Saturday, March 26, 2016
Easter Day 2016 I suspect that many of you have come here today with the secret hope of understanding or getting proof of the resurrection. Well, are you in luck! Because I am prepared to tell you the singular truth of this day, the most true thing about Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, why we celebrate today and every Sunday the Feast of the Lord’s resurrection. Are you ready to hear it? “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.” And that’s all I really need to say today. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. I guess I can go sit down now and we can continue on with our service. What’s that you say? You don’t know Latin? Oh, well in that case… “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” was a statement that was first coined by the philosopher Erasmus, but it was claimed and made popular by psychologist Carl Jung. He had it inscribed over the door of his home, and he had it inscribed on his tombstone. It means: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. (Or for those of you who were here for Good Friday, we might even say “Bidden or not bidden, God abides.) It is the deep truth of this day that shines in our gospel. In the darkness of a new day, In the shadows of the empty tomb, In the sad bewilderment of Mary, In the frantic running of his disciples, In the mysterious recognition when Jesus calls her by name, In the fulfillment of what could never even be hoped for: Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines throughout God’s creation. In the gentleness of spring. In the rain and in the weeds. In the blossoms and in the pollen. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our world. In extraordinary acts of human kindness. In horrible acts of terror. In the loudness of politics. In the beauty of love which doesn’t count the cost. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our relationships. In our waking and in our sleeping. In our watching and our working. In our play and in our study. In our rejoicing and our mourning. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth of all our meals. At the celebratory banquet. At the church potluck. At the intimate dinner. At the family dinner table. In the microwave meal for one. At the funeral meal and the last supper. At this table when we make thanksgiving. In that first bite of Easter’s first deviled egg. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. It is the deep truth that shines in our lives. In the scars from our failures. And in the joy of our triumphs. In our many loves and in our heartbreaks. In our gratitudes and in our sorrows. In our abiding and in our abandonment. In our life and in our death. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. So, when the echoing of the bells has ceased. When the Easter lilies have wilted and died. When our Alleluias become a little tired, a little less convicted. When you get frustrated with all the crazy political posts from your friends on Facebook or your elderly parent is failing or your kid has gotten into trouble at school again or you just can’t seem to catch up on that never-ending laundry, or your loneliness just seems to overwhelm you: May you remember the truth of this day. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” Bidden or not bidden, God is present.
Friday, March 25, 2016
Good Friday 2016 I recently read a theological book that stated that God truly abandoned Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. But because of that abandonment, God never truly abandons us. While this is a valid theological perspective, I respectfully disagree. Now, there are plenty others who abandon Jesus. Judas is the first, leaving the Last Supper to betray Jesus to the authorities who want him dead. Peter abandons him by deny him thrice. Pretty much all his disciples besides John and the women abandon him as he is being crucified. Certainly each and every one of us has abandoned Jesus at one time or another and for most of us, it is not even a life-or-death kind of situation. It is usually through apathy, laziness, self-conceit. But abandonment is not the only story that is being told this day. There is also the story of abiding. Abiding is the exact opposite of abandoning. It is accepting or bearing, dwelling with, remaining and continuing. The gospel of John, out of all the gospels, lifts up this notion of abiding. We see it in the well-known verses of John 15:4-7: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus shows us, today and always, that abiding is the very nature of God. And we are most fully God’s children, when we abide too. Perhaps this is part of why we gather here today. Because today, we choose not to abandon; we choose to abide—watching and remaining, bearing with and dwelling in pain, abiding even when it is “breathless and it’s empty”. In closing, I’ll share with you a Good Friday blessing by artist and United Methodist elder Jan Richardson. It is titled What Abides For Good Friday You will know this blessing by how it does not stay still, by the way it refuses to rest in one place. You will recognize it by how it takes first one form, then another: now running down the face of the mother who watches the breaking of the child she had borne, now in the stance of the woman who followed him here and will not leave him bereft. Now it twists in anguish on the mouth of the friend whom he loved; now it bares itself in the wound, the cry, the finishing and final breath. This blessing is not in any one of these alone. It is what binds them together. It is what dwells in the space between them, though it be torn and gaping. It is what abides in the tear the rending makes.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Lent 5C March 13, 2016 This past week, I watched the series finale of the PBS show Downton Abbey. Like many people, one of my favorite characters in the show has been Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess of Downton; she is well known for her sharp tongue and her impressive one-liners! So it is no surprise that one of my favorite moments in the finale featured the Dowager Countess. The Dowager’s two servants, Spratt the butler and Denker her ladies maid, have had a long standing rivalry. In the final episode we learn that Spratt has taken a moonlighting job as an advice columnist for a ladies magazine. When Denker maliciously spills the beans to her ladyship in an attempt to get Spratt fired, the Dowager reacts with laughter and the suggestion that they consult Spratt in all areas of fashion and entertaining. When Spratt confronts Denker about this encounter he says to her, “You made a mistake, Ms. Denker, in your haste to be rid of me….Her ladyship never likes to be predictable.” In our readings for today, we see that God, much like the Dowager of Downtown, also never likes to be predictable. First we have the prophet’s words in Isaiah that are attributed to God even as the prophet is reminiscing about God’s saving acts in the parting of the Red Sea at Israel’s exodus from Egypt: “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?” Then we have the gospel reading from John today, which is a scene full of the unepredictable. First, you need to know a bit of the context. Just one chapter before this in John’s gospel is the episode when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. As a result of this, gossip is flying all around the countryside about who Jesus is and what he has done. As a result of that, the Jewish leaders decide that they are going to kill Jesus (and Lazarus too, for good measure!) because they are afraid that all the attention he is garnering is going to bring the Romans down upon all of them to wipe them all out. When Jesus gets wind of this plot, he takes his disciples and they go out to the middle of nowhere for a bit, but then, unexpectedly, they return to Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’s raising, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary throw a party for Jesus just before the Passover. And this party takes an unpredictable turn, as Jesus is gathered with Lazarus, the source of all the hullaballoo, Martha, the consummate hostess who has also recently proclaimed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, Mary, the quintessential disciple, and Judas, who John reminds us, will betray Jesus and is a thief, and ostensibly John, the beloved disciple who is narrating. It is a party that becomes a sort of funeral rite; Jesus, still very much alive, with his closest friends gathered around him is anointed for burial by Mary, who breaks open an expensive bottle of perfume over his feet and then wipes it with her hair. Well, that’s certainly one way to kill a party! Another unpredictable aspect of this scene is that it is Mary who does the anointing. All throughout history, women are not the ones who anoint. Men anoint other men—Samuel anoints Saul; male popes anoint emperors. The women anoint for burial. And then, Jesus, who is all about giving money to the poor, gets into an argument with Judas about the extravagance of Mary’s gift—most unexpected. And after this scene is concluded, Jesus and his disciples head directly to Jerusalem, where Jesus makes his triumphal entry (that we will celebrate next week on Palm Sunday). All throughout scripture, God acts unpredictably, using the people we would least expect to bring about God’s purposes and doing the things we would least expect to accomplish it. Moses—a murderer, leads the Israelites out of slavery. Jacob—a liar and a cheat becomes the founder of a nation. Abraham and Sarah—too old to have children—whose descendants number the stars. Mary—an average peasant girl who is brave enough to say yes. Paul—one of the highest, most pedigreed Jews who gives it all up to follow Jesus and proclaim the gospel. Which will culminate in two weeks when we see the expectation of death overturned by God’s unpredictable action of the resurrection—breaking into history, our stories and our lives. So today, as we live into this final week in Lent and prepare to follow the way of the cross through Holy Week, we might consider, what are the unexpected, unpredictable ways that God continues to act in our lives and in our world, even now? Let us look this week, beginning in the ordinary meal that we share today, for the predictably unpredictable God--who shows up where we least expect and who uses those we would least imagine. This week, may you be open to the unpredictable God, who continually surprises us with where God shows up, who God uses, and what God accomplishes!