Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Sunday: I Have Seen the Lord!

My Easter sermon for this year. Love this story!

I Have Seen the Lord!
John 20.1-18

Easter is here! I love this day. I love the beauty of colorful flowers, the crisp white fabric adorning the Table & the cross. I fondly remember the Easters of my childhood –the sanctuary of my childhood church adorned with banners hanging high & filled with paper butterflies. There was such a sense of joy in the air. The waiting of Lent was over. It was time for a celebration. And, so we celebrate today & here once again the story of Christ’s resurrection. It is told through the eyes of a woman, who saw the Lord.

We have been living the story throughout this Lenten season has we have made the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. We walked with Christ through these past forty days, encountering Jesus along the way – from the temptations in the desert to meeting Nicodemus in the night to the healing of the blind man to the woman at the well. And, we reflected on where we are & where we are heading. Last Sunday, we waved our palms high & shouted “Hosanna!” just as the crowds of people did so long ago upon Christ’s triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. But, then the crowds’ shouts of joy quickly turned into something else. On Thursday, we gathered here, around the Table, to mark his last meal with the disciples & to hear the story of his final days on the earth. Good Friday came, with some of us gathered with others in the community, to reflect on the scene at the cross & Jesus’ burial. Then, we waited, in the silence & the grief. And, our journeying & our waiting have brought us to this day, where we are truly able to exclaim – “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Today’s part of the story begins right where we left off – at the tomb. Mary Magdalene was the first one to arrive there, even before the sun rose. She was searching for Jesus. She had come to finish the preparations of his body for burial. But, she also came to grieve the loss of her friend, her teacher, who had been killed. However, upon her arrival, she was startled to discover the stone was rolled away & his body was nowhere in sight.

Her first instinct is to run from the empty tomb to find the disciples. When she found Simon Peter & another disciple, she proclaimed “he is gone…they have taken him out of the tomb & we don’t know where they have laid him.” And so, the two disciples ran towards the tomb to see it for themselves. They looked all around the empty tomb, saw the linen burial cloths lying around on the ground, & they returned to their homes, in a state of mourning over the loss of their beloved teacher, who truly was indeed gone.

Then, Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb, filled with deep sadness for she believes Jesus is gone. She is weeping outside of the tomb & when she is finally able to look inside, she discovered that she was not alone. There were two angels who ask her – why are you weeping? Mary still does not believe Jesus was raised from the dead, so she tells them they have taken away the body of the Lord. And in her deep grief & unbelief, she turns around, only to encounter the risen Christ right in front of her eyes, but she does not recognize him at first. Jesus asks her the same question as the angels – why are you weeping? And, then she asks him where he took the body, assuming that this stranger is the gardener. He said her name, Mary, & it was then that she recognized him as Jesus. What a sight it must have been for her – to encounter the risen Christ! And, her initial reaction is to cling to her beloved teacher, but he instructs her to go forth & tell others he has gone to be with God.
And, so she goes out & shares the good news of his resurrection with all those who would listen. Her proclamation of “I have seen the Lord” is such a powerful witness. She says what she knows to be true, & even though she desperately wanted to cling to him, she was able to go forth to share the good news. Mary, on that day so long ago, spoke the eternal truth we praise to this day – life does indeed conquer death.

Although our reading ends here today, the story is far from over. We live as an Easter people, as people of the resurrection. And, as resurrection people, we are called to live as witnesses to this miracle story. We are called to share the good news that we have seen the Lord! We are to proclaim our faith to whoever will listen to us. For, we are indeed the body of Christ & the story continues on with each one of us.

Our faith is one of action – of serving the needs we see in our community & in our world. We do so through our efforts of feeding the hungry through the Parkesburg Food Cupboard & Mobile Food Pantry. We do so through growing nourishing veggies in our garden & giving them away to others. We do so through teaching our children, our youth, & each other in our Sunday School classes each week. We do so through visiting each other in our homes, sending notes of care to those in hospital or who are homebound. We do so through caring about each other, in more ways than one. And, we do so by seeing the face of Christ in every single person we encounter in our daily lives. In doing so, we will indeed see the Lord.

So, while we celebrate the glorious day of Christ’s resurrection today, it does not end here. The story continues on with us. Mary Magdalene was able to share the new with all whom she saw that day, boldly proclaiming that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. What a powerful message for the world. May we be so bold as to share it too. For indeed, Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

JwJ: Ecumenical Good Friday

This is the sermon I preached at our Community Good Friday service. It was an ecumenical service with PC(USA), United Methodist, Mennonite, American Baptist, & AME clergy participating. I always enjoy being with my colleagues & worshipping together as the one Body of Christ.

Were You There?
John 19.1-42

The hymn “Were You There”, when sung on this night, reminds me of the power of Good Friday. The verses are full of haunting images of Christ’s final moments here on earth – from those souls gathered around the cross, to the nails being pierced through his hands, to when he is carried away to his tomb. Whenever I close my eyes, surrounded by these images, I can place myself there in the scene on the top of the hill as one who was present at Christ’s crucifixion. And, this is what the hymn is meant to do – to transport us into a space where we can be present & very much involved in the event itself. And, so I invite you this night, to be transported into this space – into the scene of Christ’s final hours on that fateful night so long ago.

Sung: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The words “Crucify him! Crucify him!” echo out into Jerusalem. The people, the soldiers, the chief priests yell these harsh words as Jesus is paraded right in front of them. They want absolutely nothing to do with this man, who just days earlier entered into the city to shouts of “Hosanna!” & to claims of being the Messiah, the king they were waiting for. But, now the tables have been turned completely, & the people are revolting against him. It did not matter what Pilate said or what he found out from Jesus. It did not matter that Pilate presented their King to the people – they already made their minds up. They shouted at the top of their lungs once again – “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” The chief priests denied his role as their king, instead pledging their loyalty to the emperor. Pilate had no choice at this point, but to hand Jesus over for his crucifixion.

Where are you in this story? Are you there, amidst the angry crowd of voices? Are you there, voicing your denial of Jesus as King? Where are you? Where is your voice?

Sung: Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Now, after Jesus carried his heavy cross up to Golgotha, he was nailed up upon the cross by the soldiers. There was a crowd gathered around & the soldiers decide to cast lots for his clothes. They went after his possessions like a greedy child grabbing for more candy. All dignity was gone. All decency was gone. It was a brutal, savage scene. But, in the middle of it all, there stood the most important women in Jesus’ life – his mother Mary, her sister, & Mary Magdalene. The pain in their eyes & their hearts was intense. The sadness overwhelmed them to see the man they loved deeply, hanging there in front of them, in pain & in agony. And, in the midst of this horrible time, Jesus manages to mutter the words – “here is your mother” to his most beloved disciple. He wanted his mother to be cared for after his death. And, then Jesus knew it was over. He was done. So, the words “I am finished” escaped his mouth as he left the world & gave his spirit to God.

Where are you? Are you there, casting lots for meager possessions? Are you there, in the pain of a mother watching her beloved son die on a cross? Where are you? Where is your voice?

Sung: Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

When it was over, it was time to move the body. The soldiers decided to pierce his side to make sure that he was indeed gone. Blood & water poured out from his side, so they knew he was dead. A man, Joseph of Arimathea, along with Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body from the crucifixion scene. They carefully anointed him with spices, wrapped his body in the burial cloths, & solemnly carried him to the tomb. What a strong juxtaposition of the brutal crucifixion & the love & care showed to Christ by these men. They obviously loved him & wanted him to be laid in peace.

Where are you? Are you there, with soldiers piercing his side? Are you there, with the men, lovingly preparing Christ for his burial? Where are you? Where is your voice?

And, with the tomb closed, it was over. There were no more words spoken. Silence took over & the grief began.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Journey with Jesus: A Triumphant Entry

A sermon for Palm Sunday
Matthew 21.1-11

I don’t know about you, but I do love a good parade. There is something interesting about people from all walks of life, strangers to one another, gathering along the sides of streets – all waiting for the parade. I love watching the faces of children, waiting with growing excitement for what is to come. Parades are filled with wonder, excitement, happiness – it is almost like a time set apart from the harshness & hardness of the rest of the world. It is a space where cares seem to dissipate, worries evaporate, & the power of wonder overcomes us. I’ve not seen too many upset people at a parade, outside of the occasional over-tired child.

In our continued journey with Jesus, we come to the point in the narrative where Jesus comes into Jerusalem, atop a donkey, riding in a different sort of parade. There are people who have traveled from throughout the countryside, lined the streets with great anticipation, & when he arrives, throw cloths & palm branches onto the ground before him, all the while shouting, “Hosanna!”. What a scene it must have been! Scores of people, from all walks of life & all ages, children smiling up in wonder, adults filled with excitement for the coming of the King, the Messiah they’ve come to know through healings & teachings, the elderly – coming out to see this man who has healed many, wondering if they too could be healed. It was a triumphant entry of a King for sure – filled with power, excitement, hope & wonder for the people. However, for Jesus, this was a different kind of parade.

He already knew what was ahead of him on the journey - he was indeed heading towards the end of his life on earth. He knew these people wouldn’t be shouting “Hosanna!” very much longer. He knew it would become painful in the coming days & there was much to still share with his disciples. And, he needed to share the message that he was indeed the Messiah, the king – the one whom God sent to save the world from the mess they were in. He rode into town that fateful day upon a donkey-colt, which was to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah said, “Tell the daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming to you, humble, & mounted on a donkey & on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem marks the beginning of Holy Week & the beginning of his last days here on earth. Within a few short days, the cries of hosanna will fade into cries of “crucify him!” Oh, how quickly things change! How quickly we can lose sight of it all! And, it begs the question of what were the crowds seeking that day in Jerusalem. Why did they herald his entrance then turn & participate in his violent departure? Maybe it was the allure of this “celebrity” figure coming into town that drew them to the streets that day. Maybe they wanted something to happen right then & there – that they would be saved from the rule of the Empire. Or maybe, they never really understood Jesus’ message in the first place. My guess – a little of all the above.

We can be like the people, the crowd who lined the streets of Jerusalem. We love the idea of worshipping the One who came to save us with our palms waving & shouts of hosanna. We love being in the presence of someone great & powerful. But, at the end of the parade, we simply go back to normal life. The pomp & circumstance is over. The allure is gone. Normal sets in. We go back to work, back to school, back to the stresses of everyday life. And, even though it is Holy Week, we don’t continue to walk with Jesus. We walk our own paths instead. And, then suddenly, we find the crowds again – this time at scene of Pilate interrogating Christ Jesus & when asked what he should do with this man – we shout “crucify him!” Wow, how quickly things can change. It is like we have forgotten the celebration of Jesus’ riding into town, surrounded by palm waving & shouts of hosanna. We simply go along with the crowd.

This happens to us all the time. And, often it is easier to go along with the crowd then to stand out. But, that is what we are called to do. We are called to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord, the Messiah who came to live among us, who taught us how we should live our lives. We are called to wave our palms high & shout hosanna, not just for a moment on Palm Sunday, but every moment of every day! We are called to resist the temptation of simply going back to normal life after we worship on Sunday mornings in this place. And, we are called to continue to walk this journey with Jesus during this Holy Week. The story is not over yet.

This is the great gift of Holy Week – a time set apart to walk with Christ. We are to walk these final steps with him. I urge you strongly not to miss out on this week. Don’t miss out on this walk with Christ. Come Thursday night, where we will sit at table, just as his disciples did for the final time. We will hear the accounts of his final days, through word & song. Come Friday night, to touch the cross & feel the pain of Christ’s crucifixion. Spend time on Saturday reflecting on the events of the week, but also praying for what will come next. For, on Sunday, we will celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, with our bright colored flowers & loud shouts of “Alleluia! He is risen!” But, we are not there yet. The procession continues. Be here on Thursday. Be with the community on Friday. Be a part of the abundance of the community gathered. Come to meet Jesus. Stay with this procession as it heads towards the cross.

The triumphant entry of Jesus is a powerful time in this journey. But, the journey continues this week. May you resist the temptation to simply go about this week as normal. May you feel the power of this Holy Week, as each of these days are indeed holy time to be with Christ. May you meet Jesus along the way. May you stay with the procession, stay with the community - touch the cross, & let it carry you into the promise of new life. Let us walk together this week, as a community who follows Christ & proclaims him as our Lord & Savior. Amen.