A New Hope

Inspired by John 14:15-21

In our Gospel reading for today we get another snippet from Jesus’ looong goodbye. If you were not here last week and didn’t listen to my sermon online, well, first of all, shame on you! I’m kidding! Last week I mentioned that Jesus looong goodbye, which spans four plus chapters in John’s Gospel, occurred on what we now celebrate as Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, when we remember the last supper, the foot washing, and Jesus command to love one another as Jesus has loved us. These are Jesus final words to his disciples before his arrest and execution. That is the context with which we are to hear this short passage from Jesus looong goodbye. And I’m hoping you’ll see why this context is important by the time we’re done. So let’s dive in.

There are two major points that I want to highlight for you from this short passage. The first is the very first sentence. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” A better word, rather than keep, might be the stronger word obey. If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Keep is a bit too passive. So, this is a hard one for many of us to wrap our heads around. It sets the bar really high. Cuz let’s be honest, how many of us are keeping Jesus’ commandments? How well do we obey Jesus’ commands? I’m hoping we can all agree that we could all use a little work in that department. Otherwise this sermon will be pointless if we can’t at least agree on that. I mean, it’s the reason we begin most worship services with confession and forgiveness around the baptismal font!

So, if we believe that we are not doing very well at obeying Jesus’ commandments, then what do we do with this? Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So what are you saying Jesus? We don’t love you? What if the answer to that question is a simple yes, that Jesus is saying we don’t love him? Why would you say such a thing pastor? Of course we love Jesus, why else would we be here every week! Ok, calm down, and stay with me here. Waaaay back in February, I know, a long time ago, we read a passage from Matthew where Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. And in that sermon I talked about how love is actions, not feelings, not thoughts, actions. If you don’t remember that sermon or weren’t here, it’s online. Ok, stay with me.

Going further back, waaay back on Christ the King Sunday just before Advent, I know, I’m really testing your memory here, we read another passage from Matthew, this time, a story about a king who said to those on his left, “‘Get away from me. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’

Jesus here is referring to himself as the king, and in doing so is commanding his followers to feed, quench, welcome, clothe, and visit his people. In other words, Jesus commanded his followers to love his people. And by serving others, by loving others in this way, we will be serving Jesus, we will be loving Jesus. Which brings us back to today, as Jesus says to us, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” Loving others is how Jesus want to be loved. And remember, love is not a feeling, or a thought, it’s action. Jesus doesn’t need our warm fuzzy feelings for him. Jesus doesn’t need our undying devotion to doctrines and rituals. Jesus needs us to love the world. So, how well are we doing with that?

There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world. 2.2 billion people who are followers of Jesus! If 2.2 billion Christians were doing their job as followers of Christ in the world, would we have the hunger crisis that we have today? Would we have the homeless crisis that we have today? Would our prisons be disproportionately filled with our brothers and sisters of color? Would women be paid 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes? By the way, the answer to all those questions is no, and if you disagree I’d love to have a conversation with you about it sometime, but not back there when I’m trying shake hands and say good morning to people, that’s not the time or the place to critique my sermons thank you very much.

So, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” and we ask, “So what are you saying Jesus, we don’t love you?” I think we need to accept the answer to that question is yes! Own it! Only then we can do something about it. Ok, let’s move on, that was just the first thing I wanted to point out from this passage! The other will be quick, and way more hopeful. After that we need to end on something positive right? So the rest of the passage is about the Holy Spirit. As this is Jesus’ long goodbye, Jesus here attempts to reassure them that they will not be left alone. Very tenderly Jesus says, “I won’t leave you as orphans.” The Holy Spirit is something we Lutherans are not in the habit of talking about a whole lot unfortunately.

We’re great at talking about God the Father, and God the Son, but we get kind of tongue tied when it comes to God the Holy Spirit for some reason. But Jesus says something right after this that helps. He says, “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” Immediately after talking about the coming of the Spirit, the companion, he says, “I will come to you.” Hmmmmmm. Almost as if Jesus saw himself returning, just in a different form, as the Holy Spirit of truth. Right before this he did call himself the way, the truth and the life, as we heard last week!

This reminds me a lot of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars A New Hope. And if you’re not a Star Wars fan, I’m sorrynotsorry for losing you here. It is 40 years old, I think it’s safe to use as a pop culture reference by now! Anyway, at the end of A New Hope, the hero, Obi Wan Kenobi, fights the villain Darth Vader, and buys some time for his friends to escape. He then tells Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” And then with a sly smirk, he allows Darth Vader to kill him and his friends escape. We later learn that Obi Wan becomes a powerful spirit that can still communicate and guide his friends, even better than he could before he “died.” Hmmmmm. Who does that sound like?

Though, Jesus’ looong goodbye is emotional, fraught with dread and sadness, especially on the part of Jesus, the foundation of his goodbye is hope, a new hope for a continued future with them, with us. Though Jesus begins by laying down that “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments” gauntlet, he never intended on leaving us alone to do it. Maybe we Lutherans aren’t as bad as talking about the Holy Spirit as we thought. Maybe every time we speak of Jesus’ work in the world, we are speaking of the Spirit’s work in the world—the spirit of truth, the spirit of Jesus. I like to think of Jesus saying his long goodbye, with that same sly smirk of Obi Wan Kenobi, knowing full well that he would return, more powerful than we could possibly imagine. Thanks be to God. Amen.

I Am the Way and You Are Not

Inspired by John 14:1-14

To give you some context, today’s Gospel reading comes from, what scholars have called Jesus’ farewell discourse, what I call, Jesus’ loooong goodbye. And when I say long, I mean long! Jesus’ long goodbye takes up four plus chapters in John’s Gospel! Now, I’m all about saying goodbye but come on Jesus! In fact, one of the things my family instilled in me was, whenever you leave a place, you have to say goodbye to everyone! That still remains with me today. When I leave the office every day I have this instinctual need to find everyone and say goodbye, even though I know I’ll see them tomorrow, God willing, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t. Now, I draw the line if they are in the bathroom, because boundaries, but I’ll still text them a goodbye! I know, I’m weird. And I’m your pastor!

But back to Jesus’ long goodbye. I believe I’ve recommended this movie before but it’s worth repeating. I didn’t appreciate the Gospel of John properly until I saw the 2003 movie called The Gospel of John. I highly recommend it because by the end of the movie, you will have heard the entire Gospel of John, as all of the dialogue of the movie come from John’s Gospel. Nothing added, nothing taken away.

Now, it’s a long movie, but it’s not as long as Titanic! And one of the things that you’ll notice when watching that movie is the number of times that Jesus launches into a long speech, whether he’s at the temple, in the garden, or just walking down the street. His disciples were probably like, oh, there he goes again. Someone interrupt him! This farewell discourse, that we get a piece of today and another small piece next Sunday, comes from one of those times when Jesus launched into a long speech.

Now, here’s a little more context for you, and maybe this is even more important than Jesus’ long goodbye. This occurred on Maundy Thursday. These words of Jesus occurred during the Last Supper, after Jesus had just washed all of the disciples feet. Sitting around the evening meal, Jesus, fully knowing what tomorrow will bring, according to John anyway, shares his final thoughts, his lasting hopes for them, with words of hope and encouragement, all while not holding back just how difficult the days ahead would be for them. Around his last meal with them, he has this very intimate, relational moment with them. Not just to say goodbye, but also to give them a model for them to emulate, a direction to take. More on that in a minute.

Let’s take a closer look at the text itself to see how we get there. Jesus begins with “Don’t be troubled.” I don’t know about you but when someone begins with that I get troubled! And maybe that was the point. He continues with, “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” Jesus then goes on about spare rooms for them in God’s house, about how he will prepare a place for them, and he won’t stop there. After he prepares that place he will come back and take them there himself!

Now, I had an odd real world connection to that the other day at the Auburn True Value Hardware. I asked for some help finding something and the woman said, “I know exactly where those are, I just stocked that shelf! Let me take you to them.” I would have been content if she had just pointed me in the right direction, Lord knows that’s the usual assistance you get in stores today. But no, she insisted on walking me across the store to the item I was looking for, in spite of how busy she clearly was. Likewise, Jesus is always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for us. Not only does he build the spare room for us, not only does he prepare that room, but then he takes us to it himself! More behavior for us model.

Then he tells them, “You know the way to the place I’m going.” Now Thomas, God bless him, I don’t know if Thomas interrupts Jesus with his question or if Jesus was just going to end it there by saying you know the way to the place I’m going but Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going.” I imagine Thomas looking at the other disciples as he asks this like, am I the only one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus remains calm, maintains his patience, and proclaims in no uncertain terms, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Now this can sound very exclusionary. Lord knows that this passage has been used by Christians for centuries to exclude many groups of people, beginning with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

But this remark of Jesus doesn’t have to be taken that way. Christians have just chosen to take it that way because in doing so it helps them to come out on top. Here’s another way to hear it. Remember last week when we talked about the phrase, “You are God and I am not?” And then we turned that into, “You are the gate and I am not.”

What if, Jesus is simply saying here, I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and you are not—knowing full well that we are going to be tempted to make ourselves central, to make our doctrines central, to make our practices central, to make our rituals central, to make our worship styles central, to make our translations and interpretations of scripture central. What if, this was simply Jesus way of saying, I am central and nothing else. Not us, not our ways, not our truths, only Jesus.

Here’s another way to think of it, we hear the word journey and we look for a path, when the journey is actually a person, Jesus. We hear about a way and we look for a direction, when the way is actually a person, Jesus. We hear the word truth and we listen for facts, when the truth is actually a person, Jesus. We hear Jesus speak of life and we look for things like good health, success, pleasure, or dare I say, increased worship attendance and heavier offering plates, when that life is actually a person, Jesus. Whoo, just got real there at the end didn’t it? Yikes!

Then Phillip, God bless him, Phillip says, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” Now Jesus starts to lose his patience, probably thinking how dense are these guys? Jesus responds, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And more than that they have seen his works, all that Jesus had done up to that point. Jesus says, “Trust me” there’s that word again, “trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves.” In other words, if you can’t believe what I am saying, then at least believe in what I’m doing! And here’s why, because “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

Remember, this is part of Jesus long goodbye. Jesus is preparing them for his absence, as best as anyone can. Jesus will soon be gone and the works that they’ve seen him do, will now be there responsibility to carry on. The works that we have heard about, are now our responsibility to carry on, and not just them but greater works. How could that be? Because we will do those works together, as Bethlehem, as Lutherans, as followers of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, across the entire globe. That’s how we will do greater works than Jesus.

And that’s why Jesus began this farewell with “Don’t be troubled.” We don’t have time to be troubled! There’s too much work to do! That’s why Jesus began this long goodbye by reminding us of his spacious house, with prepared spare rooms, that when the time is right we will be taken to by Jesus. In other words, don’t worry about your futures, all is taken care of, besides, there’s a lot of work to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Consider the Source

Inspired by John 10:1-10

As you may or may not remember, the fourth Sunday of the Easter season is always good shepherd Sunday, when most of the readings highlight the role of Jesus as shepherd. Sometimes it can seem a bit contrived, a bit forced, but I think most of us, especially those of us who have no experience in the actual work of shepherding, find this particular role of Jesus to be quite comforting. And don’t worry, I’m not going to destroy that image for you today, you can relax!

I’d actually like to focus on something else from this passage from the Gospel of John, which by the way we will be reading from for the rest of the month, he just won’t go away. Anywho, I’m more interested in what Jesus calls himself before he calls himself the good shepherd, which doesn’t even occur in this passage anyway!

That happens in the very next verse after this passage when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” But in this passage we are not there yet. In this passage Jesus says, “I am the gate.” Now, some of us, including myself, may get a little nervous when we hear Jesus speak of himself as a gate. But I think that nervousness comes less from scripture, and more from our own use of gates.

We know how we humans use gates. Unless you’re in prison or being held hostage, we use gates to keep people out. Just think of the various ways we use different kinds of gates: the security gate at the airport, a gate on a driveway, a gate on an apartment complex, security at a country’s border crossing, or even your front door—all different kinds of gates that we use to keep people out.

So it stands to reason that God uses gates the same way we do right? Well, that kind of reasoning only works when we make God in our image. Thankfully, that’s not how it works. We are made in God’s image. Now whether we live into that image or not is a discussion for another sermon but if we are honest with ourselves, we transfer our own behaviors and beliefs on God all the time. Our default position is to assume that God behaves the way we do, believes the way we do, feels the way we do. You know those old bracelets that say “What would Jesus do?” They should be called, “What am I about to do and then assume that Jesus would have done the same thing” bracelets! But that doesn’t fit on a bracelet. Oh well. But back to gates!

The assumption that God uses gates the same way we do is just that, an assumption, but it’s also a dangerous one—not to mention an assumption that has hurt a great many people over the ages. Just think of all the ways in which the church has misused the role of Jesus as the gate, the gate to keep people out. This can happen in seemingly “innocent” ways like, let’s all come to church dressed in the very best clothes we own, because Jesus would like that, no no, better yet, because we honor and respect Jesus so much.

Do you remember those days? Coming in your Sunday best? Yeah, good times, good times. Well, not for everyone. How did that make people feel whose best clothes didn’t even come close to the church membership’s best clothes? Did they feel welcome? No. Did they feel like they’d fit in? No. Did dressing in their Sunday best become a gate that many couldn’t cross? Yes.

Now, like I said, that’s one of the more “innocent” ways, or maybe a better word would be silent ways the church has used gates to keep people out. But over the centuries there have certainly been more direct, open, and vocal ways that the church has used gates, used Jesus, to keep people out. Some examples include: if you’re a woman this is not the place for you. If you’re not white, this isn’t the place for you.

If you’re not straight, this isn’t the place for you. If you don’t believe exactly the way we do, this isn’t the place for you. If you’re not successful then there must be a reason God hasn’t blessed you with success and whatever that reason is probably means this isn’t the place for you. Those are all messages from the thieves and outlaws that snuck over the wall that Jesus was talking about.

And if you think any of those examples I just gave are exaggerations, then I’d encourage you to read up on some church history, because the church has a pattern of making certain groups of people over the ages feel unwelcome at best, or intentionally slammed the gate on their face at worse. But if this passage from John teaches us anything, it’s that this is not our role. You know the saying, “You are God, and I am not.” Well, today it’s “You are the gate, and I am not.” You are the gate and I am not. As we heard during Holy Week, our job is to love, to love as Jesus loved us. Not to play gatekeeper, not to create hurdles for people to jump over in order to be part of our community, not to determine who is in and who is out—just to love. That is our one job.

But pastor, how do we know who is going to heaven and who is not? How do I know if I’m going? Well, theologians have devoted their whole careers to those questions, volumes have been written! But I’m just a simple pastor, and so I give this simple answer—consider the source. Consider who the gate is, and all you know about him. All the stories, all the work he did during his short time on earth, the miracles, the sacrifice, the cross and empty tomb, and all the work that Christ continues to do in the world today. Christ “came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Consider the source. Consider who the gate is. And rejoice! Amen.

“At an end your rule is, and not short enough it was.”

Inspired by Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! A lot can happen in three days. That phrase has been ringing in my ears since Lisa King, our children’s ministry director uttered it a few days ago. For those of you who took advantage of the entire Holy Week journey, which included services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter, well, let me first say thank you.

Thank you for coming to experience what took many, many hours to prepare, what I hope were meaningful worship experiences for you, by our amazing staff, our music directors Owen Myers and Jeff Riswold, our office manager Callan Greason, along with many volunteers. It could not have been done without any of them. So, those of you who have been here through it all and have experienced the fruit of their labors, know that, indeed, a lot can happen in three days!

But aside from some amazing worship experiences during the most holy time of the church year, there are some even bigger things that happened during the Three Days, bigger than anything we could ever do or even imagine. For Jesus, he went from having one last meal with his closest friends, being arrested, brutally beaten, having said friends abandon him, well, the men anyway, to finally being horrifically executed, to show the world how much God loves us. But of course the story doesn’t end there. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, Jesus is raised from the dead! Why? That may sound like a silly question, especially on Easter Sunday! But what more needed to be done that the crucifixion didn’t accomplish? What more needed to be said? Why was Easter even necessary and what happened on that day?

Well, a lot happened! The church has been processing that for two thousand years now! Too much to cover in any one sermon, but what I would like to highlight right now is this, that first Easter Sunday had cosmic implications. That first Easter Sunday was about more than you, or you, or even you! That first Easter Sunday was about more than any individual, it was about more than Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Auburn California. It was about more than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, even more than the United States of America! That first Sunday was about more than Earth or the universe or the biggest thing we could possibly imagine! Because that first Easter was about changing the rules.

Jesus looked death square in the eye and said, your rule here has come to an end. Or in the words of Yoda, “At an end your rule is, and not short enough it was.” Death no longer had the final say in the universe! Death no longer had the power it once had! Death had lost its grip. The rules of the game had changed forever, everywhere, and for everyone. Yes indeed, lot can happen in three days, especially, on the third day.

All this, Jesus was doing on that first Easter, which makes his interaction with the women at the tomb all the more endearing. The angel appears to the women, the guards faint, and then the angel tells them, that Jesus was raised, go tell the disciples, and Jesus will meet you in Galilee. The angel ends with, “I’ve given the message to you.” Like a cosmic mic drop. Or like he just served them papers!

So, as the reader you’re thinking that the next scene is going to be in Galilee right? That’s what the angel just said! But no, Jesus does what Jesus wants to do. After all, he just changed the rules of the universe that day! He’s on a roll! So he appears to Mary Magdalene, and Mary, as they are leaving, before they can even get to the disciples. And I can’t help but see that as an act of love and compassion. This scene started with mourning and sadness at the grave of their friend and rabbi. And then, as if that wasn’t enough to handle, after the angel appeared to them fear was added on top of it all. And I can’t help but wonder if that was why Jesus decided to ignore what he had previously told the angel, and appeared to them, when they needed it the most.

And what makes this all the more astonishing, endearing really, is that Jesus interrupted all the cosmic work he was doing that day, to have a personal, intimate moment with them. Now we may be tempted to say, this is Jesus we’re talking about! He can do anything! He’s going to be walking through walls next Sunday! Well, yes but I really don’t think we should dismiss this simple but compassionate act of Jesus here. Because in this loving act, to take the time, to spend quality time with them, Jesus shows us something of how he relates to us. Amid all the work that Jesus is doing in the world, Jesus still takes the time to think of us, and to make this journey of faith that we are on, as personal as possible. Sending an angel of the Lord to us just won’t do. Jesus comes to us himself.

And what a beautiful model for us to emulate. I don’t have to tell you how meaningful it is when someone takes time out of their day to spend with you, or to even think about you. For me, it’s like when a parishioner goes on vacation and brings something back for their pastor. Just the fact that they thought of me when they were on vacation astounds me! And then I feel guilty because church is the last thing I want to think about when I’m on vacation! Or like when a friend sends you a card just to say thank you for being in their life. Or when a parishioner takes the time out of their busy life to have lunch or coffee with me. Those personal touches are what make this journey worth it, as well as manageable.

As much as the church needs your money, and Lord knows we do, it’s in those many ways that you personally join someone else’s journey that really make an impact on this world. Whether it’s a fellow church member, or family or friend, or complete stranger, when we take the time out of our busy lives to connect with people, that’s when magical, holy things happen. That’s when lives are changed, when lives are transformed, when we go from death to life. You see, the victory of the empty tomb was not just for Jesus, but for all of us. Like a cosmic transaction, Jesus transfers his triumph over death to us—allowing us to say to death, “At an end your rule is, and not short enough it was.” For Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Three Days - Making a Case for Love

Inspired by John 13:1-17, 31b-35, 18:1-19:42, and 20:1-18

Maundy Thursday

One of my favorite songwriters, Martin Gore, wrote a song called Light that really sets the tone for these Three Days. Here are some of the lyrics:

Take my hand
And walk in the light
Understand, there's a fire to ignite
You know we have a responsibility
It's true we've been chosen
And now we have the possibility
Of melting what's frozen

Walk with me with the rapture inside
Can't you see it's not our place to decide
You know we have to make a case for love
It's more of a duty

It's clear we have a mission from above
A mission of beauty
Take your place here
With love in your heart
Just embrace what you've known from the start
We are fulfilling our only destiny

Surprisingly, the author is not a religious person, and this is not a religious song. But from the images of light, fire, being chosen, and our mission, I couldn’t help but think of these Three Days when I first heard this song a few weeks ago. But the line that first caught my ear was this, “we have to make a case for love.” On this night of the Three Days, we celebrate Maundy Thursday with footwashing and communion but at the heart of it all, the sole reason we do these beloved rituals, in fact, the only reason we do any of the things we do in church, is love. On this night two thousand years ago, Jesus gave his friends a new commandment, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you.”

And of course, as is always the way with Jesus, there is this outward focus to this love. Jesus says, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” We are not called by God to love each other just for the sake of love, because it feels good, but so that it will be noticed by the world. And though neither John nor Jesus say this explicitly, I believe it’s so that it will catch on, so that it will become infectious, because God knows how contagious love can be. And maybe, if the world sees love within the church, people will not only take notice but they may even inquire about it, be curious about it, and maybe even, want in on it.

However, that may be too simplistic a view of this love culture that Jesus calls us to. And maybe even too passive of a perspective. I’m wondering if Jesus had more in mind than just us loving each other so that the world will see it. I’m wondering if Jesus is somehow calling us to make a case, to make a case for love in this world. That might sound strange at first but take a look at the world that we live in. Take a look at the headlines, take a look at what is going viral on social media.

From the person who took a video of a maid who was dangling out her window 8 stories up and instead of putting down her camera and helping her she took a video of her falling. To James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, writing about transgendered women using men’s restrooms, he writes, “If you are a married man with any gumption, surely you will defend your wife’s privacy and security in restroom facilities…If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot…Where is today’s manhood? God help us!” End quote.

I think a better question Mr. Dobson is, “Where is today’s love?” He goes on to compare their use of the restroom to inappropriate acts that I cannot repeat in a sermon. And I won’t even go into the details of the recent bombings in Syria, or the church bombings in Egypt. It is clear to me that we live in a world where a case needs to be made for love. That is going to be our theme over these Three Days, especially in this one sermon over the course of Three Days. And the question we have before us tonight is, “Whose responsibility is it to make this case for love?” Who will stand up in this world and say no to the kind of behavior and thinking that I just shared with you?

Who will tell the world that’s it’s not ok to stigmatize certain groups of people because they are different than us? Who will show the world that there is an alternative way, a better way, than hate and prejudice? I think Jesus says pretty clearly in today’s gospel reading, that it is our responsibility to make a case for love, at least now, on this side of the cross. In the washing of his disciples feet Jesus shows us what love looks like—made all the more poignant when these same disciples abandon and betray him. In the Last Supper, their most holiest of meals that he feeds them with, Jesus shows them what love looks like. But he was just getting started. He was on his way to showing them, showing us, showing the world, what love looks like…

Good Friday

On Good Friday Jesus makes a case for love like the world had never seen. For three years Jesus had been talking about love, preaching about it, teaching about it, but as we all know, actions speak louder than words. And for three years there certainly had been a lot of actions on Jesus part, showing just what love, the kind of love that he was bringing, looked like.

He was healing the blind, the lame, the sick, he was restoring people back into community who had been abandoned, he was visiting those in mourning, he was raising the dead, casting out demons, protecting those whose lives were at stake from unjust laws, even biblical ones. To tell you the truth, all of that should have been enough! Uh uh, says Jesus. We’re going to take this even further. We’re not going to leave anything to chance. The world will know, how much God loves them, even if I have to die to prove it.

And so he did just that. The cross means many things to many people. Only you can determine what it means for you. And it doesn’t have to mean only one thing. I believe God is big enough and flexible enough to allow for it to mean whatever it needs to mean to you right now. For me, I look at the cross differently depending on my emotional state, my mental state, even my physical state. God is big enough to handle that, to handle me.

But no matter my state of being, I always seem to come back to the cross, and Jesus actions on the cross, as being something that I should honor, remember, process, and reverence. And also that it is bigger than any theology we may attach to it, any doctrine or dogma that we may attach to it, the cross is bigger and farther-reaching than any words we use to describe it. So much about it is mystery. How much can we really fathom about what Jesus did on the cross and why?

However, I feel confident enough to say this about it. It is the clearest demonstration of God’s love that the world has ever seen. And that’s saying something! At the Vigil of Easter, we will hear some of the most amazing stories the Bible has to offer concerning God’s love: the crossing of the Red Sea, the valley of dry bones, Jonah and the great fish, to name a few. And again, after all the great stories of God’s love throughout the Bible, they should have been enough! I mean, how big of a case for love does God have to make?

These amazing acts of love should have been enough? Uh uh, says God. I have more to show you. On Maundy Thursday Jesus urged us to go out into the world and make a case for love because he knew how badly the world needs to see it. But just to make sure we are clear, the next day he showed us the kind of love he’s talking about, and what it looks like. It looks like sacrifice. It looks like abandonment. It looks like pain. It looks like a broken heart. It looks messy, even bloody at times. It’s the greatest case for love the world has ever seen…or was it?

Vigil of Easter

Depending on the Gospel that you are reading, Good Friday may not be the greatest case for love the world has ever seen. For Mark, the first Gospel writer, it was. The resurrection only gets a few verses at the end of his gospel as the disciples flee in fear, telling nobody of what just occurred. It’s almost an appendix for Mark. It ends on a bit of a downer really. But for Mark Jesus death was the climax of the story, not the resurrection. In his death was where Mark saw Jesus making the strongest case for love. This was not good enough for Matthew and Luke who wrote their Gospels after Mark. Rather than just presenting the facts the way Mark did, Matthew and Luke do more of the interpreting work for you. They have a much clearer path and goal in mind of where they want to take you with their book.

And in their Gospels there begins to be this shift from Jesus death, to his resurrection as being the highpoint. One of the ways you can tell this is by how much they write about it as well as their inclusion of some post-resurrection stories. And then we get to John, written much later, and though wordy and very deep, John is bold with his proclamation of who and what Jesus is. If you don’t believe Martha by the end of his Gospel, that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, the one coming into the world, then John would probably say he failed. And for John, it was the resurrection, where Jesus is making the strongest case for love the world has ever seen.

And this is how we got there. On Maundy Thursday Jesus commanded us, and let me be clear here, this is not a request, not a suggestion, not a helpful hint or life hack, this is a command, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. With this command Jesus sends us out into the world to love, knowing that we will have to not just love but make a case for it, defend it, debate it, make an argument to the world that this is a better way—in the face of so much hate, evil, indifference, and apathy in the world.

And then after giving this command, on Good Friday Jesus says, I’ll go first. I’ll go first. In the way that a parent steps in harm’s way so their child can live another day and carry on the legacy.  That, in and of itself, is powerful! But God says I’m not done! Stop the presses! Hold the phone. This is not the end of the story!

What makes Jesus’ command on Maundy Thursday, and his demonstration of it on Good Friday so powerful, so compelling, is that Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to live out that command. Jesus comes back to do it with us. Not even death could keep him from us. Not even death could stop him from making a case for love.

And as the lyrics that I began this three part sermon with reminded us on Maundy Thursday, that is our responsibility that we have been chosen for, that is our mission from above, that is our only destiny to fulfill, to make a case for love in this world, a world that so desperately needs to be reminded, so desperately needs to be convinced, that there is a better way—love. It’s not easy work, just ask Jesus. It’s challenging, frustrating work, even dangerous sometimes. But we don’t do it alone. Never alone. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Here is the song that this three-part sermon was based on: