Easter Sermon

Easter SermonA sermon preached for the Resurrection of our Lord on April 21, 2019 on Luke 24:1-12 and Acts 10:34-43 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women leave as the barely lights the eastern sky. Jesus was buried on Friday just before the Sabbath began, so there was no time to properly bathe and anoint his body for burial. As soon as it was light, they set off to do women’s work—to wash, and bathe and bless Jesus body and as they would do so, to grieve, to remember, tell stories. As they would bind his body, they would begin to bind their hearts, and each other’s to deal with this tragedy and loss.

But as they arrive at the tomb, there is no work for them to do. The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty; they are expecting the stench of death, and all they smell is the dawn of a new day, and the mineral of an empty rock. Two angels dazzle them and ask them the oddest question, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” Of course, they were not looking for the living among the dead—they were the living looking for the dead. But, it’s wonderful isn’t it? That angels reinterpret their intention, as if to say that any of us who are looking for Jesus are not seeking an old dead faith but are really searching for the living risen Christ among us.

“He is not here,” they say. “He has risen. Remember how he told you that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and to be crucified and on the third day rise again.”

Remember what Jesus said. Remember what Jesus did. Remember your time with Jesus. Remember. Trust today because you remember what Jesus did for you yesterday, and last week, and last year. The whole Bible is written really to help us remember what God has done before, so we can love and seek and pray to Jesus today.

Even though they are terrified, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women begin to remember what Jesus said, and it all starts to make sense—Jesus had talked about dying and rising again! Jesus’ body is gone, dazzling men are here—it’s all happening just as Jesus said!
They returned from the empty tomb and the angel visitation excited to tell the incredible news that all was not lost! They will help the rest of the disciples remember what Jesus said—and proclaim it has come true! The resurrection is now!

But the disciples and all the other followers of Jesus do not remember, and they do not believe the women’s testimony. Don’t you find it interesting that the women, who are terrified, believe the angel visitors, but the disciples do not believe the women? (I’ll let you think about that for a minute).

Their words seemed to the disciples an idle tale. But “idle tale” is not the best translation for that word. “Idle tale” makes it sound like the women were gossiping, but the original Greek word is much harsher than that. The disciples thought the women were “delirious,” or spouting “garbage.” It’s very dismissive.

Perhaps you have had this experience at one time or another in your life—of being dismissed, like you’re crazy, treated as if you are disposable and unimportant. It must have been an awful feeling for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women—to have this amazing, transcendent, spiritual experience, this realization of Jesus’ resurrection after death, remembering everything he had said, and this cosmic convergence of the real meaning of his ministry, this moment of everything falling into place and making sense.

And then to share it with their closest friends—their tightest community—only to be treated like garbage.

It’s heart-breaking in our day and age, when we still hear about people being treated this way. About a month ago, a man stopped by the church wanting to talk with the pastor and looking for help. He had a real family crisis on his hands and I gave him some referrals, what help I could, including a few Hunger Helper lunches, I prayed with him, and then I told him, “you can’t deal with this alone, so I would love for you to come to worship so you can be a part of a Christian community.” He started to tear up and was surprised I invited him to church. He told me when he asked to talk to the pastor at another church, he was told to leave or they would call police— he was treated like he was crazy, or a criminal for being in need.

In my first congregation, there was a mother and son who came to worship from the neighborhood. Ella was limited intellectually, and her son, Alex had down syndrome. They just loved walking to church and being part of the community. After a time, they joined the choir. Sadly, some of the choir members started to complain because they thought Ella and Alex would ruin their anthems. They didn’t ruin anything, but none-the-less, they were viewed as disposable. God bless the choir director, MaryAnn, who would have none of that, and included Alex and Ella in the choir.

Peter preaches to this very point in our Acts reading as he comes to truly understand that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” No one is disposable. No one is garbage. It’s 2,000 years later and the entire Christian world is still working at living out the radical inclusion that Jesus embodied in his life, that his risen Spirit empowers in his resurrection, and that was preached in the earliest days of the church.

God calls us to live this Easter reality today, becoming a community that shows no partiality. There are still many people our society and the church treats as disposable, who need to experience a God who loves them and a community who welcomes them. If you have ever been dismissed or mistreated, you know how important it is to carry out the mission of sharing the unequivocal love of God in a radically inclusive community.

Who is it in your neighborhood, school, workplace, on your commute, or where you shop that society dismisses as unimportant? God calls us to embrace the discomfort of welcoming and listening to those at the margins. God calls us to give these sisters and brothers time, space and community in which to rise with Christ into the fullness of who God made them to be. In the first century, it started with listening to the testimony, wisdom, and experience of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women. Peter finally decided to check out the empty tomb himself, and the others eventually believed the women. Thank goodness Peter and the other disciples started to listen to the women, or the good news might not have made it all the way to us today!

In fact, building an Easter community that shows no partiality is what it means to be named St. Luke’s. Remember that Luke, more than the other evangelist, shows us the Jesus who was always reaching out to those at the margins—the sinners, the cheats, untouchables, the sick, the demon-possessed, the blind, and the poor—those society dismissed as delirious, outcast, and social garbage.

Of course, a resurrection community in Jesus’ name, called St. Luke’s would include every last one of God’s great diversity people—no matter who they are—amazingly, including YOU! Believing that Jesus died and rose for YOU—no matter what—is the first act of faith that enables you to welcome others, expanding our diversity and making a radically inclusive Easter community a reality. 

There’s a dazzling table set by our risen Lord and your name is written a piece of bread and a cup of forgiveness. You are included, you are valued, you are loved, you are matter to God and to this community. Receive the grace of the risen Jesus for you and remember to go from here to seek out those at the margins. Show no partiality and participate with Jesus in living the Easter community. All are welcome! Alleluia!

 Image: Empty Tomb by renowned Christian artist, He Qi

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Can We Bear This Much Love?

footwashingMaundy Thursday Reflection on John 13:1-17, 31b-35 for a service of foot washing, Holy Communion and stripping of the altar, St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

I remember when I was in middle school and I first heard the popular saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

It was the first time I began to understand that real love was not about possession, but rather about freedom.

If there was ever a night for Jesus to give up on love as freedom and engage in a little love as possession, I think the night before he died would have been a good choice. It would have been understandable if Jesus would have put the screws down on the disciples a little harder and said,

“Look, I’m going to die tomorrow, and I need you to show up. I have given you my heart and soul, my prayers, my healing, my time, everything I’ve got. Now it’s all coming to an end tomorrow and the political and religious leaders are going to have my head. I need to know that you are with me. Peter, are you in? Matthew are you in? James and John, can I count on you? Philip and Andrew, will you be there for me? Bartholomew and Thaddeus, can I count on you? Thomas and James, and all the rest, are you in?”

But Jesus does not do it, does he? Instead he instructs them to love one another as he loves them, and he demonstrates what this love looks like as he wraps a towel around his waist and washes their feet.

The funny thing is, their feet were already clean, actually. They probably washed them before they came into the house for supper. The roads were dusty, and their sandals were open, and nobody wanted all that dirt tracked into the house, so feet were washed upon entering, much like taking off our shoes at the door. Foot washing was usually done by a servant and if there wasn’t one, the woman of the household. In addition to an act of cleanliness, it was also an act of hospitality, warmth and welcome, especially after hard work or a long journey.

Because their feet were already clean, Jesus washes their feet, not to get the dust off, but as an act of love. He gets down on his knees, taking the form of a slave or serving them a like woman—talk about bending social and gender roles! Jesus offers hospitality and love, warmth and welcome, acceptance and relationship, as their time together comes to a close, shifting social and gender roles to demonstrate that true love is a life of service, regardless of what social norms might dictate.

What is even more surprising than Jesus behaving like a slave or a woman to demonstrate true love, is that Jesus washes feet that will run away and leave him; he washes feet that will deny him; he washes feet that will betray him. Jesus knows these feet will all abandon him in some way, and he washes them anyway.

Judas allows Jesus to wash his feet, and then he leaves and goes into the night—he has turned toward evil. This is the worst betrayal of all—it wasn’t turning Jesus over to the chief priests (which we will hear at the end of our service), but the worst betrayal in John's Gospel, is abandoning the relationship with Jesus. Judas is struggling with all kinds of things—fear, turmoil, greed—and in that suffering he turns away from Jesus.

But there is Jesus, on his knees, rinsing and rubbing 24 feet, 120 toes—all feet that will flee and leave him to journey to the cross alone.

“If you love something, set it free…” Jesus loves the disciples enough to wash their dirty souls and let them go… We all have the freedom to walk away.

The disciples will walk away from the relationship, but Jesus will not. When they are ready to return to him, he will be there. It may not be until Easter morn, but Jesus will always show up.

Can we bear to receive that much love? Can we sit still and have our feet washed, knowing we have failed Jesus, and will fail him again—not because we are bad people, but because, like the disciples, we are human—and still, Jesus is going to show up and love us, and kneel at our feet, with warmth, love and welcome, and get the towel and water and say, “I love you. I am here, and will always be here—even when you walk away, I will be here when you come back.”

Can we kneel at the railing and open our hands, knowing we have walked away and may walk away again—not because we are bad people, but because, like the disciples, we are human—and still Jesus is still going to show up with joy, and love us with abandon, and feed us with forgiveness and say, “you are precious to me, and honored, and I love you.”

Jesus is not going to betray, abandon, or deny his relationship with you, no matter who you are, what you’ve done, what you’ve thought, how weak your faith is, or whether or not you deserve it.

You can always come back. No matter what, you belong to Jesus.

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Parades of Honor, Shame, and Paradise

Parades of Honor Shame and ParadiseA reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday after the congregational reading of the passion story in Luke 22:14-23:56 on April 14, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Our story today began with a parade of Jesus’ triumph. His followers who travelled with him from Bethany and Galilee, witnesses and recipients of his healing, hailed him as their king and Lord. A triumphal entry into the city is the greatest tribute accorded anyone in a culture where honor and shame, even more than money, were the greatest personal currency.

It did not take long, however, for those accolades to threaten the powers that be, who wanted such tributes sung about them, rather than some upstart rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee. If that continued, what would happen to the religious leaders? To their authority? To their power?

The religious and political leaders were afraid of losing—losing honor and power, so much so, they kicked it into high hear to get rid of Jesus. They set out to re-balance the honor-shame scale by shaming Jesus in the most extreme way. If the greatest honor is triumphal parade, the greatest shame is the criminal’s procession, carrying his own cross to his death. Two kinds of parades—one giving the greatest honor, one filled with most shame.

When the triumphal parade with palms and honor on Sunday turned into the parade of cross-carrying shame on Friday, the reversal was so successful that even those who loved and followed Jesus were affected by it. Like the leaders, they all became afraid of losing something as the story played out.

Judas was afraid of not having enough money. Peter was afraid of losing his life—of being treated the way Jesus was. James and John, the sons of thunder were probably tired of losing face—of being mocked and ridiculed—and angry at Jesus for not fighting back. They believed when push came to shove (literally) that Jesus would let them use their swords, but he did not. Other disciples feared loneliness—what were they going to do without Jesus, without this community of friends traveling and working together? 

Still others, like Matthew—a hated tax collector, were losing a sense of purpose and worth which they had with Jesus for the first time in their life, and it was all falling apart. Who was he going to be now? Others were losing the most important relationship they ever had—they were broken-hearted with grief. How could they bear to watch someone they loved die? So, they scattered—shame worked—they betrayed, denied and abandoned Jesus.

It seemed like hope was losing and those in power were succeeding in setting the honor/shame scales back in their favor, but in reality, Jesus had his own parade going on. Jesus used their schemes to enact God’s plan of salvation and we see this at every stop in the story.

In his procession to the cross—Jesus saw the women weeping and he stopped to acknowledge them, and speak to them—to their pain, their loss, their fear of losing him, their agony.

In that moment, it is as if time stood still. Jesus acknowledged all human pain—all of the weeping, betrayal, denial, abandonment, loss, fear, and failure, including our own—as if to say, “This is not as it appears! You are not losing, and all is not lost! This is not the end, shame is not the story, and pain is not final! Watch for the the real parade, the parade to paradise!”

Then from the cross, Jesus does not accept the shame, mocking, and ridicule others try to put on him. Instead he sees their shame, their brokenness, their sin, in all of its ugly cruelty, and—with words not of shame and judgement, but rather of love, abundance, and peace, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those with the eyes to see can behold the real parade he’s leading to paradise.

Then the scene shifts to the criminals hanging with Jesus and they both articulate part of what we all want. The first one asks to be saved by being spared suffering—have we not all asked God for that? But that’s not how God saves—God enters into the fullness of human life rather than rescuing us from it. So, the second criminal says, “remember me when you come into your kingdom—be with me, save me, forgive me and bring me into your heart, Jesus.” And Jesus does: “today you will be with me in paradise.” The real parade is marching forward.

Those in power thought they were winning the battle as they exchanged a parade of honor for one of shame and death, when in reality, the God of the cosmos, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, hung above the theater of this human drama, and in Jesus Christ, offered abundant love and wholeness and new life for all.

Jesus is leading a parade to paradise—that’s the only parade that matters—and we are blessed to be counted in that number!

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Offering Our Extravagant Love to Jesus

Our Extravagant Love for JesusA sermon preached for the 5th Sunday in Lent on John 12:1-8 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. We also dedicated 65 quilts, 65 personal care kits, and 62 baby care kits for Lutheran World Relief made by the women's group and ended the service with a blessing of the new Great Achievers Preschool in our education wing.

My husband’s best friend, Phil, is also a pastor. Several years ago, Phil’s mom was dying, and she was receiving hospice care at home. Phil and his mom had a very challenging relationship—there’s no need to go into detail, but she had problems and just was not the best mom. She could not show up for Phil in the way that most moms could and would.

It was a Friday afternoon and Phil left his work at church to drive home to see how she was doing, arriving about 4:30 in the afternoon. The hospice nurse left at 5 and wouldn’t be back until morning. As happens when one is in the dying process, Phil’s mom soiled herself and the bed. Phil called hospice and asked if they could come back and help him, but they said that unless his mom needed medication, they could not return until the next day. His brother was working; his dad had died. Phil was on his own.

Phil returned to his Mom’s bedside and said, “Well, Mom, it’s just you and me. I guess you wiped my behind 100 times before, and now it’s my turn to wipe yours.” They looked each other in the eye and burst out laughing. And then he cleaned her up.

She died two days later. Phil shared that it was such a healing moment—it stripped everything else away and brought them down to their bare humanity, to forgiveness, and the chance to die receiving deep love.

Mary offers this kind of deep love to Jesus before he faces his own death. Mary pours expensive spikenard on Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her hair—a sign of anointing. Such anointing is an act done only for the coronation of a king, or for someone being prepared for burial.

Jesus of course, is both. He is the king of the Jews, through whom he has come to save all nations, the true Messiah who will begin his reign, not with a display of mighty power to overthrow the Roman oppressor, but rather, by taking on the worst of human violence, and entering death to show us that not even the most evil aspects of our brokenness can separate us from God, nor stop God from loving us.

But before Jesus can endure that kind of deep suffering, before he can enter Jerusalem and be that kind of king who dies to bring life, he needs to be deeply loved. Mary offered him a healing moment of extravagant love that stripped everything else away, and recognized Jesus’s bare humanity in what he had to endure, offering him the chance not just to love others, but to die receiving deep love.

Can you imagine that as he hung dying on the cross, the musky smell of the rich spikenard oil still wafting up into his nostrils, a physical message of deep love in the midst of devastating suffering; a visceral reminder that someone understood, that one disciple gave herself extravagantly to him, that his humanity was embraced, that he was not alone?

That is Mary’s gift to Jesus and to us. Of course, we are on the receiving end of God’s love in Jesus—always, every day, every breath, every flower, each new sunrise, every meal, every kind word, each person who loves us, every morsel of Communion, every loyal pet, each choir anthem and transcendent piece of music, every mistake forgiven—God in Jesus Christ is dying to shower us with love. But Mary shows us that Jesus also needs us and wants us to extravagantly love him back, giving him our best, our all, despite what others might think.

Mary ignores Judas, and Jesus receives her love, helping him prepare for his suffering and death in the days ahead, and sustaining him when he most needs it. Her love enables him to love his disciples even knowing they would betray, deny, and abandon him. Just as she wiped his feet, a few days later, Jesus washed and wiped the disciple’s feet in a similar act of extravagant love, asking them to love others as he has loved them, as Mary has loved him.

Have you ever looked at Mary’s action and wondered what Jesus needs from you? What kind of extravagant love? What service? What devotion does he need from you to do the kingdom work ahead? Mary shows us that your love for Jesus matters, your devotion, your willingness to give and serve, your willingness to seek out and offer what is needed matters to Christ the King—who chooses to work through relationships, through human beings, through Mary, through Phil, through you.

Jesus needed Phil’s extravagant love so his mom could experience forgiveness before she died—not because she deserved it, because none of us do. Phil has received God’s love, and he loved Jesus enough to offer extravagant love to his mom in that moment of uncomfortable need. And the clean, musky smell of forgiveness could waft up into her nostrils in death.

The women of this church stitched, purchased, sewed, and created all these personal care kits, and baby kits, and quilts because Jesus already loves you, and these are signs of your extravagant devotion, service, and love for Jesus in return. Jesus will use them to bless people you will never meet—people in refugee camps and recovering from natural disasters here and around the world. Stripped of everything, our common humanity is recognized in the need for basic supplies. A family will receive a homemade quilt, a hand-stitched baby onesie or crocheted sweater and they will know—they will know that someone loves Jesus extravagantly enough to anoint them with the rich, musky smell of fresh blessings during suffering.

Today we are going to bless Great Achievers Preschool, another way for us to extend the extravagant love of God, by building relationships with the families in our community, anointing children with extravagant love, teaching and loving children who are not our own. And oh, the wiping that needs to be done! Smelly bottoms and runny noses, dirty hands and sticky mouths, sweaty foreheads and teary cheeks, all the while trying to keep up with fast feet, quick minds, and pure hearts. Children help strip us bare—reminding us what is essential in our common humanity. It takes deep love to open a preschool; it takes extravagant patience to teach toddlers; it takes expansive hearts to welcome families with noisy, little ones, but I know you love Jesus extravagantly enough to scoop them up with your whole heart and embrace them with the musky smell of your devotion to the kingdom work at hand.

And the poor. What are we going to do about the poor? Some think this passage gets us off the hook—they will always be here, so apathy and inaction in the face of poverty is okay. But I know you don’t really think that is what Jesus meant! Such bad interpretation sounds just like Judas—only to serve our own ends. The indicative verb for “you will always have” is the same verb form as an imperative. So instead of a description of the state of being (that the poor are always with us), Jesus is more likely to be giving a command, as in, "Keep the poor among you always." Jesus is saying, “I am going away—I am not going to be here much longer, so continue my mission: keep the poor among you always and tend to their needs.”

So, what does Jesus need from you? What extravagant love? What service? What devotion does he need from you to do the kingdom work ahead? Jesus says, “Love me abundantly by taking care of the poor, the children, and those in need. Bring them justice, and make their life better; love them as I have loved you. Help the undeserving. Forgive the unforgiveable. Give me your best, your all, your everything, so that those who suffer might experience the musky, rich fragrance of the God who comes to them through a people who love their Lord with extravagant devotion.”

 Image: I Cried for You by Nik Helbig

 

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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