Wait For It

Preached on 29 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch almost sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?  What does this dream-story tell us about being an Easter Church?

All through Easter, we’ve been reading stories from The Acts of the Apostles to discover and discern what it might mean for Ascension to be an Easter Church.  There is a lot to discover in this story.

The first thing that pops out at me is that Philip does exactly what we’re doing with Scripture – he makes a connection between Scripture – what the prophet Isaiah wrote in the time of the Babylonian exile – and what is going on in their lives.

We see that the Scripture is interpreted in conversation; in community, not alone.  The man is reading a passage from Isaiah, one that we call the song of the suffering servant.  He’s confused and asks Philip a question about it.  We don’t get to hear Philip’s interpretation but we do hear that he makes a connection with and proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ to this man in a chariot on the road to Gaza.

There is not just one authoritative interpretation.  When Isaiah was prophesying, he did not have Jesus in mind.  We don’t know what he was talking about, but we do know that it was relevant to his audience.  And it was relevant to later generations, otherwise it would not have been preserved.

Scripture endures because it can continue to speak to our own lives, our present world.

The Easter Church reads Scripture in conversation with one another and with our lives.

The second detail that pops out at me is the Ethiopian himself.  In reaching out to him, Philip crosses all kinds of lines; societal, cultural, and religious barriers that define who’s in and who’s not:

  • He’s Ethiopian – a stranger, a foreigner
  • Religiously, he’s an outsider
  • He’s a slave, but a high-ranking official in the service of the Queen of Ethiopia
  • At least from Philip’s perspective, the Ethiopian is sexually an outsider. As a eunuch, he would be excluded from much of Jewish communal life.
    I don’t know how that would have been viewed in his own culture, though.
  • Americans often will see Philip as reaching across a racial divide as well. That may be projecting our own cultural biases on him.  I don’t know if race, as we describe it, was a thing for them.

In any case, we could say that the Easter Church crosses the many ways our culture and society use to define people; to say who’s in and who’s out; who’s acceptable, who’s worthy, and who’s not.

The Easter Church leaves the comfort of the familiar and risks going to where it may feel uncomfortable, awkward, or even dangerous.

Next, the Ethiopian does what people have been doing for two thousand years:  In response to hearing the Good News, he asks to be baptized.

“Look! Water,” he says, “let’s do it.  I want to be baptized.”  Philip responds, “Right.  Let’s go.”  He doesn’t say, “Wait you haven’t ….” Fill in the blank.

The Easter Church baptizes.

Finally, I notice that Philip responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit:
“Get up and go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  Philip goes.
“Go over to the man in the chariot and join him.”
Philip does.

When he is done, the Spirit takes him away and the Ethiopian continues on his way, rejoicing and praising God.

The Easter Church – and this is probably the most important characteristic – the Easter Church listens for and responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Now, our gospel reading from John gives us the foundation for being an Easter Church.

We hear Jesus talking to his disciples on the night he will be betrayed.  It’s part of his farewell discourse.
“I am the True Vine,” he says.  “You are the branches.”  This is about relationship that continues beyond his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Even when his is no longer with them, he is the vine that sustains and nourishes the branches.  There is mutuality and interdependence in the relationship.  It’s about the community and sustenance they have in each other as well as through Jesus who binds them together.

At the heart of the Easter Church, of course, is Jesus.

Way back when I was first discerning whether to start discerning call, my Spiritual Director gave me this.  It doesn’t have an attribution, so I don’t know where it’s from.  It’s a photocopy that I preserved by covering it with clear contact.  All these years later, it still has meaning for me.  As I read the story of Philip and Ethiopian, I thought it summed up the story and what it is to be an Easter Church quite well.

It says:
Go where you are sent.
Wait until you are shown what to do.
Do it with your whole self.
Remain until you have done what you were sent to do.
Walk away with empty hands.

In this time of transition and discernment in the life of Ascension, this may be a good guide.

  • What are we finished doing? Notice it says remain until you have done what you were sent to do.  Not until all is done.
  • Are there things we no longer do with our whole self? Is it time to let go and walk away with empty hands; to make room for the new thing God has for us?


You know, there was a time in my life when I took a diaper bag with me everywhere.  And you know what else? I don’t anymore.  I finished that phase of my life and let it go.  As much as I loved my babies, I don’t miss it.  Letting go freed my hands for the next thing.

  • What do we still do with our whole self? With energy and enthusiasm and creativity?
  • Where is the Spirit sending us now? That’s a hard one.  Do we have enough stillness in our life as a community to listen to the Spirit, and to hear her promptings?
  • What are we being shown to do? Are we willing to wait for it?

May we make enough space in our lives to wait and listen; and as we begin to move forward, may we continue to listen for the guiding of the Spirit.

May we have the courage to let go of what is finished to make room for the new.  May we receive it with open, empty, willing, welcoming hands.

And whatever it is God is giving us to do,
may we do it with our whole selves.



Easter way of life

Preached on 22 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Easter is more than an event in the life of Jesus.  It is certainly more than a day each year for remembering that event and it’s even more than a season celebrating it.

Easter is a way of life.  It’s a way of life founded on the promise of God that Life is more than what we accumulate, more than what we can see, more than what we do.  It is based on the promise that in the power of God’s Spirit, as we share life and love, they increase, they multiply; and as life and love increase, fear loses its grip on us.  We experience and enjoy Life in Abundance; the abundance of life that Jesus promises when he says, “I have come that they might have life, life in abundance.”

This Easter season, we have been talking about what it is to be an Easter Church; what characterizes it.  One of those characteristics is the sharing of this very Easter way of life; sharing life and love in the Spirit of God and letting go of fear, that all might revel in the abundance of life offered in God.

We have been looking to our readings from The Acts of the Apostles to see what characterizes the Easter church and what it might mean for us.  As we look at today’s reading, I feel like I should start with “previously on Acts of the Apostles…” because otherwise, we don’t understand what’s going on here.

So, here goes.
We see Peter and John going to the Temple to pray in the afternoon.  As they approach the gate, they see a beggar who is always there, who can’t walk.  Peter calls on the name of Jesus and commands him to walk.  He reaches out his hand and helps the man up.  Then, as we heard last week, Peter speaks to all the gawkers who run to see what’s going on.  He proclaims to them that it was Jesus who did this amazing thing.

Now, here’s what the lectionary leaves out.  Peter continues speaking to the crowd:
“You are heirs of the covenant of God made with your ancestors when he told Abraham, ‘All the nations of the earth will be blessed in your descendants.  It was for you, in the first place, that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you.’

Now, while Peter and John are still talking, the religious leaders show up.  They’re annoyed that they are teaching about the resurrection and arrest them.

Today, we hear Peter talking to those religious leaders.  You may recognize some of the names, like Annas and Caiaphas, as the people who arrested Jesus and turned him over to be crucified.  Peter is accusing them, pointing fingers.  And pointing out that in this life and death power struggle, God won; they lost.  God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus is the only source of salvation.

What does it show us about the Easter Church?
Here again, we see Peter bearing witness to Christ.  That has been a recurrent theme.  He turns to Scripture for help in interpreting what is happening now.  And, as he talks about salvation, we see that salvation is about more than life and death.  Salvation is about wholeness of body, mind, and spirit in this life as we see in the man who is cured.  Salvation is about human flourishing; it’s about God’s promise of Abundance of Life.

The Easter Church is characterized by sharing an Easter way of life.  It’s sharing, in the Spirit of God, our life and love not only in this flock, but others who are not of this flock, as Jesus said, that there may be one flock.  It’s sharing our life and love that all might have abundant life.

Abundant life, human flourishing, goes hand in hand with the flourishing of all Creation.  Humans can’t flourish in a disintegrating or degraded environment.

Today is Earth Day and it is Good Shepherd Sunday.  What happens when we hold that alongside our question about what it means for us to be an Easter Church?  How do we bear witness to Christ as we remember our responsibility to care for the earth?

The human race has developed the capacity to harm the earth far beyond the earth’s capacity to heal itself. How might the Easter Church respond?

Last week, we heard that the Easter Church proclaims forgiveness and repentance – realigning our view of the world and seeing it through God’s lenses.
Today, we heard that the Easter Church proclaims salvation that is about wholeness of body, mind, and spirit in this life, about human flourishing and abundant life.

We heard that we, the Easter Church, are heirs of the promise of God made to Abraham that we are to be a blessing to all nations.

As we bring all of this to our own day, we know that the salvation of God must extend to all of Creation, not just humanity.  And so we might say that the Easter Church proclaims God’s desire for the flourishing of all life, indeed all of Creation, and repentance from that which harms Creation.

The church is recognizing our responsibility to God’s Creation and is adding a promise to the Baptismal Covenant to care for the earth.

Easter is a way of life.  A way of life founded on the promise of God of life in abundance for all the whole earth.  May we embrace and live into that Easter life.

Oh, Right!

Preached on 15 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The third Sunday of Easter, Year B

Oh right!  The kingdom of God, it’s here.
Oh right!  Christ is risen – and that matters!
Oh right!  We are children of God.

That’s why we’re here, right?

As I said last week, we spend the Season of Easter delving into the Book of Acts.  We learn about the early church as it is working out how to be a community of faith in this new reality; a post-resurrection reality – an Easter Church.  And we see what we might learn from them for our own community.

We heard that the Easter Church is a community of one body and soul characterized by generosity and service.  We heard that in this post-resurrection world, God is creating communities that manifest salvation and that the Easter Church bears witness to Christ.

This week, we’re listening to Luke, and again, we hear about witnessing as Jesus tells the disciples, “you are witnesses of these things, to the ends of the earth.”  Now this is still on that first day of the week; the day of the resurrection, but an awful lot has happened. In the morning the women come to the disciples to say that the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen.  The disciples don’t believe them, but Peter goes to check it out and sure enough, the tomb is empty.

Meanwhile, two other disciples are leaving town, walking to Emmaus.  Along the way, Jesus joins them and talks to them about the Scriptures and the Messiah, but they don’t recognize him until they stop for the evening and he breaks the bread.  Then Jesus vanishes and the two of them race back to Jerusalem to tell the others, “We have seen the Lord.”  That’s where we come into the story today.

Jesus shows up.  “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them.  Witnesses of all of it: Jesus’ life and ministry, his crucifixion, his resurrection, the betrayal, the despair, the wonder and amazement, the joy, the disbelief.  All of it.  He doesn’t say, “Please be my witnesses” or “you will be,” but “You are.”

We are.  There’s no choice involved.  It’s part of who we are, a state of being.  Our words, our silence, our actions or failure to act; our whole lives witness to our faith, to what we believe in our bones about God.  They witness to what we stake our lives on.

What do we find in our reading from Acts today about what characterizes the Easter Church?  Peter is preaching to a crowd that has gathered, in fact they run to see the man who was unable to walk since birth is healed.  Peter commands him, in the name of Jesus, to get up and walk and he does.

Now, I don’t suggest you do that to the vet in the wheelchair as you head up the ramp to the Mariners game.  But maybe, rather than shrug it off as just the way it is, we can imagine the kingdom of God and question the barriers we, as a society, put up to keep them from getting the care they need.

Peter and John go on to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, following what we heard Jesus say in the gospel.

So, we could say that the Easter Church is characterized by healing and the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness.  We see that they don’t go it alone; they go together. They point to Jesus, the Author of Life, as the source of healing and new life.  It is God who brings life out of death.  And they turn to Scripture as their authority to try to explain what new thing God is revealing in light of what God has already revealed to them in the past; what they already know about God.

Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness.  That sounds a bit daunting and a little too much like street-corner preaching.  Remember, our whole lives witness to Jesus, to our faith, to what we stake our life on.

We proclaim repentance by repenting.
We proclaim forgiveness by forgiving.

Now I don’t mean just telling people you forgive them or that God forgives them, although that may be appropriate at times.  No, I mean by actually forgiving as we have been forgiven.  Seeing Christ in the other and letting go of whatever it is you hold against them, or think others do.

We can begin by remembering God has already forgiven.  That Oh right!  I am forgiven, and so are you.  My neighbor is forgiven and so is that person who cut me off in traffic.

The person who actually harms me is forgiven and so is my enemy.  And so it that person who drives you up the wall.

Now it’s our turn.  See each person as already forgiven and worthy to stand before God; worthy of dignity and kindness.  And forgiveness.

Forgive them, let it go.  Ask God to help you see the goodness in them – it’s there.

Now, I always have to point out that forgiving doesn’t mean that you let them hurt you again.  It doesn’t mean staying in a harmful or toxic relationship or putting yourself or others at risk.  The practice of forgiveness is a process – sometimes a very long one.  It isn’t necessarily easy; in fact it is only possible through the grace of God.  Which brings us to repentance.  The two go hand in hand.

We proclaim repentance by repenting.  Don’t groan.
I know, we just got through Lent.  Through the resurrection, God is creating a new reality.  Part of repentance is turning to see this new view of the world.  Repentance is noticing God’s activity in our lives and in the world.  It’s keeping that Easter outlook as much of the time as possible: hopeful, optimistic, seeing the goodness and value and Truth in ourselves, our neighbors and all of Creation.  Not in a Pollyanna-ish kind of way, but one that sees the Good and challenges the Evil.

You see, the world and the news will try to convince us of a different reality.  One in which our value lies in what we consume.  It will tell us that there is no God, that life is about getting what you can while you can.  It will skew our sense of beauty and worth and goodness and Truth.  It will claim that the world and people are mostly evil.  It mocks God’s desire for human flourishing.

The Truth of Easter, however, is that God brings life out of death.  Every day.  All the time.

Repentance is about turning our gaze and cleaning our glasses, so to speak, to look at the world from an Easter point of view; through God’s lenses.
It’s countering and challenging the false reality that is proclaimed by so many of the voices in the world around us, voices that insist on maintaining the status quo; that the problems of the world are insurmountable.

Repentance is drawing attention to that which is Good and Right and Just, that which is Beautiful and True; it’s pointing to the kingdom of God breaking through and insisting it is worth working for.

Repentance is that moment of “Oh right!”
And that’s why we’re here.  We can’t sustain it alone.  The Easter Church is a community of salvation.
It’s a community of repentance.
It’s a place where we can say,
“Oh right!  The kingdom of God is here!
Oh right!  Christ is risen and God is on the loose.”

It’s where we hear,
“Oh right!  You are a child of God.”

Think Big

Preached on 8 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

The book, The Acts of the Apostles, tells the stories of Christian communities trying to discover and articulate who they are.  It sounds a bit like what we’re doing, doesn’t it?

They are in a new reality; a post-resurrection world.  The world has changed and they don’t necessarily understand what it all means.  They have witnessed Jesus life and ministry; his crucifixion and resurrection and he has ascended to the Father.  They believe that all that has opened a world of possibilities, but they don’t know what they are.  In them, God is creating communities that manifest salvation.

The last thing Jesus said to them was, “You will be my witnesses, to the ends of the earth.”  And so they are.  Except they don’t know just what that means, so they try stuff.  The stories from Acts are big and bold, hyperbolic, even.

When we read Acts, we often have one of a few different responses.  We may point and say “Wow! Look what they did!  Cool,” but see it as strictly of that time and place; it doesn’t have anything to do with us.  Or, we may feel inadequate, like they had it right and we fall short.  We may say that we could never live like they did and then just dismiss the stories – again, that they have nothing to do with us.

Or, we may dig a little deeper for the themes, the lessons they learned, the characteristics of their communities and their witness that could apply to us.

How do we bear witness to the Good News in our own lives?  How do we, as a community, bear witness?  What does it mean to be a community of faith?  What characterizes us?  To what do we aspire?

The Acts of the Apostles offers us an invitation to Think Big about our own community.  I think this is particularly pertinent in this time of transition in the parish and as we are discerning, discovering and articulating who we are and what God is calling us to.

Throughout the season of Easter, we will be hearing readings from this unique book of the Bible.  We will hear about what characterizes a community of faith.

This morning we hear about the characteristics of generosity and service.  They understand that through his death and resurrection, Christ has made possible a community of one heart and soul.  They bear witness by how they live.  They bear witness by how they care for one another, especially the vulnerable.  No one is in need; they generously share with one another.

As a community, they are a manifestation of the wholeness and dignity of every person, bestowed upon them through the grace of God in Christ.  They are a community characterized by relationship with God and with one another.  And out of that relationship, they become a community of daring.

How do we or could we, in this community,
manifest that spirit of being a community of one heart and soul?  Are we characterized by generosity and service?

All week, we have been hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King as we remember the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination.  His life was dedicated to an ideal of a Christian Community, I think.  He dared to Think Big; he dared to think long.  He wasn’t perfect, far from it.  The movement wasn’t perfect and both he and the movement are often sanitized as we look back, often forgetting how much he was vilified at the time.  And yet, he dared to think big and to act and to aspire to something far beyond himself or what he would ever hope to see in his lifetime.

Reinhold Niebuhr, a well-known 20th century theologian wrote,

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”[1]

To what would we aspire if we dared to Think Big?

[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.

God is on the Loose

Preached on 1 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Easter Day, Year B (Mark)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
[Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!]

The tomb is empty.  Christ is alive.
God is on the loose.

Last week, we were with Jesus arriving at the seat of power to challenge the rulers, the system.  And we went with him to Golgotha to this crucifixion.  We waited at the cross with the women – in despair and desolation at Christ’s death.  We watched as he was buried.

We can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday, you see.  Death and Resurrection; Crucifixion and Vindication go together.  You can’t pay attention to one and ignore the other without missing the whole point.

Today, we arrive at the tomb, again with the women.  But nothing is as they expect it to be.  We’ve heard the story so many times that we take it for granted.  But for them, what they find shatters their understanding of reality; of how the world works.

There wasn’t time for their usual customs and rituals of burial before his body was placed in the tomb on Friday.  So they go today, on the first day of the week, to anoint his body and prepare it for proper burial.  Their biggest concern is how they’ll open the tomb to get to his body.  They saw the huge stone they put in front of the opening.  How will they move it?

Their first shock is that the stone is already moved.
The second is that somebody else is already there;
and it isn’t Jesus.  In fact, Jesus’ body isn’t even there.
What?!  Like I said their understanding of reality is shattered.
The young man gives them a message – the promise that they will see Jesus in Galilee.

We shouldn’t be surprised at their response. I mean, what would you have done?
No Alleluias.  No Christ is risen.  No, theirs is a very natural response.  They flee in terror.
And that’s the end of Mark’s story.  It’s abrupt.  It’s unsettling.  Christ is on the loose.  Now what?

We tell the stories to reveal the Truth at the heart of the story.  What does this story reveal to us about the character of God?  What Truth does it tell?

Mark’s message all through the gospel has been about following Jesus, whose core message has been about the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is near.

Jesus’ Passion is not just his suffering on the cross but his passion for God’s Kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms, the powers, the systems of this world.  That passion got him killed – crucified – when he went toe-to-toe with the authorities, with those in power, when he challenged the systems of injustice.

But the tomb could not hold him.  God would not be contained.  The story of the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus and his message his passion for the Kingdom of God to be manifest on earth, here and now.  It is God’s resounding NO to the powers and YES to Jesus.

Easter is about God.  The character of God is compassion and justice.
Ultimately, the story of death and resurrection is about a path of transformation with God’s help.  It’s a path that transforms our lives; that gives us a passion for the Kingdom of God.  It reveals a path for the transformation of the world.

Easter, the empty tomb, is not the end of the story.  Resurrection is not a one-time event.  Death and resurrection continue in our lives.  Mark’s ending is unsettling, but it is full of promise that points to the future.

The tomb is empty.  Christ is on the loose.



Have you Seen the Lord?

Preached on 31 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Great Vigil of Easter, Year B (John 20)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Lent is over.  The tomb is empty.  Christ is alive.

The message of this service is simple:
God will do whatever it takes to bring you, all of you – one at a time if need be – to that place where you can receive the fullness of God’s love, without reservation or restriction.

Let me say that again.

We heard the story of Creation when God declared the whole of creation to be very good
and the ancient story of salvation of Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea.

Then we moved to the prophets, where we heard about Salvation for all – Come to the Waters, Learn Wisdom and Live from Proverbs, the Valley of Dry Bones, and a New Spirit and a New Heart.
Finally, we heard about the empty tomb and Jesus Christ, raised from the dead; God’s emphatic NO to the powers of the world and YES to the message of Jesus, the message of God’s kingdom.  We heard Mary proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!”

God will do whatever it takes to bring you to that place where you can receive the fullness of God’s love, without reservation or restriction.

The stories don’t stop at the end of the Bible, however.  The stories of salvation, the stories of God’s reaching out to us in love continue all the way to the present.  God’s story of love is played out in our own lives: in your life and in my life.  So that we, too, can proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!”

And that brings us to that last half of the message of the evening.  We don’t get to put restrictions on God’s love.  There is no holding anything back.  There are no “yeah, buts….” to God’s love.

There may be things about yourself that you don’t like too much.  That’s ok because God loves that about you, too.  God loves your whole being, your whole person.  And God redeems your whole being in Jesus Christ.

God will do whatever it takes to bring you to that place where you can receive the fullness of God’s love, without reservation or restriction.

Believe it.  Receive it.  Rejoice in it.  Alleluia.



Good Friday is not Unique

Preached on 30 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Good Friday, Year B

There is nothing unique about Good Friday.
That may be the most disturbing and sorrowful thing about this most solemn day in the Christian year.
It’s not unique.  It’s not even unusual.  In fact, it is common.

A person challenges the system of domination that keeps some people down, poor, powerless, voiceless, and props up others to protect and increase their wealth and power and prestige.  The people with power fight back, often using some of the poor and powerless who appear to have no other choice other than to cooperate with the system.  Or they stoke their fears to the point of violence.

And someone dies.  Someone dies a public, humiliating death; a spectacle, a warning.
Or, someone dies an equally humiliating, but anonymous death.  They are disappeared, intimidated, tortured, buried in a mass grave, if they’re buried at all.  Or they may be returned, broken, alive-but-dead, buried, in effect, amongst the living.  A warning.  The message is the same – Your lives don’t matter.

It’s been common throughout history.  It was common in Jesus’ day.  He wasn’t executed alone.  There were two other insurgents who were crucified along with him that day.  Thousands of political dissidents were crucified by the Romans; a warning to any who might think of challenging them.  A warning to the Priests and the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Tax Collectors.

It is all too common now, not only in places that we may call corrupt or backward or authoritarian, but right here.  Sometimes the system can keep its hands clean by stoking fear, so that one of the “powerless” steps up and kills the challenger – think of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

And in the process, many people are killed even when they’re not challenging the system.  Police wearing bullet-proof vests shoot and kill a man in his own backyard because they thought the cell phone in his hand might be a gun.  Even collateral damage is a warning:  Don’t even think about challenging us.  You might get caught in the crossfire.

So, you see, there’s nothing unique about Good Friday.  It is as common as Friday and it is so very, very human.  The systems of domination fight back and they fight dirty.  That system may be called empire or fascism or communism or capitalism or totalitarian or authoritarian, but whatever the name it’s aimed at domination.  We humans have come up with an astonishing number of ways to control and oppress and dominate our fellow human beings.

What is astonishing and humbling about Good Friday, though, is that God chose to enter into our mess of a world as one of us; and not as one of those in the top of the system, one with power, but as one of the poor, the powerless, the voiceless.  God chose to risk this kind of death – knowing that it was practically inevitable.

Good Friday is only unique when we look at it through the lens of Easter.  We already know what comes next in Jesus’ story, and it’s so tempting to jump ahead.  But let’s not.  Let’s stay in Friday and come alongside some of the other people in the story.  There is nothing unique about their experience of Friday, either.

Let’s name them.  The soldiers and authorities who pursue Jesus at night in a park where he often goes with his friends to talk and enjoy an evening.
His mock trial and the crowd who anonymously convict him; there are not even any real charges or witnesses in John’s gospel.

The people along the road as Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha.  Some may be silent, grieving supporters; people who had hoped he really would save them by overthrowing Rome and restoring Israel.  Some may be there for the spectacle.  Some may be cheering the return of Law and Order.

Then there are those who crucify him and take his clothes and guard the crosses, so no one saves the victims.  I wonder what they’re thinking and feeling?  Is it just another day at the office for them?  Have they become numb?  Or is this carnage slowly destroying their souls?

What about the absent ones; those who fled when the trouble started?  Where are they?  Are they afraid that they will be the next ones to be crucified?  Have their hopes been destroyed?  Do they remember, yet, what Jesus said; that he told them that this would happen?  They must be devastated, confused.  They’re probably feeling either guilty or foolish; or both.

Then there are Jesus’ mother and the women standing near the cross, and of course, the beloved disciple.

How many mothers have watched a child, even a grown child die?  How many have arrived too late, only to find the body of their precious child, lying alone on the street, behind a fence made of police crime scene tape, or surrounded by the rubble left by bombs.  How many mothers have held their children dying of hunger while food rots in landfills?  How many mothers have grieved their children, dead from countless other ways that human systems kill?

How many communities of women and friends have gathered around the loss of one of their own, one who had such promise; one who offered hope for the future?  One who now lies dead.

And let’s not forget about God.  God grieves the death, not only of Jesus, but the death of every single one of these.

On this Good Friday, may our grief and compassion be stirred for all of the people in our lives and in the world who are going through such a Friday of their own.

Because, you see, there is nothing unique about Good Friday.

He knows (version 2)

Revised and preached on 29 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Maundy Thursday, Year B

Introduction to the gospel
On Sunday, I invited you to experience Holy Week; to go on a journey of the soul with Christ.  For the next three days, we will be immersed in the story of Christ as told by John.
As you listen to the gospel this evening, imagine yourself within the story.  And try to imagine it taking place in this time and place, right now, in this room.
What we do here tonight is not simply remembering or re-enacting an event that took place 2,000 years ago.  We are not pretending to be Jesus’ disciples.  We are disciples.

After reading the gospel

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 even as he shares a bowl with him, Judas has betrayed him.  He knows Peter, his passionate, faithful disciple, will deny even knowing him.
He knows the rest will abandon him.
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.

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 hear three commandments that Jesus gives us, his disciples.
In each, Christ is made present to us as we fulfill them – in the ritual itself, in the community, in the Body gathered.  In each, God’s kingdom is visibly manifest.

“Love one another,” he says.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love 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.

Whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup,” Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  So, we do.  Using the staples of every meal, bread and wine, Jesus nourishes us with his presence; his body, his very life.  He becomes part of us.  In this holy meal, we embody the kingdom of God.  All are fed.  All may drink from a silver chalice, even the poorest of the poor.  And we are sent to likewise embody it in the world, so that all are fed and have the necessities of life.

And third, Jesus washes their feet, saying, “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 or slaves. In washing one another’s feet we embody where we fit in the kingdom of God.  We are all worthy of care and we all offer care to others.

Jesus washes the feet of his betrayer.  He washes the feet of those who will abandon him and deny him.  The bond they share, the bond we share, overcomes even abandonment and betrayal.  Jesus gives us the sacraments and rituals as pathways of God’s grace.  A grace that nourishes relationship and opens the door to reconciliation.

In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to wash one another’s feet.  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.

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.

In our baptismal covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in every person.  Tonight, will you seek Christ in your neighbor and allow Christ to wash your feet?  Will you wash your neighbor’s feet offering them the opportunity to see Christ?

“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 need to be nourished by the bread and wine of his Presence.
He knows we need to care for one another, loving each other as he loves us.
He knows we need to wash one another’s feet.

After the foot-washing

In the gospel tonight, after he finishes and returns to the table, Jesus asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?”  To me, the question has the sense of something that can’t be undone.  They can’t un-know or “un-see” what Jesus has revealed; what Jesus has done to them.

What did Jesus do to you tonight?

Parades and Perp Walks: Marching for our Lives

Preached on 25 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Palm Sunday, Year B

And so we begin Holy Week.  It’s a week that takes our souls on a journey by telling the stories: from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem, through his Passion and Crucifixion, all the way to his Resurrection, and everything in between.

It’s more than the stories, though.  Holy Week is an experience with Christ in the depths of our soul.  There are no bystanders of Holy Week.  The stories open the doors and windows within us so we can more deeply connect with our true selves, with Christ, and with each other.

Holy Week is time outside of time, it can feel like time is suspended.  It is holy time, consecrated by God, belonging to God.
This year, as we go through the week and listen to the stories, I invite you to imagine yourself in the story; and imagine the story happening now, in our time and place.

This Sunday and next, we’ll be hearing from the gospel of Mark.  Now, in Mark, Jesus’ core message is this:  The Kingdom of God has come near,
in contrast with the Rulers of the world.

Mark’s message is about Following the Way, Discipleship; what it means to follow Christ.

Let’s begin.

Read the Passion of our Lord according to Mark

I call this reflection, “Parades and Perp Walks: Marching for Our Lives”

We begin the day with a parade of honor.  There has been some planning and preparation.  Jesus uses the symbolism of riding a young colt, evoking references to scriptural stories of a King of Peace riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a colt, banishing war and restoring Israel.

The people, and these are the peasants, the poor people; they respond, shouting “Hosanna,” “Save us!” (That’s what Hosanna means.)
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”  This is the greeting for a king.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” they shout.  “Save us!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, there is another parade of honor going on; a military parade.  Pilate, the Roman-appointed governor along with his military retinue, is arriving in Jerusalem for the Festival.  They don’t want any trouble and their show of force is aimed at quashing any thoughts of challenging their authority or causing trouble.

Two parades; two very different kinds of kingdoms.

Jesus goes directly to the Temple, the seat of power. His arrival in Jerusalem is political.  He has come, not to die, but to confront; to challenge those with money and political power; those with religious authority who are complicit with the Roman oppressors in the name of God.  This isn’t about a few individuals who are corrupt; it’s about a corrupt system, it’s a structure of domination.

Jesus takes a look around, assesses the situation and then leaves again.  He goes back out of the city to the town of Bethany, which means the house of the poor or suffering.  It’s where Lazarus lives with his sisters, Mary and Martha, where Simon the Leper lives.
He’ll be back in the Temple the next day and the next and the next to teach and to challenge. His message is, It doesn’t have to be this way.
The kingdom of God is near.

The scene quickly shifts to the end of the week and a parade of shame: a perp walk.  You know, you’ve seen them on the news and in crime shows countless times.  A person accused, or convicted of a crime, is escorted to jail or to court, trying to hide from the cameras and the crowds.  Jesus’ per walk was orchestrated for maximum humiliation.

Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha, the ultimate shame.  The shift from glory to shame and death happens so fast, and yet, we can see it is inevitable.
To follow Christ requires us to go to Jerusalem with him and all that entails.

What details in the story stand out to you?
Let’s take a moment to just sit in this story; to experience it.

I can’t help but think of the marches yesterday, organized and led by students.  Marching to the seats of power and challenging the status quo;
proclaiming, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”  Confronting the leaders who have the power to make a different choice; to do something different;
to change the system.
I think of the headlines that look to the children to save us.

The kingdom of God is near.
Which parade are you going to?