Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sun, March 27, 2005 - Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2:14-24

Colossians 3:1-4

Matthew 27:57-28:10

"I know that you are looking for Jesus," says the angel, "who was crucified." Observant angel, to guess that the two Marys who had gone to Jesus’ tomb were there seeking their Lord. It couldn’t have been hard to figure out that the two women who had been dedicated disciples of Jesus throughout his ministry, who had been pretty much the only ones to witness his actual death, who had watched his lifeless body being placed in the tomb were there, as soon as possible after the Sabbath, to mourn over his dead body. Jesus had made a particular point throughout his ministry of welcoming women into his circle, and affirming them, and so, like any distraught follower, they were going to keep vigil at his graveside. Even though he was dead, he continued to draw them to him, and so they were there, seeking him out.

We are here today because we, too, are looking for Jesus. Our situation is a little bit different than the two Marys - a lot different, in fact - because we are not here keeping vigil for someone who has died. Instead, we are here because we know that Jesus has been given new life and we are seeking some kind of contact with that one in whom death was defeated and whose resurrections has brought us hope of new life. Now, you might not put it that way, exactly. You may be here because it’s Easter, and you feel like somehow you should be in church on Easter. And that’s fine. You may be here because a family member or a friend wants you to be here. And that’s fine, too. Those are good reasons to come to church today. But I would hazard a guess that whether or not it’s your express reason for being here, pretty much each one of us here feels deep down that our life is not as satisfactory as it ought to be, that something is missing. In a vague, unidentifiable way, our lives are not complete. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve, remodel, reshape. What we are really seeking, church-language aside, is new life, and renewal, and a reason to hope that this isn’t all there is. And for us Christians, this new life and renewal comes to us embodied in the resurrected Christ. Thus, consciously or subconsciously, we seek him out.

But boy, is he hard to find. After all, we are two thousand years removed from the resurrection event. Can you imagine that? The event that we celebrate this morning took place almost two thousand years ago. Jesus Christ, whom we seek, died and was raised almost twenty centuries ago. None of us here, neither our parents, or grandparents, or any of the family we can trace back, personally saw the living Christ. We are so far separated from the event that it is stunning. And that can make it very difficult to find Christ. In the past two thousand years, the church has piled interpretation on top of interpretation of what Jesus’ death and resurrection means, and has built layers and layers over top of the original person of Jesus Christ, each person adding, inevitably, their own bias to the mix. The Gospels, our primary source for who Jesus was, weren’t written until at least thirty years after he died, by people who weren’t eyewitnesses and had to rely on word-of-mouth.

But it’s more than just two thousand years of history that makes it difficult to find the Christ who brings new life. It’s also the stuff that’s going on in our own lives. In addition to all of the newspapers, radio stations, and tv reports that tell us at every turn about somebody who’s been shot, or about a war that has broken out, or about the escalating violent crime and gang activities, we also have the difficulties of our own lives: the family relationships that aren’t what they used to be, the illnesses that threaten the lives of our loved ones, the financial difficulties that make the future seem bleak. And all of these things surround us and overwhelm us until it seems that even if Jesus Christ was standing right in front of us, proclaiming new life and light, we would have a hard time seeing him. These things make "blind faith" almost impossible, and no matter how much we might work to find Jesus, it seems as if everywhere we look, the tomb is empty and we are afraid.

But the angel says, "Do not be afraid. He is not here." And then goes on to tell the two Marys something further. "He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him." So it’s not that Jesus is not here, period. It’s just that the risen Christ isn’t here at this particular place. The disciples must go to Galilee to find him. But why Galilee? Ah, there is the clue both for the disciples and for us.

Galilee is the place where it all began. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus makes his first public appearance on the mountain in Galilee. Now, because the Gospels were crafted by writers, we know that first things and last things always carry some significance, and so we can guess that this first public appearance is important. And it is. On this mountain in Galilee, Jesus lays out his platform, as it were. He tells the crowd what he’s all about and what kind of teacher he’s going to be and what he wants them to do. In short, he gives them the Beatitudes, he tells them to love their enemies, and to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In other words, he tells them how to act ethically towards those around them; how to carry out God’s love for the world in concrete ways. In Galilee, Jesus lays out that God favours the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. That rather than being impressed by the righteous, God has set out to redeem the unrighteous. And Jesus invites us to be a part of that. In Galilee, on the mountain.

Which is where Mary, and the disciples, and by extension us, are to go to see the Risen Lord. You see, we aren’t going to find new life simply in church, per se, or in reading our Bible, or in refraining from committing one sin or another. By directing us to Galilee, Jesus is telling us that where we will find new life, where we will find him, is wherever we actively carry out those ethical guidelines - when we embody the Beatitudes, when we turn the other cheek, when we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. These things might take place in church - I’m not saying don’t come to church, after all - but they are far more likely to happen outside of church, to happen in your day-to-day living, with your regular interactions with people at work, as you shop, with your family and friends. And when they do, you will be greeted by the risen Christ in those situations, in those Galilees.

There is a reality show on TV that I stumbled across recently called "Dog: The Bounty Hunter." It is, as you might suspect, about a real-life bounty hunter. You might not think that that has anything to do with seeing the risen Christ bring new life in the day-to-days, but the episode I saw was the perfect example of that. You see, before he became a bounty hunter, Duane "Dog" Chapman lived a life that eventually landed him in jail on manslaughter charges. But while he was in jail, he had an encounter with the risen Christ, and he realized that his sins had been forgiven and he was being given a second chance. And because he was so grateful for this new life that God had given him, he has made it a point to help others to experience that new life, too. And he does it through his mantra of second chances. In the episode I saw, he and his crew had to go pick up a young guy who had skipped out on his court appearance. This kid had never been arrested before, but the crew suspected that he was involved with drugs, and Dog believed that if they could set him right this one time, then they could probably prevent him from embarking on a life-long cycle of drugs, crime, and jail. And so Dog made an impassioned speech to his crew, telling them about how God had given him a new life and a second chance in jail, and he ended by saying, "This is the second chance business, and we are going to give this kid a second chance because we are second chance people." And so they tracked the kid down and gave him the chance to set things right with his family before they finally handed him over to the authorities. As unlikely as it seems, this biker-looking ex-convict was bringing the new life of the risen Christ into this kid’s life. He was acting out the ethics of Galilee in his workplace, and here’s the thing - I have no doubt that he found that Jesus Christ was right there alongside him.

Now, I’m telling you about Dog: The Bounty Hunter because if this guy can live out Jesus’ words in his life, so can you You can give others a second chance, you can affirm their lives as worth saving, you can treat others the way you wish to be treated. It’s sometimes very difficult, but it’s not impossible. Jesus did it, Dog does it, and so can you And when you do these things, you know that you will be greeted by the risen Christ, Jesus whom we seek. It’s not that these things are a requirement, and that Jesus won’t bring you new life until you do them, it’s just that in doing them, you find what the disciples two thousand years ago discovered. You find that in doing these things, you have arrived at Galilee. You find that the risen Christ has gone ahead of you, and is in fact already there, sharing his new life with the disciples and with you Thanks be to God. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Fri, March 25, 2005 - Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalm 22

Hebrews 10:16-25

John 18:1-19:42

We begin today as we left yesterday - with betrayal. Judas has betrayed his rabbi Jesus by identifying him to the Roman and Temple authorities. The disciples have betrayed Jesus by failing to stand up for him when the police came and by disappearing off into the night at the crucial moment. Peter has most obviously betrayed him by denying that he knew him three times before the rooster crowed. The crowds who, on Palm Sunday, lauded praise on the-Messiah-come-to-Jerusalem have betrayed him by calling for his execution instead of his release.

And we, too, have betrayed Jesus. I spoke yesterday about Jesus’ last words to us, that we should love one another, even our enemies, and how our failure to do that was a betrayal of Jesus himself. But there’s more than that. Like the disciples, we too have abandoned and denied Jesus at the most crucial moment. When we have seen Jesus in the poor or the homeless or the marginalised, how often have we spoken up on their behalf? When Jesus has come to us in those people who are on welfare, or social assistance, how often have we turned away so we don’t have to confront the prejudices, including our own, that have put them there? "What you do for the least of these," says Jesus, "you do for me." Well, we haven’t done it for the least of them, and so we haven’t done it for Jesus.

Most seriously, like the crowds, we have called for the execution of Jesus more times than we have called for his release. What I mean is: so many times in our lives we are faced with the choice of proclaiming a Gospel of love and forgiveness or keeping quiet for fear of reprisal. And instead of standing up for those who have been hurt and rejected in the name of Christianity, instead of defending sinners who are just as loved by God as we are, instead of begging for forgiveness when the Christian church commits some egregious error, we choose instead to just keep our mouths shut. We fail to cry out for the release of Jesus - for the release of his love in the world. And this results in the execution of Jesus. Our failure to stand up for others and affirm their life the way Jesus did betrays Jesus and them. It results in the death of Jesus and of them. So let’s not fool ourselves and say, "Oh, if I was there in Jerusalem, I wouldn’t have been like the crowds." Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we would have asked for Jesus to be freed instead of Barabbas. We’re not any different from the disciples or from the crowds - we’re betrayers, too.

But in the midst of all that betrayal, we have Jesus. Jesus, who, the Gospels tell us, knew where his message of unconditional love and forgiveness would take him, and who did not react to betrayal the way we would. Jesus, who, when his disciple took a run at the people coming to arrest him, told him to put the sword away. Jesus spent his ministry reaching out to the outsiders, healing them, proclaiming the love of God to them, and always, always, bringing them life. That was one of the identifiers of the Christ - that he came to bring life to all people. "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly," Jesus says. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "What has come into being in him was life." Jesus’ ministry was centred around life.

So with all that emphasis on life, why did Jesus not defend himself when the time came? Why did he allow us to put him on a cross to die? Some people say that it’s because God preordained it. Others say it’s because Jesus’ blood was necessary as an offering for our sins. But I think that it was because of his commitment to life - our life - that he chose to be put on the cross. You see, Jesus wasn’t the unwilling victim of political oppression, despite what some people think. He chose to be there, because choosing not to be there would have meant denying everything he believed in and everything he said. "Greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends." Refusing to die would have meant going back on his own words. It would have meant a betrayal of his own ideals and of us. And so to prove that he meant what he said, he had to die.

Last year, a movie came out from China called "Hero." And although at times it’s a terrible piece of Communist propaganda, there is a scene in it that has direct relevance to today. Towards the end of the movie, it is revealed that one of the main characters, the most incredible swordsman alive - called Broken Sword, has had a change of heart. He has come to the understanding that a swordsman’s ultimate goal in life is actually to lay down his sword. He believes that once a person can "embrace everything around him, only then will the desire to kill no longer exist. Only then will there be peace." Well, this new-found understanding and treasuring of life does not sit well with his lover, Flying Snow. For the last ten years, the couple had committed their lives to plotting the assassination of the king who had slaughtered their countrymen, and now Broken Sword is saying he wants to give up. To, in fact, stop anybody else from even carrying on. Well, Flying Snow challenges Broken Sword to a duel. She believes that when push comes to shove, when his life is on the line, Broken Sword will, in fact, go back on what he says and defend himself. And so the action starts, and at the pivotal moment, when Flying Snow has thrust her blade at her Broken Sword, when one move by him could disarm her and send her flying, Broken Sword gives a small smile and drops his weapon. Unable to pull back, Flying Snow’s blade sinks deep into him, delivering a fatal blow. In shock and confusion, she stares at her dying lover and asks, in a bewildered tone of voice, "Why did you not defend yourself?" And he answers, "So you would finally believe me."

Jesus did not defend himself, and died, so that we would finally believe him. So that we would finally understand that when he said love your enemy, when he said turn the other cheek, when he said that he had come to bring forgiveness and life to all, no matter what their sin, he meant it. You know, it’s funny. Most people would kill to prove that they’re right. But Jesus chose to die to prove that he was right.

And that is where we are left today. Our betrayal of Jesus led him to the cross, and his determination to never betray us kept him there. It meant death for Jesus, but it means life for us. And that means that while we have begun today with betrayal, Jesus has broken that cycle and ended it with life for us. Our ultimate betrayal of our Saviour has been subsumed by his refusal to do the same to us, and that has changed everything. Nothing will be the same anymore. Not even death.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thurs, Mar 24, 2005 - Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:1, 10-17

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-35

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how every time we celebrate Communion, it comes down to this. This is the night when we remember most especially what has been handed down through the generations - that "on the night Jesus was betrayed, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat, This is my body, given for you." " What happened on Maundy Thursday resonates through almost everything we do as Christians, and it leaves its imprint on our most basic understanding of who this Jesus from Nazareth was. From the images of Passover to the bread and wine to the foot-washing to the last command to love one another, our celebration of this evening is rich with symbols that shape us in many different ways.

But tonight I want to focus on one specific thing, something that I think is often overlooked when we have our Communion celebration of this meal. Specifically, I want to look at what it means that we begin our recounting of this meal with the words, "On the night of his betrayal." You see, this isn’t any old "last meal" with friends on the eve of a man’s death. This isn’t about fond farewells and I’m-glad-I-got-to-know-yous. This is, like any good suspense movie, about a night of betrayal. In the movies, this is the night when everybody but the main character knows what’s going to happen and sits in suspense waiting for "it" to happen. Except that in this case it’s completely reversed: nobody but the main character knows what’s going to happen. Nobody but Jesus Christ knows that Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples - let’s not forget that part: he was entrusted with the money after all - nobody but Jesus knows that this most trusted treasurer is going to sell Jesus out for thirty coins of silver. Now, there are plenty of theories for why he did this, from being goaded by Satan to thinking the authorities wouldn’t go through with the execution to expecting Jesus to rise up and protect himself to many others. But at this point in the story, it’s not important why Judas was going to betray his Lord. It’s only important that he was, and that Jesus knew he was.

It’s important because of how Jesus handled his imminent betrayal. And there are a number of things that Jesus does that all fit into one grand picture that tells us who this Son of Man/Son of God was. So how does Jesus handle it? Well, the first thing that happens in our story is that Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. All of his disciples. The writer of the Gospel of John has taken pains to describe the details of the evening, and nowhere does it say that Judas was exempt from this foot-washing. And so we’re led to conclude that Jesus washed the feet of the man whom he knew was going to betray him. Jesus humbled himself before his betrayer-to-be and served him.

The next thing that happens is Jesus passes some bread around. And, knowing how vague the writer of the Gospel of John is when it comes to the sacraments, there’s a good chance that this a reference to Communion. Now, our Communion tradition tells us something important. It’s something I say and you hear every week when we celebrate Communion. And it’s this: On the night of his betrayal, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave thanks. Isn’t that amazing? Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, knowing that he would most likely end up on the cross, an excruciatingly painful place to be, knowing that one of his disciples would betray him and the rest would abandon him, Jesus gives thanks. Despite everything that was about to happen, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, Jesus gives thanks for the Exodus deliverance, for the food that grows out of the earth, and for the fruit of the vine. And then he shares the bread with those around him. Including Judas. John’s text is very clear about that part - Jesus gives him a piece of bread. Yes, Jesus seems to be giving Communion to Judas who is about to betray him. Jesus shares the meal that is intended to bond him and his disciples together in a covenant of love and forgiveness of sins with the one who seems least capable of grasping what that means.

And then the last thing that happens at the table, after Judas disappears into the night, is that Jesus tells his disciples to love one another as he loves them. Moments after a loved one’s betrayal of him is put into action, Jesus tells the disciples that the most important thing for them to remember - the thing that will define them as followers of Christ for the rest of their lives - is that they love one another. This isn’t suspenseful irony - this is Jesus, knowing all things, yet speaking from his heart.

And all of these pieces - the foot-washing, sharing the bread, and loving his betrayer - add up to portray a man who, on the night of his betrayal, continued to follow through on everything he’d taught his disciples. The one who’d come up with the phrase "turn the other cheek," who’d said that the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God, and your neighbour as yourself, who’d gone out of his way to include the untouchables in his circle of love wasn’t about to change his stripes. No - he was going to die, if that’s what was going to happen, the same way he lived - full of love for everybody, even those who betrayed him.

Now, I gotta say, that’s not how we react to betrayal. And we have plenty of opportunity to - these days it seems as if betrayal is the standard form of behaviour in relationships. We are betrayed by friends - I remember when I was in junior high, my best friend told the guy I liked that I liked him, which you don’t do when you’re a junior high girl, and I had never felt so betrayed or hurt in my life. We are sometimes betrayed by our family or our spouses - often in very serious, life-altering ways. We are betrayed by employers who decide that our twenty years of dedicated service means nothing when it’s time for cutbacks, by airlines who don’t tell us they’re going under. We’re even betrayed by ourselves - when we do things that violate our integrity, or go against everything we believe in, or when we don’t stand up for ourselves. And when these betrayals occurs, when people turn traitor on us, what do we do? Do we go and serve these people humbly? Do we give thanks to God for them? Do we love them?
On the contrary, we are far more likely to contemplate revenge. Or to avoid those people altogether. Or to harbour deep and abiding resentment and even hatred for them in our hearts. There are many things we do. What we do not do is serve, give thanks, or love those who betray us.

And ultimately, our refusal or inability or whatever you want to call it to do those things is, in itself, a continued betrayal of Jesus. We are on par with Judas. You see, Jesus’ last command to his disciples - his dying words, as it were, were to love one another as Jesus loved them. And given what had just happened, and given what was about to happen, these were no idle words. These words, and the washing of the feet and the sharing of the meal, were the epitome of who Jesus was, of the God whom he represented, of what his purpose on earth was: To serve and love everybody. They are one of the most important things he says. And what do we do with these last words of Jesus?

We avoid them. We minimize them. We ignore them. We act in downright opposition to them. And that is betrayal. We, who call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, who are supposed to be known by our love for one another, we betray Jesus by rejecting his model of servitude and forgiving love towards all people.

But Jesus’ reaction to our betrayal is the same as his reaction to Judas’. Knowing all that we do, all our betrayal of him, of ourselves, and of others, he serves us, shares a meal with us in Communion, and loves us. And in the end, he is determined to go to the cross to prove what he says, this his whole life is oriented towards loving all - that his body is given for you, his blood is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sin.

And so we end this evening with Jesus’ betrayal on our minds, with his last meal and his last words lingering in our hearts, and with the cross looming on the horizon. But we also end with the knowledge that Jesus’ love for his disciples, for us, for the world, was so much a part of him that he would not and did not and will not ever betray it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Me at Thanksgiving, 2004 Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sun, March 20, 2005 - Palm Sunday

Well, there is no sermon for this day, since the service is extra long with a twelve minute Gospel reading. Plus, my internet was down. Sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday will go up as they occur, though.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sun, March 20, 2005 - Zombies Get New Life!

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Did you know that a chocolate bar can recharge you? Or that shoes can make you feel like a new person? Or that a car can give you a new lease on life? There are so many things advertised out there that promise to give us a new lease on life that it makes me wonder: are people these days so exhausted and worn out that we’ll jump at anything that promises to give us a lift? Well, that’s sort of a rhetorical question, because I think the answer is yes. Sometimes I have the chance to sit on the subway during the evening rush hour, or even worse, to drive during rush hour, and I see people who are basically zombies. They are so worn out by their day, and by the seeming meaninglessness of their life’s work, they are so worn down by illness and even by loneliness, that they look as if they are half-dead. There are some days when I get home and I feel like a zombie. And so I would hazard a guess that each one of us, at some point in our life or another, have felt just plain dead at the end of the day, in desperate need of new life.

So what do you do at the end of your day? How do you recharge and get the energy you need to make your next day a good one? What do you do to get that hit of life that keeps you going? Everybody has their little thing that they do, either at the end of the day, or at the end of the week, that makes them feel better. A lot of people veg out in front of the TV, catching up on their favourite shows as a way to relax. Some people recharge by working out, or by having a nice meal. More than a few people turn to chemical substances to make themselves feel alive - to alcohol, or illegal drugs, or prescription medication, or even to caffeine or nicotine. Others try to make something of their lives through sex, or gambling, or shopping, or even driving fast. And some people find meaning in their lives through the accomplishments of others - through the achievements of their children, or their grandchildren, or through the successes of pop stars, or celebrities, or, for some people, politicians. There are all kinds of different ways that you and I use to bring energy and new life back into our lives. Things we do to help us get through the exhaustion, or illness, or loneliness of our days.

The thing is that none of these things really work - that is, none of them are really a permanent fix. Some of them downright make us feel worse in the long run, rather than better. Obviously, the chemical substances and the addictions are unhealthy. But even things that seem harmless, like watching a couple of hours of TV a day, or living through the successes of others have their downside. They may relax us temporarily, but when we look back over our lives, even over our week, it doesn’t bring us new energy when we realize we’ve spent fifteen hours in front of the television, or done nothing noteworthy ourselves. In the end, all of the things that we turn to to bring us new life - well, they just don’t cut it. They actually suck whatever remaining energy is in us right out and turn it into a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. One coffee isn’t enough, and it becomes two, and then three. One hour of TV doesn’t give you the rest you need, and it becomes two, and then three. One pair of shoes doesn’t bring you joy anymore, and you need two, or three. In the end, these things we do don’t give us new life - instead, they take our energy from us and they make us dead inside.

But, actually, that’s to be expected. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "to set the mind on the flesh is death." Now, contrary to popular opinion, Paul’s not talking about "fleshly pleasures" like sex, or overindulgence, or anything that’s traditionally been referred to as "sins of the flesh." When Paul talks about the flesh, he’s talking about all these things we’ve listed before - about all the daily or weekly things we do to give ourselves a lift. In this case, when Paul uses the word "flesh", he’s referring to anything and everything that isn’t "spirit." "To set the mind on the flesh is death," he says, "but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." True life, real energy and renewal, doesn’t come from TV or food or any of those temporary human endeavours. As terrible as it sounds, we can’t even get real renewal from friends and family. Eventually, they go on to live their own lives, as they must. But the Spirit - God - does bring us those things. God’s presence among us brings new life.

There is no more dramatic, well-known example of that in the Old Testament than the story of Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones. It is such a powerful image that it inspired that great African-American spiritual, "Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones..." In Ezekiel’s vision, he sees the valley of the dead, full of skeletons. Have you ever seen a pile of skeletons? There is no stronger image of death than that - bones bleached by the sun, skulls staring blankly into space. And then Ezekiel speaks the word of the Lord to them and, presto! Muscles and tendons and veins and finally skin, and they are remade. But at this point, they’re like us at the end of the day - zombies with no inner life. But God gives them breath, and then they are finally alive, they are resurrected, they have new life! And God tells them, "I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live." It’s an interesting choice of words here: I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. Not "you might live" or "you will live if you want to," but God will do this, and we shall live. We have no choice in the matter. God’s Spirit in us brings us new life.

Of course, coupled with this is our Gospel story of Jesus and Lazarus. This, too, is a powerful story, one that no doubt brings up a lot of memories for those who’ve heard it at funerals. The story of Jesus and Lazarus is also a story of Mary and Martha, and of the pain and loneliness that is felt when their brother dies. They know they’ll see their brother again at the end, but that doesn’t do anything to lessen their grief in the meantime. They know that new life is coming one day, but the pain and loneliness is still there, sucking their life out of them. Until Jesus tells them that that day is today. That they don’t have to wait for the resurrection, because Jesus, who is here with them now, is the resurrection. And so Jesus calls to Lazarus, who has been dead in the tomb for four days, who is beyond hearing anybody. Jesus, the Son of God, calls to Lazarus, and like the bones in Ezekiel’s valley, new life comes into him, the breath of God resurrects him, and out he comes. God’s presence, through Jesus, gives him, and even his sisters, new life.

That’s what Paul is getting at when he says that the Spirit brings life. "If Christ is in you," he says, "though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness." Now, Paul uses the word Spirit, and Christ, and Spirit of Christ interchangeably, but we know he’s talking about that same aspect of God that we see in Ezekiel’s valley, and in Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus, and especially in Jesus’ own resurrection. He’s talking about that aspect of God that takes our tired, lonely, and dead inner selves and recharges it with new life and resurrection.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Whether you say that it is through the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Christ, or Christ himself, God is present in you to bring you new life. That’s why, during the Haugen Communion liturgy that we used in Epiphany and that we’ll use again at Easter, we hear, during Communion, about "the One who lives in us and in whom we live, Jesus Christ." The One who lives in us and in whom we live, Jesus Christ. When God calls to us, it is Christ inside us who responds, with a renewing of ourselves, with new life. And that’s an important thing to remember - that this isn’t one more thing on a long list of things we have to do to get more energy. After all, we don’t have enough energy as it is - how are we going to spend more trying to respond to God’s call to new life? No, that’s not how it works. We don’t do the work. It is Christ, inside us - come to live in us through Baptism, remaining in us through Communion, who does the work, who responds to God’s call, who stirs new life inside of us. We just have to sit there and let it happen. Like the dry bones in the valley, we don’t do anything but let God’s Spirit bring us back to life.

And don’t forget what Jesus told Martha. This new life isn’t just for "the resurrection on the last day." You don’t have to wait until you’re dead to experience new life. You don’t even have to wait until Easter. Jesus Christ himself is the resurrection, and he is this moment with you, inside you, responding to God’s call. And that means that the resurrection and new life that God has promised you is meant to begin today, right now. In fact, it has already begun.

An existence of fatigue, loneliness, meaninglessness is not what God intends for you. Days that lead to depression and death are not the point of our time on earth. So when you’re looking for that boost of energy, when you’re crashed on the sofa at the end of a really hard day, when you’re struggling to give some significance and shape to your life, don’t turn to those things that actually end up making you dead inside. Don’t grab that chocolate bar, or head for the fridge, or the shopping mall. Don’t flip on the TV or check your email for the umpteenth time. Instead, take a few minutes and turn inwards, to where God’s Spirit is. Listen for God calling to you, and then relax and be refreshed by the gift of new life that Christ shares with you in that moment. Let the one who lives in you, and in whom you live, Jesus Christ, the bearer of God’s Spirit, bring you the life and peace that is promised to you. Let God bring you resurrection. Amen.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Sun, March 6, 2005 - A World Worth Dying For

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

What do you see when you look at the world? A lot of people, particularly Christians, see the world as a terrible place. We talk about the "evils of society" and the degradation of the culture around us. We see violence going on in our cities, and we take it as proof that God has abandoned the world to its own devices. When we want to describe places where sin is rampant and evil reigns, we talk about "the world." "The world" is a place where nobody cares about anybody else. "The world" teaches you to be selfish. Out in "the world", things are a mess.

And the result of this way of looking at the world is that we become cynical, we lose hope. We despair of there every being any change in the world, and we give up, or we deliberately refuse to help. What’s the point? It’s just all going to go to hell some day, and the sooner the better. Then God can come and start all over again. Truly - there are Christians, and non-Christians, who see the world this way. To them, the world is a depraved place, and they believe that God is really going to take them away from all of that. So, they’ve decided there’s no point in making the world a better place. They would rather segregate themselves and create little religious utopias where they live than go out into that mess and try to heal the wounds. The world doesn’t deserve it. There’s too much darkness. There are too many shadows.

And who can blame them, really? God has given us more than enough chances to make things better, and every single time, we’ve made a mess of it. In the last century, we had the Great War, the war to end all wars, and then only thirty years later we had World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb. This century is only five years old, and the same old military nationalism just carries on. The same wounds are picked at, the same innocent people get hurt. Nothing changes. Why bother?

The prophet Samuel thought that. In the Old Testament reading, he was so depressed that Saul, whom he had anointed to be king over Israel, had in the end rejected God that apparently he just gave up. He didn’t go out looking for a new ruler for Israel, and he stopped criticizing Saul for his rejection of God. Instead, he just hid from Saul and did nothing. There wasn’t anything he could do. The people, who wanted Saul against God’s wishes, deserved their misfortune. He wasn’t about to go and make their lives any better.

The Pharisees thought the same thing about the blind man, and in fact about all sick people. During Jesus’ time, it was thought that people got sick because God was punishing them for something they or their parents did wrong. Hence, all sick, diseased, disabled people were sinners. And that meant that they were better off left alone - why mess with God’s punishment? Why bother trying to heal someone who clearly doesn’t deserve it? If God didn’t see anything in those people worth healing, why should they?

For Samuel, and the Pharisees, and us, it’s easy to look at the world as a place of darkness, to see the shadows that cover everything, to give up every reason for hope and making a difference.

But God doesn’t seem to see the world the way we do. At least, God doesn’t act as if all God sees is shadows and death and evil, abandoning us to our own wicked ways. In fact, God acts as if God sees the complete opposite, as if God sees in the world and in us good reason to offer healing and hope and new life, not because we need it, although we do, but because there’s a chance it will make a difference.

For instance, in the Old Testament, when Samuel has given up all hope and doesn’t see any reason to get involved anymore, God finally tells him to get off his butt and to go and anoint a new king. God basically says to him, "Look, get over Saul. I’m doing something new here, something nobody’s seen before, and I need you to get out and make it happen." And God, through Samuel, picks out a new king for Israel, one who loves God, one who doesn’t look like much of a king - he’s the youngest of eight brothers, not at all big and strong like a king ought to be - but God doesn’t look at those things. God sees into his heart, and God sees something special. And so God tells Samuel to anoint this boy as the new king. And David goes on to be a good king, and does good things for Israel, redeeming it before God.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, saw something that nobody else saw when he healed the blind man. Where everyone else, including the disciples, saw a sinner, Jesus saw a child of God who was worth healing. Where the Pharisees saw a probable fraud and liar, Jesus saw someone who was worthy enough to be trusted with the secret of who Jesus really was. The Son of God did not look at people the way we do.

The Son of God didn’t look at the world, or even at us, the way we do, as a worthless place with no hope for change. In fact, God, and by extension Jesus, saw in the world, and in us, something worth dying for. God saw something so precious and so valuable that God was willing to go to the cross to save it. And don’t tell me that God didn’t know what we would do with that kind of gift, that we would abuse it and reject it and ignore it. There’s no doubt God knew. But God chose to overlook that, and to see us differently, to see us as worth the effort of healing and restoration. God’s not going to wipe everything away and start all over again, or whisk the worthy away to a better place. No, God’s already decided and already begun to save what’s here. Through Jesus, God waded into the mess that is our world and is anointing and healing and forgiving all over the place. God is acting as if there is hope for us after all, and God is going to do everything possible to make things better.

But why the difference? Well, you could say that God sees the world in a different light than we do. That, in light of new evidence, God sees the world differently. You see, God sees the world, including us, in the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus is, after all, the light of the world. And light, we know, shows things in a new way. It gets rid of shadows and darkness and helps us to see things we never saw before. "Everything exposed by the light becomes visible," says the writer of Ephesians, and "everything that becomes visible is light." By the light of Christ, what has become visible is that the world is indeed worth saving, that we are worth healing and new life, that through Christ, we who once were darkness are now light.

And through the light of the Son, God shows us what God has always seen, that the world is a place where hope grows instead of despair, where goodness makes a difference in the face of evil, where peace puts an end to war, where new life triumphs over death. God has not and will not abandon us. On the contrary, God has chosen this world as the site where God’s ultimate act of healing and redemption has and continues to take place. Jesus Christ was sent to help us to see the world the way God does - as something worth saving. His shining light swept away the shadows of the world and of our lives, showing to us that we are indeed special in the eyes of God, that we are loved, that we are worth dying for. And with this light shining down, we can see that the same is true for the whole world. In light of what Christ has done, the world is worth loving, worth dying for, worth healing. The world is worth us. No, God doesn’t see the world the way we do. By the light of Christ, God sees something special. God has seen that the world is worth nothing less than the life of the Son of God. Amen.