Resurrection Matters

Preached on 5 April 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma, Washington
Easter Day, Year B

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen, indeed…

That’s not exactly how the women in today’s gospel responded, is it?  Of course, they only witness an empty tomb and are told they would see Jesus if they go to Galilee.  Each gospel tells the story a little differently.  Each gives us a little insight into the storyteller’s response to the Resurrection.  And it gives an understanding that there is more than one way to respond.

Mark leaves us with an empty tomb and silent, fearful women.  They have found the tomb with the stone already moved and an angel sitting inside telling them there’s nothing to see here, go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee. They leave and tell no one.  Originally, that’s where Mark’s gospel ended.  Later two endings were added, a “shorter” one and a “longer” one in which Jesus makes brief appearances.

Matthew gives us a spectacular event with an earthquake removing the stone and an angel descending from heaven who sends the women to tell the others.  This time they go away in joy and fear to tell the disciples and they meet Jesus on the way.

In Luke, like Mark, the stone is already moved.  There are two men this time.  The women go and tell the disciples without being told to, but the disciples don’t believe them.  Peter, at least goes to check it out for himself.  But then he goes home.

John gives a lot more detail.  This time, it is only Mary Magdalene.  As soon as she sees the tomb is empty, she runs to tell Peter and “the other disciple” because she fears his body has been stolen.  At least they go to see for themselves and even go into the tomb.  Again, when they find it empty, they go home, but Mary stays.

When she looks in again, she sees two angels who speak to her.  And then Jesus speaks to her and tells her to go and tell the others that he will be returning to God.  She goes and proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!”

I think it’s interesting that in each case, they go to the tomb, even when they’ve been told it’s empty.  And in no case, do they go looking for Jesus.  I wonder why?

How do you respond to the Resurrection? With joy or fear or amazement?  With silence or do you proclaim it?

Resurrection matters in our tradition.  But the truth is, resurrection only matters when it’s personal.  Why does resurrection matter to youThe Resurrection – Jesus’ rising from the dead; or the general resurrection of the dead – the promise that death isn’t the end for those you love or for you.  Or maybe it’s the little resurrections you have experienced in your life that make resurrection real; that make it matter.

How do you respond?  Do you run to the tomb, so to speak, or do you look for the living one; that which has risen to new life?

Resurrection matters – but each of us will have a different response.  To me, the resurrection matters because it tells me that this is real – I can trust what is revealed about God in the stories about Jesus.  It tells me that death doesn’t have the final say; the Evil in the world doesn’t get the last word.  The evil I may have done or the evil systems in which I may participate – even unwillingly or unwittingly – do not define me or confine me.

There is more.  More to me, more to the world.  There is something outside of ourselves – something greater, something good that embraces me and defines me; embraces you and defines you – as something good and worthy and lovable.  You will have your own response; your own answers.

Maybe you have already experienced resurrection in your own life; times when you have received new life, new hope out of a time of change or of darkness or trauma or even death of sorts?

So if Resurrection matters, what claims does it make on your life now?
The Church tries to articulate some of those claims in the vows of Baptism which we will reaffirm in a few minutes.  Of course this is not comprehensive and it may not express how you experience the claims of the resurrection.  Words always fall short, especially when trying to express a sacred mystery like Resurrection or Baptism or our relationship with God.

All through Lent, we have heard the Old Testament stories of the covenants God makes with the People of Israel.  Covenants that reveal God’s steadfast love for the world and God’s deep desire to be in relationship with the People, because covenant is always about relationship.  These covenants lead up to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which we celebrate today.

A new Covenant that includes all People.  A covenant that offers the promise of eternal life, abundance of life, starting now.  Resurrection matters because it is a sign of the Covenant with God; that through the incarnation of Jesus Christ – his birth, life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection – God demonstrates that God will do whatever it takes to draw us back into relationship; into the fullness of God’s love.

In Baptism, we publicly say yes to God, yes to the Covenant – or our parents said it for us.  Now covenants are always about relationship and relationships require attention and commitment.  And so, throughout the year, on Baptismal feast days, like Easter, re-reaffirm the vows we made in Baptism, our covenant with God.

In renewing our vows of baptism, we say that Covenant matters; our relationship with God matters.  We proclaim, Resurrection matters.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Salvation is Yours

Preached on 3 April 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma, Washington
Good Friday, Year B

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  But what kind of King is he?

All through Lent we have looked at the Covenants of the Old Testament.  Covenants that God has given to the People of God – the Hebrews, the Israelites – to draw them into relationship.
This week, we have walked with Christ through the final days and hours of his life on earth.

Now, we arrive at the Cross.  The cross that we cannot truly avoid on our way to Sunday; on our way to Resurrection.  There can be no resurrection without death.

What does the Cross reveal about God?  About Covenant?

John’s account of the Passion shows Jesus in charge:

  • He steps forward in the garden when the soldiers arrive.
  • He directs the interaction with the priests and then with Pilate.  He does not try to persuade a different course.
  • He carries his own cross – no mention of falling.
  • He arranges for the care of his mother from the cross, telling the beloved disciple that he is now her son and she is his mother – he will be responsible for her now.
  • He asks for a drink – he’s not passive.
  • He actively gives up his spirit in death.
  • We see a king who is willing to die rather than abandon his people.

In the Cross, I see the God’s deep desire to draw us to God’s self, to be in relationship with us.  So deep that God is willing to limit God’s own divinity to become human, to suffer and die at the hands of the humans God created.

The Cross reveals the depth of God’s forgiveness.  If God can forgive the Crucifixion, there is nothing beyond God’s forgiveness.  No sin or accumulation of sins is more powerful than the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Let me say that again.

What does the Cross reveal to you?  About God?  About Covenant?  About yourself?
How are you saved by Jesus?  How do you experience salvation; what are you saved from? What are you saved for?

Salvation doesn’t have to be through the Cross.  It could be some aspect of his life – his teaching or his healing miracles.  It could be his resurrection or the incarnation itself; that God became human.

Salvation cannot be reduced to a simple explanation or a formulaic “Because this, then that and only that.”  It is complicated and at the same time simple.
Salvation is global and personal; corporate and individual.
Jesus saves the world and Jesus saves you.

Salvation is real.

Salvation is Yours.

He Knows

Preached on 2 April 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Maundy Thursday, Year B

Jesus will be arrested later tonight.
And he knows.  Soon the peace of dinner with friends will turn to shock and chaos as men with clubs show up at the garden in the darkness of the night.

He knows he will suffer and die.  And he knows it will be hard for his disciples to endure his suffering, because that’s how friendship and love are.  Think about a time when you have had to stand by, helplessly, while someone you love was suffering.

He knows they will be devastated and they will be confused; more than confused – their understanding of the world will be shattered; they will feel like they don’t know which way is up.

He knows that they, too, will be persecuted and suffer and most of them will die a painful, too-soon death – because of him; because he called them and they followed.  That, too, gives him pain.

He knows there is very little time left.  So he spends those last hours with them fervently praying to God for them, giving them final instructions, and reminding them of everything he taught them.

He knows that in the confusion and chaos in the days and months and years ahead, they will need something to hang onto.  And so, he gives them rituals.  Rituals that connect them to their history and point them to the future.  Rituals using the familiar, the basics of everyday life – water, bread, wine, oil.

The word, Maundy, comes from the Latin word for commandment.  Tonight we remember the three commandments that Jesus gave his disciples that night.  In each, Christ is made present to us as we fulfill them – in the ritual itself, in the community, in the Body gathered.

“Love one another,” he says.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  That’s how the world will know you are my disciples, because you have love for one another.”  He’s not talking about affection.  It’s about caring for one another.  Seeing that each has what they need – physical/ bodily needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs.  In other words, “Have each other’s backs.”  We serve Christ in one another and Christ serves us through one another.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” he says.  Using the staples of every meal, bread and wine, he reminds them of who they are.  They are People of the Covenant;  the People the Lord brought out of Egypt out of the land of bondage.  They are People of the Passover and he connects the ritual of the Passover to the ritual of bread and wine.

This will remind them they are People of the New Covenant in his blood; not the blood of lambs or goats or oxen, but his  blood.  Whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  And so we do.  We, too, are People of the New Covenant.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of this and tells them that every time they do, they are proclaiming his death – every time we celebrate Holy Communion, we proclaim his death; we proclaim his resurrection; we proclaim life!

And third, Jesus washed their feet and said, “You also should wash one another’s feet.”  In Jesus’ day, people travelled on foot and their feet were usually dirty and smelly.  Washing a guest’s feet was an act of hospitality, often done by servants of slaves.  In washing one another’s feet, we are reminded of where we fit in the kingdom of God.  No one is greater than another.  We all have feet that get dirty and smelly and need washing.

In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to wash one another’s feet.  For most of us, this may be the most uncomfortable of these commandments.  It’s intimate; we may feel vulnerable.  Usually, it’s having our feet washed that causes the most discomfort.

In our “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” culture we are uncomfortable having someone else do for us what we can (and think we should) do for ourselves.  But in caring for each other in this way, we remember that we are in fact dependent on one another; we have a responsibility to one another.  For much of the world, hospitality is not a matter of being nice, it’s a matter of survival.

Perhaps we don’t want others to see our dirty, smelly feet.  Or perhaps it reminds us of dirty, smelly places within ourselves that we would rather not expose, that are in need of Jesus’ washing.

Maybe the discomfort is the point.  Following Christ means going where we may not otherwise go.  It means doing what we might not otherwise do.  It means risking discomfort.

I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to receive Christ in each other, to serve Christ in each other and to reorient yourself in God’s kingdom with this sacramental act.

“Believe in God, believe also in me,” Jesus says.
Let us put our trust in him – because he knows.

He knows we need the rituals and the sacraments:
He knows we still need to be nourished by the bread and wine of the New Covenant.
He knows we still need to care for one another, loving each other as he loves us.
He knows we still need to wash one another’s feet.

Walk With Christ in Holiness

Preached on 29 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Palm / Passion Sunday, Year B

And so we begin.  That was a lot to take in.  Let’s take a moment or two to just sit with all that we have just heard; to allow it to sink in.

It’s Holy Week.  With all of its emotional extremes, it can be disorienting.  It would be so much easier if we could just be given an orderly unfolding of events, like the evidence board on our favorite crime show where everything fits into place and makes sense by the end of the hour.  But our story isn’t like that.

How quickly the crowd shifts from shouts of “Save us now” (that’s what Hosanna actually means),  “Messiah, save us, deliver us” changes to cries of “Crucify him!”  To us, it’s disorienting; but to the people gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover, their holiest of days, it must have felt chaotic; terrifying.

It’s natural to want to understand it – perhaps so we can somehow control it or fix it or make it so Jesus doesn’t have to die or so we don’t need salvation.  Maybe it could be a do-it-yourself project, if I only understood how it worked.  It’s not that simple. Why did Jesus have to die? How does his death and resurrection save us? How do they save me? These are real questions – what does Jesus’ death and resurrection mean to you?  How do you experience the salvation of Jesus?  Each of us has their own answer and it changes as we go through life.

As much as we would like to understand, any explanation diminishes the story.  It makes it small, manageable – and it loses its power to transform us.  It loses its power to save.

So, instead of trying to understand, I invite you to experience it; enter into it.  In the coming week, spend time with the story.  Reread it.  Perhaps, even imagine yourself in the story, maybe as an observer, maybe as one of the named participants.  Is there a part of the story that draws you in?  Maybe it’s the triumphal entry.  Or when Jesus is having dinner with Simon the leper and the woman comes in and anoints him.  Perhaps it’s at dinner with the disciples in the upper room.  Or praying in the garden.  Maybe you’re with the servants and Peter warming themselves by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest.  Or with the women, watching from a distance.

This week, I encourage you to spend time praying and meditating with the story, maybe praying the daily office or Morning or Evening Prayer.  You can even do it online. You can spend all week with one passage or you can work your way through today’s gospel or use the lessons appointed for each day in Holy Week Walk with Jesus on the way to the cross. Worship with your community in the special liturgies, Maundy Thursday,  the Good Friday liturgy at noon or the Tenebrae service at 8 on Friday evening.

This is Holy Week.  That’s not a title, it’s a description.  It’s time outside of time; time set aside by God, for God. Allow yourself to experience the holiness of the week. Allow yourself to know the holiness of your life – your everyday life, not something separate. And if that’s too hard, start by noticing the holiness of the life of someone you love – your child, your grandchild, your spouse, your parent.

This holy week, walk the way of the cross. Walk with Christ in holiness of life.

Our Souls are Restless

Preached on 22 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

We wish to see Jesus.  That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?  We want to see Jesus.  We long to know God.  Not just know about God, but to know God with all of our senses, with our heart and with our spirits.  Sometimes it is easier to recognize our experiences with God through reflection on our past experiences.

Think about your Lenten observance and disciplines.  How has Jesus been revealed?  What has been revealed to you about yourself and your relationships  – with family, friends and loved ones, with yourself, with Jesus and with God?

Think about your prayer your study and meditation on Scripture your fasting or self-denial your self-examination and repentance or some other discipline or practice you took on during Lent.  Perhaps you weren’t aware of God’s revelation through your practice itself, but perhaps your practice prepared your heart to see or hear God someplace unexpected, like something you heard on the radio or TV; or maybe even in a friend or your child.

We wish to see Jesus.  Now, in John’s gospel, Jesus’ response to the Greeks who expressed their wish was a little puzzling at first glance.

This was Jesus’ last public discourse.  The Greeks come along with other worshipers to Jerusalem for the festival and they come seeking Jesus.  Jesus responds by talking about grain dying in the ground and losing your life to save it, and servants and followers.  This is as close as John comes  to a prediction of the Passion.  There is no agony in the garden in this account.  Jesus is troubled, but he is ready to face it head on.  He is preparing his followers, here and in the more intimate farewell discourses that follow, for the time when he is no longer with them.

It’s as if he is saying to those who want to see him, “I’m not a sightseeing attraction or even the goal of a pilgrimage.  It’s not simply seeing me, but following me that’s at stake.  It’s losing the life you have always known for a new life.”

It’s discipleship – following and serving – now and after Jesus is lifted up.  Lifted up on the cross, lifted up from the tomb, lifted up from the earth and returning to God the father, bringing the Incarnation full circle.  Jesus will return to the intimate relationship he knew with God from before the beginning of time.

It’s all there.  And in being lifted up, Jesus will draw all people to himself.  It’s all about relationships – pointing us toward the new covenant we celebrate at Easter.

Covenants shape our relationships and covenants reveal God to us.  What have we found as we listened to the stories of God’s covenants all throughout Lent? We have found a God of steadfast love for us and for all of creation as was emphasized in the covenant with Noah.  We found  God who becomes involved in our human concerns.  God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have land and children and descendants too numerous to count.  We found a God concerned with our well-being, teaching us how to live good lives in the Covenant at Sinai.  And today, we hear God’s promise of yet another covenant, written in the hearts of the people, as written in the prophet, Jeremiah.

This writing comes from the last few chapters of Jeremiah, which are called the Book of Consolation.  Jeremiah is writing to his people in exile in Babylon.  Imagine being among the movers and shakers of your day, the rich, the powerful, the elite – those who have made it to the top.  And then suddenly, foreigners invade and conquer your country.  They take you on a forced march to a land far away where you don’t know the language or the culture and you are demeaned and enslaved.  For decades.  You are sure it is because God has not just allowed it to happen but caused it – because you have broken God’s covenant.

Now, the word of God comes to you through  Jeremiah.  He assures you that God remembers you and has not abandoned you; God remembers the covenant of old, “I will be their god and they will be my people.”  God forgives all that is past – your faithlessness, your iniquity, your sin.  This time, God will write the law upon your heart – make it a part of your very being – not something outside of yourself that you must learn and might possibly forget. No, you will know the Lord.  Imagine how those words would speak to your soul – to know the Lord.

Where have you seen Jesus?  What has God revealed to you this Lent?
We wish to see Jesus, we long to know God.  And God longs for us.  God desires our well-being in relationship with each other and with God.  In the covenant stories, God is revealed to us.  Over and over we see the steadfast love of God.  We see God’s forgiveness and mercy.  We see God’s desire for relationship with us.

Perhaps St. Augustine says it best,
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Steadfast Love of the Lord

Preached on 15 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Today is Rose Sunday – a little break in Lent.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Covenant.  Today, I would like to focus on the steadfast love of God.  It seems appropriate for Rose Sunday and it’s the foundation for all of God’s covenants.  God enters into covenant with humanity and all the world – God limits God’s self – because of God’s steadfast love for all of creation.

We see that common thread through all of the lessons this morning.  In the Psalm, we hear one section of Psalm 107, but there are four similar sections.  Each one describes a different calamity that has befallen the people – sometimes because of their own actions.  And in each case, they cry out to the Lord in their affliction and the Lord answers them  We hear the refrain,

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.”
They trust in the steadfast love of the Lord.

We see the steadfast love of the Lord for the Israelites in the desert, too, despite their grumbling and complaining.  When their camp is infested with poisonous snakes, they turn to the Lord and God gives them a remedy – not the one they ask for but it works.

Finally, in the gospel, we find Jesus talking to Nicodemus about the steadfast love of God when he compares himself to the bronze serpent that Moses made to save the Israelites from the snakes.  Because of the steadfast, enduring love of the Lord for the whole world, Jesus says, God sent him – not to judge, not to condemn, but to remind us of God’s love and to show us the way back to God; by trusting our very lives to God; to be in relationship with God through Jesus.  That’s what it means to believe in him.

On this Rose Sunday, this little breather in Lent, let’s take some time to remember and reflect on God’s enduring, steadfast love for us and for the world.  Remember times when that love has manifested in your life.  Meditate on how you have been transformed by the love of Jesus and love for Jesus.

It is because of that love that we undertake our various Lenten disciplines, that we engage in self-examination and repentance; to realign our lives with the will of God.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
Let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.”

Go and Bless the World

Preached on 8 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma.
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.

A story about leis – they are always passed along.

Love is like that.  Blessing is like that.  We are blessed so that we may bless others.  Blessings can’t be kept or hoarded; they must be passed on.

In God’s covenant with Abraham, God promises to bless Abraham in order that he and his offspring would be a blessing to all nations.  We’ve been hearing a lot about covenant.  Two weeks ago, we heard the story of the covenant with Noah, in which God vows never again to destroy life on earth.

Last week we heard God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, promising them progeny and land.  And today we come to the covenant of Sinai; a covenant within the covenant of Abraham.  Let me read to you how the story begins.

            (Read from the Shocken Bible)

God speaks directly to the people at Sinai and says….

            (Read from the Shocken Bible)

This is a covenant about identity and vocation.  I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a land of slavery.  Centuries later, it will be out of the land of slavery and exile in Babylon.  If we look at the Decalogue through the lens of the experience of a people who have been redeemed by God; a people who are already in a relationship with God, we can see it as a gift from a gracious God.

While it is addressed to the individual, its concern is not for the private welfare of that individual.  The focus is vocational – to serve the life and health – the well-being – of the community.  The first commandment lays a claim.  How you think about God deeply influences how you think about and act toward your neighbor.  The Decalogue teaches the people (and us) what Freedom truly is.  Living a life of freedom means allowing other to be free; it means freeing others.  God blesses them to be a blessing.

And the sign of the covenant is Sabbath.  Sabbath sets the people apart from the other peoples.  Have you ever kept Sabbath?  It’s a time to remember who God is and who we are and our place in relationship to God.  It’s a time to experience knowing that we are loved and cherished by God, not for what we do – how clean our house is or how hard we work, or how much money we make or how many things we checked off our to-do list, – but simply for who we are.

Now, what’s up with Jesus cleansing the Temple?
Here they are, crowds of people in Jerusalem to celebrate the holiest of holy days, preparing to worship in the prescribed way.  Aren’t they just following the law that God has given them?

Well, first it’s important to be aware that whenever we read the gospels (or all of Scripture for that matter), there are a number of audiences to consider.

Jesus’ audience.
The audience that the writer is addressing.
The audience that is reading it now.

This morning, I would like to focus on John and his audience.  John is writing after the Temple has been destroyed and Jerusalem has been sacked.  It’s been over 60 years since Jesus was crucified.  So Temple worship is no longer possible for them.

It’s also worth noting that John tells this story in a way that is very different from the other three gospels.  John places this event very early in Jesus ministry – immediately after Jesus turns the water to wine at the wedding in Cana – his very first sign.  Jesus doesn’t call them a “den of robbers” as he does in the other three accounts.  Rather he chastises them for turning the Temple into a marketplace, challenging the whole system of worship.

Now to John’s audience, that system of worship has become impossible and the question, “Where is God now?” is very real.  So John’s focus is on the Incarnation – the presence of God in the person of Jesus.  He begins his gospel the with beautiful words, “In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The word he actually uses is “tabernacle” – recalling the tabernacle of the Covenant – where the tablets of the covenant of Sinai were kept along with a jar of manna.

The tabernacle that they carried with them all through the desert.  It recalls the Tent of Meeting where God would speak with Moses face to face.

John is saying that Jesus is the presence of God; losing the Temple does not mean they have lost God.

We, too, use signs and symbols to remind us of the presence of Christ in our midst; to remind us of who we are in relationship to God.  We stand for the proclamation of the gospel, remembering that Christ is present.  The vested chalice symbolizes the Tent of Meeting – where God is present in the bread and wine.

The Real Presence of Christ is in the bread and wine of communion.  And we take and eat, we drink and take the presence of Christ into our very bodies so that it may become a part of our cells; a part of our very being.

Collectively, together, we are the Body of Christ.  We have been blessed.  In the blessing at the end of almost every Eucharist, we say “the blessing of God be among you and remain with you forever.”  As we leave here and go our various ways, we are still the Body of Christ.  The blessing of God is among us so that we may be a blessing.

You are blessed.  Go, bless your neighbor; bless the world.

Covenant and Discipleship

Preached on 1 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

I want you to think about a relationship or experience that you found rewarding.  Maybe it’s your career or a major project or achieving a significant goal.  It may be your marriage or raising your children.  Think about the joy and satisfaction it has given you.

Now think about the path that got you to where you are today.  I bet it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, was it?  Most things that are worthwhile involve risk and hard work and even suffering; they’re not easy.  If you had known at the outset that this undertaking would be that difficult, would you have moved forward?

Now I want you to think about today’s gospel reading.  I have to admit that if that were my first introduction to the Christian life, I’m not sure I would have gone any further.  I mean, really.  “Those who want to be my followers – deny themselves and take up their cross and follow.  Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Following Jesus –  Discipleship – is hard work.  It’s risky and sometimes it’s downright scary.  But discipleship offers great joy and grace and blessing.  Many of you know this to be true from personal experience or from the personal experience of someone you know.

What do you think the disciples were thinking though.  We’re coming in in the middle of the story here.  The disciples have been with Jesus for some time now, travelling around the countryside, hearing him teach, seeing him heal the sick and cast out demons.  They were just talking about who the people on the street say he is, when he asks, “But who do you say I am?” and Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”

In practically the very next verse, Jesus explains to them just what that will mean.  He will suffer and be rejected by the church authorities.  He will be killed and then rise again.  When Peter cries, “No, this cannot be,”  Jesus rebukes him.  Yes, it must be.

This is the first time the disciples have heard that this is what is in store for Jesus, and the implication is, possibly for them as well.  They probably expected that this adventure would end with the defeat of the Romans. Discipleship is hard. So, why do we try?

One reason is Covenant – a sacred relationship we have with God sealed by holy vows.  This Lent, our lectionary offers us a series of Covenant stories in our Old Testament readings, all leading up to and pointing toward the New Covenant we have in Jesus; the one we celebrate at Easter when we will once again renew our Covenant with God as we reaffirm our baptismal vows.

Last week, we heard about the Covenant of Noah.  God made an unconditional, eternal covenant with all living things, never again to destroy all life.  God asked for nothing in return.  God would be their god and they would be God’s people.

This week we hear about God’s Covenant with one man and one woman and their descendants.  This Covenant is narrower.  It is with Abraham and Sarah.  God promises them progeny and land.  Now, Abraham already has one son, Ishmael, born to his wife’s slave.  But God says that while he will bless Ishmael, this Covenant is to be through a son born to Sarah, his wife.  They will be exceedingly fruitful; their descendants will be numerous.  Abraham and Sarah will be the father and mother of nations, of kings!  In the verses we missed, God vows to give them all of Canaan which they now inhabit as aliens.

Just as with Noah, this is to be an everlasting Covenant.  God will be their god and they will be God’s people.  This time, though, there is a requirement.  All males must be circumcised.  It will be both the requirement and the sign of their Covenant with God.  Just as God placed the bow in the clouds as a sign of the Covenant with Noah – which God said would be a reminder to God; just as a ring is a sign of the Covenant of marriage, so circumcision is the sign of the Covenant – a reminder of their sacred relationship and the promises of God.

Covenant is central to our life in Christ.
As you continue your journey through Lent, I invite you to ponder in your hearts, each of the many relationships in your life.  How is each one a covenant?  How is each one sacred, holy?

Start with the easier ones – like your spouse, your children, your parents, perhaps.  With the church – this congregation, the Body of Christ.  I encourage you to expand your meditation to your friends, your work life, your civic life.  How do you live in covenant with your fellow citizens from the homeless person you pass on the street to the mayor of the city?  Keep expanding your circle of relationship, the circle of covenant.  I wonder what you’ll discover.

Yes, discipleship is hard.  I think you’ll find, though, that as we grow more faithful in our discipleship, our relationship with God grows deeper and we more fully experience the abundance of life Jesus promised.

Thanks be to God.

The Wilderness and the Covenant

Preached at Church of the Resurrection, Bellevue on 22 February 2015.
The first Sunday in Lent, Year B

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.
This is what we do during Lent.  We lift our souls to the Lord; we put our trust in God.

In each petition of the Great Litany, we open our souls a little more.  We acknowledge to God and one another, our weakness and vulnerability .  We recognize our dependence on the Lord and put our trust in God’s compassion, mercy, and grace.

Why?  I think that ultimately, it’s because of our past experience with life and with God.  We have learned to trust that experience, in part, because of the testimony of other people and because of the testimony of our Holy Scripture.

This morning we hear about God’s covenant with Noah.  God makes an unconditional, everlasting covenant, with not only Noah and his family, not only humanity, but with all life.  Far from the Greek concept of God as an unmoved mover, in the story of Noah, we see God is much moved.  We see God expressing emotion and having a change of heart.  God regrets creating humanity and grieves over the evil in the world and vows to undo creation destroying almost all life.  Then after it’s over, God is moved again and vows,  “Never again.  Never again will I curse the earth.  Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.”

Then God blesses Noah and his family and establishes the covenant.  The bow in the sky is a sign of the covenant between God and all life.  It is a reminder – not for us, but for God.  God says, I shall see it and I will remember the eternal covenant between me and all living things.  God places constraints on God’s own power, choosing love and forgiveness over vengeance.

In the coming weeks of Lent, we will see more covenants with God, all leading up to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

We put our trust in the Lord because God makes covenants with us and with all the earth.  We put our trust in the Lord because God delights in creation; because God delights in incarnation and embraces it through Jesus.  In the gospel this morning we see again, the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit enters into him and immediately drives him into the wilderness.

Now Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is spare.  He doesn’t elaborate much; he just gives us four important details.  Jesus was in the desert for 40 days.  He was tempted by Satan.  He was waited on by the angels and he was with the wild beasts.  No mention of fasting; no specifics about the temptations.  Then he went to Galilee to proclaim the Good News.

So, what is Mark’s point?  There are a few aspects of the story that stand out for me.

The wilderness experience was essential to prepare Jesus to begin his ministry of proclaiming the Good News.  Preparation takes a long time – 40 days Facing the reality of evil, dealing with Satan gives authenticity and integrity to Jesus’ message.  He knows exactly what the people are up against.

Another aspect – the wilderness is not an adversary.  It is a place where growth occurs.  In the wilderness, the angels wait on Jesus.  The Holy Spirit guides him.  The wild beasts are with him – but not as a threat.  Are they his companions – like the peaceable kingdom images of the lion lying down with the lamb?  Or are they there to protect him?  Mark uses direct forceful verbs:  the Spirit drives him into the wilderness; the angels wait on him; Satan tempts him.  If the wild beasts were dangerous, in some way, I’m sure Mark would have chosen a different verb; he wouldn’t have said simply that they were with him.

So, Jesus goes apart, into the wilderness to prepare and he confronts Satan.  But he doesn’t go alone.  Even Jesus has God with him and the angels and the wild beasts.

We put our trust in God, we lift  up our souls to the Lord – our whole lives to God because whatever life hands us, God goes with us.

And so, we pray with the psalmist,
Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
Show me your ways; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth…
For you are the God of my salvation…
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love;
for they are from everlasting.
All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness;
to those who keep his covenant.

To you, O Lord, we lift up our souls;
we offer our very being, the whole of our lives.

Because of your Holy Covenants,   because of your Son, Jesus Christ,
we put all our trust in you.  Amen.

Celebration of the Visible

Preached on 15 February 2015 at Church of the Resurrection, Bellevue
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

I never grow tired of driving around a curve in the road and suddenly being surprised by the mountain.  Its grandeur, its beauty – each time they inspire such a sense of awe in me. That sight never gets old.  I never take it for granted.  I’m not sure why it surprises me, though.  I mean it’s always there; it’s not going anywhere.  And it doesn’t change much.  Perhaps it’s because it is so often obscured by clouds; so whenever the clouds part or lift and the mountain is revealed, it takes my breath away.  Revelation can be that way.

Yesterday being Valentine’s Day, there have been a lot of emails and posts and articles about love and romance and relationships.  One in particular caught my attention; it was titled “How to fall in love with anyone.”  Evidently someone did a study a number of years ago where two strangers would come into the lab, spend a couple of hours asking each other a series of 36 questions they are given and then gaze, silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes.

Well, the author of the article was having drinks with a friend from work and they decided to try it.  And it did in fact result in them falling in love.  The questions were designed to have them gradually reveal themselves, who they are deep down, their values, their history, their relationships with family, and so on.  As they work through the list, the questions become more and more intimate.

They answer questions not only about themselves, but about what they value in the other.  Usually people take months or even years to learn this much about each other.  It requires a willingness to be open to the other to really know them; and a willingness to be open enough to be known – to be vulnerable.  Love and revelation and vulnerability go hand in hand; one cannot truly love or be loved without vulnerability and revelation.

Epiphany is a season that celebrates revelation. Of God revealing God’s self to us through Jesus. It begins with the revelation of the messiah to the gentiles when the magi from the east visit the Holy Family.  It continues with the revelation of Jesus at his baptism when the Holy Spirit comes upon him and the voice from heaven proclaims “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  And the season ends with the story of the Transfiguration where Jesus is clothed in glory and we hear similar words from heaven.  One writer called the Transfiguration a “celebration of the visible.”

That’s an interesting way of putting it, isn’t it?  In this scene on the mountain, Peter, James, and John, can see a visible transfiguration; an outward and visible sign of who Jesus truly is; a visible sign of the transfiguration that is happening within them.

Epiphany as a season of revelation is particularly interesting in this lectionary year, because Mark is known as the gospel of the Messianic secret.  Everything is hidden in Mark.  Demons are not allowed to speak – because they know who Jesus is.  Those whom Jesus heals are told to go and tell no one.  The disciples’ hearts are hardened so they won’t understand until the time is right.  Even at Jesus baptism, apparently Jesus is the only one who sees the heavens part and the dove descend or hears the voice.

So it is almost startling when in this gospel of all things hidden, we see God’s glory burst through.

God cannot be contained.  God’s delight in Jesus cannot be contained.

Now I want you to sit with that for a bit. Imagine being on that mountain with Peter, James and John, seeing Elijah and Moses.  Seeing Jesus. Bask in the glow – no need to understand it, just experience it as you would Mt. Rainier or a sunset.

Experience God’s delight in Jesus.  In the world God created.
Experience God’s delight in humankind – people – created in God’s own image.
God’s delight in each and every person.  In your loved ones.
God’s loving delight in you.

In a few days’ time, Lent begins – a time of reflection and self-examination.  This year, I encourage you to carry that image with you; make it a part of your daily devotions.
The image of the Transfiguration, the sense of God’s loving delight in you.

Even now, God is transfiguring the world; transfiguring your neighborhood; transfiguring you.  Will you resist it?  embrace it?  delight in it?