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Good Friday Tenebrae
March 28, 2008, 1:48 am
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 Good Friday Tenebrae The First Word lk 23:34Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.  The Second Word lk 23:43Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  The Third Word jn 19:26-7

Woman, here is your son.

 The Fourth Word mk 15:34, mt 27.46My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  The Fifth Word jn 19:28I am thirsty.  The Sixth Word jn 19:30It is finished.  The Seventh Word lk 23:46Father, into your hands I commend my spirit 

Isaiah 53:4Surely he has borne our infirmities
   and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
   struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
8By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
   stricken for the transgression of my people.
9They made his grave with the wicked
   and his tomb
* with the rich,*
although he had done no violence,
   and there was no deceit in his mouth.


Tonight we gather for a service in the shadows. We’ve reached Good Friday of holy week. We’ve followed Jesus these past months as he’s traveled, healed the blind, and raised the dead. We’ve traveled into Jerusalem with Jesus. We waved our palms and sang hosanna. We remembered the joy of those gathered for the parade. We remembered their hopes that this Jesus was the Messiah, the new king sent from God, who would overthrow Roman rule and bring Israel into a time of prosperity. We gathered around the wall for Jesus’ intimate last supper. We heard his declaration that there would be a new covenant in his body and blood that would unite all people with God.


Tonight, we follow Jesus to the cross. We meet Jesus through the witness of the four Gospels. These four witnesses record seven phrases that Jesus utters from the cross, before his death. Together we will consider them in word, song, prayer, and silence.


We’ve come to meet Jesus at the cross. We find that we are not the only ones gathered around the foot of the cross. This is the place where his faithful followers, who scattered at his arrest, have gathered. This is the place where the sick and disabled, who followed him throughout the countryside hoping for healing, have gathered. Where those who didn’t find Jesus to be the king of power and glory they had hoped for have gathered. Where the Roman officials and religious authorities who hoped death would quiet a possible rebellion have gathered.


It is here at the cross that we meet our God, most fully revealed. At this cross, in this humility and suffering, we know the true nature of our God. In Jesus Christ on the cross, we meet a God who experiences suffering. This is not a God who is distant from suffering, who is found only in wholeness and joy. This is a God who knows suffering from Jesus’ own experience. Who knows abandonment in Jesus’ betrayal and loneliness on the cross.


Jesus’ suffering is good news. It is good news because we are a people who suffer. We are a people who know sin and brokenness. It is good news to me because I know that when I wrap my arms around a loved one, when their story of hurt, betrayal, and brokenness is told through heart-wrenching sobs, I know we’re not alone. God is there. Even when I can’t fathom the pain that person has gone through, Jesus can. Jesus understands.


Tonight we hear the last words Jesus speaks before his death. From the cross, Jesus does not say words of condemnation. He does not shout in anger at friends and followers who have turned their backs on him. Rather, he offers words of forgiveness, of love. He cries out in the reality of his suffering. All this because the message that God loves all God has created is important enough to suffer and die for. As we encounter Jesus tonight, I invite you to see where God is especially being revealed to you. Does one of Jesus’ last words answer a questioning in your heart? Does a song verse really say what you’re feeling tonight? Cherish these words. Jesus meets you at the cross.


Good Friday: Swedish Service
March 28, 2008, 1:46 am
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Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.  Today we gather to remember Christ’s death on the cross. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the quiet dinner in which Jesus commanded the disciples to love, has led to the cross. At dinner, Jesus spoke of giving his body and blood as he shared bread and wine. Today we remember that body and blood, broken and shed on the cross, for us.  At this service, we’ve retold the Gospel, sung hymns of praise and remembrance, and prayed to God, in Swedish. I admit, I don’t know any Swedish, and that’s why you’re hearing me preach in English. This year at Zion, we are especially celebrating our heritage with our 125th Anniversary. For this one day a year, we return to the language services were originally conducted in.  But I think there’s more than nostalgia that keeps this service going. There’s a fundamental theological reason that we use a language that is different from our everyday working language to remember this Good Friday.  What happened that day on the cross is for all people, for all time. Pilate had a plaque written to hang with Jesus. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews”. This message was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Pilate meant it to be a message of humiliation, able to be read by anyone on the street. But here Pilate becomes an evangelist. He makes it clear that the event on the cross is for the people of every nation and language.  God was incarnate at a specific time, in a specific place. Jesus walked and talked with the people of Israel, in their language, in their cultural terms. He died once, on a hill, hung on a cross, about two millennia ago. But this is an event that transcends history.  It is for the people who lived miles away and never heard of Jesus. It is for those first Swedish immigrants to America, for those who gathered a century ago in this place. It is for new immigrants speaking their own languages, and for the generations to come. It is for us.
 Jesus’ life has been about showing people God’s love and teaching them to live into the kingdom of God. His suffering and death on the cross is the culmination of that message. God’s love is not bound by any borders. There is no place where God is not. Jesus Christ was active at the creation of the world, humanity, and all life. On the cross, Jesus draws all life to himself. Jesus does not die for only his fellow Jews, the people who had known the covenantal God, but for all people. Jesus died for Pilate, who got the whole message of what Jesus’ kingdom is about all wrong. Who was so afraid for his own political power that he had Jesus killed. Who worshipped the Roman Emperor as a God. Jesus died for this sinner, and for many more.  Jesus died so that no one would be separated from God. He suffered and died to show that God is willing to suffer, to be abandoned, to die, all so that the least among us would know God’s love.  When we are faced with suffering in our own lives, we are not alone. Jesus who suffered on the cross is not distant from any who suffer. Jesus shows us that God is not afraid of suffering, but is very present in suffering. On the cross, Jesus shows a God who is not found only in mansions, only among one ethnic group, only loves good people.  Jesus died so that we, who are sinful, could be clothed with his righteousness. So that we who are ungodly could be united forever with God. On the cross, the power of sin and death is taken into God’s being. On Sunday, we will celebrate that it is broken. But for today, we remember that God shatters our expectations of who God is. God chooses suffering rather than power, oppression rather than privilege.  God chooses this for our sake. Jesus’ cross is the point of unity for us who are scattered. Through the cross, we of diverse languages, strange to foreign ears, become brothers and sisters. Jesus’ arms, stretched out on the torturous cross draw all together.  May the peace of Christ, won on the cross, guard your hearts and minds.

Lent March 12: Zion at the Crossroads
March 28, 2008, 1:46 am
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Lesson: Jeremiah 31:1-6, 31-34  Gospel: John 14:16-20

 Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ,  Are your feet tired? We’ve been walking through history, witnessing how the Church moved throughout the centuries, at the foot of the cross.  Today, in the 125th birthday of Zion Lutheran Church, we rest in this church. It’s time for us to look around. Consider that 125 years ago, there was no Zion Lutheran Church. Let’s look back to a midsummer day in 1883.  A group of Swedish immigrants are meeting in the basement of the Swedish Methodist Church. One man stands up, C.F. Anderson, and voices the concerns that have brought them together. The Swedish population in Rockford is growing. The resources of the Swedish Lutheran Church in town, First Lutheran, are being strained by the influx of Swedish Lutherans. It is time to begin a new congregation.  146 charter members formed the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church of Rockford.  Who were these people? They were immigrants, who had traveled across an ocean, leaving family, friends, and familiar churches. They’ve come with hope in their hearts, hope for a new life, a good life, for themselves and their families. They’ve also come with faith.  They are like the people to whom the prophet Jeremiah spoke. The Hebrew people of Jeremiah’s time have been in exile, away from their homeland. Now they are heading home. They are hoping that the country they left in a time of war will again become a place of peace and prosperity.  God has words of hope for both the exiled Hebrews and the immigrant Swedes. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3). God is present in the Diaspora. God is present among the exiled and immigrant. Present with words of rebirth.  “Again I will build you, again you shall take your tambourines, again you shall plant” (31:4, 5).  For immigrants and exiles, I can imagine there is fear a hairsbreadth away from the hope of new life. These aren’t days of cell phones and internet. The wisdom of the generations, of the culture, are only found among the community. And so the Swedish immigrants stuck together, among people whose language they could understand, whose worship was familiar, with whom they could experience God.  But immigrants and exiles face struggles as they begin to give birth to the next generations. They live in places with language, customs, culture different than their homeland. Their children don’t know the homeland of their parents. The Hebrews and the Swedes dealt with this problem of acculturation differently. Some of our writings show that the Hebrews became very concerned with keeping worship practices that separated them from the new cultures in which they lived. They sought to bind themselves together tightly, rejecting the influence of outsiders. Other Hebrew writings show willingness to allow others into their group, allow outsiders to experience God. The Swedes were open to acknowledge their changing culture and the need for their neighbors to experience God in worship. By the early 1900s, services were conducted in both Swedish and English.  From those first 146 charter members, the people of God gathered at Zion did grow. In 1956, Zion was reported as having the largest Sunday School in the Augustana Lutheran Church in America (pg39).  Zion has not forgotten its immigrant roots. A new wave of immigrants, this time from Laos rather than Sweden, arrived in Rockford. In the early 1980s, Zion decided to sponsor a Lay-otian family.  The neighborhood that was once a Swedish enclave changed over the years as people moved to various parts of Rockford and those of other ethnic descent also moved to Rockford. Land was purchased on the growing edge of Rockford, on Spring Creek, when there was fear the railroad would disrupt the present building. When the neighborhood was in the midst of change, when there were difficult issues of poverty and crime before Zion’s doorstep, this was an option for an out. The people of God gathered at Zion could have escaped. Instead, they chose to trust that God was calling them to a mission in the place where they were. In 1986 the decision to sell the land was made, the easy escape path rejected.  The people of Zion chose to live as the people of God, with God’s love and law on their hearts. They chose to live into the hope that one day all people would know the Lord, from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34). They chose to recognize that God was calling them to be the hands, feet, and mouth of Christ.
 The needs of the community were addressed. A sense grew that those being served are also members of the people of God who could join in the family at Zion. By the 1960s, a thrift store was opened. A food pantry provided for basic needs. In 1982, The Zion Development Corporation was established. Today, a short walk around the neighborhood gives evidence of the work of Zion in this neighborhood. A visit to Zion throughout the days of the week show the varieties of gifts and the diversity of people gathered here for worship, ministry, and mission. Last Sunday, we gathered for conversation and learning in Spanish. This noon, we’ve had Bible study and lunch with various adults in the community. Tonight, we’ll be numbering up to 300 people around Zion and Patriot’s Gateway, giving kids a safe place to have fun, to hear the gospel, to be fed, and to experience a loving community. And next Sunday we’ll join again as the diverse people of God, gathered at Zion, to welcome new members into our family.  How Zion continues to live at the foot of the cross is up to us gathered here today. As Jesus promised his disciples, “…the Father will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever… I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you.” (John 14:16, 18). One symbol we see repeated around Zion is that of the dove. By this symbol we remember that God has not left us alone, but has sent the Spirit to guide, strengthen and empower us.  We’ve heard a bit of Zion’s story and the stories of the people of God throughout the centuries in these past weeks. The story has not ended. God continues to come to us, in the Word, in the Sacraments, in this community, and those we meet who are outside our community.

Lent 4 March 2: Names will never hurt me.
March 18, 2008, 9:08 pm
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1 Samuel 16:1-13

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41
          One of my college majors was Family Studies. It was a small department, only one professor, who was also the chair. We called him “George”. He had been a pastor, parole officer, and now a professor. He’s toss us a thesis, and suddenly a simple statement would give us the key to understanding our relationships. Regarding parenting he said, “It’s about letting go. From that first moment you hold your infant in your arms, you begin a process of letting go, of detaching.”

          When I went off to college, my brother was 12 years old. I came home for short breaks, but the longest period of time I lived at home was the summer of 2006, when he was 17. Somehow, my brother wasn’t the 12 year old any more. I’d call him my little brother, and he’d shuffle up next to me, look down at me, and say, “little?”.

           He used to let me drag him around in my pink wagon. He used to wait for me by his locker after school. This fall, he packed up and headed off to college. When we were home together for Christmas, he was up late with visiting friends, long after Jeff and I went to sleep.            The whole struggle adolescents go through is to assert their emerging identity over those who want to see them as if they are still children. I might wish back for days when life might have been simpler for my brother. But the reality I need to accept is that he is defining his own life, which I have the opportunity to affirm and enjoy whatever part he lets me play in it.            We meet another young man this morning, in our gospel from John. He and his community are struggling to define who he is. When we first meet him, he’s descriptively called “a man blind from birth”. No personal name, but one that goes right to the heart of his identity, naming the blindness that has affected his whole way of life.            It appears that his blindness has shuttled him to the edge of society. It doesn’t seem that he was able to find an appropriate job. The community knows him only as the blind man who sits and begs. When the disciples and Jesus walk by this man, the disciples ask, “Who sinned?” To us, that might seem like a pretty random question- what does sin have to do with his blindness? We come to learn his blindness has another stigma, in early Hebrew understanding, illness and disabilities were thought to be the result of sin. So, his identity is wrapped up in his blindness, which doesn’t allow him a full life in the community, and stigmatizes him because others see this blindness as some sort of punishment.            Into this situation steps Jesus. Jesus has just come from the temple (?) trying to help the Jewish leaders understand who he is. He’s been saying, “I am the light of the world”. But the religious leaders think he is blaspheming and repeatedly try to stone him. So Jesus comes to this man, this blind, begging man, and says, “I am the light of the world”.            What can that mean to someone who is blind? We don’t know the degree of his blindness, perhaps he can see blurry shapes of passing people. Perhaps he can only feel the warmth of the sun, not knowing the difference between night and day but for that. Somehow, Jesus’ proclamation that he is the light is a proclamation of great hope for this man.            When Jesus mixes the dust of the street with his own spit, and begins to smear this mixture on the man’s eyes, he does not back away. When Jesus tells him to go and wash in a certain pool, he does. As this man comes back, he is healed! He is able to see for the very first time.            This is the moment in which everything changes for this man. That which has defined his life in infirmity has been healed away. He no longer has to passively sit and wait for someone to have mercy on him, to give him a bit of money or food. His experience with the Light of the World has opened his eyes.            Who is he now? We never get to hear him name himself. But the community knows what they have named him. He is the man who used to sit and beg. They realize something has changed. It appears that now he’s not going to sit and beg any longer, but that’s the only way they’ve ever known him. How on earth are they going to figure out who he is now!? They’re going to have a little argument match. “No, that’s not him”, “Yes, it is”, “No, it’s not”, “Yes, it is”… “Well, he’s right there, let’s ask him”, “OK, is it you?”— “Yes, it’s me”.            And even after he confirmed what they already know, they still have more questions. “Who did it?” “How?” They just can’t suddenly accept this man as someone completely new, not after a lifetime of knowing him as the blind man.            So they take him to the Pharisees, their religious leaders, surely they can help them figure out what to do with this man whose changing identity is so confusing. The Pharisees have more questions. They find rules that have been broken. They try to figure out what the formerly blind man believes about this one who has healed him. They even try to drag in his parents to get their stance on the whole affair.            But the formerly blind man isn’t blind anymore. He sees what has happened. He knows he has experienced a great miracle in his encounter with Jesus. He can see the Pharisees for who they are. They don’t see that a miracle has happened. They don’t see that God has worked a healing in this man. They don’t see that Jesus is the Light of the World, who is shining on the ways that they are in the dark about God’s power to heal.            The formerly blind man isn’t confined to passively waiting for the world to happen around him. He has the power to declare who Jesus is, to witness to what he has experienced, and to be unafraid of how others might react to his testimony. He can even get a bit cheeky and ask if the Pharisees also want to become Jesus’ disciples.            After his encounter with Jesus, he’s a changed man. His experience with the Light of the World has convinced him that Jesus has come from God. His life is new and fresh like it never has been before. But the community is left a step behind him. They recognize that something has changed, but they’re not quite sure if they want to expend the energy figuring out what that change means. Wouldn’t it just be easier to write him off as the blind beggar? It’ll just be so much work to really listen to him and hear who he understands himself to be now. If they open themselves up to hear how he has changed, they might also have to think more about Jesus. And even though Jesus didn’t do something miraculous in their personal lives, because he did something amazing for someone in their community, they might just have to reconsider who this Jesus is. Reconsider how God is being made known in their community.           We’re not so different than the community of this formerly blind man. What do we do with people who have been touched by Jesus? What do we do with the people who might just be the outcasts that Jesus chooses to interact with? I don’t know if we really stop to listen even to our friends, to hear how God has been present with them, throughout their lives. Maybe we hear how prayer or scripture has strengthened someone through a difficult time in their lives. But I wonder if sometimes, through our Lutheran self-understanding, we would be as slow and skeptical as the community of the blind man.            We’re often not ready to whole-heartedly accept and rejoice with people who declare that Jesus has changed their life, that they are turning over a new leaf, that they’re going to make a better life for them and their family. Some of us have heard those types of promises and hopes too many times. Seen them fall apart, unrealized. We’ve come face to face with the brokenness of our lives and our loved ones lives. Hope is a difficult thing when the fact of a broken reality is so obvious.            As followers of Christ, we must cling to the hope that God loves all people, comes to all people. We cling to this promise in faith. Some might say, “The proof’s in the pudding”, that they’ll withhold judgment that Jesus has come until they see a person’s life reflecting Christ.            But Jesus comes, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not. Regardless of whether someone’s life is healed or remains in brokenness, Jesus is there. Someone might appear blind, begging, broken, sinful.            We can choose to name them those things. We can claim power over others, pinning them into identities that push them away from us. We can name them failures and go home, thanking God that we are not them.            Or, we can choose to let go of our need to identify others. We can choose to recognize that Christ comes to all people. To recognize that some people face great difficulties throughout their lives and others less. That these struggles are not the result of Jesus’ absence, but that Jesus is present through those struggles.           And we can take it one step further. We can be the community that is willing to proclaim that Christ is present even among those who don’t seem to have it all together. We can be the community that doesn’t hold people to their reputation, but opens the way to a new identity of hope. We can give people the opportunity to be beloved and claimed daughter of God, beloved and claimed son of God. Welcomed and cherished brother and sister.            Here, we are free from the names that would divide us, stratified us, enslave us. Here we are named, not in oppression, but in freeing love. In Christ, you are a holy, beloved child of God.