Sunday, April 30, 2017

Not the Same Anymore: Rethinking What Happened

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. (Acts 2:14a, 36-41 NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I think most of you know that I’ve lived in a few different places. When I was 19 years old I moved from rural, West River South Dakota to the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area. In looking back as an older and more mature adult (cough! cough!) I realize what a huge cultural shift that was for me at the time. 

But I didn’t really recognize it then. I was so focused on figuring out what life looked like from day-to-day, that I didn’t really have the perspective I do now.

I lived in that area for just over 30 years. I was surrounded there by my entire immediate family--my mother, my brother, and my sister--and by a number of extended family. Over time, through either move or death, by 2008, which was the year my sister died, I was the only remaining member of my immediate family in Southern California.

It was after her death, that I began to feel a pull to move to Texas, to be reunited and to live in closer proximity to my brother and sister-in-law and their family, who had moved to Austin, Texas, some 15 years earlier.

It was quite a coincidence then, a year and a half later, that the organization I worked for announced that they were looking for someone to move to Texas to head up a new organization there. And, so, in the summer of 2010, I moved to Austin, Texas. In the three years I lived there, I was able to renew what had been a very close relationship. And, I was also able to regain another sister in my relationship with my sister-in-law, a relationship that so helped to fill the deep void left in my life left by my own sister’s death.

While I was going through all of this--the move, the re-establishing of relationships--I wasn’t really aware of why I was doing this. It was only in hindsight, that, as with my original move to California, I gained the full perspective of what was happening in my life and why. 

Has that ever happened to you? I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Right? Sometimes when we’re in the midst of things that happen in our lives--both good and bad--we don’t fully understand everything that was happening until we are able, often with the help of friends and family, to gain a full perspective of what was happening and why. To rethink what happened.

Rethinking what happened. That is what is happening in both our Acts and our Luke lessons today. In both stories, someone is helping others rethink what happened. 

In the Luke story, the story of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, some seven miles from Jerusalem. In that story, it is Jesus who helps them connect the dots. Who points out everything in the Hebrew scripture that refers to him. Who helps them understand. Who helps them rethink what happened. 

And, then, in the Acts lesson, which is the second half of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. (We heard the first half last week.) It is in this sermon that Peter is the one, filled with the Holy Spirit, who connects the dots for the people of God gathered there. Those people of God, part of the Jewish diaspora, who have so acclimated to their new homelands that they have forgotten their mother tongue. Who are only able to understand because the Spirit has had to engage in a linguistic miracle that allows the disciples to preach to them in the language of their newly-adopted countries. It is the Spirit-filled Peter who helps them understand. It is Peter who helps them rethink what happened.

This is what Peter means when, after he repeatedly appeals to them to see what has happened and why it has happened, he says to them, “Repent.” Here, repentance isn’t simply about a changed behavior or a confession. At its root, it refers to a changed mind. It means embracing a new way of understanding something. Peter is telling those gathered to recognize that God is at work in Jesus Christ. And, therefore, to recognize the authority of Jesus to announce and to put in place God’s salvation. “Rethink what happened,” Peter is saying to them, “And then, imagine new possibilities in what God continues to do.”

This is nearly the same thing that Peter is saying to them when he urges them to be saved “from this corrupt generation.” In the Gospel of Luke, written by the same person who wrote Acts, Jesus speaks of a similar generation and emphasizes its condition, which is an inability to perceive God’s activity.  It is a condition that exists with us today--the inability and the unwillingness to move from our ignorance about what God has done to embracing God’s faithfulness, which is shown in Jesus Christ and is further evidenced in the arrival of the Holy Spirit. 

That is repentance. That is rethinking what happened. That is seeing, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s salvation coming into our world.  It is God, in God’s faithfulness, breaking into our world and disrupting “business as usual.” So that nothing is the same anymore. 

It’s hindsight, really. The same hindsight that my friends and family helped me with--to see God’s hand at work in my own life.  It’s hindsight that comes through the Holy Spirit, who works through those who surround us. And who leads us to see God breaking into our lives and our world, disrupting the dark things. Who leads us to repentance--to changing our minds and coming to a new way of understanding--an understanding of God at work through Jesus Christ. 

And, finally, It’s the Holy Spirit who once again affirms for us God’s faithfulness. That our God is a God we can trust. That God’s disruptive activity is good. And that God’s promises are available for us. That not only were they available then for the assembled people of God. But they are here for us, too. Now.

Notice Peter’s statement near the end of this passage:  “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls.” The promise belongs to Peter’s Jewish audience. It belongs to his audience’s offspring. It belongs to those not yet born. It belongs to us. Here and now. 

It is the promise we heard on Easter Sunday. It is the promise Jesus helps the Emmaus disciples understand.  It is the promise we receive when we repent, when we rethink what happened. It is the promise of God’s salvation. For those who heard Peter that day. For us today. And for all whom God calls.

The promise of God’s salvation. What does that salvation look like? Well, that’s for us to explore next week.

For today, though, we give thanks. We give thanks that God is a disruptive and intrusive God. That when God breaks in, nothing is the same anymore. That through the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to rethink what happened and to see our faithful God at work in our lives and in the world.

Thanks be to God! 


Preached April 30, 2017, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Third Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

With gratitude to Matthew Skinner's Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Not the Same Anymore: The Last Laugh

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
(Acts 2:14a, 22-32, NRSV)

Grace and peace from God, our Father, and from our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Welcome to Holy Hilarity Sunday!

Celebrating laughter and joy on this second Sunday of Easter is actually a long and very rich tradition in the church. There is quite a history of congregations celebrating this day, sharing jokes and fun stories, and engaging in pranks on each other.

The tradition arises from early theologians, where they reflected on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as a huge practical joke that God played on Satan. They called it the risus paschalis, meaning the Easter laugh.

So, today, it seems especially appropriate for us to laugh and to have fun. To celebrate the pure joy of Easter in a fun way the week after we’ve celebrated it in a glorious way. To mix faith and humor and to stir them both deeply into our lives so that we might live more fully into being and sharing ourselves as joyful people of the resurrection.

This wasn’t always the case. This being joyful people of the resurrection. In those first hours and days after Jesus’ resurrection, even after Mary Magdalene had announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, laughter and joy and poking fun wasn’t necessarily on the minds of Jesus’ followers. They were afraid. They had gathered together in fear, not sure what would the authorities might do to them as possible accomplices to Jesus, this enemy of the state.

And, then, one can only wonder at what must have a level of bewilderment and disbelief and, yes, still fear, after hearing Mary’s announcement. Not knowing entirely what was happening. And whether what Mary told them was, in fact, true.

So, they continued to hide in fear behind locked doors.

It is there, in their fear and in their darkness, that Jesus seeks them out and meets them. Exactly where they are. Offering peace in place of fear. Offering assurance in the midst of their doubt.

It is at that point, after Mary’s witness to them and after they finally experience Jesus themselves that they, too, could fully experience joy.

But that wasn’t all there was to be. Because, it was at this point--after they had experienced the living and resurrected Jesus--that he sent them out on a mission. It is noted in our John text. It is also the story that precedes our text in Acts.

Did you hear that in both the John and Acts readings? That, before Jesus sent them out, he breathed into them the Holy Spirit?

It may seem weird to hear this at this point. Usually, from a liturgical standpoint, we reserve the outpouring (or inbreathing) of the Holy Spirit for Pentecost. And, yet, here we have it on the second Sunday of Easter--in our first reading, which is an extension of Peter’s sermon after the events of the Pentecost, after the Spirit has been poured out on the disciples gathered together, waiting. After they have begun to speak in the native languages of those listening. Even after those very listeners have begun to question the disciples’ legitimacy.
It is at this point that Peter stands up. And, just like Mary did, he witnesses. He connects the dots for them. He tells them everything that has happened and helps them to more fully understand what this means. That everything that has happened has been part of God’s plan. It’s not a second chance or God’s Plan B. It has been what God has intended for all time. That God would send God’s Son, proving to them through miracles and wonders and signs who Jesus was. That God knew that Jesus would be crucified. That God would raise him up. That God would free him from the “pain” of death. (This is the best translation for this phrase. And that the word used for pain is the same word associated with the pain of childbirth.) God would free Jesus from the “pain” of death by raising him up. It’s almost as though God was birthing a new world. Turning the world upside down. Is it any wonder then, if you remember our resurrection story from last week, that it began with an earthquake?

With Christ’s resurrection, God disrupts the world.  It is not the same anymore.

This is what happens when God disturbs business as usual. Nothing is the same anymore. This is what the gospel does. It tells the story of God bringing something new into being, something that challenges the “world,” the way things are. It is the same disruption that happens when the Gospel is preached. When we, just like Mary and Peter, witness to the Good News. Because it is then that Jesus appears and is experienced and nothing is the same anymore.

Over these weeks of Easter, this is what we will be looking at. Each week for six weeks, we will be looking at the Acts texts, which during Easter, will replace in our readings that from the Hebrew scripture. We will see how, in hindsight, God’s people witness how God disrupts the world. How God intrudes. We will see what it means for Jesus’ followers and for us to share this witness. We will watch and learn right along with those characters who inhabit the pages of Acts. That second half of the Luke gospel that begins by fixing all of our attention and expectation upon God, even as we see that people will also play a part in God’s objectives. We will see how they respond, as people who watch for God’s lead. Not as puppets, but as God’s agents, prompted to tell what they have seen. To report and to share evidence of the new realities that God has brought about through Jesus. New realities that are rooted in the past, that exist in present realities, and that connect us to the future by pointing toward the salvation that God will ultimately accomplish.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, in our listening and learning, we, here at Grace and Glory, might discover--or rediscover--the availability of God’s salvation or God’s commitment to renew and restore right here in Goshen, Kentucky. That we might see, in our midst, our resurrected Lord present, welcoming us into a new life, a resurrected life. A life of joy and laughter, a life of love and freedom, a life of peace and wholeness, a life together with him as part of the body of Christ.

That is the reality of our experience of a salvation from a disruptive God, for whom, with the resurrection nothing will ever be the same anymore. That is the basis for our joy. That is the basis for our laughter. That is why we celebrate Holy Hilarity Sunday.

And that is why we, and not death or the devil, have the last laugh.


Preached April 23, 2017, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Second Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Earthquake of God

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers, from our risen and triumphant Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.

“Look! There was a great earthquake!” This is how the Matthew story of the resurrection begins today. “Look! There was a great earthquake!”

After having lived in Southern California for nearly 40 years, I can guarantee you that, if there was an earthquake--a great earthquake as our story says--the first words out of my mouth would not have been “Look!”

I remember my first earthquake. I was 19. Naive. Relatively new to the big city.  We had gathered at the home of my aunt and uncle for New Year’s Day. It was beautiful and warm. One of those glorious days you get so accustomed to there. I was sitting on a chair in the corner of the living room and, all of a sudden, my chair began to sway back and forth.  I did not know what was happening. All I could do was hang on. And wait. It was as if, for just a moment, time was suspended.

And then 10 seconds later (It felt like hours!), it stopped.  You could sense the collective sigh of relief. And then everyone around me saying, “Did you feel that?” “That wasn’t so bad!” “I wonder where the epicenter was.” It was then, that I realized that I had experienced my first earthquake.

Over the years of my life there, I experienced many. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are gentle and rolling. Others are short and sharp--like if a truck hit your house. Some get stronger and stronger, while you hold your breath and wait to decide if this is the big one and you should take cover under a table or a door jam. A few, just a very few, are big and can be violent. The Northridge earthquake in 1994 literally threw me out of bed, even though I lived 45 miles away from its epicenter.

The science of earthquakes is pretty simple. Just under the surface of the earth, there are many pieces that make up the skin that cover the deeper layers, just like pieces of a puzzle. These pieces are called tectonic plates. They are continually moving and shifting. Sometimes, their edges get stuck, while the rest of the plate keeps moving. When the plate has moved far enough, the edges unstick and all of that built up energy is released. This sends waves of energy outward and causes what we call an earthquake. 

Once this movement happens, there is nothing you can do. It cannot be predicted. There is no advance warning. Nowhere to go to run or hide from it. Like many other forms of natural disaster, nothing is safe. Nowhere is safe. 

Once it happens, there is no going back. The plates have shifted and been displaced. The entire setting has now been altered. Rearranged.

So, it is entirely fitting that, today, our resurrection story begins with an earthquake. Because throughout scripture, it is the presence of an earthquake that signals the presence of God. A theophany, which is a manifestation of God in the Bible that is tangible and real to our human sensibility.  Where God appears unexpectedly. Where everything is changed. Where the cosmic order has been interrupted. Disrupted, really. Disrupted by God.

I especially appreciate the irony in Matthew’s resurrection story. Because after this great earthquake, there is another quaking. It is that of the guards. They had been placed at the entrance to the tomb by Pilate at the request of the chief priests and the Pharisees. Afraid the disciples would steal the body of Jesus and then proclaim that Jesus had fulfilled his own prediction of his resurrection, they had sealed the tomb and posted guards.

But the empires of our world are no match for the empire of God. Our text reads that the guards were so terrified of the angel of the Lord that they literally began to quake. And they became like dead men. 

This turnaround shows the ironic character of the good news. The guards are now dead men. Jesus is alive. The empire of death is dead. The empire of God’s life-giving power now rules. 

This is the cosmic implication of our story today, a story that begins with an earthquake. No place on earth is safe from the risen Lord. No person is safe or can fully buffer themselves from the divine reality. No matter how we choose to ignore or resist God’s presence or simply expect things to remain the same, God breaks in. Like the release of pressure from those stuck tectonic plates. And we are forever changed.

This is what happened that first Easter. After the women heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection, as they hurried in their awe and excitement to tell the disciples, Jesus met them along the way. Once again, breaking into their lives. Sending them to tell the other disciples to meet him in Galilee. And from there, sending them out to do the mission of the church. It is clear that Jesus’ resurrection empowers and leads to the mission of the church. Contemporary theologian N.T. Wright summarizes it well: “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project. Not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.” Your kingdom come. Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Do we recognize that? Do we watch for it? Do we see God at work in our world today? In the midst of a world that seems so violent and chaotic, so fearful and insecure, so hopeless and despairing and grief-stricken at times? 

My former pastor in Texas, Michael Coffey, expresses this well in his poem, entitled “The Resurrection Theater of the Absurd.”

You surprised me when you
stepped on my grief and rudely interrupted
my expectations for the show to end

when I assumed we would walk out in darkness 
down city streets and go for a martini and talk about 
that cross and the dramatic lighting and all that emptiness after 

and then we could pick up our heavy heads 
and hold them lopsided as we went on our mournful way 
living the grey life we always imagined.

But then you, you wizard of astonishment,
you author of unexpected epilogues
you springtime of wildflowers in greened up dead fields

you resurrected my small mind above the predictable plot formulas
and opened up the stone laid over my heart,
so heavy, and yet with you, so easily, so gracefully rolled away.

God’s life-creating work is here in our world. It is here if we look for it. It is here in the acts of love and of care and of service that, if we look for them, we can see them. And the joy that surrounds them. If only we are open enough to see them. To see the life that is breaking out all around us. And to hear the command of Jesus to the women, a command that becomes a command for all of us: 

Stop being afraid! God--this wizard of astonishment, this author of unexpected epilogues, this springtime of wildflowers in greened up dead fields, this master of shakeups--has  defeated death. Rejoice! Rejoice! And share the good news!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Faithfulness of God

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18 NRSV)

Why on earth do we do this? These Three Days? The meal and footwashing and holy communion of Maundy Thursday. The journey to the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. The wandering tonight from the new fire to the water to this place where we have heard some the stories of our faith, for some of us, stories we have grown up hearing and knowing and loving, and then the meal, holy communion. Why on earth do we do all of this?

For an answer, we must begin with our gospel lesson tonight, our reading from John.

It is early in the morning on that first day of the week after Jesus’ death. After his internment. It is before light. Still dark. 

Mary has come to the tomb. Why? This gospel writer doesn’t tell us. Other gospels suggest that the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. If you recall, Jesus was buried after the beginning of the Sabbath and there simply hadn’t been time to properly anoint his body, to fully prepare it for burial as was required under Jewish burial laws. 

Perhaps this was why Mary had gone there, in the early light, by herself. We simply don’t know. 

What we do know, however, is that when she arrived, perhaps just as the light was beginning to break, she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the Jesus’ tomb. 

I wonder what she was thinking at that moment. Our lesson tells us that she never went inside the tomb. I wonder why not. Is is possible she thought there might be grave-robbers inside? After all, we know that this was a common problem then. Or, perhaps, it was just too dark, that even if she had gone inside she wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway. Or maybe, just maybe, the thought of seeing Jesus’ body there--lifeless--was simply too much. Too hard to take. Too real to witness.

She had been there when Jesus had died. Standing at a distance with the other women, after the rest of the disciples had fled. She had seen him die. And with it, her hopes and her dreams.  

What had she felt that day and the next? Grief and sadness? Despair and hopelessness? Bewilderment and confusion? Fearful? Perhaps, all of these emotions.

That week for me in 1992 had started like most others. I had a busy life. I was a part-time church musician and, so, had started out the week on Sunday playing for two worship services, then, spending the afternoon doing laundry and getting myself and my son ready for another week of work and school. Monday came. And the week seemed pretty normal, busy for us. But that was nothing new. It was normal, until the next night. Until that Tuesday night.

On that night, I got a call from my mother. She was calling to let me know that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This woman, who was the rock of our family. Who had carried our family through the nearly impossible grief and sadness of my father’s early death. This woman, who had always been such an example for me of strength and faith and trust. Diagnosed with cancer.

But, it didn’t stop there. Within 24 hours, I had another call. This time from my older sister. Another source of strength for me as I had witnessed her in her late twenties fight cancer and win, we thought. Just weeks away from that 5 year remission mark and the title of “cancer free.” She was calling to tell me that she, too, had cancer. Once again. That it had returned.

It is these kinds of moments when it can simply feel as though your whole world is crashing down around you. When you are blinded by the grief and sadness. By the sense of despair and hopelessness. By all of the bewilderment and confusion. By the fear. Nothing makes sense anymore. It feels as though you are simply floundering in the darkness. 

Just like Mary that early morning on the first day of the new week.

And, then, just like Mary, you hear your name called by God. “Karleen, do you remember? Do you remember the story of creation? How I brought wholeness and life out of the chaos and darkness? 

Do you remember? Do you remember the story of Noah? How I brought a new world out of the brokenness and sin of the old? How when you see a rainbow you can remember my promise that, never again, would a flood destroy the whole earth?

Do you remember? Do you remember how I delivered my people Israel out of slavery and brought them to new life in the land of milk and honey?

Do you remember? Do you remember how in your baptism I delivered you from sin and death to new life among my people, just as Lacey tonight has been brought to new life in Christ? 

Do you remember? Do you remember my promise that in this bread and wine I am present here and now and forever?

Do you remember? That every time we have feel surrounded by whatever darkness it is we cannot seem to see the end of, God calls our name. And, then, we remember. We remember that God is faithful. Throughout all of the arc of salvation history and the short blip of our own lives, God has been and continues to be faithful. 

No, it doesn’t mean that there has always been healing. Or that everything has gone the way we wanted. But what we remember, time and time again, is God faithfully at work. Bringing new life out of death. Light out of darkness. Order out of the chaos.

This is why we do this. These Three Days. This is why on earth we do this. 
So that, in those darkest moments, we might, like Mary, remember. We might remember God’s faithfulness.

And like Mary, respond. Saying “Rabbouni” and go out and witness to all the world, proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!”


Preached at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY, on April 15, 2017.
Easter Vigil (Year A).
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Isaiah 55:1-11; Daniel 3:1-29; Romans 6:3-11; John 20:1-18.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Quality of Our Love

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What is the quality of our love? This, I think, is the question for our consideration tonight. 

What is the quality of our love? On this Thursday evening, the first day of our Three Day remembrance of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death and our celebration of his resurrection. On this day we call Maundy Thursday, Maundy coming from the Latin word, mandatum, meaning mandate or law. On this Law Thursday, this is the question that we are facing: What is the quality of our love?

“I give you a ‘new’ commandment.” Jesus said to his disciples. But, we know, that this really isn’t a new commandment.

All of scripture points to this command, this law of love, as central to God’s law. Central to whom our God is. Central to our relationship with this God.

From the Jewish Torah, in Deuteronomy, chapter 6, we hear this: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This phrase--called the shema--still today begins every morning and evening prayer service in the Jewish faith. 

And, yet, that love of God is not only central to our relationship with God, but also with one another. In Leviticus chapter 19, in another book of the Torah, after a long list of instructions on how to live as God’s holy people, we read: “ must love your neighbor as yourself...”

In the Torah and continuing through the Hebrew Bible there are example after example, writing after writing, about how we are to love God and love one another.

So, it is nothing new that God expects us to love God and to love one another. 

Then, you might be wondering now, what is so “new” about this commandment? This new mandate given by Jesus to his disciples on the night before his crucifixion and death. 

What is new for us and for the disciples is not that we love, but it is how we love. It is about the quality of our love.

If we go back to our John text tonight, if we look carefully at the verses that precede this new commandment, we begin to get an answer to this question--about how we are to love. 

Beginning in verse 2, we read that Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. Then we read that Judas had already been provoked by Satan to betray Jesus. And, yet, knowing this, Jesus got up, took off his outer garments, picked up a linen towel and tied it around his waist, and proceeded to wash the feet of all of his disciples. Even the feet of Judas. 

And this is not all. If we continue into the next verses, as Jesus attempts to wash Peter’s feet and Peter says, “No! You’ll never wash my feet!” the verses that follow our new commandment, we read of Peter’s own betrayal, his denial of Jesus. Not once. But three times. 

What does this show us? What do Jesus’ actions and his words, bookended by betrayal and denial, what do they show us about the quality of Jesus’ love? And what does this tell us about what should be the quality of our love?

In just a few short moments, we will share holy communion. In both of our traditions, this meal is generally preceded by what we know as the Sharing of the Peace. In the early church, this was known as the Kiss of Peace or as the Holy Kiss. St. Augustine writes of this tradition in the fourth century: “After [the Lord’s Prayer], the ‘Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his.”

This Holy Kiss is a sign that we are reconciled with one another. That, when we receive the bread and the wine and the body and blood of our Lord, we are at peace with each other. That we have set aside grudges, jealousy, anger or animosity. And that, unlike the church in Corinth that led Paul to write our second reading tonight, there is no distinction. No difference between each other, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, political party or whatever it is in our world that seeks to divides us, we are here, at the Lord’s table, one body, united in Christ’s love and in our love for each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Because, that night, that night of Jesus’ new commandment, Jesus knew that it was this kind of love--this kind of agape love--that would sustain the disciples over the next days, through his crucifixion and death and resurrection. And, that it would also sustain them in the days after Jesus had ascended and return to heaven. In the same way it sustains us today.

This. This is the quality of our love. It is love for each other here and for the whole world that is modelled for us in the simple act of hospitality shown all of the disciples, and us, by Jesus on this night so very long ago.

May we simply love in this very same way. Amen.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Chaos and Confusion

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matthew 27:11-54 (NRSV)

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They’d been with Jesus for nearly three years, this man they called, “Rabbi.” He had called them to simply come and follow him. And, they had. Over these years, they had traveled with Jesus throughout the Galilean countryside and beyond--in all the places away from the powerful center of Jerusalem. Along the way, among a variety of characters, they had witnessed Jesus reveal more and more who he was. Characters that included Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind man to whom Jesus had given sight, and Lazarus and his sisters and the never-before witnessed miracle in which Jesus had brought Lazarus back to life after having been dead for four full days.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They had listened to Jesus tell them what it would mean to be his disciple. To “take up the cross.”  How they were to engage in active nonviolent resistance when confronted with oppression and violence. How the integrity of what they said and did mattered. How they were to love others. Not just friends and families. But, also enemies. 

They’d been sent out, too. Sent to participate in the same mission of Jesus--to proclaim the same message--that God’s kingdom was at hand. Jesus had given them authority,. The same God-given authority to preach and to heal and to forgive. They’d gone out. They’d gone out, knowing how hard this mission would be. That in speaking truth to power they would be oppressed and harassed. That suffering would be inevitable. That participating in Jesus’ mission meant taking up his cross.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They had heard Jesus tell them that he would eventually die at the hands of the religious and the political elite. How they wouldn’ they couldn’ they didn’t want to believe him. How their thoughts had been expressed by Peter so forcefully when he challenged Jesus. Saying that, “No!” this wouldn’t happen. And watching Jesus shut him down. Oh, how distressed they had been. 

They had also heard him say that he would be raised. Something they did not, could not understand. 

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They had witnessed--had accompanied--Jesus riding into Jerusalem. On a donkey. As though he was mocking the Roman authorities. Making his entrance into Jerusalem in the midst of the Passover celebration. A Jerusalem that had swelled in size by several hundred thousand people. People who had come from the countryside to the temple to celebrate this holy festival. People who had heard of Jesus or who had heard him speak. 
They had seen the crowds respond to Jesus as he entered triumphantly into the city. How the huge crowds had welcomed and had shouted their “Hosannas!” and other songs of acclaim. They had retrieved the donkey for Jesus with unexpected ease. They knew the ambivalence of his riding this donkey--that it was a royal animal that had carried previous representatives of God’s reign--King Solomon and others. And, yet, that it was an everyday beast of burden--a symbol of scorn. They saw the contradictions in the extravagant welcome of Jesus by the crowd while he was, at the same time, seated upon this lowly animal, the same animal that had carried his mother to Bethlehem to give birth to him in a stable, of all places.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They had heard that the religious authorities were conspiring against Jesus. They had heard that one of their own was involved. How distressed they had been! And when Jesus told them they would all desert him that night--the night they celebrated the Passover together--they heard Peter boast that he would never abandon Jesus. 

They had been there in the garden that night. In Gethsemane. How they had wanted to stay awake as Jesus asked them. How they had failed. And then, they had seen the soldiers come with Judas. One of their own had grabbed a sword, trying to violently resist, and had been quickly condemned by Jesus. 

They had been there that night. And then, they had deserted Jesus and run. Just as he said they would.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking.

They had seen the week start out so well. They had seen the throngs greet Jesus as the Messiah, with the expectation that he had come to overthrow the Romans--their political captors. Jesus had been treated as the king they knew he was.

And, then, quickly. Within just a few short days, it had all dissolved into madness. The king they knew, the Messiah they thought had come to make a regime change, this Jesus, their teacher and friend, now arrested, convicted, and tortured. And, then, crucified.  Like a common criminal. One of the cruelest means of execution, reserved for non-citizens and for the socially rejected. For rebellious foreigners, violent criminals, robbers, slaves--for all those on the margins. Jesus. Shamed and humiliated.

Chaos and confusion. I think this is what the disciples were thinking. And feeling. Their entire lives. Their entire way of thinking. Their entire world. Turned upside down. Dissolving into chaos and confusion.

Chaos and confusion. This was something Dietrich Bonhoeffer also knew about. It was on this day in 1945--on April 9th, 1945--that Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian and pastor, was shot to death by a Nazi firing squad. He had studied theology in Germany and the United States and had pastored a church in London before choosing to return to Germany to resist the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. He was eventually arrested and, on this day 72 years ago, put to death.  

Just like the disciples, Bonhoeffer knew about chaos and confusion. And, yet, he, like the disciples, knew that this was what discipleship was all about. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, which he wrote in prison while awaiting his execution, Bonhoeffer wrote, “[God says this]: Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend - it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.”

It is in the midst of the chaos and confusion that God breaks in. In the chaos and confusion and brokenness of the world, into our own brokenness--it is there that God breaks in. In the chaos and confusion of a world where people do not have enough to eat or they lack decent healthcare, God breaks in. In the chaos and confusion of a world where it seems there is a mass shooting nearly every day, or terrorism is our first thought after any incident, God breaks in. Or even in the chaos and confusion of a world where a political leader uses nerve gas on his own people, a refugee people that nearly the entire world has rejected, God breaks in. 

This is what we believe. This is what we trust. This is what we know because it is in the chaos and confusion of Jesus’ crucifixion and death that God broke in and raised him from the dead. And it is in the midst of our own chaos and confusion that God has broken in and has brought us new life. In Christ.

And that is why we shout, right along with the crowd that Palm Sunday, “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


Preached at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
April 9, 2017 - Palm Sunday
Readings: Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 27:11-54

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What Feast of Love!

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 (CEB)

The film, Babette’s Feast, is the story of two sisters, Martina and Philippa. Their father is the founder and pastor of a pious religious community in a coastal town in Denmark. The two sisters have embraced this religion of their father and the community even though in making their choice they have given up their dreams of romance and fame.

All of this changes when they take in a boarder, Babette, from Paris. Babette is a refugee--the result of the French Revolution. Babette becomes their cook. She also becomes their salvation, providing them with better-tasting and healthier meals, all at less expense.

After winning a French lottery, Babette insists on cooking and serving a banquet for the sisters and the religious community in honor of the anniversary of their father’s death. In the scenes leading up to the banquet, the community has dissolved into fractious, petty quarrels. 

Our clip starts tonight in the banquet scene. Let’s watch.

At this Last Supper, where twelve gathered to remember their master, who they were, and what they were to be about, it was the artist--the chef--who called forth the spirit of joy. What had worried them for so long - am I truly forgiven? - was realized anew as the bounty poured from the kitchen. This food was the visible sign of the abundance that they had dared not believe in...How could God ever forgive that sin? Who could ever really know me and still love me? Their faith was ruled by a level of scarcity that was consistent with the harsh land where they lived, the stale bread they were accustomed to eating, the bland soup that usually filled their bowls. Their belief was that their abundance would come in heaven. Not the possibility that this abundance was already in their midst.

The members of community also weren’t surprised by harshness, or regrets, or quarrelsome pettiness. We can often accommodate evil without much trouble. What confounds them--and often us--is goodness or love. It was this gift freely given that disturbed them, that was so unsettling to them. 

This is what the Lord’s Supper is about. If you think it is simply about forgiveness, you miss the complexity, diversity, and richness of this sacrament. Why else do we have so many names for it? Lord’s Supper. Holy Communion. Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar. 

It is here, at the table, where freedom, joy, and sorrow hang together in a delicate balance. Where we experience each other and the whole church, past, present and future. Where we experience God’s abundance, Christ’s presence, the forgiveness of sins, a deepening of our faith. And it is here, where we hesitantly sit down to feast and here, at the table, where we hold close to the promise of Psalm 85, that here “Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. John 11:1-45 (NRSV)

That day was the worst of days. That day was the best of days.

My sister, Mary, and I--we lived in Bethany, along with our brother, Lazarus, who lived nearby. Bethany was a village, close to Jerusalem - only a mile and a half away. It was small and secluded, just a few hundred people living across the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.
It was so peaceful. Full of palm trees rustling in the breeze coming out of the valley. Hidden away from the bustling noises of the nearly 50,000 people who lived in Jerusalem. Bethany was a beautiful place. And it was only an hour’s walk from Bethany into the city. 

So, it was a perfect place for Jesus to come and rest and be refreshed. He did it often. We became good friends. We became his followers. 

On one of his visits, my sister, Mary, did something a little impulsive. (She’s the emotional one, Mary. I’m more level-headed, much more practical.) On that visit, Mary took our entire stash of nard--a very expensive anointing oil--a full pound that we had saved over a long period of time. She took the entire pound of nard and poured it all over his feet. His feet! Instead of selling it to give money to the poor. That’s what we had intended. Oh, she was criticized for it. Judas, especially, criticized her.

But, back to the story of that day. 

Lazarus had been sick. We’d been caring for him. He wasn’t getting better. So, we decided to send for Jesus. Jesus had left Judea. The things he’d been doing, the signs he’d been performing, the way he had been challenging our Jewish leaders--well, much opposition had risen against him. So, Jesus had gone back across the Jordan, where it was safer.

So, when Lazarus didn’t get better, we sent for Jesus to come. We had seen him heal others who were sick or crippled or even blind. We were hoping--maybe selfishly so--that Jesus would come and heal Lazarus. He was a three days’ walk away.

Lazarus got worse. And worse. And, then, he died. My brother. Dead. My dear sweet, kind, loving brother Lazarus. Dead. And no Jesus. Jesus never came. He never came to heal his friend. My brother. Lazarus.

My heart felt broken. I was grieved at his death. I was angry with Jesus. He had the power--I had seen it with others, with complete strangers. Why not with one of his dearest friends and disciples? Many others came to grieve with us and to try to comfort us. But not Jesus. I felt as though Jesus had abandoned Lazarus. And us.

And, then, four days after Lazarus had died. After, according to our beliefs, his soul had already left his body, then. Then! Jesus came. I heard that he had entered the village. I went to him. I was angry. I said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” And then I challenged him. I said, “Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.” I wanted him to do something. What? I wasn’t sure. But, he had to do something. Something to make up for not saving Lazarus before he died.

Jesus told me that Lazarus would rise again. I knew that. It was central to my belief, something that my Jewish ancestors had believed, that our souls were immortal. I told Jesus this. That I believed I would see him on the last day. But, I did not believe I would see Lazarus again in my own lifetime.

Then Jesus said words to me that I didn’t fully understand at the time. He said that he was the resurrection and the life. That if we lived in him and we believed in him, we would never die. He asked me if I believed this. 

My response? Well, even I didn’t quite expect it. But, somehow, after all I had witnessed. After all the signs I had seen Jesus do--the healings, the feeding of the thousands, restoring sight--well, after all of that, I could do nothing else but to say, “Yes. Yes. I believe. I believe, Lord, that you are the Christ. The Son of God. The one to come. The Messiah.”

But, Lazarus was still dead. 

I went, then, to get my sister, Mary. Funny, how when she finally came out to greet Jesus she said the very same words I had just spoken to him. “If only you’d been here…” And she started to cry.

He looked at her. I saw how upset he was. He asked where we had put Lazarus’ body. We showed him. It was a short distance away.

It was then I knew how deeply Jesus loved Lazarus. And Mary. And me. Because, when we arrived at the tomb where we had buried Lazarus, Jesus began to weep.

I had never seen him cry before. Jesus? The man who wasn’t afraid of anyone, who wasn’t afraid to challenge the hypocrisy of our Jewish leaders. The man who seemed to have all of the power of the world. Here. Standing in front of me, in front of the tomb, crying?

The tomb was a cave, really. This was our custom. To bury our dead in holes cut into rocks. This was where we had buried our brother. And, then, to protect his body from grave-robbers, which were such a problem in our time--To protect Lazarus’ body, we had rolled a very large stone to block the entrance to his tomb. It took several men to put it in place.

As Jesus was standing there, weeping, disturbed, he told the men to roll the stone away. I looked at him. I thought he was crazy. By this time, Lazarus’ body would have begun to stink. I said, “Lord, the smell will be awful. He’s been dead now for four days.” It wasn’t bad enough that he had died. Did we need to smell his corpse, too?

In reply, Jesus said to me, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?”
I was confused. As I was trying to understand, they rolled the stone away. And then, Jesus looked up into the heavens. He gave thanks to God for hearing him. And, then, in a very loud voice--so loud that it seemed he wanted everyone around to hear--Jesus shouted, “Lazarus! Come out!”

It was then, for a moment, as though time had ceased. Because, there, right in front of me, my dead brother was now alive. Still wrapped in his grave clothes. With his feet and hands still bound with cloth. With the linen still covering his face, Lazarus walked--he WALKED--out of the tomb. My brother. Alive. My dear sweet, kind, loving brother Lazarus. Alive. Not dead. But, alive.

And, then, Jesus told them to “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Alive. Free. Who frees people? Who raises people from the dead, but God?

Then. Then. I believed the words I had said earlier, “You are the Christ. The Son of God. The one to come. The Messiah. You. I believe.”

From death to life. This is what Jesus did for Lazarus that day. That worst of days. That best of days. I saw it. And I believed it.

Isn’t this what you believe, too? That this Jesus, this Son of God, brings you from death to life? Is this what you believe in your baptism? That ancient ritual that comes out of my own tradition?

Isn’t it in your baptism that you are put into the water and that old, unbelieving person you are is drowned? That out of the water comes a new, living, believing creature. Just like Ezekiel’s vision--where God told him to breathe the Spirit into the dry, dead bones. And they came alive again. Isn’t that what your baptism is all about? From death to life? Just like my brother, Lazarus? Just like Jesus? That you and I and Lazarus and all believers die and rise with Jesus?

And that the Holy Spirit breathes in you--lives and breathes in you--and creates new life. That out of your dying in baptism, you are made alive and free. We are all made alive and free. And God continues to make us all alive, and to free us, and to create life wherever there is sin and bondage, and brokenness and death. 

Because that is who God is. God is life. God continuously looks for ways to breathe new, creative life into us. Here, in this place. Out there, in our world.  

I believe that. I believe that we have been freed. That there is life now to be lived. That the Spirit of God is present now and is our hope now.

And that God takes us from brokenness to wholeness. From dying to rising. From death to life. Here. Now. And forever.

I believe it. I pray you do, too. Amen.