Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Can We Try An Old, New Way?

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.


Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”


The Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright was a professor at Union Seminary and also one of the principle architects of Called to Common Mission.  That was the document that brought the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America into full communion with The Episcopal Church.  Without his work there would be no Lutherpalians.  Without his work there would be no… US!  Called to Common Mission was first ratified in 1999.  The year I was ordained.  The year of the Columbine school shootings.   


Personally, I’ve had… not a love/hate relationship with Called to Common Mission… that would be way too dramatic.  It’s more that I’ve had a love/eye-roll, or a love/longing relationship with it.  I have loved the idea of our two churches living intentionally and practically into Jesus’ prayer that we read part of today… “That they may all be one.”  I have loved the potential of that agreement, the possibilities for the work our churches could do together in the world.  That’s what I’ve LOVED about Called to Common Mission.  But I’ve also always rolled my eyes a bit and frankly, been a bit disappointed that the document seemed to me to be mostly an ivory tower, scholarly, and theological exercise without any intention for it to have any practical application in our world.  


It wasn't a waste.  It took care of the theological nitty gritty which needed to be done for sure, but it always seemed to me that's where it stopped!  It felt to me like this had just been the latest theological “Wordle” for the big brains of both denominations and once the theology puzzle had been worked out, they patted each other on the back and went back to their respective ivory towers to drink beer and/or sherry as the stereotypes demanded!  When I got their work out again up in Maine looking for practical help getting a Lutheran and an Episcopal church to play nice together, that’s how it felt.  I went looking for something practical and I found absolutely positively NOTHING.  NOT ONE bit of practical help for a real life pastor in a real life church trying to get real life people to work together and understand that they didn’t have to “change religions” to do it!  So, without any help from the big brains, we just made it up along the way!


That’s how it felt until just last week when I heard that J. Robert Wright had died and read the funeral sermon given by Episcopal Bishop William Franklin.  With that sermon, my small brain gained new insights into what the big brains had REALLY intended for their work.  Their goal had actually been to unite the "Communion of Saints", and NOT to have that singular feel good moment back in 1999 be the end!  Their goal way back then, and apparently was the continued longing that Robert Wright shared with Bishop Franklin at the end of his life, was to continually ask the question, “how might the power of this Communion of Saints be used most effectively in the terrified world outside these doors, beyond the Close (of the seminary grounds), around the world?”  Bishop Franklin continued, “We witness a dangerous war in Europe, the rise of Christian Nationalism, and Replacement Theory Fascism played out in the bloodshed at the Tops Market in Buffalo... God has used God’s people to accomplish great things in the past. How will God use us — if we will but respond to the divine initiative — to accomplish great things today?”  


It had apparently been Father Wright’s work and desire over an entire lifetime, NOT just to get these churches together as a theological “Wordle” puzzle of the day, but to strengthen the Body of Christ so that TOGETHER we would be in the position to take on the seemingly impossible issues the world continually faces… as ONE!  Bishop Franklin finished his sermon by quoting another bishop’s recent Facebook post… Bishop Doyle of Texas wrote prior to this week's school shootings in Texas, “Every tradition needs to clearly denounce White Supremacy and Nazism. What we see in Buffalo is part of a well-established neo-Nazi movement in the US. We cannot underestimate this movement. White Supremacy is a global lie that perpetuates a false god, faux theodicy, and violence.”


I don't have a solution for any of it.  I have yelled, and screamed, and protested, lobbied and logic-ed, and theologized all the same things over and over and over again since I was ordained in 1999... Since Called to Common mission was approved in 1999... Since Columbine, in 1999 and today I have been forced to face the reality that what I have done has not worked.  What the Episcopal Church has done has not worked.  What the Lutheran Church has done has not worked.  It was all profoundly important to try all that has been tried, but the hard truth is that to do more of what has not worked for 20 years is insanity.  


BUT perhaps we can find a new, potentially effective path forward if we decided to genuinely look for it TOGETHER, as ONE, just as Jesus prayed we would.  Could it be that the way to confront the problems of Christian Nationalism, Replacement Theory Fascism, and gun violence we first met in Columbine in 1999, was also given to us that very same year in Called to Common Mission?  Is it worth it, at least to try something different... to genuinely and deeply and physically and practically live into Jesus’ prayer to be ONE and into our Call to the Common Mission that flows from that prayer? 


At the end of Bishop Franklin's sermon he asked just that.  He asked, "And what if many traditions were to stand together, this as a communion of Communions, one United Body?  At this hour of urgency, may we all be bound to that mission for which J. Robert Wright dedicated his life: that we all may be one!”  My fellow Lutherpalians, I have no idea what that path might look like and I am certain we will have to completely make it all up as we go, but the truth is, as Lutherpalians we've walked this road more than the rest of our two denominations combined and I am fearfully hearing the call that WE are the ones to show our churches how being One, is done.  May God help us rise to the call.   Amen!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Take Back This Book!

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5


And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.


Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.



A couple weeks ago I gave you a bunch of background on the book of Revelation trying to reclaim this book from the fear mongering/misguided/rapture/end times types.  I told you that the crazy and the creepy in that book had two purposes, neither of which is to tell a literal future.  First, it was meant to out-crazy the real world in order to get people's attention.  Second, it was written as fiction but with a deeply imbedded truth so it didn’t look like overt propaganda against the Emperor… which would get you killed. 


My hope in de-mystifying this book is that we could learn to not get hung up on the style of the writing meant to catch readers' attention and throw Caesar’s goons off the scent, but instead focus on the timeless truths underneath.  When you do that, you begin to see that the whole of Revelation goes back and forth making two points.  One of those truths is to remind people that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is NOT.  Even when the world doesn’t seem that way, THAT’S the truth!  The other truth is a picture of how God intends for the world to look and work.  In today’s lesson we get more of the “what God intends” stuff rather than the stuff that reminds us that Jesus is Lord and that all those fantastical baddies and beasties (aka Caesar and his goons) are NOT!  In today’s lesson, God "reveals" to us the world as God intends for it to be… a world with metaphorically open gates and a city without walls… a place that welcomes ALL people.  A place where all means ALL!  It shows us a place where there is no darkness.  A place where the One True God is on the throne and all of the world’s darkness… the darkness of war, nationalism, racism fueled violence, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and all the other fear-fueled sorts of dangerous supremacies fade into oblivion in the radiant brilliance of God’s light and love. 


This lesson uses the imagery of water flowing like crystal down the middle of the city’s public streets… PUBLIC… in other words, available for ALL to drink, regardless of all the “BUTS” and “Except-Fors” the world would add.  The essentials for life aren’t hoarded in God's vision for the world.  The water isn’t owned by anyone, bottled by anyone or the prices manipulated for the greatest profits at the water pump.  This water isn’t controlled by any sort of Caesar… This metaphorical water is the water of justice which flows freely from the throne of God without end!  


This “Reveleation” also shows us the Tree of Life, which bears abundant fruit every single month of the year! That means there is never a time of hunger, whether that is a hunger for food, or for justice, or equality, or dignity, or even a murderous-white-supremacist-free trip to the neighborhood grocery store! When Jesus is LORD and Caesar is NOT… everyone has all that they need AND everyone has life in abundance!  Because Jesus is LORD and Caesar is NOT… health, healing, and wholeness is available to all of creation and can be found as freely and abundantly as leaves on a tree!  


This was written to be a book of HOPE given to a people stuck in a system of everyday violence, senseless oppression, manufactured paranoia, and fear that led inevitably to anger, hatred and horrific violence with no obvious way out.  It was a book of HOPE given to a people ruled by a fearful ruler in a seemingly unchangeable system, enabled by people who thought they could manipulate the Beast they were creating and who never realized that they too would inevitably be consumed by it as well.  It was a book written both to SHOW the world a hope-filled vision of what God intends, AND to provide the people who were stuck in that spot a DIRECTION… a target to shoot for with their efforts, even when working toward that goal felt like walking into a hurricane, through endless miles of knee deep sand.  It was written to give them hope and help them move toward better days.  


It was ALSO written so that if any FUTURE generation should ever find themselves in that sort of terrible place, where beasts and baddies are fomenting hatred and violence, clawing away rights and freedoms, and bringing violence upon violence into the world… This book was also written, so THAT future generation too would be reminded that is NOT the way God created the world to work!  God’s true intention for this world is an inclusive, compassionate, and caring world without gates or walls… without any us verses them… without fabricated racist fears of replacement.  God’s intention for this world is one where the thirst for justice is satisfied by that overly abundant, crystal clear, ever-flowing river of justice and where the hunger for dignity, purpose, genuine safety, and peace is met beyond our ability to imagine.  


This book was written for those people trying to be faithful while living under the thumb of Nero… AND it was written for every generation that finds itself living under leaders, in systems, and among beasts and baddies who stir up fear, anger, hatred and suffering among the people.  THAT’S why this book was written just as much for US, as it was for THEM.  So that when you and I turn on the news, or scroll through the events of the day and see this horrible and seemingly ever growing shadow enveloping Buffalo, Ukraine, political movements and judicial systems, we too would have this gift of a vision of HOPE to hold onto.  This book was written to remind that generation, our generation and every generation that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is NOT AND that every emperor and hate fueled system will not, and does not, have the last word.  This book is a vision to hold onto when people act like beasts… and nations act like dragons looking to burn the world to the ground.  So whatever you do, don’t give this book away!  Take this book back!  Because it is a book of God’s vision for us and so that we always remember that Jesus is LORD… and Caesar, by whatever name or number or time slot or title he might go by for the moment... IS ABSOLUTELY AND POSITIVELY NOT!  Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Buyer Beware!

Revelation 7: 9-17 

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 



The book of Revelation DUN, DUN, DUUUUUN!  A weird, scary peak at the end of the world!  Right?  Actually... NO!  People have sold it that way for sure but I’d buy an AMC Pacer from them before I bought any of their Biblical interpretation!  The book of Revelation is not a fortune telling book.  It’s more a fantasy/sci-fi thriller meant to pass on an incredible truth.  It’s like Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”.   Dickens didn’t write that story to be read as a non-fiction biography of a guy named Scrooge.  He wrote fiction… a story… using moving door knockers, ghosts, and magical teleportation to maneuver around his reader’s preconceptions so they might be able to hear some very real truths about poverty, the possibility of new life through transformation, and the power of generosity in their lives.  Scrooge wasn’t real.  The truth of his story was, and is, very real!


The Book of Revelation is a story like that.  It’s a fantastical story with adventures, battles, blood, dragons and creatures, all worthy of the best science fiction and fantasy minds around.  It was written to grab the attention of the reader, just like that lion shaped door knocker coming to life in front of Scrooge grabs us!  The book of Revelation grabs us with it's strangeness and transports us to another place and time in order to provide an “unveiling” or a “Revelation” of a very powerful truth about God’s love for all of creation.  Revelation is a story written to the Christians who were literally being fed to the lions.  It is a story that uses fantastical creatures and imagery to maneuver around their hopelessness and challenge them to continue to live the Jesus Way, no matter what was going on around them.  The crazy creatures also had another purpose as well.  Having anything Christian found on you then would get you killed while having a wackado story about beasts and magical dragons would not. 


Here’s an example.  The number of the Beast, 666!  Wooohooooo!  This is one of the tinfoil hat wearing, plaid sport coat wearing, bad bible interpretation best sellers.  Want to know what it really is?  It’s Nero’s name.  That’s it.  You take the Greek letters in his name, switch those to Hebrew, then use the numbers associated with the Hebrew letters, do the math and Ba-Da-Bing, Caesar Nero adds up to 666.  Nero is the Anti-Christ.  He’s The Beast.  Not because he’s a supernatural boogyman coming in the future but because he was literally ANTI-CHRIST... he was against Jesus the Christ and his followers who wanted to change the world so it worked the Jesus-Way rather than the Nero-Way and he was The Beast who fed people to lions.        


The Nero-Way insisted that peace came through victory and victory came through violence.  That wasn’t just his military or political way either.  Victory was a goddess.  This was Nero’s version of religious nationalism… politics, militarism, and religion all wound together, all for the purpose of keeping him and his friends in power and moving money and resources out of the pockets of the poor and into the pockets of the wealthy.  The Jesus Way is vastly different.  The Jesus way insists that real peace only happens when everyone has enough… enough food, clothing, shelter, dignity, worth, purpose and safety.  Nero and his very wealthy and powerful friends saw the Jesus Way as a threat to their system of Victory which kept the poor, poor and the rich, rich.  If that struggle between the Nero-Way and the Jesus-Way sounds familiar, then you’re understanding the REAL lasting power of the book of Revelation.  


Now, that’s nearly an entire sermon of background without any details about today’s lesson.  BUT, my hope is that now we can just zoom over the wackado stuff put in the original to throw Nero off the scent and go right to the truth.  “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb.”  This means the Kingdom of God is a done deal.  God has gathered up all of creation in the Resurrection’s redeeming power.  It’s true whether the world looks like it or not, knows it or not…likes it or not… lives it or not.  It’s a done deal and now that we’ve walked out of the Terrible Used Biblical Interpretation show room we can just get to the heart of this Revelation for the people then and for us today. “LIVE the Jesus Way”, and through living that way, live into a life of meaning and worth regardless of what the Neros, the Putins, a party of politicians, or a court is up to today. 


Live the Jesus Way... Do what you can, right where you are so that “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more”  Live the Jesus Way so that our neighbors have the food, shelter, dignity, purpose and worth they need to have abundant life.  Bring those who are your neighbors to the “springs of the water of life, where God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


This lesson is nothing more and nothing less than God nudging us, imploring us, reminding us, and compelling us to live the Jesus Way by Loving God and loving neighbor and to live that way so that we might have an abundant life and share that life with others.  EVEN when the world around us looks like a horror film… ESPECIALLY when it looks like a horror film we are called to LIVE ABUNDANTLY.  Amen. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Fishing Tips from the Beach

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


When you don’t know what to do, go fishing!  If there is a better piece of biblical wisdom, I have yet to find it!  Jesus was dead and the disciples were next.  Jesus shows up in person and the disciples couldn’t EVEN!  So they went fishing!  And what did they catch?  NOTHING!  Same problem they had at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.  In that story a mysterious man told them to put their nets back in the water and, BAM!  A ton of fish.  Now, on the other end of a different Gospel, Peter hears another mysterious man on the beach say with some snark, “Hey kids!  You don’t seem to have any fish.  Try on the other side” and, BAM!  A ton of fish.  I think we all know what it feels like to not be able to “EVEN” and when we find ourselves not being able to “EVEN” we know that it’s long past time to get in the boat and GO FISHING!


In our Baptisms we were all taken aboard the Fishing Vessel named “The Church.”  Contrary to many people’s thinking, it’s not a flag waving battleship, nor a billion dollar super yacht, nor a sport fishing charter, or even an “all about you” Carnival Cruise.  “The Church” is a nitty gritty commercial fishing vessel where the hard work of casting God’s net of infinite love into the world goes on night and day.  This net transforms the world… from dark to light, from scarcity to abundance, from death to life.  That is the mission of this boat, and following the fishing tips of that snarky guy over there on the beach is the key to fishing success!  We need to set our nets, our hearts, and minds on the Jesus side of the boat!  Without Jesus it’s dark, and we just row around in circles catching not one fish.  BUT, with Jesus, the Son shines, the darkness retreats, the Spirit blows, the sails fill, the boat goes where there are fish and the nets come up full.


It’s also worth paying attention to the guy on the beach for another excellent reason… FREE BREAKFAST!  In a not-so-subtle nod to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus invites the disciples to eat breakfast on the beach.  They use fish fresh out of the net, a net by the way, that didn’t let ANY… NOT ONE… get away!  Jesus gives them grilled fish breakfast sandwiches so that they might both be refreshed from the work they’ve already done and also given what they need for the work still ahead.  Through locked doors, down deserted roads, out onto a beach, and into our lives, Jesus comes to us wherever we might be.  We don’t find Jesus, Jesus finds us, directs us, sweeps us up in an unbreakable net, and gives us ALL we need to have an abundant life and to share abundant life with the world around us.


If I was writing this story, THAT’s where I would have ended it.  All of us found, fed, full, fat, and happy, lying on the beach in the Sun.  Boom.  Done.  The End!  But lying on the beach in a blissful food coma is not where we are left.  Found, fed and filled with all that we need as a gift from God, Jesus asks Peter (and all of us) a frightening, terrible question.  “DO YOU LOVE ME?”  It’s frightening and terrible because Peter and all of us know that really loving Jesus isn’t about statements of faith or religious sounding words.  Loving Jesus is about getting up after breakfast and walking back into that “I can’t EVEN” world with our feet and feeding the lambs… caring for the least, the lost, and the last of our world with our hands. 


Loving Jesus, casting nets, feeding lambs and tending sheep… these are the things that our little dingy named Christ Trinity Church calls “creating corners of kindness.” THAT is our calling… day in and day out regardless of the state of the world around us and that really is a daunting call…  But don’t loose sight of the Good News in the enormity of that call.  We have spot-on fishing tips from Jesus on the beach and we are always loaded up with a free breakfast that gives us all we need to do this work!  We really have been, and are being constantly given, all we need to continue fishing, continue feeding, continue tending, continue creating corners of kindness and continue to change the world from what it is into what God intends it to be.  


So my fellow disciples, here’s the take home message:  When the world makes you feel like you “Can’t Even”… Gather here with the crew.  Thankfully receive the generous gifts God continually showers on us.  Get in the boat together and go fishing.  The world will advise you to fish on the selfish, vengeful, and violent side of the boat, but the world doesn’t know JACK about fishing!  Instead, take the advice of the guy on the beach!  Set your nets on the side of kindness, compassion, and love.  Because THAT’S where your nets will haul out abundant life by the ton!  Enough to change the world!   Amen. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Shecky, the 14th Disciple

John 20: 19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”


A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



Patrick Sullivan’s family made nails.  His great-grandfather made them in a tiny shed by hand, his grandfather had automated the business, his dad had grown it and Patrick had built a brand new factory.  Now, Sullivan nails are the premier nail used in the construction industry.  One day Patrick was out for a drive and saw a giant billboard for rent.  He called up his ad agency and had them work up a cutting edge ad campaign.  A week later Patrick drove by to see his new billboard and nearly crashed his car.  There on the billboard was Jesus nailed to the cross with the caption, THEY USED SULLIVAN NAILS.  Mortified, he called the ad agency and told them to get Jesus off his billboard immediately!  Three days later Patrick went out to look at the revised sign.  The cross was still there but Jesus was gone and the caption read, THEY SHOULD HAVE USED SULLIVAN NAILS!  


Today is Bright Sunday or Holy Hilarity Sunday where priests and pastor tell jokes from the pulpit because Jokes and the Resurrection have something in common… They both have very unexpected endings.  The resurrection probably has the MOST unexpected ending of a story EVER… the biggest practical joke of all time!  The people in the first lesson, the people in Acts, they got the joke.  They believed as one.  They were of one heart and mind and everything they owned they held in common.  People don’t do that kind of stuff if they don’t get the joke.


Speaking of jokes, an atheist was spending a quiet day fishing over on Smiley’s pond when all of a sudden his boat was attacked by the Smiley’s Pond Monster. In one easy flip, the beast tossed him and his boat high into the air. Then, as it opened its mouth to swallow both man and boat, the man cried out, “Oh, my God! Help me!" And immediately, the scene froze. The boat, monster, and atheist all hung in mid-air, and a booming voice came down from heaven, "I thought you didn't believe in Me!" The atheist replied, ”Come on God, give me a break, two minutes ago I didn't believe in the Smiley’s Pond Monster either!"


You got that one.  Good!  But not everyone gets every joke right away.  The disciples at first locked themselves up in a room in fear.  They obviously don’t get the joke right away.  It was only when Jesus appeared and showed them the wounds that they finally got it.


How about this one?  Did you hear about the mistake the dyslexic devil worshipper made? He devoted his life to Santa.


Did you get that one?  Like I said, not everyone gets every joke right away but it’s so important to get THE joke... the greatest practical joke of all time... the Resurrection… that I’m going to break a cardinal rule of comedy and explain the joke to you.  


We’ll start with the punch line.  Are you ready? CHRIST IS RISEN!  Really and truly risen from the dead!  Not just woke up from a really deep sleep, he wasn’t just “mostly” dead.  He is totally and fully alive again after being totally and fully dead.  He had pulled the pin, was pushing up daisies, and had bitten the dust.  He had cashed in his chips, and given up the ghost.  Jesus was dead... BUT NOW… CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! 


It's the best punch line ever.  But what’s a punch line without the set up.  The set up goes back to that time Jesus was tested by the Devil in the wilderness.  The devil wanted to give Jesus all the power, but there was a catch.  Jesus has to bow down and worship the devil.  Jesus sees this is not a great deal and tells the devil to go soak his head.  After that, the devil plots, schemes and plans to get Jesus the old fashioned way.  DEATH!  Good Friday comes around and the people and the devil are all laughing at Jesus.  “Should have taken my offer" says the devil, "then you wouldn’t just be hanging around!”


You see, the devil, Empire, sin, darkness, evil, death… whatever you want to call it… thought they had won.   BUT just when the devil, Empire, sin, darkness, evil and death thought that they had pulled a fast one on God… THOUGHT they had killed God’s only Son, it turns out the joke is actually on THEM!  With that one punch line... CHRIST IS RISEN!...  God took the horns off the devil, turned the world up side down, freed the world from sin, banished death, and shined the zillion watt light of Christ into every darkness, in every place, and every time.  With that one punch line... CHRIST IS RISEN... God not only gave Jesus new life, but with Jesus, God gave all of us, and all of creation, new life as well.  Life that starts now and goes on for all eternity!  And that's what makes this the biggest and best joke of all time.  Death and the devil snatched total defeat right out from the jaws of victory!


Speaking of the resurrection, you know why Jesus didn't replace the stone on the tomb when he rose from the dead?  He actually WAS born in a barn!


Once you get the joke it literally changes EVERYTHING.  I know there are still people who say you have to work your way to heaven.  But once you get this joke you can laugh at that silly notion!  That work’s been done!  HE IS RISEN!  There may be people who think that there is still a battle raging between good and evil, but once you get the joke you can laugh at that too because, as the song says, the strife is over, the battle is won.  The joke has been told and the punch line given. 


I hope you get this joke, because like any good joke, once you get it, you’ve just got to pass it on.  In Acts they did just that… passed it on… with “GREAT POWER” and power here has the same root as dynamite!  That’s right, this story is Biblically “dynamite.”  So, on this Holy Hilarity Sunday, remember… try the veal, tip your waitress, and then go out there and live your life into the greatest joke ever told, never forgetting the best punch line of all time… Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.  

Friday, April 15, 2022

Evi-Dance

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.




Two weeks ago a pastor friend of mine went to do the interment of a member’s ashes in the Stockbridge cemetery.  It’s the road department who digs the graves in Stockbridge and that day it was raining, so the crew had covered the small hole with a large piece of wood to keep the water out.  When my friend lifted up the wood, he saw it was actually a road sign.  But not just any road sign.  This sign said… “Dead End!”  The family and my friend, thankfully all had the right sort of faith and the right sense of humor for that particular moment.  But all too often the world out there really does feel an awful lot like a real “Dead End.”


That’s what the world looked like for the women who watched as Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb on Friday.  That’s what the world looked like when they came out on Sunday morning to properly finish his burial and found what we read in today’s Gospel.  Luke lays it out all nice and neat, describing the stone rolled away, the body missing, the shining young men, and the linen cloths over in a corner… Luke does it so well you might be tempted to say, “See!  This is the proof that there's no Dead End.”  But here’s an awkward question for you on an Easter Sunday.  Where’s Jesus?  Look again at the story if you need to, but there’s NO Jesus!  Alive, dead, or any other way!  With no Jesus, is there even a case for the Resurrection?


Kelly’s dad, Fred, was a police detective.  One of his best stories was about a series of burglaries which all had the same, very well used MO of one particular, very well known, gentleman in town.  Fred brought him in, laid out all of the very familiar hallmarks of these most recent burglaries that perfectly matched those of the burglaries this man had been convicted of in the past.  Then Fred asked the man what he thought.  The man thought for a second and then said, “Well Cap’n Davis, that’s a good THEORY, but you ain’t got no evi-dance.”  Fred loved the way the man said “evi-dance” and it always made him laugh out loud.  Then, Fred would say, “He was right.  I didn’t have any hard “evi-dance” it was all just a THEORY.”

 

And really, that’s where we are with today’s Easter Gospel.  The open tomb, the shining guys and the linens in a corner make a good THEORY for the Resurrection, but if we’re honest, this story leaves us with no evi-dance!  Why in heaven or on Earth would Luke do us this way on Easter morning?  The women, you, me… we’ve all been left hanging since the Dead End sign of Good Friday… so why the tease, Luke?  Why not just give us Jesus in the flesh right here and now like John does?


I don’t really know why Luke chose to tell the story this way, but I do know this story, which is long on THEORY and short of EVI-DANCE, feels an awful lot like the world feels these days.  A pandemic that refuses to just GO AWAY once and for all!  Horrible legislation like the “Don’t say Gay” and anti-trans bills spreading throughout the county, and new discriminatory voting restrictions.  Not to mention the world teetering on the brink of World War III.  Like those women who came to the tomb on the first Easter, when we look out our window in search of hope, it just doesn't seem like there's a lot of EVI-DANCE.


But if Fred were here, and I suspect he is, he’d remind us that even though we don't have hard EVI-DANCE for hope in this story or in our world for the moment, we've actually got a lot more than nothing.  He’d say to us, “When you come out of your house in the morning and the road’s wet, the yard’s wet, the roof, trees, car, and driveway are wet, it’s true, you can’t PROVE that it rained last night… but you know it did.”  It’s not enough to close the case, but it’s enough to keep you walking down the road of the investigation.  Maybe that’s what Luke was doing with this lesson that’s big on theory and short of evidence.  Maybe Luke is reminding us that even in those times where there is not yet an air-tight case for us to have HOPE, if we look around, there’s always enough to at least keep us walking along the Way. 


For this Easter, that’s what I needed to hear.  Hopefully it’s what you needed to hear as well.  I needed to hear that even though the world is not yet as God created it to be, there are clues along the way to give me hope.  Like the laughter of that family and friends gathered for the interment in Stockbridge.  Like the open tomb, the shining men and the linens in the corner.  Like the little corners of kindness we create in our community, the small acts of caring we do for one another when we’re down.  Like the food we share with each other, which in church is an absolute expression of love! What Luke does for me with this story is to keep me walking and noticing and gathering up all those clues.  Clues that I know for now only give me the THEORY that a better world is possible.  But those clues are enough to keep me walking, seeing, and gathering those clues all down the road, because in Luke's Gospel, it's a little place just down the Emmaus Road where the theory we're holding onto now, evolves into the solid evi-dance we all so desperately need!   


In our world today, hope often feels like "Just a Theory." The fear, anger, hate and suffering we see all around us does not give us much in the way of hard "Evi-dance" for hope.  But the promise of Easter is that as we all walk together in love as Christ loved us, the hard evidence will unfold before us as we walk the Jesus Way of living with love, compassion, generosity, and peace just like it did for those disciples on the Emmaus Road in the very next verse that follows the lesson we read for today.  


May we walk together on this road, because at times it is truly overwhelming to walk alone.  May we encourage each other along the way to live our lives as Jesus did... with love, compassion, and peace.  And may we all continue to collect and share with each other even the smallest bits of evidence that there is absolutely reason to hope.  And may we all do that for one another until we are met in person by the risen Christ along the Way.  Amen. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Love and De Feet

John 13:1–17, 31b–35


Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.


When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”




Tonight, whether you know it or not, you have entered into the first episode of a Trilogy greater than The Original Star Wars movies, The Lord of the Rings, and The Godfather series... COMBINED!  The first episode of our Trilogy is called “Maundy Thursday.”  It’s the opening… where the characters and the conflict are introduced.  In tomorrow’s episode, called Good Friday, we encounter the cruel plot twist which results in a seemingly inescapable horror as everything that could go wrong, goes completely wrong.  Then on Saturday, in the final episode, called the Great Easter Vigil, we pick up the story in its darkest depths and witness the impossible, yet world changing conclusion!  


Because the ancient church didn’t have George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Francis Ford Coppola, or film for that matter, they shared this epic Trilogy in worship, rather than on film.  ONE incredible story… ONE incredible worship service… told every year for over 2000 years, and always told in these three parts over the course of three days.  Each piece… so emotionally packed, it had to be told over three days so that each part had a chance to fully sink in before moving onto the next.  It was, and still is, too enormous, too overwhelming, too life changing to fully absorb in just one sitting.  


And while this trilogy does contain incredible, edge of your seat drama, action, and horror… it really is, at its core, a love story.  It is the story of Christ’s PASSION.  Now, Christ’s Passion is NOT, as you may have heard, Christ's betrayal, blood, suffering and death, dealt out by a violent God demanding satisfaction.  No!  All of that is what the world tried to throw in the way to STOP Christ’s Passion!  What Christ was and is most passionate about is sharing God’s love with us so that we might truly embrace it, wrap ourselves fully in it, and in so doing experience the Abundant Life in which God created us to live.  And then, having been changed by that love ourselves, we'd pass it on to the broken world ourselves!


In tonight’s opening episode Jesus gives us the Cliff Notes version of his passion.  “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  Now, if you know any of the Jesus prequel episodes, this Cliff Note's version shouldn’t be a surprise.  Literally everything Jesus said and did up to this point illustrated that love.  But in this opening night of the Trilogy Jesus takes all of the parables, all of the healings, all of the feedings, dinners, and miracles and binds them up into one, small, world changing, easy to carry package and gives it to us as a gift.  “Love one another as I have first loved you.”  People still, to this day try, to distort that gift.  Twisting it with hate, exclusion, discrimination and oppression… but none of that is what Jesus is about.  Jesus is about “LOVE one another, as I have first loved you!” 


Love, not hate.  Inclusion, not exclusion.  Freedom, not oppression.  And this Jesus Way of love is special.  It starts small like a mustard seed and grows into a tree with room for every bird!  It’s a love like a hidden treasure, worth selling all you have to buy the land in which that treasure is buried.  It’s a love that offers itself… every ounce of itself… in sacrificial service to the other.  It’s a love that makes sure the hungry are fed, just because they are hungry!  No questions asked!  Jesus’ love is about giving water in the desert, giving sight to the blind, and giving life to the dead.  Jesus’ love is about nothing less than changing the whole world from what it is, into what God created it to be.  That is the love to which we are called tonight.  


So we simply can’t love like Jesus and turn our backs on the weak, powerless and poor.  We simply can’t love like Jesus loved and only worry about the afterlife.  We simply can’t love like Jesus loved and turn away from the places where the politics of power, pain, hurt, prejudice, discrimination and death seem all powerful, because Jesus never turned away from those kinds of places... in fact, Jesus paraded right into the heart of them!  Jesus loved you and me and every single molecule of creation, head on, no holds barred, and literally to death... and in this first part of the Trilogy, we are all reminded, in that short little phrase, "Love one another as I have loved you," that if we are going to be disciples of Jesus, then THAT is the way WE TOO are called to love the world.   


We will see that kind of love tonight at God’s table.  We will practice that kind of love tonight as we wash one another’s feet.  The world in Jesus’ day was obsessed with violently separating blood from body and sadly our world is not much different.  But then as now,  Jesus calls us out of that way to live a different WAY.  The way of love.  That Way… the Jesus way… the way of love… THAT is our calling as disciples for these three days and for every day of our lives but as we will see in tomorrow's episode, that kind of discipleship is not without cost.  


Tonight, we live in the love that is Christ’s Passion.  Tonight we practice that love on each other, loving one another as Christ first loved us, over there and over there.  Tonight is about the love.  Tomorrow is about the cost of loving the world the Jesus way.  Tomorrow we'll see again that loving the Jesus Way costs everything.  Amen.