Thursday, April 17, 2014

Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, Year A

Matthew 26:14-27:66
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox

 What is happening?

From “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Let him be crucified”…today is a day of almost unbearable extremes, straining in contrast with one another.  If you’re not feeling a bit of mental whiplash, you’re not paying attention.

Many things can be true at once.  And especially today…as we begin the most extraordinary and significant week of the Christian Year, as we “…enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God has] given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 Many things can be true at once.  And the story we have before us is so multi-layered, that no sermon can begin to say even a percentage of all that is before us.  So I’m not going to try to do more than call your attention to two things throughout:  The expectations of those who are part of the story, and Jesus’ constant refusal to be constrained by those expectations.

When we began, with shouts of Hosanna and waving palms in a parade into the city, we have to remember that there’s another parade going on across town.  As Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey through the east gate, Pilate is riding a white horse from the west, backed by the armies of the Roman Empire.  Many of those who follow Jesus are expecting great things from him.  Perhaps a confrontation with the religious and political power structure of the day, perhaps a challenge to the empire and its domination over their lives.  And the funny thing is, apparently the religious and political leaders, those invested in the empire and its domination, seemed to expect some such thing as well.  For they too were mindful of this “prophet Jesus from Galilee in Nazareth.”

But what they expected is not what they got.  Jesus the prophet from Galilee came not as a politician, not as a military leader, not as one crying for violence and revenge against those who perpetrated vengeance and violence—none of those categories would work.  And this frustrated the people no end: both the people who were in favor of Jesus (as far as they understood him) and the people who were opposed to him, and fearful of him. 

Neither group could quite figure him out. 

When they come to arrest him, with clubs and swords, he tells those who would die to defend him in the same manner: Put your swords away. 

When he stands before the governor, on trial for his life, and is asked over and over to explain himself, he does not answer.

When he is cursed and humiliated, he will not curse them back.

Over and over in Matthew’s gospel, we hear echoes of the words of the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy and steadfast love, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God above all things, says God.” (Hos 6:6)  Jesus has preached it, practiced it, shared it, and having lived in that way all along, he lives in that way until the end. 

Confronted with violence, Jesus rejects violence as a tool, even for self-protection. 

Confronted with words of fear, anger, and hatred, Jesus enters into silence—a silence more profound than any words that could be thrown at him.

And in that silence, even the stones under his feet cry out.

When you come forward for communion in a few minutes, I invite you to put your hand in the baptismal font.  During our Lenten journey it has been filled—not with water, but with sand.  Dry, dusty, gritty, the stuff of the desert.  Today it is filled with stones.  Hard, jagged, rough, the stuff of the road down to Jerusalem, and the road up to Mount Calvary.  The stuff of the tomb, sealed tight, hard and dead and buried.

I invite you, as you come forward to receive the bread and the wine, Christ’s body and blood, to take a stone from the font with you.  Keep it in your pocket this week, as together we walk the road as Jesus’ followers.  Let it remind you of the stony and rough places in your life, the violent and bloody places, the places where the stones have been piled up and sealed against death itself, from which, even now, God is bringing forth new life.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 6, 2014, Year A

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Preached by The Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox

Today is the fifth reflection on Forgiveness in our Lenten series.  It’s an easy word to say, and an important thing to do—for others, and for ourselves.  Forgiveness allows the world, and all of us who live in it, to be set free.  Forgiveness allows us to learn from past misdeeds and mistakes, it frees us from bondage to those mistakes and misdeeds, making it possible to move forward into new and transformed lives. 

All the scriptures this day are addressing that gift of freedom—The freedom and the power that comes from God, given freely to all, in the midst of disaster and destruction and death, to bring forth new and transformed life.   In the first reading, Ezekiel addresses the people of Israel in exile, far from home and the life they had known, their hope lost, their spirits destroyed. “We are cut off”, they say.  “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost.”   He tells them of the vision he has had—the vision of God’s spirit blowing over those dry, dead, dusty bones in the graveyard, filling them with new life, making them a new creation. 

 And if we listen carefully, we hear the echoes of another story, like the sound a familiar tune humming quietly behind Ezekiel’s vision.  Accompanying that vision is the story that starts off “In the beginning…” In the beginning, when the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, and breathed into the dust of the ground, to create life at the beginning of all things.  Out of dryness and dust, God makes new.  Out of death and destruction, God brings life. 

The Psalm, the Epistle, and the Gospel all proclaim this truth today:  The spirit of God, moving through dryness and dust, moving in the death and destruction that seem overwhelming, brings forth new life, transformed life.  Jesus addresses Sister Martha this day with the words we know well:  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  She’s already acknowledged that resurrection happens—someday, somewhere, out there in the future.  But that won’t do, it is not enough.

Jesus calls her to attention.  “Martha—you don’t have to wait that long.  It’s right here, right now.”

And so he goes, and stretches out his hands, and speaks the words, “Unbind him, and let him go!” and life is transformed. 

Lazarus’s life, Martha and Mary’s life, the life of every person there that day—Jesus himself included.
They couldn’t just go back to normal, of course.  What had happened was too much, too earth-shattering, far too destructive of all that had come before.  Lazarus was dead, he was buried, and now?  It was all just too, too much.  Afterward there were days, perhaps, that they all wished Jesus hadn’t done what he did.  He oughtn't to have done it.  He’d thrown everything off balance.[1]

In throwing everything—even life and death itself—out of balance as they all had known it, God-in-Christ opens the door for transformation.  Not simply “back to business as usual”, for that cannot be.  But transformation into a new way, a new life altogether.

That new way, that new truth, that new life that Jesus offers Lazarus and Mary and Martha is for us too.  Each and all of us are invited to live in that transformed, spirit-breathed, resurrected reality that Jesus calls “the kingdom of God.”  To enter that way, that truth, that life, we have to be freed from the things that tie us up, the things that keep us bound, the things that hold us back from moving forward into that new creation. 

Four weeks ago at the beginning of Lent we talked about experiencing unconditional love and acceptance. 

So I invite you to take a moment, and remember yourself surrounded by and held in unconditional love.  Remember that there is nothing you can do, or ever have done, nor is there anything that anyone else has done or will ever do to you, that can separate you from that unconditional love.  Rest for a moment in that love, knowing that it is always there, always holding you, always available to you. 

In that love, take a moment—in the privacy of your own mind, think of something you have done that causes you to feel guilt.  Don’t minimize, rationalize, or deny any of it, simply be in the moment, admit what you did and then…

Remember that there is nothing you can do, or have ever done, that can separate you from the unconditional love of God.  To suppose that there is some such thing is either extremely arrogant on your part, or you are addressing a false god that is very puny.  So take a moment and be aware of the true God’s love for you, in spite of what you have done. 

In the light of that love, examine the thing you did.

Be aware of the demand that you are placing on yourself as you recall that past event, such as “I demand that I would have/would not have done…”

Convert that demand to a preference, such as “I would prefer that I had not done/would have done…”

Decide what personal value of yours was violated in that action, and if you wish to keep that value in the future.

If you do wish to keep that value in the future, then take a moment and decide what you will do differently if you encounter a similar situation in the future, and you want to honor that value.

 And now surrender yourself into the infinite goodness of God.  Let yourself be held by that love, in the deep and abiding peace.  Be at peace with yourself, and with God.

[1] Thanks to Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” for the phrase and concept of this earth-shattering truth.