Monday, April 4, 2016

Good Friday: An Ordinary Death, An Extraordinary Result

Good Friday 
March 25th 2016

Eternal God, who created all things ordinary and extraordinary, help us to see clearly the work that you are doing in our midst despite the sinful desires we give in to, grant us the grace to move beyond our deaths into your eternal life, through your Son who loved us so much and the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

We gather together today as ordinary people. Its important to remember our ordinariness. Its important to remember that at one point in time this day was an ordinary day. 
When we think of ordinary we tend to think of boring, repetitive, normal, typical, common place, run of the mill, regular, routine... in other words, very much not special. It's waking up each morning, going to work, sorting through the mail... And sometimes the ordinariness of things can get in the way of enjoying them. I know most of you are thinking at this moment, that's not today! Today is very much not ordinary! Definitely not ordinary. Today is the day that we remember Jesus' death. 

I want to remind you that death is pretty ordinary. Every year we watch as the plants of the earth die. Every year we know that millions of animals die. (Many on the side of the road.) Every year we see on the news that millions of people die. Ordinary people. Ordinary deaths. Accidents, cancer, disease, malnutrition, disaster, old age. We die every day. And Jesus continues to suffer his humanity when he joins the ranks of millions as he says, “It is finished,” and gives up his last breath. But God does some amazing things with the ordinary, transforming them into the extraordinary.

One of the unintended central themes of Sunday School this past year has been looking at the ordinary things in this world that Jesus makes extraordinary. In his ministry Jesus never uses anything extraordinary to make his point. He never orders away for something special. He never goes looking for some extraordinary experience to embark upon. He uses the ordinary things around him every day to teach and share about God. He used bread, fish, wine, water, a table, the birds of the air, fig trees, sheep. All things that were and are very ordinary, normal, run of the mill, routine. And yet, because Jesus used these things to share about God, they have become extraordinary. Again and again Jesus takes the ordinary and through being fully present makes it extraordinary, including this week, the pain and suffering he endured and finally at the end, his death. We know his death to be extraordinary because of what it does for us and for what comes after. But the sorrow, the pain, the suffering that caused his death was terribly, horribly, horrendously, ordinary. Yet, Jesus did not let what was ordinary stop him from seeing God's creation as it truly is, beloved of God. 

We tend to think of the death that Jesus died as completely extraordinary. But at first glance, Jesus' death can seem kind of ordinary. Jesus suffered ordinary pain and suffering throughout his ministry. The pain of being cast out, for being blamed for things not his fault, for trying to share love to those who are not the in crowd. Some of us have suffered because of these things too. The Romans crucified thousands of people, slaves, and pirates, enemies of the state and for treason. Thousands of people were flogged, beaten, whipped throughout the years of the Roman Empire and beyond. But unlike all those pirates and enemies of the state, Jesus was innocent. Yet, he suffered all the same. 

When we think about all the losses we have ever felt, the breakups, pets dying, friends gone away, mothers and fathers and siblings and children dying, the things we miss most and the things the disciples were most likely thinking about on this day two thousand years ago, were not the extraordinary moments, but the ordinary moments. We remember most the gestures our loved ones made, the way they sat in a particular way or seat, the way you could tell they had been through the house, the faces they made on a daily basis, etc. This is what Mary and Joseph and Peter and Mary Magdalen and John were all remembering, the way Jesus laughed or the look he got when we was thinking... because he too was a man - a son, a friend, a teacher. And he used those ordinary roles, the roles we have in each other's lives, to change and transform our lives into something extraordinary. 

We gather together today as ordinary people, made extraordinary in Jesus. We gather together to remember Jesus' death. An ordinary death by all standards for the time. However, we know the rest of the story. We know how Jesus makes death extraordinary. We know that through Jesus' death our own deaths are transformed. Jesus changes death just as he changed every other ordinary thing he used. This death, this day, has become extraordinary because it was overcome.


Peace, Forgiveness, and Belief

3 April 2016
Easter 2C
John 20:19-31

Eternal God, who sent your only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world, that we might know your love for us, and so that we might believe in him and join with you in eternal life, Amen.

I really disliked math when I was a kid, for one very specific reason. Math teachers never seemed to explain why things were the way they were. We learned all sorts of equations and ways to do things, but they never explained why they worked or why things were done that way. It wasn't until I hit college mathematics that they started explaining why. And then I became hooked. I always wanted to know why. I know I drove my father crazy asking him why so often. Why? Why? Why? So when I looked at the gospel passage from John this morning, I was immediately struck by the fact that he explains why he is including this story about Thomas and Jesus. "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John sets out the end goal of his gospel narrative: so that we might have life in his name. But what is life in his name? What does John mean by saying that? Since I couldn’t just call John up to ask him, I scoured the passage for clues. John is really good at leaving literary clues. What I found was that Jesus specifically points out three aspects of life with him. Peace, forgiveness, and belief.

Peace. Both times that Jesus walks in on the disciples in their locked room, he starts by saying, “Peace be with you.” (Shalom Aleichem) ‘Peace be with you’ was a normal greeting at the time, but John makes note of it because in this context, it means something greater than simply hello. For John, Jesus is the living Word which brings peace. The peace that Jesus offers is not the peace we talk about on the world stage where no one is fighting. It is the peace that comes upon you when you know in difficult situations that all will be well. It’s the peace that you cling to that allows you to get through difficult times. The kind of peace that is able to walk through anxiety and tension and not give into it. It’s a kind of peace that is inner and not always outside of us. It’s peace in the midst of conflict, because you know that all things are possible with God. It is the peace of knowing that you are loved by God and that nothing can stand in the way of that love. The disciples are locked in their figurative tomb, waiting, worried, and afraid, but Jesus offers them peace and reminds them of their mission. They are sent into this world to share that peace with others.

After Jesus reminds the disciples of their mission, that they are to be apostles, those sent out, he tells them that they have the power of forgiveness. If they forgive anyone, that person is forgiven. Jesus specifically tells the disciples that when they forgive, it will be forgiven, but if they don't, it won't. And that is a scary thought. We need forgiveness and we want forgiveness. We all do things we wish we hadn't done. We all mess up and we need the grace of forgiveness to mend our broken relationships and to live out our lives. The disciples are specifically reminded of this part of their mission because we all need this forgiveness so much. In the literary workings of John, this clause about forgiveness also comes after all the stories of the disciples deserting Jesus during his trials of the Passion, during Holy Week. I bet a few of them could have been feeling guilty about that. But here was Jesus both offering and reminding them of God’s forgiveness.

Then, of course, we come to Thomas and belief. Poor Thomas is hardly ever known as the Twin anymore. He is known as Doubting Thomas. But I think he should be known as Courageous Thomas, because he asks the questions. He asks how and why and where. One of the only other stories we have of him is when Jesus says to the disciples, "I go before to prepare a place and you know where I am going." Thomas points out the obvious, we don't know! Where are you going? How do we get there? And Jesus gives that great line, "I am the way, the truth and the life." We wouldn't have that without Thomas. Thomas makes such a good literary foil for John to highlight the need to believe in Jesus. Thomas wanted proof of what the disciples were saying when they said they had seen the lord. And when Jesus shows up the second time, he gives Thomas the proof, but he also highlights the necessity for belief in things that cannot be seen.  Jesus blesses those of us through the ages that believe in him without seeing him.

We still have our doubts of course. It’s not easy always believing in things you cannot see. That is part of the reason we come together in communities. To support to each other when we are doubting and questioning. Our doubts and our questions make our community stronger when we support each other in finding the answers in God. The disciples took their job as witnesses sent to share the story seriously, and we ended up with the books and letters of the Bible, to help us build our belief. For that we can be truly grateful.

Life in his name is characterized in this passage as peace, forgiveness, and belief. John tries to teach us that being followers of Jesus involves accepting the gifts of peace, forgiveness, and belief that we have been given from God. And how do we live out these aspects of life in His name? We pray. We wait. We live in the tensions we find ourselves in. We work towards peace in relationships. We forgive ourselves and others. We trust God. We trust Jesus. We strive to live fully into who God is calling us to be.

Life in His name isn't easy. Sometimes that is all we want: life to be easy. Life in His name means we have to face our fears, face yourself, face the world and its pain, suffering, and sorrow. But in the midst of all that tears at our hearts, we know that God is worth it. We may never know all the answers to the questions of why. We are surrounded by the mysteries of God and only God can provide the answers to why.  But that does not mean that we cannot have life in His name. Because we too are sent as the disciples were, to share the peace, forgiveness, and belief that we have from Jesus.