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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Our Walk to Emmaus

Every Sunday is our Emmaus journey with each other and with Christ, and the shape of our greater journey of faith with each other and the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Third Sunday of Easter, year A
   Text: Luke 24:13-35

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Every Sunday we walk the road to Emmaus together.

That’s the mystery and joy of this beautiful story. Everything that happens at Eucharist happens here. In this familiar telling of a journey, a conversation, an invitation, a meal, and more journey, we discover the gift the Church has given us.

The worship life of the early Church grew out of their Jewish experience of worship, so it’s not likely the believers intentionally patterned their worship after this story. But the shape of Christian worship that we continue to this day, a shape we see already in the book of Acts, happens to be the exact shape of this late afternoon seven-mile walk and its aftermath.

This is a grace that transforms our lives. In the Eucharist, our weekly Emmaus journey, we find all we need for life and hope in our own daily journey of faith. Our eyes are opened, Christ is in our midst, our world is changed.

So each week we come together, we meet on the road.

These two disciples didn’t walk alone. They were probably married. But no one ever comes to faith by themselves. Faith is always a shared invitation to a communal life.

And so we gather each week. We need each other on our faith journey. Whatever our personal situations, when we come here we will always, always, be met by family, beloved sisters and brothers, even those who are here for the first time. For many of us, this might be a main reason we come.

This community that gathers each week is as important as a sacrament. It might be a sacrament. When Luther wrote of the sure and certain ways we receive God’s grace, he named Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, confession and absolution, the preaching of God’s Word. What we know and cherish as the means of God’s grace.

But then he added, “and – and! – the mutual conversation and consolation of the brothers and sisters.” This gathering. This meeting on our road in the midst of fear and doubt and confusion about the world, where we huddle together and greet each other in Christ. Where we walk, every Sunday, together, and share all our joys and sorrows, faith and doubt, fear and hope. This community that walks together is a means of God’s grace.

After we gather, we listen as God speaks.

As these two walked along, Jesus taught them, opened up the Scriptures, helped them see what God was doing. They began walking in doubt and fear. They had hoped Jesus brought healing from God for their people, and then he was killed. As they listened, they found life.

We might not face Good Friday every week, but when we gather, we bring the things we are struggling with. Things that frighten us, things that cause our hope to falter, things we don’t understand.

And together, we listen to God’s Word. Like them, we have Christ’s teachings. Like them, we seek to understand the word of the Hebrew scriptures for us. But we get a little more: we also hear the teachings of the apostles. And as we listen, we find life, too.

God’s Word always speaks God’s grace and life into our lives and into the world, and sets our hearts afire. All that we fear, all that confuses, all that brings doubt, all of that God speaks to.

On the road together here, we listen for this life and hope, and expect our hearts to be set ablaze. That’s what happens when Christ walks with us and teaches us.

After listening, then they prayed: “Stay with us.” So do we.

In Eucharist, after hearing God speak, we invite God into our lives and into the world. We pray. We pray that God come into our hearts and change us, keep the fire of the Spirit blazing. We pray that we can hear more of God’s Word, know more of God’s hope, as these two also did. We know that it often feels like evening, like the darkness is overpowering, and we invite God to stay with us in the dark and be our light.

And we lift others up in prayer every week, too, because Christ has opened our hearts. We can’t only think of our own needs anymore; Christ’s love has so changed us we feel a irresistible pull to ask the Triune God to stay with others, too. To bless and keep them. Heal them, strengthen them, hold them. To change our hearts and the world’s hearts, so light shines in the darkness that surrounds us all.

Our prayer to God to stay with us and the world is what makes sense of our journey. Walking together, hearing God’s Word leads inevitably to this plea: “Stay with us. Be with us and this world.”

And Christ stays, shares a meal, and opens their eyes. Opens our eyes.

The culmination of this whole story for this couple from Emmaus is that Christ does come into their home, and sit down with them. But he takes over as host. Christ lifts up the bread, blesses it, breaks it, gives it to them. And then they see him. Then they know him.

And this is the culmination of our weekly Emmaus journey, too, the center of our life. Having invited the Triune God to stay with us, in Christ God takes over. Christ welcomes us to this table, blesses bread, breaks it, and gives it to us.

And we see Christ in the breaking of the bread. We see all the love God has that led to the cross, and the astonishing resurrection life that comes from the Triune God’s self-emptying love. Here we find life. Here we are forgiven. Here we are healed. And our eyes are opened, and we see what God is doing in Christ for us and for the world.

Then we go out and tell others. That’s always the end of the Gospel story, isn’t it? It’s never for us alone.

Look at this couple. It’s evening, they’ve had supper, they’re home. Yet when they recognize Christ, they get up and in the dark of night head the seven miles back to Jerusalem. They find the other women and men gathered and tell their story, and hear more. They can’t experience Christ only for themselves. They need to share.

And so for us, the end of the story is never this meal with Christ. The meal only begins the rest of the story. There’s always “Go in peace, share the Good News!” Get up and run to Jerusalem so the others can know you’ve seen the risen Christ. Get out on the road again and start walking with others. There’s always someone we need to share this good news with, always someone who hasn’t heard.

This is the transforming grace for us: Everything we experience here is a gift for the journey of faith we make every day, the road to Emmaus that is our whole life.

Here we learn to walk together in our life, keep sisters and brothers close. Here we learn to listen to God’s Word in our daily journey, and pay attention when our hearts catch fire. Here we learn to ask God to stay with us and the world every day, to walk with us, come into our homes so we are not alone. Here we learn that God in Christ feeds us and is known to us in rich and abundant blessings every day.

And here we learn that there’s always the last part to do: tell others what has happened to us on the road, and how Christ has been made known to us. So Christ’s life spreads to the whole world. And all have companions on their journey, and the blessing of God’s life in Christ along their way.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jesus Came

When we feel like we’ve missed Easter, are still confused, afraid, doubting, Easter comes to us: Christ calls us by name, gives us peace, loves us out of doubt. And sends us out to do the same.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday of Easter, year A
   Texts: John 20:19-31 (also added 1-18 from Easter, for obvious reasons to the sermon; also referred to John 21 a bit)

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Mary Magdalene missed Easter. The tomb was open when she got there.

Her confusion and despair at Jesus’ death led her to the tomb. When you don’t understand, when your overwhelming feelings shut you down, you can act automatically. Someone she loved died, so she went to the tomb. She brought spices and hoped someone could open it.

Her confusion and despair only deepened at the ominous emptiness she found: an open tomb, Jesus gone. She reported this to the others, came back, and then just stood there confused, alone, sad. She had no idea what to do next.

Then she heard her name. The voice of her beloved friend and teacher said, “Mary.” Jesus came to her. And then she knew Easter. Then she knew resurrection life.

The other disciples missed Easter, too. Some didn’t come. Others came, and left.

Apart from the women, the rest of the disciples were locked away in fear. Fear that, since Jesus was dead, they had nothing to live for. Fear they might be next. Fear of facing a world without hope. Peter and John heard Mary’s frightening news about the open tomb, ran to it, looked in. Then they went back and locked the door again.

But Jesus didn’t forget them. Jesus came to them where they were, locked away, and breathed peace on all of them, men and women. Then they all knew Easter. Then they knew resurrection life.

Thomas really missed Easter.

He wasn’t at the tomb Sunday morning or the Upper Room Sunday night. He missed it all. When he came, his doubts were legitimate. He wasn’t going to raise his hopes just because the others thought they saw Jesus. He couldn’t base his belief on them. His hopes in Jesus had been so crushed, he really couldn’t risk hoping again without proof. Something he could touch and see and know himself.

So Jesus came for Thomas, too. Jesus knew Thomas had missed Easter, and came to him. He didn’t judge; he knew some need to see for themselves to believe. He took Thomas’ hand and drew it to his side saying, “touch me, Thomas. Know for yourself.” And then Thomas knew Easter, too. Then he knew resurrection life.

What do you do if you miss Easter and you’re confused beyond your ability to sort it out?

You’ve heard about Christ’s death and resurrection your whole life, but what if it doesn’t help you understand your loneliness, your pain, your sadness? What if you live day by day, just going through the motions, doing life but not living life?

Listen. Can you hear what Mary heard? In your confusion and sadness, Jesus comes to you and says your name. Your name. In your baptism your name was imprinted on God’s heart. You are known, beloved, God’s dear child, wet with the font’s water, and Christ calls your name.

This is what resurrection life means in your life. You don’t have to understand everything, just that you are known to God by name, and loved by the Risen One.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

What do you do if you miss Easter and you are so afraid you’re locking yourself away?

You fear being hurt, so you lock your heart away from others. You fear threats that fill this world, so you hide behind your garage doors and your locked front door, and don’t engage. You fear the sacrifices it might take to follow Christ, so you lock away your mind and imagination so you can’t think about it. You have no idea what can Easter do to change this.

Look. Do you see? Jesus comes through all your locks and breathes God’s Spirit of peace into you. You are filled with God’s love and forgiveness, and that takes away your fear. There is no place you can lock yourself away that Christ can’t come in and say, “Peace be with you.”

This is what resurrection life means in your life. The Spirit is breathed into you, and you don’t need to be afraid, or lock yourself away again. You can risk love, risk witness, risk reaching out. Risk life.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

What do you do if you miss Easter and your doubts feel so strong, you can’t get around them?

There is so much evidence of death and destruction, it’s hard to believe what happened on that Sunday morning long ago really matters, changes anything.

Doubt is part of faith. But what if it seems like all you have is doubts? Is there really life in Christ for the world? Life for you? If only you could touch Jesus and know for sure.

Reach out then, and touch. Take this bread and wine, and know that Jesus has come to you. Hear him say, “This is me. In here is my love and forgiveness. In here is my life.” Look around at this community who eat and drink alongside you. Hear the risen Christ say, “These ones, they are me, too. For you. In them, you can touch my wounded hands and feet and side, and believe.”

This is what resurrection life means in your life. In this touch, Jesus comes to you and eases your doubt, helps you believe. And find hope.

This is what Easter means to you today and tomorrow.

It’s so hard to grasp that Christ’s death and resurrection mean so much more to us than life in heaven.

We know Easter means we will have life with God after we die. That is truth, and that is joy, and that is grace beyond belief.

But it’s also only a fraction of the Good News the risen Christ offers, that the first believers and the Scriptures say has happened in this death and resurrection. Remember: Martha, filled with grief at the death and burial of her brother, had no doubts that he would rise at the end time. Jesus needed her to experience resurrection and life in him as a reality for her now, in this life.

Christ has given us a model of love that loses, dies, is vulnerable, because it’s the only path we can walk that will lead us to this resurrection life that that ends our confusion, gives peace to our fears, and calms our doubts. That fills us with Easter life in this life, too. And ultimately heals the whole world.

But don’t worry if you sometimes feel you’ve missed the point. As if you’ve missed Easter.

Jesus will always come to where you are and call you by name, breathe peace into you, take you by the hand. And then, send you to bear this to others.

This is why we have been called. So we can know Easter life in us. And then take it into the world. Mary was sent to be an apostle, to tell the others the good news. All the disciples in the Upper Room, men and women (even Thomas), Spirit-breathed, were sent to forgive, to love, to feed Christ’s sheep.

This is our call now. Now that we know Easter life, we are sent as Easter to others who’ve missed it, even as others have Eastered us. To tell others they are loved and known by name to the Triune God. To offer peace and hope to those who’ve locked themselves away. To reach out and embrace those who struggle in doubt. To bear this life as Christ did, for the healing of the world.

This is what Easter means to us today and tomorrow. And we will never be the same.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seeing in the Dark

We come to the tomb expecting death and find Christ is alive, and fills us with resurrection life. With Christ's life in us, we can now see in the dark, even in a world of darkness and death.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Matthew 28:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

They expected he would be cold. His body would be heavy, too.

It hadn’t been 40 hours since he was buried, so they didn’t expect too much of a smell. And some spices and ointments were put on at his burial.

But they dreaded facing how cold and heavy he would be. They feared not recognizing his face, because everyone looks so different after death. They knew this well. They dreaded seeing his body as a body, a thing, not the beloved, warm, friend and master they’d known and loved.

We know what they knew, too. Many of us have experienced how surprisingly quickly our loved one becomes cold when they die, how heavy their limbs become. How they look so different without their breath in them. We know that when someone dies, they look dead. Not asleep. That’s what these women faced that Sunday morning.

They didn’t expect to find life. But an angel told them Jesus was raised. Then they met Jesus himself. Alive. Warm. Beautiful. Unexpected.

No wonder they fell on their faces and grabbed onto his feet, not wanting to let go.

We know what they felt as they walked that stony path at dawn.

We expect, we know, that death is permanent. No one comes back from the dead in this world. Not that we see, anyway.

And we know for certain this is true of pain and evil in this world. Systems are corrupt and crush people, but how do you change systems? Illness comes without warning, and science constantly seeks answers, but people still die, or suffer chronically, and that’s not going to change. Governments all become entrenched, self-serving, unwieldy, and don’t serve the people, and how do you change that? People die of hunger by the thousands every day, and that won’t really change; how do you get the whole world to redistribute resources, wealth, food? Relationships break apart, people are unkind, people feel lonely and afraid, people do evil without thinking, and how do you change people? We can’t even change ourselves sometimes, when we do things wrong.

We know this. This is what we expect, things will always be the same. The world is the way the world is.

We don’t expect life. That life, and healing, and wholeness for all people is possible. That this is God’s dream and plan.

If we could believe this were true, we’d be grabbing on to this life and not letting go ourselves.

And the angel says, “Don’t be afraid. Death isn’t as strong as you think.”

But if that’s true, if death isn’t permanent, what else isn’t?

Christ’s resurrection powerfully changes everything we thought we knew. Not because God could reverse death. God made the universe, invented life. God can do anything with death God wants. Including end its power over mortal things.

But we say Christ destroyed death’s power in rising, and part of that is death’s power to frighten us. Death’s power to make us certain nothing can be changed. Death’s power to make us believe things are the way things are, and always will be.

Death has no power over us, we say in the light of Easter. What if we really lived that?

What if we finally understood today that the Triune God actually is moving, acting, bringing life into a world where we’re walking afraid in the dark woods? Where so many things threaten so much? Where we feel there is little we can do to change anything?

If death isn’t strong enough to be final, can anything resist God’s resurrection life?

Listen, the hard part, what keeps us from really getting this, is the world still looks like death is in charge.

We open our newspapers, turn on our TVs, look at our lives, and see daily evidence of death’s power. We have good reason to believe so many evil, hurtful, oppressive things can’t be changed.

But these women saw the same world. They left that empty tomb just as threatened by existence, by the authorities, by death, as when they came. All the disciples, as they came to believe in Christ’s resurrection, faced the same world we do. Where it seems death is in control.

But this is what they knew, and it couldn’t be taken from them: Christ is alive, and God’s life is flowing through the world, and death and evil and hatred and violence and war and oppression and abuse have no ultimate power.

They walked in a dark, frightening world, too. But they could see in the dark. They saw God’s life and light and love shining everywhere, and they knew they couldn’t be stopped.

Here’s our good news: we can see in the dark, too.

Paul tells us we have been raised with Christ. In our baptism we became part of Christ’s risen body in the world that spans 2,000 years and embraces the world in love. But Paul says our risen life in Christ is hidden with Christ in God. The life and light and love of God that is changing the world, the life and light and love of God that were planted in us at baptism, all this is hidden with Christ in the life of the Triune God.

So we don’t always see it. We sometimes fear it might be gone. But Christ is risen, and our own risen life is always with Christ in God. If we’re in the dark, afraid, alone, struggling with our evil, overwhelmed by some power, and think “no life will break this,” we can remember our risen life is always there, hidden with Christ in God. Always moving, always working. Not always visible.

And then we start to see in the dark. We find the path ahead, step by step. We find hope when we only saw despair. We find love growing out of the ground of hatred. Lives change and are healed. People change and are healed. Systems even change and are healed. Light shines in the darkness, and life arises out of death.

Reality still looks like it did. But our resurrection life is hidden in Christ, and nothing can stop it. Not even death. Not at the end of our lives. And not now, either. Death has no more power over us.

This is why the women left the tomb in fear and joy.

Fear, because the world still looked threatening, death looked to be in charge. But joy came with them, too, because Christ destroyed death’s power to terrify them, lead them to despair. Christ’s life was in them, no matter what they saw.

We walk with them today with Christ eyes that see in the dark. Eyes that see light in the dark. Eyes that see love in the dark. Eyes that see life in the dark. The more we see Christ’s life and light and love change even small things, the more we see Christ. And the more we see our own resurrection life, too. And though the darkness remains, our eyes get stronger and stronger.

It’s not what we expected to find, but it’s wondrous good news. And now we are sent to bear this light into the darkness, this love, this life, so that others, too, can learn to see, and believe.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 9, 2017

As Often

We remember Christ’s death every Eucharist so we go ever deeper into the love of God for us and the world revealed at the cross, and we find our path, the shape of our life, in that love.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Sunday of the Passion, year A
   Texts: The Passion according to Matthew (26:14 – 27:66); Philippians 2:5-11

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Whenever we gather for Eucharist we proclaim Christ’s death.

Every time we come to the Table of Christ we hold the death of Christ in our hearts and minds. We proclaim it to the world.

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday, we say, even in Lent. We gather around Word and Sacrament and are blessed with the life of the risen Christ. “Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” we proclaim each time.

But we also hear these words of Paul to the church in Corinth at every Eucharist: “As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” “Christ has died,” we all respond.

Every time. Every Eucharist. Every Sunday is Passion Sunday, too.

Our lives depend on it.

As often as we worship, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we see ever more deeply the love of God revealed at the cross.

This is the great witness of the Scriptures. God’s love pours out for God’s people, from the creation, when we are declared good, to Abraham and Sarah, and the choosing of a people to bless all people, to the prophets and their call to love as God loves. In Christ Jesus, God-with-us, we see the pure, astonishing grace of the love of God for all people.

When we hold the cross of Christ before us each week, we see that the essence of the Triune God, the heart of God’s image, is love. Love that is willing to set aside all power and might to show us love. Love that is willing to die to open our eyes to the truth about love.

This is mystery deeper than anything we will fully understand. But the Scriptures witness that the heart of God’s facing the cross was to show us in person the depth of God’s love for us and for the world.

We proclaim the cross whenever we worship so we never forget the cross reveals how beloved we are, reveals the true love that is God’s heart.

As often as we worship, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we also ever more deeply see the shape of our lives in Christ.

Christ Jesus has made it clear that our mission is not just to tell the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, but embody the story ourselves, make it the pattern of our lives. As Paul says today, our call is to share the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, the same self-giving love.

We know nothing about God’s love except by looking at the cross, and when we realize at the cross how much God loves us and loves the world, almost immediately we hear the call that this is our path, our life. At the cross all of Jesus’ teachings on following, giving up ourselves, loving, begin to make sense. At the cross we see a love that is willing to bear all pain and sorrow and grief in order to show us the path we must take for the healing of the world.

We proclaim the cross whenever we worship so we never forget the cross is meant to shape our lives, our love, our witness, our faith.

Do you see, Christ says? As I love, so do you.

This cross I take is your path, too. This is the love I keep describing to you and showing you.
Here at the cross, Christ says, you see the love of the prodigal father for you, the compassion of the Good Samaritan.

Here at the cross you see the encompassing love of God that is your pearl of great price, your hidden treasure.

Here at the cross you are filled with the life-giving love of God that will be a seed in you and in others that will grow to nurture the whole world.

Here at the cross you find no limits to God’s love for you, my love, Christ says, and you hear your call to love as I have loved you.

Every Eucharist. Every time.

As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, as often as we gather to hear God’s Word, we proclaim Christ’s death. So we might see and know and live God’s love in us and in the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon, Midweek Lent, 2017: Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

“True Love”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Texts: Romans 12:16-21; Matthew 5:38-47

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

That’s a strange question, Jesus. Who wants a reward for loving? If I love someone who loves me, that’s reward enough. We don’t love people to get a prize.

Exactly, Jesus says, that’s what I’m saying. The loving is the prize, the goal, the treasure beyond price. To love and to be loved is its own reward.

But, Jesus says, everybody knows that. Everybody does that, loves those who love them. But the world is still full of violence, pain, and inflicted suffering. And everybody greets their friends, their sisters and brothers, welcomes them. Everybody knows how to do that, Jesus says. But the world is still divided by hostility and hatred, murder and bloodshed. Something is wrong.

Jesus has the answer, but we don’t want to hear it. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” That’s what no one thinks of, Jesus says.

And that’s the only way this world will find healing and peace and abundant life.

We really don’t like this command of Jesus.

Theologians, pastors, and teachers of the Church have dodged this command for 1,700 years, building theologies and principles that explain Jesus didn’t really mean this the way it obviously looks like it means. Christians have justified war, torture, genocide, oppression, slavery, revenge, by explaining away Jesus’ plain and clear words.

What Jesus said was, the way of Christ is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Period. No exceptions.

So, when you look through history and see what groups are responsible for the most killing of other human beings over the centuries, why are Christians near the top of the list? Why does the Church today across this planet still endorse war, still nurture hatred, still declare enemies, still kill people? It’s quite a witness of love we give.

This is the most radical, world-changing command Jesus ever gave. We know this by how hard we’ve worked for nearly 2,000 years to pretend he never said it.

At the cross, the Son of God offered his life freely as a witness to the Triune God’s love for the whole world.

As his enemies pounded nails into his body, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The story of Christ taking on our flesh is the story of God living vulnerable love among us to teach us what such divine love looks like. God set aside all power and strength and let us kill the One who is God-with-us. The Son of God declared forgiveness and love for those who hated him most, at the most terrible, painful point of his life. The Triune God says simply at the cross: this is the love that will heal the world. A love for all that risks all, without exception.

The only way to break the cycle of hate and violence, revenge and death, is to put down our weapons, our anger, our justifications, and offer love to those who hate us.

It’s a huge risk. Do you think God doesn’t understand that, after the cross? There is nothing more important to the Triune God who made all things than that we on this earth love each other, care for each other, give life to each other. God showed that in the most personal way possible, and in an unmistakably definitive way, in dying on the cross.

Yet we usually miss the point.

We’ve carefully built a theology of the cross that never asks us to see God’s radical love.

While the Church spent time and energy justifying hating enemies, it also distracted the faithful from the love God showed on the cross. Many of us grew up thinking Jesus went to the cross personally for each of us, because we’re all sinners. There’s no way God could love us unless Jesus died for us, many of us were taught. We were told we were wretched beings, and God sacrificed Jesus so we wouldn’t go to hell.

Of course we sin. We’re flawed, broken people. But the Scriptures witness that we are beloved of God, and Jesus didn’t have to die to make us beloved. God’s forgiveness flows through the Scriptures with and without the cross. The Scriptures witness that God went to the cross in person to reveal the depth of God’s love for the world. To show us the path of Christly love, the only love that can heal this world.

If we walk away from the cross happy that we’re personally forgiven and miss the greater point, that this is the love we’re called to live ourselves, we’ve missed everything. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” When we walk away from the cross, knowing that in this cross we see how much God loves us, the next realization is, that’s our path, too.

A path of vulnerable, self-giving love. With no promises that we won’t be hurt. Only the greater promise that the God who made all things is confident this path will heal the world.

So how are we doing on this one?

How are we doing loving our political enemies, who support and endorse things that cut us to the heart? How is our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks? Are we seeking God’s love for them?

How are we doing loving those who share the name of Christ with us but say and do things we’re convinced are not of Christ? Things that break our hearts and enfuriate us? How is our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks? Are we asking God to bless them, make them whole?

How are we doing loving those in our lives who have offended us, betrayed us, abandoned us? Those in our families from whom we’re estranged? Those whom we’ve written off because we can’t stand them? How’s our love for them growing? How is our prayer for those folks?

Oh, these are hard words Jesus gives us today. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” How much we’d rather not hear these words, how often we avoid them!

But in our hearts, hearts shaped by the endless love of God in Christ we’ve experienced, we know our Lord is right. This is the only way to heal this world. When one at a time, people do something different than what everyone else does, and love their enemies. Pray for those who persecute them.

This healing is so important, but we fear being the only ones loving as Christ.

The risk in vulnerable love like Christ’s is that we’ll be hurt. Others might not return the same love. We hesitate to give ground, sacrifice ourselves even for the ones we love, because we’re afraid others might take advantage of that. What if we’re the only ones doing this?

If it helps, Jesus says we might very well be. This whole command is surrounded by his expectation that we do things differently than the rest of the world. God’s hope is this love will spread to the rest of the world, but at the beginning, it might be a lonely path.

But Paul gives this gift today: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” So far as it depends on you. That’s all we have. We can’t control what others will do to us, in return for our love and prayers. That’s why Paul says, “if it is possible.” Others might not treat us peaceably. But that’s out of our control. So far as it depends on us, we live in peace and love.

There’s great freedom in knowing we’re not responsible for the whole world’s healing. Just our own part in it. That we can do.

“Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.”

In this hymn, Archbishop Tutu deepens the grace of Paul’s words today: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is the great promise of the cross. God’s love faced death, torture, hatred. But the power of the Triune God’s love destroyed the power of pain and hate and death forever. “Life is stronger than death,” the hymn also sings.

And so goodness is stronger than evil, too. Love is stronger than hate. And this frightening path we’ve tried to avoid, a path we’ve hoped Jesus didn’t really mean to call us down, is the path to life and healing and love and hope for this world.

That’s the reward. That’s the prize. A healed, whole, abundant, life-filled world for all. That’s what Christ’s love in us will bring.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It Has Been Four Days

Christ comes to us where we are, as we are, and walks with us on our path of faith, even in, especially in, our times when the evidence for faith is hard to find. And we find life and hope.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fifth Sunday in Lent, year A
   Text: John 11:1-45

Note: Only verses 1-39 were read at the Gospel, ending with: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’” During the sermon, where noted, 39-45 were then read.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

How can you believe enough to follow when your hope is dead, lying in a grave?

When you have to face the awful truth that your beloved brother now smells because he’s been dead for four days?

Martha and Mary have believed in their friend and rabbi, Jesus. But Lazarus is dead, and Jesus is absent, showing up four days too late. There’s nothing to be done now. Thomas thinks Jesus is heading to certain death, and no one can stop him.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the writer of Hebrews says. (11:1) But how can you believe in Christ Jesus as God’s life for you when you have no hope, and all you do see brings you fear or anger or grief? This is our story, too.

How can you believe enough to follow when you’re so afraid of what’s coming?

Jesus has decided to go south from Galilee to Bethany, but apparently not to rescue his friend Lazarus; Lazarus is dead. And Jesus has received death threats from the religious leaders in the south, in Jerusalem. The disciples try to stop him, but Jesus is determined.

Thomas is as terrified as the others. He’s worried about his Master, uncertain about his ability to be faithful, like the rest. He fears the path ahead now that it looks like real sacrifice, even death.

Exactly like we do. We fear the cost of following Christ. Maybe we don’t think we’ll actually die. But there are sacrifices we’ve resisted, loss of convenience that we hesitate to give up. There is cost to our pride, our self-will, our comfort. It’s not an easy path Christ calls us to follow, much is unknown, and that’s frightening.

But instead of giving the disciples reassurance, Jesus simply says, “Let us go.” He offers no evidence this will end well, only his courage: he’s willing to go. And Thomas picks it up. Thomas claims his faith in the midst of his fear, and stands above his more prominent peers. “Let’s go, too,” he says. “Even if we die.”

How can you believe enough to follow when you’re so angry at God you can’t see straight?

Martha was confident Jesus would come and heal Lazarus. They were his friends. But the messengers returned alone. Her brother died. They had the funeral. They wrapped him in cloths and spices and ointments. And Martha seethed.

When Jesus showed up, four days after the funeral, she ran out of town to meet him on the road in her anger. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she screamed. She held nothing back. God had failed her, and she was angry.

Exactly like we can be. We can rage at God that a friend is dying and nothing can stop it. We can be furious that injustice happens all over the world and God seems to do nothing. We even get angry that Christ calls us to deeper change when we think we’ve done a lot already.

But instead of defending himself to Martha, and without promising to make it right, Jesus stands there and takes her rage. He lets her work out with her words what she feels and believes, without judgment. Then he quietly asks her if she believes he is resurrection life now. Not just at the end time. Now. And Martha realizes she still trusts Jesus with her life.

How can you believe enough to follow when your sadness and grief drown you?

Mary is so unlike her verbal sister. But she feels pain just as deeply. Her grief at Lazarus’ death, at Jesus’ betrayal, knows no bounds.

When Jesus finally came, she couldn’t move. Her tears were drowning her life. When Martha came back, an hour after storming out of the house, and said the Teacher was asking for her, that got her on her feet.

Mary didn’t know what Jesus would say, what excuses he would make. None would help. She could barely get out the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” before dissolving into tears. She had nothing to offer except her grief and confusion.

Exactly like us. We, too, have stood at the graves of loved ones with nothing but sadness and pain. We see the suffering of so many children and vulnerable people in this world, in our city, and can only weep. Our grief at our losses, our sadness at the pain of others, sometimes overwhelms us.

To Mary’s surprise, Jesus said nothing. She looked up, and saw that he was crying, too, beginning to sob. She expected teaching, reasons, wisdom from God, what Jesus always gave her. But now he wept with her, and they went to the tomb together. And she realized she still believed in him, trusted him with her life.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Nothing external changed for these three. Thomas still had no idea if he or Jesus would die. Martha still would try to stop Jesus from opening the tomb, and say the horrible words, “there’s a stench already.” Mary still had an enormous, brother-sized hole in her heart.

But receiving nothing but the courage, patience, and compassion of Christ, they find they don’t need everything fixed. They need to know God is with them in Christ, they are not alone. They don’t have to understand everything to believe, or to follow.

John tells his Gospel so that we, too, can believe Jesus is God’s Christ, the Son of God, and believing, have life in his name. John doesn’t say we believe because everything always makes sense, always works out, because there’s no risk we face in following. We can believe and have life in Christ even when it doesn’t make sense or work out, when there’s great risk.

Now that we know this, let’s hear the rest of today’s Gospel reading.

Read verses 39-45.

Listen, this story isn’t about the raising of Lazarus. It’s about our faith in that which we cannot see, our trust in God’s love in Christ in the face of what we fear, what makes us angry, what brings us grief.

Lazarus’ resurrection doesn’t change Thomas’ path. Mary and Martha might still outlive him. These last verses don’t magically make the story better. And none of us have ever experienced a loved one raised from the tomb. But we’ve all been where these three are, and that’s our hope. And like these three, we belong to the One who faced death on the cross and broke its power over us now, not just at the end of our lives here.

There is something critical in these last verses, though. Jesus needs the community involved in this resurrection. He gives Lazarus life. But he needs the people around Lazarus to unbind him and let him go. Mary, Martha, their neighbors, need to unwrap him from his death, open him up to his life.

This is our resurrection story.

The resurrection story of Thomas, Martha, Mary. They witness that, in the absence of evidence of any change, having God with us is life. Even in our fear, our anger, our grief, we are never alone, never dead. Christ meets us, like he did these three, exactly where each of us is, giving us each exactly what we need for faith. The Risen Christ, who has overcome the world, calls to us, “Come out, believe.”

And then Christ gives other Christs to us. To give us courage as we walk into the unknown. To give us patience as we rail in our righteous anger. To share our tears as we weep in the face of loss. Incarnate as God-with-us, Christ now becomes incarnate in each of us. So we can unbind each other, draw each other out of darkness into light. So that we can let each other go from the fear, anger, grief, and death that wrap us so tightly.

That’s enough, these three tell us. And we tell each other, as, filled with resurrection life in Christ, we unbind each other into this newness of life.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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