Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, Year A, April 22, 2011

John 18:1-19:37
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddoz

Many things can be—and are—true at the same time. Many things can be—and are—going on at the same moment. And all of this is so, in the passion narrative we’ve just heard.

It would be impossible to say everything there is to say about this portion of John’s gospel. Rivers of ink have been poured out in interpreting and discussing these two chapters. Far more subtle minds and articulate tongues have exercised their best efforts on this same piece of text. But for today, for us, a couple of things are worth noticing.

First, Jesus’ title: He is the crucified Savior King. We’re so used to that language that it has ceased to shock us. But it is shocking, and impossible, and just plain weird. The King, the monarch, the leader of the leaders, who comes to release his people from the oppression of foreign invaders, ought not to be arrested and put on trial and put to death. This is bizarre. The chief objection the early followers of Jesus had to deal with, coming from critics outside the faith community, was that they worshipped a crucified God. What sort of God was this, who was so powerless, so unable to defend himself, that he would allow such a thing to happen?

We still hear an echo of this in the question: Why does God allow bad things to happen?

I wish I had an easy answer to that question. Believe me, I do wish it. I’ve asked that question myself, more than once. Why, O God? Why this war, that family, this person’s death?

As I stand on my front porch, looking to heaven asking such a question, the answer—or the response to the question—often comes in through the back door.

Jesus, at the end of it all today, says from the cross: It is finished. All that he has intended, all that God has intended for him, has been completed. John’s way of telling the story is unique. For the writer of John’s gospel, Jesus has done exactly what he came to do. All the way back in chapter 3, in the conversation with Nicodemus, we heard Jesus say that “…just as Moses lifted up the [bronze] serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world…” (John 3:14-16a) And later, almost immediately after he has entered Jerusalem in triumph to the cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” he says again “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (12:32)

His power as the chosen messenger, the God-bearer, comes to its greatest and most obvious climax this day with those words: It is finished. All the sins and ignorances and willful horrors of humanity are assembled at the cross, the place of the skull, and somehow Jesus, the Lamb and Servant of God, deals with them in that place. He knows exactly who he is, and what he is doing. When Pilate asks the seemingly sarcastic, or world-weary question, “What is truth?” we are to hear echoes of Jesus’ statement to Thomas only a few chapters earlier: “I am the truth. And the Road. And Life itself.” The Truth—with a capital T—is standing before you, Pontius. Do you have eyes to see?

We’ve talked a lot this Lenten season about seeing what is before us, but what is perhaps not immediately obvious. Learning to read a new language, as it were, as we have studied and examined and—I hope—prayed through our windows here at St. A’s. These windows invite us, like the Gospel today, into a deeper relationship with the symbols and stories of the Christian faith. We cannot get there, into that deeper relationship, by soundbytes and snippets of scripture. We have to be willing to sit with the images, and the big chunks of scripture, and be open to what they have to teach us. It takes time, and it’s not always easy.

Mary and the beloved disciple are present today at the cross. Learning for themselves—and helping us to discover—what is to be learned there. Jesus sees them there, along with Magdelena and Mrs. Clopas, and says to his mother—referring to John—“here is your son.” And of Mary, he says to John—“here is your mother.” He gives them to each other. A new family is born here, putting flesh and blood and breath around the bones that Jesus laid out in the upper room after washing the disciples’ feet: Love one another, as I have loved you. With all due respect to the feast of Pentecost, it is here, at the foot of the cross, that we see the birthday of the Church, when Jesus commends Mary into John’s care, and vice versa. Or at least this is the act of generation, the beginning of the process which will come to birth later.

It is finished, because Jesus has done what he was sent to do. Human sin and hatred and jealousy and meanness has been unfailingly met with love and grace, and the people who followed in that Way that he proclaimed have been given into each other’s temporal care. Now he is in God’s hands, and knows himself to be so. Now God will do what God will do.

For which, you must come back again tomorrow night. And see for yourself, with Magdelena and the disciples and Mary and John. Come, be open to see that which is perhaps not immediately obvious, but is nevertheless right before us all.


Maundy Thursday, Year A, April 21, 2011

Exodus 12:1-4,(5-10),11-14;1Corinthians 11:23-26;John 13:1-17,31b-35;
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Preached by Reverend Lynn Anderson

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The e-mail from my fellow deacon, Rev Warner, came in late March stating that he and the other clergy from St Augustine were requesting that I consider preaching on Maundy Thursday. Sure, I fired back, I would be honored. Honored to be asked because this day is considered the “Deacon’s Homily.” This is the scripture in which Jesus models servanthood. The Deaconate is known by most as the “servant ministry.” One of the reasons that is true is that as part of a Deacon’s Ordination in the part called the Examination, the Bishop says to the ordinand,

“My sister, every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God, the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. …You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world….At all times your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.”

One of the questions we are asked is: “Will you look for
Christ in all others, being ready to help and serve those in need?”

Is “looking for Christ in all others, another way of saying ’LOVE ONE ANOTHER’? Is not our Gospel lessen tonight “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another; that you too love one another, as I have loved you; it is by this that all will know that you are my disciples – if you have love among each other.”

The parallels in the lessons and particularly the Gospel tonight and the words during the ordination service for the Deacon are clear to me. Reflection on the lessons for tonight began a wrestling match within me as strong and as tiring as that endured by Jacob..

It has been said that each and every one of us has one homily message in us and we keep saying it in different ways. Sometimes we say it in words, literally as a homily and always we give “our homily” by our actions. That one message is the central point of our own belief system, the driver of our actions. I have known that my one homily most simply put is “Love one another” So; I was on solid ground with the “new Commandment” right? This was my chance to give my one homily full out. But I quickly discovered in my wrestling that although I believe that Love one another is the answer, the commandment to the believers that matters most, it is also the most difficult to discuss and the most difficult to carry out. The stumbling block for me was,” as I have loved you.”

Jesus knew this was the last night of his life and his last chance to help his disciples whom he loved understand. Perhaps the path to understanding this “”new command or (mandate)” is to work on describing how Jesus loved his disciples. In his study of the Gospel of John, William Barclay who wrote extensive bible studies from the 1960’s until his death, describes this love with four adverbs. He describes the love of Jesus for his disciples as selfless, sacrificial, understanding, and forgiving. Who among us can consistently love selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly and forgivingly? Those are some very difficult targets for humans. But Jesus of course understood humanness. Barclay summarizes the love of Jesus, this way.

His love was selfless. He never thought of himself. His one desire was to give himself and all that he had for those he loved.

His love was sacrificial. There was no limit to what his love would give or to where it would go.

He loved his disciples with understanding. He knew them very well. He loved them not as he “imagined them to be,” but as they were. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love us as we are too.

He loved them with forgiveness. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. None of them ever seemed to understand him. In the end, they were cowards that deserted and hid. But Jesus held nothing against them. So we too must consider that real love, enduring love must be built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness, love is bound to die.

So, what does all of this mean for us, and for our relationships with one another? After he had washed their feet, he said to them, “Do you know what I, your Lord and Master, have done to you? I have given you an example that you should do as I have done. He goes on to tell us that it is by this, following his example that the world will know that you are my disciples.”

If we are to take this seriously, if we want to be Disciples of Christ, we had better learn to love the people in our families, our circle of friends, our parish, our workplaces, our neighborhoods and our lives. Love even the ones that we don’t like much, the ones that God puts in our way, the ones with whom we might prefer not to even have dinner. The aggravation we feel, the angst we generate abates when we begin to look for the Christ in each other. When we begin to open to all that the Father Gives, peace enters and the wrestling is over.
Help us God, to learn to love as Christ loved. Help us to forgive those who have wounded us. Help us to remember they are limited people with a limited ability to love, just like us. Receive our lonely, broken hearts, God and know our desire for healing and mercy. Amen