Saturday, September 16, 2017

Feast of the Holy Cross, transferred, Sept 17, 2017



Feast of the Holy Cross, transferred, Sept 17, 2017 Audio

From the moment John opens his story, in the first few lines of this fourth gospel, John proclaims, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John’s first words call upon the creation story in Genesis, they imagine with us the incarnation, the Word becomes flesh for the sake of the world God loves, and helps us to cast our gaze to crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

The passage from John before us today follows Jesus’ last teaching. It follows Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet, and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the place of his death. The path John shows us is a path of love and light, light that enlightens, light that emboldens, light that illuminates all people everywhere. And the scene before us today follows this request of the Greeks, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We are joined on this journey together with those who wish to see Jesus.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is the Light that enlightens the world. Even through this horrible death on a cross, God’s love extends and includes all of creation, you and me. You’d think John and Martin Luther King Jr. broke bread together, as Martin Luther King Jr. had said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

What is it we see? What does this Light that is God’s love in the world, reveal to us? The scene and the activity point us forward to Jesus’ death, death that looks to the world as failure and loss, but the means of Jesus’ death, and the hope of exaltation, resurrection and ascension is illuminated as well. The words announce to us that God’s love in the flesh, Jesus, is the Light, and the Light will never go out. We also learn that the Light is meant for everyone, not just some, not just the ones in the inner circle, surely not just the rich and powerful, not just the cool kids, but everyone. And John is grappling with a question of belief, or maybe disbelief. John wonders why some who have encountered Jesus believe that he is God in the flesh, God’s love made real, and some do not. John wonders how disbelief is even possible. For John, responding to the light, the revelation, the appearance of God in the flesh, is belief.

So when wondering about John’s question, why do some, many, most, in fact, not believe, the answer is may be somewhere in the experience of the Jews of Jesus’ circle, belief in Jesus put them out of the synagogue, out on the margins. So how do you fashion your life around that which looks like loss and defeat?

Death on a cross looks like a loss. In any definition of winning today, death, especially death on a cross, looks like loss, defeat, it sure doesn’t look like victory. Victory is winning. Winning is good, that’s what we hear from the one who holds the highest office in our country, and others who hold on tightly to power. It’s all about the win, and winning is worth any collateral damage it takes to get there. Dying on a cross sure isn’t winning. Telling the truth, and then dying on a cross, sure isn’t winning. It’s as true for us as it was for those who heard Jesus, who saw the wonders Jesus has done. Putting your faith in a guy who gets put to death on a cross, puts you on the margins, it puts you out of the winners circle. And it would have put you out of the synagogue, and life outside of the synagogue, in the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture for a Jew, would have been worse than death.

If you were Jesus’ friend, Jesus’ follower, and you witnessed Jesus’ death on that cross, how would you react? Protests, riots, calls for retribution. We see that all the time, and we call it righteous outrage. How could this death possibly happen? This person was innocent, we would have hoped for a far different outcome. Something that didn’t look like, couldn’t possibly be, death, on a cross.

And then there’s Judas. Judas, who very soon betrays Jesus into the hands of the authorities. Judas, who was a trusted friend. Judas, who just couldn’t believe how Jesus could possibly be Messiah, the anointed one. He didn’t act like the Messiah, he consorted with sinners, with women, with unclean outsiders. Judas, who was one of the inner circle, who loved Jesus, and whom Jesus loved, who had spent his sleeping and waking hours with Jesus, in the middle of a garden, handed him over. The sadness, the grief, in this act of betrayal is almost too much to bear.

It gets mighty dark, and still, the Light doesn’t go out, and still, the love that is God’s own body, does not lash out in hate.

John tells us that the victory here is of a whole different sort. It was all about his being lifted up. That’s how God, the true God, the God of astonishing, generous love, would be glorified. Swords or bullets don’t glorify the creator-God, Love does. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Everytime I visit these verses I come away feeling somewhat battered, bruised, and I have to take a break, sit in the quiet, light a candle, and wait. I have to wait for the light to dawn on me, again. And when it does, and it will, I am emboldened to do what Jesus calls me to do, to do what this relationship with Jesus, with God in the flesh, calls me to do, and that is to risk love again. We are called by this dying and rising, we are called by this light that does not go out, we are called by this love that does not seek revenge, retribution, or power, to love.

That is what is happening here. That is where our belief, our faith, lives. In God in the flesh, love made real. When our own faith wanes, when our own disbelief takes hold, we find hope in love in the flesh, love made real. When we pray for our loved ones that they may find the kind of absolute and unconditional love that God has for us, God’s children, and that is made real in the love poured out on the cross, we can find it here. As Jesus says to his mother as she stands at the foot of the cross, “woman, here is your son,” so we too are part of the family that loves and cares for one another. Jesus shows us how that is done through the signs and wonders of this gospel. Jesus breaks bread and feeds thousands, so that all may be fed, all may be healed.

Today, the light shines brightly and we believe in Jesus, God in the flesh, when we see these signs in action, and when we participate in the goodness. But it’s not always that way. There are days, weeks, months, maybe years of disbelief. Especially when it feels like God is distant, especially when the hurt is palpable, especially when the wind blows, the waters rise, and the fires rage. The modern day prophet, Fred Rogers, calls us to look for the helpers. In the midst of tragedy, in the midst of devastation, look for those who run in to help. Be those who run in to help, there is always enough so no one goes hungry or thirsty. Not only our friends and neighbors in Texas and Florida and Montana, but those right here on our very streets, men and women who are our neighbors.

This is the truth of the cross, the truth of love hanging on the cross, the truth that the light will not be put out, the truth that love wins.


May the light shine in our lives, and when our faith wavers, and our belief falters, and our grief grips our hearts, may we share what we have, the love that gave up all power for us. Amen.

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