Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter - March 31, 2013 - Luke 24:1-12

If you believe that a dead man was raised from the grave, then you are crazy.  You can try to square it with reason any way you like, but it will never make any sense.  You would have to be delirious to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  You will find plenty of people who will tell you that in our age, whether best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, or two-bit internet commenters who troll around looking to rain on the parade of faith.

But where you probably don’t expect to hear such a negative reaction to the Easter proclamation is in the Bible itself, right there on Easter morning.  And it doesn’t come from the Pharisees, the Scribes, or the Romans.

The women go to the tomb.  They find it empty.  There are two men there, presumably angels, who tell them that Jesus is risen.  The women run to tell the disciples.  No doubt they burst through the door and cried out, “Christ is Risen!”  And instead of the familiar refrain, “He is risen indeed!  Alleluia” the disciples reply, “What are you talking about?  Are you nuts?”

Now you might think that I’m taking liberties with what is written there in the gospel text.  Here’s what it says in the NRSV translation, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  The word that gets translated “idle tale” is the Greek word from which we get our word, “delirious.”  Which is to say, “Crazy.”  The disciples heard the good news of the resurrection of their Lord and they thought it was crazy.

So is it?  Is it crazy to think that Jesus died, was buried, and then was raised from the dead?  I stand before you today to tell you that it is.  The heart of the Christian faith, the resurrection, goes against all reason.  It is crazy.  It is no use to pretend otherwise.

Now I realize that this might grate on the ears of some.  Perhaps it’s inappropriate to speak like this?  Well then, I will call the Apostle Paul to my defense, who said in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called,...... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

So the Apostle Paul agrees that what we proclaim here this morning is foolishness.  It is crazy.

But you know what’s really crazy?  It’s crazy that a man would walk out on his wife and his children.  But it happens.  It’s crazy that a hospital will charge a family $19,000 dollars to transport a sick man and that the insurance company will turn around and tell the wife that it won’t cover any of the cost, because that particular helicopter wasn’t in their plan; I guess she was supposed to check helicopter companies before her husband was rushed to the hospital. 

It’s crazy that people kill innocents to make a political point.  It’s crazy that people starve on the street.  We’re absolutely out of our minds to spend so much money as a country that our grandchildren will never be able to pay it back.  We’re off our rockers when we lose patience with our kids when we’re the ones from whom they have learned almost everything they know. 

This world is full of craziness.  It is full past our necks with craziness.  And God saw that and said, “I can do better.  I will send my son.  And he will be a beautiful and wonderful man who heals the sick and cares for everyone, and who speaks the truth.  And so wicked men will get ticked off and put him to death, thereby furthering his mission.  And then I’ll complete it by raising him from the dead.”

But here’s the kicker.  God does all of this to save the very people who put his son to death.  Crazy.

And so we gather together this morning to celebrate the lengths to which God will go to save us.  It doesn’t make a bit of sense that God would do this for us.  Not after all that we have done and continue to do.  But God is crazy.   Crazy for you.  Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday - March 29, 2013

The Cross is More

Around the necks of many folks
You’ll see throughout the land
Are links of silver or of gold
Connected in a band.
On these necklaces you’ll see,
At least on quite a few,
A pretty pendant hanging there:
The cross of the King of the Jews.

But the cross is not a decoration;
It isn’t something pretty.
It’s the piece of wood that killed our Lord
It’s vicious, mean, and dirty.

In hymns we sing of this piece of wood
And it sounds like a thing that’s great.
On a hill far away in its ruggedness......
I will cling to it!  I can’t wait!
Or we’ll put one up in our sanctuary
Like some artwork for our eyes.
And sometimes miss that on that cross
Our savior Jesus dies.

The cross is not a decoration;
It’s not beautiful at all
It’s injustice.  It’s brutality.  It is tragedy;
The bitter fruit of Adam’s Fall.

When something’s present all our lives
In culture, church, and home,
It’s hard to see it for what it is......
It’s hard to feel it in our bones......
It doesn’t weigh upon our hearts
Like a dreadful, dead and lifeless stone.

The cross is our redemption, yes!
For Jesus died for you and me.
But let us not forget the cost
That Jesus paid upon that cross.
The cross made out of awful wood
Not gold, bejeweled, but stained with blood.
He suffered pain beyond our ken

So that sinners could be born again.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday - March 28, 2013

Corbin, Alyssa, Peyton, Naomi, Kaleb, Lakia, and Kara.

I have struggled and wrestled with what to preach in this sermon tonight.  I wanted to speak directly to you, but the things I wrote kept sounding like a lecture.  I wanted to tell you all kinds of things about communion.  There are all kinds of things that you can learn about it and that are worth knowing.  I certainly want you to keep learning about it.  But I didn't want to give you a lecture.  Instead, I wanted to tell you something really simple.  Or more like 3 things.

The first thing is something you already know because it's a part of your daily life.  It's something that you do.  And it's something that other people do to you.  It has a lot of different names.  In the Lord's Prayer it is called trespass.  In our confession it is called sin.  Sometimes we call it debt.  Or brokenness.  Whatever we might call it, you know all about it because you live with it.  Sometimes you are the one who sins.  You have hurt another person with your words;  you have disobeyed your parents; you have stolen what wasn't yours; you have looked at something you weren't supposed to look at when your parents were gone; you have laughed at a cruel joke; you chose not to help someone who was hurting.  The list of these wrongs is very long.  You know that.

And there is something else that you know.  You know that other people have sinned, and when they sinned you were the one who got hurt.  You were the one who was the butt of the joke.  You were the one who had something stolen.  You were the one whose secret was discovered by a snoop.  You were the one who was called a mean name.  And it hurt.  You know this.

So this is the first thing that I want to tell you.  You are sinners.  And you are hurt by other people who are sinners.  You are like everyone who is gathered here tonight in this room.  The whole world is made up of people like us.  And even though we might try, we can't seem to avoid sin and all of the hurt that it causes.

The second thing that I want to tell you tonight is that this sin hurts God too.  It's difficult to explain how this might be so.  Does our sin make God sad?  Does our sin make God angry?  Does our sin hurt God because of the compassion he feels for the one we are hurting?  These things are probably true, but we can't know exactly because in many ways God is a mystery to us.  But it is important to know that when we sin, we are sinning against God, not just against another person.

And that leads to the third thing that I want to tell you tonight.  God loves you.  And he decided to do something about this sin and brokenness.  Jesus, who is God, came and died on the cross.  And by doing this, he accomplished something amazing.  It is called the Blessed Exchange.  The Blessed Exchange means that Jesus made a trade with each one of you.  He took your sin, your brokenness, your trespasses, your hurt and pain and all of those terrible things died with him on the cross.  In exchange for these awful things, he gave you forgiveness, a new life now, and the promise of eternal life.  That’s a pretty good trade.

So what is Holy Communion?  It is the place where Jesus promised to be to give us these benefits.  He promises to be there, in the bread and in the wine.  And each time we go there we hear the promise, "for the forgiveness of sins" "this is my body given for you" "this is my blood shed for you."  And so we know, as we taste the bread and the wine, that this is Jesus giving us the benefits that he promised, the things that he gave us in exchange for our sins.

And so, for the rest of your lives:

  1. come to communion to confess your sins and to give them to Jesus
  2. Come to communion to be given again the forgiveness and new life that he has promised to you.
  3. Come to communion to be with other sinners, sometimes the very people who have sinned against you, and who are being forgiven too. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm/Passion Sunday - March 24, 2013 – Luke 23:1-49

 Many of you probably remember that in years past the Sunday before Easter was known as Palm Sunday.  Confirmation used to be on Palm Sunday.  The tone was one of celebration.  I remember that for me as a kid the palms were a great highlight of the church year.  We had the kind that with leaves and they were taped to the end of each pew.  I always made sure to get one after the service – sometimes more than one, because I thought they were pretty cool.

Somewhere along the line, Palm Sunday changed.  It became Palm and Passion Sunday.  And so, instead of focusing solely on the celebratory entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem it now begins with this entrance and continues all the way through Jesus’ death and burial.  Palm/Passion Sunday could more accurately be called "Whiplash Sunday."  In the space of less than half an hour, we go from Jesus being praised to the skies to him being condemned to death, crucified and put in the grave.

So why the change?  The reason has to do with modern trends in the church.  Nationwide, fewer people go to services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  And so it is entirely possible for a regular Sunday church-attender to go from “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” on Easter morning with no cross in between.  To miss the cross is to miss everything.  There is no resurrection without the cross.  There is no life without Jesus’ death.  There is no forgiveness of sins without him dying for our sins.  It is the event upon which the entire Christian faith hinges.  And so it was decided that Palm Sunday would also serve as Passion Sunday, so that the cross wouldn't get lost.

What we end up with then is a very abrupt shift.  So what do we do with it?  As peculiar as it seems, I think it might help us understand something fundamental about Christian faith: God often works with contradictions.  Things that are diametrically opposed to each other exist together.  

The most obvious contradiction is always right in front of our face, but we probably don't always see it for what it is.  We confess that Jesus is a human being, born of a human mother.  He shares our weakness, our vulnerability.  He has to eat and drink and sleep, like us.  We also confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he has always existed.  He is powerful, perfect, and has existed from the very beginning.  Either one of those makes sense, by itself, but they don't really make much sense together.  How is something that is weak, be strong?  How is someone who is human be perfect?  How can someone who is eternal die?  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet these things are central to our faith.

And what about contradiction in our lives?  The Apostle Paul refers to the members of the church as saints.  We baptized folk who are gathered here together this morning are saints.  And yet we have already taken time to confess our sins.  And we will share Holy Communion together, which conveys the promise of the forgiveness of sins.  So are we saints?  Or sinners?  We are both, together, side by side.  We are sinners because of our actions and attitudes.  We are saints because God says we are.  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet these things are central to our faith.

And now back to the events of this Palm/Passion Sunday.  It seems like it starts with glory and ends with infamy.  It seems like it starts with hope and ends with hopelessness.  It seems like it starts with life and ends in death.  Basically, it seems like it starts happy and ends sad.  But this isn't actually true.  The closer we move to death, hopelessness, and sadness, the closer we move to resurrection, eternal hope, and joy.  To draw nearer to Good Fridy is to draw nearer to Easter morning.  To get closer to rock bottom is to get closer to recovery.  These things don't make rational sense.  And yet...  And yet somehow our God has decided to work this way, through contradictions.  Amen

Sunday, March 17, 2013

5th Sunday in Lent - March 17, 2013 - Luke 15:11-32 (a week late because of snow storm?)

Jimmy and Dad argued again last night at dinner.  Or rather, Jimmy argued at Dad because it’s always that way.  Jimmy mouths off about something and stirs things up for no good reason.  Dad stays calm and tries to reason with him.  But Jimmy doesn’t care; he doesn’t listen.  He just waits until Dad pauses to breath and then he jumps back in with his complaining.  I honestly don’t know how Dad puts up with it.  Or why!  His son is such a little jerk.  Yeah, I know he’s my brother, but somehow it doesn’t seem like it.


Jimmy doesn’t deserve to be Dad’s son.  What an arrogant, self-satisfied little.......  We were breaking bread together last night, after a hard day’s work, when he blurts out that he wants to go away.  He’s not interested in farming, he says.  He wants to go out and see the world, he says.  It’s hard living with us, he says.  I asked him, jokingly, how he thought he was going to pay for this little trip?  He didn’t answer, but turned to Dad and said, “Dad, I would like for you to give me my inheritance right now.  You love me, right?  You won’t deny me that, will you?  Mom always said she wanted us to be happy and to be happy I’ve got to go.”

When he mentioned Mom, everything went red.  I punched him as hard as I could.  How dare he mention her like that.  How dare he!  Dad pulled us apart and gave me a hurt look, like it was my fault.  I had to leave I was so mad.  One of the servants told me later that Dad actually agreed to give Jimmy the inheritance.  I don’t see how.  Dad’s wealth is the land.  What’s he going to do?  Sell it? 

I’m still mad about Jimmy mentioning Mom like that, but the more I think about it the more I realize he treated Dad like garbage.  You don’t demand your inheritance from your own father; that’s like wishing him dead.  And with Mom already gone?  That’s just sick.


What an absolute mess our lives have become.  I’m still mad at my father for giving in about the inheritance.  Just because Jimmy demanded it didn’t mean that Dad had to bend over backwards to give it to him.  We had to sell off the southern fields in order to get the money together.  That’s where Mom used to take us in the summer time because of the shade of the pomegranate trees on the far side.  And then by late August they were ripe enough to eat.  I remember digging around, trying to get out every last bit of fruit, getting juice stains all over my fingers and face.  Jimmy probably doesn’t remember that since he was still little.  And when Mom died we didn’t go there anymore.  Not like that.  And now we won’t have the chance to do so again.  I’m surprised that Dad can bear to part with it, but I suppose it was that grove of pomegranate trees that got the nice price. 
Jimmy said he was leaving as soon as he had the cash in hand.  ...... I hate him.


I came home early from the fields last night.  Coming over the rise I was surprised to see Dad sitting next to the field.  Actually I was worried that he’d come down sick or had a heart attack.  So I ran towards him, calling out, “Dad, Dad, are you alright?”  He scrambled to his feet, looking somewhat abashed.  “Dad, are you okay?”  “Yes I’m fine,” he said.  “What were you doing?”  “Just resting.  It’s been a warm day and it must have gotten to me.”  It seemed a little odd to me at the time, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  But I think it’s because of the way he was staring.  He wasn’t looking down, like he was tired, even though he seems awfully weary these days.  He was staring off into the distance.


It’s happened a few times now, that I’ve caught Dad staring off into the distance.  It took me a while to figure it out.  It’s not that he’s staring off at nothing; he’s staring down the road; he’s looking for something;...... he’s sitting there waiting for Jimmy to come back.  It gave me a shiver when I finally understood.  He’s pining for the son who stabbed him in the back.  And once I figured that out, I started noticing all kinds of little things: Dad hardly talks at dinner anymore.  He’s been letting me run things more and more.  I thought it was because he trusted me and knew I was doing a good job.  But I think it’s because he’s busy mourning the loss of Jimmy.  Well what about me?!  To hell with it, if he’s going to keep moping around after that son of his, then I’m not going to bother with him.  There’s plenty of work to do and it appears that I’m the only one interested in getting it done.


Things have settled in pretty nicely these days.  I’ve been making some improvements on the northern fields and the last few harvests have come in really well.  So well, in fact, that when old Jacob died, we were able to redeem the southern fields from him.  I’m still amazed at how things came together to make that happen, but I pulled it off.  When Dad dies, I am going to have myself quite a nice little estate.  I still love him.  I just don’t understand him.  I don’t understand how he let himself get manipulated like that.  Maybe he’s just weak and I didn’t know it before.  You know?  I think he’d actually forgive Jimmy if he ever came back.  He’s never gotten over it.  Dad would welcome Jimmy with open arms.......  Not me.  If Jimmy came back penniless and naked, I would make him beg and kiss my feet.


He came back.  I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, but he really came back.  It happened just as I’d guessed.  Dad had mercy on him and threw him a party.  It was quite the party, so I hear, but I couldn’t go in.  Dad came out and talked with me.  He knew I was mad.  I let him have it...... and then he said some things.  And then he put his arms around me and whispered that he loved me too.  And I wanted so much to stay angry.  I wanted him to admit that none of this was fair.  I wanted him to apologize.  I wanted all of the hurt from all of the years to be taken away.  And he stood there and hugged me as I started to sob.  “I don’t ever want to lose you, son.  It would break my heart.”