Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (2 June 2019)

John 17.20-26

JoAnn A. Post

Jesus prayed: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

In 1967, then-US Navy lieutenant commander John McCain fell into the hands of North Vietnamese forces and became one of the most famous POW’s in American history. His “fame” (an unfortunate word) grew, not because of his four-star military heritage, or the brutality of his captors, but because he refused to leave. When his abusers discovered that their prisoner was the son of the commander of US forces in the Pacific, they offered him early release—a propaganda ploy and an attempt to further demoralize other US prisoners of war.

The young McCain refused, clinging to the POW code that prisoners are released in the order in which they are taken captive. He would not do damage to his brothers in prison, even though he was nearly killed for refusing the “offer.”

He suffered unbelievable hardship because he stayed. For the sake of another.

In 1985, imprisoned leader of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela refused an offer of early release from Pollsmoor Prison, Capetown. At that point, he had already been held for 14 years as a political prisoner. Why did he refuse? Until other political prisoners were released AND until the ANC was recognized as a legitimate political party AND until Apartheid was lifted, he would not budge. For his stubborn loyalty to the cause of racial equity in South Africa, he sat in prison for another six years before an agreement was reached.

He suffered decades of isolation because he stayed. For the sake of another.

This morning we read a similar story in scripture (Acts 16.16-34). In the year 70, the apostles Paul and Silas were chained in the bowels of a Greek prison. Their crime? They had cast a demon from a slave girl. Outraged that their “property” would no longer turn a profit for her “owners,” the owners convinced the magistrates that these middle-eastern preachers were a threat to society. They were bullied and beaten with rods for their “crimes.” It was, of course, a complete sham, but Paul and Silas refused to defend themselves.

In a miraculous turn of events, their shackles—and the shackles of all the prisoners locked in that jail—were loosed, the prison bars shredded by a mighty earthquake in the middle of the night. Convinced the prisoners had fled (wouldn’t you?), the jailer was about to take his own life rather than face the consequences of his failure to secure the prisoners.

Paul cried out in the dark, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

They were. Paul. Silas. And every one of the other prisoners. Not only did they stay. They sang. Long into the night. They sang.

What causes a prisoner to willingly remain in prison? What drives a prisoner to sing in shackles?  Why would one stay in the dark brutality of a prison? The writer of Acts doesn’t say specifically. But we can guess. I think it was because of something Jesus said the night before he himself was taken prisoner, unjustly accused, beaten and sentenced to death. Something about living—and dying—for the sake of another. Something about staying.

As the Easter season draws to a close, we find Jesus on his knees in prayer. Recently betrayed by Judas, aware that in a few hours Peter would do the same, Jesus prayed—out loud.

Funny thing. Jesus’ prayers bear no resemblance to mine.

My prayers are typically terse, selfish. “Help me.” “Protect the ones I love.” “Show me.”

Jesus would have had every reason to pray a similar, terse, selfish prayer that night. Had he been inclined he could have prayed fire down on the head of his accusers. He could have prayed for an escape route. A change of heart for Pilate. An ally among the soldiers. He could have prayed to wake from the nightmare his life had become. But he refused.

Instead he prayed for his disciples—the weak-kneed, self-serving, easily-distracted cast of characters he had chosen to be his closest friends.

But, again, he didn’t pray for them as I might pray for my friends. He prayed that they would be one. United. Of one mind. For the sake of another. Firmly planted in the world.

The gospel writer John has a unique slant on the Jesus story. Unlike the other three gospel writers, his goal was not to chronicle Jesus’ ministry or make political and theological points. John’s Jesus is always glancing out of the corner of his eye, over his shoulder, into the distance. If Jesus had been an actor, we would say that he was “breaking the fourth wall.”

The fourth wall is a theater concept. The fourth wall is the invisible barrier separating the audience from the actors on stage. The actors typically play their roles as though no one is watching. But every once in awhile, an actor will turn to the audience, breaching the fourth wall, and address them directly. It is a wink, a nod, a dog whistle that says, “I know you’re there. We all know you’re there. This is all for you.”

John’s Jesus consistently breaks the fourth wall. Making it clear that we are his intended audience, we are the object of his affection, the source of his concern, the reason he stayed with unworthy disciples, and his unworthy disciples would remain in the world.

Three times in this morning’s gospel Jesus winks our direction in his prayer, asking his Father “that the world may believe you have sent me;” “that the world may know you love them;” “so that I may be in them.”

By the end of the gospel, John himself will have abandoned all pretense of impartiality. He will turn directly his audience—to us—to spill the beans, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.30ff)

Everything Jesus did and said, every miracle he performed, every indignity he suffered, every prayer he prayed—all of it was for another. All of it was for us. And also, for us, he stayed. When another would have run or retaliated. Jesus stayed.

I marvel at men like John McCain, Nelson Mandela, the early believers who suffered sorrows we cannot imagine. This week we have been invited to also consider Harriet Tubman, as much a marvel as any of the men we have already named.

You may recall that she was a 19th century abolitionist, who repeatedly risked her own life to free other slaves. Born into slavery herself, Tubman escaped and subsequently made at least thirteen missions to rescue over seventy enslaved people. She is in the news now because she has been deemed mysteriously unworthy of gracing the $20 bill, as had been planned by the US Treasury. Misogyny? Racism? Political game-playing? No mind. It was not public fame or a minted image she sought. She would not allow anyone to be left behind. Returning again and again to the war zone of Reconstruction. She stayed with slaves until they were free.

Of course, we are grateful for the tremendous sacrifices these women and men made for us. We are humbled at their courage to stay behind, sometimes even to sing. Who among us has courage to do the same?

But today we are asked to do more than admire selfless individuals. Because Jesus is still praying.  And as he prays, he glances out of the corner of his eye, over his shoulder, into the distance. Past us. To all of them.

It is not enough that we receive Jesus’ affection and attention. Gosh, thanks, Jesus. You shouldn’t have.

It is our turn to face the audience, to address the world. Our turn to be brave. Our turn to love. Our turn to be stand as one. Our turn to stay with all the broken and abused, the misunderstood and misplaced in our world.

In Jesus’ name, we will stay in the world, with the world, united in love for another and all for whom Christ died.  And, of course, we will sing.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (26 May 2019)

John 5.1-9

JoAnn A. Post

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.


Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. 


Now that day was a sabbath.

 I like living here in Pleasantville. The streets are wide, the trees stately, the schools are safe, our children are remarkable. We are so fortunate to live here, surrounded by peace and pleasantness and prosperity.

I always peruse the police reports in the “Northbrook Tower” and was amused to read this week that the police were called about missing lawn furniture, a package that wasn’t delivered, suspicious voice mail messages, and an unlicensed driver at Dundee and Sanders. Though I’m sure local law enforcement is grateful to supervise such a bucolic arena, I wonder if they feel sometimes as does a priest friend who hears confessions at a nun’s retirement home once a week. “They confess coveting a second dessert, or being at odds with Sister Bertha, or yawning at Morning Prayer. What I wouldn’t give to hear a really juicy sin, just once.”

Do you suppose the Northfield police would like to turn on the sirens and chase a really juicy bad guy, just once?

But not so far from here lies Gotham City or, as most call it, Chicago. I pray for newly-elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chief of Police Eddie Johnson—I can’t imagine the burdens they carry, the dangers they face. What they wouldn’t give for a missing deck chair or an unwelcome phone solicitation. Instead their attention is split among neighborhoods that are thriving, businesses that are booming, and neighborhoods that are unsafe and store fronts shuttered. Sometimes only blocks apart.

If all you knew of this area was Northfield, you would think the world had reverted to the Garden of Eden. But if all you knew of this area was the troubled neighborhoods of Chicago, you’d be scanning the sky for the Bat Signal.

We are a tale of two cities. As is today’s gospel reading.

This morning’s gospel opens on a festival day in Jerusalem. The city would have been full of pilgrims, street musicians, holy men in flowing robes. Food trucks and street vendors. If you were a pilgrim coming to Jerusalem for the Festival, you would have entered through the Beautiful Gate on the east side of the temple enclosure. Double doors made of brass, so heavy 20 men were needed to open them. 12 wide terraced steps conveyed worshippers into the temple courtyard. It was a magnificent event simply to walk through the Beautiful Gate itself.

But in today’s reading Jesus is not at the Beautiful Gate. For some reason, he is at the Sheep Gate, on the north side of the temple enclosure. True to its name, the Sheep Gate was the entrance through which animals for sacrifice were brought. Imagine the noise, the smell, the manure. Some even believe that the pool at which Jesus met the disabled man, the Pool of Beth-zatha, doubled as a bidet for livestock coming in from the desert roads. Herders would coax their animals into the pool to wash off some of the road dust, before being presented at the temple for slaughter.

Most pilgrims never saw the Sheep Gate. Most shepherds didn’t even know the Beautiful Gate existed.

It was there, at the Sheep Gate, surrounded by bleating and stench and dust clouds and the raised voices of weary shepherds, that the poorest of Jerusalem’s poor were strewn. Lying around a spring-fed pool that they shared with animals, praying that the water might be disturbed, not by swimming sheep, but by an occasional angel.

The verse about this long shot was not authenticated in enough early manuscripts to be included in the Bible translation we typically use, but some early writers included this note: They were waiting for the stirring of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease the person had. (John 5.4)

How desperate would you have to be to believe such a tale, to share supposedly “healing waters” with filthy animals? And the man on whom Jesus’ eyes fell was more desperate than most. Unable to walk for 38 years, he was completely alone in the world—he had no one to lift him, to muscle him to the front of the crowd and throw him in the water when it rippled. Is there a sadder story?

Yes. Jesus’ insensitive, insulting and obvious question to a man who lay in a pile of rags beside a dirty pond imagining the water might heal him. Jesus looked down at the man, literally “down”, and said, “Do you want to be made well?” Not one of Jesus’ better days, from an empathy standpoint.

The man didn’t respond to the seeming insult underlying Jesus’ question. He took it at face value. And explained why he lay there day after day, praying for a dubious miracle.

But we need to cut Jesus a little slack. He didn’t ask the man if he wanted someone to throw him in the pool. He didn’t ask the man if he wanted to walk. He asked the man a very specific, subtle question: “Do you want to be made well?” Not cured. Not straightened. Not carried. But “made well.” “Made whole.”

Jesus’ concern was not for the man’s legs only, for also for his life.  To be whole meant the man would be loved, would have a home to live in, a table to sit at, friends to talk with, a place in the temple, strong arms to carry him. Not walking was the least of the man’s worries.

Jesus wanted more for him than simply being able to put one foot in front of the other. Jesus wanted him to have a full, rich, loved life. “Is that what you want?” Jesus asked. The man did not know how to answer.

So, Jesus gave him both what the man thought he needed and what he truly needed. The man stood up. Rolled up his mat. And strode away from the filth of the Sheep Gate to the gate called “Beautiful.” Whole. Well.

To be cured is a good thing. Cessation of symptoms. Freedom from pain. But to be healed, to be well, to be whole. That is a gift few of us dare to ask. We would be happy for a single pain-free day. Imagine a meaning-filled life.

That’s what Jesus offered the man lying at the Sheep Gate. That is what Jesus offers us.

This weekend, Memorial Weekend, marks the beginning of what Chicago’s new mayor calls “Summer Violence Season.” Though none dispute the rise in gun violence in hot weather, they disagree about the solution. In gospel terms, we disagree about what it would mean for the city to be simply “cured” rather than “made well.”

Some would seek only to remove guns from dangerous hands.  As though hands and homes emptied of guns is the sole answer.

But if Jesus were to stroll the city’s troubled neighborhoods asking, “Do you want to be made well?” I wonder what miracle he would perform.

He might advocate for stiffer gun regulations. But that is not enough. That’s like teaching a man to walk, but giving him nowhere to go. Jesus would also seek homes and education and jobs, meaning and purpose and love, stability and pride. He would choose not only a weekend free of violence, but a life full of purpose. He might ask us to do the same.

On a more intimate level, I recently spoke with a man who has been dry for 29 years, who still attends AA meetings faithfully. But he wants to be more than “dry;” he wants to be “well.” Abstaining from alcohol is not enough if he is to have a full life. So he prays. And meditates. And accompanies others on their journeys. And commits himself every day to living a grateful, forgiving life.

Jesus wants more for us than mere ambulating. Jesus wants more for us than simply abstaining. He wants us to be well. He wants us to be whole.

Today is our sabbath, a mandated day of rest. It was just such sabbath on which Jesus picked his way over the piles at the Sheep Gate. Though Jesus may have been resting from hard labor, he never rests from making us well.

Brightening blind eyes. Strengthening weak limbs. Opening closed ears. Softening hard hearts. Offering life, full and abundant, to those who ask too little.

Whether we live in Pleasantville or Gotham City, Northfield or on the North Side, Jesus is strolling the city, seeking the lost, strengthening the weak, making half-lived lives whole.

And asking everyone he encounters: “Do you want to be made well?”

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (19 May 2019)

John 13.31-35

JoAnn A. Post

When Judas had gone out, Jesus said,

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified,

and God has been glorified in him. 

If God has been glorified in him,

God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you,

‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 

I give you a new commandment,

that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.”

So often the news seems far away, interesting but not part of our daily lives. The goings-on in Washington D.C. make us shake our heads, but it seems there is little we can do. As state legislatures make decisions calculated to provoke, our blood pressure rises, but, what to do? The battle over tariffs has not yet touched my checkbook, though I know farmers who lay awake nights over it. Even in Chicago, only miles away, the world’s depravity is real to us only by way of newspaper ink or Facebook clicks.

But every once in awhile the news explodes in our faces and we cannot turn away. It happened to me this week.

A person of my family’s acquaintance became national news as she and her family were detained for lack of proper documentation. She and her husband came to the U.S. more than a decade ago seeking political asylum, but their case got stalled in the courts. While waiting for a response, they raised a family, attained advanced degrees, worked responsible jobs, paid taxes. They weren’t hiding from anyone, just waiting. For some reason, the immigration system that had seemed to forget about them for so long, suddenly remembered. Violently.

The details are straight out of a Jason Bourne movie: access to the family was acquired through deception, a screaming child was torn from her mother’s arms at gunpoint by heavily-armed federal agents, innocent by-standers were swept into the raid, the front door of the house was left open after the raid and the home was looted. Witnesses said the agents laughed as they paraded the family out of their home, in their nightclothes, into waiting vehicles.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration reform or enforcement, the cruelty of this raid in a quiet town not far from here was horrifying.

And woven around the sometimes remote/sometimes very-real debates about immigration and abortion and trade and guns and military aggression are the words of the 11th commandment. The commandment Jesus gave his disciples the night before he was crucified.

It sounds both cheesy and predictable that Jesus would advise his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” What else would Jesus say on his way out the door?

“Go, Bears!” or “Make Bethlehem Great Again! Or “Don’t forget your raincoat!”

But Jesus’ commandment to love wasn’t mushy or romantic. It was born of both experience and fear.

The experience? From before he was born, Jesus’ earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, loved him without question, in spite of rumors and innuendo and mockery and serious questions about his paternity. Their love for him was fierce, deep, relentless. He knew, firsthand, that love was not a feeling, but a fact.

The fear? Even as Jesus’ fan-base grew, so did his foe-base. Foes in powerful places. Foes with financial means. Foes with no scruples. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Jesus to have adopted the hateful, dishonest, bloodthirsty practices of his detractors. But he was afraid that if, even for a heartbeat, he gave in to that impulse, his whole ministry would be sunk. Hating those who hate you? It’s a natural impulse. Tolerating those who hate us? Makes us feel big, somehow. But to love them? Love them to death? It is a rare and holy thing.

“Love one another,” was a lesson buried deep in Jesus’ complicated DNA.

But on this night, the night described in John 13, even Jesus’ love was tested. The danger was neither remote nor theoretical. The danger had its feet under Jesus’ supper table. Judas (ever notice that no one ever names a son “Judas?), who had been with Jesus from the first days of his ministry would soon become the agent of his assassination.

As Judas disappeared into the night and Jesus’ remaining disciples looked after him in disbelief, Jesus reminded them of his mission—a mission that would soon belong solely to them. “Love one another,” he said sternly. Even Judas. Even Peter. Even Pilate.

How is that possible? Left to ourselves, it’s not.

As you could tell from the way I started the sermon, my sympathies lie with the undocumented, three-generation Kenosha family taken into custody last week. I have no difficulty loving them, understanding their sorrow, defending them.  “Love one another?” Of course.

But what of the federal agents who took them into custody? What of the judge who signed the warrant? What of the guards at the detention center? The lotters who robbed them blind? Left to my own ugly imaginings, I have nothing good to say to them or about them. But what would Jesus have to say to me?

The same thing he said to Judas, as he slipped into the shadows. The same thing he said to his disciples. “Love one another.”

How do I love those with whom I so violently disagree, whose lives make no sense to me?  Jesus would say, “Who cares what you think?”

I don’t have to agree with them. They don’t have to make sense to me. They are Jesus’ sheep, God’s children, my brothers and sisters. My love for them may come with gritted teeth and a heavy sigh. But what choice, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, do I have?

So I have decided to love as Jesus loves those who carry out our country’s immigration policies. I pray for their safety. I give thanks for their loyalty. I trust their work is well-intended. I hope their families never suffer as so many families do.

And, I know that though you may disagree with where my sympathies lie, you could also, and without too much trouble, conjure an “I struggle to love” list of your own. Perhaps you would flip my story, finding the undocumented family at the center of it worthy of scorn, and the federal agents to be heroes. Regardless of where your political inclinations or heartfelt sympathies lie, the commandment applies.

“Love one another,” Jesus whispered to Judas’ turned back. “Love one another,” he ordered his gaping disciples. “Love one another,” he reminds us.

Such love is a daily decision for us. Left to our own devices, our hearts can be cold. And hard.

So how do we love one another? And why would we do that?

Because that unquestioning, intentional love is the way Jesus loves us. Whether we are Judas or Peter, undocumented or citizen, left or right, rich or poor, Jesus’ love for us is the same. And as he prepared to leave his disciples he turned that hard-working, heart-breaking, mind-boggling love over to his them.

Love the world the way I have loved you. That’s all he wrote.

 

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (12 May 2019)

John 10.22.-30

JoAnn A. Post

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Our Little Ones are, at this moment, engaged in a program called Godly Play—a Montessori-based Sunday School curriculum that has captivated them. They have their own learning and worship space in the Education Wing, where they gather as we gather here in the sanctuary. Week after week, children as young as three-years-old gather around a story teller to hear and watch the story of God’s love unfold before them. Our story tellers are trained to tell the story in a particular way, using a carefully-worded script, illustrated by beautifully-crafted figures.  The story tellers are trained not to make eye contact with the children as they teach, so that all eyes are on the figures, all ears on the words rather than on the story teller.

Much of the story-telling time is silent, as the figures are moved into place.  This morning we share a small portion of the Story of the Good Shepherd, today’s gospel reading, with our Sunday School Coordinator  as story-teller. Listen to the silences as much as the words.  And then we’ll talk. (video)

Kate told the little lambs flocked around her, “I know each of my sheep by name. And the sheep know my voice.”  What more does a child need to know? And who better than Kate to embody the safety, the welcome and the love of the Good Shepherd?

The story as John, the gospel writer tells it, is more complex than the story our children hear this morning. John places Jesus in the temple during the Festival of the Dedication, a festival we know as Hanukah. And John notes, cryptically, “It was winter.” Not Illinois winter with snow and cold and biting winds, not Game of Thrones winter with zombies and blood and death, but Middle East winter—cool, rainy, overcast.

Perhaps Jesus was seeking silence for himself on a gray day, walking off the controversy that swirled around him everywhere he went. But his reverie was interrupted by religious authorities, demanding to see some identification. “Tell us who you are. Tell us plainly.”

And much like the sales person in a high-end shop who patronizes, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it,” Jesus smiles, “If you have to ask me who I am, you don’t belong to me.”

Believe it or not, this short little story has generated centuries of theological controversy. Was Jesus saying that some just belong to him and some just don’t, that there is nothing we can say or do to become part of Jesus’ flock because its already been decided? Was Jesus arguing for predestination, the 19th century theory that the die of salvation are cast for us? Sheep. Not sheep. Too bad, so sad.

If you know Jesus at all, you know that’s not the case. But we make the mistake of thinking Jesus thinks the way do, that some people are worth our time and trouble and some simply don’t matter.

Listen again to what Jesus told his challengers. He didn’t tell them he was turning his back on them, that there was no hope for them. He said: “My sheep hear my voice.”

Its not about predestination or popularity or a lottery. Its about our ears. Do we hear Jesus’ voice? Or have we chosen not to listen? (In my family we call that “husband hearing,” the domestic phenomenon that our spouses hear everyone but us.)

Here’s what I think Jesus means. I think that Jesus’ voice is clear enough for all to hear, but that some of us have chosen not to hear it. Either because we don’t believe what he says about himself or because we don’t believe what he says about us.

What does he say about himself? That he is Son of Mary and Son of God, the long-expected Messiah. Why, some ask, would I believe something as far-fetched as that? They don’t hear Jesus, because they don’t believe what he says about himself.

But most of us who struggle, I think, have a hard time believing what he says about us.

We are keenly aware of our faults and failures, the inconsistencies of our character, the darkness in our hearts. We are daily confronted with our lack, as in both work and play we are pushed to be more, be better, work harder, work longer, perform at a higher level.

A friend of mine has been in sales his whole career, has risen to the top of his field, has been awarded national salesperson of the year over and over. Every year he beats his marks, exceeds his goals, lifts his whole team, improves his industry. But a few years ago, the corporation for which he worked started raising his marks to unreasonable levels. If he exceeded the previous year’s goal by 5%, they raised the next year’s goal 10%. Or even 20%. They set unattainable expectations for him, hoping, we later learned, to find reason to release him.

The pressure, the fear of failure, nearly destroyed him, pushed every self-critical, self-destructive button in his psyche. His employer was telling him he was worthless, lazy, a fraud. None of it is true, but that judgmental voice whispered in his ear every day, for months.

His experience is not unusual. We are never good enough, smart enough, fast enough, strong enough, rich enough, pretty enough. Whatever it is we ought to be, we aren’t. Failure is always a possibility, for some, an inevitability.

Who tells us that? Why do they tell us that? And, more important, why do we listen?

That’s why it is so hard for us to believe the voice of the Good Shepherd, that voice of Jesus who wants us to keep us safe, who wants to love us, who leads us, as Kate said to the children, to the good grass.  Hardly anyone speaks to us that way. Hardly anyone, in any arena of our lives says, “I love you. Period.”

Jesus’ opponents on that cool, gray Hanukah day simply couldn’t hear what he said about them, what he said about himself because the voices in their heads were so loud. They couldn’t think of themselves as lambs because they lived among wolves, eager to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

“I am the Good Shepherd” Jesus speaks in a calm, comforting voice. “And my sheep? My sheep hear my voice.”

Our children are, at this moment, learning to hear Jesus’ voice from the voices of their teachers.

Who speaks so kindly to you? Who tunes your ear for the voice of the shepherd?

And when you speak, is it in tones that are kind, encouraging, caring, or in a voice that only adds to the destructive din of hatred and division? Perhaps someone will recognize Jesus’ voice of welcome because they first hear yours.

The life of faith is a daily decision to listen, not to the voices of competition and criticism that surround us, but to the voice of the Good Shepherd. “You are safe. You are loved. You are mine. And no one can snatch you from my hand.”

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21.1-19

JoAnn A. Post

After these things, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.  

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)

After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Before we lived here, my husband and I lived in New England, where I served a congregation in a former mill town, and he served on the faculty at a seminary. He was soon invited to serve as academic dean—a position long on demands and short on rewards, but critical to the life of an academic institution. Every important decision about curriculum, tenure, promotion, retirement, scheduling and strategic direction went across his desk.

Shortly after his appointment, a long-time friend who also served in seminary administration came to town, ostensibly for lunch, but with the real purpose of schooling him in the ways of power in the world of theological education. The most chilling bit of wisdom he shared was this, “You will never have another casual conversation.”

What?

“Everyone will be your friend. Everyone will want to ‘chat’. And everything you say or don’t say, everything you do or don’t do, can and will be used against you.”

My husband is away this weekend, keynoting a synod assembly in a synod that yesterday unseated its bishop. A disgruntled takeover of sorts. As we processed this ecclesial coup on the phone last night, we remembered a bishop friend who was similarly unseated in a fit of “throw the bums out” a few years ago.

Our friend fell into a massive depression, not because he was no longer bishop, but because the phone no longer rang. His in-box gathered dust. His calendar was eerily clear. All those people who used to clamor for his attention, hang on his every word and seek his wisdom? Poof.

He went from being the most important man in every room to “old what’s his name” in a matter of minutes. How he longed for even a casual conversation.

Falling from Somebody to Nobody is a hard landing.

You would think that in these Sundays after Easter, all eyes would be on Jesus, recently resurrected from the dead, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Sorry, that was Superman.

But Jesus? He materialized in locked rooms, opened eyes blinded by grief, dried the tears of followers who believed him most sincerely dead.

But today Jesus, raised from death and uber-alive, is upstaged. Upstaged by a disciple who exemplifies the very best and the very worst of Jesus’ followers. The very best? Bold. Decisive. Strong. The very worst?  “All hat and no cattle,” as my father used to say. It didn’t take much to push “courageous” Peter, cowering, into a corner.

Remember the night Jesus was arrested and Peter was given three opportunities to pledge allegiance to Jesus? Yeah, it didn’t go well. Three times Peter said, “Nope, never met the man. Don’t know who you’re talking about.”

Peter was a pariah from that moment on. His inbox was empty, his phone silent, his calendar clear. Until today.

The post-resurrection appearances are fascinating to me. Primarily because nobody seems bothered or impressed by what happened. After a sudden burst of angels, announcements and lots of running, life went back to normal.

Resurrection? What resurrection? Oh, that.

In this morning’s gospel Peter and six other disciples took their fishing boats out of dry-dock and flung their nets into deep water. Though Jesus was raised from death, for them it was just another day at the office.

The fishing was poor. A random beachcomber shouted, “Toss your nets on the other side.” Somebody shouted back, “Its Jesus!” Peter, never one to think twice, threw his clothes on, jumped into the sea, and swam ashore where the man who might or might not have been Jesus was fixing breakfast. Frying fish. Toasting bagels. Boiling coffee over an open fire.

If ever a person of prominence fell from power, it was Jesus. No longer Son of God and Son of Man, but Cookie, the gimpy character on old TV westerns.

But Peter was about to fall farther. Or rather, he was about to be schooled in the ways of the resurrection.

We first met Peter on the seashore at the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus on the shore. Shouting.

And now we are back at that beginning. Peter again in a boat. Jesus on the shore. Shouting. But this time more than knotted nets and rotting fish stood between them. The stench of Peter’s three-part denial of Jesus hung in the air. There would be no casual conversation between them ever again.

“Do you love me?” Jesus whispered.

Tears in his eyes, Peter said, “Yes, you know I do.”

“Do you really?” Jesus pressed.

Ashamed, Peter nodded.

A third time, Jesus queried, “Peter. Look at me. Do you love me?”

Heart-broken, Peter said, “Yes, Lord, I do.”

And then, his three denials erased by three expressions of devotion, Peter was demoted.

No longer Fisherman. No longer Disciple. No longer the powerhouse whom Jesus had dubbed “Rock on which I will build my church.” No longer even the coward who catapulted from fame to infamy as the Denier of Jesus. Now? After a stunning early climb to power, he was dropped like a rock. What would he be now?

Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

Peter became a shepherd. Like the unnamed, illiterate, unkempt, socially outcast herders who first told of Jesus’ birth. Peter would take his place at the bottom of every social scale.

It was a stunning blow. A world-class fall from grace. And a gift.

Peter was to become like Jesus in service to the world. Remember. Jesus was the Good Shepherd. Jesus was the Friend of Sinners. Jesus was Lover of the Unloved.

Jesus trusted Peter so much he laid his own work into Peter’s knotted, sunburned hands.

“Feed my sheep, Peter. Tend my lambs.”

And like the shepherds who ran to Bethlehem in the dark of night, Jesus said, “Tell my story.”

Peter’s circumstance was not new. As ancient philosophers used to shrug, “Sic transit gloria mundi.” In English: “So goes the power of the world.”

We delude ourselves if we think any of our fame or importance is of any real consequence. Any one of us can fall from grace faster than a bishop at a synod assembly, faster than a movie star who buys college admission or a politician who can’t keep his phone zipped.

True power. True authority. True Wisdom. These are gifts given by God, not by corporate boards or seminary faculties or national elections.

To fall as far as Peter. What an Easter gift that would be.

Jesus invites us to join him at the bottom, to have friends in low places: “Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Follow me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Sunday in Easter

Second Sunday in Easter (28 April 2019)

Luke 24.13-35

JoAnn A. Post

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Some news is too difficult to absorb all at once. I don’t know the science behind it, but I know that there is an innate, internal mechanism that keeps us from being destroyed by horrible news. A shield of sorts that disperses the damage of a head-on collision with hardship.

Many years ago, good friends of ours grieved the death of their only child while she was but a toddler. The first days after her death were consumed with funeral plans and notifying friends and remembering to eat. There was no denying the fact of their loss, but they managed, somehow, to put one foot in front of the other. For a long time.

Each day, each week, each month brought deeper realization of what they had lost—their grief leaking only slowly into their lives. So slowly that, more than a year after their daughter’s death, they looked at one another across the supper table one evening and simultaneously began to sob. A year’s worth of anguish about the past and their last family future flooding out on the table between them.

Now, as they look back on that dark time, they realize that it took that long for their hearts and heads to fully receive the truth. “I don’t know that I would have survived the blow if it had fallen all at once,” our friend now recalls. “I think God sheltered us until we were strong enough to receive it all.”

If something in us cannot receive sorrow all at once, might the same be true of joy?

Scripture tells very different stories about the immediate aftermath of the resurrection. What did the resurrected Jesus look like? What did he say? Who saw him? What did he do? The most outrageous claim of all comes from the Apostle Paul who, in 1 Corinthians 15, asserts that Jesus made numerous appearances after the resurrection, including a selfie with more than 500 people at one time.

We, with 2,000 years of hindsight, and are able to see clearly that the empty tomb meant Jesus had been raised, just as he said.

But it was not so clear that first Easter day.

What prevented those first witnesses from believing, some of whom had been his dearest friends? Was it that innate protective impulse that shielded them from crushing fear (maybe he really was dead), or was the news too good to be true, the joy too immense to absorb all at once?

This morning’s gospel leaves the answer to that question open.

I love the story of the Emmaus Road—two men who had been part of Jesus’ inner circle were trudging, heads down, from Jerusalem to Emmaus for supper. Apparently, word of the empty tomb had spread quickly, so when a stranger (whom we know to be Jesus) appeared beside them, they were stunned that he hadn’t heard. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what happened?”

Of course, Jesus knew what had happened—it had happened to him. Why didn’t he let on that it was him? Why did he leave them dangling? And why, if they had been part of his entourage, did they not recognize him?

Maybe they were struggling to absorb the enormity of their loss. Or maybe their hearts could not absorb the fact that he was very much alive after having been very much dead.

Jesus berated them for being dolts, and went on at great length about scriptural evidence of the promised Messiah’s true identity.

Let’s see—seven miles at an average walking pace of 3 miles per hour, means that Jesus held them captive in exegesis for maybe two hours. And still—in spite of Jesus’ extensive biblical knowledge, the familiarity of his voice and his face, the extended time they spent with him—they regarded their companion little more than a smart stranger.

“Stay with us,” they offered when they reached the Emmaus exit. They invited him not because it might be Jesus, but because the road got dangerous at night. It was a necessary invitation.

Finally, seated at table in the slowly descending dark, the light began to dawn. Asking Jesus to break the bread, as was customary to ask of a guest, their mysterious teacher prayed over the loaf and tore it apart. Crumbs fell to the floor. Eyes flew open. And Jesus disappeared.

“It was him! It was him!” Grabbing a to-go cup and a flashlight, they ran all seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark.

Luke writes, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

When sorrow is too intense or joy too tempting, Jesus can still be seen. In the breaking of the bread.

Our sister Ava receives her first communion today, a day for which she has studied and practiced and prayed. What will this be like for her, holding the body of Jesus in her hands, receiving him in a cup? Will she see Jesus? Or as with generations of disciples before her, will he be elusive, even invisible to her?

I remember my first communion, a thousand years ago. It was back in the wafer days, and I feared dropping the wafer on the floor (instead it stuck to the roof of my mouth), dribbling wine down the front of my white dress. I don’t remember seeing Jesus that day. I don’t remember much about that day.

Fortunately, I have been offered Jesus’ body and blood countless times in my life. I was not doomed to the fear and clumsiness of that first time. And in this meal, in a variety of ways and places, Jesus has come near to me, to us all.

But it takes time to recognize Jesus in our midst. If his own disciples couldn’t see him clearly, we can be patient with ourselves when his presence is hard to discern. But, Ava, it will come. Jesus will come to you. In unexpected ways and places and people.

Sometimes Jesus appears in the forgiveness you receive that you simply do not deserve.

Sometimes Jesus appears in the peace that washes over you in chaotic times.

Sometimes Jesus appears in this place, surrounded by people who love you, who share a common purpose.

And sometimes it takes a while.

Trouble will come to you—it comes to us all.  Where is Jesus then? I believe Jesus is at work even in troubled times, protecting us from the full force of the blow, guiding us down a safer path.

But joy will come to you, too. Joy so intense you won’t be able to hold it all. Jesus is in that joy, expanding your capacity a little at a time until your heart can receive it.

Sometimes life is just too much to absorb all at once. So, whether it is joy or sorrow, God metes it out to us a little at a time. In a scrap of bread, a thimble of wine. A hug that speaks peace. A song that gives voice.

Though the travelers to Emmaus begged Jesus to stay with them, it is Jesus who urges us to stay with him. In joy. In sorrow. Until we are able to see him in the breaking of the bread.

 

 

Festival of the Resurrection

Festival of the Resurrection (21 April 2019)

Luke 24.1-12

JoAnn A. Post

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

We waited anxiously for the report, wondering what the investigation would uncover. Collusion? Obstruction? Witness Tampering? Bribery? Any one of those conclusions could be cause for conviction. Or worse. Finally, on Thursday, the waiting was over. The truth was told. And it was worse than anyone had imagined.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Mueller Report? Oh, no. The findings of that commission were sadly, not surprising. Nothing compared to what we’ve uncovered about what was done to Jesus.

Collusion? Without doubt. Religious officials and political appointees who ordinarily would have had no contact at all, secretly conspired to have Jesus killed.  Crucifixion makes for strange bed fellows.

Obstruction? Certainly. Neither Pilate nor Caiaphas wanted to take the rap for what they were about to do, so they pointed fingers, buried evidence, and falsified reports. “You do it!” “No, you do it!”

Witness tampering? Consistently. From the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry until the moment they nailed him to the cross, witnesses were paid to lie.

Bribery? Yes. And it didn’t take much. Just 30 silver coins pressed in Judas’ hand dropped the curtain on the whole Jesus Show.

Corruption in the halls of power is nothing new. But this time that corruption was leveled not at a political opponent or religious rival, but at God. Both priests and politicians tried to stop God’s work in the world—God’s work, in Jesus, of forgiving sinners and loving enemies and beating death into submission.  And their efforts seemed, at first, to have worked.

The Festival of the Resurrection is a liturgical field day: marvelous musicians and sneeze-inducing flowers and bright vestments. It’s also a boon for candy makers and restaurants serving Easter brunch. The Festival of the Resurrection is loud and bright and happy. “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”

I love all that—the music and fragrance and joy and dessert. But it has nothing to do with what actually happened. It’s not exactly fake news, but it’s certainly not central.

Let’s take a look at the report. Unredacted. And distressing.

On the first day of the week at early dawn, women went to the tomb taking spices they had prepared. After all, Jesus was dead and his body needed aromatic attention.

But when they arrived at the tomb, the stone that sealed it had been shoved aside. Hearts in their throats, the women snuck up to the gaping mouth of the cave in which Jesus’ body had been so hastily stuffed.

Remember, they are at the tomb in the early morning—stumbling through that silent-as-death darkness that had yet to be interrupted by light. At that hour, shapes are indistinct and edges are fuzzy. All cats are gray in that dark. The inside of the tomb was darker than the sky behind them, more humid than the dew on the ground under their feet. They would have had to strain to see inside. They peered. And leaned. And leaned a little closer.

And then they saw it. That thing that defies the laws of physics and logic, that thing that changed the whole world forever. That thing that has bolstered both believer and skeptic. They saw it.

They saw . . . nothing. There was nothing there. No body. No burial linens. Not even a ransom note.

Angels, elegant as RuPaul on the runway, appeared confused. “What are you doing here? He isn’t here. He told you he wouldn’t be here. He has been raised. Remember?”

And then we receive the great Easter acclamation of faith. The women high-fived each other, jumped up and down. Oops, never mind. Wrong story.

No, the women looked at each other. They remembered Jesus saying something about being raised. Then they shrugged and went home. This is the fact of the resurrection, according to Luke. The women remembered. The women returned.

It seems they did stop by to report Jesus’ absence to the disciples, but they were deemed hysterical, disoriented, unreliable. (Though Peter did sneak off to check it out, and was similarly underwhelmed.)

So, what is the conclusion of the Resurrection Report?

We speak erroneously when we name the women: “witnesses to the resurrection.” There were no witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection; no one saw him escape the tomb. Instead, the women witnessed an empty hole, a dark dank cave. And a stranger’s scolding voice, “Don’t you remember?”

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School. For days, we have been hearing from survivors of the attack, most of them only teenagers when gunfire erupted. They have spent the last two decades making sense of that senseless day.

One survivor reported having fled the area and her memories for ten years, descending into depression and isolation, traumatized on a cellular level. But when the 10th anniversary approached, she and her sister decided to return to the scene of the crime, to face, together, the site of the events that had ruined their lives.

The woman described clinging to her sister, braced for flashbacks. “I was really scared. I thought I would be a wreck.” But, instead when she peered into that dark, empty building, there was nothing there. No body. No blood. No evidence of the tragedy. It was only a building. A building that held a painful past, but that had nothing to do with her future.*

As they say in the investment business, “past performance is no prediction of future results.”

It is true for survivors of trauma.

It is the heart of the Easter story.

The world had done its worst to both Jesus and those who loved him. Though no shots were fired as at Columbine, blood flowed and friends betrayed and witnesses hid and some simply ran away. The horrible events of Jesus’ last days traumatized his followers. They thought their lives were over—dreams shattered, hopes dashed, future closed.

But then the women peered inside those dark fears, that empty pit in their stomachs. And they discovered there was nothing there.

Life lay, not in a dark traumatic past, but in a sunlit, unexpected future. A future in which life was possible. A future into which light shown. A future into which Jesus had already marched.

Peering into the dark past is as futile as the dog who hopefully sniffs the spot on the kitchen floor where, two Thanksgivings ago, you spilled some gravy. The memory is there, but nothing more.

Death lies behind us. There is nothing there to see.

But life lies before us.

If only we have the courage to remember. Not the trauma or the disappointment or the fear. But the words.

Jesus’ words: “I will suffer. I will die. And I will be raised.”

The angels’ words, “He is not here. He has been raised.”

My friends, the tomb is empty.

The silence has been broken.

Death has no power over us.

But life? The resurrected life lies before us. And Jesus is already there.

 

*https://www.npr.org/2019/04/18/713567335/after-columbine-an-unlikely-friendship-bound-by-the-trauma-of-mass-shootings

 

 

Good Friday Liturgy

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

 All gather in silence.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, look with loving mercy on your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, to be given over to the hands of sinners, and to suffer death on the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 Musical Reflection: Ave Verum Corpus, W. A. Mozart

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13—53:12

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him
— so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals —
so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?

For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.

When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Psalm 22

 Refrain:My God, my  God, o why have you abandoned me?

All who see me laugh at me, they mock me and they shake their heads:

“He relied on the Lord, let the Lord be his refuge.” Refrain

 

As dogs around me, they circle me about. Wounded me and pierced me,

I can number all my bones. Refrain

 

My clothing they divided, for my garments casting lots,

Oh, Lord, do not desert me, but hasten to my aid. Refrain

 

I will praise you to my people, and proclaim you in their midst,

Oh, fear the Lord and praise him, give glory to his name. Refrain

 

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to John

Reading: John 18.1-11

Song: O Bone Jesu, M.A. Ingegneri            

Reading: John 18.12-27

Song: Ah, Holy Jesus (ELW 349)

Reading: John 18.28-19.16

Song: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded  (ELW 351)

Reading: John 19.17-42

Song: “Pie Jesu,” from Requiem  by G. Faure

 

Bidding Prayer

 The assisting minister leads the invitations to prayer (the bids). Silence for prayer follows each bid. The presiding minister leads the prayers that conclude the silence.

Let us pray, brothers and sisters, for the holy church throughout the world.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you have shown your glory to all nations in Jesus Christ. By your Holy Spirit guide the church and gather it throughout the world. Help it to persevere in faith, proclaim your name, and bring the good news of salvation in Christ to all people. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for Elizabeth and Wayne, our bishops, for JoAnn our pastor, for all servants of the church, and for all the people of God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, your Spirit guides the church and makes it holy. Strengthen and uphold our bishops, pastors, other ministers, and lay leaders. Keep them in health and safety for the good of the church, and help each of us in our various vocations to do faithfully the work to which you have called us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those preparing for baptism.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you continue to bless the church. Increase the faith and understanding of those preparing for baptism. Give them new birth as your children, and keep them in the faith and communion of your holy church. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for our sisters and brothers who share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you give your church unity. Look with favor on all who follow Jesus your Son. Make all the baptized one in the fullness of faith, and keep us united in the fellowship of love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and your teaching to Moses. Hear our prayers that the people you called and elected as your own may receive the fulfillment of the covenant’s promises. Bless them as they gather tonight to remember the freedom you provided through the Passover. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, gather into your embrace all those who call out to you under different names. Bring an end to inter-religious strife, and make us more faithful witnesses of the love made known to us in your Son. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those who do not believe in God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you created humanity so that all may long to know you and find peace in you. Grant that all may recognize the signs of your love and grace in the world and in the lives of Christians, and gladly acknowledge you as the one true God. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for God’s creation.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you are the creator of a magnificent universe. Hold all the worlds in the arms of your care and bring all things to fulfillment in you. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those who serve in public office. Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you are the champion of the poor and oppressed. In your goodness, give wisdom to those in authority, so that all people may enjoy justice, peace, freedom, and a share in the goodness of your creation. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those in need.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you give strength to the weary and new courage to those who have lost heart. Heal the sick, comfort the dying, give safety to travelers, free those unjustly deprived of liberty, and deliver your world from falsehood, hunger, and disease. Hear the prayers of all who call on you in any trouble, that they may have the joy of receiving your help in their need. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, let us pray for all those things for which our Lord would have us ask.

Our Father, who art in heaven,

            hallowed be thy name,

            thy kingdom come,

            thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

            as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

            but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,

            forever and ever. Amen.

Hymn: Beneath the Cross of Jesus (ELW 338)

Remain for reflection. Depart in silence.

 

 

 

 

 

From Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2019 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #24195.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translation of the refrain from the Lectionary for Mass, © 1969, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. © 1983 GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago. All rights reserved.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday (18 April 2019)

John 13.1-17, 31b-35

JoAnn A. Post

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The fire at Notre Dame in Paris Monday afternoon stopped the whole world in its tracks. I first learned of the fire when I stepped into a hospital room to visit, and the patient did not greet me—her eyes were, instead, glued to the wall-mounted TV opposite her bed. “What’s happening?” I asked. “Notre Dame. Its burning.”  I pulled a chair up beside her, and together we watched, wordlessly, as the spire crumbled to the ground.

I have never been to Paris, so the magnificence and scale of the cathedral is only theoretical for me. But many of you report that the sight of the cathedral with one’s own eyes is breathtaking, life-changing, awe-inspiring. Even those who claim no faith in Jesus Christ, speak with reverence of the cathedral named for Our Lady.

Now that the ashes are settling and the fear subsided, I have been modestly surprised at the attention paid to a particular work of art saved from the rubble—the Crown of Thorns, a relic.

I have always been curious about the concept of “relics,” the purported remnant of holy persons or objects. Objectively, we know that the hastily-woven headpiece of briars that scraped Jesus’ scalp raw could not have survived the chaos of those days following his crucifixion, let alone the ensuing centuries. But many want to believe it is so. And such belief does no harm.

I have recently found myself in a number of bracing conversations with people, both inside and outside the Christian faith, about what we believe, how we know, who we trust. The world’s fascination with the snatched-from-the-fire Crown of Thorns is just one more example of the complexity of faith. We want to believe. In something. But what? Who? On what grounds? By whose word? The things to which we cling and the things we doubt are both surprising to me.

Tonight, we recount the events of the first Passover, when the Angel of Death catapulted over Egypt, killing the first-born of both humans and animals as they slept, sparing the people of Israel. And what kept them alive? A brush stroke of lamb’s blood on the door post. Some find that hard to believe.

We read of Jesus’ embarrassingly intimate, inappropriate washing of the disciples’ feet. It made the disciples as squeamish when Jesus handled their feet, as it makes us to handle one another’s feet. Because Jesus, the Son of God, on the night before he died, adopted the posture of a slave. Some find that hard to believe.

But I believe them both. Not because of empirical evidence that proves the events of the first Passover, or because one of the disciples snap-chatted Jesus’ on his knees, but because of what these events reveal about the God in whom I have chosen to believe.

And belief, in anything or anyone, is just that: a choice.

I have chosen to believe that, like the ancient Israelites, I am free, enslaved to no one. Perhaps you believe that, too. We are not slaves to our past, or our fears, or our destructive habits. Like our ancestors protected from death and freed from slavery, God has protected and freed us.

I have chosen to believe that Jesus is the human face of God. Perhaps you believe that, too. Because in that face, we see forgiveness for sin, compassion for lost, protection for the weak, love for the unlovely. We know God loves us, because of the way Jesus loved.

Tonight we embark on what is, for Christians, the holiest of times. We recount the story of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection. There is no hard evidence for any of those events—the crown of thorns was tossed into the brush, Jesus’ tomb has been occupied by others, we have only the word of frightened women about the resurrection. In fact, on Sunday morning, we will be reminded that when the women told the disciples Jesus was raised from death, even they regarded it as “an idle tale.”

What we believe is sometimes hard to believe. But we choose to do so. Because, though the world is dark and dangerous, petty and punitive, we have experienced light and protection, forgiveness and hope. There is no power on earth that can provide those gifts. No cathedral than can contain them. They come from God, whom we know in Jesus.

Cathedrals will fall. Trust will be betrayed. Hardship will come. We cannot allow these things to have any power over us.

Tomorrow night, our Jewish brothers and sisters will gather to sing the song of salvation from death and slavery. It is the Passover of the Lord.

Tonight, we hear words of forgiveness over our heads, demonstrate selfless love, share a hasty meal, wait in the darkness knowing the darkness will not last.

We choose to believe in Christ crucified, dead and risen from death. Because he first freed, forgave, fed and raised us. Because he first chose us.

 

 

Sunday of the Passion

Sunday of the Passion (14 April 2019)

The Passion of Our Lord, According to Luke (Luke 22.14-23.56)

JoAnn A. Post

My youngest sister was only four-years-old when we took her to her first Fourth of July fireworks show. She had been anticipating the trip to town all day, agreed to a longer-than-usual nap so she would be able to stay awake. As darkness fell, we all tumbled into my parents’ old car, singing and laughing—we older kids doted on our little sister and couldn’t wait to share this moment with her.

The show started as all fireworks shows do—with a few sparkly showers in the sky, a few distant booms on the horizon. She sat up tall and straight, pigtails at attention, eyes trained on the dark sky. But then the pace picked up—the explosions grew louder, the lights brighter, the hooting and clapping from the crowd relentless. I looked over at my little sister, expecting to see “wonder” in her eyes. But instead she was frozen in place, a look of horror on her face. Before too long she buried her head in my brother’s shoulder, covering both her eyes and ears, and began to sob.

We didn’t wait for the show to end, but hurried her back to the safety of the car. When we got home, my Mom saw the look on her little face and said, “O, honey, what’s wrong?” My sister looked at her with tear-stained cheeks, her pigtails askew. “Boom! Boom! It was terrible!” And sobbed some more.

That little sister is all grown up now, and sometimes we tease her about that night. But she doesn’t find it funny.

The story that unfolds for us today and all this week is a loud one. Booming and terrible. All the way from Bethany to the gates of the city, crowds shouted and hollered, tearing off their coats and throwing them on the road. Offended Pharisees asked Jesus to get his disciples under control, but Jesus claimed that if they were silent, the stones would shout. Hosanna!

During a quiet Passover meal, Jesus announced to the twelve disciples that one of them would betray him. The dinner erupted into a fist fight, that stopped only when Jesus shouted them down.

In the Garden, as Jesus’ face ran with blood and sweat, a crowd of soldiers approached—marching feet and clanking weapons. Judas tried to kiss Jesus, but Jesus stopped him short. “Really, Judas. A kiss?” A rumble ensued—swords were drawn, accusations were shouted, a servant was maimed.

The scene grows only louder, surpassing any safe decibel level, defying any attempts to silence it.

Peter shouted his denial of ever having met Jesus.

Soldiers roared with mocking laughter.

Pilate tore his hair out in exasperation, “I’m done with him. He’s innocent. You do whatever you need to do.”

Women wailed.

Spectators drank.

A criminal on an adjacent cross mocked.

The mob screamed.

Even Jesus cried out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Boom! Boom! It was terrible!

And then the world fell silent.

The crowd scattered. A stranger took his body from the cross and laid it in his own tomb. The women, stunned to silence, watched from a distance.

But first, before the fireworks start, we will hear from Isaiah (Isaiah 50.4-9a), who describes a flinty, resolute servant.

Then, in the Philippians text (Philippians 2.5-11), Paul quotes the text of an ancient hymn about Jesus who chose servitude.

And then the show really starts. Slowly at first—a few sparkly showers, a few distant booms on the horizon.  Boom! Boom! It will be terrible.

But the story ends in eerie silence—the sound of sadness and disappointment, confusion and grief.

Cover your ears if you must, but listen if you can: