Sunday, April 29, 2012

4 Easter - Deacon Marty Garwood

In a different time and in a different place, our worship space might be entirely different:  with a long central aisle, pews on both sides, stone walls punctuated by tall narrow stained glass windows depicting many of the Bible stories that are so familiar to us.  Perhaps on a particular Sunday, the morning sun would be aligned just perfectly to highlight the Good Shepherd window.     But in the here and now of St. Andrew’s we don’t have those types of stained glass windows.  We do, however, have a number of wonderful paintings that invite us into the stories.  This particular painting usually hangs in the garden room but this morning we have moved it here so that our feast on the Liturgy of the Word can be both visual and auditory.   Scripture has many many references to shepherds and stories about how they cared for their flocks.  Here in western South Dakota we aren’t very familiar with shepherds.  The stories we do hear often refer to sheep herders rather than shepherds and the stories don’t usually bear repeating.     The people listening to Jesus were familiar with shepherds.  Not only were shepherds important because the economic reality of the time demanded that great care be given to the flocks; but the identity of the Hebrew people was tied intrinsically to their history of being a nomadic pastoral community.  The stories they told about who they were as a people included the stories of ancestors who were shepherds.     Their ancestor David was a shepherd before he was anointed by Samuel to become the king.  Other shepherds in their history – in our history – include Jacob, Rachel, Abraham, and the prophet Amos.   The Prophet Jeremiah related the promise of God in these words:  “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”  According to Jeremiah, God also promised:  “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.”  There were great blessings to being a shepherd but there were also great responsibilities.   The saga of the Exodus from Egypt is a classic story of being in the care of a shepherd.  The Hebrew people had been called by their Shepherd to be the people of God.  God knew them by name and called them his own.  Like a good Shepherd, God led them through the wilderness, protecting them from enemies.  The Shepherd led them to springs of water and to life giving sources of food.  They were led to a promised land where they could rest after their wanderings.     We too are led through the wilderness of life by the Good Shepard who calls us by name and claims us as his own.  We are given – with no strings attached – the gift of love.  Set before us is the promise of a banquet complete with all that is needed to sustain our bodies and our souls.  Our wounds are healed and we have the assurance of faith that in the care of the Good Shepherd there is nothing that we need to fear.   I invite your attention back to our painting this morning.  Take a moment to gaze upon the picture.  Don’t focus too strongly but rather let your vision blur just a little around the edges.     There – did you notice it?  The features of the shepherd in the painting began to shift just a little.  The Shepherd began to resemble you – He began to resemble me.   Jesus is not the only good shepherd in this relationship we have with God.  You and I are also called to be shepherds of this flock of God’s creating.  We have been given hearts after God’s own heart.  We have been shown what being loved can be like and we are called to love in return.  The witness or the testimony of our lives being lived deeply grounded in the love that God has for each and every one of us declares to the world who and whose we are.   When Jesus met his disciples on the shore of Galilee following His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved him.  Each time, Peter said yes, of course – each time more emphatically than the last.  Following Peter’s third declaration of his love, Jesus than told Peter “feed my sheep”.  That is exactly what we are called to do.  We are to feed God’s sheep in every way imaginable.   We are called to tear down the fences and to build bridges over the abyss that separate us not only one from another but that also separate us from God.  We are all one flock separated by divisions put there by humankind.  God has called us all by name and loves each of us unconditionally.  As shepherds, we are to tend the flock God has created – a flock of which we are a part of.  We are to unify and strengthen that flock.  We are called to lay down our lives out of love for God and for one another.  We are to die to those things which we allow to prevent us from caring for one another.  We will experience resurrection in a new found way as we live out God’s purposes for us in the world today.  We are to be the hands and feet of Christ right here where we live our extraordinary every day lives.   In her book “Gospel in the Global Village Seeking God’s Dream of Shalom” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori wrote the following: “After all, the baptized may all be sheep, but they also have a vocation to be shepherds – every single one of us.  It is a way of talking about our vocation to follow Jesus, working to heal the world.”   Bishop Katharine also states “that to participate in God’s mission of healing the world – puts fear into most of us, if we are honest.  It is an enormous and awesome and impossible job.  Yet we continue to go, most of us, every day, to build the reign of God – one encounter and one person at a time.”   Our ability to serve as shepherds is grounded in the peace and confidence that is given to us through Jesus – the Good Shepherd.  When we call ourselves Christians, and pattern ourselves after Jesus Christ, then all that we are and all that we do works to the betterment of God’s kingdom.  We are to seek and serve Christ in all others – loving our neighbor as ourselves.     There is nothing too small or too insignificant – all that we do matters.   Let me share some of the ways I have seen you serving as shepherds.   I see a younger sibling praising the accomplishments of an older sister. I see you faithfully bringing food items so that others may be fed out of your bounty. I see a spouse caring for a husband or wife who is not in good health. I see you providing transportation so that others may attend events in the community as well as church functions. I see you participating in programs that protect God’s creation – our environment. I see you returning your neighbor’s trash can to the head of the driveway so it doesn’t blow down the street. I see you going out of your way to learn more about a culture that is different from your own so that you can teach your children. I see you welcoming the stranger to the community because you too have been in their shoes. I see you praying not only for those you know but also for those you do not know. I see you taking time for yourself – for rest and relaxation – because you know that if you don’t minister to yourself you won’t be able to minister to others.     Of course, this is an incomplete list.  This is only a sampling of the many ways in which we all serve as shepherds.   Earlier this week I opened my e-mail and found an entry from a blog by the Rev.Tim Schenck.  Father Schenck is the rector at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Hingham Massachusetts.  This particular blog entry was about sharing the Peace – or as Father Tim describes it - the Holy Half Time.  It is meant to be that moment during the liturgy when “By exchanging The Peace with one another we are forced to confront the reality that we worship in community, not because it happens to be convenient or always easy, but because Christ gathered disciples around himself and calls us into community as well.”   As I prepared for this homily, I found myself returning again and again to Father Tim’s words about what the peace of God really means.  I believe that in offering the peace of God to one another, we are living into our roles as shepherds.  So I offer you a challenge this morning.   Rather than attempting to hug or shake hands with as many people as possible – approach two or three people.  Take time to look each one in the eye.   And in your best shepherd voice offer them the peace of God.  By that I mean really offer them – the lay your burden down, come rest with me, drink of the living water, and eat of the bread of life – Peace of God.  This is what the Good Shepherd brings to you and me.  It is the least of what we can offer to others.   Alleluia!  Christ is Risen The Lord is Risen Indeed.  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

3 Easter Yr B

We hear in today's gospel as we heard last week from John, Jesus stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled, and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. I read that there were ghost stories told in the 1st century, the great Roman author and statesman Pliny the Younger recorded one of the first notable ghost stories in his letters, Pliny reported that the specter of an old man with a long beard, rattling chains, was haunting his house in Athens. I imagine, like there were many stories about messiahs and prophets floating around, there were ghost stories as well. In this story, the author wants us to know that this was really Jesus, "Look, I'm real, I eat, give me something to eat and I'll show you." Is it just a ghost story, or something terribly more important about who we are and what we are to do? In this story, Jesus says "Peace be with you," and then Jesus goes on to tell them that they are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness and are witnesses of these things. An important detail in this story, a detail that we could easily overlook, is that Jerusalem is where Jesus' crucifixion took place, and it is where the disciples are when this story takes place. Forgiveness, repentance, and the offering of peace begins right where the disciples are, even though it is a rather hostile place for all of them at that time. What it means for us is that forgiveness begins right where we are. Not with someone else or someplace else, but right in our own homes, in our own cities and villages, and right in our own hearts. I think so often we think forgiveness is up to someone else, it's up to someone else to forgive us, but it's not, it's up to each of us, it's up to you and to me. Forgiveness and reconciliation only begin when our own hearts are softened. What's more, Jesus' friends in this story are startled and terrified. They don't have some sort of zen peacefulness, they don't have some sort of courageous exterior, they don't have the latest self help bestseller that tells them exactly what forgiveness and reconciliation look like, or the 7 habits of the successful forgiver, or the top 10 ways to reconcile with your neighbor. What Jesus is showing them is that the work he did on the cross and in the resurrection already made possible the new life that they are living. That work doesn't take away their fear, it doesn't take away our fear, but it does make it possible for us to live life's of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus did Jesus' job, now our job is to practice forgiveness and reconciliation in every aspect of our lives. So, there's a story I was so struck by a while back that I need to tell you about it again. In February 1993, Mary's son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot to death during an argument at a party. He was 20, and Mary's only child. The killer was a 16-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary wanted justice. She said, "He was an animal. He deserved to be caged." And he was. Tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years -- Oshea served 17 before being recently released. He now lives back in the old neighborhood - next door to Mary. How a convicted murder ended-up living a door jamb away from his victim's mother is a story, not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect - but of remarkable mercy. A few years ago Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota's Stillwater state prison. As a devout Christian, she felt compelled to see if there was some way, if somehow, she could forgive her son's killer. "I believe the first thing she said to me was, 'Look, you don't know me. I don't know you. Let's just start with right now,'" Oshea says. "And I was befuddled myself." Oshea says they met regularly after that. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord - who with Mary's blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don't just live close - they are close. Mary was able to forgive. She credits God, of course - but also concedes a more selfish motive. "Unforgiveness is like cancer," Mary says. "It will eat you from the inside out. It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me. It's for me." For Oshea, it hasn't been that easy. "I haven't totally forgiven myself yet, I'm learning to forgive myself. And I'm still growing toward trying to forgive myself." To that end, Oshea is now busy proving himself to himself. He works at a recycling plant by day and goes to college by night. He says he's determined to payback Mary's clemency by contributing to society. In fact, he's already working on it - singing the praises of God and forgiveness at prisons, churches - to large audiences everywhere. "A conversation can take you a long way," Oshea says to one group. Unforgiveness is like a cancer, forgiveness and reconciliation are like a healing balm. Forgiveness is not about being perfect, forgiveness doesn't mean a crime goes unpunished. But forgiveness is about living fully alive, forgiveness is death and resurrection. Forgiveness is what Jesus' activity is all about. The Greek word for being ‘saved’ is also translated “made well,” “healed,” or “made whole.” It refers not to some private transaction between God and the soul, but to the healing and transformation of the whole person! But the story is about something else too. It is about the peace that Jesus offers us, and the peace we offer one another because Jesus is present with us. We say to one another, Peace be with you, and the other responds, and also with you. You see, this reconciliation, this peace making is part of what it is to be whole, and it is what we do before we come to the table together. This forgiveness, and reconciliation, and peacemaking is amazingly important, because it bears witness to something that is incredibly important. Our gospel story today tells us to bear witness to this important thing. We bear witness to things that are important to us all the time, things that maybe are not quite so important. We bear witness to the great movies or television programs we've seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments, or failures, of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family or work lives. We bear witness -- that is, tell someone about -- the things that matter to us all the time. It's not really all that different when it comes to faith. Witnessing does not mean shoving our faith down someone's throat or threatening them with eternal hellfire if they don't believe like we do. It's simply telling others where we sensed God at work -- at home or work, at church or school, through a stranger or a friend, a doctor or teacher or neighbor, even through ourselves. Bearing witness is nothing more than saying where you think God is at work in your life and the world. We bear witness all the time; we're just not used to thinking about doing it in terms of our faith. We must bear witness to God's love in our lives, we must bear witness to forgiveness, and to peacemaking. Our lives bear witness to Jesus' love. We must bear witness that Love wins. Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2 Easter Yr B

After a long day of waiting with his friends, after his friend Jesus had died, Thomas was nowhere to be found. Maybe he figured this thing was over and done with, they couldn't even find Jesus' body, who knows what the soldiers had done with it? Who knew he would miss Jesus? Who knew that Jesus would show up, that was absolutely unimaginable, unreasonable, too much to hope for. But his friends told him afterwards that Jesus was with them. That Jesus had said to them "Peace be with you" and had showed them his hands and side where the holes were.

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? 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. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 7, 2012


The young man says to the women, Jesus has been raised, he is not here! This is the Good News, the heart of the Easter message. The young man told the women to go tell his disciples that they would see him, just as Jesus had told them. Go and tell. With these events that we have witnessed at the tomb, we have been drawn into the early dawn hours of a new day. With the women, we have come to the tomb and the discovery of the large stone rolled away. The message of the young man is addressed to us. We too have received the commission to go and tell. Finally, we understand the response of the women fleeing from the tomb in trembling and amazement. Actually in the Greek the word is ecstasy, ecstasy had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

They did eventually tell others, we would not have this story had they not. Eventually they did live into the commission to go and tell. This is awesome news, Jesus is raised, so God's new creation has begun and we his followers, like the women who first witnessed the empty tomb, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven. This is a message that is effective now, not at some future time. This is good news about now, not some reward at the end of life.

And what is the story we tell? What is the story the women told? What is the story the disciples told? The story is Love wins. The story is that death does not triumph. The story is that God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, the creator of the universe, the one we just heard about as Michael told us the story of creation, walked this earth just like you, just like me. This same God, lived, and loved, suffered and died, just like you, just like me. The story is that God loves you so absolutely and completely that your life is changed.

And just what does a changed life look like? What does eternal life look like? It looks like partnership with God, it looks like taking seriously our responsibility to care for the earth and one another in deeply loving ways. It looks like mercy and compassion and justice, because God's dwelling place is now among the people, not in some far off place. You see, when we take that seriously, when we take resurrection seriously, it changes everything. We no longer live for ourselves or for a reward at the end of life, instead we live as agents, as partners with God, creating a merciful compassionate and just world, right here and right now. Go and tell, is what the women did, go and tell that Jesus has changed everything.

Jesus calls disciples, that's you and me, in order to teach us how to be and what to be. Jesus intention is for us to be growing and changing toward generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth-telling, and responsibility so that as these things take over our lives we participate with God in creating the world God longs for. The world God longs for, the kingdom of God.

And who belongs in the kingdom of God? You do, we all do. There is no one outside of God's love, there is nothing any one of us could do that would make God love us any less. Any stories you have heard that suggests what you do, or who you are, or what you look like, puts you outside of God's love are lies. The truth is that God loves you, God loves each and every one of us no matter what. You may turn your back on God, but God never lets go.

We have just spent this holy week in the reality of this life, in the reality of pain and suffering, of love and death. The truth is born out in the story of life, death, and resurrection. There is a pattern that leads to life, the pattern is that we must lose our life in order to find it. The truth is that we must die to lies of self importance, the lies of autonomy, the lies of individualism, and rise again to the truth of interdependence, the truth of community, the truth of the Body of Christ. The truth of resurrection shows us that dieing to that which is killing us is the only way to life a live that is worth living.

At the center of the cross are the stories that show us that healing and reconciliation, renewal and return cause God's greatness to shine through the universe. The empty tomb shows us that love, in the end, wins. But, we have a choice. Love demands freedom, we are free to resist, to reject, and to rebel against God's ways for us, we can choose hell on earth. We do that every time we isolate ourselves, give the cold shoulder to someone who has slighted us, every time we hide knives in our words, every time we harden our hearts in defiance of what we know to be the loving, good, and right thing to do. And each one of those choices collects others, our hearts get harder, our minds get duller. But God says yes. Yes, there is water for that thirst, food for that hunger, light for that darkness, relief for that burden.

Choose the empty tomb. Choose the love that wins. Go and tell.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

What is good about Good Friday? I’ve heard people ask this question, I’ve asked it myself. It is a
difficult questions to answer truthfully. What is good about Good Friday? I think what is good about Good Friday is that it shows us something about holy dying.
In our fast paced, gotta have it now, there’s an app for that, high tech lives, the worst possible thing to happen is death, or sickness. Our language reflects that. We fight and battle with cancer, we overcome disability, we rarely speak of death as a part of life, we rarely speak of sickness as the opportunity for life in a new way. Good Friday shows us that death is dying to that which is killing us, resurrection only and always happens after death. Good Friday shows us that something must die
before the green and growing thing can take root and bear new life. Good Friday shows us that forgiveness is about pruning that which is dead anyway, so that God can effect in us the new life that God promises.
Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is Lord, not my will but yours be done. Giving up our will is not a bad thing. In our culture that is all about you, all about what you want and when you want it,
obedience is a bad word. But it is being who God wants us to be that is a good thing, and that requires that we die to whatever it is that is killing us.
Good Friday shows us holy dying, it is not easy, but it is a part of life. You see, the truth is that being human means being born to die. Again, none of us gets out of here alive. Jesus’ life, and suffering and death on a Roman cross not only show us how to do it, but Jesus, on that Roman cross, takes our place.
On this night we remember all this. We enter into the story of the passion. We hear the story in the voices of those who were with Jesus that terrible night. We do so not to be macabre, not to glorify Jesus’ death or any other death, we do it so that we may be healed, we may be reconciled, that we may have the absolutely new and abundant life that God offers in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
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? We grow toward Holy Dying and 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, a God 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. It is indeed, a Good Friday.
And Jesus’ dying on the cross looks to the world like failure. Jesus suffered, Jesus died. But Jesus did not fail. Jesus redefined death and life. Death does not have the final word; death does not have the victory. The Word of God has the final word.
What Jesus did on the cross was to make it possible for us to have new life, a life that our words cannot begin to describe, a life that our minds cannot begin to imagine. What Jesus did and does is to make it possible for us to be transformed.
Winning and losing have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; love and forgiveness are gifts. Success and failure have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; sharing and walking together are gifts. Isolation and alienation have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; relationship and connection are gifts.
Jesus does not 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. That is what this Good Friday is about. 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. Holy Dying.
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 cross does become the place where transformation
and holy dying is possible. Love indeed wins.

Foot Washing and Holy Communion

This liturgy of Maundy Thursday a gift. It is a gift of time, a gift of remembrance, a gift of presence. In our hurry up and get the next thing done world, when was the last time you put aside some time to wash someone’s feet? In the skip over the hard stuff because it might hurt world, stopping to remember the incredible sadness of these events seems foolish. But our stories and our liturgy invite us into being present, being present to one another as we bare our feet to have them washed, and as we bare our souls to have them cleansed and fed. Stop, and listen. Stop, and serve. Stop, and smell. Stop, and eat. We indeed are invited to set up camp right here, pitch our tent, and listen to the story whose reality is, Love wins.
Jesus’ foot washing is a radical activity. Foot washing was a common practice when guests arrived for a meal, it was an action usually performed by slaves or low-status servants. It was an onerous and demeaning task because it meant washing off human and animal waste. No matter how well a person bathed, sandals and feet inevitably became smelly and dirty in the process of walking to a meal at another’s house. And then, particularly here in John, to wash another’s feet is to wash away their actions. Foot washing is a parting gesture performed by Jesus and urged upon the disciples, they and we must forgive one another as Jesus first forgives, they and we must love one another as Jesus first loves. Peter completely misunderstands that Jesus is talking about discipleship.
The gospel from John tonight concludes with the words, 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. Jesus speaks of discipleship in this distinctive way in John, having love for one another. We have heard the stories of the Old Testament all through Lent, the great stories of promise and covenant. What is radically different about this new covenant, this new commandment in the gospel of John, is this aspect of discipleship, love one another.
Jesus, teacher, rabbi, friend, knows that the end is near. In this part of John’s gospel we have event after event of Jesus trying to impart all of his teaching to the disciples, story after story that shows Jesus’ friends what discipleship looks like. Discipleship looks like love and forgiveness, and in the context of 1st century Mediterranean culture, love and forgiveness are radical. It is honor and power that have been valued, Jesus shows something else entirely.
It is a good and right thing to do for us to wash one another’s feet, but it cannot be just symbolic action. It needs to be sacramental, it needs to be an outward sign of an inward reality, it needs to be the way we live our lives in the church and in the world. The hard part about love and forgiveness, and the hard thing about discipleship, is that the world we live in does not necessarily reward love and forgiveness. Just look at what happened to Jesus.
The other piece of what we do this night is to celebrate the meal Jesus shared with his disciples, the meal in which he said, do this, for the remembrance of me. Everyone eats, no one goes hungry. When we break bread together, we live in the reality of the radical nature of love and forgiveness. We live in the reality of the radical nature of coming together not for solace only, but also for strength, not for pardon only, but for renewal. The grace that is present in this meal heals us, makes us whole, so that we may go out and show forth God’s love and forgiveness, God’s reconciliation. Something amazing happens, risen lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Foot washing and Holy Communion, in the 21st century are radical ideas. Washing dirty feet, and eating together with people we may or may not like, people we may or may not agree with. These activities are a sign to the world that something is different; the ways of the world are not the ways of those who follow Christ. These radical activities are a reconciling word in a broken and fragmented world, Love wins.
On this night we hear Jesus’ words, do this in remembrance of me. Every time we remember, we bring forward to the present a reality that was lived in the past. Bringing that reality forward makes it real again. This observance of foot washing and Holy Communion brings the reality of what Jesus did to our present, so that the power of who Jesus is is made real. Risen lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. We not only remember, but we are re-membered, we are put back together, we are made whole.
Stop, and listen. Stop, and serve. Stop, and smell. Stop, and eat.

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