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the sermon for

the Sunday of the Passion

09 April 2017

the Prayer of the Day
What god does, god does for everything...
or for nothing, at all!

04092017It must be over six months ago, now – back toward the middle or end of last Summer – when one of the members of the caregivers support group came up to me and said someone should nominate Anneliese Hyde to be one of the fifty-two faces in the newspaper! (Anneliese is the unofficial director of our caregiver's afternoon off ministry and "Fifty-Two Faces" is a page in Monday's edition that "recognizes Midland's unsung heroes and volunteers.") I agreed. Someone should. Well, a couple weeks later, the person looked me up, again, and clarified his comment. I should nominate her! So, I did.

In the process, I became Anneliese's proofreader! Apparently, the paper sends out a questionnaire to everyone chosen that serves as the basis for the article. And there was one response that caught my attention. It was a quote by a man Ms. Hyde describes as her hero... Albert Schweitzer! "What we call love," he said, "in its essence is reverence for life." "What we call love in its essence is reverence for life." Now there was nothing about the quote, in and of itself, that piqued my interest. But it did get me thinking. I knew a little about Dr. Schweitzer. He'd written a book that was mentioned in seminary. In Search of the Historical Jesus. Bible scholar. Organist. Philosopher. Nobel Prize winner. Medical doctor. Missionary. And what I hadn't known, Lutheran pastor. But I'd never read anything he wrote. So, I ordered a book and read it. And the more I read it, the more I saw what Anneliese admired. And a few weeks ago, when I read through the prayer of the day for Palm Sunday – the Sunday of the Passion – my thoughts turned, immediately, to the good doctor!

"Everlasting God," we prayed,
"in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Dr. Schweitzer would have had a problem with that prayer. Not with the endless love part. After all, he was a Lutheran! But he would have had a problem with the human race part. That kind of love would have been too small for him to accept. Too narrow. Too focused. You see, Schweitzer believed that what god did in Jesus, god didn't do just for the human race. But what god did, god did for the whole world, for the entire cosmos, for all creation! For every one and for every thing!

We, as believers, are so fixated on people! We're so obsessed with the human race! So much so, we limit god's love! Our dreams, here, in this place, are of a world populated only by human beings! By human beings and by angels who look, very much, like us! But Dr. Schweitzer says, "No!" We're wrong! That understanding of love is incomplete! Inadequate! God loves it all! The planet! The galaxy! The universe! And when Jesus rescues, when he redeems, he rescues and redeems it all! Not just people, not merely homo sapiens, but all of it!

"Everlasting God," we prayed,
"in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ..."

For us, we're the only thing that matters! The only thing that's important! And we could care less about all the rest! Disposable! Throw away! Nonrefundable! The popular vision of the end time is heaven and earth rolling up like one of those old-timey, spring-loaded window shades! Everything nonhuman vanishing into thin air! No. The story we read, a few moments ago, is a story just about people! Peter, James, John! Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate! No stars, no moon, in the sky! No clouds floating! No birds flying! No breeze in the grass or the trees! No crickets chirping! No dogs barking! It's just people! Only people!

It's like one of those modern dramas performed on an empty stage. No sets. No backdrop. Everything left up to the imagination. But reading the little bit of Dr. Schweitzer that I did, I know there's more to it than that! Not simply people, but creation itself! Creation – like us – waits just as eagerly, just as longingly! Creation, too, yearns to be set free! It groans! It hopes! It, even, believes! But, of course, every preschooler knows that! When they ask if their fish... or their dog... or their hermit crab... will go to heaven! They want to know that even the lowest, the least, really, truly matter to god! That even the lowest and the least, will not be forgotten! The prayer for the day says no. Or at the least, it says nothing. God is concerned with people. Only with people.

Dr. Schweitzer, though, says, "Yes! Of course! Absolutely!" God made it all! Jesus died for it all! God loves it all! From the smallest atom to the largest star! From here to Andromeda and beyond! What we're about to see played out, again, these next few days... It's because god loves it all! Everyone! Everything! The rocks and rills! The woods! The templed hills! The purple mountain's majesty! The amber waves of grain! It's not just us god is saving! It's not just people that are being salvaged! It's everything!

"All things came into being through him!" That's how John puts it! "All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being!" That's the way it was in the beginning! And that's the way it is, the way it will be! It's all or it's nothing! Life surrounds us! In the firmament! On the dry land! The sun, moon, stars! The swarms of living creatures... in the air, the sea! When Jesus suffered, he suffered for all that! He died, was buried, descended, rose! For all creation! From the largest to the smallest! The nearest to the most distant! Creation matters! It's important! It means something! And it's worth the sacrifice of god's own Son!

Creation isn't something to be used up and tossed aside like a paper cup. It's something to be saved! To be redeemed! To be delivered! For it, for it all, as much as for us, Christ suffered and broke and bled and died! And that prayer we offered doesn't say nearly enough! "Everlasting God, in your endless love not just for the human race,... But in your endless love for it all! For the land and the sky! For the mountains and the plains! For the grass and the flowers and the trees! For the oceans and the lakes, the rivers and streams! Even for the palm trees and the peach trees and the lilies! In you endless love for all creation, you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross!"

And this... this is the week! This is the day! This is the hour! So, my friends, don't bow your heads and, definitely, don't close your eyes! Instead, hold them up and take a look – a good, long look – around! This, ALL of this, is the reason! For god so loved it all! That endless love? That is good news! For the human race? That is better news! For all creation? That is the best news of all! And that is a prayer for which, even Dr. Schweitzer, could say, "Amen!"

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the sermon for

the Fifth Sunday in Lent

02 April 2017

John 11:1-45
Darkness may try to overcome the light,
but it never will!

Every Monday morning, the routine is, pretty much, the same. Post a meme on our GospelCrossWords page on Facebook and, then, type the sermon from the day before, and, then, print a hardcopy for my files. But just before I do that, I summarize the sermon in a handful of words. Kind of like a topic sentence, only after the fact! Most of the time, it's pretty simple. But last week, I had a couple of ideas floating around in the sermon at the same time! And I wasn't quite sure which one I really preached! I settled on the idea that the gospel is always bigger, always more! Bigger/more than a single verse or a single passage! Bigger/more than, even, one chapter or one book! I was just lucky that the second idea – the one I flirted with – fit well with this morning's gospel! Sometimes people don't thank you for proclaiming good news! Sometimes, in fact, they just don't want to hear it!

Last week, if you remember, it was the man born blind receiving sight! Jesus is walking along, sees the man, and stops. He – Jesus – spits on the ground, makes some mud, wipes it on the man's eyes, and tells him to go and wash it off. The man does and he sees! But there was more to that story. It went on. Confusion. Conflict. In the end, the man born blind, the one to whom Jesus gives sight, is driven out! Driven out from his family! Driven out from his home! All because, now, he could see!

Well, the same thing happens, here, in this morning's reading. Lazarus is ill. His sisters send for Jesus. But instead of coming right away, Jesus waits, and Lazarus dies. Jesus arrives, goes to the tomb, weeps, and brings his friend back to life! The gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ! The passage ends with the usual happily-ever-after! "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him." But there's more. There's the part of the story we didn't read, the part we conveniently left out...

Yes, many believed. "But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, [Enough is enough! Something has to be done! It all ends, here, now!]... So from that day on they planned to put him to death." Let those words sink in. "So from that day on they planned to put him to death."

We get giddy over it all! Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave! The power! The glory! And it never enters our mind that anyone could feel anything else! For Mary and Martha, life was born, again! For the leaders of Judea, for the Pharisees and the chief priests – the religious leaders of the day – it was the last straw. Because Lazarus was brought back to life, Jesus had to die! Like I said, not everyone is thankful! It's, probably, one of those "comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable" kind of things.

Think back to Luke's story. When Mary sang her song in response to Elizabeth's blessing, she spoke of god lifting up the lowly AND bringing down the powerful! Filling the hungry with good things AND sending the rich away empty! The gospel has a way of flipping things upside-down and turning them inside-out! The poor and hungry say, "Amen!" They believe! While the powerful and the rich go on to conspire against Jesus! The poor and hungry call him savior and lord while the powerful and rich accuse him of rousing the rabble and rocking the boat!

I came across a quote about six weeks ago. "The gospel," Luther says, "cannot be truly preached without offense and tumult." "The gospel cannot be truly preached without offense and tumult." Good news can't be proclaimed... The blind can't see... The dead can't live, again... without confusion! Without conflict! Without a cross! That's what happened when Jesus did it! That's what happens when the church does it, as well! The crowds won't thank us! They won't sing our praises! Instead, they'll shout to free Barabbas and they'll cry out to crucify! Preaching the gospel, pure and simple, is what god Luther excommunicated! Preaching the gospel, loudly and clearly, is why he was condemned! Preaching the gospel, without apology and without excuse, sounds comforting to some and challenging, threatening, to others. Yes, it brings peace... for some! But for others, for the movers and shakers, for the mighty and high, for those who believe themselves to be captains of their fate and masters of their souls, it's just too much to handle!

Not everyone wants to be loved! Not everyone feels they need to be loved! At least... Especially... the way god does it! Unearned! Undeserved! Unconditional! Uncontrolled! Uninvited! Unasked for! For some, for many, maybe, even, for most, we can't accept charity! We don't believe in, we don't trust, something – anything – for nothing! We stake our life on our own understanding, on our own strength! We believe in the sweat of our brow! In the strength of our own two hands! The harder, the better! Unfortunately for us, that man born blind... Lazarus... neither did anything for Jesus to act! Jesus did it all, start to finish, beginning to end!

It isn't that we're bad people or that we're evil. And it doesn't mean that god doesn't, can't, won't love us until and unless we love god! It just means that we're people! Plain! Ordinary! Unexceptional! No different, no worse, than seven billion others! So when it comes to choosing between darkness and light, we'll choose the darkness, every time! But then, that's why Jesus! To turns us! To open our eyes! To raise us up! To set us free! Jesus has come to wipe mud on our eyes! Jesus is here to stand at the door of our tomb to call us out! And when he does, some will see and others will not. Some will rise and other will remain inside. Some will believe and others will look for an opportunity to betray him. Just because they're people! Not angels! Not saints!

But for those who do see, who do come out, they join Christ in giving the blind sight and in raising the dead to life! They, too, spit on the ground and make mud! They, too, shout into the darkness, "Come out! Let go!" And, of course, like Jesus, we will pay the price for it all! Pay the price for proclaiming the gospel in its purity! Pay the price for administering the gospel in all its radical-ness! Many believed! But some would not! Could not! Did not! And that's okay! Because even that is a part of the story! Because it's there – here – surrounded by darkness that life begins! It's there – here – in the heart of the night that love shines brightest!

"In the beginning," my friends, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." The light shines in the darkness, still, and the darkness will never overcome it!

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