Archives: Lent

A Covenant Worth Our Very Lives

This sermon originally appeared on the Episcopal Digital Network’s Sermons That Work.

We human beings love our rules.

The security that comes from knowing how things should be done comforts us in our chaotic world.

God understands this about us, and so God comes to us in terms of covenant.

In our lesson from Genesis, God provides a clear agreement that Abraham can refer to and rely on to know that God will come through on God’s promises.

God willingly limits Godself out of love, knowing that making this clear and concrete covenant, promising to be our God forever and make our descendants fruitful, will bring us comfort and security.

Where we get into trouble is when we think that our ideas about rules and regulations should govern God.

Once we understand that God will always be faithful to us and care for us, we start to think we know better than God who God should be and how God should act. Continue reading

Thursday: His Strength Runs Out

They had eaten thousands of meals with friends in their lifetimes.

They had eaten hundreds of meals with Jesus since they began following him.

They had eaten anywhere from twenty to fifty Passover meals in their lifetimes.

And this was their third Passover meal with Jesus.

It should have seemed familiar, comfortable, relaxed.

Just a few days ago, the disciples had seen Jerusalem welcome Jesus with open arms, hailing him as the Son of David and their King.

The disciples, by association with Jesus, were coming up in the world. The world was their oyster.

Or it should have been.

But tonight, something was indefinably different.

There was a palpable sense of discomfort, of unease.

All week, Jesus had had an air about him.

He was no longer the Teacher who thoughtfully explored scripture with them, or the Healer who touched all who came to him with gentle hands and an open smile.

There was an air of determination in him that edged on desperation.

He had the look of a man who had set his face like flint, as Isaiah says, committed to do something no matter the cost. Continue reading

Wednesday: Answering Judas

This scene in our gospel tonight is so painful I don’t even know where to start with it.

There are so many complex emotions in the room.

Jesus has just finished washing the disciples’ feet, a moment of tenderness and love.

They could sense a finality to this supper they were sharing, but they weren’t sure why, and they started to feel an uneasiness that was uncomfortably close to fear.

Where everything had been so right just a few moments ago, enjoying dinner together as they had so many times before, now there is definitely something wrong.

But what?

And then Jesus says it.

“One of you will betray me.”

Is there anything else worse than betrayal?

The reason it hurts so much is because it has to come from someone you know and love.

A stranger cannot betray you.

Someone who hates you and always has cannot betray you.

Any negative action they take toward you is straightforward and honest malice.

But the definition of betrayal is being sold out and given up to an enemy by a friend, someone you love.

The central experience of betrayal is finding out that the person you love doesn’t love you back the way you thought he did. Continue reading

Tuesday: Sir, We Wish to See Jesus

Being there for one another in times of trouble is harder than it appears on the surface.

We often define a friend as someone who will be there for us, but what does that really mean?

Our first instinct when something terrible is happening is to turn away, to run and escape, to get out before the terrible thing can suck us in as well.

If we make the decision that we’re not going to run away but instead stay with our friend who is suffering, our next instinct is to try and fix it, to say, no, look, do this, change this, fix this and you’ll be fine.

It takes a very disciplined and patient sort of love to truly be there for someone in crisis, an art that I sometimes despair of ever mastering.

It is exactly that sort of love that we can often look back and recognize in God’s response to our dark moments. Continue reading

Monday: Saying Goodbye to Lazarus

I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he ate dinner at his friends’ house in Bethany tonight.

By candlelight he shares simple food with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, this set of siblings who love him so dearly and so differently from each other.

Mary, with her extravagant gestures and adoring heart.

Martha, whose love is made of duty and service but is fierce and bright nonetheless.

And Lazarus, quiet and steady, a man who does his job and cares for his sisters, but got sick one day when Jesus was out traveling and preaching.

Jesus and Lazarus never got to say goodbye to each other when Lazarus was dying.

They never had a conversation about whether Jesus was the Son of God.

They were just friends.

Lazarus and Jesus loved each other without having to say it, and Lazarus lay on his death bed knowing Jesus would make sure his sisters were taken care of when he died, and feeling sad he wouldn’t get to see his friend one more time.

Lazarus, a regular guy who loved his sisters and his friend, who got sick and died, and then came back from the dead because he believed.

They’re back in the same situation again. Continue reading

Nobody Asks Lazarus

No one asks Lazarus if he wants to be resurrected.

That’s the part that fascinates me about our gospel story today.

No one asks if he wants to return to a broken and hurting body, the tangled relationships that all human beings have, the responsibilities of his finances and his job and his family.

He was a good man. No doubt he had gone straight to the bliss of union with God the Father.

What a terrifying and awful feeling, to be yanked back down to Earth with such suddenness.

Many people who have near death experiences return to life with a new sense of purpose, with joy and awe at the knowledge that there truly is something in the beyond and it is so beautiful and loving.

But for everyone who returns with joy and purpose, there is someone else who returns with a profound sense of despair and rejection.

I saw God, they say.

I saw God and felt God’s love and experienced heaven’s peace, and God threw me back.

God didn’t want me.

God saw fit to return me to this petty human life in this small, limited human body.

How could God do that?

I wonder which group Lazarus was in. Continue reading

A Glop of Mud to the Face: Thanks, Jesus

In the story of the man born blind in our gospel today, I have always pondered 1) what was the blind man’s reaction when some random person spouting religious jargon comes up and starts spreading mud all over his face, and 2) how awesome is it that Jesus actually went to look for this man when he heard that he had been cast out?

But first we begin with another question: what are the Pharisees and townspeople really asking with all these angry questions?

What do they really want?

They want the same thing that all of us want: certainty.

If there is one thing the human mind cannot bear, it is having our well-thought out categories challenged.

The only way we are able to walk around every day without flying off the edge of this chaotic world is because we have constructed an elaborate system of How Things Work and How Things Ought To Be Done.

Unfortunately, Jesus does not really care about the categories we have constructed.

He breaks every box we’ve ever built for others and for ourselves to live in, and he’s not very polite about doing it. Continue reading

Bearing Witness: We Have to Let Him See Us First

For Jesus, everyone is chosen.

We are used to “the chosen people” being a finite category, an exclusive category: that’s what the name means.

Israel was the original chosen people.

Perhaps we might also think of those who have fulfilled some religious formula to attain salvation as chosen.

We often act as though our particular corner of our particular denomination is chosen.

There is often a sense of those who achieve worldly success with money or fame as being chosen for greatness.

But Jesus chooses everyone, even and especially the rejects and outcasts.

To be chosen means to be special, to be set apart, and that specialness and singling out for attention remain even though Jesus’ choice is universal.

We read about it throughout scripture. Jeremiah talks about the experience of being chosen even before we can display any merit or even any personality when God says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5).

In Ephesians, Paul tells us that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 4:23).

And Jesus tells us himself in the gospel of John, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16).

The woman in our story from the gospel of John today is considered anything but chosen by her society.

She has been pushed from pillar to post all over town by having a series of husbands, possibly by being widowed, possibly in other circumstances.

The honor/shame culture in which she lives has devalued her with each new partner until her current partner does not even bother to marry her. Continue reading

We Are God’s Art Project

Today we meet Nicodemus, a man searching for answers.

The traditional response of the church to people searching for answers is to provide a ream of doctrine.

The Episcopal Church is actually not a doctrinal church. In order to be Episcopalian, at no point do you have to sign on the dotted line to a list of detailed beliefs.

Our only statement of belief is the Nicene Creed, and it’s okay to be a little hazy on parts of that if you need to.

As long as you are actively seeking out relationship with God in Jesus Christ, you are welcome to call yourself an Episcopalian.

Our unifying document is not a list of doctrines, but the Book of Common Prayer. We are bound together by worship and sacrament; we find our unity in praying together.

But that’s not to say that Episcopalians are floating around out there with no doctrine available. If you want doctrine, there is a lot out there to choose from and ponder.

We’re just saying that the church isn’t going to dictate it to you. It is your privilege and your responsibility to sift through generations of church tradition with scripture in one hand and your own good human reason in the other to find out what rings true to you and what will best help you to better love God and your neighbor.

One of the great things about being an Episcopalian is that active relationship with God takes precedence over doctrine.

But there are actually two bits of doctrine that work for me that I’d like for you to try on for size and see if they work for you. Continue reading

Eden Calls from Forty Days Away

Today we read of how things went profoundly wrong for Adam and Eve.

It’s the first Sunday of Lent, and with our modern discomfort in talking honestly about sin, the language of the Great Litany and Rite I can send us into a rather gloomy mood if we don’t rearrange ourselves theologically.

But the message from today’s scriptures is actually one of profound hope, a signal to us that yes, our journey these forty days does lead directly to the Cross, but the Cross leads directly to the resurrection.

Today we hear Easter Day calling to us from forty days in the future.

We see Easter’s hope like a point of light on the horizon, a beacon that is our direction and our guide through the wilderness.

It all hinges on a concept known as “Christ as the New Adam.” Continue reading