Tuesday, March 27, 2018

God's Kingdom Revealed: For Everyone

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  John 12:12-26 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from the One who comes in the name of the Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been seeking a better understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like. We jumped ahead, looking at the interaction of Jesus and Pilate on that Passover day, on that Good Friday. Trying to more fully understand the revelation of God’s kingdom. That, when the world offers us its truth, it is a truth that often comes out of a desire for power and control, and a truth that perpetuates hatred and diminishes life. 

The world’s truth is countered by God’s truth--a truth that is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. A truth that is about love. A truth that gives life instead of diminishing life. A truth that God’s kingdom is not of this world, but, yet, that God. Loves. This. World.

We also looked at the unexpected nature of God’s kingdom. That when the world challenges us to cling tightly to our status or power as we so desperately seek to belong, God challenges us to be vulnerable. To bare our souls. To be fully who we are in all our humanity. And, in that vulnerability, to unexpectedly find connection and belonging. With God and with each other.

Today, we jump back in time to the Sunday before Passover. Five days before, to be exact. And we find Jesus entering Jerusalem for what will be his last time. We know it. But the characters in our story today--Jesus’ disciples and the crowd gathered around him--have yet to know it.

What brought us to this point? In the days leading up to the Jerusalem entry, Jesus performed his last and most significant sign--resurrecting his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. After four days in the tomb. Stinky. Smelly. His body perhaps even beginning to decay. Suddenly, he heard Jesus call his name and was brought from death back to life. This sign was the turning point. Not only for Lazarus. But, especially, for Jesus. Because it was this sign--this miracle--that was the last straw for the religious authorities. They witnessed the growing number of people who were following Jesus because of this miracle. They began to see Jesus as a threat to their own power and their political relationship with Rome. They decided that they would kill Jesus. And, not only Jesus, but Lazarus, too. Because Lazarus was walking proof of the miraculous work of this Jesus. Of Nazareth. 

As the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem opens, it is not the same crowd that surrounds him. Instead of the crowd following him because of Lazarus’ resurrection, this is a Passover crowd. It is a crowd numbered in the tens of thousands--probably around 75,000 people on top of Jerusalem’s existing population of 30,000. People who have come to Jerusalem for this annual festival--a festival that God commanded them to commemorate. A festival that remembers that Passover night and God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.

This festival has taken on a growing meaning for the Jews. Since the collapse of Israel and then Judah, the Jews have undergone constant captivity. First, the Assyrians. Then, the Babylonians. Then, the Greeks. And now, the Romans. As the years have passed, there has been a growing yearning for the promised Messiah--the one God promised to them who would free them. Once again. Just as with that first time from Egypt. But this time, forever.

So, as the people witness the signs that Jesus has performed--the turning water into wine, the healing of the blind man, the resurrection of Lazarus--they have begun to wonder and even hope. “Is he the one?” “Is this the Messiah?” Hoping that Jesus will be the king they yearn for. This is why Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. Because, donkeys are what kings ride after they have been victorious in battle. This is why they throw palm branches down into his path. Because palms are a symbol of victory in ancient Israel. Signs of triumph. Triumph over oppression and bondage.

Huge crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem for the Passover. Crowds so large that the Jewish leaders virtually throw up their hands. “See!” we read verse 19. “See!” You’ve accomplished nothing! Look! The whole world is following him.”

And, in fact, this is true! The whole world was following Jesus. Because in the very next verse, we read that some Greeks were there. Gentiles. They sought out Philip and Andrew--the two disciples of Jesus with Greek names. These Gentiles, these Greeks, sought out the disciples who were like them. And asked to meet Jesus. They, just like the Jewish people, were caught up in the fervor. In the possibility that, finally, the Messiah had come “Look! The whole world is following him.”

But, the experience of that day was deeply ambiguous. Because we know the rest of the story. We know that soon the world would reject and turn against him. Soon, he would be crucified. And die on the cross.

This is the last revelation of God’s kingdom. That God refuses the world’s “no.”  And says, “Nevertheless, I came for you.” Because, everyone gets the invitation to “come and see.” Everyone. Come and see this kingdom of God that offers a truth that is about love and life. Come and see this kingdom of God that offers connection and belonging. Come and see this kingdom of God that is for everyone. Everyone. No one out. Everybody in.

What are you looking for? Who are you seeking? As we move into this holy week, I extend God’s invitation to you to come and see. Come and see. And experience the full revelation of God’s kingdom in the Messiah, God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh. A revelation that is for you and for me. And for everyone. 

No one out. Everybody in.


Preached March 25, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Palm Sunday
Readings: Psalm 24, John 12:12-26

Saturday, March 24, 2018

God's Kingdom Revealed: Unexpected

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. John 19:1-16a (NRSV)

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

Last week we began a new series that will take us into Holy Week--it’s entitled God’s kingdom revealed. The word we focused on last week was “truth.” As you can still see on the walls of our sanctuary, we first considered some of the “truths” of the world in the headlines you wrote on the large note paper. These so-called truths that bombard us daily.

We, then, considered the truth of God’s kingdom. If you participated, you wrote a “truth” of that kingdom that was important to you. “Jesus loves me.” “Jesus loves all people.” God’s kingdom is revealed to us in these truths.

Today, we are considering the unexpected. Now, I’m wondering if there haven’t already been a few unexpected things here today and, also, last week. First, for many of us, I think, it’s unexpected for us to be reading these stories of Jesus’ passion now, nearly two weeks before Holy Week. Usually, the only time we read John 18 and 19 is on Good Friday. So, it may feel a little unexpected to be walking through these scenes of Jesus’ arrest and trial now. And, yet, hearing these stories now provides us with an opportunity to unpack them a little. To perhaps, gain a little more meaning and understanding.

I’m also wondering if having to make some of our own meaning in last week’s sermon also wasn’t a little unexpected. Having to write our own truths and then get up and post them over the world’s so-called truths instead of passively sitting and listening through my sermon--that this felt unexpected to you. Perhaps, even a little uncomfortable.

We fall into patterns in our lives. Now patterns and rituals and order aren’t necessarily bad things. There’s a reason, for example, why we establish bedtime rituals for our children. Or why we establish boundaries around them. All of these rituals and traditions provide them with a sense of security. Security so that, we hope, they will feel safe enough to push through these boundaries and more fully become who they are as adults, as individuals. 

And, yet, sometimes we hold tightly onto these patterns and rituals and order simply out of fear. In a world that seems to change so quickly from one moment to the next, or in our lives where we are healthy one moment and receive a serious diagnosis in the next, or in our relationships where we are with someone we love and in the next moment lose them--we cling so tightly in our fear to the pattern. To what we know. To what we expect. Because to be afraid--to admit that we are afraid would be to acknowledge our own weakness, our own insecurity, our own human brokenness.

This, I think, is what is happening with Pilate in our lesson today. It might have begun as an ordinary trial. Pilate was used to sitting in judgment of accused criminals as the Roman prefect. He had presided over many, many other trials. Yet, it is not long before Pilate realizes this one is different. Unexpected.

He finds no fault in this defendant. “Look!” he says to the Jewish leaders in verse 4, “I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” Pilate attempts to turn Jesus back over to them.

They refuse. And Pilate becomes afraid. Then, they challenge his loyalty to Caesar. “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor,” they tell him. Pilate becomes more afraid. And, then, even knowing that Jesus is innocent, Pilate hands him over to be crucified.

I’ve been reading these verses over and over this week. And, there is something I can’t help wondering about. What might have happened if Pilate had done the unexpected? If he had refused to crucify Jesus?  

Now I fully get that this plan--this plan that Jesus, God’s Son, would die, that this was a plan of God’s making. And, that Pilate didn’t have any real power in this dynamic. Or that, if he did have any power, it was because God had given it to him.

But, imagine what might have happened if, instead of reacting in fear and clinging so tightly to his status and perceived power, he risked it all. That, instead of declaring his allegiance to Caesar in his actions, he declared his allegiance to God. How unexpected that would have been! To witness Pilate’s vulnerability. To see him put himself out there, risking everything--status, power, prestige--not knowing what might happen. How unexpected that would have been!

I think there’s a bit of Pilate in each one of us. We are so desperate to belong that we grasp at the same things as Pilate. Seeking status. Seeking power. Seeking prestige. Thinking that, if only we get that promotion at work, or that “A” in class, or more money or whatever untruth we have told ourselves or that the world has told us, we will belong. People will look up to us. People will accept us. People will love us. Because, if they only knew who we really were, they could never, ever love us.

There is a well-known researcher and sociologist I’ve mentioned before by the name of Brene Brown. Dr. Brown has done years and years of research at the University of Houston on courage. The word “courage” comes from the Latin word “cor,” which means heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word “courage” mean “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, the definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.

What Dr. Brown has found in her research it that, when we define courage as heroic or brave, we fail to recognize the inner strength--the inner heart--and the level of commitment that is required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences, both good and bad. This willingness to be vulnerable, to move past the shame of our mistakes or bad decisions or difficult experiences, is the catalyst for courage and for compassion and, finally, for connection. For belonging. For being loved. No matter what we have done or what has happened to us. The more vulnerable we are, the more connected we become. 

It’s unexpected, isn’t it? When the world teaches us that belonging comes through status or power or privilege, in fact, it comes through vulnerability. Through baring our souls and being fully who we are, warts and all. For being human. 

Jesus is a model of vulnerability for us in this unexpected aspect of God’s kingdom. This Messiah, this Christ, this king, who doesn’t act like a king. This God who doesn’t act like a God. But, who instead, enters into our humanity, becoming one of us. And, then, willingly and vulnerably takes on our brokenness so that we might be freed to become the whole people God intends us to be. Fully forgiven. Fully redeemed. Fully loved.

In just a moment in our worship today, as we pray our prayers, I am going to ask you to be vulnerable. To turn to a neighbor, to move beyond the fear or shame or whatever it is that keeps you from being vulnerable and from being fully honest about your life, and to share the things for which we need prayer. To be vulnerable. Just as Christ was vulnerable for us.

And, perhaps, as we engage in these moments of vulnerability, and openness, and prayer. Perhaps, just perhaps. The kingdom of God might happen right here. Right now. Unexpectedly.


Preached March 18, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Readings: Psalm 146; John 19:1-16a

God's Kingdom Revealed: Truth

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit. John 18:28-40 (NRSV)

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

Today, we are beginning a series called “God’s Kingdom Revealed.” What do you think of when I use the term “kingdom of God”?

The kingdom of God can mean many different things to many different people. We are going to spend some time today thinking about how we envision the kingdom of God.

So, let’s begin by looking at scripture. The kingdom of God is both present and future. Let’s look first at the kingdom of God as something that is yet to come.

Let's read: Isaiah 2:1-4, Isaiah 11:6-9, and Revelation 21:3-5

Based on these readings what is a word that you would use to describe the kingdom of God? As you say your word out loud, I will enter them into my iPad and we will create an image out of them. It’s okay to duplicate words. And, the more words we have, the more spectacular that image will be.

Now, let’s add to this image. Often we think of the kingdom of God as something in the future. But God’s kingdom is happening right now. Here, in our very midst.

Let’s read some more from scripture. Luke 1:50-54, Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 6:10, John 1:14-15.

Based on these readings, are there any new words we need to add to our word cloud?

What does God’s earthly kingdom look like? In today’s lesson, Jesus tells us in his encounter with Pilate that he has come to bring the truth. 

Imagine the situation at the time: Pilate, with his position of power and authority, does not know what to do with this Jesus person. Pilate questions Jesus. And Jesus defies every expectation and understanding that Pilate has. And then there’s the crowd, acting like a mob, demanding the release of Barabbas.

The story feels a little like a modern-day episode of the TV show, “Law and Order,” doesn’t it? It involves a trial, false accusations, an arrest, and a betrayal. There are lies being told, power being manipulated, and innocent people caught in the crossfire. How is it even possible to see God’s kingdom and truth at work in such a mess?

What this story--this mess--provides for us is a contrast between how Pilate sees truth compared to Jesus’ truth. Pilate’s truth is in the power of a lie. In manipulating perceptions that eventually distort and misrepresent what is true. He accepts the lies that the Jewish leadership are feeding him about Jesus. That Jesus is a blasphemer. That he is a rebel against Rome. That Jesus is a threat to the social welfare. This is the truth the Jewish leadership feeds Pilate. This is the truth that Pilate accepts. It is a truth that perpetuates hatred. That diminishes life.

This false truth is countered by God’s truth. A truth that is about conveying love, rather than hatred. About giving life instead of diminishing life. God’s kingdom--the kingdom that Jesus rules--is founded on this truth. It is because this truth is not just about a claim of what the kingdom is. It is because this truth is characteristic of God. Loving. Life-giving. And, by extension, the One sent by God is also characterized by this loving and life-giving truth. It is this truth that is the basis for our relationship with God. With the Word, who in John 1, is “full of grace and truth.”

So, when Pilate asks the question, “What is truth?” he misses the point. The truth of Jesus, this Word made flesh, upon which we base our trust, is the very nature of the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that is not from this world. And, yet, God. Loves. This. World.

God enters into this world in Jesus, who takes on the realities of all humanity--taking on our realities--we, who are susceptible to the kingships and nations of this world. 

Let’s return to our headlines from the beginning of worship. The world is filled with lies and falsehoods. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is true and what is simply loud. But we know that Jesus is the truth. We may not always understand it, but we know that we can trust Jesus. So, we are going to cover over all of these voices--all of these falsehoods and lies and fears--with what we know to be true: that Jesus is our truth.

At the end of each pew is a small stack of colored paper and a few pens. I’d invite each of you to take a piece of paper and a marker, and, on your paper, write a truth about Jesus. Something like, “Jesus is truth,” or “Jesus is love,” or Jesus is peace,” or a truth you might pull from our word cloud. You choose how you want to bury these false headlines. Then, when you have written your truth, take it to one of the headline pages and begin covering up the lies--the lies that our world tells us. 

What is truth? The truth is Jesus, who is the truth of the very nature of the kingdom of God.

God help us to hear this truth and to respond. Amen.

Preached March 11, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Readings: Psalm 145:10-13, John 18:28-40

Finding Courage

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. John 18:12-17 (NRSV)

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

Have you ever made a huge mistake? A mistake so big that at the time it seemed devastating. That, perhaps, you may be able to laugh about now, but that was incredibly painful at the time. That assumes, of course, that we admitted our mistake. I know that, in my life, there are a few that took me a long time to admit my mistake, stubborn as I am.

So, what is one of your memorable mistakes? We’re going to do something a little different today to begin with. I would invite you to think about one of those mistakes and then, if you are comfortable, sharing it with one or two people near you. Particularly, share the feelings and experiences that came out of this mistake. Please allow enough time for each person in your small group to share. And, if this feels uncomfortable for you, simply take time to silently reflect on your mistake and how you felt. Let’s take a few minutes now and do this. 

As human beings, we are perfectly imperfect. Mistakes are woven into each of our stories. In our lesson today, we heard the story of Peter--a disciple who made a mistake in his journey following Jesus. Peter, who is someone I suspect, might just be a little like us.

Today’s story opens in a garden on one side of the Kidron Valley--the opposite side from Jerusalem. Location is always important in the Gospel of John. To get to this garden, Jesus and his disciples would have had to cross over the valley. This valley--the Kidron Valley--is the place in the Old Testament where David fled from Absalom, his son. Tradition describes it as the valley of judgment. This shift--this crossing over the Kidron Valley--is a signal to us that our story has shifted to Jesus’ judgment and condemnation. But, not only Jesus. In John, the Greek word for judgment is krisis. It literally means a crisis. That point in one’s life when one has to make a decision about something really important. A decision that, if it is wrong, can lead to self-judgment and self-condemnation. 

So, our story has only shifted to the time of Jesus’ judgment and condemnation. But, not only his. Over these next few weeks, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, we will see that no one will be spared examination.

We are in a garden with Jesus and his disciples. It is not the first time they’ve been there. In fact, this garden is a place that Jesus and his disciples have frequented. For them, it is a place where they have hung out together. A place of conversation. A place of deep intimacy and relationship between Jesus and the disciples. 

In the verses preceding today’s story, Judas has come with a cohort of Roman soldiers and a few guards from the Jewish Sanhedrin. The group numbered over 600--this was no small number of Roman soldiers and Jewish police. Roman soldiers and Jewish police breaking into this intimate gathering place of Jesus and his disciples. Like the world that constantly breaks into our own communities of faith. 

They arrest Jesus. They bind him and take him away to Annas. The questioning begins.

What’s particularly interesting is that in our story there is simultaneous questioning of both Jesus and Peter. Annas questions Jesus. At the same time, Peter is questioned by a servant woman. Both are, effectively, on trial at the same time. The truth about each is being revealed.

Peter is first. “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?” the servant woman asks him. Notice that, unlike the other three gospels, she doesn’t ask him if he knows Jesus. Instead, here she asks if Peter is one of his disciples.

“I am not.” This is Peter’s response. “I am not.” Think of how this contrasts with all of Jesus’ “I am” statements that we been considering during this Lenten season. “I AM the Bread of Life.” “I AM the Light of the World.” “I AM the Door.” “I AM the Good Shepherd.” “I AM the resurrection and the life.” “I AM.”

In saying, “I am not,” Peter is not only denying Jesus. Peter is denying his own identity as a disciple of Jesus. Peter, who, to all outward appearances, would be a loyal disciple, denies--three times he denies--that he is one of Jesus’ disciples. This most adamant of disciples. One who wouldn’t let Jesus wash his feet because he wanted to protect Jesus’ status as Messiah. One who, when the soldiers and police came to arrest Jesus, quickly drew a sword to defend him, cutting off the ear of Malchus--the high priest’s slave. Peter, the most disciple-like of all of Jesus’ disciples, standing at the charcoal fire with servants and guards, joining them. Denying his own identify as one of Jesus’ followers. Not just once. But three times. And then the rooster crowed. And Peter knew what he had done.

It didn’t end there for Peter. After the resurrection, once again around a charcoal fire, Peter took his place beside Jesus, heard the words of forgiveness and claimed his promise--the promise of life even in the midst of our failures and our limitations. And, after Jesus’ ascension, Peter would courageously and boldly go forth, proclaiming the Good News, and would eventually be martyred.

The chances of our own martyrdom are slight. Yet, how often are we like Peter? How often do we not only deny Jesus, but deny our very relationship with him. When the world comes breaking into our lives and asks us, “Aren’t you a disciple of Jesus?” we fail completely. Deeply flawed and fearful, just as Peter was, we fail in our own witness to Jesus, denying the intimacy of our relationship with him as his disciples. Saying “I am not” even as Jesus is saying “I am.” Over and over again in our fear and weakness.

And then the rooster crows. The Spirit works on our hearts to turn us back around. To lead us here, where together as Jesus’ broken disciples we gather and confess our failures. Vulnerable. Standing in the role of Peter in our own confession, we come to terms with who we are. We tell the truth about ourselves. And, then, we hear the same words Peter heard--Jesus’ words of forgiveness and promise of life, even in the midst of our sin and brokenness.

May we, then, continue to be like Peter. To go boldly into the world, to proclaim the Good News in our words and action, and to offer Jesus’ words of forgiveness and promise. Fearlessly. Courageously.


Preached March 4, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Third Sunday in Lent
Readings: Psalm 17:1-7, John 18:12-17

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Light of the World

Jesus spoke to the people again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Then the Pharisees said to him, “Because you are testifying about yourself, your testimony isn’t valid.”

Jesus replied, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, since I know where I came from and where I’m going. You don’t know where I come from or where I’m going. You judge according to human standards, but I judge no one. Even if I do judge, my judgment is truthful, because I’m not alone. My judgments come from me and from the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the witness of two people is true. I am one witness concerning myself, and the Father who sent me is the other.”

They asked him, “Where is your Father?”

Jesus answered, “You don’t know me and you don’t know my Father. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” He spoke these words while he was teaching in the temple area known as the treasury. No one arrested him, because his time hadn’t yet come.  John 8:12-20 (CEB)

I am the light of the world. These are the words that Jesus opens tonight’s reading with. I am the light of the world. 

Preparing for tonight has brought me to thinking about light. When I was a kid, there were times during winter when we would lose power, just as many here in our area have lost power with the flooding. The only way for us to see in the dark of night was to light a candle. 

We’re going to try an experiment tonight with light. What happens if I turn the lights off? (We can’t see. It’s completely dark.) What happens if I light one candle? (We can see a little. The candle gives off a little light.) What happens if I share the light from the candle with others? (It gets brighter and brighter. It sends the shadows away.)

Over these past weeks, I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics. Perhaps you have been, too. In the few weeks leading up to them, we were witness to the trial of a doctor affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee. A doctor who was convicted of numerous counts of sexual molestation against many young women, most of whom were children at the time. It was ugly to hear their stories. It was heart-breaking to watch. And, for me at least, it was frustrating to learn that complaints had been lodged against him and met with no response. A system that was supposed to protect and develop these young athletes had instead protected a doctor who continued to molest over and over and over again.

This is what systemic sin looks like. Darkness. It is only with the in-breaking of God’s light that such sin and such systems are dismantled. And it is only with the in-breaking of God’s light that justice happens. That those in power are disrupted.  That new systems and new structures are created that serve all people, and not just a few.

This was the stumbling block for the Pharisees in tonight’s story. They could not--they would not--see the in-breaking of God into the world in the person of Jesus standing right in front of them. In the moment of judgment--or crisis in the Greek--they missed God in front of them. They missed the light that was Christ, choosing instead to remain in the darkness of their unbelief.

Where are you in this story? Are you like one of the Pharisees? Or are you like the blind man who will be healed in the very next chapter--a man who, through God’s grace, believes in, is healed, and, then, who witnesses to Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. 

Do you see God shining into the darkness of your life? Are you even open to the possibility?  What are your spiritual practices during this Lenten season that might help you better focus on and see Christ standing right in front of you. Perhaps in the face of a client at our food pantry. Perhaps in the person seated beside you. Jesus. Right in front of you. The Word made flesh. The great, “I AM.”

We give thanks tonight for the light. For Jesus, the light of the world, who continues to break into our lives and into the systems of our world and to turn them upside down, to expose our sin, and to re-create us into new beings and build new systems that witness to the presence of God in our world and that serve everyone, bringing darkness-dispersing light into all the world. Amen.

Preached Feb. 28, 2017 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Midweek Worship - Lent 2
Reading: John 8:12-20