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the sermon for

Good Friday

14 April 2017

John 19:31-42
Only at the cross do we see god
in all god's glory!

04132017There was a time in my life when faith – believing – was a simple thing. We were all doomed! We were all going to hell! Unless and until we believed in god! It was all wrath and retribution! Hell and damnation! Fire and brimstone! With a life preserver thrown in on the side! How did we say it in the old red hymnal? "We poor sinners confess unto thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean!" Of course, saying it in the King's English makes it all so much more pitiful. We are sinners! We do what god doesn't want; and don't do what god wants. God is disappointed in us! Frustrated! Angry! And of course, there are consequences! There's a price that must be paid! Thus, we're all going to burn in hell! Unless... Until... It's all nice and neat, black and white, night and day...

Of course, there were times things could get a little convoluted. Like when you tried to understand what, exactly, it meant to believe! Was believing in god like believing in the Easter Bunny? Believing there was a god? That god existed? Or did it include believing in the bible? Each dotted i, every crossed t? Did it mean believing in a literal creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Flood? Did it include believing in a literal virgin birth and a literal resurrection, but only a metaphorical, symbolic Lord's Supper? Did you have to believe in angels and demons? In heaven and hell? In miracles? The devil? End times? Second Comings? And did you have to believe in all of it? Or some of it? And if some, which bits and pieces? Other than that, it was all, pretty plain, pretty simple. We're all going to hell! Unless and until we believe!

But that was before I came here. Before I came here and stood at the foot of the cross. And for the very first time, I saw Jesus! Right here! Right now! And when I did that, everything I once thought was so important... Everything I, at one time, believed fundamental, essential... no longer mattered! None of it mattered! Only one thing was vital, only one thing crucial... and that one thing was Jesus! Jesus and the love that led him, that lured him, to this place! To this moment! Christ and Christ crucified! That's what Paul calls it! Christ and Christ crucified! That's the only thing that's important! The only thing that means anything! That only thing whatsoever that matters! Standing here... sitting here... and looking up at the cross has a way of putting everything else into perspective!

God loved the world that god did this...

Having loved his own, he loved them here...

This... THIS is the great love with which he loved...

Not that we loved god, but that god first loved us...

This place, this day, is the only reason we do anything!

No, I thought it all was so simple, until I came here. And when I did, everything became even simpler, still! God loves. Period. And Jesus... Jesus is that love! Love we can see! Love we can hear! Love we can touch! Love we can, even, smell and taste! Given and shed. For you. For all. No. We come to here and everything, finally, falls into place. No threats, only promises. No fear, only peace. No ifs, ands, or buts; only the certain and sure! No unless, no until, only charity, only grace, only love!

Take a look at the cross, again! Look at the body broken... at the blood shed... and tell me... who will be excluded? Who will be left out? If god, Jesus, is willing to do this... all this... who will be cast out? Forever? Simply because they didn't believe? Whatever that means! Which sin is more powerful than this? What sinner so unpardonable? So unjustifiable? It's easy to draw lines, easy to give 'em hell... when you're standing on sinai. But it's difficult, maybe even impossible, when you're here, at the summit of Golgotha. To separate goats from sheep... chaff from grain... tares from wheat... Here... now... what was, once, so clear... is no longer quite so obvious... is no longer quite so apparent...

It's here, in the shadow of the cross, that we are, finally, blinded by the brilliance of god's love! God's grace overwhelms us! God's grace engulfs us! God's grace sweeps us off our feet and carries us away! And we're lost! Lost in wonder! Lost in awe! Dazed! Speechless! Tears well up! Our throats tighten! As we begin to understand that this – all of this – was done for us! And we are conquered, vanquished, by god's mercy and grace! The sound of that last heartbeat... The whisper of that final breath... silences and stills the mob!

God loves us! Loves us without limit! Loves us without measure! Loves us without end! And what can our mere believing ever add to that? What can our meager faith ever hope to complete? And so, all we do – on a night like this... in a place like this... is sit... and stare... and offer up our hushed Amens...

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the sermon for

Maundy Thursday

13 April 2017

John 13:1-17 , John 13: 31b-35
As we are loved, so we love!

04132017It's been just thirty-eight days – not counting Sundays – since we were gathered here on the evening of Ash Wednesday. Thirty-eight days since the season of Lent began. And you might remember, at that time, I said I was disappointed that we didn't pick some other gospel reading. What we heard has anything but! It was piety. It was duty. It was religion. But good news? No. Giving alms. Saying prayers. Fasting. Those might make up the discipline of Lent. But in and of themselves, they have no redeeming value. They change nothing. They save no one. And I wondered aloud whether or not there could have been a better passage. A passage better than the one we we're given. But it was what it was. We read it and moved on. The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Now we are at the other end of the season. Only two days remain. And things have changed! Changed radically! And changed dramatically! Back then, it was all about us! What we had to do! How we had to do it! Not one word was spoken about Jesus! Not once was another person even mentioned! But tonight... tonight it's nothing but! Nothing but Jesus! Nothing but others! Suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, descended! It's all Jesus! Start to finish! Beginning to end! About Jesus and about Jesus' love! Tonight, we get the gospel, the good news, we missed on Ash Wednesday! The story doesn't begin with us! Our actions! Our attitudes! Lent isn't something we give up! It's not something we take on! It's Jesus! Period! Exclamation mark! End of sentence!

I read a devotion, just the other day, based on something Paul wrote: "To set the mind on the flesh is death; but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace!" "To set the mind on the flesh is death; but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace!" The author explained that setting the mind on the spirit meant reading your bible, and saying your prayers, and thinking about it all. They're all things we can do, things we're doing, alone... by ourselves... without anyone else... including Jesus! But that's not what setting the mind on the spirit means, at all! Maybe on Ash Wednesday, but not here, on this night! Setting the mind on the spirit is Jesus! Jesus and his grace for each and every! Jesus and his mercy for one and for all!

If this night – Maundy Thursday – is about anything, it's about Jesus! If it's about nothing else, it's about that love! There's no bread in John's story. No wine. All that is from the other three. Matthew, Mark, Luke. John is all about the commandment, that new commandment that Jesus gives! That's what gives this night its name! Maundy! Mandate! Commandment!

Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around his waist. He pours water into a basin, gets down on his knees, and begins to wash the feet of his friends. One... after another... after another... And when he's done, he puts his robe back on, returns to the table, and says, "That! That is love! Now you go and do the same! Loving others JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU!"

It's all Jesus! It's all love! In fact, the two are bound together forever! Jesus and love! Love and Jesus! And that new commandment? It's just the same! Jesus and love! Love and Jesus! Both together. Never one... or the other... The commandment isn't, simply, go and love! That's been our problem from the beginning! We haven't loved god with our whole heart! We haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves. Truth be told, we, probably, don't even do a good job loving just ourselves! That's what's held us captive! What's kept us bound! We don't... we can't... we won't... But Jesus comes to love us! To show us how it's done! And that frees us! Frees us to love the people around us! Faith – believing – isn't, merely, loving Jesus, foremost and first! It's being loved by Jesus! It's, first of all, being loved by Jesus! And then – and only then – loving others! Loving others because god, first, loved us!

It's a chain reaction! Like that row of marbles hanging on some desks.. Newton's Cradle, I think they're called. Pull out the marble on the end, let it go, and it swings back and hits the next marble in line, which hits the next, and the next, and the next, on down the line. Until the marble on the other end flies up! Jesus loves us, we love others! Jesus loves us, we love others! Jesus loves us, we love others! We don't choose to do it! We don't want to do it! We, simply, do it because that's the way it works! Naturally! Automatically! Jesus loves us and we love others!

Nothing Jesus does, this week, Jesus does for himself. There are no ulterior motives. Jesus isn't washing our feet so we can, then, was his. Jesus isn't loving us so that we will love him in return. He's doing it all for us! He's doing it all for us so that, finally, we can do the same thing for the people around us! It's nothing more than a long line of marbles, infinite, eternal, that Jesus sets in motion. And it starts this weekend! Jesus loves us not simply so that we will be loved. It doesn't end there. Jesus loves us so that we, in turn, will love! Jesus doesn't forgive us just so that we will be forgiven. Jesus forgives us so that we, too, can become forgiving! Jesus doesn't save us, merely, so that we will be saved. Jesus saves us so that we, too, may save others! We do the same for others that Jesus did for us! We're one more marble in the chain!

Faith, on a night like this, is more than a destination. Pearly gates. Streets of gold. Faith is a way of and a reason for living! It's a purpose, a reason! Jesus loves us, we love others! We're not here, finally, to see god face to face. We're here to turn our backs on god, taking it all for granted, trusting that god has our back, and facing the world god so loves! Living for creation the same way – the exact same way – god lives for creation! We don't have a destination. We have a mission! To love just like Jesus!

So, my friends, it's been just thirty-eight days since this all began. Yet so much is different. So much has changed! Now, it no longer matters if our left hand knows what our right hand is doing! It's not important if we go into our room and shut the door to pray... or not! And putting oil on our heads and washing our faces while we fast? That, for us, is pointless. Tonight, there is only Jesus and love! There is only Jesus and love! There is only Jesus and love! And that has become, for us, the rhythm, the heartbeat of believing!

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