that we heard god whisper! And in the cross that was traced on your forehead, we saw god kiss you!

Emma Dawn! Child of god! You have been sealed! You have been marked! And we will not forget! We will remember for you! We will remember forever!

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the sermon for

Good Friday

30 March, 2018

John 18:1-19:42
And this is love!

03302018I'd heard somewhere, sometime, that what you experience when you were thirteen years old shapes the way you understand the world. Sure, you have those twelve years before, and all the years after. But that thirteenth year is different, unique. It makes the biggest impact. It has the greatest influence. And it becomes a kind of default setting for life. For my dad, it was Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into WW2. For me, it was 1968! The U.S. had been in Vietnam for over a decade, by then. It would the be bloodiest year of the war. Sixteen thousand six hundred Americans would die in 1968, alone. The Tet Offensive. The My Lai Massacre. Antiwar demonstrations. Sit ins. Draft cards burned. Civil rights. The Black Panthers. Eldridge Cleaver. Sixty-Eight was the year Dr. King was murdered and the riots that followed. Baltimore, MD. Washington, D.C. New York City, NY. Detroit, MI. Louisville, KY. Pittsburgh, PA. Miami, FL. The Women's Movement. The assassination of Bobbly Kennedy. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago. And the Stonewall Riots and Gay Pride looming on the horizon. And that's just a part of it! What we're going through, today, as a nation is nothing compared to 1968. But that's what shaped me, what inspired me. Me and all the others who turned thirteen, at the time.

And looking back, now, I realize we were just as afraid, then, as we are today. We were, like we are, looking for a way out of it. A way through it. A way to peace. A way to tranquility. No more war. No more hatred. No more anger. Jesus Christ Superstar! Godspell! The Jesus Movement! It was all a part of the hunger, the longing. It was all part of the backlash. And it's no accident, no coincidence, that the number sixty-six song of all time had it's roots in 1968...

When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars,
then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars!

The whole world was looking for that age of love and light and humanity! Everyone was waiting for that Age of Aquarius! Today, all that's left of that time are the mass-produced tie-died t-shirts at Joe's Crab Shack. "Peace, Love, and Crabs!" But back then, when the world was going crazy, everyone was looking for some higher power! To make sense of it all! To make it all go away! And the church was silent. At least, my church never said a thing. We just pulled down the blinds, turned off the lights, and pretended that no one was home. The world was looking for a savior! The world was yearning, craving for love. It was on all the placards! In all the songs! And I can't remember that we said anything. And it shouldn't surprise us, but it was from that moment that the church began to shrink. To get smaller. To turn grayer. As the kids walked away and never came back. The kids. The grandkids. And now, the great grandkids, as well.

And when it was all over, when the craziness passed, the need for love went with it. It became nothing more than one more fad, one more craze, just like the hula-hoop. Hippies became Yuppies. And Woodstock was replace with Wall Street. And love – what little love remained – vanished. It, simply, dried up and blew away, until nothing... nothing remained. You see, the love we'd "found" back then, the love we'd "discovered", had no substance, no shape, to it. Nothing to hold onto. Nothing to sink your teeth into. And by the mid-Eighties, it has become nothing more than a second-hand emotion. What's love got to do with it?

Well, it's Good Friday – Holy Friday – once again. Suffered under Pilate. Crucified. Died. Buried. Descended to the dead. And for us, for the church, for god's own, this! This is love! For us, this is what love looks like! For us, this is what love sounds like! For us, this is what love feels like! God so loves the world... and this is what happens! This is what happens when you love with all your heart and mind and strength! This is what happens when you love your neighbor as yourself! This is what happens when you turn the other and go the extra and do unto! It's more – much more – than just being nice and polite. This is real, honest-to-god, down-to-earth love! And frankly, we should have said that a long time ago! This love isn't simply a lyric in a song or an emotion. It's not a thought or an idea. It's solid! It's concrete! The kind of love that has staying power. That will never go away. No matter what house the moon is in or how the planets line up. Love is! Love endures! Love remains!

We'd gone through two world wars! We'd fought in Korea! We were involved in a Cold War! In a hot war in Vietnam! Everything was coming apart at the seams! And people wanted to know they weren't forgotten! They wanted to know that their lives mattered! That they were important! That they meant something! Even then! Even there! They wanted to know they were loved! Loved and loved deeply! And we wonder why they walked away and never came back. They didn't want more words. They didn't need more prayers. They didn't need the windows or the songs, the organs or the candles or the robes. This! This cross! This body broken! This blood shed! This is what they wanted! This is that they wished for! This is what they dreamed of! It was the love! It was always the love! And they never knew it existed. The warm glow of candles on a Christmas Eve? The sweet smell of lilies on an Eater morning? Those things are all well and good. But this... all this... here... now... is love!

And the good news? They're still looking for it! They're still seeking! Still searching! All those people who never found it back then! And they've never given up! It's been here, right here, all along, in plain sight. Here in the silence! Here in the shadows! Far from the crowds! It's here, on Good Friday, Holy Friday, that god reaches out to us and takes us in his arms! It's here that god holds us close and never lets us go! Love's not a thought or an idea! It's not chemistry or emotion! Candlelight and soft music! Goosebumps and butterflies! It's a promise! A sacrifice! A cross! This is love!

This is what we should have pointed to, a half a century ago! We should have been saying, "Look! Here it is!" And that is what we should be saying, today! Saying the same thing, right here and right now! "In this is love! Not that we loved god, but that god loved us! Loved us and sent the son!" Love us and sends the Son, still! And since god loved us so much, we, also, ought to love!

My friends, god loves us! And that's not written in the stars, but in god's holy, precious blood! In god's innocent suffering and dying! This is love!

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