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Love Wins, Death is Defeated: A Sermon for Easter Year C
March 27, 2016, 10:30 am
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Alleluia. Christ is Risen.

 

This is the glorious good news of Easter morning: love wins, death is defeated, alleluia.

 

Jesus’ ministry was all about embodying the love of God for all people. If it seemed like the powers of evil, the strength of hate, was greater than love when Jesus was killed, then today is a powerful witness that goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.

 

In Jesus Christ, love wins. God proves the power of God’s love in coming to us as a compassionate human. Jesus proves the power of his love in his willingness to die for all who would reject him, not just for the faithful few. God proves the power of God’s love in raising Jesus from the dead. Death is defeated. Not even the end of life can separate us from life with God. Nothing can stop God from loving us into life. God will not let our relationship be severed. Jesus’ resurrected life means our life will not be destroyed forever, but that we, too, will be raised. This is the victory Jesus has achieved: death is defeated, love wins. Alleluia.

 

This is good news. But it is hard news to grasp, hard to believe and understand. After all, we’re familiar with love that fails, death that claims, power that chooses self-interest.

 

The very people who knew Jesus best, who lived and served with him, listened to his teachings about God and about his path into death- and life- were those who couldn’t believe the good news of his resurrection.

 

The disciples saw him die. Over and over in their heads they must have recounted those three days, sitting at the table with him as he declared, this is my body, given for you, as he knelt and washed their feet, showing them that following him in love begins with humility. They must have played out what they wished they would have done, rather than what they did do: sleep during prayer and run for their lives, abandoning Jesus to be arrested. Maybe they saw themselves standing against the crowd to beg for Jesus’ release, or fighting off the guards at the crucifixion. But none of those dreams can change their reality. As Jesus chose to continually give himself up, to let power and violence destroy him rather that use his own power to save himself, the disciples were afraid for their own safety. On Sunday morning, they are still afraid, ashamed, and lost.

 

The men may be frozen in their fear and grief, but the women have a job to do. They go out with their purpose in mind, to prepare Jesus’ body for his final rest. But they are met with a strange sight and strange news: there is no body! Then there are two messenger who question them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Finally, they are freed to realize the amazing work of God- Jesus has not been destroyed, but has been raised in victory.

 

The women run back to tell the other disciples, but they are not heard. There is no room in the men’s circling thoughts that God might have worked something wonderful out of their failure and rejection. But one has hope. Peter. He goes to check it out, probably laughing at himself for being such a fool to follow up on the women’s ridiculous story. Certainty in the finality of death -and hope that there might be more -struggle step by step, until he arrives at the tomb, and sees only the cast off wrappings of the dead. He goes home, playing over those last few days- maybe all the way back to when he first met Jesus- and the story is transformed by the possibility that in the end, Jesus’ path of welcome, love, nonviolence, and sacrifice for the sake of the other has been validated by his victory over death and evil.

 

In Jesus’ resurrection we see the possibility that death, violence, destruction, and self-interest aren’t the ends towards which all creation is heading. There is more: life and love will win out. Maybe not fully at this moment, but some day. At its most basic, Easter is about hope. Really, the whole Christian message is about hope. It’s about living into that hope, so that our lives are transformed and we are empowered to choose love, mercy, and service for the sake of the other even when all the world might call us fools, choosing weakness.

 

This week, we’ve seen the power of hate, in which people come to believe the only way to be heard is through violence. In our own lives we know the power of sickness, injustice, rejection, and death. Jesus chose to enter into suffering on the cross so that we would not be alone in all these struggles. Jesus’ resurrection means they are not the final end. Jesus will bring us through all these things, drawing us into a future of healing and life that will never be destroyed.

 

Isaiah writes God’s promise to us: “I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth (65:17), 65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, 65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

 

God is working God’s great promised plan for you. Be of good hope: whatever is going on in your life today, God is with you and is drawing you ever closer into love and life. Death is defeated. Love wins. Alleluia. Christ is risen.



Moving Story: A Sermon for Sunrise Easter Vigil
March 27, 2016, 10:03 am
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Bible readings

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

 

We gather in the early morning to experience the movement from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope that Jesus’ resurrection leads us into. We come with the words of Jesus’ death ringing in our ears, returning here because we know that those words were not the end of the story. There is more, and we long to hear it again.

 

We long to hear the next chapter, because we desperately need the endings in our lives to continue on beyond where we have left them.

 

When we stand among the gravestones of those we have known and loved, as we walk past the markers waiting to be filled in with the dates of our deaths, we cannot help but think of the power of death. The women who travelled to Jesus’ tomb remembered the sight of him as they had laid him there after his crucifixion. We all know the finality of death, the closing of a chapter when a loved one leaves us.

 

We gather here today to declare that a chapter may have ended, but the book is not finished.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)

 

Jesus’ death on the cross is the pivot point in the great cosmic story of all creation. Its effect stretches throughout time, transforming the story from beginning to end. Jesus’ resurrection affirms God’s purpose throughout the whole plotline: to bring all things into life and connection with God, the life-giver.

 

When Mary sees the empty tomb, speaks to the angels, and steps outside, she still cannot see God’s work. When Jesus stands before her, alive, she cannot recognize him. Finally, her eyes are open when Jesus calls her by name.

 

In the same way, our eyes are opened as we hear what God has done for us in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. Today makes sense of the whole story of God’s work in creation. The stories of God’s work to bring freedom, healing, forgiveness, and life are highlighted by the work of the crucified and risen one. Even though they may be told against the backdrop of oppression, sickness, hatred, violence, and death, these stories of salvation become stronger because Jesus’ resurrection reveals God’s plan and power. God will bring all things into wholeness and life. Jesus is the beginning of a renewal of the great story.

 

 

As we remember those who have died, as we love those who suffer, as we carry in our hearts our own struggles- the witness of this day opens our eyes to the purpose God is drawing us towards. In Jesus, God chooses to be present to us in the midst of difficulty, and to carry us into a new future, where the pain of today will be healed and life and life-giving relationship will be restored. The present moment is not the end. Death is not the end. Through Jesus, love wins, life wins.

 

The great story of God’s life-giving love goes on into the future. We are living into the dawning of that purpose today. Lift up your head with hope. The same God who has been faithful throughout the generations is faithful to you today. You will be brought into life, as Jesus has been brought from death into life again. This is the promise into which you were claimed at baptism.

 

God is at work, moving you, from despair into hope, from selfishness into love, from life into death. Our stories are caught up into the great story God is writing. Jesus’ resurrection is the sneak peek at the ending.

 

Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!



Jesus’ Purpose Driven Life: A Sermon for Good Friday
March 25, 2016, 7:30 pm
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Bible Readings

Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.

 

On this most holy day, we contemplate our Lord Jesus’ willing suffering and death. The radical nature of his love is found in more than his last hours. We see it from the very beginning. From creation and incarnation, Jesus has been working God’s love for all creation.

 

Today, we close our worship with a combined reading of Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death. Together, these accounts give space for us to wonder about Jesus’ purpose. Why did Jesus come into the world and why did he die?

 

He did it all for love- for you, for me, for all people, for the whole creation. Jesus was willing to leave behind the glory and power of being God to be born a helpless infant. Jesus was willing to face ridicule to show the welcome of God to all people. Jesus was willing to die to declare that there is nowhere God is absent- God is with you, even in the midst of suffering, even in the finality of death.

 

Jesus loves even when his love is met with rejection. Many of our favorite Good Friday hymns focus on our part in rejecting Jesus. We contemplate our own sin, our choosing to make ourselves into gods rather than turn towards God in worship. Jesus’ closest disciples betray and abandon him. Knowing us, knowing them, still, Jesus continues on in his path of love. Jesus moves towards us in love, traveling into suffering, even as we move away from him.

 

Jesus enters this world, Jesus enters suffering and death, so that he can transform it. Jesus is born into this world to heal it. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our struggle so that he can pull us out of it. This may be Friday, but we know Sunday’s coming. Jesus will break free of death. Jesus will bring us all into healing and life.

 

Jesus has come to accomplish love- to prove that love wins, so that our hearts might be turned towards love and the God who loves us. Just as a marathon runner pushes through those last miles in order to reach the finish line, Jesus pushes through the suffering that kills him, the rejection that we throw up, in order to come to us, wherever we are, in whatever hurt we face, to show us love that is unconditional and unending. Jesus is victorious in love on the cross. There, the power of his love was tested and proven.

 

Jesus loves you, no matter what. No matter what you’ve done or haven’t done, no matter the price it costs for him to love. Jesus love you, no matter what. He’s gone to hell and back just so that you can hear those words and know they are for you. Jesus loves you. You’re why he came, and died, and rose. This is all for you.



Jesus’ Choices: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday
March 24, 2016, 8:13 pm
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Texts

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

At the beginning of Lent, we heard the story of Jesus out in the wilderness, fasting and being tested by Satan. In that testing, Jesus chooses to remain steady in his course. He commits to the whole plan of being incarnate, taking on human flesh and form. He chooses to be God among us, within creation, limited, sharing our boundaries as human creatures. He rejects the option to create food out of stones, he rejects the option to have power over others and to be worshipped and glorified, he rejects the option to keep himself free from harm and suffering.

Tonight, we see where that choice leads him.

That scene in the wilderness ended with the ominous description, “the devil departed until a more opportune time.” Tonight, that opportune time unfolds. “The devil had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.”

Tonight, we experience the outcome of the choices Jesus makes when the devil opens up so many options for another path. Jesus is tested- will he really embody love for all people? Will he really maintain his stance of humility and service? Will he really be willing to suffer and even die- for those who will fail him? Once again, Jesus chooses faithfulness to us over his own glory and well-being.

According to the Gospel of John, it’s the night before the Passover and the disciples have gathered for a meal. Judas is there, even as his heart is turned towards betrayal. Peter is there, without knowing that his faithfulness is so weak that within a day he will deny ever knowing Jesus. At the moment, all seems well, normal.

As normal as things can be with Jesus around. Jesus is always pushing the boundaries of our expectations. He turns upside down our understanding of the right way to do things. For his culture, the way it’s supposed to be is that servants welcome important guests into the house by washing their feet. Jesus gets this all backward. At the end of the meal, Jesus, the master and teacher, kneels down and washes his disciples’ feet.

This act embodies Jesus’ choice to love, through humility and self-sacrifice.

Tonight, some of you have agreed to having your feet washed as we practice this act of love Jesus teaches us to do. I’ve heard that at other churches people take extra care to scrub their feet before coming to a service in which there is foot washing. For many of us, feet are kinda gross.

 

 

But they are not as gross as those disciples’ feet must have been. Their feet would be hardened by miles of walking, crusted with dirt and who knows what from the roads shared by people, wagons, and animals. We might imagine that the disciples are repulsed not only by Jesus’ reversal of the proper acts of status- a leader shouldn’t take on the work of a servant- but also by their knowledge of how gross they are, not wanting someone they love and respect to see the grossness of their bodies.

A couple years ago for Christmas, Tammy gave me a coupon to have her come over and clean my house. It was really sweet of her. But I never quite found a good time. With two little kids and parents who are always running, our house can be a mess. All the time. So, really, at any moment, there would be something I could use help cleaning. But then I get really embarrassed. I don’t really want anyone to see the corners where dust has accumulated. I don’t want anyone else to lift up the couch cushions to vacuum and find granola bar wrappers that never made it to the trash.  I don’t want people to see the mess I’d rather hide.

So, I can understand the horror some of the disciples might have felt as Jesus knelt with a basin, to wash their feet.

The thing is, Jesus already knows their mess- and ours. Jesus knows Judas’ betrayal will come, and yet he washes his feet. Jesus knows Peter’s denial will come, and yet he washes his feet. In the other gospels, it’s the same idea with a different practice. Jesus lifts the bread and says, this is my body, given for you, and the wine, this is my blood, shed for you- and he gives these elements out to each person, knowing that their faithfulness will fail. No one is worthy of the gifts Jesus gives. Jesus chooses to love, to serve, to give himself away, without weighing who is worthy.

Jesus loves you by giving himself for you. If the fear, “what would you think if you really knew me?” has ever crossed your mind- rest assured- God knows you and God loves you through all brokenness in your life.  Jesus loves through rejection. Tonight you get to experience that love, in hearing Jesus’ forgiveness spoken directly to you, in feeling the water of Jesus’ loving service, in holding and tasting Jesus’ presence given for you, in contemplating Jesus’ suffering for you.

The devil might put in your mind that you are not worthy. That you haven’t repented enough to receive forgiveness, that you don’t understand enough to receive communion, that you haven’t lived well enough to receive life. Those judgments are thoughts of Satan. They don’t come from God.

 

 

Look, remember and experience what God is doing for you. Trust what God shows you through Jesus. Let your faith cling onto these gifts that Jesus gives you freely.  Not one of us has done anything to deserve the gifts of Jesus’ love, and that’s why we are all welcome. None of us is higher than the other, more deserving than the other, none of our knowledge or our actions count before God. All that matters is what Jesus has done for you- choosing to come to you- choosing to accept you- choosing to welcome you. That’s the path of gracious love to which Jesus remains faithful, everything he does is for our sake, dependent only on his faithfulness to us.

When everyone is served at Jesus’ table, when everyone receives the bread and wine that carry Jesus’ presence into us, we enact God’s love that is for each of us, no matter what. We experience love in this meal. It doesn’t matter if we’re having a good day or not, Jesus is here for us. This goes against the way we think it should be. In our family, the kids earn a prize or an outing if they’re extra good, doing what they’re supposed to do, fulfilling our demands. But Jesus doesn’t act like that. This meal doesn’t work like that. Jesus feeds everybody, and there is always more than enough for all.

Tonight, Brianna and Britney have chosen to prepare for and receive their first communion. We celebrate with them as they finally receive this means of grace, the way Jesus has chosen to come into our lives to create and feed a growing faith.

As he washes their feet, Jesus tells his disciples to follow his example, commanding them to love as he has loved them. That command falls to us. Will we follow Jesus’ example, choosing deep love, radical inclusion, and humility for the sake of the world?

Jesus’ love isn’t diminished when we don’t live up to his example. The depth of Jesus’ love is amplified as we see him serving, feeding, and dying for those who don’t deserve anything from him.  Our encounter with Jesus’ sacrificial love, our taking in his presence, is meant to transform us into people who follow his command: to love with the same love that we have been shown. Don’t hold back from experiencing this grace of God; know that Jesus loves you as a free gift, and may God give you the strength to choose to live in that grace towards others.



Faith Made Me Do It: A Sermon for Lent 5 Year C
March 24, 2016, 5:09 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Bible texts

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

 

Throughout Lent, we’ve been exploring faith. Faith is the gift of trust we receive from God. It’s the relationship God establishes with us, the pull that draws us to God. Today, we consider the impact faith has on our life’s course.

 

Relationships change us. Relationships form us, making us the people we are- directing our path in life.

 

There comes a time in a young woman’s life when you realize you’ve become just like your mother. That’s the effect our closest relationships have on us. We pick up everything from mannerisms to values from those with whom we spend our times. Even our bodies become in sync with those around us. Our breathing patterns match those of the person with whom we’re speaking. We mimic and catch things like yawns or the giggles. We become closer through our mirroring of those with whom we have the closest relationships.

 

It’s no different when we consider our relationship with God. The more time we spend in consciously engaging our relationship with God, the more we know God, the more we become like God. Jesus teaches us to pray for everything – from the things we need to our enemies themselves—- prayer is meant to change us, as we listen for God’s response to our daily life. Church is our practice ground, where we hear the great stories of God’s work in the world, we physically enact God’s welcome, we let go of control over our finances, and we engage all our senses in receiving the free gifts of welcome and forgiveness, sharing them with each other. It’s a supportive practice ground for us to go out into the rest of our week, living a life shaped by God’s intentions.

 

Just as any social group creates its own norms, the Church attempts to live by God’s norms. We call God’s norms the kingdom of God. We’re invited to live into the kingdom of God today- which means living according to God’s values, even as they are different and sometimes conflict with the values of the culture around us. Our relationship of faith can sometimes lead us to choices and lifestyles that don’t look like good choices, like rational, winning lifestyles, but they are life-giving because they are a reflection of God’s intentions for us.

 

Throughout scripture, we see people’s lives drastically changed by their relationship with God. We explore their stories and our own lives to declare- “faith made me do it.”

 

 

 

In the Gospel of John, we encounter a strange scene. Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet, pouring a pound of expensive perfume over his feet and wiping them with her unbound hair. She’s taken a year’s worth of wages and rubbed it into Jesus’ feet. If anyone was having conversation, they would have stopped and looked around when the strong smell reached them.

 

You can imagine the whispers, “What is she doing?!” Then some righteous indignation- “What a waste of money! How scandalous to be touching Jesus that way!”

Judas masks his priorities in the voice of reason. “Why wasn’t this money used for the poor?”

 

Judas’ question makes it sound like he’s speaking the wisdom of God. Doesn’t God care first for the poor? But with the details the narrator supplies, we are told that Judas speaks the voice of greed, even more than that of fear and penny pinching.

 

Mary was moved to an act of extravagant worship. Her relationship with Jesus included an experience of extravagant life- Jesus raised her brother from the dead. After that, I can imagine all her scales of propriety and possibility were rearranged. Her faith life- her whole life- has been recentered on Jesus as the one who has given her back her life by giving her back her brother.

 

Paul reflects on his own “faith made me do it” lifestyle in his letter to the Philippians. He was winning in life, successful in every way. But then he has an encounter in Jesus that changes everything. He announces, “now I’m counting all the gains earned throughout my life as loss; all that matters is knowing Christ.”

 

His life shifted. He became a wandering preacher, never staying long enough in any community for it to become a comfortable home. He ends up in jail, his teachings are rejected, he loses respect and is met by hostile skepticism. He is killed for his faith. But he was willing to accept all that hardship- because there was only one goal- and he was living that. Faith made him do it.

 

Jesus often talks about the kingdom of God. That’s code for living according to a radically different standard than that of our culture. In the kingdom of God, what’s important is flipped upside down and turned out rightside.

 

Faithful choices don’t always lead down a sensible path.

 

 

 

Now is the time for the Church to be led not by fear and caution, making sensible choices, but by faith that leads us to risks for the sake of the gospel. In faith, we live not for ourselves, but for Christ, who calls us to live for our neighbor. We are in the midst of a reformation. The Church is changing. Perhaps much of the institution will be shifted or fall away.

 

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” Isaiah’s words apply also to the age in which we live. The Church is changing, but that doesn’t mean it is at a loss.

 

The goal of our faith is to know Christ more fully, love him more deeply, and serve him more completely. The way of the Church of the 20th century – even that of the Church of the last 1500 years- may not be the most faithful way for us to be today. We cannot judge the success of our work by the world’s standards of numbers and finances. We’re looking for changed lives, reoriented to be in line with God’s goals.

 

Sensible plans look for growth in quantifiable measures, they advise penny pinching and shrinking when offering plates are low, focusing inward to make sure those at the center are happy and well cared for. But what if the faithful thing is to live into the reckless extravagance of Mary, who wasn’t wondering if her splurge would leave enough for the next day, but gave everything of herself to worship the One who would be crucified to give her life? What if the faithful thing is to leave the comfort of the way things have always been done so that we can reach out to those who have never known the grace of God’s love, as Paul left everything behind to embed himself in new communities? Could we be a part of a new thing, traveling on a path that hasn’t been open before, into places where life wasn’t possible, but through God, all is transformed? Five years from now, what failures and joys might we look back on and say with confidence, “faith made us do it.”

 

Are you living a faith directed life?

 

Paul’s words speak to the freedom of living for Christ. Caring only for judgment according to the relationship of faith frees you from living up to everyone else’s expectations for your life- from their opinions on what you should do to their valuing of what you have or are doing. Paul says he’s judging the goodness of his life not on “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (3:11)

Paul’s worth comes through his relationship with God- and it’s not that his worth is great because he has given up much or because he’s chosen a radical response to faith. Rather it goes the other way. He has been given a relationship with God as a gift through Christ. He has done nothing to earn his faith or Jesus’ welcome. All the work he did to create faith wasn’t worth anything. But because of the radical nature of the gift of love that he is experiencing in Jesus, Paul is responding with a crazy lifestyle that can only be explained by “faith made me do it.”

 

What might it look like for you to live a radically inspired life? Are there choices, actions and priorities that can only be explained by your faith? Lent is a time of taking stock of our lives. Are you in a place of being inspired to radical action? Or is your faith leading you to coast through life?

 

People of Cross, you are already living in response to faith. Whenever I hear of you from others outside this community or your neighbors within, I am inspired by you. I go often to the Y and hear about Ruth Behling welcoming all the children of the neighborhood into her home to bake and decorate cookies at Christmas. I see the hours you work at the food pantries and the piles of goods you have bought for others, perhaps giving up your own delicacies so there is room in your budget for a stranger in need. I know the strength of your prayers for each other- and for me- and the comfort you give in a phone call or a card. You set aside your own fears of being up front in order to praise God through song and word. You make time for others and you show love. 13 of you will forgo a paycheck, time at home, or your regular summer schedule in order to go serve among strangers through the Servant Journey this summer. You all choose actions in the name of faith, choices that might seem strange to others, but make sense to you, because you do them in response to the great love God has shown you through Jesus.

 

Jesus’ faith, his relationships with the Father, his mirroring of God’s love for all people, especially the lost, will lead him to the cross. There all the world will judge him a rejected prophet, a failed king, an abandoned friend, a disciple-less teacher. His relationship with the Father will have cost him everything. But Sunday morning will come, and then we will glimpse the full entry of the kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of things to come. When God restores creation, all that seemed crazily done in the name of faith will be revealed as the most sensible. All other standards by which to judge will fall away. All that will matter is our relationship with the One who gives life. Then we will rejoice at the giftedness of faith, that will include not only us who lived according to its crazy standards, but will also draw in those who didn’t. What is most radical is not our response to God’s gift of faith, but the God who creates it. Nothing makes God do anything, but God has chosen to act in love for all, even those who have rejected God. That’s crazy enough to shake your head at and rejoice over.



Radical Father’s Faith and the Disciples who Share It. A Sermon for Lent 4
March 7, 2016, 7:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Texts this Week

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

During this season of Lent, we’ve been exploring faith. Today, we discover that God is both the source and sustainer of our faith, and the one to whom our faith is directed. Our faith begins and ends in God.

Jesus’ parable explores God’s gift of faith, inviting us to discover where we are in the spectrum of celebrating that gift. Many of us know this story as “the prodigal son,” but today, I want you to consider renaming it, “the radical Father.”

Two groups have come to Jesus. You might want to think of them as the good religious people and the sinners. The good religious people aren’t so happy that Jesus is welcoming the sinners, they’ve been taught you have to keep yourself pure and follow the law to be allowed into God’s presence. The sinners seem to have found a way to cheat the system. They’ve cut in line and received the welcome without the hard work. The religious people might feel like their faithfulness has been cheapened. It’s this grumbling that leads Jesus to tell this teaching story.

Both sons start with a relationship with their father. One son tries to break that relationship and leaves. While that might have broken the father’s heart, it didn’t break the father’s love towards that son. As in the children’s sermon, this father has been constantly on the lookout for his son.

When this son is welcomed back into relationship with a huge celebration, the other son is out working. He hears the music, but refuses to enter the celebration. Is it jealousy? Is he mad that the favor that should belong only to him is now being shared with someone he doesn’t think deserves it? Does he think his father is a fool for welcoming back the one who rejected him?

There would be such joy if both sons would enter the party, but the party won’t stop, it won’t wait for anyone. The father starts the party. He goes out to both sons. But he does not hold back his embrace until both sons are ready to embrace each other.

This father doesn’t play by the rules. He should have written his younger son out of his life just as his son had treated him. He should have rewarded the elder son who remained faithful. He shouldn’t have been keeping a watchful eye to the road, an open ear to any news of his younger son. No head of the household shows such public foolishness as hiking up his clothes and running out to someone who has wronged him- and certainly doesn’t entrust him with the best robe and ring. This Father acts oddly, against all convention. His actions are not bound by any rules, but are directed by love.

The Father’s going to reach out in his radical love and not hold back out of fear that his grace is offensive. That’s the punchline the parable is directing at the religious people.

Jesus has come to draw all people to God, lassoing them in grace-filled faith. No one makes their own faith or earns their place with God, it’s God who breaks all rules in order to run to us and bring us in to the party.

We dance the relationship of faith with God. It’s God who turns on the music, shows us the steps, and leads us around the floor. When we’d rather hang back, when we feel more like a wallflower than dancing with the stars, God comes over to us with an open hand. God creates our faith and that gifted faith is God drawing us near.

God works to come to us and draw us near again. Here at Cross we declare our mission is “Joyfully Doing God’s Work.” After three years, maybe it’s safe to admit I’ve never felt really connected to our mission statement. The verb has always seemed a bit off. Why would we be “doing” God’s work instead of joining it? Just seems rather presumptuous.

But, as I read Second Corinthians, I’ve been gaining a deeper understanding of what it means when we proclaim we are “Joyfully Doing God’s Work.” As disciples, we do what our teacher does. Our whole purpose in studying the Bible, growing in faith, is to know our God better so that we can replicate God’s work in our own lives. Disciples do the work of their master.

That doesn’t mean that the master isn’t doing her work, or that the master is somehow uninvolved in shaping the work of the disciple. On the contrary, the master continues her work as the perfect example to which the disciples attempts copy.

I think of people like Bev and her granddaughter Becca. I know that Bev has wonderful skills in sewing and card making, which she is passing on to Becca. That first step is letting Becca see what Bev has made, maybe even gifting her with a handsewn outfit. Then it’s letting Becca watch, then it’s leading her through the process, then guiding her hands through the sewing, then standing back and offering suggestions, then working side by side as they both create their crafts, with Bev always accessible for an answer to a question, guidance and encouragement. There will be habits that Becca picks up that will be unique to the way Bev does things. There will be signs in her work that it is after the style of her teacher.

In the same way, we are taught by and entrusted with the master’s work. We have received the gift of faith. We have been given the gift of reconciliation, the pull Jesus has put in our hearts to draw us back to God.

Hear again these verses from 2 Corinthians: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18a)

Jesus makes relationship with God for us. He has reconciled us, brought us to God, even when we were far off. We are trusted with the work of living in to this reconciliation, the community that Christ has created. Paul writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God’s appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (5:20) Our work is God’s work- to push away all barriers and pull people towards God, the source of life and love. No one lives in a way that separates them from God. We’re called to live that grace towards the world.

God creates faith in us in order for our faith to pull us toward God. God is the one looking out for us, waiting and working for us to find our home in God’s open community. God keeps a place set at the table for each one of us, longing for the table to be filled with all of God’s beloved. We begin to taste that feast today, as we sit at the table Jesus has set for us. Jesus has provided the meal and made us a welcome seat out of his own faithfulness. Unlike some weddings today, we’re not invited to the party with the expectation that we’ll bring a gift of high enough value to pay back the cost of our meal. God feeds and welcomes us for free. Because there are open seats at the table, God has enlisted us to join in the holy work of expectant waiting and open welcoming, inviting more and more people to take their seat and experience the joy of attending the party God is hosting.



What does Forgiveness DO? Lent Forgiveness Series
March 3, 2016, 9:55 am
Filed under: Sermons

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

Each Wednesday, we’ve been exploring the theme of forgiveness. We all need forgiveness. We can’t get it for ourselves. God works forgiveness for us. God achieves our forgiveness through Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Tonight we ask, what does forgiveness do?

Forgiveness restores community. It reconciles. It brings together what was once far off.

Between us and God, you might think of sin as all that stuff that pushes us away from God. It’s the selfish choice to try to be God ourselves, to think we can control our destiny, to run when God wants relationships. Sin is the barrier we build against God’s love. It’s our moving ourselves out of the spaces God is.

But God is not limited. God will not be pushed away or boxed out. Jesus comes to us, declaring that our God is a God who runs towards us, breaks down barriers, and holds us in love. Jesus is our forgiveness, he is the action of God, coming to us to bring us back to God.

Jesus is the great reconciler, who brings us far off people together into God’s presence in him. Let’s read Colossians. ——

Colossians 1 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

 

Forgiveness is the strength of God to pull us towards God again, pushing aside any obstacles to restore us to the place God wants us to be- in relationship, community, with God.

 

We might think of forgiveness like a super magnet. It is God’s continuous pull on us, to bring us close again.

 

Forgiveness is not just something to be held between us and God. God forgives us, gives us the experience of being sought after in love and open welcome, so that we might replicate this action in our encounters with other people.

Let’s read Ephesians. —–

Ephesians 2 11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

 

We are meant to extend the same grace God gives to us, to other people. Jesus doesn’t just draw us close to God, so that we can have a happy me and my God moment. Jesus draws us together with other people- people with whom we disagree, people we may not like, people we may hold something against. Jesus takes all of us together. Only as a whole community can we be the place where God is, the people through whom God shines. Forgiveness makes community possible.

 

 

We express this community restoring forgiveness every Sunday, when we share the peace. Most of us treat that time as a time of greeting, but it’s meant as a time to reconcile- become right with one another. Jesus tells us to do this because the health of our community, the right relationships we have with each other, make it possible for us to worship. When there is division among us, when bad feelings are harbored, when gossip tears us apart, then our worship cannot continue. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 25: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is explaining that our being right with God isn’t the only thing that matters, first, we need to be right with one another.

Forgiveness gives the release of letting go and the freshness of being cleansed.

Sometimes, we hold on to our personal guilt or our grudges against other people. I need a volunteer. So, maybe we start out with a sense of being wronged by a particular person. Maybe that person doesn’t even know it, but we think about what she’s done to us almost every day. That’s a burden, but at first it doesn’t seem like much. (have a stone). Maybe we multiply that by telling the story of our being wronged to someone else. That helps us feel justified in our anger towards that person. (have another stone). Then our friend tells us how that same person wronged them. (have another stone). All this makes us more aware of how we’re not treated the way we deserve. We notice more and more—the person who cut in the lane right in front of us, the job someone else took from us, the unspoken demands for our time, the face someone made at us, the hurtful words someone called us, the evil we’ve suffered…

Remembering all this wrong that has been done to us weighs us down. We suffer the initial hurt and then we suffer the weight of remembering.

Forgiveness then, is letting these stones go. It’s not only a gift to the one who wronged us, but a gift to ourselves. The letting go is a commitment to not be revictimized by giving that person a permanent hold over us, even if that hold is simply our stewing anger. It’s a letting go of the right for vengeance. That is not an easy path, or one that should always be attempted alone. Sometimes, letting go doesn’t mean forgetting, or putting ourselves in danger, but it is our internal release and path towards healing without contact with the one who hurt us.

 

Forgiveness as cleansing is pretty typical language for us when we talk about our relationship with God. Jesus washes away our sin through his death and resurrection, and as we are united to him in baptism. Luther teaches us to remember our baptisms daily, as we daily sin and daily are forgiven. God doesn’t keep a tally of how many times we’ve been forgiven, all record is destroyed through Jesus.

Now, even though you all were quite obliging when I asked on our first night if we all have sinned and need forgiveness, I think many of us still try to hide from ourselves and others the dirt of sin that clings to us. Surely what we’ve done or said or thought wasn’t really that bad. Surely we had good reason to avoid that risky action God might have been inviting us to.

I tend to get my glasses really dirty. I wasn’t thinking one day when I decided to do some spray painting in the wind with one of my favorite pairs. You can’t see it, but the lens are covered with little white droplets. If I wear them like this, I’ll quickly get a headache.

In the same way, all our sin, our action and inaction, clouds our vision. Our guilt, our fear of judgment, all get in the way of seeing clearly God’s love for us. That’s all God wants us to see. That’s what Jesus on the cross shows us- that God will stop at nothing to love us, to bring us close, and nothing about us is going to push God away. Jesus washes us, makes us holy, so that we can be in the presence of the most holy one, so that we can see God’s love for us.

Forgiveness makes community- communion – possible. We are brought close into God’s embrace because of the power of God’s forgiveness. We divided peoples are brought together into one body, the body of Christ, because of the power of Jesus to reconcile all things. We are freed from all fear so that we can simply rest and rejoice in the love of God and the community of God’s people. Forgiveness clears us so we can experience love.

Tonight, write on the strip the name of someone you need to forgive. Someone with whom you need to be reconciled. Maybe that means you’ll reconnect with them. Maybe it’s safer for you to simply release their hold over you. Put that person and the situation into God’s hands, and free yourself from carrying the burden of pain, anger, or resentment.