Saturday, April 26, 2014

2 Easter Yr A April 27 2014

Audio 4.27.2014

Last week we left off with Mary Magdalene running from the empty tomb early in the day and announcing to the disciples, "I have seen The Lord." Today we pick up the very same story, on the evening of the day of Resurrection, with the disciples in a house with the doors locked, and Jesus came and stood among them. But Thomas was not there. Later, when the other disciples saw Thomas, they proclaimed the very same words that Mary Magdalene used, "We have seen The Lord." 

When was the last time you missed some really big news? Do you ever claim, "why am I always the last to know?" Imagine Thomas, wherever he was, clearly not with the others. Maybe he was picking up the beer and snacks, it looked like they were going to spend some time in that house locked up, they were fearful of those who put Jesus to death. So Thomas, unaware of what was going on, finally shows up only to find out that he missed the big deal. He missed this alleged appearance of Jesus. And, he's not taking the word of the rest of his friends on this, he wants to see for himself. It's not that he doubts Jesus, he doesn't believe his friends. Thomas wants to see The Lord, he wants to see and even touch the wounds, he wants all the gory details.

But what's even more important is that Thomas does something for us in this story. Thomas, through this experience of seeing and believing, joins us to the beloved community that will never see the person of Jesus in this life. So it is not so much about believing without seeing, as it is about being made part of this relationship with Jesus through the community that is forming. The community of the beloved disciple, as Raymond Brown, a New Testament scholar calls it. We, like Thomas, claim the resurrection. Jesus is talking to all of us, not just Thomas, not just those gathered in the room, but to all of us. And in this relationship, in resurrection, all of us have a different sort of life, a life of mystery and craziness, a life transformed. The gospel writer, John, calls this eternal life. I call it, being Easter People. 

So, the story continues with the disciples locked in this room, afraid. Jesus came among them and said, "Peace be with you." And I'm sure they replied with "and also with you." And then they rejoiced.  Resurrection is about choosing love over fear. Love transforms us, fear strangles us, love creates community, fear isolates us, love wins, fear kills. This amazing occurrence, this truth that death does not win, this truth that even in joy there is pain, is what Easter is about.  

We have walked the forty days of Lent, we buried our alleluias, we confessed our sins, we have been engaged in our spiritual disciplines, whatever they were, and here we are. Singing and proclaiming the alleluias, rejoicing and sharing God's peace, as Jesus first did with us. The sorrow and pain of our lives is no less, no different for the truth of the resurrection, what is different is that we are joined to Jesus and to one another as we walk the way. Jesus says to us, with and through Thomas and the others, believing is not seeing, believing is the gift of finding me in one another, believing is the gift of doing this life together, believing is my body broken for you, so you may be whole and holy. Be not afraid. Fear prevents people from seeing, fear prevents you from seeing, from shedding our old self to take on the new real self. Fear moves us to grasp for the secure rather than reach for the real.

This story, of Thomas who says he wants to touch Jesus' wounds, and then doesn't do it in the end, shows us what is real. Jesus' presence is real. Jesus' wounds are real. Jesus' peace is real. And Jesus leaves us with the real presence of the Spirit. Do not be afraid, we hear at the incarnation, and we hear in this room, instead, be filled with the spirit. The spirit that teaches us about grace, and forgiveness, and love.

This Easter story, being written into each of our lives is the real story. With Thomas each of us gets to see, to feel, to touch, what is real, and what is real is the amazing love that God has for us, what is real is that this love brings us into relationship with God and with one another, a relationship we call the body of christ. Sometimes we succumb to the lie that this life is about getting as much as we want, or doing as we please, without any though on the effect that has on those around us, or even on the living, moving, breathing earth upon which we live. But that is not reality. Reality is that we are all connected. We are all related. Reality is that what I do, what you do, affects the web that surrounds us. That is what this story tells us, we are part of the community of faith, and the communion of saints. That is what Jesus is telling Thomas, the rest of the disciples, and us. 

And this is how resurrection matters. This is how what God does in Jesus matters. What God does in the resurrection matters. We do indeed encounter Jesus at every turn. You show forth the reality that Love wins. You show forth the reality that death does not have the final word. What you do matters to the world and to the kingdom. What you do, what we do has an effect on the world about us, what we do has an effect on the people around us. Like Thomas, we see, feel, touch the pain and suffering of Jesus in our midst. We see our brothers and sisters suffering 
as the result of natural disasters, tornados and snow storms. We witness the pain and suffering in our community as the result of poverty. We accompany our friends as they sit with family in hospital and in homes and await death and await healing. We are accompanied by friends who sit in vigil with us. We may be afraid, but instead of being immobilized by that fear, we proclaim by word and example that Jesus is in our midst and that Love wins, that new life is possible now. 
That's the story we write. That's the story that's true. 

Love wins. God brings wholeness and healing to all of creation, including Thomas, and you, and me. 
God re-members us. God puts us back together. God reconciles us. God restores us. Even when it looks like and feels like everything is falling apart, even when it looks like and feels like failure. 
Peace be with you is what Jesus says to those gathered in that room. Peace be with you, you are now reconciled, you have new life.

The Easter story we write is the story that says yes to God. Because, when we say yes to God,  when we open ourselves to Jesus' living, giving action the cross, we enter into a way of life. God is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that the story of death and rebirth,  new life, is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires. Loose your life to find it. 

Let your life, let your Easter story show the world that Love wins. Each time you put your finger into the wound of another, be the agent of resurrection, be the bringer of hope, of new life. Each time you see the pain in the world, be the the one who responds with mercy, compassion, and love. Each time you hear words of derision, words that bully and hurt, speak instead words of mercy, of compassion and of love. Each time you encounter fear, fear of death, fear of change, fear of the other, fear of not having enough, remember that Love wins over fear every time. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

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 humanity to be transformed, to live in freedom from sin and death. God has made new what once was dead. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Is the acclamation we shout to the world.

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

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, A Wrinkle in Time, is being made into a movie. Ms. L’Engle in interviews has 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.

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.

This is the love that Christ demonstrated. This divine love is the love that the greatest stories ever told are 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 something 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.

We are Easter people, we live in the truth of resurrection. What does resurrection mean to you and to me in our daily lives? This isn't 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, and that truth is made known by you and I. 

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. In her Easter message, our presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, asks us, “Where and how will we look for the Body of Christ, risen and rising? Will we share the life of that body as an Easter people, transformed by resurrection and sent to transform the world in turn?”

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

Easter Vigil 2014

Do not be afraid, Jesus is not here, he has been raised from the dead. This is the Good News, the heart of the Easter message. We have come to the tomb with fear and trepidation, and we hear, just like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, do not be afraid, go and tell that you have seen me.

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 eventually 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, 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. In her Easter message, our presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, asks us, “Where and how will we look for the Body of Christ, risen and rising? Will we share the life of that body as an Easter people, transformed by resurrection and sent to transform the world in turn?”

We will look in all the unexpected places and times for the Body of Christ, because everyone 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! 


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday April 18 2014


I think Good Friday is such a confusing day. Is it a day of mourning, or a day of rejoicing? Is it a day to be sad, or is it a day of forgiveness? It is all of that. 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 that happens 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. Good Friday shows us that the work Jesus does on the cross matters, that God's love for humanity, and the healing that love affects, saves us.

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 becomes 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; Jesus does not fight violence with violence, hatred, or revenge. Love wins. 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. Can we do that? Can we sit in the pain and loneliness with those who suffer? 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. Holy Living.

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, April 17 2014


Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. Jesus got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of his friends, 
drying them with his apron. 

In this fourth gospel, during the last meal that Jesus spends with his friends before his death, Jesus washes the feet of his friends, and asks them to do likewise. In this fourth gospel, John, the gospel writer points us to two central activities that show us who we are. Washing one another's feet, and eating together. God provides for God's people and God's people serve one another. So it is significant that this is what we do as we participate in these final days of Jesus' life. We eat this meal together, and we wash one another's feet. 

Imagine having been at this particular passover meal. Hoards of people have arrived in Jerusalem for the festival. All clamoring for a place to eat the meal. You, being a friend of Jesus, are in this room, with these people, reclining at this table. Bartholomew, James, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, Mary, Thomas, James, Joanna, Philip, Matthew, Susanna, Thaddeus, 
Simon, and all the other men and women and children who were gathered that night. The meal is spread before you, the unleavened bread, the roasted lamb, and the bitter herbs. And in the middle of the meal, Jesus gets up, he takes off his robe and ties a towel around himself. 

How odd, how extraordinary. He pours water into a basin and begins to wash everyone's feet. They surely needed washing, there are no clean feet in all of Jerusalem after a day of walking about, gathering supplies for the meal, visiting friends and relatives. But who does he think he is? That job is not his, it is the servant's work.  

Sometimes life's events feel so big, and wide, and broad, and overwhelming. The pain and the joy of life bring us soaring to the mountaintops and to the depths of despair. And much of life is lived somewhere in between, in the mundane moments of making dinner for those we love, or driving our children to dance and music class, or doing our taxes, or taking a bath, or dreaming our dreams. It is in the ordinary Jesus shows us sacred. In the ordinary meal, our cracks are filled, our fissures healed, we are made whole. In the mundane washing, we overflow with mercy and compassion. Jesus seeps into our very being, washes us, feeds us, heals us. Jesus shows us who God is, and Jesus teaches us who we are.

Let me wash your feet, take this bread, and you will be healed. Jesus offers love, and forgiveness, healing and compassion. On this night, the night Jesus is handed over to be tortured, betrayed by his friend, Love still wins. 

The violence perpetrated on Jesus is hard to hear, hard to watch, because you and I are implicated in it. We have not been perfect. We have judged, we have bullied, we have missed the mark. We have offered ridicule when mercy was called for. We have fallen asleep when we should have paid attention. But, we are loved perfectly. Love still wins.

The gift we are given this night, mercy and compassion, foot washing and food, washes over us, nourishes us, puts us back together. We are re-membered. Come and receive the gift. Come, and remember who you are. 
Come.

And then go.Go invite others to the banquet.Go, wash the feet of those whom God loves, those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are different than you.

Wash the feet of those whom God loves, with whom do you disagree?
Wash the feet of those whom God loves, from whom do you need forgiveness, whom do you need to forgive? Wash the feet of those whom God loves, you will be re-membered, you will be healed. Wash the feet of those whom God loves, you will be a part of the healing of your world, 
you will witness to the truth, Love wins. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday Yr A April 13 2014

I have chosen to say a few words at this spot today because it makes more sense to me to talk about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and then to receive the story of Jesus' passion in silence. Liturgically, we do something very odd here. We begin our worship together with waving palms, with the parade, and with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and we end our worship in quiet, as we prepare for the unfolding of the passion through out the week. Please know that it takes all week to hear this story, to participate in this story, to be able to approach Easter and resurrection. This week carve out time to participate, 
you all have full lives, but this week, of all the weeks of our lives, is the week to be here. 

So for the moment, I need to reflect on the Palm of Palm Sunday. Jesus and the disciples and thousands of other pilgrims have made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus hailed as a king. Not Caesar, not the appointed Roman governor. But a new king –  one for the poor, for those without voices, for those left behind. Jesus is hailed as King, yet riding on a donkey. The disciples welcome him into their city, Jerusalem, and shout "blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord" for now. They lay down their cloaks, holey as they are. And for the time being, we are all willing to follow. But are we also willing to follow into trouble, controversy, trial and death?

The donkey, the disciples, the cloaks laid down. When we look closely we see the people gathered for this parade, this entrance into Jerusalem, are not the important and powerful, but the poor and marginalized, Jesus' disciples. This very important but very brief story shows us that Love does not win by the world's standards. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the nation's hopes, answering our longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself. Jesus brings the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it. His disciples, of course, have seen things that have changed their lives forever 
and have raised their hopes. Indeed, our lives our changed.

This is not about the powerful Pharisees, grumbling about what will happen if the authorities in Jerusalem think that there's a messianic demonstration going on. From now on we see them no more. It is not about the people of the day who have wealth, it is about the Kingdom of God in which the last will be first and the first will be last. Love wins by God's defeat of evil, and our participation in the new life made possible by the work of Jesus. God gives up Godself for us, those God loves, thus empowering and emboldening us to do the same. 

This is the holiest of weeks. We have prepared ourselves throughout Lent for this journey with Jesus. We come to this Passover festival as Jesus' disciples, we come lean and fit, as that is what our lenten discipline has done for us. We have laid down our burden's, we have cast off the waste, we have stepped up our exercise, we are lean and fit. We climb this mountain with Jesus, and revel in the pre-Passover party. 

Rejoice in this moment. This moment of welcome, when the shouts of "Blessed be The Lord" are heard throughout the cosmos. This moment is fleeting. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

5 Lent Yr A April 6 2014

Audio 4.6.2014

The story we have before us today pulls many threads of what we have been hearing all through Lent together. This is an healing story, a miracle story, a story that shows us who Jesus is.

I think of Mary and Martha as good friends of mine. Mary and Martha are women who cook and clean and read, they are women who are committed to Jesus. I think the reason they seem like good friends of mine is that we do the same things, it seems like we share the same interests and concerns. Martha is concerned about the perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, she wonders if that wasn’t a bit extravagant. Martha also is concerned that Mary tends to act more like a disciple of Jesus, than the single girl that she is. Martha seems practical that way, Mary a bit more excessive, a bit overgenerous. Sometimes I wish I were a bit more like my friend Mary, and a bit less like my friend Martha.

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, 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 a follower of 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. And God loves everyone of us, God's love wins.

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 by our 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. 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 muck and 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 claimed as God's own, we are the delight of God’s life. 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. God's love wins, all the time. Amen.