A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“Come All Is Ready, Hear the Story of Life” Sermon on Mark 14 Maundy Thursday March 30, 2018

What story do we tell ourselves about our purpose, meaning and fulfillment in our lives in the 21st century? Is the meaning of life different today than say 2000 years ago? The banter at our house about the meaning of life comes from the Douglas Adams book “Life, the Universe and Everything: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” The question is asked in the book what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? And the answer? 42. Clean, neat and simple. Unfortunately, the answer of 42 doesn’t hold up in our day to day lives that involve real quandaries, crises and suffering. And it certainly doesn’t give us a framework to make meaning of our complex lives. We have all probably tried to tell ourselves a story that gives our lives meaning. Maybe it’s the story of over working, overeating, drinking, over shopping, smoking, drugs. Or even a story that might seem more positive: yoga, or focus on exercise and diet, reading self-help books, sports. But at the end of the day, these are all human made concepts that we use to attempt to control the world around us and to have it all make sense. These stories might help us for a while. But eventually… they don’t. Other stories creep in: illness of mind or body, layoffs, violence, accidents, discrimination, broken relationships and suffering of all kinds. What story will we live in?

As modern people, we are not unique. This has been the age old existential crisis of humanity from the beginning of time. All the stories that humanity tried to tell themselves in the past also failed: conquering other cultures, oppression of some people while elevating others, gathering riches, or worshipping whatever seemed to give them happiness, however fleeting. None of these stories helped our ancestors make meaning of their lives either. Even with their best efforts, they couldn’t keep suffering and chaos at bay.

The Israelites also wrestled with how their lives made sense, particularly when they were in exile. It was while they were in exile that they began to write down the stories of their history that they had been telling each other, and their children, for generations. The story of Creation, the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, Passover, King David, King Solomon, division of the kingdoms, psalms, proverbs. These stories gave them a framework from which to live their lives in joyous and difficult times. In all these stories are realities of living as a human: joy, fear, contentment, success, ego, mistakes, lament and suffering. These stories also gave them the foundation of their source of meaning for their lives: God. These stories that became the Hebrew scriptures, shaped how the Jewish people knew themselves and the meaning of their life. To love and praise God, to know that suffering is inevitable, they belonged to God and God is always present. They took seriously the word of God and the call to embed these stories into the flow of their life. The Passover, as we read in Exodus, was one such story.

It is a story of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries and acted. God affirmed Moses as leader and sent plague after plague to get Pharaoh to let the slaves go. Finally, it took one last terrible plague where first born children would be killed. Those homes with blood of a lamb over the doorway would be passed over from the horrible event. Suffering would occur that night and it’s horrific to consider how the Egyptian families, innocently caught in this geopolitical/cosmic showdown, would pay the price. But the Israelites, would be spared. This is part of their identity as God’s people. God led them out of Egypt to the desert to go to the Promised Land, where they would live in peace and abundance. But first they had 40 years of manna, quail and water from a rock; first  God leading them with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night; first God forged them as God’s own people, and this story of Passover each year gave them again the story to live into that God will save them, God will provide for them, God gathers them as God’s beloved people and God promises to be with them no matter where they are. It’s a story of living as God’s own people.

Jesus celebrated this story each year of his life. His whole life and ministry is framed by scripture, the story of God’s love for God’s people. Jesus lived solely into this story. And on the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate with his friends on this side of the cross, he added to the story, added meaning, richness and depth. He gave his friends and us something to help us make sense of our lives no matter what year it is or where we are. Jesus and his friends, including Judas who would succumb to another meaning and betray Jesus, heard the story again of God’s love, protection, provision and promise. Jesus then told them another chapter of this story: once again we live under occupation from an Empire, once again it seems that suffering and oppression abound, once again it appears that might, hate and betrayal will win, but that isn’t the story of who you are and it isn’t the story of who God is. Here is bread, bread that God provides, bread that sustains, bread that gathers you as one. It is my body, it is my life, not only for yours but with yours. My body that tells the world that you belong to God and no one else. Here is wine, wine that reminds us of God’s abundance and joy. Wine that is red, the color of my blood and yours, that will be shed. Blood shed to invoke selflessness, sacrifice and promise that God withholds nothing from God’s beloved people. Tell this story over and over. Do this story over and over. Tell this story when you are filled with joy and hope, tell it when you are suffering and in distress. Tell it to your children, tell it to strangers, tell it every time you gather. Tell this, do this, experience this  and live this.

This story is unlike any other story for us. It’s a story that re-members, reconnects, you, all of you, into the body of Christ, into the community of God. It is your meaning for life, life here on earth and life eternal. This story makes sense of joy from suffering, hope from despair and life from death.

We share in this story that began thousands of years ago, created meaning for our Jewish brothers and sisters, created meaning of the early Christian communities, created meaning for the Medieval reformers and creates meaning for us today. We continue this story here in 2018 and tonight during Holy Week: The story of mercy, promise, abundance, forgiveness, hope and radical, selfless love. It’s story that we take in with all our senses: we hear it, we see it, we smell it, we touch it and we taste it. This story truly lives within us as Christ lives in us too. We receive this story with open hands and open hearts. We receive to live it and to tell it. We do this story when we accompany someone who is hurting from disease, suffering from discrimination, lamenting in grief. We tell this to those whom we think deserve to experience this great love and to those whom we think don’t deserve this truth and joy. We tell it because it is really Jesus who tells the story, Jesus who makes meaning from bread and wine, Jesus who frees us to live as people of God and Jesus who gathers us all to the cross and makes meaning of our lives in the story of God’s promises for life now and forever. Come to the table to hear the story once again, for all is ready. The gifts of God for the people of God.

 

Messy Love Luke 2: 41-52 Christmas 2 Year C December 27, 2015

Holidays where gathering as family is that the heart of the activities are not always what we expect them to be. I think that naming this is the gift of our service of remembrance today at 10 a.m. But whether we lost a loved one this year or ten years ago naming that the holidays are full of mixed emotions for many of us is cathartic and healthy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a “Debby Downer” here two days after Christmas! Sometimes it IS absolutely what we envision: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren gathered around a table overflowing with traditional favorite food, laughing, relaxing and having a great time. I have witnessed such days and I hope that you have at least one such day that you can recollect. But if we’re honest, most of our holidays or special planned days don’t go exactly how we envisioned, for lots of reasons. People have to work, get sick, are in a dispute with another family member, or simply don’t come. More difficult is when a chair is empty never to be filled by that person again because they have died. I’ve had more of those kinds of holidays than I would like to recollect and maybe you have as well. Reality is that holidays can be difficult when it seems the rest of the world is joyous and festive and you are remembering who used to be around the table celebrating with you and now they are…not. Even in the healthiest or most functional family system, holidays are a messy experience and let’s be honest, who’s all that functional? I like to say that my family has put the FUN in dysfunctional. Sometimes just owning your dysfunction is helpful and remembering that no family is perfect can be relieving!

Our Luke story today tells us that even the Holy Family, had its share of messiness. They had gone to Jerusalem to Passover, a big family oriented festival where they had spent time with their loved ones, going to Temple, eating and catching up. All seemed to be fine until the big family unit set out for home. It says that Mary and Joseph realized quite a ways down the road that their 12 year old son wasn’t with the family caravan. How can the parents of the Son of God lose him?

In a panic, I’m sure, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Where could he be? Grandma’s house? No. Uncle’s house? No. Friend’s house? No. Surely, he wouldn’t be in the Temple? What middle school aged youth would stay for extra confirmation? Yet, after three days, that is exactly where his parents found him, with the scribes being taught and even more miraculously, teaching. Mom and Dad were initially relieved but then were upset that Jesus wouldn’t just follow directions and join the caravan home. And right there in front of the Rabbi, their nearly teenaged son, smarts off to them about of course he is in his Father’s house and why were they looking for him? Not the serene scene of mother and baby in the stable from a few nights ago. It didn’t take long for things to change.

Even for Mary, mothering the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace was not all it was cracked up to be. Those reversals she sang about when she was pregnant about the high being made low and the low being made high? Yeah, those aren’t so simple now are they? This was messy. This is not going the way she thought. Who is her son and what does this mean?

Messy indeed. Luke’s gospel isn’t afraid of the messiness, the incongruities, the complex emotions, situations and realities of our human lives. In this story Luke foreshadows the confusion and messiness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three days of not knowing what is going on. Three days of waiting in uncertainty. Three days of tumultuous emotions. Three days of asking “why”? Three days that will transform us and the world.

The reality is that our lives are messy. Our lives are not what we had planned. Spouses, children, parents, loved ones, and friends die and we don’t know why. We wrestle with the reality of our pain and sorrow in the midst of a season where we celebrate joy, newness, sing lullabies to new babies, and praises to a King. We might vacillate between really enjoying the season and our sorrow.  It can all feel so hallow, shallow, and inauthentic at times. Friends and family may want us to not be sad but it’s not that simple. We grieve deeply because we love deeply. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve. That’s not a consolation or a platitude, but a reality. Love is risky, love changes us, love forever binds us together and so its bonds do not break when someone dies, they are stretched and so as we grieve, we wrestle with the stretching of our love for those who have died. Mary knew from the time of Jesus’ birth that at some level that her love for her son would pierce her heart and stretch her love from life to death. Many of us can attest to loving someone so deeply that we know we have the real risk of pain.

Jesus Christ, God as a human, was God’s deep, risky, transformative and binding love for us. Jesus was God’s love stretching to earthly life, to earthly death to eternal life for us all. God’s love is so vast that it stretches to encompass us all-binding us with all of creation together with God forever. God’s love stretches to swallow up death and our Colossians text reminds us that we put on the clothes of love and eternal life with God. God’s love through Jesus transcends the reality of love in this life where love is connected with grief. God’s love promises to wipe every tear from our eyes, make us whole, united with God now and forever.

This is our hope that we proclaim in our worship each and every week, in word, in water, bread and wine. We proclaim this hope sometimes with songs of praise and sometimes with songs of lament but always with words that dwell in us richly even when we don’t have any words at all. This hope that is offered for all through Jesus Christ, is one in which we rest, even when we have a hard time understanding or believing this mysterious and unconditional gift from God. When we gather as the people of God, we do so in all of our messiness, in all of our differences, in all of our stories of “why,” in order to point to our hope in Christ for each other when we have a hard time seeing it, experiencing it or feeling it. This is the importance of a faith community for us in all seasons of our lives. I know that I have had people in my life who in hard times pointed to the love and hope of Christ for me when I needed it and I pray that I have been that light for other people as well.  We need each other on this faith journey. We gather together for the wisdom of the elder in our midst and the wonder of the child. We gather together because we need each other for wholeness, Christ binds us together in love not just for our sake but for the sake of the world. We gather to point to the hope in Christ in the messy, imperfect world around us. God, in Jesus, works through messiness, our imperfections, our sorrows, to reveal God’s promises of wholeness, peace, justice and love this day. Thanks be to God.