Shame, but Glory

File:Brooklyn Museum - The First Nail (Le premier clou) - James Tissot.jpgGood Friday
March 30, 2018

We have come to the middle of our three day observance of the cross and resurrection. Last night we heard the story of the Last Supper when Jesus stripped himself of his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, and bent to wash the feet of his followers.

They were gathered at Passover, when Israel remembers how God saved them in the night that death swept through Egypt and touched every home. The royal throne in Egypt had not only oppressed the people of Israel who had come to their land as refugees, but grew fearful of them and commanded the death of Israel’s male children. The midwives refused the order to kill the infants at birth, reporting that the Israelite women were like animals and gave birth before they could arrive. So the command was given that all male infants be thrown into the Nile – food for the crocodiles.

It was Egypt’s war against the children of Israel – a people that God called “my son” – and their refusal to let them go, that led ultimately to the death of their own sons. There is a price to pay for hardness of heart. But by the blood of a lamb, God protected the Israelites. And in that night of Egypt’s sorrow, they were able to flee.

The week-long festival of Passover celebrates that moment when imperial power was overthrown and God’s people gained their freedom. It is why the Roman imperial forces were so nervous during the celebration of Passover in Jerusalem. Vast crowds came to the city to celebrate this moment of national liberation and Rome feared the spark of rebellion.

When Jesus arrives in the city, and people are crying out “hosanna” as if he were a king, the powers that be sent a mob to grab him in the night and hand him over to the authorities as a rebel threat to the leadership of the nation and the might of Rome.

The punishment for rebels was crucifixion. It was a terrible way to die, but a thoroughly effective way to quash any challenge to the ruling powers. The victim was stripped not only of his clothes but any shred of dignity. It is why we end the service last night with the stripping of the altar.

Jesus is abused, tortured, mocked, scourged with a whip that has sharp bits of metal inserted into the ends of the thongs. He is driven through the streets for people to look on with horror or abuse, and impaled along the public roadway so that all can see the consequences of resisting those in power.

It is compelling to ponder how this Galilean healer and teacher should so incite the fear and hostility of Judah’s leaders that they would hand him over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. Why is Jesus such a threat to the way of the world? And why do we not see him as a threat in our time?

It is interesting to consider that, in his time, Martin Luther King, Jr. was regarded as such a dangerous man, and so widely disliked and hated. But now he is a safe and tame national hero.

We have done something of the same thing to Jesus. We have made him safe and tame. Jesus has become the defender of polite society rather than a challenge to it. What he said about the care of the poor and vulnerable, what he said about those outcasts on the margins of society, what he said about the treatment of those society sees as “sinners”, what he said about the dangers of wealth and greed, what he said about our concern for honor from society rather than honor from God – all that seems safely packaged up and stored on the shelf. But Good Friday reminds us that Jesus was not so safe and domesticated. He wasn’t interested in us being religious; he called for us to do justice and mercy. And it got him killed.

Think how easily protesters of injustice are attacked as troublemakers, whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement or high school kids protesting the proliferation of military weapons in civil society. The police beat the protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as brutally as they beat the striking coal miners in West Virginia in another era. The powerful family of Caiaphas wasn’t going to hold back against a Galilean peasant who said that debts needed to be forgiven.

The church has helped to domesticate Jesus by making the story of Good Friday a story of personal sin and redemption. We have taken this complicated and powerful story and turned it into a rather simple religious formula: we are sinners, God is righteous, God’s righteousness demands that we be punished, Jesus takes the punishment that we deserve, if we accept his forgiveness we get to go to heaven.

I understand this idea. I understand the truth of it. There is, indeed, truth here. Jesus does take upon himself the judgment that belongs on us. There is redemption and forgiveness in these outstretched arms. But it is much more complicated than such a simple formula.

There is a profound difference between thinking about the suffering of Jesus as part of an abstract equation, and truly seeing the horror of what was done to him. And it doesn’t matter that Jesus was innocent. It’s not like it was a shame about Jesus but those other two guys deserved what they got. No one should be crucified. Something has gone deeply wrong in the human heart that we are capable of such cruelty.

Something has gone deeply wrong in the human heart that we can fail to see the humanity of others. Something has gone deeply wrong when we can write off people in categories like immigrants, criminals, Nazis or Jews. Something is deeply wrong when American citizens get rounded up and put in interment camps because they are of Japanese descent. Something is deeply wrong in the human heart when “homosexuals” and “communists” and “Jews” are rounded up for the gas chamber. Something is deeply wrong when people are classified as “enemies” and “terrorists” allowing them to be tortured or bombed. The crucifixion of Jesus is a mirror of the human heart. And what we see there should make us ashamed.

This is where we can talk about redemption. It’s not that there are some black marks in my record I need Jesus to erase; there is something broken in me. And it is in that moment when I see that something is broken in me – then I am ready to truly hear Jesus say “Father, forgive them.” Then I can understand what redemption truly means.

God has seen the worst face of humanity, and still shows love to us. He has suffered our shame. He has carried our burden. Christ on the cross has shown us the dark secrets of the human heart and the bright love of God.

Jesus has offered us his Spirit. He has given us his word. He has shown us the path. He has promised to take us on this journey of being born anew, born from above, born of the Spirit.

He has promised us life and salvation – that is to say, he has promised us healing and wholeness. He has promised to come and reign in our hearts and in our world – and he is offering to come and reign in us now.

The cross is shame, but glory. It is a terrible reflection of the human soul, but a wondrous reflection of God’s love. It is our new beginning. It is new beginning for the world.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_First_Nail_(Le_premier_clou)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The face of a priceless love

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) - James Tissot.jpgMaundy Thursday
March 29, 2018

Our gathering on Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the three-day service known as the Paschal Triduum, the central worship of the year that proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Click here for an account of these three days). We begin our celebration with an exhortation, allowing the washing of feet to serve as a visible sermon following the reading of the Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

The texts we will hear this evening are important for us to keep in mind as we come together over these next three days to let the cross and resurrection speak to our lives. I want to talk about them briefly – but first I want to say something more about this last sentence: we come together over these next three days to let the cross and resurrection speak to our lives.

We are here to hear the voice of God. We are here trusting the promise that, in these words and actions, we will hear the whisper of the eternal call our name, lift us up, touch us with the Spirit, lead us in love, grant us strength and courage, and fill us with hope and joy. We are here trusting the promise that somewhere “in, with and under” the sound of the splashing water, the caress of the towel, the words of the readings, the cry of the prayers, the taste of bread and wine, we will feel the embrace of a wondrous love.

We are here to let this whole majestic and profound story of the cross and resurrection speak to our lives. We are also here to let this majestic and profound story be spoken into the world.

The world needs to hear this story of suffering love. The world needs to hear this story that the one who is the perfect image of God bends to wash feet. He bends the knee; he does not bend the truth. He prays for the world and seeks to fulfill God’s will. He endures spittle and shame and does not respond with hate. He forgives his torturers and takes no revenge upon a brutal world. To the end, he remains faithful to God and to us.

We need to be brought back again and again to this story. But we are also here to let this story loose into the world.

There are lots of things to worship in the world, lots of things in which we are tempted to put our trust. There are plenty of stories about what we should be: There are people telling us how to get rich. There are people telling us how to be youthful and sexy. There are people telling us how to be successful in life and love. There are people telling us that these things are the secrets to life. They tell us such things are worthy of our worship, adoration and praise. They are worthy of our time and energy, our mind and heart, our wealth and resources. But the truth is that all these things are rendered powerless by death. There is only one who is not undone by death.

We are here to let this majestic and profound story of the cross and resurrection speak to our lives and be spoken into the world. We are here to hear the voice of the angels who sang at Jesus’ birth and waited in the tomb to declare: “He is not here; he has been raised.”

Tonight we see the face of God that bends to wash feet. But this night is also the night of the last supper when Jesus took bread and broke it saying that his body would be broken. And this is the night we remember the Passover when the blood of a lamb saved Israel from death – and Christ is revealed as the true Passover lamb whose blood is poured out to deliver us from death’s power.

So our first reading is about the Passover. The instructions on the annual observance of the Passover are placed within the historical account of that first Passover. Every year Israel is to remember this night. Every year Israel is to remember that they were slaves and God set them free. It was supposed to keep them from surrendering their freedom and becoming slaves again. And it was supposed to keep them from betraying their freedom and making slaves of others.

The story also commands them to eat this meal with their bags packed and their shoes on their feet. They are to be ready to move, ready to follow where God shall lead, ready to live their freedom.

The lamb is to be roasted – roasted because it is quicker to cook, quicker to eat. There is no time to bring the pot to boil and let the meat simmer all day. They need to be ready to go. The bread is unleavened because there is no time to wait for bread to rise. They are a people on the move from bondage into freedom. They need to remember all this in the years to come.

The second reading will tell us give us Paul’s instructions to the believers in Corinth about the Lord’s Supper. These are the familiar words we use every week over the bread and wine. It is part of a longer conversation about what it means to share in this meal. The Corinthians had forgotten that they are members of one another, that at the heart of this meal is the example of priceless love. This is why, when John (the writer of the Gospel) wants to talk about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, he doesn’t talk about the bread and wine, he tells us about Jesus washing feet. At the heart of this meal is priceless love. Christ’s body is given for us. Christ’s blood is shed for us. Christ kneels in priceless love.

The psalm that lies between these two readings speaks of lifting up the cup of salvation. In this psalm the Christian community through the centuries have heard words and phrases that evoke Jesus and what we do in Holy Communion.

Then, finally, we will hear of Jesus bending to wash feet and giving us the mandate to love one another. That mandate gives us the name Maundy Thursday. Mandate Thursday. Commandment Thursday. Whatever else we may be as a Christian community, we are to be a community where love dwells. It is by love that everyone will know that we are followers of Jesus.

When Jesus bends to wash feet, he shows us the face of God and the face of our true humanity. I remember reading some book when I was a child that told the story of Narcissus. Narcissus, in Greek Mythology, was known for his beauty. But he was full of himself and spurned the affection of those who loved him. He was lured by the goddess Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to a pool where he fell in love with his own reflection. He couldn’t ear himself away from his own reflection and it led ultimately to his self-destruction.

Somewhere along the way I read a similar story about an enchanted room where the more you looked into the mirrors, the larger they became while the windows grew progressively smaller. Ultimately this person was left in total darkness.

Our self-concern is not the path to our true humanity; it is the path to darkness. We are most fully human when we look out the windows toward God and others rather than in the mirror at ourselves.

The Christ who meets us this night, and in this entire story of the cross and empty tomb, is a man who loves completely. He is crucified for this. He is judged and condemned as a liar about God and a danger to the people. But God will overturn that judgment. God will void the sentence of death. God will declare Jesus true.

Here in this man with a washbasin and a towel is the true face of our humanity. Here is the true face of God. This is the story we come to hear. This is the story we come to set loose into the world.

Amen

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Washing_of_the_Feet_(Le_lavement_des_pieds)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

His body the temple

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple (detail) - WGA09210.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 4, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday of Lent

We start with the Ten Commandments on Sunday, though the reason is not the commandments themselves, but the covenant they represent. We have heard, during this season, of God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham. We will yet hear the promise of a new covenant. God is a god who keeps covenant. Who makes promises. Who binds himself in relationship to the world, to Abraham, to Israel. The commands God gives are the shape of that relationship. Those bound to God will share God’s hopes and dreams and fundamental commitments, just as those bound in any other relationship. And who is this God? One who shows fidelity – and so should we – to God, to neighbor. So I won’t trouble another’s family life. I won’t neglect the elderly. I won’t kill or steal. I won’t lust after the things of my neighbor. Such things rend relationships and this is a god who builds them. We are a faithful people because we have a faithful God.

After these words of the faithful God, we will take up the psalmists words that sing of the wondrous order of creation and God’s wondrous ordering of life revealed in God’s law/torah/teaching: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” There is a good order to the universe, a noble pattern, a beautiful harmony – the work of a faithful God.

Then Paul will speak to us about the word of the cross. The shape of faithfulness is outstretched arms, pierced yet open to embrace. The cross shows the terrible face of a world that has embraced power over others rather than faithfulness to them. But the crucified one remained faithful. In him, love triumphed over power.

File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -27- - Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple.jpgWe come, then, to Jesus, with a whip of cords in his hands, driving the sellers and moneychangers from the temple, setting free the animals destined for sacrifice. He is not cleansing a temple practice; he is overthrowing it. Fidelity to God does not consist in ritual sacrifice, but in faithfulness. And Jesus’ faithfulness will be the sign, his body the temple where God encounters us, where grace pours out, where life is given.

With these texts we march on toward the three days, towards the great mystery of death and resurrection, to our passage through the sea from death into life.

This Sunday we continue our Lenten series on Baptism. “Through the Watersoffers an introduction to the Lenten theme. Daily Bible verses and reflections are posted at Holy Seasons as well as the first two sermons in the series: “A great and terrifying promise,” and “Taking hold of the promise.”

The Prayer for March 4, 2018

Almighty God, Holy and Eternal,
who bound yourself to Israel by a promise
and revealed to them your holy will,
cleanse our hearts and lives by your favor
and make us a holy temple of your Spirit;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 4, 2018

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_di_Bondone_-_No._27_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_11._Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple_(detail)_-_WGA09210.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-27-_-_Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Seeing death and life

File:125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 13, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The passion draws near. Next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and the following week are the three days of the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed feet and broke bread and, after, was grabbed by the mob in the night; Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion; and Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter when by the celebration/renewal of baptism we journey with Christ from the realm of death into the realm of life.

This Sunday the Gospel reading anticipates all that is to come when Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a prophetic anticipation of his death. The others don’t see the death coming, so they complain about the “waste” of this expensive perfume. But Jesus sees.

They are in Bethany among the sick – near to the temple but out of sight by law. They are in Bethany where Lazarus was raised. They are at Bethany where Jesus ascends. They are in the place where our need for healing is manifest – and where Christ reigns.

So on this day we hear the prophet Isaiah declare that something greater than the exodus is coming. And the psalmist sings of the wheat sown into the soil with tears and rising into abundance with joy. And Paul writes of his Judean credentials, which he willingly casts aside for the sake of gaining Christ. Like an athlete training that he or she might ascend the dais for the laurel wreath, I press on,” writes Paul, “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Enlightened

File:36e rencontres internationales de Taizé Strasbourg 31 décembre 2013 11.jpgThis week we are conclude our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He gathers me into the Body of Christand that is the subject of our daily devotions. This Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the theme: “He enlightens me by his word and Spirit.”

There are many elements of the creed – and especially of the third article of the creed – that could occupy our attention. The five we chose were: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened. And on this fifth Sunday in Lent our focus is on that word ‘Enlightened’. We see the world differently in the light of Christ. We see not only conflict but peace. We see not only revenge but forgiveness. We see not only greed but a shared table. We see not only death but life. The world isn’t changed, but we are changed. By the word and Holy Spirit eyes are opened to see. Light shines in the darkness. Light shines in our hearts.

The Prayer for March 13, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you breathe upon us your Spirit
and open our minds to understand your Word.
Grant us wisdom and understanding
that we may not walk in darkness but in the light of life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 13, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Through the prophet God announces a new exodus: God will bring the people through the wilderness back from their exile in Babylon.

Psalmody: Psalm 126
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
– Using images of death and resurrection, the poet sings of God’s wondrous deliverance and prays for God to again “restore our fortunes.”

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” –
Paul warns the Philippians about those who would compel them to keep circumcision and the Judean traditions. Though his ‘credentials’ in that tradition are impeccable, he wants only “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”

Gospel: John 12:1-8
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
– The Jerusalem council has determined to put Jesus to death. Now, as Passover approaches, Jesus has come out of hiding to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where Mary anoints him for his burial.

Enlightened: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 4: Gathered.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg  By 125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A36e_rencontres_internationales_de_Taiz%C3%A9_Strasbourg_31_d%C3%A9cembre_2013_11.jpg  By Photo Claude TRUONG-NGOC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Death, Resurrection

Watching for the Morning of March 22, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

File:Christ en croix cluny 2.jpg

Christ en croix, The Musee national du Moyen Age, (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

Shattered covenant, shattered world. New covenant, new world. A grain falling into the ground to die, yet bringing forth life. An exaltation upon a cross. A priest, like the cryptic figure of Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave a tithe, who is an eternal priest. A son made perfect through suffering. A priceless revelation of the heart of God come to abide in our hearts: I treasure your word in my heart.” The way and will of God written on our hearts.

The mountain range that was far off when we began this journey towards the Paschal Triduum, the three-day celebration of the cross and resurrection, draws ever nearer. The cloud and thunder at the mountain peaks echo across the plains. We hear the dramatic and transforming sounds of the coming days.

Through Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, God promises a new beginning. That covenant created at Sinai, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” has been utterly and completely shattered. It lies on the ground like the broken walls of the city, the burnt cedar beams and collapsed stone of the temple, the gold and bronze and jewels stripped and added to the royal treasury of a foreign nation. Priesthood and Kingship ended. The people have betrayed the one who was a husband to them. Irredeemably. And yet: the promise of a new creation, a new covenant, a new day.

And Jesus, by all accounts betrayed and broken, stripped and shamed, crushed and dead upon the timbers of a cross, yet exalted for all the world to see. For all the world to believe. For all to enter the world of living bread and new wine and the broken made whole and the blind now seeing. To enter the world of imperishable life.

A high priest forever, writes the author of Hebrews, the source of eternal salvation. “With my whole heart I seek you,” sings the psalm.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 5: Renewing the World with Justice and Mercy

 

The Prayer for March 22, 2015

In your Son, O God, we see your face,
giving yourself to bring life to the world.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, your law of justice and mercy
may be written in our hearts,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 22, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” – In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, God promises to make a new covenant with crushed and scattered nations of Israel and Judah. Though they have betrayed and broken their covenant with God, God will start again, promising to write God’s commands on their hearts.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:9-16
“I treasure your word in my heart.” – A portion of the majestic hymn to the revelation of God’s will and way in the Torah, God’s word/law/teaching.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
“He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Jesus the faithful one has become our perfect high priest.

Gospel John 12:20-33
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – When Greeks come to “see” Jesus (see with faith), Jesus knows that the hour is at hand for him to be exalted/lifted up on the cross. He will lay down his life like a grain of wheat – and his followers also – for the sake of a rich harvest that gathers all people into life.

 

Art: By Chatsam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons