Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Holy Week

There are just a few things I want to remember, from Holy Week this year.

I want to remember how windy it was, while we were standing outside, waiting to go in on Palm Sunday.  I want to remember how everyone sang and waved their palms.  I want to remember how it struck me that we looked bigger in number than we were, simply because we were standing there waving our palms.  I want to remember the children who were sitting in the front during the message.  I want to remember them saying "yes" when I asked the question, "Did Jesus forgive you?"  I want to remember how several adults put their hand out to receive a bit of oil, to remember Jesus' healing ministry.   I want to remember how everyone got into the action and shouted out, "Hosanna! Blessed are you King Jesus!"

Then, suddenly, it was Thursday.  It was Thursday evening.  It was the night that Jesus' was betrayed.

There was a bowl, and a towel, and a pitcher.  I had asked a couple of children if it would be okay to wash their feet, as part of the sermon.  They said yes.

In the middle of the sermon, I walked down, and invited them up.  Two tiny children.  They took a turn sitting in the chair.  Their feet did not touch the ground.  They agreed to have their feet washed.  I lifted the bowl up and poured a little water from the pitcher on their feet, and then dried them.

And then, I asked if anyone else would let me wash their feet.  Another little girl scampered up.

I want to remember that.

After communion, during the stripping of the altar we heard the mournful beauty of the guitar, playing along to suffering and betrayal.

Too soon it was Friday evening.  It was a simple service, simpler than I have done before.  A short meditation, music, and nine readers from my congregation.  Nine voices telling the sorrowful story.  Everyone told it in their own voice.  Everyone's voice was strong.  A soloist sings Mary's sorrow.

I want to remember that.

Someone said that this simple service was the most moving Good Friday he had attended.  Other people said they were honored to be asked to play a part.

On Sunday we heard many kinds of Alleluias.  But what I want to remember on Sunday is the children, and how they put the flowers on the cross.  There is always chaos.  It always takes longer than I think it will.

Holy Week.  It belongs to all of us.  The children with their flowers, the soloists, the choir, the readers, the prayers, and all the rest of us.  His resurrected life is in our lives, our feet, our hands, our voices.

I want to remember that.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Day

It is a beautiful day here.  Everyone says so.  On my local Christian radio station, they are singing the praises of this day, with its mild temperatures, blue skies and low humidity.  It is a day to take long walks with your dog, to take your coffee or your iced tea and sit outside, to revel in it.  Really beautiful days are rare.  This seems to be the case almost everywhere, although I have only lived in a few places.

Meanwhile, across the world, in Syria, a civil war rages.  I don't claim to understand everything about this, except that it is not beautiful.  There is so much horror and pain and people are fleeing but finding nowhere to go.  Just this week there was a chemical attack in Syria, across the world, and last night the United States sent Tomahawk missiles in retaliation.

When I was a teenager, it was popular to predict the imminent demise of the world.  All of the signs pointed to it.  Some people seemed to look forward to it.  But I didn't.  I just didn't understand that desire.  I loved the world.  I looked outside and saw it was a beautiful day.  I wanted a chance to grow up and have children and write books and see the world, or some parts of it, anyway.  I loved Jesus but I did not want him to come back, at least not right now.

Today, though, as I feel the sun on my face, I understand, a little.  I still love the world.  It is a beautiful day.  I love the parts of it that I have seen:  the Canadian Rockies, the streets of Paris, Mount Fuji and Galveston and Minnehaha Falls.  I love the faces of the children in my congregation and our school, and how they all want to pray for their dogs and their cats,  their dads and their moms.  I love the people at the assisted living center, especially the woman who told me that on the song, "Love Lifted Me" I could replace the word Love with God because God is love.  I love the world, but I feel the weight of all of the misery in it, too, and I want Jesus to come back and heal us, because I just don't believe we will ever figure it out.

I still want to make it better.  I think we need to do things to make it better, even if I don't know if they will help much, or at all.  Maybe bombing will help.  Maybe it won't.  I would take in a refugee family tomorrow.

Meanwhile, it is a beautiful day, and I still love the world.  And at the same time, I catch myself in a one-word prayer.


Come, Lord Jesus.

Save us.

"Hosanna!"  It is the shout of Palm Sunday.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Close Encounters with Jesus: Lazarus (and his family)

Sermon for Lent 5, Year A
John 11:1-45

            “Do you believe this?”

            This is the heart of it, isn’t it?  Everything that comes before, and everything that comes after leads directly into this central question, the one Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?”   
             Jesus has finally come to Bethany, finally, four days late for the funeral, even though Lazarus is his friend, and even though Mary and Martha beg him to come.
             Jesus has finally come to Bethany, has come to Mary  and Martha, and Martha comes to Jesus with this statement of faith, or doubt, or grief, or all three:  “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 
            And it is hard not to read many many things into this sentence.  Real things.  We can read her faith and her hope.  “You are so full of love, and you have so much compassion and power, I know that if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
             But also, can you possibly  hear some grief, and a question of her own.?  “If you had only been here… but you weren’t here, Jesus.  Why weren’t you here?  Why didn’t you come?” 

            There is so much reality wrapped in this simple statement, in the middle of a story that – let’s face it – has so much that is strange about it.             The late scene, the one on the other side, could be from a horror movie – with Lazarus coming out of the tomb, still bound in graveclothes. 
            How spooky is that? 
            But Martha’s words could be our words.  “If you had been here…..”  All of our whys are wrapped up in Martha’s words. 
            There is the why of the woman whose husband has died from cancer.  There is the why of the children who saw their mother fade away with Alzheimers. 
            There is the why of the husband whose wife died during heart surgery, leaving him alone with two small children. 
            You have so many more whys of your own.  And all of our whys start with faith:  we know you are loving and gracious and powerful, Jesus.  Why weren’t you here this time?

            And Jesus replies to Martha’s statement with these words, “I am the resurrection and the life.   
            Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
             This statement --- and a question, and I think the question is as important as the statement.  “Do you believe this?”

            Do you?

            It’s the question to Martha, and to the people gathered with her, and to you and me, too.

            I recently learned that this particular Gospel reading was one of those used when preparing new Christians for their baptism and confession of faith.
             In fact, all of the gospel readings we have heard during Lent – Jesus’ close encounters with Nicodemus – the woman at the well – with the man born blind – and with Lazarus and his sisters – all of them were part of the preparation of new Christians for baptism. 
            And so I was struck by this question – “Do you believe this?”  -- a question I suppose each and every candidate for baptism was asked. 

            Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?
             Do you believe that those who believe in him, even though they die, will live?  Do you believe that he is the light of the World, the living water, the Word made flesh? 
            Do you believe, even though you see evil in the world, even though there is danger, even though there is grieving and pain, do you believe that God’s love is stronger, that Jesus is working among us and in us and in the world?

            Do you? 

            Martha said yes.

            And so they went to the tomb, where Jesus wept, and where the people marveled.  “See how he loved him!”  And then Jesus said, Roll away the stone.

            Wait a minute, Martha said (the one who said that she believed).  “Are you sure you know what you are doing?  He’s been dead four days, after all.”  

            It is so with us.
             We believe that Jesus will raise us to new life – but later.
             Not right now. 
            But Jesus says that resurrection life starts now, in the world, with us.  They roll away the stone and Lazarus comes out, still bound up, but walking and living.

            And here is where Jesus says something interesting.
             He tells the people gathered, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  He tells them that they have something to do with Lazarus’ new life, with his resurrection life.
             They can help him to live right now. 
            They can help him off with his graveclothes, and on with the new life he has been given.

            It’s still that way.
             It’s why we like to have baptisms in church, where we can promise to support the person baptized, whether they are 4 or 40 or 80.  We want to be there to say – we will help you to live this new life you have been given. 
            In fact, you can’t do it alone.  None of us can. 
            We are here to help each other stay faithful, to pick each other up when we fall, to set each other free when we are bound in sin, to remind each other who we are, and the great mission God has given us.  
            We are here to comfort each other when the world gets too heavy, and to show each other the truth when it is so hard to see.

            Jesus is the resurrection, and the life right now.  He is making all things new.  Those he believe in him, even though they die, yet they will live.  Do you believe this?
            I remember one Sunday morning when I had to announce the death of a young man from my congregation.
             He had battled cancer for many years.
             I remember where he and his wife sat, every week, at our traditional service. 
            They were quiet people, but she loved to sing, and they attended a couple’s group. 
            When I announced his death, I thought I heard sighs too deep for words.

            Afterwards, I saw people from the community surround his wife, bearing her up, encouraging her. 
            This is what a congregation is for, I thought.
             We gather to remind each other of the truth, because we can’t always see it.  We gather to remind each other of the love that never ends. 
            We gather together to release each other from the power of death in our lives.

            Do you believe this?

            Jesus’ power over death was and is real.
             He is the resurrection and the life.  The raising of Lazarus tells us that.
             Like those who came out to console Martha and Mary, we care for each other, and remind each other of the promise – that Jesus will bring us out of death into new life – not just at the end of time, but now, and every day.  
            We are the people who take  the graveclothes from the dead and offer them the baptismal garments of their new life. 
            That’s what we do for one another.  That’s what our congregation is for

            Do you believe this?