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April 27, 2015, 10:09 pm
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Covenant- rejected and reaffirmed: A Sermon for Good Friday
April 7, 2015, 3:45 pm
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photo by e davisFor the past month and a half, you’ve heard over and over in my preaching the word “covenant.” The big idea I’ve been pushing is that our God is a God who makes- and keeps promises. These promises are a relationship-creating and identity forming act that changes those to whom God makes promises.

God comes to specific people in order to be a part of their lives. God wants to be their God.

But they- and we – aren’t always looking for a God.

What does it look like when we reject the promise making God?

Some people say we get what we deserve. Some voices in the Bible understand current suffering to be the price of rejecting God.

But that’s not scripture’s – or God’s- final word.

Tonight, Good Friday, is all about God’s response to our rejection. What does God do when the people God embraces in love push away?

God, in Jesus, embodies the image of our rejection and God’s response.

Jesus is God come to earth. Jesus’ incarnation is the ultimate statement on God’s desire to be close to us. If the distance between divine and mortal was too great to be bridged, God took care of that by becoming human.

But it wasn’t enough just to become human. Jesus entered in to the darkest places of suffering so that we’d be sure that nothing in life would be outside of his experience.

Jesus spoke and enacted God’s love for the world. He taught about the kingdom of God and then showed how it welcomed all people, valued those others devalued. He spoke of God’s desire to free people from oppression and give them life, and then healed the sick and gave the lame the power to walk. He called the religious to remember what’s most important in their faith.

Jesus reached out with God’s promise of relationship and identity through him. Jesus was God’s promise of love for all people.

But instead of embracing him, the world rejected Jesus. Even one of his most trusted inner circle of twelve disciples betrayed him to his killers. Another stood by, denying his connection to Jesus.

Experiencing our rejection, Jesus remained faithful. Nothing made him break his steadfast love for us, he wouldn’t save himself, he wouldn’t leave us. He let us push him as far away as we could- we pushed him into death.

The cross stands as a sign of our constant rejection and a witness to God’s constant faithfulness. The world’s rejection may have pushed Jesus into death, but the power of God’s love would not let that be the end. Jesus was raised as God’s “yes, forever” to our denial “you will not love us.”

When we get a glimpse at how persistent, how always God’s love is for us, then we are freed from the fear that is at the root of our rejection. We don’t need to be afraid that we will disappoint, that we won’t be good enough, that we’ll mess it up. We don’t need to be afraid that God will turn away when our real selves are known, when our hidden secrets are brought to light. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others, putting them down to lift ourselves up, hoping that if we deflect judgment’s focus, we’ll look ok. God always wants you. Jesus has made you his beloved.

On Wednesday nights, we’ve been exploring some of the major ways people understand the cross. We tried to answer the question: what does the cross mean- what is Jesus’ important work on the cross- and why did he have to die. We read dialogs from Dr. David Lose’s Making Sense of the Cross. Some of us may have learned new ways to understand the cross. But we might have been left wondering- what does it all matter? What do all these atonement theories have to do with me? That’s where we left our learning and questioning voices in the dialog. They come to realize that the cross is an event that creates an experience- a reaction in us.

For the voices of our dialog, the cross’ purpose is made real in the way it reveals both our own sin and God’s constant grace. All our lives, we live in the ups and downs of turning away from God and God’s pulling us back into relationship. We live in this cycle, waiting for the day when God will make all things new, raising us to a way of being that will no longer find us turning away.

Our reaction to the promise-making God is rejection. God’s faithfulness doesn’t end when it meets our resistance. Jesus enters in to our rejection in order to be deeply faithful to us. God’s promise to the people of the world, “I will be your God” doesn’t end when people decide they don’t want God. The cross is our clearest message of rejecting relationship, but Jesus goes right there to the point of our rejection. By entering it, Jesus destroys our rejection. Our response to God’s promises will not change the promises. Day by day, our lives are changed as we are continually healed through God’s faithfulness to us. In this way, the place of rejection becomes the life-giving cross. Thanks be to God for this transformation.

Welcome at the Table: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
April 7, 2015, 3:40 pm
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Photo by E DavisTonight, we celebrate D* and Z*’s welcome at the Lord’s Table. This celebration occurs against the backdrop of the drama of the increasing danger of Jesus’ last days. Tonight’s texts build in their revealing of Jesus’ purpose and the deadly work he will accomplish for the sake of all people. Tonight, D* and Z* remind us that this work was not only to fulfill a promise to people who lived long ago. Jesus enters betrayal, arrest, and death for us, for D* and Z*, for you and your family. We are all brought into Jesus’ new covenant and given forgiveness and life.

John’s Gospel portrays an intimate scene. Like a family, the disciples have gathered with Jesus for a meal. But it seems that Jesus doesn’t know the script. He doesn’t know how the head of the household is supposed to act. When the meal is finished, Jesus acts like he’s the household slave. He takes off his nice clothes, and kneeling down, washes the feet of his disciples. Then he continues to act off script, talking about things one shouldn’t talk about: talking about his death.

Jesus talks about his death so cryptically that the disciples don’t get it. This whole end of meal encounter leaves them confused. The one thing we hear the disciples understand is that they want to be with Jesus. They can’t understand what Jesus acting like a servant to them has to do with it, they can’t understand why Jesus would be going somewhere they can’t go- all we hear is vocal disciple Peter saying is that he wants to be with Jesus, and we might imagine the other disciples nodding their heads in agreement.

Jesus offers them not only a way to be with him, but to be like him for the sake of the world. They will follow in his steps, serving and loving all people, retelling the stories of their encounters with Jesus, and continuing his work to bring healing and life. The disciples’ lives will reveal Jesus, their master, just as Jesus’ life reveals God, his Father. Jesus is preparing to reveal God most fully and unexpectedly on the cross, as he gives his body and blood in love for the whole world.

All during Lent, we explored the covenants of God. God reaches out to specific people, making them God’s own through a series of promises. Tonight, through Paul’s retelling of the Last Supper, we hear Jesus promise a new covenant.

Jesus takes bread from the dinner table, holds it up, and declares, “This is my body.” Then he takes a cup of wine, and calls it “the new covenant in my blood.” He follows this naming with instruction: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The communion we celebrate here is our receiving Jesus’ covenant. Jesus’ promises are fulfilled in our eating and drinking. We are brought into relationship with God and with each other. We are given an identity as God’s beloved people, for whom Jesus gave his life.

In this bread and cup, Jesus is present. We may not know how exactly, but we trust Jesus’ promise to be here. Remember all the covenants we studied, God was faithful and fulfilled the promises. Jesus is faithful to us, in giving up everything he had in order to love us. These ordinary, everyday foods carry Jesus into us.

As food is broken down and particles are rearranged to become our body and our energy, Jesus enters us and transforms us into people of faith, who live as Jesus for the sake of the world. The bread and wine carries Jesus into us, creating and strengthening a relationship between us and Jesus, and through Jesus to all others who commune.

This little morsel fills us with the Holy Spirit. We are fed with grace. When we participate in this sacrament, God creates and feeds our faith. Without this meal, our faith is starved. We can’t make faith in ourselves. We can’t will ourselves to be faithful. God has to create trust in us.

Of all of God’s covenants, this new covenant is firmly rooted in the one who creates it. It is Jesus who speaks the promise, Jesus who gives up his life to fulfill the promise. It is Jesus who is our host and our meal when we gather to participate in this covenant. It is only by grace, God’s freely given gift, that any of us are given a place at the table.

The bread and cup are real things to hold onto, to experience, as we hear Jesus’ promise: “this is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” Jesus’ death wins forgiveness and conquers death. You are loved and you are given life – when you hold bread and wine, when they pass your lips- you cannot doubt that these gifts of God are for you. Jesus died for you, as Jesus died for all who come to this table, and who gather at tables all around the world.

Finally, D* and Z* will be among those who get to smell and feel, taste and ingest this promise of Jesus. They will be reminded that Jesus is with them always.

These Holy Days show us a God who acts unlike any other God. We meet the God who comes to creation, becomes a part of it, suffers and dies for it, and then is raised to life, but not only for his sake, but for the whole world. Jesus makes sure that we are always with him, and not even betrayal, or suffering, or disbelief, or death will separate us from God.