Saturday, March 29, 2008
Thomas scoffed at his friends and said, "You're kidding, right? That can't be true. Besides, in order for me to believe you, I'd have to put my hands in those holes myself." His friends shook their heads and walked away, remembering that Thomas was always the one who wanted proof, he wanted evidence, and in this case, he wanted the gory details.
They met together the next week as usual, and this time Thomas was there. They gathered together in the same room that they had always gathered in, and shut the doors behind them. They were still afraid that the soldiers might come after them.
And then, Jesus was there standing among them. How did he get there? How did he get in? All the doors were locked. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you," and then he walked right over to Thomas and looked him in the eyes and said, "Thomas, I know you've always been the one who needs not just to know the facts, but you need to feel too. Go ahead, put your fingers on my hands, feel the holes. Go ahead, feel the holes in my side. Feel Thomas, feel the reality of what God has done."
As I listen to this story over and over again, what begins to make sense is that this story is not about belief, or doubt, or even proof and evidence. When I read this story, I realize this is about recognizing Jesus in our midst in an absolutely new way. I imagine Jesus didn't look the same as his old self. The story says that Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you," he showed them his hands and his side, and then they recognized him, "this is Jesus." This resurrected Jesus was recognized in an absolutely different way. He didn’t walk through the door like the ordinary Jesus, the doors were locked. They recognized Jesus in his words, Peace be with you, and receive the Holy Spirit. They recognized Jesus in his wounds. They recognized Jesus in transformation.
Maybe Thomas wasn’t there the first time not because he doubted, maybe Thomas wasn’t there the first time because he already knew. Maybe Thomas was already out doing the work of recognizing Christ in others, maybe Thomas was already out bringing the good news of God in our midst to the lonely, the outcasts, the thrown away. Maybe Thomas already knew that if you want to know that God is real, that Christ is alive and at work in the world, the best place for you to be is out there, in the world. Maybe Thomas was the brave one.
Resurrection is not about magic. Resurrection is about the reality of the Kingdom of God. Resurrection is about the God who created all that is seen and unseen, the God who created you and me, doing this absolutely new thing in human history. Resurrection is about this new creation that was begun with Easter, and continues as we encourage one another to be active in projects of new creation, projects of healing and of hope. When we are active in projects of healing and hope, we are standing on the ground that Jesus has won in his resurrection.
According to NT Wright, the Bishop of Durham, in England, writing on resurrection, we are not only the beneficiaries of new creation, we are the agents of it. You and I, when we are active healers, when we are active hopers, we are living in the new creation, and bringing about the Kingdom of God. Thomas, I think, was already about Kingdom business.
Together and with Jesus, we have journeyed through the dark times, we experienced betrayal and lies, we experienced the suffering and death, and we come to this place today, with Thomas and Jesus’ other friends and know that we are made new creations because of the journey. We are made new creations by what Jesus did, and we are agents of new creation by what we do.
Do you need to know what is meaningful? Do you need to know what is real? Do you need to know that God is real? Do you need to know that Christ is alive, that sin and death itself are not the last word, but are passing away? Do you need to experience Christ’s presence? Do you want to touch Jesus, and know that Jesus is really right here with you?
Then hear Jesus’ commission to those upon whom he breathes his spirit; you are being sent out, into the world, and specifically into the world’s brokenness. You are being sent to touch those places, to proclaim and participate in the reconciliation and the healing that is Christ’s work in the world, to be the agents of new creation and transformation in the world. You are being sent because you, each one of us about to gather at Jesus’ table right here, and at every other table at which bread is being broken in remembrance of him, are now the Body of Christ, Jesus’ presence at work in the world, called and empowered to do what Jesus did.
If we want to know what is real, if we want to experience the transformation in Jesus, if we want to recognize Jesus, not only do we do that in this place and at this table, we’ll also have to leave the rooms we lock ourselves in because of fear. We need to do what Thomas did, get out into the world, and insist on touching Christ’s wounds. We can’t sequester ourselves from the world’s pain, we can’t isolate ourselves from our own pain. We can’t numb our pain, or over stimulate ourselves in order to feel something. We can’t keep our mouths shut because we don’t know the words to speak.
Fortunately, Jesus keeps after us, breathing peace and power to go out there and touch the places where the Body of Christ suffers. Jesus keeps after us breathing peace and power to go out there and show people what is real, where there is meaning. Jesus keeps after us, showing us that pain and sorrow, suffering and isolation, do not need to keep us enslaved to fear.
How do we recognize Jesus? How do we experience Jesus? How do we know? By getting out there, by going into the world and doing the work of reconciliation, the work of healing, the work of hope, the work of building relationships, by doing the work that Christ does.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Come let us adore him. Alleluia!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
We are Easter People and yet we live our lives as Mary on that first Easter morning. In the empty tomb she was weeping for fear of where they had taken Jesus’ body, she looked directly at Jesus and did not recognize him. She wanted him to stay with her as he had always been, and yet he too was transformed.
We have that same problem, we look directly at Jesus and we do not recognize. Incarnation, God with us, Emmanuel, God in the flesh, means that each and every one of us, and all of us as one body, are full of Christ.
We are full of Christ because we are full of the divine Love. Madeleine L’Engle said that love means being willing to give up everything in order to be with the subject of that love, as God has done, and the story of our faith remembers. One of Madeleine L’Engle’s most well loved books is A Wrinkle in Time, which was finally made into a movie. Ms. L’Engle in interviews had said many times that she would not allow her book to be made into a movie if she had to give up artistic control. The issue most important to her had to do with this very idea of love. There were folks earlier that wanted to make A Wrinkle in Time into a movie, but she rejected the screen play because when she opened up the script the first line said, “Love is Power.” Love is not power, love is abandoning power to be with the subject of that love.
God gave up all power to come and live as the powerless, and we, you and I, are made new. Because God became one of us, and God lived, suffered, died, we have new life.
This is the love that Christ demonstrated. This divine love is the love L’Engle writes about. This is the love that enabled God to come to Earth, born of a woman, to live and die as one of us. This is the love that moved God to save us as we could not save ourselves.
My friends, God has interrupted human existence, human history. And all that we can do is to try to be to God a fraction of what Christ is to us. A mighty tall order, a dreadfully demanding task, but one that we are called to do none the less. That is what being full of Christ is, being full of that love. We are called to be overflowing with love for all people. Love without fear. Love without demanding anything in return. Love even if you cannot possibly get along with them. Love your neighbors and your enemies as yourself. Be overflowing with love as you turn the other cheek.
Our problem is that we tend toward sin. Christ was perfect, but we are not. We are not perfect, no matter how hard we try. No matter how many miles we run to stay slim, no matter what brand of make-up we use, no matter how closely we follow the teachings of the Bible.
And that is why Christ died for us, a perfect sacrament for the whole world. Christ died and is risen so that we could live in freedom and new life now, and with God in eternity. Christ died and is risen so that we don’t need an invitation into paradise. Christ has done the work; our job is to respond in a new way. And that new way is the way of love.
We are Easter people; we live in the truth of resurrection. What does resurrection mean to you and to me in our daily lives? According to Madeleine L’engle, it’s not about resuscitation, like when paramedics are able to revive someone who has had a heart attack. The something wonderful that happened 2000 years ago, continues moment by moment for us. That truth is revealed by the stories Jesus’ followers told and eventually recorded, That truth is evidenced by the centuries of people who have lived their lives breaking boundaries as Jesus did, the truth is told by Mary when she encountered Jesus on that first Easter morning.
That truth is the truth of love; It is the truth of God’s love for each and every one of us. It is the truth that we are God’s beloved, We are marked and chosen, we are the delight of God’s life. We have completed our journey, we have wandered in the wilderness of loneliness and sadness, we have thirsted with a thirst that can never be quenched, and yet in hope we baptized Keller at our vigil last night, and renewed our own baptism in the living water that only Jesus provides. We rejoice in the Easter joy, we rejoice with Mary as we exclaim, I have seen the Lord.
Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Something wonderful has happened. God has graciously interrupted our world. God has come into our lives, to call us back into relationship. God has made it possible for us to be transformed, to live in freedom, to be liberated from sin and death. God has made new what once was dead. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Is the acclamation we shout to the world.
This is the work that Jesus does. Because God gave up all power to come and live as the powerless, we, you and I, are made new. Because God became one of us, to live, suffer, die, we have new life, we can live a the life we have been created to live.
Tonight, at this Vigil, and Baptism and celebration of resurrection, we remember who we are, and whose we are. We rehearsed the story of God’s activity in the life of God’s people. We remembered creation and blessing, we remembered turning away from God, we remembered being called back to God, we remembered being made a new people, and we remember restoration and resurrection. We give God praise and thanksgiving that we are new, we are transformed, we are free. And we are re-membered, through the gift of the bread and the wine, we are one body, one spirit in Christ.
Tonight, we have baptized Keller, and with him and his family we have recommitted ourselves to living a transformed life. Tonight, with Keller we have promised again to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. We promised to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin to repent and return to the Lord. We promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And, we promised to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.
That is a lot to promise. And, there is something else we promised. We promised to do all in our power to support these newly baptized and one another in our life in Christ, we promise to do all in our power to support each other in our growth in Jesus Christ.
Seems like an awful lot in one night. But just think about what Jesus accomplished for us in one night.
What does that look like, to fulfill all that we promise?
There is some instruction in our reading from Romans. There it says, “therefore we have been buried with Jesus by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” This is an ethical admonition. To walk in newness of life. And Romans goes on to say, “We know our old self was crucified with Jesus so the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved.
This is exactly the life we are called to live. A transformed life, a life that is in among this world, but is no longer slave to sin, but free to be in relationship with God.
Lent shows us that Jesus joins us in our suffering and pain, and in our alienation and isolation, and that is what being baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection is. Jesus does not take that away, Jesus joins us in the midst of all of our pain and joy.
Transformation, new life, does not mean the absence of suffering and pain, or the disappearance of being alienated or isolated. Transformation and new life made possible by God living in our midst is about just that, living in this world, with all of it’s challenges, it’s difficulties, it’s injustice, and being able to respond to it creatively.
To walk in newness of life is all full of verb, of action, of creativity. To create life, to become more than just me, or just you, to become a body. This is where grace happens. The pain of loss is surpassed by the bliss of love. The suffering of spirit or body is surpassed by the happiness found in relationship; the relationship God calls us into, and the relationship of family, friends, and community. The alienation and isolation of different-ness, is surpassed by the joyfulness of being marvelously made in God’s image.
New life in Christ is the something wonderful that Easter is all about.
Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed:
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
Friday, March 21, 2008
The people who populate this story, and the events of this passion, the betrayal, the lies, the apathy, the bad luck, allow each of us to enter the story. You and I are these people, we are people who have betrayed and been betrayed, we are people who have lied and who have been lied to, we are people who have shown apathy, and we are people who experience just darn bad luck. We are people who have experienced sadness and pain, we are people who feel isolated and alienated at times. We are human beings who live in the muck and mess of this life. What we do together this evening, and the foot washing and holy communion of last evening, even the joyous resurrection we will celebrate together tomorrow evening, doesn’t take away the reality of the muck and mess in which we live. We carry these burdens, they are part of who we are.
So what does happen when we walk the way of the cross with Jesus, when we enter into the events of this holy week and this holy day? Why do we all show up all these evenings to walk the way of the cross with Jesus? I surely hope transformation happens. I surely hope we are changed by our encounter with the people on the way, the people in the stories, and by the amazing love that God has for us that we know because God is willing to be one of us. Because only a God who is willing to be one of us, who has such faith in us, is a God in which I can place my love, my loyalty, my attention.
You see, what Jesus does at this moment is to let evil wreak its fury upon him; he negates its power and takes it out of the world with him. Jesus takes on all of our betrayal, all of our lies, our apathy, all of our pain, sadness, loneliness and isolation, and Jesus defeats it, not by resisting it with the sort of violence that was visited upon him, but by absorbing it and removing it through the power of love. On the cross, Jesus ultimately collects all of the violence of this world, takes it and holds it so that the stream of hate and hurt will flow no farther.
Jesus takes in all of our pain and our suffering, all of our betrayal and lies; all of our isolation and sadness, and Jesus contains it. Jesus’ life and death says to our world, it all stops here. It all stops with me.
Jesus’ last words in the gospel story we heard this evening, are “it is finished.” What is it that Jesus accomplished?
Not to take away pain and sorrow and isolation. The reality that you and I know, is that to be human is to feel, to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel isolation, to feel intimacy. And, being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love.
Death is real and grief hurts and sometimes we just have to sit in the silence and cry and wait. The reality of incarnation, the reality of Jesus is that Jesus holds our grief, Jesus contains our pain. Jesus is the vessel in which all of humanity can rest assured in unconditional acceptance. Jesus is the chalice in which our lifeblood is poured. Jesus is the bread that contains the fruit of our sweat. The cross does become the place where transformation is possible.
But for right now though, are left to sit in the silence and cry and wait. We have some experience in this. It is very like when we sit with our loved ones in hospital, as the result of illness or accident, waiting, quite unsure of what to do or what to think, silence and sadness and tears, are our only activity.
Too many Christians want to go straight from the garden of Gethsemane to the garden of the empty tomb without going by way of the hill of crucifixion and the stone-cold body. It seems too painful to sit in silence, waiting and grieving. And yet nothing of the reality of Christ’s victory over evil on the cross, or our faith in the resurrection to come soon, must be allowed to shield us from the awful brute fact that Jesus died.
And yet, as we sit in the silence to cry and to wait, we sit with this company. The disciples sat together in the silence to cry and to wait. Our only comfort right now resides with one another, with these relationships to each other and to God. Hold one another, grieve with one another, and remember,
give one another the gift of hope.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him. Amen
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The stories we hear this evening are the stories that constitute us as a people. They are stories that tell us who we are, and whose we are. They are stories that trace God’s activity in the live of God’s people. First, we hear the story of the Passover. It is a story that is told time and time again in Jewish households, especially at the seder meal, when the children ask, Why is this night different from all other nights, from all other nights?
The Psalm remembers the story of the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness. It recounts how God fed the people, when no food was visible.
The story from Corinthians paints a picture of the passover meal shared by Jesus and his friends. This is the meal that re-members us each time we gather together for our feast at this table.
And the story from John describes how the man who was to be King teaches all of us about hospitality.
The central activity of this night together is hospitality. Radical hospitality is at the core of who we are. The gospels are all about radical hospitality. Tonight we are all about radical hospitality. Setting a meal, inviting people to eat, washing up, hospitality. Hospitality in our time has really lost it’s biblical meaning. In the Jewish culture in which our story is told, it was considered a great honor to serve strangers. The people believed they were serving God by serving others. This custom was based on the belief that something of God is in each person.
Jesus was the exemplar of hospitality. Jesus was the host at meals with people that no one else in his culture cared about or would even be seen with, single women, tax collectors. For Jesus hospitality was about breaking boundaries. Hospitality was radical.
In the Roman honor/status system of during Jesus’ time if you were a person of status and means, you would invite particular people to a meal at your home, knowing that you would get a return invitation, You would be honored by their presence, and your status would be preserved.People in our culture often operate on that premise too.
But the story that is told about the wedding banquet shows us that for Jesus, returning the invitation isn’t important, in fact it is so not important that the point Jesus makes is that hospitality is radical hospitality when the guests may not be able to invite you to their home at all, probably because they have no home to invite you to.
Also in the Roman context meals were all about where you sat at the table. If you were important, you took a seat of honor at the head of the table. But what Jesus taught was all about disrupting the conventional social order. The stories we hear and read about the last and the first are all about disrupting the sort of order that based worth on social prominence, that was the last thing Jesus needed.
Arguably, the greatest modern day practitioner of hospitality was the late Fred Rogers. Now many of you may remember him as Mr. Rogers asking all of us “won’t you be my neighbor?” In an editorial eulogizing Mr. Rogers, a professor of religion surmised, ”The disciplined, courteous, loving attention which he gave to each person, as a marvel of supreme worth, was what made Fred Rogers a source of endless comfort for his young viewers. You are special, he sang to them, and you can never go down the drain.” Everything Fred Rogers did was about hospitality and dignity.
Not unlike the vision of the upper room, a table where Jesus invited the one who would deceive through denial and the one who would betray him unto death. If Jesus can offer hospitality to the likes of them, then anyone in my neighborhood can come to the table too.
Radical hospitality welcomes you here. You are a marvel of supreme worth. I know that is true, because Jesus wouldn’t have died for anything less. Radical hospitality invites all of us to bring our pain, our suffering, our alienation and our isolation to this place, to this table, where we are unconditionally accepted.
In time, in this place of safety, we begin to understand our shortcomings, our failures, our tendency toward sin. We begin to understand that we must shape our lives around the greatest commandment, to love God above all things, and to love the other as well, to offer hospitality ourselves.
Foot washing was a necessity in the lives of the people who populate our biblical stories. Trudging around in desert climates with sandals on your feet, provided an opportunity for some very dirty feet. What begins as practicality turns to hospitality. But Jesus’ concern was holiness, not hygiene. Jesus says to Peter, let me wash your feet. And Peter regarding Jesus as better than a slave, responds no. Jesus says to Peter, ”if I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I am doing.” And Peter responds, with that exuberance that Peter displays, ”Well then, wash all of me, my hands and my head too!” What Jesus is doing here is pointing Peter and all of us the way to radical hospitality.
What makes it radical instead of just ordinary?
The mystery of the now and not yet. Radical hospitality is now, it is that we are welcomed at this table each time we come for solace and for strength, for pardon and for renewal. Risen lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread is our response. And radical hospitality is the not yet. What we do today at this table is a glimpse of what can be, it is a glimpse of the life that God intends for us, it is a glimpse of the banquet that God has set for us.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him. Amen
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The King has come, but not quite as expected. Jesus rides into
Jesus is all too aware of the dangers of that will befall him. He is all too aware of what the Roman government is capable of doing. The most difficult encounter of this journey still lies ahead as we face with Jesus the climax of this relationship with him. All we can do is to stay close and follow him, listen and watch, because ‘something wonderful’ is about to happen this week.
Something wonderful is about to happen this week, but this something wonderful happens only after the pain, sorrow, suffering, alienation and isolation that is being human. That something wonderful can’t be gotten to too quickly, that something wonderful is a promise. The paradox here for us is that we know the end of the story. You and I know about the resurrection, and often we wish to jump over all of the pain and alienation, the suffering and sadness that is represented by Holy Week, to get there.
But we just can’t. We need to live in this Holy Week. We need to be on this road with Jesus, who at one moment seems the champion, and the next seems the lowly outcast, to really understand and experience Easter Joy.
This is something I don’t have to tell you, you all know this. You know this because every one of you has lived this same story. Your story is part of the story of God’s activity in Jesus.
Which one of you has experienced the pain and sorrow of losing someone you love? Which one of you has accompanied your spouse or your loved one through the ravages of chemo and of radiation? Which one of you has spent hours at your parent’s bedside, watching and praying while they die, the only thing you are able to do is hold their hand. Which one of you has spent your life time watching a sibling drink themselves to death, or smoke themselves to death, all you could do was pray that they’d quit. Which one of you has lost a child to accident, to suicide, or even to an estranged relationship?
Which one of you has experienced the alienation and isolation of being different? Of being the only one whose parents expect you to keep them informed of where you are and who you’re with. Which one of you has had the embarrassment of your parents insisting on meeting the parents of the kid whose house the party is at, or the embarrassment of your parents insisting on meeting the parents of the boy or girl you’re going out with?
Which one of you has been the brunt of jokes and teasing? Which one of you has been the bully, because you just can’t figure out how to be with people who are different than you.
Pain, and suffering, isolation and alienation, loneliness.... This is what Jesus experienced during that time from the hours in the garden when his friends fell asleep to the time he was nailed on that cross.
His friends abandoned him, betrayed him, and denied that they knew him, they also raised swords to protect him. Soldiers beat him, officials mocked him, and none understood him. He was nailed to a cross and left to die. Jesus’ story is our story.
And the Good News is that in the midst of this Mess, a mess sometimes of our making, often not of our making, is that God is with us, and God will create new life out of it. The Good news is that in the midst of this mess, we are transformed. We are not are same old self, it is in and through this relationship with Jesus that we are made different.
Which of you, as you look back on the pain and suffering of a loved one, is able to talk about God being with you, in the people that cared for you, in reconciliation of a relationship?
Which of you, as you look on the alienation and isolation of your middle school or high school years, is able to talk about the teacher, or the coach, or the friend, who reached out to you to pull you out of that isolation? Which of you, as you look back on your own recovery from addiction, is able to talk about the people who helped you through it?
God in our midst, Jesus Christ in the face of the other. Transformation, Resurrection. Oh, we’re not there yet, but we keep getting glimpses.
Our lives are neither neat nor easy. The path is never straight nor evident. In the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the pain, the suffering, the alienation, the isolation, we can hardly see our way clear, we can hardly see our own belly button. But that’s the point. When we stop gazing at our own belly button, and lift our head up to look the other in the eye, we begin to be the person in whom another may see Jesus. We begin to live our transformed lives as Easter people.
But I get ahead of myself again. I have a habit of doing that. Because in the midst of the Mess, comes something wonderful, and I can hardly wait.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him. Amen
Sunday, March 9, 2008
So the sadness that Martha and Mary have experienced at the death of their brother Lazarus, seems passionate and powerful. Especially since they called on their friend Jesus to come and heal their brother, and Jesus didn’t come. He didn’t come when their brother lay dying, and even Jesus broke the rules about always coming to the funeral, he missed his friend Lazarus’ funeral. Finally, four days after Lazarus has been laid in the tomb, Jesus comes.
Martha runs out to him in the depths of her grief and anger, screaming and hollering, why weren’t you here earlier? You could have done something about this, now Lazarus lies rotting in that tomb. Why, did he have to die? Why didn’t you come? Why…
Questions we all ask at the death of a friend, at the death of a loved one. The sorrow and grief of our friends becomes our sorrow and grief too. This story of Mary and Martha proves that being faithful to Jesus is in no way a guarantee against pain and tragedy. There is no one on earth whose righteousness, wisdom, hard work, or good planning will preserve her from seeing the depths that Martha sees. Good people become widows and orphans. Good people die, and much too soon. It’s a fact, and no less of a fact for Jesus’ coming.
But there is something else. We can cry to God from the depths. There is no depth, no loss, no tragedy, no disease or death, nothing on heaven or on earth or under the earth that can place the world or anyone in it beyond God’s redemption. Good people become widows and orphans, good people are killed in accidents, good people die from disease, good people die at a young age. But God defends the widow and the orphan, and will not leave those God loves bereft.
God will not leave us filled with a sense of loss, God will not leave us. You see, that’s what was, is, and will be accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God loves us, God loves all creation. And God, master of the universe, creator of all that is seen and unseen, gave up all power and came into this world as one of us, just like you and me. Jesus. God in our midst. And Jesus stood with our friends Mary and Martha, and wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus didn’t take the pain away from our friends, Jesus doesn’t take the pain away from us, but Jesus stands side by side, right in the very midst of us, and feels the pain and the sorrow along with us. This is a God in whom I can place my faith, my trust, just like my friends Martha and Mary.
And this is the place we find ourselves today, the last Sunday before Jesus’ journey takes him to Jerusalem, the city in which he will be put to death for his radical ideas of love and inclusion. We find ourselves in this place of sadness, loss, pain and sorrow. A place of isolation, and of alienation. It is a place where we will spend much of our time until the day of resurrection.
When we are in a place of sadness, of loneliness, or a place of alienation it seems as it if will never come to a conclusion, the isolation, the sadness, the loneliness, will never end. But that is what our heart desires, conclusion and reconciliation. Being once again brought back into the web of relationship in which the yearning of our heart is fulfilled. A place of solace and of strength, a place of pardon and renewal.
You may be in that place of loneliness and alienation right now. In these days at St. Andrew’s we have experienced the deaths of well beloved members, and we all feel a blanket of sadness. And some of you recognize the anniversary of the death of your beloved, and the heartache you continue to experience.
Some of you may be isolated in your relationships; some of you may be experiencing broken relationships. Some of you may feel alienated from the people around you, people at school or at work. Good and true relationships are so very hard in this world where perceived perfection can be accomplished through surgery, implants and pills. Good and true relationships are so very hard in this world where recreational sex is splayed all over our TV sets and pop culture magazines.
Our cries to God do not go unheard. It is into this mess that Jesus has come. This is the very place where Jesus comes to prove that we were created in God’s image, we are marked and chosen, we are the delight of God’s live. It is into this place of loneliness and alienation that Jesus comes and says you are not alone, you are never alone, I am with you, and I am here in those who surround you to show you the way.
But, this story doesn’t end there. This story goes on. Jesus calls Lazarus out of his tomb, against the better judgment of our friends Mary and Martha, who know full well that after four days in the tomb this will not be pleasant. But the gospel writer John always points to God, and this story is no different. It is for the glory of God that Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. It is to show Mary and Martha, you and I, all who were gathered there that day, and all who hear this story over the millennia, that it is through God that creation has new life, that creation is brought back into right relationship with its creator. It is through God that we no longer live in isolation, we no longer are alienated from God and from one another, death does not separate us from God or from one another.
After we have become convinced that all is lost, when we are ready to concede to death, Jesus demonstrates that there is no loss, no death, no tragedy, no depth, no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can place a person, a situation, or a world beyond God’s redemption, beyond the reach of infinite love and abundant life.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him. Amen.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
These comments were given by Dn Marty Garwood, who would also like to acknowledge the contributions of The Rev. Evelyn Weaver, The Rev. Sandy Williams, and the Rev. Deacon Mike Weaver.
Dn Marty shared these reflections on Saturday March 8 at St Andrew's Episcopal Church. The occasion of the funeral service for Fr Bill Hibbert, much beloved former rector of St Andrews. Fr Bill had been welcomed by our Lord the previous Tuesday and we all miss him dearly.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.These words from the psalmist were often used by the Rev. William Hibbert to begin his homilies. But more importantly, they were words that Father Bill lived by.
He lived completely and totally to give glory to his God. His was a life lived with complete trust in God. He was a man filled with the Spirit.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of William Chattin Hibbert – a life that was centered by his God. God moved and breathed in Fr. Bill’s very being. And there was no doubt who Fr. Bill was. And there is no doubt to Whom Father Bill belongs.
Fred and Dick – you know him as brother. Rick – as uncle.
Virginia – you shared an extraordinary friendship.
We knew Fr. Bill as friend, pastor.
We knew him as teacher, counselor, as a guide and companion on our journey through life.
We knew Fr. Bill as an advocate for youth and as a life-long Boy Scout.
We knew him as a master in the art of making a short story long.
We knew Fr. Bill as a musician – a lover of Bach.
And we especially knew him as a kind and gentle man.
But regardless of the infinite variety of ways in which we each individually knew Fr. Bill, there is a common denominator.
We all knew him – we still know him - as a beloved child of God.
It may seem strange that we speak of our time together this morning as a time of celebration. As we look around the sanctuary, the environment seems bleak and harsh. This is not the usual look of a church that is in the midst of a holy celebration. Our hearts are heavy and our eyes fill easily with tears. We come together to mourn – to receive comfort for ourselves and to offer comfort to others. There is no shame or weakness in the tears we shed. Our sadness is natural. We are meant to mourn just as we are meant to love.
Yet, there is much to celebrate this day.
We are in the middle of Lent – those forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter – a season marked by both repentance and renewal. Lent is a time of austerity that is tempered by a sense of anticipation and hope. Our sanctuary is dressed for Lent. We see before us the harshness of the naked branches, the thicket of briars – inhospitable, desolate.
We think of the time Jesus spent in the desert – in the wilderness – in the wild-ness. We feel as though thorns are piercing our hearts as we grieve for our loss. We feel the desolation – the wild-ness of our grief as we contemplate our lives without the person we love. Sometimes it may feel as though our sense of hopelessness separates us from God.
Yet, in the midst of that naked life-less grapevine – there is hope. The bright shimmering waters of the baptismal font remind us that Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. As the Messiah, Jesus would lead us through His own life, death, and resurrection into everlasting life.
We are renewed and refreshed as we are reminded of the waters of our own baptism. We have been formed and reformed – transformed – by those very waters. We share in the Baptism of Jesus Christ and we are reborn through the Holy Spirit.
It is by virtue of our Baptismal vows that each and every one of us is a minister of the Church. We are to represent Christ in the world and we are to bear witness to Christ wherever we might be.
Father Bill had a particular knack for recognizing the unique ministries we each possess. We might have just called it our own gift or perhaps just accepted that it was simply something we felt called to do. But Fr. Bill named it – he called it what it is – a ministry. He encouraged and fostered those ministries in every person he met. That conviction of the power of our Baptismal ministries is what gave him the commitment to the ideal of what is often called Total or Mutual Ministry.
This homily is an example of the concept of Mutual Ministry. I may be standing here in front of you – but these thoughts and words are not mine alone. Evelyn Weaver, Sandy Williams, Mike Weaver, and I all have ministries that have been deeply impacted by Fr. Bill. The four of us worked together – we collaborated – to form the message you are now listening to. The four of us stand as representatives for everyone whose Baptismal ministries were recognized and honored by Fr. Bill.
The waters of the Baptismal font reassure us of who we are. This morning as you come forward to receive the bread and wine of communion, I invite you to dip your hand in the waters of this baptismal font. Allow the fresh cool water to remind you that through our Baptism God forever changed us. We have been marked as God’s own forever.
The Kingdom of God is a radical world. It is a world that is turned upside down and inside out from everything that seems logical or reasonable.
In the Scripture reading from Revelation, we are told that to the thirsty will be given water as the gift from the spring of the water of life. This is an especially poignant passage. During the last several months, Father Bill was on a very restricted diet. Every drop of fluid was measured; every drop of fluid was treasured. His physical thirst was constant and unsatisfied.
What kind of logical world is it when we have been freely given the gift of Living Water – Living Water that quenches the thirst for all that we long for? It is a world of a God that loves us beyond all reason. It is with an amazing confidence that we are able to accept the invitation to drink of the spring of the waters of life.
The world is turned around when we are told that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. There is nothing sane or reasonable in a world where the Son of God dies on a cross between two criminals. The world turned upside down when the stone rolled away from the tomb.
And it is incomprehensible that we should be a part of such a world – that we in our humanity – our humanness – can share in the Baptism and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But we do.
As incredible as it is – we have indeed been loved into that very kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that He is the way, and the truth, and the life. We are assured that our faith will bring us life even though we will experience death – but it will not be a death forever. It is our tomb that the stone has been rolled away from.
Jesus has prepared a place for us. In this extreme world made new, Jesus has promised that He will come again – so that where He is – there we may be also. We have been promised that we will share in Paradise. We have been given the assurance that upon our death we will join with all the saints who have gone before us – those saints who were everyday ordinary folks.
Everyday ordinary folks like Fr. Bill.
Everyday ordinary folks like you and I.
In this radical world of our loving God, the everyday and ordinary becomes extraordinary and beloved. Once again, we will be formed and reformed – transformed. From the ashes we have been created – in the waters of Baptism we have been washed and given new life – we too will one day stand in Paradise with Fr. Bill.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Rather than giving thanks for the miracle of sight, the first thing out of the mouth of the disciple who asked is, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And Jesus’ answer is that this man’s blindness is not due to his parents’ sin or his own sin. In fact, to Jesus, this is not about sin at all, many people of Jesus’ time thought that a physical ailment was do to you sinning or inheriting your parents’ sin. Jesus says, it’s not about sin at all; it’s about sight and seeing.
Jesus heals a blind man. Here is a man who has just had his sight restored, truly a miracle, and all the disciples can talk about is whether this man is the man who used to sit and beg. They really can’t quite place him, even after he says who he is, even after all the years they’ve walked by him in the marketplace. They want to take him to his parents’ house so that his parents can identify him, and then his parents don’t seem to be overjoyed at the miracle either, it seems they don’t want much to do with their son. Eventually the conversation turns to whom the man is who healed the blind man, and the blind man says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” It is an astonishing thing that they don’t know who Jesus is; and, that Jesus healed this man who they all know was blind, but they still don’t believe him.
I think this is a story about seeing and not seeing, it is about who is really blind. Jesus saw a man blind from birth. The disciples looked right through the blind man, they had seen him sitting in the same place for years, but had never seen him. When Jesus healed the blind man, the blind man saw Jesus for who he really is, the One who is from God. The Pharisees could neither see the blind man, nor could they see that the one who healed the blind man is the One who is from God. The blind man is the one who sees, the disciples and the Pharisees are the ones who are blind.
What is it we are blinded by? What is it that is right in front of us that we don’t see? All of us are born blind in one way or another. Some of us have blindness of body: a crippling disease, cancer, diabetes, or bad bones. Some of us have blindness of heart, and that is a terrible blindness. The blind of heart can’t love another beyond a superficial level and usually can’t even love themselves. The blind of heart often live lives corroded with addictions to material things, possessions, and work, to cover up the empty hole. And worst of all is blindness of the soul, which wraps all the rest of life in gloomy darkness.
There was just a report on the morning news show that people won’t take their vacation time even when they have it. If they do take vacation, they bring their cell phones and won’t turn them off, they check their email while they are away. Are we blind to the people in our lives, do we ever say to ourselves, “I just can’t see my way through this.”
Or maybe we are blind to our own self-indulgence, when the messages we constantly get are messages of acquisition and consumption. When competition for our dollars spurs networks to charge millions of dollars for seconds of advertising time, advertising that forms us into people who believe that our lives aim is to acquire more, to have bigger, better, newer. That the reason for being is all about you.
Or maybe we are blind to our own pessimism. This culture of fear we live in has a tendency to take our hope away. Sometimes it is difficult to see who we really are, people who are chosen and marked by God, delight of God’s life. Perhaps we are blind to the pain of a neighbor’s sorrow, or the loneliness of a child, or the needs of a spouse. Perhaps we are blind to the other who is different, whose life seems so foreign to our own, that we just don’t understand. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in making a living, pursuing the good life, or running from our fears that we just don’t see.
What kind of blindness lives inside you?
Jesus notices our blindness. Jesus sees. Jesus invites us to see. Jesus invites us to see with our very blind eyes, with our wounds and brokenness. Jesus uses our weaknesses as grace. Today we sing “amazing grace.” We sing of our blindness that Jesus heals.
On our Lenten journey we are called to be healed of our own blindness, and we prepare for celebrating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the Eucharist, and we celebrate how through Jesus we come to see others, all creation, and ourselves as wonderful gifts. This is the Good News that shines brightly through our blindness. Jesus has offered us a new view of life, death and resurrection. We have been called and chosen, but not because of distinctions, achievements, family lineage, or personal attractiveness, not because God sees us as any more beautiful or deserving as anyone else. God’s love is blind to such plastic categories.
We have been called and chosen despite our tendency to blindness. We have been called and chosen even though we trip over those we cannot see. We have been called and chosen despite looking directly at someone, and not seeing who they are, their pain and suffering, or their joy. But, in this new view of life, we recognize that life, death and resurrection means that we must look at people in the eye, and that we take a new look at ourselves. It takes time to see clearly, and we must be patient in our recovery.
When we see with the healed eyes that Jesus gives us, we will recognize that each and every one of us is a wonderful creation of God. When we look into the eyes of our neighbor, we may see a person who is hurting and lonely just like us; and we may see a person who is blessed and joyful, just like us. When we look into the eyes of the one who we think is wrong, we may recognize a person who has come to their convictions through prayer and bible study, just like like us. When we look into the eyes of the one we hate, we will recognize someone who God loves, just like us.
And when someone looks into your eyes, do they recognize who you truly are, a new creation, a person healed and transformed through love by God? Can they see your life, can they see your struggle, can they see your sadness, can they see your joy, can they see your integrity, do they recognize you, washed in the waters of baptism, clean and pure, a reflection of the creator God.
Do they see one whose life, right now, attests to Jesus, the light of the world? Do they see that you love Jesus? When someone looks into your eyes, do they recognize the fruits of your new life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In what ways, during the rest of this Lent, can you open your eyes to Jesus?
Lord God, heal our vision, so that we may see you more clearly, right here, right now.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him. Amen.