Seeing Jesus – a sermon

You can listen to the sermon here, or read it below.

I’ve always loved a good optical illusion.  The classics are my favorite.

longer line

Is the top line or bottom line longer?

chalice

Do you see a vase or two faces?

the dress

Is this dress white and gold or black and blue?

The Dress that Broke the Internet brought the human eye into sharp focus for about a week earlier this year.  The whole world became obsessed with how the eye works, and we all realized, yet again, that you can’t always believe what you see.  Of course, this is nothing new.  In fact, the Gospel lessons over the last two weeks have been a reminder that for the disciples, even seeing wasn’t believing.

Last week it was John’s account of that first Easter Day.  Ten of the eleven remaining disciples were huddled together in the upper room, locked away from the outside world for fear of the Jews.  Out of thin air, Jesus appeared in their midst. He offered them his peace.  He tried to give them the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were quick to tell Thomas about their encounter with Jesus, but as Keith reminded us in his sermon last week, the fact that the disciples saw Jesus certainly didn’t mean that they believed what he told them.  A week later there they were, still frozen in fear, closed up in that upper room.  This week we have what seems like the same story.  This time we get Luke’s version of the first Easter.  Our story begins at evening, but it has been a very full day.

It began at sunrise when the women found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.  Two men appeared and said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  The women ran to tell the others what they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears, that Jesus had rose from the dead, but the men did not believe them.  Luke tells us they thought it “an idle tale,” a polite way of saying they thought the women were full of bull… Bologna.  Something in the story of the women gnawed at Peter, however, and eventually he got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself.  He found the stone rolled away, and all he saw inside were his friend’s burial clothes lying by themselves.  Even after seeing the empty tomb, Peter was still confused, and he went home wondering about what he had seen.

Meanwhile, others found it all too much to handle.  Two of the disciples, Cleopas and a companion, set off for their hometown of Emmaus feeling totally lost and confused at what had transpired over the last seventy-two hours.  As they approached the end of their seven mile journey, a stranger joined them and asked them about their sad conversation.  As it was late, they invited the stranger to dinner.  He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them and immediately their eyes were opened and they recognized the stranger as none other than Jesus, their Lord, their Rabbi, and their friend, risen from the grave.  Jesus disappeared, and the two disciples took off running, seven miles back to Jerusalem, to tell the others what they had seen.

The room was buzzing with excitement over everything that had happened that day when Jesus appeared right in front of them.  With all they had seen and heard that day, you’d think they’d be overjoyed at his appearance, but their reaction isn’t one of joy and gladness, but of terror and fright.  With all they had heard and all they had seen, they still couldn’t believe their eyes; they thought they were seeing a ghost.  I love Jesus’ reaction at this point.  It’s late, and I’m sure he’s pretty tired, what with having been dead when the day started, and so he says to them, “What is there to be scared of?!?  Why do you doubt that it is me?!?  Look at me!  I’ve got holes in my hands and my feet for crying out loud!  Who else would it be?  Go ahead, touch me if you have to, but when you’re done, give me a piece of fish; I’m starving to death over here.”  So they touch him, and they give him some fish, and they are filled with joy, and doubt, and wonder, unable to fully believe what was happening right in front of them.

Yet, even in their disbelief, Jesus has work for them to do.  They are to go and to proclaim what they have seen, for they are witnesses.  Even as their eyes fail them, even as their brains doubt, even as their hearts question what is really happening, they are witnesses to the resurrected Christ called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God: release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor to the poor, the outcast, and the afraid, and that through repentance comes the forgiveness of sins for the whole world.

You might think that I’m making too much of the disciples inability to really see what was happening, but I think it is because of their bad eyesight that we too have the opportunity to be witnesses of the risen Christ.  The fact that they couldn’t even see what was right in front of their faces means that we, who don’t have the chance to see for ourselves, can be witnesses as well.  We may not be able to see Jesus standing in our midst.  We may not be able to touch his hands and feet or put our hands in his side.  We may not be able to share a piece of broiled fish with him, but we can still be witnesses to the risen Christ through the ongoing work of God in the world around us.

John’s Gospel has the disciples still stuck in that upper room a week later.  Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, has them there for fifty days.  There they are, still huddled in Jerusalem waiting, unsure of what to do next.  Jesus commissions them as witnesses called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and 50 days later, it has yet to come to fruition.  Even having seen and heard and touched Jesus, come Pentecost Day, the disciples are still filled with a mix of joy and fear and doubt when the Holy Spirit comes with power and might, bursting forth from that safe room and running wild in the world.  From there the Good News spread like wildfire to the ends of earth.

We are inheritors of the story.  We know what the disciples saw, but just reading these old stories in a book doesn’t make us witnesses.  Our eyes are opened to see God’s hand at work in the world around us because we are inheritors of the very same Spirit of God that propelled the disciples out into the world.  The Spirit opens our eyes so that we too can be witnesses to the ongoing work of re-creation and restoration that takes place through the Church, the Body of Christ, to this day.  We are able to proclaim not only what the disciples saw, but with God’s help we can proclaim what we see as well; God’s redeeming love at work all around us.

Seeing isn’t always believing, whether it is the length of a line, the color of a dress, or the risen savior eating a piece of fish right in front of you.  Still, we are all called to be witnesses, to open our eyes and really see what God is doing in the world around us.  Through the breaking of the bread here on Sunday, through your prayers, through the reading of Scripture, and through works of compassion and mercy, every one of us has the potential, with God’s help, to be witnesses to the risen Christ as God continues to reveal his plan of salvation for the whole world.  And so we pray [and we sing] “Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus.”  Amen.

Proclamation and Witness

In Tuesday’s post, I argued that we should give serious consideration to Jesus’ less-quoted commission to preach both repentance and forgiveness to the world at large.  The Greek verb for proclaiming or preaching is kerusso from which we get the much more familiar noun kerygma.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins in earnest with a proclamation in the Synagogue at Nazareth.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NRSV)

His ministry ends with a commissioning for those who would follow him, “to proclaim to all nations repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.”  Jesus does not stop there, however.  He goes on to add one more identifying marker to his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.”  The Apostles, literally those who are sent are to proclaim what they have seen and heard and even touched.  They are witnesses, or in Greek martyrs, of the risen Lord.

The possibility of being a witness to the risen Lord has a short shelf-life.  It only takes a generation before those who actually walked with Jesus are no longer walking the earth.  As time went by, it became clear that what had been told, first-hand, needed to be written down so that the generations that followed might too be able to hear the proclamation of the Good News.  Yet we who walk the path of discipleship some 2,000 years later aren’t stuck holding only an old story book.  We too have the opportunity to be witnesses, not to Jesus appearing in front of us and asking for a piece of fish, but to the ongoing work of God in the world around us.

Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples are still huddled in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ Commission to proclaim has yet to come to fruition when the Holy Spirit comes with power and might, bursting forth from that safe room and running wild in the world.  Just as we are inheritors of the kerygma, we are also inheritors of the Spirit that allows us to have our eyes opened to see God’s hand a work in the world around us.  We too are witnesses to the ongoing work of re-creation and restoration that takes place through the Church, the Body of Christ, seeking God’s will in the world.  We are able to proclaim no only what the disciples saw, but what we see as well; God’s redeeming love at work all around us.

The less quoted Commission

I am thrilled that in the tens of millions of dollars it took to build the Chapel for the Ages (I hope they aren’t still calling it that) at my alma mater, Virginia Theological Seminary, they made sure to give a few nods to the old Immanuel Chapel, especially this one.

Photo by The Rev. Loren Lasch (VTS ’08)

Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel is the unofficial motto of VTS, which has always seen itself as a seminary called to equip missionaries.  For many years, the men who graduated from VTS (when they were only men) took that call quite seriously and spent their first few years of ministry in far off lands.  More often these days, the women and men who graduate find themselves in the missionary territory that is post-Christendom America.  Whether it is in a downtown metropolitan area or a yoked ministry of three or more tiny rural congregations, ordained life these days is much less comfy than it was 60 years ago, but it certainly is a rich vocation.

Of course, Matthew’s version seems fairly safe, sugar-coated even, when compared with Luke’s account of Jesus commissioning his disciples.  Luke’s Great Commission isn’t the stuff of former mainline seminary chapels.  Jesus instructed his disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  There seems to be a reluctance on both sides of the theological spectrum to live into the fullness of Luke’s Great Commission.  The right focuses its attention on the repentance piece, while the left is much more comfortable with forgiveness.

There cannot be grace without conviction, and conviction isn’t redeemed without grace.  In our hesitancy to live into this less oft quoted Commission, we’ve cut off half the Gospel message, and half a gospel is no good news at all.  As we approach the final resurrection encounter in Eastertide Year B, it would behoove us to remember that Good Friday and Easter Day are one in the same event.  Neither makes sense without the other, and both are necessary for God’s salvific work to be accomplished.  As we leave our congregations on Sunday, called to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” we would do well to remember that that service includes both the call to repentance and the proclamation of forgiveness, no matter how uncomfortable one or the other of those might make us feel.

Joy and Disbelief

The Easter story is a story of perplexing dichotomies.  On Easter Day we heard the story of the resurrection from Mark’s Gospel which ends in a very ominous tone, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  On Easter 2 we found ourselves in John’s Gospel with the well worn story of Thomas and his disbelief, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  By Easter 3, you’d think everyone would be on board with the fact that Jesus had actually risen from the dead, but here in Luke’s Gospel we find the disciples with their hands on the wounds of Jesus filled with a mixture of joy and disbelief.  The aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is delightfully perplexing.

There is a tendency in the Church to idealize the apostolic age.  In liturgics, we look to it as if there was some sort of monolithic Apostles’ Book of Common Prayer to which we all should subscribe, but alas, it doesn’t exist.  In theology, we look to the Apostles, especially Paul, as the preeminent theologians, those whose theologies should never be questioned.  Even in faith, we tend to ignore the failings of Peter and the persecution by Paul and, to some extent, even the doubting of Thomas and assume that from the very beginning everyone was on board with this whole resurrection business, which is why, I think, the Lectionary spends three weeks reminding us that Jesus rising from the grave was not what the disciples thought was going to happen.

When doubts creep in, and they do for all of us, it is helpful to remember that even the Apostles struggled with faith.  When the world seems dark and gray, when the idea that Jesus triumphed over evil seems impossible to believe, when doubt seems a whole lot easier than faith, it is good to know that we are in good company.  Once we find solidarity with the Apostles, then it seems a bit easier to move back toward faith, to read the great stories of their Acts, to hear of their perseverance, to listen to their witness, and to know that even in the chaos and the darkness, the light of Christ remains.

The life of faith is perhaps best summed up in Luke’s Gospel as a life joy and disbelief.  The Good News is that God is in present in both.

Confessing our Sins in Easter

For the last few years, Saint Paul’s has taken part in a growing practice in the Church to forego the Confession during Easter Season.  We’re not going to do it this year, for a few reasons.  First, I’m pretty sure nobody got it.  Most people didn’t notice it was missing and those who did, I’m sure didn’t have a clue why.  Heck, by the end of last Easter Season, I wasn’t even sure why.  Which leads me to my second reason, a practice I thought had historical roots, seem to not.  I’ve made mistakes before, and I will again, but I do hate it when I go digging for the reason I thought I knew for doing something and I can find no record of it.  I’d nearly forgotten all of this until I began reading through the lessons for Easter 2B and found this gem in 1 John.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, NRSV)

On Easter Day, I preached that what makes the story of Jesus different is that he rose from the dead on the third day.  What that means for us is that we have been given victory over death: that we can live resurrection lives right here and now, through the forgiveness of sin.  Failing to confess our sins keeps us from living in the fullness of joy that comes with kingdom living, and we should take every opportunity to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness.  Especially, it now occurs to me, in Easter.  Without the realization of our own sinfulness, we have no need of a savior.  Easter Season reminds us that we have a savior: one who lived as an example for us, died as a scapegoat for us, rose from the grave as a harbinger of joy for us, and sent his Spirit as an advocate for us.  The key to unlocking that treasure trove of gifts is the confession of sin.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen. (BCP, 360)

Death and Taxes – an Easter Sermon

My Easter sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or read on.

Death and taxes.  Every year, at about this time, I’m reminded of that old cliche that [outside of Baldwin County] the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Whether you live in first century Palestine or twenty-first century America, you can be sure that (1) the government is going to get their fair share of your money and (2) dead people are going to stay dead.  Dead people simply do not come back to life.  And so it is, that early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome do the completely normal thing after their dear friend died late on the eve of the Sabbath.  Having procured the spices they needed for embalming, the women set out for the tomb to do the hard work of preparing Jesus’ body for his final rest.  As they made the journey from the downtown market out past the city walls to the cemetery near the hill called Golgotha, the silence of the walk was interspersed only with the heaving sobs of those whose hopes have been dashed.  Meanwhile the very real question of how they would even get into the tomb lingered around them.  Despite the fact that Jesus had three times predicted his resurrection on the third day, no one: not the Chief Priests, not the Apostles, and certainly not these women had given a passing thought to the possibility that Jesus might not still be dead come Sunday morning.

Dead people simply do not come back to life.  This fact is the reason we celebrate Easter at all.  The great anomaly in the life of Jesus isn’t that he was born in a cave or got lost in the Temple when he was twelve or was baptized at 30 in the Jordan River or that he preached about the Kingdom of God or even that he was killed on a cross as a traitor by the hands of Rome.  Jesus wasn’t the only person who did those things.  What is unique about Jesus is that he is the only person who rose from the dead after it was all over.

Unlike the women making their way to the tomb that first Easter day, we gather this Easter morning, fully expecting Jesus to be alive.  The tomb is going to be empty this year, just like it is every year.  I wonder, as you got ready to come to church today, did you gave any thought to the fact that dead people just don’t come back to life?  Have you thought about how ridiculous this story is?  Have you considered how hard it should be to believe that this man who died having been beaten, whipped, crucified, and speared was raised from the dead on the third day?  Does the difficulty of belief impact our lives in any real way?  Or, do we simply accept it at face value, and instead of giving it a moment’s thought, wake up early one Sunday a year, put on our seersucker suits and linen sun dresses, and come to Church to sing the usual favorite hymns, hunt for eggs, and perhaps most importantly, make grand-mama happy?

Dead people don’t come back to life. This is especially true when they don’t even know they are dead.  The fact of the matter is that most of us walk around dead most of the time.  We’re dead because we don’t know how to be fully alive.  We’re dead because we find it so easy to believe in the resurrection of Jesus that we don’t see how world altering it really is.  We’re dead because we fail to recognize the amazing gift God has given us in the resurrection of Jesus.  In the resurrection, Jesus invites the women, the disciples, and you and me to give up death and join with him in joy-filled Kingdom living, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

In the Collect for Easter Day, we pray that God would help us live in the joy of resurrection.  We pray this prayer because the world around us is not a world of joy or resurrection; it is, rather, a world of sadness and death.  Even those of us who don’t engage in the self-flagellation that is watching MSNBC or FoxNews 12 hours a day realize that the world is not as it should be.  Our Facebook feeds are filled with political diatribes, broken marriages, cancer diagnoses, and job worries.  Since the Great Recession, our workplaces are filled with less people doing more work on tighter deadlines with fewer dollars.  Our medicine cabinets are filled with drugs to combat hypertension from all the stress, high cholesterol from all the rushed McDonald’s drive-thru value meals, and attention deficit disorder from the myriad concerns pulling us in a thousand different directions.  The depression of Good Friday, we can understand.  The relentless waiting of Holy Saturday, we get.  The joy of resurrection on Easter Day is almost impossible to imagine…

…Which is why we pray to God for help.  Trying to give up death and live into the joy of the resurrection on our own is impossible, but through the grace of God, we are able to leave the tomb and live in joy more and more each day.  The resurrection is much more than a celebration of Jesus’ victory over death, it is our invitation into life: life in the Kingdom of God right here and right now.  As we pray for the joy of the resurrection, we ask to God to open our eyes to see his hand a work in the world around us.  We’re asking for the ability to see hope in the midst of hopelessness.  We’re asking for life in the midst of death.

Dead people don’t come back to life, but when Jesus does, it changes everything.  As the women arrive at the tomb and realize that the stone has already been rolled away, the whole world changes.  Jesus Christ is alive!  There is no resurrection encounter in Mark’s Gospel, only an invitation to return to Galilee to meet up with the risen Savior.  The invitation is as much for the disciples as it is for you and for me.  The risen Lord bids us to join him as he goes forth through time and space sharing the Good News that love always wins, that life after death is possible, and that everyone can join him in the community of joy.

Death and taxes may both be certainties in life, but Easter invites us to add one more item to that list: joy. The joy of the resurrection, the true joy of the Kingdom of God: that is what God promises each of us on Easter Day.  Joy beyond taxes, beyond death. Joy beyond all measure. Alleluia! Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!  Amen.

Jesus is God – a Good Friday Homily

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John as well as this homily can be heard on the Saint Paul’s Website.

This whole week has revolved around one question, “Who is Jesus?”  On Palm Sunday, we heard the crowd cry out to Jesus as the Son of David, the promised one who would restore the fortunes of Zion and set God’s people free from their bondage in place at the hand of Rome.  On Tuesday, we heard the question of the Temple Authorities, “who do you think you are?”  In his homily that evening, Father Keith reminded us that Jesus didn’t carry the proper credentials.  There was no ordination certificate hanging on his office wall.  His pedigree wasn’t proper; he was from the house of Judah not the house of Aaron.  His authority to teach what he taught and do what he did was suspect.  On Wednesday we heard of the unnamed woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus as king of her life using tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of nard as the disciples watched, horrified by their embarrassment.  Even on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus and his disciples meet for one last supper, the question remains, “Who is Jesus?”  He washes their feet like a slave, yet he offers commandments like a Rabbi, and calls himself Lord and even the Son of Man, the one promised in the prophecies of Daniel who will be sent by God to reign over his Kingdom forever.  Who is Jesus?  Is he a teacher?  Is he a savior?  Is he a king?

We get three very different answers in the Passion Narrative from John.  To the religious leaders, Jesus is a blasphemer.  His teaching is outside the bounds.  He heals on the Sabbath.  He cares for the outcasts.  He hangs out with sinners.  Jesus is arrested, tried, and convicted on the charge that he is a blasphemer, and so they take him to the only man in town who can mete out the death penalty.  Pontius Pilate is the most powerful man in Israel.  He was appointed by the Romans as Governor of Judea.  Pilate knows nothing of the Jewish religion, and so he doesn’t see Jesus as a blasphemer.  Pilate knows about Jesus thought.  He’d heard of the parade, how he had entered Jerusalem riding on a Donkey, as people laid down palm branches and cried out to him.  To Pilate, Jesus is the King of the Jews.  The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the sign written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew – everything about the crucifixion of Jesus points to the fact that for Pilate there is no question who Jesus is; the King of the Jews.

Pilate is close to having the right answer, but not quite.  He’s focused on earthly titles, while Jesus transcends the politics of this world.  The definitive answer to our question, “Who is Jesus” comes from the lips of Jesus himself.  When Judas and the detachment of soldiers find Jesus in the Garden Jesus asks them who they are looking for.  “Jesus of Nazareth,” they say.  And Jesus responds, “Ego Eimi.”  “I am.”  And with those words, they all fall to the ground.  Jesus has said the unsayable word, the tetragrammaton, the holy name of God given to Moses from the burning bush.  Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me to save the Hebrews from Egypt?”  God replies, “I am.”  Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the great I Am.  Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the Lord Almighty.  Jesus is God.

And now God is dead, hanging from a cross atop a trash heap outside of Jerusalem.  Had Jesus been merely a blasphemous Rabbi, his death would have gone largely unnoticed.  This Friday would be like any other if Rome had simply put to death a rival King.  We gather on this Friday and call it Good precisely because Jesus was, and is, I Am.  Words fail to comprehend the depth of God’s love which brought Jesus to the cross to die that we might have life.  But there is God, hanging dead on a tree.  It is Friday, and it is Good only and always because Jesus is God.  Amen.

Jesus’ Mandate – Maundy Thursday

Every year at this time, I stop and give thanks.  I give God thanks and praise that the Church decided that the thing it would remember about Jesus wasn’t the washing of feet but the sharing of bread and wine.  Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when the Church remembers Jesus’ final evening with his disciples.  It was, at least in the Synoptic accounts, the evening of the Passover Feast.  Jesus and his disciples were gathered in the room that had been home base all week to share the sacred meal and remember God’s salvific work for their ancestors enslaved in Egypt.  Over the course of the evening, there are three main events that are worth remembering: Jesus’ Meal, Jesus’ Pedilavium, and Jesus’ Mandate.

Jesus’ Meal: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

According to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, The Holy Eucharist is “the principal act of Christian worship.”  In the midst of our corporate worship with offer God thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We do so through the sacramental signs of bread and wine; symbols of Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out on Good Friday.  We do so in congruence with his own words, that it be done in remembrance of him.  Through that remembrance (anamnesis), we are grafted into a two-thousand year-old practice and united with Christ and his disciples in that upper room.  This will be the last Eucharist celebrated until Easter morning.  We’ll go without the nourishment of Christ as we remember his death on Good Friday and keep watch at the tomb on Holy Saturday.

Jesus’ Pedilavium: “I have set an example.”

During that last supper, Jesus got up from the table and did something astonishing.  Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  Jesus, always the teacher, explained to them what he had done.  “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”  Just as we remember Christ’s gift of love in the Eucharistic Feast, we follow the example of that love by taking part in the most humbling and humiliating of activities that one human being can do for another (outside of areas covered by a bathing suit).  We engage in this profoundly counter-cultural, shockingly intimate, utterly awkward act as a sacramental reminder of God’s never-failing love for us, and we’re lucky we only have to do it once a year because it is, at least according to John’s account, the sacramental act that fulfills the mandate of Jesus.

Jesus’ Mandate: “Love one another.”

Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.
A new commandment I give to you: Love one another.

That love which Jesus commands of us is the agape sort of love.  It is self-giving love.  It is the love that compels God to send his Son to save the world.  It is the love that motivates Jesus to stretch out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross.  Agape love is deeper than writing a check.  Agape love is more profound than getting up early on Sunday to go to Eucharist.  Agape love is well beyond quiet times and Bible memorization.  Agape love is washing feet, and it is the love that Jesus commands we have for one another.  Maybe it was agape love that kept the Apostles from highlighting foot washing over the Eucharist, or maybe it was just a good PR person.  Either way, I’m grateful for the choice they made, even as I remember the profound act of agape love that is the pedilavium.

Jesus’ Identity – Wednesday in Holy Week

The audio of this homily is available on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read on.

​            It is Wednesday and by now everybody in Jerusalem knows who Jesus is. The crowds have been growing as the Passover Feast approaches. By now there are as many as two-and-a-half million tourists jammed into the old city. The faithful from all over the known world have come to remember when God saved them from slavery in Egypt. Each year, the Passover Feast is a time ripe with national pride and not a little bit of trepidation. Every year the people wonder, will this be the year that God once again delivers us from the hands of our oppressors.  This year, everybody is wondering, will Jesus be the guy?

It has been weeks, maybe even months, since Peter first confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Lots of water has flowed under the bridge since James and John tried to cozy up to the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom, but the memory of that parade is still very fresh. The palms lay drying in the gutters. If you listen carefully, you can hear the shouts of Hosanna still echoing down the narrow streets. And that scene on Monday – Jesus with a whip, raging against an unjust temple system.  “Just who does he think he is?” the people wondered.  “Just who do you think you are?” the Temple Authorities asked.  But honestly, by now everybody knows that Jesus is…

The Messiah!

By now everybody knows that Jesus is the promised one.  By now everybody knows that Jesus is the anointed king of Israel. The Temple Authorities know it, which is why they want to get rid of him. The crowds sense it, that’s why the whole city is a-buzz with expectation. The unnamed woman in Bethany knows it and so does Judas Iscariot, but it means very different things to each of them.  For the woman at Bethany, Jesus is the long awaited king who has come to set God’s people free. That hope compels here to seek him out and to pour out extravagance upon him. The jar of nard she breaks open to anoint Jesus is worth upwards of thirty-thousand dollars. The disciples are right, it could have fed any number of the poor and outcast that came seeking them every moment of every day, but Jesus tells us the woman is right in what she has done. She has come to offer Jesus her all. She has come to lay down her expectations of what the Messiah should be and simply anoint Jesus as king of her life.  Judas, on the other hand, is unwilling to give up his expectations. He too knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but by allowing this woman to anoint him for burial, Jesus has declared that he is really is going to die.  For Judas, dying is not an option. Judas won’t let Jesus slow play the coming of his kingdom.  No, Judas is going to force Jesus’ hand. If Jesus gets arrested, he’ll have no choice but to show who he really is, to take up force and to overthrow the Temple Authorities and their puppeteers from Rome.  Jesus isn’t the king of Judas’ life because Judas wants things done on his terms.  Judas chooses his own selfish desires over the promised kingdom of God.

Of course, Judas is not alone. Every day each of us has a choice. Every day we are given the opportunity to live for ourselves or to live for God.  Every day we have the chance to anoint Jesus as king of our lives or to once again betray him to the cross.  The Church in Philippi was struggling with this choice as Paul appealed to them to choose the kingdom. When you are thinking about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, and whatever is commendable there is no time to be thinking about your own selfish desires.  When your mind is fixed on the kingdom of God, there is no room for thoughts of self.  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  He came to restore the whole world to right relationship with God.  He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  He came that we might be committed to him as king of our lives.  The woman at Bethany is remembered because she chose wisely.  Judas is remembered because he did not.  Which will you choose?

Jesus’ Authority – Tuesday in Holy Week

“By what authority are you doing these things?”  That’s the question isn’t it?  The one question upon which hinges the Christian faith and the Church which professes it.  By what authority?  There are those who with a sneer will say, “by his own authority,” and chalk Christianity up to the selfish desires of a man from Nazareth.  Others will laugh at the possibility of the resurrection and say, “by the authority of his followers.”  For those of us in the Church, who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the answer is quite simple, by the authority of the LORD, God Almighty.

The struggle between Jesus and the Temple all comes down to authority.  They each claimed the authority of God.  One group, the Temple, claimed that through adherence to the laws, handed by God to Moses, and perfected by the tradition, a good Jew could be saved.  Jesus, on the other hand, claimed that through adherence to the law of love, all of creation could be saved.  The Temple sees these two ways as mutually exclusive, and the only way to exert their authority is to rid themselves of the rival party.

Ironically, in order to exert their authority, the Temple must first abdicate it by reaching out to the true authority, Rome, for the punishment they desire.  Jesus shows the authority of love through the ultimate sacrifice; dying for us while we were still sinners.  Come Friday, it’ll look like Jesus had no real authority at all, but come Sunday, the truth will ring out.  Jesus Christ is Lord!