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Posts from the ‘Good News’ Category

The Mind of Christ

Proper 21A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Which son did the will of his father?  I know who has my vote.  As father to four children, three of them sons, I feel delighted when one of them helps out around the house regardless of what they might have said before.  The example Jesus gives is common to our everyday lives.  But the context is not.

The stakes were high when the Priests and Pharisees confronted Jesus in the Temple.  The day before, Jesus entered the city in triumph.  Crowds lined the road, shouting “hosanna!” Afterword, he fashioned a whip of cords and violently drove the moneychangers out from the Temple.

Now he directly confronts the religious authorities. The controversy draws everyone’s attention, much like a new post on Twitter from President Trump—except that for Jesus, the argument will cost him his life.

You would be hard pressed to find better examples of religious devotion than the Priests and Rabbis of Jesus’ day.  They knew the bible back and forth.  But their religion had become less about loving people and serving God than about protecting their own power and self-interests.

They ask a good question but are not open to Jesus’ answer. They are hoping he will claim to be a God, or a king, or anything they can take to the Romans to get him out of the way.  The religious leaders may be saying yes to God, but they are living in a way that says no. Their walk doesn’t match their talk.

Research indicates this is a common complaint among millennials about the church today.  We talk about social justice but settle for charity.  We preach love but remain quiet about child abuse, poverty, animal suffering, or you name it.  We hear Christians on television talk about God’s abundance and prosperity who are reluctant to put their bodies in gear or get their hands dirty, or who talk about mercy and forgiveness with folded arms, pronouncing judgements God will not own as if hurricanes and life tragedies were evidence of divine punishment for bad behavior or proof of our own moral superiority.  Millennials take the church’s words seriously and for that reason feel they must reject belonging to a church.

Like Jesus’ story of the two sons, young people today are skeptical about our words and want proof of what we believe in concrete actions and life style choices. Don’t tell me about the good news.  Show me the good life. Jesus said even the tax collectors and prostitutes put themselves far ahead of the chief priests and elders who professed their love and obedience to God but failed at works of love and mercy.

Over the centuries, Son number one—who said no but lived yes—has become an icon of what it means for us to be faithful followers of Jesus. God welcomes the service of sinners even while their hearts and minds remain divided. Truth be told, none of us say yes and live yes all the time.  We have all rejected the will of God in both words and deeds, whether in outright opposition or through ignorance.  If we can’t accept this deeply humbling truth about ourselves we can’t enter the vineyard of God’s grace.  Hold onto your pride or embrace God’s mercy.  You can’t do both.

For the chief priests this meant the price of admission into God’s vineyard was too high.  But to those who recognize their need for grace Jesus’ fellowship is a lifeline –a way out of the disasters that so often befall our mortal lives.

But here’s where the trouble begins. No sooner do we enter the vineyard ready to spring into action than we notice a whole bunch of people who don’t agree on the work that needs to get done.  In fact, they may go so far as to actually undo the work others have faithfully done.  It’s enough to make a grateful tax collector or repentant prostitute throw up their hands and walk away from the whole grace loving—vineyard tending—kingdom building, thing. Once we say yes to God, it’s not clear how, or in what ways, we are to live yes—either with our deeds or our words.

God intends the church to be a living sign of grace. Travelers need good road signs.  Otherwise, they’re liable to confuse where they are with where they’re going, or wind up in the ditch. Millennials and others who try to build a better world without reference to inherited wisdom quickly find themselves working alone, or in danger of losing hard won knowledge, or getting lost on the way to the vineyard.

The chief priests asked Jesus by what authority he did the things he chose to do to serve God and neighbor.  It was a good question, if only they had had the courage to really pursue it.

What authority do we claim for ourselves today?  Given all we know we are wise to be humble.   As we go about our work in the vineyard, we must remember how we got here—that none of us could make sense of our lives on our own.  We listen before we speak, and listen more than we speak.

More precisely, we Christians are hoping both our words and our deeds will more and more be taken over and transformed by the living Word of God.  In our second reading from Philippians, Paul reminded us we do not labor alone.  More profound than any work we do for God is the work the Holy Spirit does for us, in us and through us. Martin Luther wrote, “It is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep.  So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us.”

Saying yes to God is not the end but just the beginning of learning to say yes to God with lives that become road signs of grace. We work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).  Paul isn’t talking about our personal salvation but about the corporate “health” or “well-being” of the believing community and society as a whole.   The salvation we work out in fear and trembling entails our work together to fashion a community characterized by mutual love, harmony, humility, and unselfishness (2:2–4). Rivalry, conceit, and selfishness are evaded, as well as grumbling and complaining (2:3–4, 14).  Our salvation, therefore, is not simply and solely the activity of God upon us as passive human objects, but is a work of the transforming power of God’s grace and faithful human activity working together.

At the font and at the table, through water, bread and wine, through Word and witness, we trust in God’s word dwelling in us will provide guidance and counsel to all of God’s children—regardless if we are more like the first son or the second one – even as we struggle to ask all the right questions.  Yet in welcoming Christ we receive strength to go into the vineyard of God’s creation, saying “yes” and living “yes,” all of our days.

A Heart for Grace

Proper 20A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”  Jonah’s answer, of course, is yes!  God’s little object lesson using a weed, a worm, and the wind did nothing to dispel Jonah’s bitterness. What made him so upset?

You remember the story, God said to Jonah, “Go at once to Ninevah, that great city…” (Jonah 1:2) and prophesy to it. It is a shocking mission. Ninevah (which is the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq), was home to the enemy.  It was the capital city of Assyria, Israel’s traditional enemy and eventual conqueror.  With a population of 120,000 people, some classical accounts say that it was the largest city in the world in those days. Its pagan sinfulness was legendary, as was its cruelty:  The people of Ninevah were known to scorch their enemies alive to decorate their walls and pyramids with their skin (Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah, 1971, p. 26).

The Ninevites were bad.  Their policy of forced slavery and intermarriage were intended to annihilate the Jewish people. So when God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, he can’t believe his ears and he tries to run away.  He booked a trip to Tarshish –which is completely in the opposite direction, and about as far away from Ninevah as any person in the ancient world could get.

An interesting side note is Jonah comes up in our lectionary only twice every three years. But this week in addition to being read by Christians at worship across our city and around the world, it is also read in worship by Jews everywhere for the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.  God offers Jonah forgiveness by which he may be purified and cleansed from all his sins before God. But notice, in typically Hebraic fashion, God doesn’t rebuke Jonah for his anger.  Instead, he playfully attempts to broaden Jonah’s horizons, so that Jonah will see the Ninevites as God sees them.

Jonah’s plan to run away from God is met with disaster.  No one is beyond the reach of God’s hand. He is thrown into the sea, gets tangled in weeds as he is about to drown, at the last moment is swallowed by a great fish and, finally, three days later, vomited out upon the sandy shore.  He doesn’t even have time to wipe himself off when he hears God repeat the command, ‘Get up, and go to Nineveh!’ (Jonah 3:2).

The only thing more preposterous than this big fish story is what happens next. When he finally arrives at Ninevah Jonah’s half-hearted preaching has amazing results.  The evil Assyrian king and all the people repent.  Even the animals repent!  They repent in the same way an observant Jewish person would –only much much better.

And rather than being overjoyed, Jonah complained bitterly: “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).  God’s equal-opportunity mercy disgusted Jonah.

Disgust and rejection at God’s mercy could be the thread that binds our readings together. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to an owner of a vineyard who hired day-laborers to take in the harvest.  Some worked twelve hours, some worked nine, others worked for six hours; while others only worked for three; and some for only one hour!  And yet, he paid them all the same, beginning with the last ones hired to the first. Then, to add insult to injury the landowner insisted on paying the workers in reverse order, thereby making sure that the first workers saw what the last received.  Wouldn’t it be easier to pay the all-day laborers first, sending them home before they could see what their “less deserving” counterparts received.  But no, the landowner wanted them to see what kind of vineyard he ran.  He wanted them to experience radical generosity.  He wanted them to surrender their envy and join the party.

Again scripture confronts our righteous indignation with question Is it right for you to be angry?” Are you envious because God is generous?   Whatever else it may be, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a meritocracy. God plays by different rules. Jesus’ way opens us to a life of grace and not merit, status reversal instead of status reverence, underserved generosity rather than pay for services rendered.

The parable of the generous land-owner offers a concrete example of living out Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. In the immortal words of Jimmy Buffet, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.  But rather than the start of cocktail hour, these words are a call to action and mercy for all those standing idle and at the margins at the marketplaces looking for useful work to do to support themselves and their families.

The story of Jonah teaches us that no matter our past behavior, God’s benevolence and mercy awaits us if we only repent full-heartedly and God’s grace covers all people, everywhere, no matter their religion or place of origin. The story stops short of telling us which way he turned in case Jonah’s heart is in some way our own heart.  In case in some way we also are more severe than God, begrudging the forgiveness God so freely extends.

The story of the miracle of the big fish and the miracle of Ninevah’s repentance ends just before crossing the threshold of the last and greatest miracle as the unloving barriers in our own hearts give way to the persevering compassion of God.

Do we have a right to be angry?  Are you envious because I am generous?  God leaves us to decide.

Writer Mary Gordon, in her book Reading Jesus, calls this “an impossible question, calling for an impossible honesty.”  Because yes, she writes: “I am envious because you are generous.  I am envious because my work has not been rewarded.  I am envious because someone got away with something.  Envy has eaten out my heart.”

We can appreciate Gordon’s candor, because really, if these scriptures don’t offend us at least a little bit, then we’re not paying attention.  After all, we know how the world is supposed to work.  Time is money, and fair is fair.  Equal pay for equal work is fair.  Equal pay for unequal work is NOT fair. But alas, God is not fair.  And God is not on our side but at everyone’s side.

Maybe, if God’s generosity offends us so much, it’s because we don’t have eyes to see where we actually stand in the line of God’s overflowing grace and kindness. (Debbie Thomas, Journey with Jesus, September 17, 2017)

God has given us the profound gift of unending love and mercy. Even now, little by little, and all at once, God is working to fashion a heart in all of us to match.  By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit is kindling in us a new humanity.  It’s not the old rat-race humanity.  It’s the new humanity we have through our baptism into Christ Jesus.  It is a humanity not rooted in fairness, but in grace. “O God, who gave yourself to us in Jesus Christ your Son, teach us to give ourselves each day until life’s work is done.” (ELW # 695)

Folly and Wisdom

Proper 9A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

They said John the Baptist had a demon’ and the Son of Man was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Jesus chides the faithful for finding fault in God’s messengers regardless of their message. ‘To what will I compare this generation? [They are] like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:18 & 19)

I’m depressed thinking about how divisions among God’s people persist in our own day. In the red states and the blue States I wonder whether we are reading the same gospel?  How can we come to such different conclusions about women, about abortion, about sexual orientation, about our political leaders, about the stewardship of creation, about American exceptionalism, about capitalism, about the pernicious sin of racism, about Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths, about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?

We all have the same starting place.  We believe God has revealed the character of creation, for all time and in all places in Jesus.  The material universe has a face.  The material universe is alive and we have glimpsed the character and quality of all life in Christ Jesus.  It is the life of the holy three that invites us to dwell, face, to face, to face, to face, even now, in one body with each other and with God.  Holding so much in common, you might think we would all reason to the same conclusions about life–but this unity will never be enough to insure uniformity of thought—quite the opposite.

Again, and again the scriptures teach us the greatest sin we can commit is not bothering to care. You’d have a hard time finding another Christian who doesn’t agree the command to love one another as we love ourselves is central to the gospel.  But how we love is up to each of us. Is there a right and a wrong way?  Sure—there are better and worse ways.  There is such wideness in God’s mercy as to leave the particulars of loving up to us.

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Pay attention and the school of life will be our teacher.  Stay hopeful, be willing to do things that are uncomfortable, step closer to those who are suffering and get ready to learn some humbling truths, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy) Indifference might be the most toxic human emotion we can share.

We learn wisdom in hospital rooms, bedrooms, classrooms, and just sitting around the kitchen table.  We find wisdom in holy communion, wisdom in the waters of baptism, wisdom in prayer. We come to the community gathered by the Holy Spirit to hear a word of grace and to discern together how best to walk the way of the cross—in other words—to learn how to be better lovers.

Whether we are Statue of Liberty Americans, or build the wall Americans matters less than the fact that we all stand in need of grace and that we are all bearers of that grace for one another.  We will not find wisdom in uniformity of thought, but in the mutual respect that makes room for everyone, inside and outside the church, to express their thoughts freely and fully.  That is what’s so dangerous about the current political climate in which we find ourselves.  This is what the institution of the church is perfectly positioned to respond to with members in every community across the country.

It is part of the shared wisdom of our Church, enshrined in the constitution of every congregation in the ELCA, that every person who comes through our doors holds a part of the truth.  Each of us must faithfully bear witness to the truth as we understand it, and prayerfully, humbly listen as others do the same. We find wisdom in speaking, and in listening more than we speak. Therefore, it is imperative we respectfully leave room for a wide range of opinions if we are to do everything possible to follow Jesus.  Diversity of thought is not dividing, but enriching.  This is the basis for the covenants of full communion we share as Lutherans with six other denominational partners, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.

Today we hear Jesus declare, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

It seems counterintuitive to find rest in taking up the yoke of Jesus.  For most of us, I’d wager, a yoke connotes bondage and servitude –a diminishment of freedom and choice.  Indeed, Jesus was relentless in criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees for making the yoke of religion into a means to weigh people down with artificial demands of righteousness.

Jesus’ yoke is different from the religious zealots want to lay on you. It is the call to simply to love one another and bear one another’s burdens. In this we will discover the wisdom that is hidden from the wise and intelligent who rely on their own abilities.  They will not hear the gospel regardless if it is proclaimed by John the Baptist or by Jesus. Here is the wisdom written deep within creation: being good and kind is not a chore, but a natural and gracious response to the other.  It’s what we’re made for and in this we find our own humanity.

Each of us has different gifts for love and service.  For decades now, this congregation has had a special gift and passion for teaching and receiving children and young people.  Tutoring, after-school, play-groups, and the ECT youth group are examples of the way we at Immanuel wear the yoke of Jesus.  It’s why 20 years ago Immanuel’s leaders sought out and invited Families Together Preschool to come and partner with us. It’s why vacation bible school draws so many neighborhood families and children.  (I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the VBS slide show running in the narthex today.)

The yoke of Jesus is humility and concern for the despised. We bear the weight of this yoke in loving others.  This is how we bear the weight of the cross.  This is how we learn what wisdom is.  This is how we become disciples of Jesus.  This is how we heal our democracy. This is how we unburden ourselves from carrying our fear.  This is how we teach our children.  This is how we restore grace within our families.  This is how we find rest for our souls.  The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke of servitude, or of bondage but of connection, partnership, and sharing our burdens with one another and with Christ who labors alongside us.

The Called Life

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 4, 2017

 

Today is the second of three Sundays to explore Luther’s theology of Christian vocation.  What if anything, does it help us understand about how we live out our Christian calling in the workplace?  Let’s start by looking at the front cover of your worship folder.

This is Trinity Sunday —as in the Holy Trinity.  Trinity is not a word you will find in the Bible.  The Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus.  Yet Trinity is the name for God in which we baptize.  Since the early fourth century, it has been the Church’s name for God.  The name says something essential about who God is.

About 100 years before Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, also known as the 95 theses, the Russian artist and iconographer Andrei Rublev painted the famous image you see today called “The Trinity.”  Inspired by the story of Abraham entertaining the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah as they camped beside the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8), the icon depicts the Holy One in the form of Three eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.

The Father, in the foreground on the left, is wearing a golden robe, depicting for Rublev perfection, fullness, and wholeness. In the middle, Jesus wears a blue robe over a brown shirt. They are the colors of earth, sky, and water. His hand resting on the table makes a two finger gesture to tell us he has put spirit and matter, divinity and humanity together within himself —and for us!  On the right, the Holy Spirit is dressed in green. “Hildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine abbess, musical composer, writer, philosopher, mystic and overall visionary, living three centuries before Rublev, called the Spirit’s endless fertility and fecundity veriditas —a quality of divine aliveness that makes everything blossom and bloom in endless shades of green.” Likewise Rublev chose green to represent the divine photosynthesis that grows deep within us transforming the light of God’s grace into itself. (Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance)

Notice, the hand of the Holy Spirit is pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table!—for you!  As magnificent as the fellowship among Father, Son and Holy Spirit is—there’s something missing. The Three are circling around a shared table, and if you look on the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole painted there.  Most people pass right over it, but art historians say that the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps a mirror glued to the front of the table!  Standing before this icon, peering into the divine life existing in, with, and under the entire universe, Rublev intended us to see the reflected image of ourselves!

This image is our starting point today.  The Holy Trinity where we begin to find answers about our Christian calling in the workplace and anyplace, because this is where we find our true self—living in community and communion inside the circle of the divine life of God. Here at Immanuel, we repeat the same mantra in the statement of our mission to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace. 

Dwelling in Christ, quickly dispels two fallacies about our vocation that persist today.  The first being the our vocation is synonymous with whatever we do to make a living.  Luther’s understanding of vocation is much broader.  It includes whatever we do to advance the cause of God’s grace.   Because we abide in Christ, we strive to do our work well and with fairness.  We

have concern and compassion for colleagues, employees, employers, clients, and customers.  We find more delight in serving than demanding. Mindful of any opportunity to glorify God we invite others to find a seat at the heavenly banquet table beside us.  We evangelize not to conquer others but to share the gift of grace by which God has set us free and made us all part of one life in God. This is our Christian vocation whether at home or at work or really, any place we find ourselves. Our vocation may change depending upon opportunities and circumstances, but it the aim always the same —to love and serve others as we have been loved and served and to invite all people into community with us in God.

The second fallacy Luther’s theology of vocation demolishes is a misunderstanding about the gospel that has persisted and even thrived among people of faith for centuries right up to today. It is sometimes called called “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”  It sounds abstract but I think you’ll all recognize the idea. It boils down to the belief that God will reward good people with heaven and send bad people to hell. Also, the main object of faith is to enable you to feel good about yourself. And finally, God is “out there” somewhere, but not very involved in daily life.”

Just about every point of this perspective contradicts Luther’s understanding of vocation. We see in Rublev’s image of The Trinity, God’s grace does not divide the world up into “good” and “bad” people. Rather, all have fallen short of God’s glory and depend solely on God’s mercy. Further, the point of religion is not to make you feel good about yourself. That turns faith into something that is basically self-serving. The point of religion is to love God (something enabled by God) and serve the neighbor. The view that God is simply indifferent and aloof from creation and human affairs is a vast distance from Luther’s belief that God “daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.” And it certainly is in dramatic tension with the teaching that, in Christ, God has entered deeply into human flesh and human experience.” (Mark D. Tranvik. “Martin Luther and the Called Life.”)

We do God’s work with our hands.  God uses our callings to tend to the needs of the world. Bread does not happen without the work of the farmer, miller, baker, and merchant. Luther says that people function as God’s “masks” to accomplish God’s will on earth. It is God at work in vocation. We are God’s instruments. God is not absent, but hidden behind the various gift and talents of the laborers.

God is One in Three.  Face-to-face-to-face we enter into community, mystery, Love for the other and the other’s love for us, when we enter into relationship with God through faith.  This divine life shatters the sins of empire, opens our eyes to hate and racism, and teaches us how to forgive and be reconciled. This transformation becomes our joy, our vocation and our work and our mission.

So rise, shine you people.  See how God sends the powers of evil realing.  God brings us freedom, light and life and healing.  All men and women who by guilt are driven now are forgiven.  Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation God’s new creation.  (ELW # 665, Rise, Shine you People!)

A Glorious Life

Easter 7A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Memorial Day means the end of school is near. For lots of families, it means graduation. Yesterday evening Kari and I spent about an hour filling our phones with prom photos. I took pictures of Sam and his date in a locked condo courtyard near Chinatown. Kari snapped memories of Joe and his date in the backyard of somebody’s home in Evanston.

Joe’s baseball team is in the playoffs. When they face off against archrival New Trier this Wednesday, it will likely be Joe’s very last baseball game after twelve years of organized play. Sam, who attends CPS, still has finals. The next three weeks on our family calendar include two commencement ceremonies and one shared graduation party.   We will have caps and gowns, valedictory addresses, and well wishes times two.   The end of school, of course, is only the beginning for both of them. The are already planning their next big thing. Joe is heading off to Colorado State in my hometown, Ft. Collins, Colorado; while Sam will be attending DePaul here in Chicago. Within this community there are six High School graduates this year—all of them headed of to college. In addition to Sam and Joe, congratulations are due to Katie Brink, Savita Gupta, Ruby Massey, and Allison McDonough.

The high priestly prayer in our gospel today is a kind of commencement address for the early church and the apostles on the night of his arrest following the Last Supper. Jesus prayed his death and resurrection would be just the beginning of zoe ionias, or life eternal (John 17:3). Here Jesus himself explains what this phrase means: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you have sent.”

Jesus’ commencement prayer is that we may have an abundant life starting today. In the Hebrew context, the great project of God’s redemption was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (NT Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, pp. 44-45) Jesus’ wish for abundant life is different than what most parents say they most want for their kids.

Years ago I was involved in the peaceable schools project at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois near St. James Lutheran Church, which was my first call. At that time, parents became concerned that their race for greater academic achievement and higher test scores was having ugly and unintended consequences contributing to bullying and racism.

In extensive surveys parents said over and over what they most wanted for their kids was not Harvard or a high-flying career. They just wanted for their kids to be happy. This insight provided clarity about the importance of taking time within the school day to teach conflict resolution, teamwork, service and citizenship skills to support growth in emotional maturity among young people at LTHS. But as an over-arching life goal it turns out, just wishing our kids to be happy in life is not enough.

Generations of youth launched with this heart felt advice have sought meaning in being constantly entertained and pampered. They’ve sought salvation on cruise ships, adventure vacations, and in Las Vegas –not to mention food, drugs, alcohol, sex, and massive quantities of new stuff mostly bought on credit only to discover this does not make them happy but depressed, stressed, and alone. Jesus did not die so you and I could live worse in a bigger house. Jesus’ commencement prayer was that we might have abundant life by dwelling in relationship with God.

We have met life itself. He has told us his name is Jesus. Jesus is the key that turns the tumblers in us to open the way to abundant life and our true self. By the way, Christians do not own the copyright on this Jesus. In John’s gospel Jesus is the revealer of all life on earth and throughout the universe. Therefore, if any religion is true, it is true only to the extent it reveals the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus—whether in the name of Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Vishnu or any other name.

Jesus prayer for us, and all God’s children, is not happiness but glory. It is a life full and overflowing, a higher life centered in interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Glory, not happiness, is Jesus’ ultimate goal for us and in a great insult to our ego it comes as God’s free gift and not by anything we can do or achieve. Among the gifts God imparts for glory I’ll name three—compassion, forgiveness and wisdom.

From God the Father we receive the gift of steadfast love and compassion. “The Hebrew word for compassion whose singular form means ‘womb,’ is often used of God in the Old Testament.” (Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 48). To say God is compassionate is to say that God is womblike. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us. As a mother loves her children and feels for them, so God loves and feels for us. One who is alive in Christ dwells in God the Father abides in compassion and reflects this love for all life.

From Christ Jesus we receive the gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Jesus prayed that we might all be one (John 17:11). Jesus came among his betrayers and imparted his peace. Forgiveness is the great gift of glory that breaks the endless circle of vengeance and acrimony and leads us out beside the still waters of belonging and community. By this gift we find resilience in relationship and the ability both to impart strength and to receive strength from one another.

From the Holy Spirit receive the gift of wisdom. In scriptures, lady Wisdom or Sophia, is like a master worker, working with God to bring all things into service of grace. Factors that promote wise reasoning spring from humility, an openness to other perspectives, and the ability to compromise. Wisdom often flows from adopting third-person perspective that places our own well-being in the same framework with that of others.

Jesus’ prayed that we may have zoe ionias. The eternal and abundant life Jesus desires for us is a glorious life often filled with happiness, but also sorrow and a willingness to tolerate pain and sacrifice.

We can glimpse what glory looks like in Facebook videos posted this past week of ten people on marching on our behalf along lonely stretches of the historic highway route 66 on their way from Chicago to Springfield. They’ve carried on now for 14 days through wind, rain and generally miserable weather since we sent them off with cheers and a rally on May 15th from the James R. Thompson Center. They’ll arrive on Tuesday like the ragtag bunch Joshua led around the walls of Jericho hoping to bring down the walls of inaction, greed, and hard-heartedness that’s led to the budget impasse in our State that has stretched on now for 1 year, 10 months and 27 days. On Tuesday they’ll deliver a people and planet first budget that generates billions in new revenue by closing tax loopholes for corporations, eliminating the flat tax, and placing a small fee on financial transaction. I plan to be there with them when they do and I invite all of you to come with me.

The great 14th century English saint and mystic Julian of Norwich said of God: “I am the one who makes you to love; I am the one who makes you to long; I am the one, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” As we yet linger in these days after the ascension and before Pentecost and prepare to commence in discipleship and the long season of being the church, a living sanctuary of hope and grace in the world, Jesus has called us beyond mere happiness and to reach for glory. We strain forward for glory knowing that even if it eludes our grasp the mere pursuit of it fills our hearts and illumines our lives with dignity. We live the good life by living the life Jesus lived. It is the glorious life for you and me. Life eternal and abundant, the life of the Father to the Son, the life of the Spirit of our ascended Savior, life in God, now and forever. Amen.

Love Your Enemy

Easter 5A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Death by stoning is a horrible way to die. Yet despite the hostile violence wrought against him, Stephen prayed for his enemies. “He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” (Acts 7:60)

Hatred is a powerful thing. Cain hated Abel for being more admired by God than himself, so he killed him. King Saul hated David for becoming more popular with the people and tried to kill him every chance he got. Saul of Tarsus hated the followers of Jesus because he thought they were blasphemers and heretics and made a career of rounding them up so they could be stoned to death like Stephen. Horrible self-deception about our own righteousness can be deadly, not to mention the effects it has on families and relationships.

Today’s scriptures offer us a lesson in resiliency and reconciliation. Learning to repair relationships damaged by hate and violence is not a luxury. Learning forgiveness is the way we return to what has been taken from us and restore the love and kindness and trust that has been lost.

Jesus says we are to love our enemies and pray for them, meaning love not in an emotional sense but in the sense of willing their good, which is the sense in which we love ourselves. It is a tall order even so.  Jesus lived this kind of life. Even now, Jesus lives this kind of life in us so the way of forgiveness and reconciliation is not impossible for us.

Many people know Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for the leadership he provided with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the process of racial justice following the end of apartheid. Less well known is his own personal struggle to overcome the damage wrought by violence. He writes:

“There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes, and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. …If I dwell in those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same way he hurt my mother, and in the ways of which I was incapable as a small boy.” (Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, p. 15)

The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them. It is perfectly normal to want to hurt someone back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. It does not lesson the pain but makes it deeper, less conscious, and spreads it around to infect others. “Without forgiveness, we are tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped.” (Tutu, p. 16) Even when we realize our interconnectedness, the common humanity of victims and perpetrators, our need for healing and for grace, forgiveness can still be a difficult path for us. There is a Gaelic proverb which states “Nothing is easy for the unwilling.”   Willingness is the first work of the Holy Spirit. “Without willingness, this journey will be impossible. Before compassion comes the willingness to feel compassion. Before transformation there must be the belief that transformation is possible, and the willingness to be transformed. Before forgiveness there must be a willingness to consider forgiving.” (Tutu, P. 8-9)

Like Jesus on the cross, Stephen proved willing to forgive his murderers even as they were killing him. Somehow he could see his shared humanity with them even as he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus. Somehow, I wonder whether these two things are connected. And what could be more revealing of Jesus’ power to forgive and to heal our bitter, hard-won divisions than the story of Saul who would become Paul?

Scripture says, “The witnesses [to the stoning of Stephen] laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” This is the first mention of the great missionary apostle whom Jesus will knock from his horse and claim for himself. In 8:1 we are told that this Saul “approved of their killing of [Stephen],” with the implication that Saul himself may have had a hand in instigating the entire event. Yet this same man would become the apostle to the gentiles, spreading the gospel message to many “even to the ends of the earth.” The good news of Jesus Christ is that the risen victim of unspeakable violence declared an end to the cycle of violence, enmity, bitterness, and contempt.   Christ Jesus returns again and again to us who rejected and betrayed him with the gift of shalom—peace—that is the seed of willingness planted in us that can lead to forgiveness, compassion, transformation, and reconciliation so that trust is restored and kindliness may abound.

Like Stephen and like Paul, we begin this journey from wherever we are. The heavens stand open before us and our common humanity is revealed when we come to dwell in the mystical and living sanctuary of the body of Christ. The gospel of John tells us this over and over again. The little verb “meno” appears 69 times in the gospel of John.   It means to “stay,” “remain,” “abide,” or “dwell.” Jesus is on a mission to reveal the source of his glory is to abide in the Father and the Father in him, and to invite us to do the same. As we come to dwell in God, God’s love and light comes to dwell in us. Desmond Tutu has said the willingness to forgive grows into the capacity to tell the truth, name the hurt, and in either renewing or releasing relationship. We can do this with grace and mercy while we abide together in Christ the true vine, the one body, the temple not made with hands, the living sanctuary of hope and grace in which heaven and earth are one.

We cannot create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but with God’s grace we can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that can allow us to love our enemies, to heal our losses and repair our lives and relationships. But ultimately, no one can tell you to forgive. We, and the Holy Spirit, can only ask. You and I are invited on this journey. All of us must walk our own path and go at our own pace to discover the power forgiveness has to change your life and change the world.

Let’s Go for a Walk

Easter 3A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

“While they were walking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15) Today’s gospel offers very good advice. When stressed, go for a walk. When bewildered, walk with a friend—and don’t be surprised that Christ walks with you.

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples learn what resurrection means: Christ is present in, with, under, and among us. C.S. Lewis once observed, “The human search for God is like speaking of a mouse’s search for the cat.” The disciples’ do not find the risen Christ, but rather, they are found.

The 19th Century English poet Francis Thompson famously told the short story of what it is like to be found by the risen one. He wrote:

“Once upon a time, a carefree young girl who lived at the edge of a forest and who loved to wander in the forest became lost. As it grew dark and the little girl did not return, her parents became worried. They began calling for the little girl and searching in the forest. As it grew darker, they returned home and called the neighbors to help with the search.

Meanwhile, the little girl continued wandering in the forest and became very worried when she could not find her way home. She tried one path and then another and became very tired. Finally, she came upon a clearing in the forest where she laid down and fell asleep.

 Her frantic parents and neighbors scoured the forest. They shouted the little girl’s name. Many of the searchers became exhausted and returned to their own homes. But the little girl’s father continued searching through the night.

Finally, early in the morning, the father came to the clearing where the little girl had lain down to sleep. When he saw her, he came running and yelling with such relief and excitement that he woke the little girl up. When she saw him, she shouted out in great joy, ‘Daddy, I found you!”” (The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 108)

St. Paul proclaimed to the philosophers of Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28). Our entire lives are lived in God. There is no place we can go outside the loving and eternal circle of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the living sanctuary in which we dwell which gives inspiration to our mission at Immanuel. Dwelling in the shelter of God and one another, we seek to open and extend this welcome to those who have yet to discover that they too are so deeply embraced, accompanied and loved.

It’s a well-worn story, the day-long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, hours of plodding along on sore feet by disciples with sore souls. A stranger joins them early, drawing them out of their silent brooding, getting them to talk.

Jesus places their sad journey in a new frame. He opens the scriptures for them to reorient their minds. He points to a Messiah who, through suffering on behalf of the people, brings freedom from bondage and victory over anything and anyone that oppose God’s work in the world. Suffering, death, even death on a cross, and resurrection are not mutually exclusive, but are act one and act two of the Messiah’s ongoing journey, and of theirs as his disciples.

But the day is spent in victim mode, as the disciples spill out all that has been done to Jesus and to them. The stranger interjects rays of hope, but they are overshadowed by the gray grief of the grieving men.

And then, at sunset, in a roadside Inn, the stranger breaks bread and vanishes before their eyes. And the disciples suddenly know that Christ had been with them, all that day.

Letting go then, of everything they had known: terror, tears, suffering, death, silence, life’s love lost; sore feet, sore hearts; their need for rest and their fear of the open road at night: letting go of all this, they ran back to Jerusalem. And they were filled with sunshine, hope, and joy, as they sped along the unseeable road into an unknowable story. (Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple, 4/27/17)

Brothers and sisters, let’s go for a walk. Once again, we Christians find ourselves living in bewildering days. Recent events put us in an unfamiliar landscape. Many of us feel lost. Set aside politics for a moment, regardless whether you identify as a Republican or a Democrat, the presidential election has opened our eyes to some ugly truths about Christianity in America that I believe are instructive for us all.

We now see that many Christians are terrified by the fact that by 2042 the majority of Christians in America will be people of color. We see that many Christians have trouble separating the cross and the flag. We see how many of our brothers and sisters have trouble envisioning an America that is not a uniquely Christian nation. We see how many Christians today believe their material prosperity is evidence of God’s blessing.

Seeing these things makes it easier for us to confront them. Raised awareness helps refocus our hearts and minds on Christ. Broken traditions and shattered dreams are a necessary prelude for renewal.

As we journey together toward a new church and a new country we can be confident that Christ travels with us to restore our hopes and set our sights once again what is good and holy. We are not afraid to become part of a Beloved Community that includes people of all races and nations. We do not reject an America shared by people of good faith representing all religions. We embrace the challenge to live more simply and tread more lightly upon the earth in harmony with all life. We do not count our blessings by balancing our checkbook, but rather in accounting for the people we have loved, the lives we have made better, and the opportunities for faith and service we have helped to open for others.

The Risen Lord walks by our side to lead us now on a journey into the unseen and unknowable future. Yet, the breath of Christ will continue to flow into our hearts to dispel our despair and reframe our aimless, anxious journeys according to his Way, the way of the cross, the way of abundant life for all thing living. Come, let’s walk together.

By His Wounds

Easter 2A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Jesus showed them his wounds. He invited Thomas to touch the mark of the nails in his hands and the gash in his side. (John 20:27) Few things focus our minds on mortality than our own injuries.

I was playing sardines at a youth lock-in when I slipped on a small patch of black ice and dislocated my kneecap on the raised corner of a cement sidewalk. Years later, my right knee still bears the scar from the surgery. I vividly remember the moment I fell onto my back looking up into the dark night sky. Suddenly the universe felt very big and empty, and I felt very alone. Theodicy is not an abstract question when we are in pain, but suddenly urgent and very concrete –why God?

Of course there have been other wounds that have left a mark on various parts of my body too. Sometime it might be interesting to share our life stories as recorded in the history of our scars. Scars marking old wounds, tell a story. Emotional scars caused by trauma, loss or humiliations can tell a lot about us too when finally they, either with courage or a lot of therapy or both, are allowed to speak.

There’s an 8X10 photo of Leah in our kitchen from when she was about three. Trails of tears are still fresh on her face. She is holding up the new band aid on her finger accusingly at the photographer, as if to say, ‘Ok, I don’t want to have to go out find a new parent—cause what just happened is never happening again right?’

Being wounded is an inescapable part of life. For the most part, our bodies respond in ways that go far beyond our understanding to repair and even eliminate the damage. Bones are said to become even stronger after a break. But not always, when the damage is too big we are left with a scar, or some other permanent impairment.

Sometimes the scars we bear can tell us about wider social issues or problems with our society. A compelling new book out this month by author and photographer Kathy Shorr, is simply called SHOT: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America (powerHouse Books, 4/4/17) who show us in a photo and their own words what surviving gun violence looks like. The book portrays 101 survivors, aged 8 to 80, from all races and many ethnicities. Most were photographed in the location where they were shot. Their shattered bodies have led to profoundly different lives but these wounded ones refuse to be called victims, instead they are the representatives of what they call “survivorhood.”

“Beauty, fortitude, new civic commitment and many other positives can emerge from near disaster. Many of the gun-violence survivors in Shorr’s new book SHOT have recovered against odds, put their lives back together and now taking an active role in inviting a public back into the tough dialogue about American gun violence.” (Cary Benbow, F-Stop Magazine, April 18, 2017)

I have a drawer full of sermons about this gospel. They say Doubting Thomas gets a bad rap. In fact, the word “doubt,” is not used in our gospel. They say Thomas is like many modern believers who seek evidence before they can commit to faith. They say the proof of the resurrection was never just about what happened to the body of Jesus but also about what has happened to us.

That’s part of the beauty and power of the gospels. The meaning we find in them cannot be exhausted. Like any profound work of art, there is always something more they have to say. Jesus showed them his wounds. They prove it was him. He showed them his wounds to teach them hate was not the end. He showed them his wounds to prove nothing, not even the worst, could make God stop loving them. He showed them his wounds to show how frail flesh is the vessel of incarnation. He showed them his wounds to teach how their mortal body was now part of the one body of Christ. He showed them his wounds to prove how grace can heal us all. He showed them his wounds to teach how wounds once healed by grace can become a source of compassion and healing for others. He showed them his wounds to convince us we have nothing left to fear from death. Sin and violence may wound us. It may leave a permanent mark, but it is never the end of the story.

I was sitting and thinking about this yesterday in a coffee shop on the boulevard in Logan Square. The place was very thrift-store chic. People sat on mismatched found furniture. A hand-written reminder to reduce, re-use, and recycle encouraged patrons to think twice before deciding whether they really needed a straw, stir-stick, or plastic lid. There was clever, creative-expressive graffiti on every surface in the men’s bathroom, including the mirror. Original photography and artwork lined the walls. Alternative Indie music played through old speakers. I asked Siri and she told me the song “Left Hand Suzukie Method” by Gorillaz. Pretty sure you know the type of place I’m talking about. I might like to apply for membership to this tribe someday but I’m pretty sure my application would be denied.

We live in a culture where disruption is valued over continuity. We prefer to deconstruct, mix and match traditions rather than create one. It’s not surprising that cynicism and a lot of good dystopian fiction is the result. Injury and damage is a natural part of life, but then life doesn’t get stuck there. By his wounds Jesus shows us how things torn apart can also go back together through grace. Jesus breaks through the walls of isolation and death. He comes to stand in the midst of our hurts and fears to proclaim a word of peace. Henri Nouwen (by way of Carl Jung) echo this teaching. Our wounds may become a profound source of wisdom, compassion, and capacity in us not only for healing ourselves but for the healing others.

So what are we to do with this? How are we to heal and become healers? It’s the same as when you injure yourself. Just breathe. As Jesus stood among the disciples he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The word for Jesus’ breath here is the same word used in Genesis 2, where God breathed life into the nostrils of the man and he became a living being. It’s the word used in Ezekiel 37, where God breathed life into the dry bones so that they lived and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Jesus breathed life into the disciples and they discovered what they had perceived to be the end was really just the beginning. By his wounds he has healed us. Jesus has taught us how to live.

No More Fear

Easter Sunday A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Matthew 28:1-10

My earliest memory of Easter morning comes from a black and white photograph my mother took. It features me as big brother in a white-pressed shirt and narrow black tie, escorting my younger twin sisters in their new Easter dresses across the front lawn on a bright Easter morning before church. This tradition is alive and well today judging by the good looks of all of you. My daughter Leah was so insistent on having a new Easter dress she spent her own money to procure one—and it looks great.

Because Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, it is mostly a cheerful day made all the more happy by the good news. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!) But the light-hearted spirit of Easter comes after some hard won experience.   The bright colors and spring flowers are the unimaginable surprise ending God brings out of death, despair, and desolation. Alleluia, “God be praised,” an expression of rejoicing, is the right word for Easter because that’s really all you can say after hopelessness has given way to new life.

Today, we find ourselves rushing before sunrise with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary through the Jerusalem Market, past sleeping dogs and horses, through the cool pre-dawn air, out the gates of the ancient walled city, the Ganneth Gate, deserted at this hour, but for the soldiers on top of the wall. Outside this gate is the countryside, except for a large stone quarry, looking like a huge gravel pit, off to our left. From this quarry many slaves provided stone blocks for building the city. To this quarry the two Marys go through the morning darkness with their grief.

These women shared in Jesus’ ministry. They and other women, like Joanna and Susanna, traveled throughout Israel with the other disciples. Scripture says that they provided for them out of their means (Lk. 8:3). These independent women of means are going to the place where their hopes were dashed, where their dreams had died, where their worst fears were realized.

They pass beneath the clifftop where the two men who had been crucified with Jesus still hang on wooden crosses against the sky to be devoured by birds and dogs. Around and beneath the men, small mounds of garbage lay strewn about, hauled out in simple carts and dumped at random. The women go to a far corner of the quarry to a garden, where the cliff-side has row upon row of hand-hewn caves, tombs for the dead.

There should be a check point here for us on the way to the tomb. Each one of us should answer a question before proceeding. The question is, do you have fear in your life? Are you now or have you ever been really afraid? If not, then turn back. It’s okay. This tomb, this story will wait for a time when you do. We need not trouble ourselves with this difficult Easter business if you have never been afraid of the approach of death, or the loss of a loved one, or the total unraveling of your life. What person reaches for the pruning shears in January, or the garden hose in February, or for Christmas lights in April? Philosophers are right to say there is nothing more useless than the answer to a question you have not asked yet.

On the other hand, this path to the tomb is for you for anyone who has dreams that have ended, hopes that have died. Come with the two Mary’s if you know what it means to be unrecognized, or if you’ve lost a job, a good friend, a child, or a spouse. The tomb should be our destination if we are anxious about what to do for the poor or what we are doing to destroy life on earth. Whatever fears we hold, come to the tomb.

Kate Sawford is now 36 years old. When she was fourteen, she published a book of photographs telling her story of when she had cancer, when she had to have part of her leg amputated, and the lower part of her leg rotated and re-attached. She writes in her book: “Days of my life I’d like to forget: the day the doctors told me I was sick. The day I had to tell my friends I had cancer. The day my hair fell out.   The first day after surgery. These are also the days I will always remember.” (Kate’s Story, Candlelighter’s Childhood Cancer Foundation, 1995) Young Kate has been to the tomb.

Kate Sawford has been fortunate in having been cured. Yet even more important than a cure, Kate has discovered what we all need when we are afraid. We need not to be mocked. We need something more than idle hope. We need more than casual optimism, “Cheer up, everything will be alright.” We need what God offers at Easter. We need blessed divine re-assurance that what we fear or thought was the end is not the whole picture. The story continues. A new day will come. We have a future forever in God that makes it possible to live and love without fear today.

But listen to the voice of angels who have incredible good news. Whatever fears you may have brought to this place, regardless of the heavy burdens in your path that block our way, are rolled away like the stone from Jesus’ tomb, or like storm clouds that must give way to the sun. For Easter we wear bright colors and shout alleluia because God interrupts our fear, calls us by name, speaks to our mortal lives from beyond eternity, and has given us a permanent dwelling place with God that travels in with and under us wherever we go. It is strong enough to withstand any calamity that might befall us. The hearth fire of rekindled hope warms this sacred place. Therefore, joy is never far from our hearts and even the vaults of heaven resounds, Christ has triumphed! He is living! Alleluia! Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

At the Doorway

Passion Sunday A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“Some said he was John the Baptist, others thought he was Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) Peter and a growing circle of followers called him the Messiah.

They threw they their cloaks on the ground and their voices into the air. They cut palm branches and spread them on the road. They understood they were something new and rarely seen before—a radically egalitarian misfit band of Galileans, Samaritans, Judeans, and Assyrians. They were fishermen, tax collectors, widows, slaves, and women of the street, panhandlers, the chronically ill and mentally unstable. Together they paraded behind the Son of David from the Mount of Olives and through the Kidron Valley as he rode into the walled city of Jerusalem on a humble donkey from the East to reclaim Jerusalem for all Israel. While, that very same day Pilate and his army, displayed their overwhelming military power to suppress any unrest that should arise during the Passover, rode into Jerusalem from the West.

Like us the merry band of Jesus followers had many different reasons for joining the parade. Like us, and countless generations of pilgrims who with their bodies and shuffling feet have added to their number through 2,000 years, they were filled with hope and expectation at what was about to happen. But not one of them could have predicted what actually did happen.

They thought Jesus might restore the kingdom of David and throw the Roman invaders out. They thought he might ordain from the royal throne which of them would rule on his left and at his right. They thought he might be the beginning of the end of the world. At best, they had it partly right.

We palm and passion pilgrims today know more than our early ancestor in Christ because we have heard the gospels. We know where this story leads. We have read through the twists and turns, the cliffhangers and the shocking ending.

Yet, we like them, have arrived upon the threshold of holy week and still wonder what comes next for us.   Not unlike Jesus’ first followers, I’m pretty sure that some or most of what we think we know about God and Jesus going into this week will not fit or even be all that helpful to interpret our experience of what God is doing now. Like them, we must be ready to step into the uncertainty and mystery that always comes with love, compassion, justice and grace as it is being lived now in relationships that require we must risk ourselves, body, mind, and soul to another and to all creation. Perhaps it is a timeless truth that some of our time honored traditions and theological concepts will not survive this encounter.

Each Sunday before worship, the pastors and ministers, and often the lectors, ushers, altar guild members, the Cantor and the choir talk through the day’s service so that each person knows how they fit into the whole. Then after talking it through we walk it through. You’ve seen us—or you’ve done it yourself. The cross, torches, ministers, pastors, lectors, ushers, and anyone else involved in worship literally walk through the service moving through the church from the back to the front. They stand where they’re going to stand. They read aloud what they are about to read. We must experience with our bodies what we trying to grasp with our minds before we truly learn something for ourselves.

Holy week, is when we talk through and walk through the Christian gospel so we might be changed, so that our minds may be opened, so that our hearts may grasp a little bit of what God is doing now in our lives and in the world. Every Sunday, but especially Holy week, is an opportunity to talk through and then to walk through the meaning and message of the gift of God’s grace dwelling deep within you proclaiming that you and all creation have been created in the image God and it is good, it is good, it is very, very good. (Genesis 1:31)

Today, more than most Sundays, is the talk through. We will read the entire passion according to Matthew. Yet, today we have also begun the walk-through. We enter into the mystery of this holy week following behind Jesus and our ancestors in Christ. This week symbols, rituals, stories, songs, and prayers that speak to us of the living God will surround us. We will get up from our chairs and act out this gospel at the table and the font and through profound vulnerable gestures like foot washing or venerating the cross. This is the week that gives rhythm to the entire year.

Finally, let me say one more thing about this week that comes more from neuroscience than the bible, although our bible comprehends it. That is there are two main pathways to transformation. One pathway to wisdom we all know comes through pain, grief, and even tragedy. God who is always with us is with us in our suffering. Our brain works like Velcro to grab onto the lessons learned through pain. Apparently our brains operate more like Teflon in the second instance where we can be transformed to grasp new and lasting insights that come through the appreciation of beauty, praise, generosity, thanks, and happiness. These things can change us too –but we must ponder on them, savor, and meditate on them for at least 15 seconds.   When something moves or strikes you with beauty this week, remember to linger on it long enough for it to sink in.

His hour has begun. Our time has come. Let us enter with joy into contemplation of the mighty acts of grace whereby God has given life and abundance to us all. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Where can we go away from God? Or, where can we flee from God’s presence? (Psalm 139:7) We jump into the depths of mystery of God’s love.   Let ourselves be carried on the wings of the Holy Spirit to some new place, some new way of living with one another, with strangers, and with God that is at least a little better than the kind of community and togetherness we already know, to a place and life beyond our imagining within the living sanctuary of our life in God through Christ Jesus. Amen.