April 2016 Newsletter Piece

Holy Week is barely behind us – a week that began with the celebration of Palm Sunday and continued through the intimacy of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and the solemnity of Good Friday into the joy of Easter morning.

I find it incredibly interesting how the world around us has coincided with this liturgical progression this year. Palm Sunday was sunny, beautiful, warm (well … warm by March-in-Minnesota standards, anyway). By Maundy Thurs., we had all been driven to the intimacy of the indoors by colder temperatures and a blanket of snowfall. Good Friday was chilly, wet, overcast. It was a darker sort of day, both inside the church and out.

And then, by Easter evening, we had this:






And in that moment, when Peter and I were standing in our backyard marveling at the sunset with the boys in our arms, I kept having this hymn running through my head.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the splendor of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
God of all, to you we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Folliott Sandford Pierpoint (1835-1917), an English poet, was inspired to write these words by the beauty of a spring day in his native town of Bath, England.[i] He originally penned the words to this hymn intending for them to be used during communion – a way to infuse joy into a part of the service that was usually very solemn.

Just as Pierpoint intended to infuse the solemn and sacred ritual of the Lord’s Supper with an element of joy, so the joy and the miracle of Easter infuse our lives and hearts with joy, even in the midst of the solemn, the troublesome, the worn-out, and the mundane. In the miracle of Easter – in the elation of the unexpectedly empty tomb and the declaration of the Good News: HE IS RISEN! – we find a Light that cannot be extinguished. We find a Light more awe-inspiring even than the most stunning sunset the world has ever seen. We find a Light warmer and more life-giving that the brightest rays of sunshine. Into the solemnity of our days and worries and responsibilities, God injects the Light of Hope – hope in a life everlasting, hope in a Savior who came and died and rose again for our sake, hope in a future that is unknowable in the particulars but sure in grace.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and a good hope. May he encourage your hearts and give you strength in everything you do or say.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Alleluia! Amen.

[i] The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns. (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), 225.

Easter sermon: Shiny and New

empty tomb grave clothes

Texts used – Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 24:1-12

  • We love new things, don’t we?
    • New phone, computer, or tablet
      • Figuring out all the different features
      • Finding favorite new programs/apps
      • Comparing it with your previous device
        • Faster
        • Sleeker
        • (hopefully) easier to use
    • New car
      • Researching best option for yourself
        • Mileage?
        • Passenger capacity?
        • Fuel economy?
        • Options – leather seats, sun roof, towing capability, etc.
      • Driving that new car for the first time (either brand new or new to you … doesn’t matter) → never prouder than driving my 1st car (total junker!)
      • Learning about all the different features
        • Where’s my windshield wiper switch?
        • How do I change the clock?
        • Pre-setting the radio buttons
        • Etc.
    • New pair of shoes
      • Showing off the way they look
      • Getting used to the way they feel
      • Keeping them clean and shiny
    • Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty. Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! – task today: find the “shiny and new” in this ancient story, in these words that we have heard so many times before
  • “Resurrection” = literally: rising again = new life – text: Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothes. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.”[1]
    • “He isn’t here, but has been raised.” What?! Pretty incredible new thing right there! Resurrection. – only been done by Jesus up to this point
      • Lazarus
      • Little girl
      • And Jesus had to be present for those. He had to play an active part – calling Lazarus out of his tomb, taking the little girls hands and instructing her to get up. And Jesus couldn’t stand there and call himself out of the grave.
      • Introduces a whole new world
        • World in which death no longer has the final say
        • World in which God’s love and grace are stronger than anything that try to keep us in the dark
        • World in which a risen Savior reaches down to raise us up with God
          • Paul in Romans: I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.[2]
  • In the face of this awareness, we need to hear our Old Testament passage in a new light.
    • Call to action
    • Call to discipleship
    • Call to do and to dare for the sake of our radical and resurrected God
    • Text: Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth: past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I’m creating, because I’m creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a source of gladness.[3]
      • Acknowledge: We often read it as pertaining to Jesus’ resurrection – that new and crazy-amazing thing that God did by raising Jesus from the dead and enfolding us in pure, irrevocable, undeniable, undeserved, and unconditional grace. And that’s definitely true. In that glorious act of resurrection, God did indeed do a new thing. God did indeed create a new heaven and a new earth – wiping away all those past events that kept us at arm’s length and enfolding us in glad rejoicing forevermore. Alleluia!
    • BUT … I want you to notice something in this text. Did God say, “I have created a new heaven and a new earth?” Like it was something that God had already done? Did God say, “I will create a new heaven and a new earth?” Like it’s a one-time-only future event that requires a save-the-date and an RSVP? No. God said, “I am creating a new heaven and a new earth.” Am. Creating. This is a continuing action – something that God has done and is doing and will do – this new and crazy-amazing thing just keeps coming. And friends, this is where we come in.
      • Often speak of being “the hands and feet of God” in church (pertaining to mission works) – This … is that!
        • Paul in 2nd letter to Corinthians: So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived![4]
    • Is passage speaks of what that new heaven and new earth will be like: No one will ever hear the sound of weeping or crying again. No more will babies live only a few days, or the old fail to live out their days … They won’t build for others to live in, nor plant for others to eat. … They won’t labor in vain, nor bear children to a world of horrors[5] → Friends, this new heaven and new earth is a place of justice and equality. It is a place where those who have more than enough share with those who have need. It’s a place where an honest day’s work earns an honest wage (those who build houses live in them, those who work in the fields reap the benefits). It’s a place where no more children will be born “to a world of horrors” – the horrors of war, starvation, human trafficking, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, and so much more.
  • New thing is not always an easy or comfortable thing – messengers in gospel reading (to the women): “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” = “Why are you looking in the ‘ordinary’ place for one who has always been extraordinary?” → Like the women, we still have a tendency to look for Jesus in all the ordinary places … the familiar places … the expected places. We often forget or neglect to look for Jesus in the difficult and uncomfortable places:
    • Poor and underprivileged places
    • Desperate and demoralized places
    • Oppressed and violent places
    • Hopeless and fearful places
    • Ailing and afflicted places
    • All of those places that we hesitate to go … all of those places that we would rather ignore, gloss over, forget about. But we forget just how truly radical Jesus was – how he broke barriers, toppled traditions, and upended presumptions; how he spent all his time with exactly the people he was “supposed to” avoid – the sinners, the foreigners, the outcasts, the women. That is the Jesus who was raised from the dead. That is our Resurrected Savior. And that is where Jesus is, even today. That is where Jesus continues to be in all his grace-filled, love-filled, resurrected glory: with the sinners, the foreigners, the outcasts, the women … with those whom society continues to forget, to neglect, to push to the side and hide away.
      • With refugees and immigrants
      • With single parents struggling to make ends meet
      • With the homeless men/women on the street
      • With those battling illness (physical and mental)
      • E.g. – annual papal foot washing ritual on Maundy Thurs.
        • Tradition = deacons who had helped the pope serve Maundy Thurs. mass → always 12 Catholic men in good standing with the church
        • Pope Francis – allowed “wider representation of the People of God to take place in this ceremony”[6]
          • 2013 = feet of young men and women detainees at juvenile detention center
          • 2014 = people at home for elderly and disabled
          • Last year = 12 prisoners (men and women)
          • This year = 12 Muslim, Hindu, and Christian refugees (men and women)
          • Doesn’t just superficially swipe at them with a damp cloth – pours water over them, pats them dry, then leans down to kiss the feet he has washed
  • I want to share a poem with you this morning.
    • Written by Ann Weems = “Presbyterian poet laureate”
    • Died at age 81 on Mar. 17, 2016
    • Wrote powerful poems for life, for liturgy, for faith
    • In Search of New Resurrections” in Kneeling in Jerusalem[7] → “Where change is possible / new resurrections loom!” We are where change is possible! We are the hands and feet and love of God in this world. We are disciples, sent out just as directly and as urgently as those women were sent that morning, to search among the unexpected for the Risen Savior.
      • Scholar (pastor at First Pres in Charlotte, NC): Once you walk up to the tomb and see it empty with the stone rolled back, the role of a follower of Jesus takes on more significance and urgency. No longer is it time to stand idly by, to observe, to wait, to accept the world the way it is. The knowledge of resurrection impels those who believe to walk the pathway of discipleship. To work. To risk. To challenge. To take up the cross … We are threatened by the resurrection. The old life may not be gone just yet, but it will be. Our new life has begun.[8] → Friends, the tomb is indeed empty. Christ is Risen, and it is a whole new world – a world in which our Resurrecting and Resurrected God continues to create new works for justice and peace every minute of every day … through us. Our new life has indeed begun. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Lk 24:4b-6a.

[2] Rom 8:38-39.

[3] Is 65:17-18.

[4] 2 Cor 5:17.

[5] Is 65:19b-20a, 22a, 23a.

[6] “Holy Thursday Mandatum,” from the January 2016 newsletter of the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/triduum/holy-thursday-mandatum.cfm. Accessed Mar. 27, 2016.

[7] Ann Weems. “In Search of New Resurrections” in Kneeling in Jerusalem: Poetry for Lent and Easter. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 99-101.

[8] Pendleton B. Peery. “Luke 24:1-12 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 348.

Sunday’s sermon: Set in Stones

stones will cry out

Texts used – Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19:28-40

  • Friends, it is that dramatic, mystical time of year when anything can happen … when dreams come true … when anticipating hangs in the air as thick as those snowflakes that were coming down on Friday afternoon. I am talking about none other than … March Madness!
    • College basketball championship games – single-elimination tournament that started Thursday with 64 teams and will be whittled down to just 1 champion on Apr. 4
      • 5 weeks = magical → turn even completely unknowledgeable amateurs (like myself) into devout fans
        • Admittedly only time of year when I care at all about any college sports
    • Now, if you’re completely unfamiliar with this yearly ritual, there are two essential things you need to know about March Madness.
      • 1st = brackets: way people attempt to predict outcomes of every game played from Day 1
        • Multiple platforms host brackets (ESPN, etc.)
        • Go in with various groups (mine: Young Clergy Women’s Project)
        • Some include buy-in pools → pay $X to participate and bracket with most successful/correct predictions wins the pot
        • Add a bit of a personal connection, especially if you have no association with any of the colleges in the tournament
      • 2nd = Cinderella stories: those long-shot teams that suddenly, magically find themselves beating teams with better rankings, bigger budgets, stronger players → This is, quite simply, that ancient pull to route for the underdog.
        • Usually one or two upset games like this in the tournament
    • But this year has been an entirely different story. Within the first few days of the tournament, there has been upset after upset after upset. All of these little schools that no one’s ever heard of beating big schools that always find themselves deeper in the tournament than just that first round! It’s been Cinderella story after Cinderella story.
      • After the 2nd day, only 10% of brackets hosted by ESPN were still perfect … And no, my brackets are not part of that 10%. J
      • Cinderella stories like this turn tournament on its head → take conventional expectations and make topsy turvy
  • So today is Palm Sunday – a day when we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowds. We wave our palms. We shout our “Hosannas.” We want to focus on the joyful, the redemption, the end of the story – an empty tomb and neatly folded graveclothes and a risen Savior. But between the celebration of today and the elation of Easter Sunday, we must walk through the rest of Jesus’ story this week – the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest, the beating, the crucifixion, the death.
    • What we know that those crowds didn’t know – how topsy turvy Jesus’ story truly would be
      • Triumph … in trial
      • Profit … in pain
      • Deliverance … in death
    • This is not exactly the mighty, conquering, Roman-regime-toppling Messiah that the Jewish crowds wanted Jesus to be. That was their expectation of what the Messiah would come to do – free them physically from those who oppressed them. But in just a few short days, Jesus would turn their entire idea of Messiah completely on its head.
      • Story so odd
      • Story so unpredictable
      • Story so out of the blue
      • Story cannot be told in usual voices of ancient storytellers but instead in the stones
    • Certainly tells a bit of the story: The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed; we bless all of you from the Lord’s house. … So lead the festival offering with ropes all the way to the horns of the altar.[1] → sounds like Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, right?
      • This is certainly where some of the crowd’s cries came from: “We bless all of you from the Lord’s house” = crowd’s “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
    • Begins with joy and with praise: Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever. Let Israel say it: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”[2]
      • Heb. “faithful” = powerful word → This word encompasses exceptional devotion and loyalty.
        • Sense of binding obligation to the community (family, friends, etc.)
        • Sense of grace … And beyond even that, evidence of that grace – something palpable, something quantifiable and measurable, something that will remain as a concrete reminder of that grace. Our psalm calls Israel to bear witness that this is the kind of love that God has for us – that it is this kind of love that will surely last forever.
    • Key verse: The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone![3] – rest of our reading today builds on that foundation stone
      • Text: This has happened because of the Lord; it is astounding in our sight! This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
        • Often read as celebrating in the elevation of the stone – from refuse and rubble to cornerstone
          • Purpose of a cornerstone: first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation – important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone → So this one stone ends up determining the position of the entire
        • That’s something to celebrate, right? In the face of the rejection that he will face this week, we hold onto this prediction that Jesus will be elevated to that position of greatest importance. But what if that’s not it? But what if we’re actually being directed to rejoice and celebrate in the rejection? To be astounded not by the lifting up but the tossing out? “This has happened because of the Lord … This is the day the Lord acted.”
          • Topsy turvy story → takes our typical response to rejection and turns it on its head
    • Ends with same declaration of joy and praise that open the psalm: Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.[4] → even in the face of that topsy turvy rejection … God’s everlasting, faithful love
    • Most of today’s passage = familiar story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem
      • Includes adoring crowds waving palms branches and tossing their coats on the road, an ancient sign of praise and reverence that was used for mighty kings in Israel’s history
      • Includes familiar cries: “Hosanna! Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!” → cries that sound happy and joyful and innocent … but are far from it
        • “Hosanna” = Greek mash-up of 2 Hebrew words, hoshiah and na, which mean “Save now” → words actually come from the psalm we read today, too
          • Ps: Lord, please save us! Lord, please let us succeed![5] → “Lord, please save us!” is exactly that phrase: Yahweh, hoshiah na. So these are not simply cries of adoration but cries for salvation and deliverance. These are cries that betray just how the crowd feels about the Romans … which was a dangerous thing to do.
    • Precipitates the Pharisees’ reply → Now, I know that the Pharisees get a bad rap throughout Scripture, and much of that is well-deserved. But in this case, the Pharisees aren’t trying to be combative or obstinate or obstructionist. They’re trying to keep the peace. They’re trying to keep the crowds safe.
      • Roman soldiers certainly nearby hearing these cries of “Save us!” and “Here comes the king!” (not directed at the Roman emperor, who was the only politically acceptable recipient of such a phrase) → dangerous and subversive cries
        • Could have gotten them all in trouble
        • Could have started a riot
        • Could have ended in retaliatory actions – harsher restrictions on the Jews to “keep them in line”
        • So the Pharisees’ response – “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” – is one that comes not from a place of opposition or antagonism but a place of fear.
    • Jesus’ quirky, topsy turvy response: “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”[6]
      • One of the coolest verses in the Bible because of the Greek behind it → One tiny, little, seemingly-insignificant word in this phrase can make all the difference. It’s a word that can be translated as both “if” and “when,” and if you alter the translation with that subtle nuance, it makes quite a difference: “I tell you, when they are silent, the stones will shout.”
        • Jesus foreshadowing what is to come – the abandonment, the crowds turning on him, the same voices soon shifting from cries of “Save us!” to cries of “Crucify him!”
      • And yet, even in the face of that rejection, the stones will tell the story. The stones will shout “Hosanna!” The stones will testify to God’s salvation. “I tell you, when they are silent, the stones will shout.”
    • Even more interesting twist – what stones were often used for in those times = instruments of death in judgment
      • Carried out by numerous cultures throughout history
      • Still practiced in some parts of Middle East, Africa, and Asia today
      • Know it was practiced in Jesus’ time – scene from gospel of John: The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” … He stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”[7]
      • And yet, it is these instruments of death that will declare the name of the one who brings everlasting life! Again, the conventional expectation is turned on its head.
  • One final stone that we cannot neglect to mention as we look to the week ahead: stone that will be rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb
    • Another stone that is supposed to signify the permanence and unbreakable bonds of death
      • Stone that was meant more to keep others out than to keep the dead in – Pharisees’ request of Pilate from Matthew: “Order the grave to be sealed until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people, ‘He’s been raised from the dead.’ This last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate replied, “You have soldiers for guard duty. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” Then they went and secured the tomb by sealing the stone and posting the guard.[8]
      • Power of this stone = demonstrated during our Good Friday service with the strepitus, loud noise at the end of the service to signify the sealing of the tomb
    • And yet even this immense stone will not have the final say. Jesus takes the darkness of death – the death in the stones, his own impending death, and even the death that awaits us all – and shatters it.
      • Words of our psalm this morning: He has shined a light on us! … Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.[9]
  • And so with the crowds, we shout, “Hosanna! Save us!” And we prepare to walk through Holy Week with Jesus, knowing that even when all are silent – the disciples, the crowds, even ourselves – when all are silent, the world will still hear the stones cry out: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Amen.

[1] Ps 118:26, 27b.

[2] Ps 118:1-2.

[3] Ps 118:22.

[4] Ps 118:1 and 29.

[5] Ps 118:25.

[6] Lk 19:40.

[7] Jn 8:3-5, 7.

[8] Mt 27:64-66.

[9] Ps 118:27a, 29.

Sunday’s sermon: Preciousness in Brokenness


Text used – Luke 7:36-50

  • Introduce Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos → In this eccentric, transformative, and powerful story, we meet two central characters: Margaret, a quirky septuagenarian living alone in her mansion in Seattle, WA surrounded only by a mass of antiques; and Wanda, a recently-heartbroken young woman and budding artist who is on a journey not only of miles but of the heart. As these two women develop an odd yet stirring friendship, they end up helping each other find more parts of themselves than either woman ever knew was lost. But in order to experience this life-changing relationship to the fullest, both women have to recognize one thing: they are broken.
    • Brokenness takes on interesting character all on its own – Wanda is a mosaic artist
      • Takes broken pieces – cracked and chipped and discarded bits of hundreds of lives – and makes them into something beautiful again → [READ SECTION]: “It’s my wedding china,” Margaret continued. … She began turning the plate over in her hands. “It’s very … ornate.” “It’s gaudy. Self-centered. Desperate. Preening. I’ve never liked it.” Margaret’s hands were gaining courage now; one of them left the plate and fell limply to her side. It’s just a plate, after all, she thought, at the same time knowing full well that it was much, much more than a plate. … With that, she let go. For a while, it was as if gravity ceased to exist, and the plate made its way to the hardwood floor with the dreamy languor of a snowflake. A great deal of time seemed to go by, and as Margaret watched the slow, unreal descent of the plate, she thought, I could still catch it if I wanted to, change history, interrupt this tragedy. It’s not too late. … The plate arrived. The sound it made was not nearly as loud as Margaret had anticipated, nor did it shatter dramatically as she had secretly hoped. Actually, the damage was probably not irreparable. But Margaret was in charge of this plate’s future, for the time being anyway, and she did not want to see it repaired. … Without knowing exactly why, Margaret giggled abruptly, and then, just as abruptly, stopped. “Crash,” she said. Wanda looked up from the ruined plate. “Margaret?” she said, putting a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem to realize that she had begun to weep. “Margaret?” Wanda repeated. “Are you – ?” “It’s all right, dear. Really. It’s what I want to do.” … As Wanda watched her haul the first armload of dishes outside and heard the clamor that followed a few seconds after her exit … she suddenly knew that she had found a home with someone who was as deeply aggrieved and crazy as she was. It was tremendously comforting.[1]:
        • Reminds me of both the woman in song we’ve been listening to and the woman in our Gospel story
          • Both have been chipped away at
          • Both have been broken
          • Both have been discarded
            • By society, and eventually …
            • By themselves
            • And yet, just like those shattered plates and saucers and bowls that became such beautiful mosaics, the end for these women was not in the brokenness.
  • Gospel story = probably one of the most powerful stories in all of Scripture
    • Main characters in this tale
      • Jesus
      • Simon, the Pharisee
      • Woman with the alabaster jar/vase – woman who’s gotten quite a bad rap throughout the centuries
        • Luke’s description – “woman from the city, a sinner” → has been characterized as a prostitute, often presumed to then be Mary Magdalene
          • No indication that this woman is Mary Magdalene
          • No indication that this woman’s sin has anything to do with sexuality → only sure thing is that her sin (whatever it was) carried a heavy social stigma – those in the room knew simply by the sight of her that she was a sinner
            • Something about her – her demeanor, the way she carried/presented herself, perhaps her bowed head and downcast eyes … something about her conveyed her brokenness in all its pain and shame and separation
            • Hear this recognition in Simon’s reaction to her presence: When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus [i.e. – Simon] saw what was happening, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.”[2]
              • Implication = that she is someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the presence of “decent people”
        • She reminds me so much of the woman in our song. → [PLAY SONG[3]]
  • Now, over the past few Sundays throughout Lent, we’ve talked a lot about this song – about the resignation and the brokenness we hear in it. We talked about what it means to be running on empty, about how we are never too far from the love of God, and about how, even when we don’t feel like we can go another step, God meets us wherever we’re at.
    • Said at the beginning of this sermon series that this song “sounded like Lent” the first time I heard it – sounded like the introspective and repentant nature of Lent → naming and claiming those less-than-impeccable parts of ourselves
      • Our mistakes
      • Our flaws
      • Our prejudices
      • Our reluctances
    • Heard the message of God’s love for us and message of God’s willingness to reach out to us even when we ourselves don’t feel like we can reach out to God
    • Most powerful message today = same message that Jesus has for the woman with the alabaster jar → It is not righteousness or perfection or outward appearances that make us precious in God’s eyes.
      • Gospel story – Simon appeared to be “in the right,” to “have it all together” → Simon was a Pharisee – a well-respected, well-to-do character in the community. At this point in Luke’s gospel, the Pharisees haven’t quite turned against Jesus yet. They’re still trying to figure out this teacher/preacher man who’s suddenly getting all the attention. So it was surely both a fact-finding mission and a matter of pride for Simon that Jesus had come to his home for a meal. And yet Jesus conversation is quite revealing.
        • Reveals Simon’s own failings
          • First, Jesus’ short parable about a debt forgiven and the gratitude emanating from that forgiveness: “Which of them will love [the lender] more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.”[4]
          • Opens Simon’s eyes to fact that he wasn’t quite as unblemished as he would have like to think – key = hospitality → Jesus describes in no uncertain terms the welcome – or lack thereof – that he received when he entered Simon’s home.
            • Middle Eastern culture places very high significance on hospitality and yet …
              • Jesus NOT offered a chance to wash the road dust off his feet – no water, not even a towel to wipe them off
              • Jesus NOT given a kiss of welcome (commonplace in that culture)
              • Jesus NOT given any oil to anoint his head (also commonplace in culture)
            • Simon, the ultra-correct, ultra-respectable Pharisee should have known to observe these cultural patterns, and yet, for whatever reason, he neglected them. But this woman – this debased and yet deeply devoted woman did all of these things for Jesus. She washed his feet with her tears of repentance and adoration. She dried his feet with the very hair on her head. And she anointed not his head but his feet – his feet! – with an entire vase full of precious oil.
              • Feet = much lowlier part of the body – not usually anointed → That was how much she loved and revered Jesus. Even his feet – his lowly, dirty, road-worn feet – deserved to be anointed.
      • Jesus: “This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. … Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
  • It is repentance … a turning and returning to God with remorse and our own declarations of love and devotion on our lips and in our hearts.
    • Hear again the words from Ps 51 we read during our Ash Wed. service to begin this season of repentance: The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.[5]
    • Sounds like end of song → speaking of herself (the girl that I knew):

And then she’ll get stuck and be scared
Of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day
‘Til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little
To bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone … but it used to be mine.

  • Even in the midst of pain and bone-weariness … redemption, renewal, peace
    • Scholar: Forgiveness can open the possibility that one is worth something. In fact, that one is worth quite a lot. This is freedom. Jesus reminds us that this freedom is the gift of a loving God. A heart that is bound by sin and shame withers and dies, but the love of a forgiving God lifts it to heights beyond our greatest dreams and causes it to sing in gratitude.[6]
    • Doesn’t erase our sins
    • Doesn’t make it like they never happened in the first place
    • Jesus didn’t say, “Your sins are forgotten.” He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
      • Song ends with the familiar chorus: She’s messy but she’s kind … She is lonely most of the time … She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie … She is gone but she used to be mine. → We will always carry the reminders of the things that we’ve done and said and the choices we’ve made that we wish we could take back. But when we turn to God – no matter how drained, how lost, how jaded, or how broken we feel … When we turn to God once again with a repentant and contrite heart, God will call us not broken and hopeless but forgiven … precious … beloved. Amen.

[1] Stephanie Kallos. Broken for You. (New York, NY: Grove Press, 2004), 131-133.

[2] Lk 7:39 (emphasis added).

[3] “She Used to Be Mine,” written and performed by Sara Bareilles. From What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, Epic Records, released Sept. 25, 2015.

[4] Lk 7:42b-43.

[5] Ps 51:17 (NRSV).

[6] M. Jan Holton. “Proper 6 (Sunday between June 12 and June 18 inclusive) – Luke 7:36-8:3, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 144.

Sunday’s sermon: Where We’re At

God meets us

Text used – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

  • [PLAY SONG] → For a few weeks now, we’ve been listening to this song – “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles[1] – and hearing messages of Lent through its
    • Talked about what it feels like to be running on empty → how God can relate to that feeling through Jesus’ own, very human struggles
    • Talked about sometimes feeling like we are too far gone – beyond God’s grasp → how God’s love and grace extend to us no matter how far away we think we are
    • This week: focus a little on one particular stanza – 3rd stanza:

It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person
And makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

  • I don’t know about you, but I hear such resignation in this stanza. There seems to be such a feeling of submission to the circumstances of life – both in the lyrics themselves and the way in which they’re sung, particularly those two lines in the middle: “And now I’ve got you, And you’re not what I asked for.”
    • Feel her lack of motivation and inspiration
    • “This is where my life has ended up. So be it.”
    • So lackluster, so flat, so subdued
    • Needs someone or something to come in and intervene
      • Shake her up
      • Wake her up
      • Bring some spark and some joy and some purpose
  • Sometimes get into cycles like this with our faith
    • So familiar with a passage in Scripture that we stop hearing it → usually ends up happening with some of the most powerful and impactful passages
    • Times when we’ve gone through the motions so many times – this ritual practice, that traditional saying – that we become immune to the majesty and the mystery that inspired those motions in the first place
      • E.g. – “sursum corda”[2] → Did you know that our common liturgy – a piece of the worship that we repeat at least once a month without fail – is in fact an ancient formula that has been used by Christians in worship since the early 3rd century?
        • Echoes even more ancient words of Scripture throughout the Old Testament
        • Serves as a summons to heaven – calls the faithful not only to prayerful concentration but to heavenly-mindedness and drives home need for sincerity in prayer
        • Literally being called into God’s presence
        • Friends, we will say these very words once again today. Soon, we will all raise our voices together, inviting each other to heavenly contemplation and into the very presence of God. This bit of liturgy is called the “sursum corda.”

God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to God Most High.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

  • How many times have you repeated these words? And how often have you taken these words for granted – simply resigned to thinking they are what they are, immune to the majesty and the mystery that inspired those sacred words in the first place? Going through the motions …
  • As I said, last week: talked about feeling too far gone – being in a place too dark, too painful, too challenging, too messed up, too fear-filled, too doubtful, too weak, too wrong for God to find us … And then we were reminded through the words of the prophet Isaiah that such a place does not exist – that God can always get to us: Seek the LORD when he can still be found; call him while he is yet near. Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes. Let them return to the LORD so that he may have mercy on them, to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness.[3] → This week, I want to build on that idea. You see, not only is there no place that God can’t reach, there’s also no place that God won’t go to find us.
    • Popular phrase in practical theology, pastoral care, and other Christian writings = God meets us where we’re at → conveys God’s willingness and ability to slog through whatever is surrounding us in order to walk our path alongside us
      • Not drag us back to “the right way”
      • Not force us to slog through everything alone – watching us desperately and arduously work our way back to God’s side while God waits safely and serenely in the clear
      • God meets us where we’re at
      • Think of it this way … inversion goggles experiment[4]
        • 1950
        • Professor Theodor Erismann and Ivo Kohler (student and assistant)
        • Erismann hand-made goggles with special mirrors that flipped wearer’s vision upside-down
        • Kohler (being the lowly student and guinea pig) wore goggles
          • First 3 days – disastrous → needed a cane to keep from falling over while walking, constantly running into things, missed grabbing things held directly in front of him, dumping cups of tea when he realized the water was flowing upside down … You get the picture!
          • Odd thing: over the period of a week, Kohler’s brain started to adapt to even that drastically altered state → after 10 days was functioning perfectly normally again even while wearing the inversion goggles
            • State of his reality had been altered – up ⟷ down and vice versa … So much so that when Kohler finally removed the goggles at the end of the experiment, it took him another week or so just to adjust back again. Without the goggles, his world looked upside-down!
          • There are plenty of times throughout life when we feel like things are upside-down at best, and instead of waiting for our realities to readjust on their own, God steps right in in the midst of our disorientation and frustration and panic and whatever else and says, “I’m here.”
    • Hear this in Scripture this morning
      • Elements of disorientation: So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived![5] → Not recognizing people by human standards? New creation? Some new thing that’s arrived? We can imagine how disorienting and confusing this might have been for early Christians … indeed, now disorienting and confusing it can still be for us! What is this new thing? What does it mean for my life? What do I have to do? Where do I have to go? And yet …
      • Text (following): All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them.[6] → Did you catch that? “All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” God does that. Not us. None of the action in these verses is on our part. God willingly intervenes – shakes us up, wakes us up, bring us that spark, that joy, that purpose.
        • Could be actively struggling — OR —
        • Could be in a state of dispiritedness like the woman in the song: “If I’m honest I know I would give it all back, For a chance to start over, And rewrite an ending or two, For the girl that I knew” → God’s response: So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! … God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.[7]
          • Also part of our communion liturgy: No matter who you are … no matter where you come from this morning … no matter what you bring with you, you are welcome here at this table and in this community. Amen.

[1] “She Used to Be Mine,” written and performed by Sara Bareilles. From What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, Epic Records, released Sept. 25, 2015.

[2] Dr. Jack Kinneer. “Roots of Reformed Worship, No. 6” from the Echo Hills Christian Study Center (Indian Head, PA), 1998. https://centralpresworship.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/roots-of-reformed-worship-6-calvin-and-sursum-corda.pdf, accessed Mar. 5, 2016.

[3] Is 55:6-7.

[4] Marc Abrahams. “Experiments show we quickly adjust to seeing everything upside-down” from The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/nov/12/improbable-research-seeing-upside-down. Posted Monday 12 November 2012, accessed Mar. 5, 2016.

[5] 2 Cor 5:16-17.

[6] 2 Cor 5:18-19a.

[7] 2 Cor 5:17, 21.