Two Sermons for Maundy Thursday: “The Clothes You Wear Says Something” and “What Makes This Night Different From Every Other Night?”

John 13:1-17

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon04preachingmouthshut1-300 Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

The Clothes You Wear Says Something

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus says rather pointedly.

There’s not much ambiguity there; not much wiggle room.

Before assuming the position of the foot washer, Jesus first dresses for the part.

Or, rather, undresses for the part. Taking off the outer robe and tying on a towel. Only servants dressed like that.

The clothes we wear say something, I guess. Jesus surely could have just washed Peter’s feet wearing the clothes he was in, right? He could have done that, I guess…

But it’d be a mixed signal, right? To really, truly serve, to stand in solidarity with the servant…because that is what Jesus is doing here, right? He’s not just playing servant…that won’t do.

No. He becomes the servant. He is the servant.

Jesus is great at going whole-hog in ways that make us feel really uncomfortable…

To really, truly serve, one must wear what a servant does. Be where the servant is.

To really, truly serve humanity, God had to wear humanity. Hence, Jesus.

Including the parts of humanity that even we would rather shy away from…feet, bowels, the low moments when we’re forced by circumstance to kneel in front of someone else, metaphorical and otherwise.

If there’s one thing that Maundy Thursday imparts upon the soul it is this: the God who expects to hear the lives and confessions of the people is also the one willing to be there in the hells of those places.

To wash their feet as they walk to wholeness.

To walk with them.

And in the face of such sacrificial, serving love, who are we, then, to not do the same for our neighbor who may need just a little more than the words I just spoke to you to feel the presence of God on their journey through life?

Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Maundy Thursday is the feast day of a grown-up spirituality that is vulnerable. It is a day when we are most fully alive, too…appreciating the life of our bodies as our feet get center stage whether we like it or not. Today is a day for a faith that doesn’t pretend to be the servant, but one that actually dresses the part…and also allows itself to be served, allows others to dress the part and serve, too. Come to these bowls. Be washed. Wash. Allow yourself to be the part.

And in doing so we participate in the grown-up love of a God who not only hears us, but is with us, even those parts of us we wish no one to see. Like the bottom of feet well worn from walking this road of life. That’s what we see in the clothes, the person, the being of Jesus.

And if we want to think of Jesus as God’s clothes for a humanity well worn, well…that says something. Something you’re invited to right now.

 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23images 2For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

What Makes This Night Different from Other Nights?

At the Pesach Seder meal, the youngest person at the table will ask, “What makes this night different from other nights?”

It’s a nice little soft ball question to get the night rolling, but it’s an important one. It frames the night for the whole family in such a way that everyone realizes that the meal, this meal, this particular meal, appears just like the other ones but is not at all like the other ones.

There is something different about this meal, here.

The question is asked by the youngest person as a way to indicate the confusion of youth.

But there is confusion at every stage of life; we know this.

Hence why we gather for this meal every single year.

Hence why we gather for communion every single Sunday.

One of my most memorable meals was shared with a dear saint of this congregation, Bernie Zommer.

We met out at her house in Des Plaines, traveled over to this little diner called The Sugar Bowl, and as we ate she slowly choked down her food. I say “choked down” because Bernie had trouble swallowing; had for years. Sometimes the food would get caught, she’d cough, the conversation would pause, she’d take a sip of water, and we’d continue.

When I dropped her back off at her house, she again insisted that I come inside; that I have a glass of wine…though it was only 2pm. I did.

Not one to refuse hospitality, or wine, I did. And I remember that she mentioned briefly a recent suicide and how tragic it was.

“Yes,” I said. “You never know what demons people wrestle with.”

To which she responded, “What demons do you wrestle with, pastor?”

Silence. Now I was the one who was choked.

These things happen at meals. I cannot imagine the demons that Jesus was dealing with on the night he met with his disciples in the upper room. I do not dare to imagine them for fear that I know some of them, too…

But the reason we share this meal yearly, weekly, is to remind ourselves that those demons that we wrestle with were also wrestled with by Jesus…and that at the end of this journey, the end of these three days, he’ll take them to a cross and we’ll go away free from their burden.

Sure, we’ll clink some coins in a pot to remind ourselves how we forget about that…how we betray that reality. That may cause some guilt…that is not its intent; guilt is useless as a behavior changer.

The fact of the matter is: tonight at this meal, this very meal, Jesus shared with his friends despite the demons inside, a real piece of himself that we, therefore, can share with one another and the world. A piece of grace in a world full of demons.

And we share it despite our demons…or, better put, to eliminate our demons. For there is nothing more powerful than to hear that something is “for you.” You, even with all your demons. You.

Bernie never thought I wasn’t her pastor, despite the fact that she, in her aged wisdom, knew I had…have…demons. Her life was there for me, and mine for hers. And as I buried her last year, this was not lost on me.

So, tonight, we will share parts of ourselves with one another. After introducing yourself around your seating area, share first, your most memorable meal. What made it so? Who were you with? What was the circumstance?

Secondly, share how you show your faith outside of the church walls. That might take a minute of reflection, but do it. Share a piece of you with these people.

And tonight, as we leave this place, grab a handful of those coins and toss them in the jar knowing that, despite how our demons sometimes take the day, cause us to turn and betray our best selves and the God who loves us, Jesus is still here in life, and death, for you.

For you.

Being mindful of that makes this night different from all other nights.

Palm Sunday 2014: I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means…

Matthew 21:1-11Palm (7 of 21)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her, untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “the Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

Humble, and mounted on a donkey,

And on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I Do Not Think That Means What You Think it Means

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die.

Bow your meek head to mortal pain,

Then take, O Christ, your pow’r and reign!

Amen. (Henry Hart Milman, 19th C)

I have a musical memory. I learn songs quickly and well…but, here’s the thing, if I don’t know the lyrics, I’ll just make them up. You do that, right?

Steve Winwood has this song, Higher Love. You know it:

Bring me a higher love

Bring me a higher love, whoa

Bring me a higher love,

It’s a higher love, I’ve been thinking of!

Only thing is, I was very used to the tune, but didn’t quite know what he was saying. So I’d sing,

Bake me a pie of love.

Bake me a pie of love, whoa…

I kind of like my lyrics better.

We say all sorts of things that we can’t truly grasp the meaning of, right?

We say “I love you” prematurely in relationships. We say “don’t worry about it” when, really, we do need them to worry about it because it’s a big deal. We say “I’m fine” when we’re not.

It’s like we say these things flippantly, just off the cuff, without fully comprehending just what it is we’re saying.

Like, and I’ve said this before, like when we call a burrito “awesome.” Folks, there is no burrito in the world that will instill you with awe. Or if there is, perhaps you’re standard for being in awe of something is pretty low…

Today we hear a gospel reading and participate in this parade here, and I don’t want you to be confused about its meaning. I want you to fully grasp it.

And two words in particular that we read today can help to focus us in on what’s going on.

The first is the Greek word that is used in the Gospel reading to describe the city of Jerusalem. Matthew notes that “the whole city was in turmoil.” That word for “turmoil” there in the Greek is seis. You Californians will know that word well; it’s the root for the English word “seismic.”

Literally Matthew is saying that “the whole city was shaking.”

Why was it shaking?

Because after living under Roman rule for so long, there was an undercurrent of unrest and uprising within Jerusalem, especially as people gathered for the Passover causing a city of about 40,000 people to swell to over 100,000. It’d be like if the Olympics came to Chicago…an idea I was never super fond of because, well, it’s hard enough to drive here, right?

But this whole city was shaking with that anticipatory energy that happens when you know something is going to change.

And then enters Jesus on this donkey, an entrance which was mocking the way that Pilate rode around town on his white horse, forcing people to celebrate him. Jesus rides in on an ass and there’s no need to force the people to celebrate him, they just do.

They do because they feel that something has to change in this world; that God is up to something in this world.

The whole city was shaking.

The second word I want us to look at is Hosanna. We say that word every year; do you know what it means?

It’s Aramaic and it’s a word of praise. But it’s a praise word that actually pleads for something. It pleads, “Save us! Help us!”

Literally, Hosanna means something like “Save us! Help us!”…but you say it with a smile on your face, in a way of praise.

It’s an odd word like that. It’s like what you’d say to someone when you want them to join in a movement with you, a movement to change the world. “Help us! This will save us! Hosanna!”

I would even liken it to that other hymn that my mothers and fathers of faith sang when marching through the streets, a song that I didn’t fully grasp the meaning of until I understood the deep impact of racism and sexism and classism in this world:

We shall overcome

We shall overcome

We shall overcome

Someday…

Hosanna is like singing that song. We shout Hosanna! We sing that “glory, laud, and honor” belong to Jesus. Not to our checkbooks. Not to the government. Not to the city of Chicago. Not to any principality, but to the God made known in Jesus.

But it’s to a Jesus who rides into the scene on…a donkey. On an ass. And because of that we kind of feel like donkeys put our trust in such a meager spectacle…

In such weakness.

Jesus always arrives in a way you don’t expect…not in with any sort of power that you’d expect.

And that’s why these shouts of “Save us!” or Hosanna! turn so quickly into shouts of “Save yourself” as Jesus hangs from a cross.

When power doesn’t appear as we want, as we expect, we turn our backs on it.

But today…today I invite you, the whole church invites you, to lay down those palms, lay down your cloaks and the souls of your being in front of the donkey rider. You are invited to watch and pray today.

Because in your life when it seems you are most powerless, God is your perfect strength.

And we see that today in the donkey rider.

And that’s the message we shout out to the city of Chicago and the world today. Salvation comes, but not in the way you expect it. And when your life is shaken, gripped by seismos, in turmoil, you’ll be tempted to ditch and run when things don’t turn out exactly like you want it. You’ll be tempted to forget about this whole faith thing, to tell Jesus to save himself…

But this week, and every week after, you are invited to watch and pray and witness resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, and your own.

Hosanna indeed.

 

Hurry Up, Jesus

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord1017555_10152166615753139_1548788637_n with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

Hurry up, Jesus

Gracious God,

Hurry. It seems cruel to go slowly

And yet, Lord, you know.

There is an epidemic covering our nation, our world. You know what it is. Yes, it’s the popular Pharrell song Happy.

It’s catchy beyond belief.

‘Cause I’m happy; clap along if you feel like a room without a roof/ ‘Cause I’m happy; clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth/ ‘Cause I’m happy; clap along if you know what happiness means to you/ ‘Cause I’m happy; clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do!

Let’s be honest: it’s just a riff off of, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”…

But it’s a song that you want to play in the morning as you’re getting ready for work to get you to that emotional state where you want to be…whether you feel that way or not. It’s like, if you repeat the lyrics “’Cause I’m happy…” enough times, you’ll convince yourself that you are, indeed, happy…for whatever that might mean.

And there’s some truth to that. We can easily convince ourselves of a lot of things in this world by repeating, repeating, repeating. This is the trick used by all the major media outlets, right? Agenda driven news just tells us something, suggests an interpretation of truth, so much that we eventually just start believing it…

Repetition leads to belief.

But underlying the popularity of this song and I think this practice of repeating, repeating, and repeating as a way to dig out truth is something much more revelatory about us in this day and age: we fear death.

And I mean that in many ways. We fear not only literal death: our death and the death of our loved ones.

We also fear the death of our way of life, we fear the death of our habits that bring us comfort, we fear the death of the way things have always been.

We fear it. And for some good reason, I think. Death, change, all of it means we have to do things differently.

And there’s some reason to fear that, I think. Death and change are not easy; this is true.

See, I think the problem with this topic for most, and especially for people in my generation and the immediate generations around mine, is that we’ve been taught, by and large, that pain is always to be avoided or masked over.

By the same token, there are some who believe that the only real thing in life is pain: physical, emotional, psychological pain. So they seek it out and seek to inflict it on others.

There is a different problem, there. In fact, it’s a problem that is highlighted by the Goodman’s most recent production, God’s Work, starring one of our very own youth here at LMC. And it is a masterful and heart wrenching work. You should go see it, but know it’s not a show for kids…I’ll talk more about it in a minute.

But see, here’s the thing about pain and death and resurrection: you must have death to have resurrection, though not all pain and death leads to resurrection.

And that is a hard concept to grasp. It’s a truth-bomb I’m still grappling with daily.

It’s hard because we have been taught, by and large, that all you need to do is implement some small self-improvement strategies and you’ll evolve into a better you. I just heard it the other day on the radio, actually. Another star coming to town and you can pay a couple hundred dollars to hear her speak as she teaches you how to “maximize your life.”

But a lot of the things that plague us in our lives are due to their being maximized. We do not enter into abundant life by reaching higher; but rather Jesus continues to break through the floor of the ego to bring abundant life. We don’t like to hear that. We don’t like to see that. But it’s true.

And we’ve been taught that we just need to tweak ourselves a little bit, and then all of a sudden things will be better. Perhaps the tweaking that we need is just a little positive talk, a little motivational speech; smile a little more and remember that “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

But smiles did not march on Selma. “The sun will come out tomorrow,” did not help the Stonewall movement get where it is today. And, a little truth here, positive talk is not going to curb the violence we have on Chicago’s city streets.

People often ask, “How many more have to die before we realize the systems of violence here in Chicago?” to which I’ve come to respond, “We’ve all got to die: to our egos, to the status quo, to business as usual to get us there,” because obviously the deaths of our babies are not doing it. No. We need to die. We need to die to our addiction to violence first. You and me. Then, maybe, things will change.

In a world of “the sun will come out tomorrow,” there’s no place for death, only for repeating positivity and letting tomorrow fall away.

But, actually, we need death. Things have to die for new life to happen.

It’s one of the things we see clearly in this Gospel passage today. Lazarus was dead. Jesus says it plainly. The Gospel writer tells us plainly that Lazarus is dead, and you know this because the Gospel writer goes to great lengths to show us that Lazarus had been down for four days…in ancient Jewish belief the soul hung around the body for three days, and on the fourth got to its destination with God.

Lazarus was dead.

And throughout the story people keep encouraging Jesus to circumvent death, or propose that he should have. “Your friend Lazarus is ill, go save him” they tell Jesus…and he just hangs around, not moving very quickly. You can almost hear them saying, “Hurry up, Jesus! You need to get there before he dies.”

And when he meets Mary and Martha, what do they say? “If you had only been here, he wouldn’t have died…” as if the presence of the Divine is seen only in the absence of death.

And death genuinely causes Jesus to be disturbed. He cries. And not the ritual sort of crying that everyone else in the passage is doing. Klaio is the word used to describe the weeping of those around Mary and Martha, probably indicating some sort of ritual weeping that you’d hire someone to do to make a big scene over the death. It was a common practice.

In fact, I might even suggest that klaio is the kind of ritual weeping that so many in power do over the violence on the streets of Chicago, a kind of ritual weeping that everyone expects but doesn’t take seriously anymore.

But Jesus…his weeping is described using the word dakruo. Which is altogether different. And where this translation of the text describes that Jesus “has compassion” on those who weep, the actual Greek here uses the word “angry” or “ticked off.”

It seems that Jesus is a little ticked off at the ritual weeping that is done for show here in the text, and this is contrasted with his deep, heartfelt weeping.

Because real death, real change, causes real pain, not fake pain. And it can make us angry and ticked off.

And so much in our culture tells us that when we get to the angry or ticked off stages we should back peddle it a bit, put on a happy face, and remember that “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

But, remember this: Lazarus was really dead. And that’s something to be sad about. We must be real.

And, in being real, resurrection can only happen when something is really dead.

See, we spend so much of our lives avoiding death, maintaining the status quo. We do this in our systems, our governments, our streets, but we also do it with our inner lives, too.

Because Lord knows there are some things in us that could use some death, and we want to lead resurrection lives. But we’ve been taught by society that leading a resurrected life means just rising above those things that hold us down, tweaking habits…and that’s just not true.

That’s the call that says, “Hurry up, Jesus! If you get here in time we won’t have to die.”

And Jesus’ response is to tarry a bit. And I think Jesus does that because there is no other way around it. In our lives death must come for resurrection to happen.

We talk about this all the time in religious circles, especially Christian circles. We say that we must “die to self.” But so often I think that’s just a noisy gong or clanging cymbal to most of our ears because the church usually talks like that when they’re trying to get you to adopt some sin management program. And I hate sin management systems. They always fail.

We’ve been taught that resurrection can happen if we just tweak life a bit; maximize life.

But resurrection only comes after death. Real death. Us dying to those things in our lives that are causing us as people, as a society, to be ill.

Now back to this show, God’s Work. It’s a tense show about abuse and a father who abuses his children with religiosity and hyper-fundamental Christianity. They are beaten. They are barely fed. They are manipulated.

And the story is hard to watch. The story is hard to watch because it is so violent and so painful. And it’s even more painful when you know that it is true. Many of us went to see it opening night because one of our youth is in it (and he’s fantastic in it, btw).

But someone else was in the audience that first night: the woman whose story it is.

She was there, watching the pain of her life unfold. And the tension in the play is only relieved when she is taken from that abusive family, when that part of her life dies, and she’s put into this new family.

And it’s depicted vividly, sacramentally. The pain of abuse is symbolized by paint, smeared on the children every time their father beats them. And in her new family they bring out this large bathtub and begin to wash her, body part by body part, making her new, raising her up. Literally, with arms like this, they raise her up.

And you can hear in this story Jesus call her (her name is Rachel), “Rachel: Come out!”

There was not going to be resurrection by her just rising above her circumstances. No. That environment, that destruction, that abuse, that needed to die.

And there’s this really telling scene where her parents try to scrub off this bit of paint at the nape of her neck…and it won’t come off. They scrub and scrub and scrub, and it won’t come off. Because a resurrected person is made new, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still bear the scar of death.

Lazarus is resurrected, but he’s still bound. “Untie him; let him go” they have to say to him.

In death our grave clothes still stick to us some; there’s no denying that. Dying to addiction doesn’t mean you can use again; you can’t. Dying to your past doesn’t mean you can relive it again in the same way without being affected. You can’t. I’m sure it was difficult for that woman to watch the play and see her death and resurrection like that.

But at the end of the play, Rachel talks about her new birth, her second birth. And she says, with a smile that is not fake, that she is happy about her new birth, her resurrection. And I believe that is true. She doesn’t have to repeat it. It’s resurrection.

And that is the truth of real resurrection: our grave clothes can still stick to us, but they do not hold us back from living, we don’t have to convince ourselves it’s a good life.

So, hurry up, Jesus. Not to prevent death. But to give us resurrection life. Amen.

Dead People, Lent as a Re-Charge to New Years Resolutions, and Crappy Sermons

This Sunday we’re pondering Lazarus.

I mean, I guess you could ponder the Ezekiel passage or the Romans passage, but if you’re going to make people sit through 45 The Raising of Lazarusverses of the Gospel, you really should preach on it.

Anyway, I see a couple of pitfalls for the preacher and hearer in these texts.

First: the current zombie resurgence. Dude (a non-gendered word in my book), if you’re going to make a Walking Dead reference, do it on a text where it’s not expected.  This is a little too literal of a text if you ask me.  Plus, Walking Dead is all about the living, not the zombies.  In fact, the zombies are the least interesting part of the Walking Dead.  So an expected, if not useless, reference here, I’d say.

That being said, I think Lazarus is also the least interesting part of this text…

Second pitfall: Resurrection.  I’m talking about the TV show.  It’s not that it shouldn’t be referenced.  I don’t know if it should. Truth is, I haven’t seen it.  But that show is about people coming back years after they died.  Lazarus is in the ground four days…just long enough for his soul (if we’re going by ancient Jewish belief systems) to hike it’s way out of there.  If you wondered if Lazarus is really dead, the text wants to assure you he is. I think the popularity of the show indicates that people are wondering about resurrection as a reality; they’re curious.  But I don’t think this story, Easter, and the TV show have a whole lot in common.

Third pitfall: metaphor.  It’s not that this text doesn’t scream metaphor, it’s just that, well, I think the people in the pew have heard it all before in a lot of ways.  My generation is the generation that has seen the come-back kid rise and fall and rise again, and we’ve been told over and over again that we can change the world, that tomorrow can be different, that “the sun will come out tomorrow”.  Old news.  Tomorrow is a new day, yada, yada, yada.  Joel Osteen even gives a version of it with his best-selling crap heap, Your Best Life Now.

A “resurrected life” is not your second chance, your “New Years Resolution Do-Over.”  After all, Lazarus will have to die again.  And somehow Lent has turned into this…which is sad.  That’s not what Lent, or a resurrected life, is about.

It’s not the self-help, “you-can-do-it,” carpe diem stuff.

That stuff makes for great motivational speaking…but it makes for crappy sermons, in my opinion.  Sure, the people may leave the church motivated to live their best, new, “resurrected” life (whatever that means).

But are they changed?

You may counter with, “Well, what evidence do you have that Lazarus was changed?”

A good question.  We don’t hear much about this guy in the Gospel of John later, other than he eats with Jesus…which is kinda creepy, if you think about it.  Eating with a guy you just knew to be dead.

But there is one way Lazarus changed that we know for certain: he was dead.  Actually dead.

Living a resurrected life now does not mean putting a bright smile on for a gloomy day.  Nor does it mean being optimistic despite a rocky road ahead.

Living a resurrected life now means dying to something now.  Really dying to it.  Dead.  As in, “stinks for four days” sort of dead.

I think we have some dying to do.  Like maybe dying to hate.

Richard Rohr noted in All Things Belong, “Jesus says that if you walk around with hatred all day, you’re just as much the killer as the one who pulls out the gun. We can’t live that way and not be destroyed.” (80)  He’s right, you know.  Both Jesus and Rohr.  We fight against the destruction that hate puts in us, but what if we just go ahead and let it kill us?

We all have hate and anger (not the same thing, but kissing cousins) well up inside of us.  Most of us have learned to trample it down or, maybe, to let it out in a big burst as if to get it out altogether.

But what if we just let our hate kill us instead of trying to mediate it?

I’m sure the Mary’s and Martha’s in our lives, genuinely weeping at our deaths, would stand around and say, “If only Jesus had really been present, hate wouldn’t have destroyed him so…”

But I don’t think that’s true.  Perhaps the presence of the Divine in our lives is evidenced by the fact that we actually do die to things.  Literally.  Because I think we fight against the hate in our lives all the time: we mediate it, try to diffuse or process it in some fancy way, and that fight and struggle just often makes people angrier, I find.

I see this most often when I ride in cars with people.  They are so angry at anonymous drivers, these other people trying to get from A to B just like they are, that it can be scary.  Anger when driving is indicative of deep-seated unrest, I think.  Because driving should not be so anger-inducing.  And anonymous drivers are easy targets for hate because the repercussion is low.  A flick of the finger here, some loud cursing there, and off we go back to point B.

But the air such vehemence leaves…it stinks.  Stinks like a body in a grave for days.

What if, instead, we died to that hate?  We let it consume and kill us.  We didn’t fight against it, but actually embraced it as a momentary reality and let it kill us.

Then, instead, I think we’d probably be able to rise again differently as more peaceable people.  After-all, once we’ve been through death and are called back out of it by the grace of God, well, there’s really not much to fear anymore…the worst has been bested.

This is, I think, what Jesus points us to.

There is genuine pain in dying to things.  Worth weeping over.

Last night in a fit of fatigue and anger I had to put my crying son down (we’re teething) and walk into the next room as he screamed at 2:30am.  I had to die to that anger, die to the idea that I was going to go back to sleep in five minutes, die to the idea that he was going to do exactly what I wanted him to because, well, didn’t he know what time it was? (Answer: no. He’s a 1 year old).

And then I rose again to re-embrace him, having let the stench of the anger go, to attack the morning anew.  And so we laid on the guest bed, and he cried, and I soothed, and we drifted in and out of sleep for four hours.

Some might say, “If you had relied on Jesus, he could have gotten you through!” or “If God had answered your prayers, things would have been different and you would have gotten your sleep!”

But actually, I think the fact that I died to myself, my agenda, my desire, and rose again last night was proof of the inner calm of a present God.

Nothing had really changed but me.

Anyway, that’s what I’m meditating on today as I’m finishing up this sermon.  I hope it’s not crappy.

It’s Not that Easy

John 9:1-49

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As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

It’s Not That Easy

Give us sight today, Lord

That we might see you

And see grace

In a world that misses too much

Today Jesus uses mud to give a man born blind sight.

It’s funny to think that Jesus would use mud to give sight, right? You can’t see through mud.

But, and I think this is a deep truth, the muddiness of life can teach us lessons. When things are muddiest, we need to pay the most attention, right? Navigating muddy waters is harder than navigating clear waters. We need to wake up and pay attention so that we may eek out a blessing from the mud.

Or, rather, bank that somehow God in Christ will eek out a blessing from the muddiness of life.

That’s called grace.

This morning we have this text before us, the text about the man born blind.

But then we also have other texts that are before us, texts that come from our week of living together in this world.

Malaysia airline search. Mudslide in Washington State. Shamrock Shuffle here in Chicago. All sorts of other texts that we’re hoping this text will help us see in a new way.

By the way, brothers and sisters, especially the choir and band members here today from Westwood, that is what we try to do here. We listen to ancient texts week after week trusting that God in Jesus is going to speak a new word to us that will help us to navigate the muddiness of both the past week and this coming week.

And this last week the Christian church really messed things up, let’s be honest.

It’s like we weren’t listening to Jesus at all this last week.

In college I had an awesome radio show.

It was so awesome, in fact, that they put me on the air at 11pm-1am on Tuesdays.

11pm-1am.

I knew no one was listening. And it’s true, no one was. I’d say, “We’re going to take a break from the music to check in with a caller, “and then I’d say the number and wait for a call.

Never one. Crickets.

No one was listening.

And the music? Well, let’s just say that the title for my show was, “Playing the CD’s in My CD Collection.”

Which is what I did.

Heavy on the Counting Crows and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In fact, I played Pearl Jam’s Jeremy one night and got in trouble with the college council because there’s a swear word in there. Who knew? I didn’t because, well, if you know Pearl Jam you know that no one can understand 90% of their lyrics…

But no one was listening, and I knew it, so I didn’t continue with the show the next year.

Do you ever get the feeling that no one is listening?

I think the man born blind in today’s Gospel lesson, the longest Gospel lesson we have, by the way, probably felt that way.

He explained over and over again what happened, how Jesus had healed him and given him new sight, how it all happened with mud and all, and yet these Pharisees, these learned men, these teachers of the law didn’t seem to be hearing what he was saying.

In fact, they got so upset with the man, that they moved to drive him out of town! Instead of rejoicing the fact that he had received his sight, they were so consumed with how it happened that, lacking a sufficient answer, they wanted nothing to do with him!

“Tell us what happened!” they demanded of him. “Look, I was blind, and now I see,” he said.

I guess it’s not that easy to explain something as miraculous as being freed from such a burden, especially when you feel that it is God who has freed you…Jesus’ work in our lives is sometimes hard to explain. We try, but it sometimes can feel like no one is listening.

I experienced something of a “nobody is listening” moment this week. I experienced a moment of wanting to shout, “it’s not that easy!” to the Christian world that didn’t seem to be listening to one another very well.

Many of you may have heard (and if you’ve been following my blog, you definitely heard) that World Vision, the world’s largest Christian charity, had agreed to start hiring gay and lesbian men and women in committed relationships. Previously they had had a ban on hiring what they called “practicing” homosexuals…which is a weird term to use because, well, no one has ever called me a “practicing heterosexual.”

But this policy change in the world’s largest Christian charity caused a defection of many evangelical Christian groups, withdrawing their support for the people World Vision serves simply because World Vision may start hiring gay and lesbian persons in partnered relationships. Many prominent evangelical Christians even tweeted, “Farewell World Vision” as if to break the relationship from them and pull their support.

“But it’s not that easy! You can’t just cut ties like that over a policy change,” I thought.

Now, here’s the thing, wherever you fall along the lines of personal freedom and a corporation’s right to hire and fire at will, can we not all agree that, when it comes to feeding children, when it comes to feeding babies, we’re going to put our social and theological disagreements aside in deference to filling bellies and clothing baby backs?!

I mean, we worship a God who, we believe, shows up as food at this table! Can we not work together to feed, then? This is, of course, why we work with the church across the street for the Lincoln Square Friendship Center. We may not agree on much theology, they don’t ordain women, they don’t welcome gays and lesbians, they’re much more literal with the Bible.

But when it comes to filling bellies because Christ Jesus has called us to feed people, by God, we put those things aside and do it. They put their things aside. We put ours aside. We feed.

I wish that could be true of the larger Christian community, but all of these people, these people claiming to follow Christ, started pulling their support from World Vision over this.

A good portion of the Christian community just pulled out tweeting, “Farewell World Vision.”

But World Vision uses an organizational structure that pairs one child with one sponsor. It’s direct, one-to-one. It’s not the best way to do it, by the way. Often the least attractive children don’t receive a lot of support because they don’t look great on a postcard, but nonetheless, World Vision feeds thousands upon thousands of people every year this way. Like I said, they are the largest Christian charity in the world.

So, in effect, when you pull your money out, when you stop donating, you don’t pull away from World Vision. No. You pull away from a real, living person.

When the calls for people to start divesting from World Vision started to come, I wanted to say, “Wait a minute! It’s not that easy!” I said it with a lot of other voices in the world.

But it felt as if no one was listening…it got really muddy really quickly.

But what if World Vision’s policy change had come because they began to get new insight from Jesus? What if they would claim that they had new insight from God, a God who loves everyone and wants no one to be alone? Could the larger Christian community just write off World Vision like the Pharisees do in this text to the man born blind?

Well, the next day World Vision asked for forgiveness, they reinstated their policy that they would not hire monogamously partnered gay and lesbian persons.

And, I believe, they did so in order that children could continue to get fed.

And I cried.

I cried because, once again, we saw an instance of bullying in the church that further muddied the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the work of God in the world.

The work of God in the world is being the hands and feet of Christ for those in need. The work of God in the world is introducing people to a love known in the God who provides enough for all. It is not protecting a theological idea, especially one of exclusion, for whatever reason, and leveraging that principle on the back of children.

See, today I want to stand up here and tell you about the good news of Jesus Christ. But it’s not that easy. It’s not that easy because this last week, while the church could have been showing the unity that we have, how all of us, whether we agree with gay-marriage or disagree on it, could stand together and feed babies.

And we messed it up.

We messed it up because we have the privilege of debating non-essential theological positions while children starve.

It reminds me of when this man, born blind, suddenly gained his sight, suddenly gained insight, and instead of celebrating his newly unified life, all the Pharisees, these teachers of the law, these scholars, could do was grill him about it and finally withdraw their support from him because he didn’t give them the answer they wanted. And then they kicked him out. “Farewell Man Born Blind…” they said.

And then enters Jesus.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks.

If I were that man born blind I’d have to tell Jesus, “It’s not that easy to do so today.” Because the people who were supposed to be looking for the Messiah, the Pharisees, had just treated him like an outsider.

And this last week Christians all over the world put feeding programs on hold for specific children across the globe in order to bully others. In the face of such an example of Christian behavior, any response to, “Do you believe in the Son of Man? Do you believe in Jesus?” that doesn’t include some sort of response like, “I want to believe in Jesus, but Jesus’ followers are a little bit nuts. They’re a little bit unlike Jesus…” would be disingenuous, at least from me.

I want to tell you about Jesus and the good news of God, but today it’s not that easy, not with my heart and soul disquieted by these actions.

And then I came upon a quote from the great theologian Groucho Marx. Marx said, “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.”

Blessed are the cracked.

For all the mess that this week was, it did crack open the Christian community a bit to outsiders. At least, that is my prayer. It cracked us, I hope. And with it, I hope that we can do a little self-reflection to see that real gospel issues are about uniting one another in the love of Christ, not divesting and dividing ourselves from one another over theological positions.

We need a little light to be shed on this issue, this preoccupation that the church still has with sex. If we can see how obsessed much of Christianity still is with this issue, perhaps we can do some soul searching and acknowledge that in our preoccupation with having the right theology we often miss the chance to serve the ones that Christ calls us to serve.

“But we are not blind, are we?” we say to that. We’re not preoccupied with sex, right? We’re not preoccupied with rules, right?

Proof we’re not listening. It’s like God is this awesome DJ playing deep into the night, playing this CD collection of grace and justice and love, and we’re sleeping, never calling in.

Yes, even me I want to say that Jesus has given me insight on this issue. And we theologically progressive Christians need to point back to Jesus, to talk about Jesus more in this world. But I’m as blind as the next person here. I’m not willing to listen to opinions I don’t agree with just as much as the one who disagrees with me.

I’m as blind as the next person, sometimes passing up the opportunity to work with an evangelical organization such as World Vision, or any other one, that may not align in every way to my own theology, or the theology of the church.

“I am not blind, am I?”

To which Jesus says, “The fact that you even have to ask that proves that you are.”

So, my prayer for today is this: God, crack us open. Crack us past our self-righteousness, past anything blocking us from letting people see the good news of Jesus…because often it’s not easy to see him. Help the whole Christian church to reflect on this past week, to see the bullying and theological smugness that we, all of us, were responsible for. Help us to see the many times that we pass over serving the ones you came to serve because we just can’t get over ourselves.

Crack us open and shine your light upon us. Help us to listen. We’d do it ourselves, but it’s just not that easy. Rub mud in our eyes so that through the muddiness of life we can gain some sight. Help us to see you, help us to see the Gospel, and then help us to do it.

 

Funeral Sermon: Don’t You Know, Talkin’ About a Revolution Sounds…Like a Whisper…

John 14:1-6

jr_sunrise

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Talking ‘Bout a Revolution Sounds Like a Whisper

Tracy Chapman was a favorite artist of mine from my childhood. Her self-titled album “Tracy Chapman” was on constant play in my room…on a cassette tape, of course.

The first song on that album was a song called “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution.”

It went, “Don’t you know? Talkin’ bout a revolution sounds like a whisper…”

I think that’s true. Most revolutions in life do sound like whispers. Or, at least, are quieter than most of the public eye.

In Christian circles we call it resurrection more than revolution, but it’s the same thing.

So let me tell you a little bit about revolution, about resurrection. Like the time when a young gang member came to Carrie’s door looking for trouble, and ended up joining the Boy Scouts.

Yeah, that happened. From what I hear Carrie could be…persuasive. And if you don’t think that that is a story about resurrection, about revolution, well, then you haven’t been in Chicago long.

How about another story of revolution, or resurrection. Like how Carrie didn’t have much of a stable education because of life at home, so she was sure that her kids would have a great education. And not just her kids, but her nieces and nephews, and cousin’s kids, and inlaw’s kids. And kids in the neighborhood, and in the Scout Troop.

A tireless advocate for education because it wasn’t an option for her, see, and so she would make sure that her children’s lives were revolutionized in a way hers couldn’t be. She would make sure that they would rise higher.

See, here’s what I think about Carrie, a woman who I only know in story, a woman who I only know through her children. I never got to shake her hand or hold her hand, but I’ve held her children’s hands. And, by God, I hope that when people hold the hand of my son they know a little bit about me. So here’s what I think.

I think Carrie isn’t in for any surprise at the feet of the God who creates and redeems and revolutionizes and resurrects. I think she’s at peace, and I think there’s much joy, but I don’t think there’s much surprise there.

Because I think Carrie made a life out of practicing resurrection in her walk in this world. She’s practiced resurrection; it’ll be old hat for her.

In Ecclesiastes read earlier the writer is trying to figure out what time it is in their life. And, for Carrie, she was all about sowing. Sowing seeds of resurrection and revolution in the hearts and souls around her. And though she received recognition for her work from the Scouts and the precinct and the like, I think most of her work was done in the quiet way of whispers.

That’s usually how it is for people who spend their lives practicing resurrection. We don’t know how many lives she’s touched. It’s quiet work. Godly work. Holy work.

Work that her children, Jim and Gail, continue to practice today. Because once you’ve been resurrected, once the seed to revolutionize other lives with love and encouragement and persistence, or as Gail put it, “Mom was strong willed,” once that seed has been planted in you, you can’t help but pass it on.

But, Carrie, now you work here is done. There is a time to plant, and a time to pluck up. And even in these last years when her mind was confused by dementia, God was still keeping time and knew what time it was in her life. And even as she was plagued by dementia, she knew enough to ask about the education of her nephews and cousin’s kids and in-law’s kids.

And it finally came time to pluck up, to no longer practice resurrection, but to enter into the hands of God who revolutionizes and resurrects all things.

And with a whisper, dying in her sleep, she arrived at a place that she had long known, the house of resurrection, the house of many rooms, the dwelling place of the way, the truth, and the life. But now it is life eternal.

Carrie, mother, sister, friend, confidant, rest well. The seeds you’ve planted are being watered by God. And the resurrection work continues.

Amen.

The Man Born Blind, World Vision, and Insight

2952906522_26eb2b9637_zBeen musing on this Sunday’s Gospel text, as I think it probably gives us some insight into this whole mess with World Vision.

In the text Jesus uses mud to give this man sight.

Or, as I would say for the modern hearer, this man, in the muddiness of life, feels that Jesus has given him some new sight.

In the text it’s literal sight, but I love the over-arching metaphor, too, of how God, through the muddiness of life, gives us new insight.

Perhaps World Vision felt they had some new insight as they looked at their Christian brothers and sisters from all walks of life who had talent and vision and the ability to do good work, but were barred from employment because they were openly gay and partnered.  Perhaps they saw it as a justice issue.  Perhaps they saw it as a way to bring diverse parts of the Christian world together under charity.

That’s a Biblical model, by the way.

Remember when Peter and Paul couldn’t agree on whether Gentiles were actually Christian if they didn’t follow Jewish purity codes?  Do you remember how that all resolved?  You may think that they came to some sort of agreement on the issue…but that’s not exactly true.

Actually, what they agreed to do was disagree, support one another, and feed the poor and needy.

Yeah, you read that correctly: they agreed to disagree but, for the sake of the mission of the Gospel, serve God’s people.

Shame that we can’t be Biblical these days like that…

But, I digress.

So, perhaps World Vision felt that, through the muddiness of meeting gay persons openly partnered who had a calling from God, they had gained new insight into what it means to be Christian in the world.

And then along come these other “Christians” who start pestering them about this new insight.  “Tell us, where did you get this from?  What happened?”  And World Vision gives a response that is unsatisfactory for them.

Notice how in this week’s Gospel lesson the Pharisees say, “Well, this new sight is obviously not Godly!  After all, the man was healed on the Sabbath!”

Forget that the man, who had previously been blind now could see, it’s all a big farse, an ungodly hoax, because it happened on the Sabbath, and, well, you know the rules…

Forget that World Vision would continue to do their good work of feeding the poor and needy because now it would all be a big farse, an ungodly hoax, because now it would come from the hands of openly partnered gay persons and, well, you know the rules…

Sigh.

At the end the man born blind sits by himself, an outcast from the people who once embraced him before he had been given sight.

Jesus comes to him and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man.

“Show me who he is,” the man replies, “that I might believe in him.”

It’s ironic, of course.  The man who now could see can’t see Jesus anymore.  Maybe he’s having a hard time seeing Jesus because the people who were supposed to be waiting for the Messiah, the Pharisees in the text, the ones who were supposed to be the example of what it means to live in such a way that the Son of Man would be made manifest, had screwed it all up with their legalism.

That’s what I think.

To which Jesus says, “I am he.”

Of course it is he.  He’s the one who gave the man the insight in the first place.

Sigh.

In too many instances in this world we totally just screw it all up as a Christian community.  We’re unBiblical.

Not because we welcome gays and lesbians, but because we let our disagreements stop us from pointing to the Messiah.  We should take our cues from Peter and Paul’s behavior.  Instead we too often just parrot what we suppose their words were.

But the theologian Groucho Marx has some hope for us.  “Blessed are the cracked, for they let the light shine through.”

This last week the Christian community was exposed as cracked, fractured, screwed up beyond belief.

We did not point to the Son of Man.  So much so, I think, that World Vision couldn’t recognize the source of their new insight, and went back to being blind…

But grace is the light that can shine through these cracks.  A grace that subverts our best efforts to stop it.

And this Sunday, despite our cracked ways, despite the fact that we have a hard time pointing to the Son of Man when we’re so busy trying not to heal on the Sabbath, I’m relying on some grace.

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