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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.

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Ashes, ashes, we all fall… A Sermon for Ash Wednesday
February 11, 2016, 2:21 pm
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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

As I explained Ash Wednesday to my four year old, I said this day reminds us that we are going to die and that sometimes we do bad stuff. She replied, “But Mom, I’m little. I’m not going to die for a long, long time.”

I asked her to put ashes on me. She’s used to the practice of an evening blessing, so she’s knows the ritual, but had to repeat the words after me. She wanted ashes before school, too, so I marked her, “you are dust and to dust you will return,” held her hand, walked her to school, and kissed her goodbye. As I watched her merge into the steady stream of students climbing off buses and out of cars, backpack bouncing as she ran into school, I was struck by what we had just done.

I was reminded by the child I have borne and committed to care for and be there for- that I will die. That I may not always be there for her. That even if I live as long as she does, there will be – there already have been- times when I fail her.

And we were reminded that she will die. Even while I thank God that she hasn’t had a reason to know that young ones die, I never forget it. She’s not too young to die. That’s what so poignant about this day. We try to hide the truth from ourselves and our children, but in the end, we can’t protect them from death. That’s where our trust in God really is tested. That’s when I realize most that I want to be God. It’s my job as her mother to make sure she’s safe, isn’t it?

But I know I do not have that much control. I am haunted by the knowledge that other parents have dropped off children who would never return from school. I can’t make sure kids are always nice to her. I can’t make her succeed.

The only way I can let her go- the only thing that gives me the strength to not rush back and pick her up and stick her in a bubble for the rest of her life- is to trust in God.

It’s not a trust that thinks that somehow my faithfulness or my prayer will protect her from all harm. It’s a trust the releases her into the wide vision of God’s mercy, recognizing that Jesus is with her today and will bring her in to the future creation. Ash Wednesday is about our recognition that we need to shift our trust- from looking for life and safety within ourselves to discovering we have already been gifted with those things by Jesus Christ.

Someone challenged me the other night when I was talking about Ash Wednesday. I was describing how this day might be one of the most important public witnesses we Christians make to the world. On this day, we participate in a public act of declaring that we are in the wrong. It’s one of the most counter cultural acts we do this year and we do it out in public.

These ashes mean that we will die, we have sinned, we have brokenness within us, and we have participated in systems that hurt others.

We mark them in the shape of a cross to remember Jesus’ choice to do all things to love us, be with us, and bring us into a healed creation and new life. He died on the cross to accomplish all this, knowing that we can’t accomplish it on our own.

Today, we do this act of repentance in public. I offered ashes and prayer out in town earlier today and tonight we’ve come together to make public confession and receive ashes. Throughout the day, I saw other people wearing dusty crosses- even ESPN sportscasters didn’t let their makeup artists wash their crosses away.

The person I was talking to found this public display to be altogether too public. He argued that the Gospel talks about Jesus telling people to stop being so public about their faith. But that’s a misreading of the text. The text frames it as Jesus questioning who will be rewarding their acts of piety. Are we out praying in the streets or parading our ashes so that others will think we’re holy? Are we trying to one up our neighbors by declaring we’ve given up not only chocolate but also Facebook for Lent? If being here at church, or taking up a Lenten practice, or wearing ashes all day is about impressing other people, then that’s missing the point. That’s what Jesus is preaching against.

However, Hebrew Bible talks about ashes as a communal act of repentance for shared sin. It’s a whole community declaring that they’ve created and embraced sinful structures of society that have broken away from God’s intention.

The public nature of this act is an antidote to the typical public voice of Christianity we’ve been shouting to the nation. So often the Christian voice says, “I’m right and you should do it my way.” Today we say to the world, “I’ve been wrong. I’ve hurt you.”

This day acknowledges our need for forgiveness. It’s about all of us taking a break from pretending we have it all together. It’s about accepting responsibility for the ways our actions and attitudes contribute to the brokenness and suffering of the world. Recent events have led many to become increasingly more aware of the price to the world of our inward looking lifestyles. We have seen refugees die without a welcome into safety, citizens attacked because of their race, and increasing lining up of oppositional forces. As a community, we have chosen against God. As a community, we need to repent. Whether we offer ashes one on one on a street corner or cafe, or within the church community, this is necessarily a public, communal act.

It might seem safe and private here in the church, but think about the difference between standing together declaring “I have sinned” and hearing “you are dust” over and over again- and an alternative of taking a little baggie of ash to mark yourself while looking into the mirror. We hear the reality of our sin – and we hear echoes around the room that declare we are not alone in our sin. Today your friends and neighbors will know that you know you are caught in sin. Then they will know that they are not in this struggle alone. We all carry guilt, we all need forgiveness, and Jesus has made it ours through his own faithfulness.

Through this public act, we declare that we are in need of forgiveness. We need the work Jesus has done for us. Jesus left heaven to come into the brokenness of our world. He has come to heal us, forgiving us and opening the way into a new creation where death no longer wins.

When we look at each other with ashen crosses above our eyes, we are reminded that we are in this brokenness together, and Christ alone will bring us in to a new creation. For one day we stop pretending that we have control over our ability to choose good rather than evil. We stop pretending that we have life together. We stop pretending to be God. Today, we put all our trust on God because there is no other option. Only God can wash away our sin, break the power of systems of evil, and breathe into us creatures of dust the life that is never taken away. God has already done this work, through Jesus, for you. Amen.



Mourning shall turn to Laughter: A Sermon on Mark 5:21-43
July 9, 2015, 11:03 am
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We enter the gospel of Mark to a crowd waiting for Jesus. He’s led the disciples out across the sea through the storm to places they wouldn’t have imagined themselves going, serving people so outside their boundaries, that encountering the storm must have seemed peaceful in comparison. Now they’ve crossed the sea again.

The people Jesus left earlier must have told their friends about his work, and now, as word spreads that Jesus has returned, a great crowd gathers. The Gospel focuses us on two people in the crowd, one, a leader of the synagogue, who has come to plead for healing for his daughter, and the other, a woman, who has searched for healing for years and now takes one last chance with Jesus.

I imagine them both as desperate people, who have tried all other options, and now, as hope is fading, reach out to Jesus.

Jairus, the desperate father, is put on hold while Jesus notices the woman and talks to her about her healing. In those few moments between Jairus’ appeal to Jesus, when he begged for healing that would save his daughter’s life, a world has changed. His daughter died. Someone comes to pull him away from Jesus. There’s nothing left to be done.

But Jesus doesn’t agree. Overhearing their conversation, he says to Jairus,

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Those words ring in Jairus’ ears as he walks back to him home, steps following the path, eyes blind to the world. When they arrive, all those who had gathered to support the family, to help them mourn, respond with derisive laughter when Jesus declares, “the child is not dead, but sleeping.”

The girls’ parents are the only ones who do not.

Any sensible person can see the truth. The child has died, and there’s no going back from that. To follow a man who says otherwise is delusional; foolish.

Anyone who has ever loved someone can put themselves in those parents’ place. If there was one glimmer of hope that the beloved could be alive instead of dead, wouldn’t you hold on tightly? Or if you were to have a loved one who became sick, can’t you imagine spending all your free time on Google, trying to learn more and see if there’s anything more you can be doing? No matter how crazy it might be.

Jeff and I were in that situation around four years ago, when I was pregnant with Laila. We went in for the ultrasound in which they check all the body parts, scanning into the organs. When we got back into my midwife’s office, she said the baby’s heart didn’t look quite right. She moved quickly into assuring us that she’d get an appointment at the children’s hospital in South Dakota, where we’d get a better scan, where they would quickly start looking at options for surgery, even before she was born. We went home with minds and hearts spiraling, unable to process that the baby we looked forward to might not live, or that there might be a long road of medical procedures ahead of us. In the days to come, we searched for answers, looked at heart diagrams, read medical journals.

I share this to say that I know it doesn’t take much, sometimes just a whisper of a possibility that something’s not right, to throw us into desperate search for answers and for healing.

The mourning crowd might have thought those parents had lost their good sense, following this teacher who says the dead aren’t dead, but I can understand. They will try anything. In that moment of fear, the choice to believe isn’t a rational commitment. It’s more like a clutching at any possibility for a better outcome.

Jesus sends those who hold no hope out of the house. He brings the parents into the place where the girl is. He commands, and she gets up, and walks. He tells her family to get her something to eat.

What are those laughing mourners doing all this time? Have they left in a huff after being dismissed by Jesus? Maybe some. But I imagine more are waiting outside. Perhaps peeking in through the open door or window, wondering what is going on- what Jesus will do and how the parents will react.

Do they hear Jesus’ command? Do they catch a glimpse of her rising from her bed? What happens in a few days, when the whole town has seen her out and about, very much alive? What do they think then?

We see an echo of those laughing mourners in our world today. We live in a world in which more and more often people are deciding they don’t need church and they certainly don’t need any antiquated belief system. It’s obvious what is true, and the whole God thing isn’t it.

Just because some people today aren’t choosing to be a part of a faith community doesn’t mean they don’t long for the life, hope, and forgiveness that Jesus brings. None of those mourners wanted a little girl to die. They just couldn’t see any other possibility.

Jairus and his wife are around to see the beautiful miracle of life Jesus brings. Those who couldn’t believe in this possibility were cast out of the room, but I have to imagine that eventually, they too saw the result of Jesus’ work. We don’t hear their story, but some of them must have been moved to faith when they saw that Jesus restores life.

We gather here today as a people who believe Jesus gives life. What have you seen? What have you experienced? What is the life-giving work that Jesus is doing in the presence of us believers?

We’ll take a few moments during our offering for those who wish to share how they have experienced the life-restoring work of God in their own lives.

Part of our work as the Church is to proclaim the life-giving Christ so that people who have never considered faith an option might find their way into relationship with God. I think of the image of those laughing mourners outside the house, with an eye to the crack in the door, watching what Jesus is doing, even as they have distanced themselves. As the Church, we aren’t serving God by only leaving a sliver of hope shining for the world to glimpse. We need windows open, doors open, all invited to step inside and see!
How are we opening the doors so that those who never would have considered Jesus are now seeing the life he brings?

Our public leaders open the doors. The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, our church, has called on all of us to spend a day in repentance, of publicly declaring that we are also participants in the sin of racism that destroys life. In this public statement, we say to the world, yes, black lives matter, and yes, we in this congregation have lived with privilege to which we are blind, but we believe in the power of God to continue to transform us, to confront us with our sin and raise us up with his love, so that one day, we will live with justice, and mercy, kindness and humility. For those who have written off the Church as aligned with the powers of this world that thrive on oppression and injustice, we show a Church that is not too proud to repent, a church that says, you can be a part of teaching us a better way.

Our work in service opens the doors. We join with more than a dozen local churches as we begin our participation with Family Promise, working with those homeless families who need one more step of support before they can reach a level of self-sufficiency. To those who see the Church as full of petty in-fighting, while not caring about the real needs of people, we show the compassion of Christ, making new life possible.

We have the life-restoring God in our midst. We have faith that casts out fear. This is good, good stuff. It’s time to be sure that our neighbors know this Christ. Open the doors, open the windows, share the story: those who once rolled their eyes and laughed at the foolishness of faith may one day laugh with joy at the amazing love, the complete faithfulness, Jesus has always had for them.



Alive to God: A Sermon on Romans 6:1-11
June 23, 2014, 1:16 pm
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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

We open the letter to the Romans in the midst of one of Paul’s long teaching arguments. The wider context is that he is trying to explain this difficult and wonderful thing called grace. God’s grace is God’s freely given love for you and me. Grace is God’s acceptance of all people, God’s choosing to save all people, not based on each person’s holiness, but based on God’s loving action through Jesus Christ.

When we turn to this passage, we hear Paul speaking to us and the original audience about life and death. It’s all about how Christ has changed both our dying and our living.

Jesus has worked a great reversal for us. It’s not the order we typically think of, but Paul tells us that we have already died and now live in Christ.

Jesus Christ has already paved the way of our dying and our rising. Jesus died and was buried. On the third day, God raised him from the dead. Jesus lives today. Jesus is the first of all who will be raised from the dead.

Those who have been baptized have been united with Jesus. Our baptism so connects us with Jesus that we have already experienced death and resurrection, because Jesus has already experienced death and resurrection.

When we are baptized, we experience a death and burial. The water covers us and we die. The life lived selfishly, the life lived for our own sake, the life lived alone, the life lived in fear, ends and is washed away in the baptismal font.

We are brought up, out of the water, into new life. With water still clinging to us, we are marked with the sign of the cross. This cross marks our new identity and new reality. In Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen one, we live. Even now, we have been brought into new life. 

Often we think about resurrection as a gift that comes after death. For some, the hope of eternal life can help to calm fears about death and brings comfort in times of grief.

But what if we reframed the way we looked at death? What if we let the good news of the reversal Christ has won really sink in? What if death wasn’t something we were waiting for, but was something already behind us? How would it change you to think that you’ve already died?

cross sunset beverlyLR

There would be freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from wondering and worrying about the future. Freedom from spending all your effort trying to run from death. Jesus has already dealt with the sting of death.

Freedom from the fear of death would make room for freedom to live. Freedom to live in this moment. Freedom to trust that life continues into greater joy. Freedom to give thanks that all of your future is held secure in God’s hands.

Most people don’t like to think about death. We tend to do whatever we can to avoid the thought that all people die. But there are some who have faced down their death. Who have lived through a serious illness or accident and come to see their life as a gift they almost lost. Sometimes people have a near-death experience that changes the way they live. Afterwards, their priorities are rearranged. Family becomes more important. Money becomes less important. Leaving a legacy by impacting the world in some way becomes a goal.

It this kind of near-death life-change that Paul is trying to get at as he describes the death and resurrection we experience through Jesus. Our first death in Christ is mean to put to death all that is death-dealing within us. Paul invites us to put aside destructive behaviors and other ways of living that are short-sighted. We’re invited to live for the long term: the eternal life we are already experiencing. We’re called to live the Kingdom of God now and forever, reveling in the joy, love, and mercy that are hallmarks of the Kingdom.

Of course, we know all too well that we will experience a death that will separate us from life as we know it now. We have lost friends and family members, and though we trust they are alive in Christ, we miss their presence. Grief in death is still real. Yet hope and faith can also grow in our hearts. Jesus has broken the power of death to hold us. Death no longer can swallow up us or our loved ones forever. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus has gained victory over death. All those who have been united with Jesus in baptism gain the spoils of Jesus’ victory. You are given life in God’s presence forever.

God speaks promise and invitation to you through this text. The promise is that those who have died and departed are continuing their life through Jesus Christ. The invitation is to experience eternal life now: to live in the fullness of God’s love and grace even in the midst of a decaying world.

May this promise and invitation give you comfort and purpose. Through water and the Spirit, you are alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen. 



Message From Beyond the Grave: A Sermon on John 17:1-11
June 5, 2014, 1:22 pm
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There was once a man who had just buried his father. His relationship with his old man was never too intimate. The old man wasn’t like that. Never said “I love you” or “I’m proud of you, son.” The only time he could remember seeing his father cry was when, as an eight year old, he stood next to his father as they shoveled dirt into his mother’s grave.

Now, as he went through the old farmhouse, that memory stung his eyes with tears. He brushed them away, trying to be stoic like his father had been. “Death is just part of the game.” Those had been his father’s last words to him. As he sorted into boxes all the remnants of his father’s life, those words left a bitter ache. He had hoped that, at the end, his father might have something … more… to say to him. But it had been the same as always, obvious and uncomforting words not quite filling the space between them.

As he was packing up the bedroom, he found a box under the bed. Pulling it out, he discovered that it contained a series of leather-bound books. Flipping one open, he saw his father’s sharp script covering the pages. A journal? A boxful of journals? He had never known his father was one to write. He sat down on the bed, and began to read.

As he read, he finally heard the voice he had longed for. Moving back and forward through time, this written voice spoke of love. The son heard a familiar story, the story of his life, his family, but now there was insight- reasons his father had raised him as he had. Even if it didn’t all make sense, even if they weren’t choices he appreciated, finally he knew that his father had wanted the best for him; his father had loved him.

When a loved one dies, our opportunity to ask “why” about events and decisions ends with them. Maybe we never got to hear the words we most longed to, or are left with questions that will never be answered. For those few who receive them, a message left behind can sometimes give beautiful comfort, or at least can provide a remembrance of the relationship.

We open the gospel to hear Jesus praying to the Father. He is praying after, or as part of, his long final teaching to his disciples. Jesus knows he is about to die. Jesus knows he is about to leave his beloved community.

So, while this is a prayer between Jesus and the Father, and the disciples and recorder of this prayer are partially only eavesdropping, we can infer that Jesus meant for this prayer to be remembered and shared with the community and the many who would become members of the community, including us today.

This is Jesus’ final message, or at least a part of it. This prayer is a gift for those first disciples, who were about to be plunged into that bewildering experience of watching a loved one die. For those who would be left with so many unanswered questions when Jesus dies, this prayer is a revelation of Jesus’ intentions for them.

This prayer is a gift for us. We haven’t lived through the emotional rollercoaster of serving alongside Jesus, watching him die, and meeting him as he is resurrected and then remaining on earth to continue his work as he ascends to the Father. We do receive this prayer in the midst of retelling this movement. We hear this reading on the last Sunday of the Easter season, near the time when the church celebrates Jesus’ ascension, and just before we celebrate Pentecost, when we remember that Jesus sends the Spirit to be as his presence with us. This prayer helps us make sense of Jesus’ accomplishments in his death, resurrection, and ascension. It helps us find our place in the great salvation story. As Jesus prays for the ones in front of him, he is also praying for us. Along with the disciples who heard this prayer in person, we are the ones the Father has given to Jesus. Jesus’ intentions for those first disciples continue to be his intentions for us, the goal of his work.

What is Jesus asking for? Jesus prays for the ones given into his care, that the Father would protect them and make them one, so that the community shared on earth among the believers would mirror the community shared between the Father and the Son. This is his most explicit petition for his disciples, but Jesus’ prayer also includes Jesus’ petition to return to glory now that his work on earth is drawing to a close. Jesus summarizes that work as glorifying the Father, giving eternal life, and making the Father known.

Jesus is talking to the Father for us. We get to hear Jesus’ plans and hopes for us. Because we trust that God accomplishes what God intends, these things for which Jesus prays are things that are our reality today. What Jesus prays, God has made so.

We could spend days talking together about how we see Jesus’ prayer being accomplished in our world today. And scholars have spent even longer trying to figure out what Jesus even means- what it would look like to be one, to be protected, and so on.

There’s one petition worth exploring a little bit deeper. Jesus talks about giving eternal life to all whom the Father has given him. Jesus doesn’t just mention eternal life, he defines it. As Jesus prays it, eternal life is knowing the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent. This is worth considering because so often we think of eternal life only as a future destination, somewhere we might be lucky enough to go, somewhere nice and reserved for those who were nice in this life. To Jesus, eternal life is a quality of life that is experienced here and now. It’s living now and being immersed in the life-giving relationship God creates with us.

This isn’t to say that Jesus is ignoring any sense of life after death. Jesus is about to die, and he is confident that he will travel through death to life, to be present with the Father. Jesus is coming to the Father, and, at the end, Jesus will also come to us, as he has already brought us into the relationship shared in God.

As Jesus approaches death, his thought are for his disciples- and for us. We are not left wondering about Jesus’ intentions towards us. This prayer is Jesus’ assurance that God is working in our lives. God is giving us eternal life, protection, and community with God and with each other. Jesus’ work was to give us these gifts. Be confident that Jesus has done everything necessary for you to receive these good things.

Jesus’ prayer is clearly recorded for you, so that you would not need to search and wonder, but may rest assured that Jesus loves you, and that even though death will come, you will not be left alone. 



Upside-down Victory of the Cross: A Good Friday Sermon
April 22, 2011, 3:45 pm
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John 18:1-19:42

Tonight we gather at the cross, remembering Jesus’ death there, for us. In all that we’ve witnessed, both last night and tonight, we see Jesus experiencing the fulness of betrayal, abandonment, humiliation, suffering and death. His most trusted friends left him, one even led those who wished to harm him right to him! Jesus was at the mercy of the religious authorities and oppressive empire’s armies. Jesus keenly felt God’s absence. And finally, every bit of life was taken from him. There, on the cross, he died.

The Gospel of John has its own slant, placing much of the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish people and religious authorities. But it is the sin of all humanity that causes Jesus’ suffering and death. There is something fundamentally broken about the way all people relate to God and each other that leads them to focus on self-interest and to reject God.

The rejection of God and God’s work in the world continues today.

Jesus’ death on the cross is a result of humanity’s unwillingness to accept the new and incoming kingdom of God which Jesus’ ministry brought. We do not want the poor to be blessed and the rich to go away empty. We do not want to leave all our possessions and family to follow Jesus. We do not want to share our tables and homes with the sinners and outcasts. But Jesus kept pushing for this new and difficult kingdom.

Jesus disrupted the peace of the way things were, the way things are supposed to be. He shook people up and caused turmoil. He challenged people’s comfortable lives and the barriers they had created between people to keep them feeling safe and in control of their surroundings. This proved to be too much, and humanity tried to silence him on the cross and in the tomb.

Even in the attempt to silence Jesus, Jesus’ message was proclaimed. The cross itself is a sign of the reversals in the kingdom of God. Although meant as an instrument to humiliate and put fear into criminals and insurrectionists, in Jesus’ death, it becomes a place of glory.

Jesus shows us God as he suffers on the cross. There we see most clearly God’s love for us. Even as Jesus experiences the worst that humanity has to offer, Jesus does not escape or abandon us. Jesus does not recant his declaration of the incoming kingdom. On the cross, Jesus shows us that God’s love for us wins out over self-preservation. The cross becomes a place where God’s promised new kingdom is declared rather than silenced.

It is to the victory of God and to our own victory that Jesus Christ is faithful even onto death on the cross.

There, Jesus enters the worst of human experience. Thus he claims it as under his reign. He redeems suffering by his own experience of it. Jesus enters Hell itself, the very absence of God, so that no longer would any hell be outside the bounds of God’s space. All is known and embraced by God through Jesus.

There is no hell you can enter where God will abandon you. We know all too well that the experience of hell is real right now for many people. We see its results in despair, addiction, violence, and suicide. Jesus entered the darkness of hell before you. Jesus is there, in your darkness, in the darkness experienced by those you love, to walk with you and bring you again to a place of light and hope.

At the cross, in entering this place of shame and ridicule, Jesus makes known God’s love for all people, especially those who experience shame and ridicule, poverty and oppression, violence and death. This is the reversal of the kingdom of God. Those the world does not honor or love, God loves all the more.

At the cross, God in Jesus fully enters the consequence of sin and redeems it, so that death and sin would not be our final ending.

Tonight, as we participate in the solemn reproaches, we hear all God has done for us, and remember that despite all that, we still sin, and reject God rather than embrace God’s kingdom. We still make the selfish choices that force Jesus to the cross. If God were to respond to us as we deserve, we would be cast away, punished, and rejected for our sin. We prepare a cross for our savior. And our savior willingly accepts this cross. Instead of using it as proof of our sin, Jesus uses it to prove his faithfulness, and grants us the rewards of his own faithfulness. You are given forgiveness and life because Jesus was faithful for you.

In Jesus’ faithfulness in accepting his path to the cross, Jesus wins in his struggle to proclaim the reign of God’s kingdom. Jesus is victorious in expanding the reign of God to  the darkest places of hell. Jesus takes sin and death into his own experience, and thereby is able to redeem them. In Jesus’ own sorrow and death, Jesus wins for us joy and life.