Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King Sunday (Year C) - November 24, 2019



Christ the King Sunday
Year C
November 24, 2019
Luke 23:33-43


We’ve officially been on this journey together for a full year. My first Sunday with you all was Chris the King Sunday last November. And what a year it has been! I so am thankful to have been called here and to be walking this journey of faith together with you. Thank you for all the work that we do together. And today, as we conclude our first year of ministry together, we also conclude this liturgical year with Christ the King Sunday.

Christ the King Sunday is a day in which we reflect on what it means to proclaim that Christ is our King; and we boldly and loudly proclaim – against all the voices of this world – that it is Christ that reigns over us, over our nation, over our world. This is a radical and bold act. This world wants to tell us that the powers of this world reign. This world wants to tell is that it is our earthly kings, our politicians (on either side of the aisle), that rule and that bring about safety and security. The world wants to tell us that they are our saviors, that they will bring about peace, prosperity, and safety – and we hear a seemingly intensifying version of that each election cycle. This world wants to tell us that we can make our own way and our own salvation through physical might, through earning enough and hoarding enough riches for ourselves, through pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and making a name for ourselves. This world wants to tell us to be afraid of the neighbor and stranger, seeing them as a risk and a threat against our way of life, a threat against who we are and everything we’ve worked for, a threat against our very lives. The kings of this world are marked by hubris, by misuse and abuse of power, by trampling on the lowly, by stoking fear to further divide us from our neighbor – all in an effort to hold onto power for themselves. But today, in defiance of those voices and narratives of this world, we gather and we proclaim that it is Christ that is King.

On this last Sunday of the church year, just before the beginning of the Advent season and the celebration of the birth of Christ, it may seem odd to return to Good Friday, to return to the cross. But it is at the cross that God chooses to make Godself known; indeed, the cross is at the center of Christ and at the center of our lives as Christians. It is here at the cross that we see Christ as king. It is here at the cross that God reveals what it means to have Christ as our king. As I noted in my mid-week update, Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new festival in the Christian calendar. It was started in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, between the two World Wars, specifically to lift up, to remember, to lean into the kingship of Christ over and against the kingships of this world, especially pushing back against the rise of nationalism and fascism. This Sunday is inherently political; not partisan, but political. We recognize today that Christ’s reign has something to say about this world as it is and has something to say about our participation in it. That’s political. Today is a reminder that our faith is not just between me and God, but we have faith in a God that is breaking into this world, to bring light, life, and salvation to all people. We have a faith in God that says that Christ is our true king. There are political implications to Christ’s rule; a rule that transforms this world as it is to the world that God intended it to be.

As I think about our world, as we see its brokenness, as we see the ways Christianity is misused in ways that harm and exploit, as we see Christian nationalism rising again, it seems just as important to as in 1925 to lean into Christ’s kingship and into the Kingdom of God coming into this world. Here, on Christ the King Sunday, we point to a kingship and to God’s vision for the world – a world transformed and recreated as the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom with Christ as our King. It is a vision of the world as it is being turned upside down. It is a vision in which the lowly are lifted up and the mighty are brought down. It is a vision where the boundaries between people are broken, where those on the margins are brought to their rightful place within society and the community. It is a vision where the stranger is welcomed and the hungry find their fill. It is a vision for the world where peace is won not through violence but through Christ’s redemptive love. It is a vision for the world in which all are brought into right relationship with God, with neighbor, and with all creation.

Our Gospel reading today highlights this stark contrast between who this world envisions as a King and what that King looks like, and the King that is sent by God to establish God’s kingdom in this world. Today, we see Christ the King not on a throne, not commanding an army, not surrounded by cheering fans – with campaign banners and flags, nor adorned with expensive clothes and jewels. Instead, we see Christ the King on a cross, condemned to death by the empire, surrounded by criminals and crowds deriding and mocking him – sarcastically calling him the King of the Jews -, adorned with a crown of thorns.

This is a King who does not repay evil with evil, but repays evil with good, forgiving the very people who crucified him. This is King, by the world’s standard, would be considered weak and a failure. This is a king who shows power not in might or in saving himself but in service, in vulnerability, and in the act of forgiveness. All year, we’ve been talking about how, the Gospel of Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God turns the world upside down. This isn’t what the world expects when we think of a King. This is not a king that this world would recognize. This is not a kingship that this world values. It turns our expectations of Kingship upside down.


It is here at the cross, we meet our King. Or probably more accurately, it is here at the cross that our King meets us. Our God stepped off God’s throne, becoming enfleshed in a real – and vulnerable – human body, as a baby, lying in a manger, totally and utterly dependent on those around him. God chose to step off the throne to be enfleshed in a  human body that is executed on a cross – a horrible and torturous death – a death of the lowest, most dangerous criminal, the death of a convict.

What kind of God would do that? What kind of God would dare to step off their throne, choose to put on our bodies, and willingly experience death on a cross? This is a big deal. In Jesus, as we hear in our letter todady, “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In Jesus, we meet the fullness of God who does not retreat, does not pull away, does not use power to save or to protect himself. Instead, we meet the fullness of God in Jesus that steps off his throne, dwelling with us, stepping closer to us, refusing to let even the worst evils of the world separate God’s beloved creation, God’s beloved people from him. On the Cross, Jesus makes Godself present, hidden in weakness, vulnerability, and dying. On the Cross, we meet a God in Jesus that is faithful even in and beyond death – in order to establish God’s reign in the world. A reign established not through violence but through the “tender mercy of God… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). And this is indeed good news.

What does it mean to proclaim this kind of king? What does it mean for us to have this kind of king? As Daniel Erlander, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, says in his book, at the cross:
“God finds us – in our darkness, our pain, our emptiness, our loneliness, our weakness. As God meets us where we are, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see… the Cross is God’s Embrace. God enters and embraces us with total and unconditional acceptance. Identifying so completely with the pain and sorrow of our existence, God woos us into a love relationship with himself. The Cross is God’s Victory. God enters our darkness and exposes and defeats the powers that reign in this world. By the death of Jesus, God liberates us from any person, thing, system or ‘ism’ which would enslave us by demanding absolute loyalty. We are free! Free to let God be God. Free to be human.” (Erlander, Baptized We Live, 4-5).

It isn’t our might, it isn’t our power, it isn’t our riches, it isn’t our earthly kings that bring about security and freedom. No, it is the God that makes Godself known on the cross that does that. On the cross, Jesus invites us into relationship with himself, embracing us, and telling us, “today, you will be with me.”

 By the cross of Jesus, we are freed from the powers and the voices of this world that harm, divide, and destroy. In a world that points to the powers of this world as king, we are freed to stand up against the voices of this world, proclaiming Christ’s kingship and God’s kingdom. In a world that tells us that we should be afraid, we are free to be unafraid, to be bold in our proclamation and in our service. In a world that tells us that we should put up boundaries and that some people are “worth” more than others, we are freed to break down the boundaries between us and our neighbor, we are freed to welcome the stranger, we are freed to proclaim the value and dignity of each and every person in the eyes of God – especially to those that the world pushes aside and dehumanizes. In a world that where violence and hate are the norm, we are freed to show the love of God, that love that we first received from Christ, bringing Christ’s peace to the world. In a world that is so often lacking hope, we are freed to lean into, to live into the hope and the vision of the Kingdom of God as it breaks into this world.

Today, at the foot of the cross, we loudly and boldly proclaim: Christ is our King.

Alleluia. Amen.




Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service

Ecumenical Thanksgiving Reflection
November 24, 2019
4pm
Psalm 139:1-10

I’m incredibly thankful to be here with you all this afternoon. This is my first time at this service. One year ago, this service was supposed to be the first thing I did as the called pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran church. But my car battery had other plans, and I unfortunately missed the service, waiting for roadside assistance to jump my car. What a year it has been since. It has been a joy and an honor to be part of this service and part of this ministerium. I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know you all through our Lenten and other ecumenical opportunities. I give thanks to God for the colleagues and friends in our ministerium. I give thanks to God for our talented musicians, and I give thanks to God for each one of you gathered here today. I’ve lived in a lot of places in my 27 years on this planet. And I have to say: this is truly a special community, unlike others that I have lived in, and I’m thankful to be part of it and I look forward to what the next years will bring in this place.

As I think about Thanksgiving, I am struck by our first Psalm reading for this afternoon, from Psalm 139. I love this Psalm; yet I would not have initially thought of this psalm for a reading in a Thanksgiving service. This is the reading that starts off our service, and frames our time of thanksgiving together. This is a hymn that trusts/ confesses that our God knows us fully and completely – not just the good things, not just what we want to show of ourselves before God, but our God knows our whole, real, true, and messy selves. We all have those pieces of ourselves that we hide from the outside world, those pieces of ourselves that we keep close because we fear that those pieces of ourselves are too much for others or that those pieces will push others away. Some of us (and I hope we all do) have people in our lives that we can let into those parts our lives and those pieces of ourselves. But my point today is that we hear that we have a God that knows the best and the worst parts of ourselves and our lives.

And not only does God know those pieces of ourselves and our lives, but God promises to dwell with us anyway. Instead of having a God that might turn a back to us, God hems us in, behind and before us, laying God’s hand upon us. Nothing about who we are or what we do can push our God away, for we cannot flee from God’s presence. We ask God to reform the “wicked ways within us,” but even those things don’t separate us from the God that so loves us. God completely and fully accepts us for who we are – both what we show of ourselves to the world and those pieces we want to keep hidden. We hear, in this Psalm, a proclamation that our God dwells with us not just with our joys and celebrations but also with our bumps, our bruises, our scars, our character flaws.

One of my favorite hymns, “Will you Come and Follow Me,” puts it this “will you love the you you hide, if I call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” In our best times, and in our worst, it is God that calls us, our full selves – even the you you hide - , to follow and to be drawn close to God. It is God’s hand that holds us fast. Today, we hear a promise that nothing about who we are or what we do can push God away or can scare God into fleeing away from us; our God is with us and dwells deeply with us.

As Christians we proclaim that God doubles down on that promise in becoming human, in becoming flesh and bone, in Jesus. My seminary Old Testament professor, the Rev. Dr. Ralph Klein, talked about the incarnation of God in Jesus like this. He said, “in the incarnation, it is like God asked, ‘I’m God, not human. But would it help if I became human?” In other words, “would it help you trust that I am on your side if I became like you?” or “would you trust my yes to you and to all humanity if I became human?” or “Would it help you trust in my love and in my covenant if I lived, loved, walked this earth – with its hills and its valleys – and died, like you do?”

What kind of God would do this? Seriously, I think sometimes because we’ve heard the story so often, we forget how radical and unexpected this is. This isn’t something most people would expect a God to do. What kind of God would risk putting on flesh and bones? What kind of God would suffer and die for the sake of a broken humanity and a broken world? This is an incredible act for the divine to take. This is a God that is so radically on our side that God is willing to risk making Godself in our image, in our flesh. This is a God that is willing to so identify with us and be in solidarity with us – in the joys and the struggles that being human brings – that God godself puts on human flesh and experiences it too. God, in Jesus, doesn’t even flee from experiencing death – not just an ordinary death – but the death of a dangerous political convict on a cross. This is a God that is willing suffer, to die, and to conquer death, sin, wickedness in rising from the dead.

In that resurrection, we can trust that God’s final word to God’s people is always a loud and resounding yes. We have a God that can’t let God’s people go. We have a God that won’t let sin and death have the final word for us or for this world. It is God’s life – the new life and the new creation – of the resurrection that has the final word – freeing us from all that threatens us, freeing us from all tries to tell us that we’re not worthy of God and God’s love, freeing us from our own sin, - even freeing ourselves from those parts of ourselves from the you you hide.

So, today, I give thanks because we have a God who knows us so intimately and deeply – the good, the bad, everything in between – and remains with us. I give thanks that we can say “You are my God.” And we can trust that “You are my God” – in the best of times and in the worst of times. Psalm 118 says it another way “with the Lord on my side, I do not fear.” Because we have a God that is so completely and totally on our side, we do not have to fear. And I give thanks that God’s final word to me, to you, to all of humanity is a loud and resounding yes.

I hope that, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, whether you’re gathering with family or friends, whether you’re going to Jimmy’s for the community dinner, whether you’re having a quiet evening at home, you hear God’s yes to you. I hope that whether Thanksgiving brings with it joy or sorrow, companionship or loneliness, or a bit of all of it, you hear God’s promise that God is with you there in whatever the holidays bring. And I hope that, among all the other things we have to give thanks for, we give thanks for the God that knows us inside and out and refuses to let us go. For:


“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
And settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

Thanks be to God for that.
Amen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - November 17, 2019



23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
November 16, 2019
Luke 21:5-19

I’ve always loved travelling. And I love to visit houses of worship when I travel – whether
domestically or internationally. I’m fascinated by the National Cathedral in DC. I’ve been in awe of the ornate and spectacular cathedrals in Germany – and with how they morphed throughout the protestant reformation. These buildings are adorned with beautiful stonework. The altars often are adorned with exquisite paintings. These buildings were dedicated in the name of our God. While these buildings are not in my typical worship style (this worship space is much more “my style”), every once in a while, being in ornate worship spaces bring me to awe before God. Every once in a while, that style “does something” to connect me to the majesty of God in a way that I don’t typically experience. It’s the kind of awe that I experience standing on a beach, looking at the vastness of the ocean. Somehow, someway, it connects me to the greatness and the breadth of God. In 2012, I was on a University of Richmond trip to TaizĂ© – a monastery community in France. The trip was bookended by days in Paris. On our first day in France, we were able to go to Notre Dame. I have a great picture of me standing in front of the majestic building. In April, I saw images of the building engulfed in flames. As silly as it sounds, a building that I (at least on some level) thought of as indestructible was on fire. It was a disorienting and disturbing thing to watch.

I can only imagine the feelings of crisis and calamity that would come with Jesus announcing the destruction of the Temple. There are hundreds of cathedrals and thousands of churches spread across Europe. Here at home, we have roughly 9,000 congregations in the ELCA alone. But for Jesus’ listeners, the temple was the place where they understood God to reside. It was the place of connection between heaven and earth. This Temple is at the center of the people of Israel and of the nation. Seeing those adorned stones fall to the ground again represents a calamity and chaos that their ancestors knew so well.

The readers of the Gospel of Luke, living near the close of the first century, lived the chaos that Jesus envisioned in this text. During the Jewish-Roman wars, the Romans destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70CE. Josephus, a first century Jewish Historian, claimed that as many as 1 million people were killed and 100,000 were captured and enslaved. While those numbers are likely somewhat inflated; the chaos and destruction that they lived through is unlike anything I can imagine. Many, if not most, of Luke’s hearers would have lived through this and were well acquainted with terror and chaos. Above and beyond the chaos of the nation, the budding new Christ-believing community faced rejection and (in some cases and places) persecution for their proclamation of the Gospel. They were rejected by their families, and some were indeed put to death. The world as they knew it was falling apart. I can only imagine how their world suddenly became something so disorienting. These early Christians knew well the brokenness of this world as it is. And for this audience, Jesus’ words are less of a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but more of a reflection on it.

The Thessalonians experienced a different chaos – chaos and division within their community. This text is widely misused and misunderstood as condemnation against those living in poverty, especially against those on SNAP and other social safety nets. The text says: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” The word here for idleness is more accurately translated as “disorderly” or “disruptive” or even “unruly.” It isn’t failing to work that is the problem that the author of the letter is pushing back against; he is seeing the actions of some that undermine or disrupt the larger work of the community – a community already stressed by the threat and trauma of persecution. In other words, the problem is that people are meddling with or actively working against the work of God in that community, which contributes to the chaos of their world as it is. This community also knows well the brokenness of the world as it is.

We too are well aware of the brokenness of this world as it is. We see the terrible effects of Natural Disasters, the fires of California, the hurricanes of the Atlantic, the cold-snaps and polar vortexes of the north, the droughts and famines in parts of Africa – all of which intensified by the effects of climate change. We see the brokenness of our society – school shootings, this week’s shooting was one of at least 70 school shootings so far this year. Political division and strife with rhetoric that that tear one another down instead of build one another up. Wars. Discrimination and oppression against the least of these among us. The list could continue. And we certainly have our own strife and struggles within ourselves and within our families. We know the brokenness of this world. And we know how disorienting this world can be.

The end of this age, the end of this world as it is comes when the Kingdom of God is finally fully established in this world. Jesus’ words today are not prescriptive, they’re descriptive; they describe the brokenness of this world. And the thing is: so often the work of the Kingdom of God is at odds with the kingdoms of this world – past and present. Of course when people rise up and challenge the authority of Rome, Rome will come in and try to hold onto that power. When the powers that be are challenged, when the powers that be are brought down and the lowly are lifted up, there will be push back. The powers that be will arrest and persecute those who preach the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of this world. Not because that’s what God wants, but because of the sinfulness of humanity. We, like the communities of Luke and Thessalonica, are living in this in-between time. A time where God’s reign is coming into this world as it is, but it isn’t fully here yet.

In this in-between time, the message is clear: Do not be terrified. God is bringing about something new. But God is in the inbetween times too. God promises to be with us in the prisons, in the rubble, in the brokenness of the world, in the brokenness of our hearts, in the brokenness of our relationships, in the brokenness of our humanity. In becoming human in Jesus, God chooses to identify so fully and completely with humanity and all that being human brings. On the cross, we see a God, in Jesus, that doesn’t remove godself from pain and suffering, but instead dwells there. We see a God, in Jesus, that is in total solidarity with the pain and brokenness of God’s beloved people. On the cross, we see a God, in Jesus, so committed to us that not even our own sin, our own brokenness can separate us from the God that so loves us. When the world seems to be ending, when everything we think we know is turned upside down, our God promises to be with us. When we feel lonely or abandoned, on the cross, we see a God in Jesus that tells us that we will never be alone. Nothing about our humanity or the brokenness of this world can separate us from the love of God we’ve found in Jesus. And in the resurrection of Jesus, we see clearly God is still in charge and that brokenness, heartache, and destruction will never have the final word. When the powers of the world seem to have the upper-hand, in the resurrection, God shows that it is God’s reign that will have the final victory. When the world is chaotic and disorienting, in the resurrection, we see a glimpse of the new creation, the restoration, the new life that God is bringing about in this world.

In our baptisms, we are grafted into the cross of Christ. It is in the cross of Christ that we find hope in a broken world. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the promise of restoration and new life. As Christians, It is in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that we put our trust and our hope in. Not the powers of this world, not the kingdoms of this world, but Christ. This is the faith that God calls us to this morning. Grafted into the cross of Christ, we are called into this world as it is, participating in God’s work of establishing God’s kingdom fully and completely in this world. Grafted into the cross of Christ, we are called into this world as it is, sharing God’s love with all – especially to the ones who need it most. Grafted into the cross of Christ, we are called into this world as it is, proclaiming the promise that the current things aren’t the last things, and God is at work bringing about restoration and new life here and now.
Amen

Monday, November 11, 2019

22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - November 10, 2019



22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
November 10, 2019
Luke 20:27-38

Our gospel reading for today is another peculiar text from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, again, is having an argument with the religious establishment of his day. People who don’t believe in resurrection ask Jesus a question about resurrection. Just to put some context around the text: the Sadducees were one of the main Jewish sects of Jesus’ day. They only considered Torah, the first five books of the Bible, to be scripture. Because neither the prophets, nor the psalms were considered scripture, the Sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead. So they challenge Jesus on this. (Pharisees, however, accepted the authority of the Prophets and the Psalms and accepted the idea of the resurrection of the dead).

And their question, perhaps striking modern listeners as disturbing, revolves around the ownership of a nameless woman in the afterlife. After seven marriages, becoming a widow seven times, and remaining childless before dying herself, “Whose wife will the woman be?” For Jesus, the question misses the point of resurrection. The question assumes that resurrection is less resurrection (new life) but immortality. The question assumes that what comes after this life is the same as this current life. The question assumes that the woman will still be bound by the patriarchy that she was bound to in life. The question assumes that the woman’s value is bound up in the value of her husbands and in her fertility (or in this case her infertility). It assumes that what the woman was bound to in her life is the same thing that will bind her in the resurrection. In other words, resurrection life is assumed to look a whole lot like the life of “this age.”

The Sadducees try to trap Jesus with this question about resurrection that they don’t believe in. They don’t seem to actually care about what will happen to this hypothetical woman (who likely represents, at least in some way, some actual women, even if this is an extreme example – what happens to a woman who dies husbandless and childless?). They don’t care about her any more in death than they would have in her life; she’s merely property (unattached, unclaimed property). In this hypothetical scenario, proposed to Jesus, she finds no value in this world or the next.

While this particular example may not resonate with us, I do think that we often imagine resurrection and the “next age” to look a whole lot like this world as it is – without the bad, hard, or hurtful stuff, of course. But we tend to imagine it in ways that we see our world as it is. And that’s normal and natural; this world is our frame of reference. One of my favorite comedians is a comedian out of Australia, Adam Hills. Much of his content, well, let’s just say would not be appropriate for this context. But he has this sketch as part of his Characterful and Joymonger show in which he talks about heaven. He says, “I have a theory. I think if you spend your life doing what you love, and then you die doing what you love, you will spend the rest of eternity doing whatever it is that you love. If there’s any truth to that then, right now, Steve Irwin is up in heaven poking angels with sticks.” In all seriousness, there’s a comfort in thinking of heaven in this way; we want to see our loved ones how we remember them. We want to think of them finding joy on the golf courses of heaven or in the woodshops in heaven, or whatever it may be. We want to think of our pets chasing after rabbits.

While I can’t tell you what resurrection looks like; I can tell you that it brings me great comfort to imagine Pap hanging out with Aunt Eleanor, teasing one another, having a good time – without the aches and pains that plagued them in the last years of their lives. What I can tell you is that, in God, those who have died before us have found new life in Christ – whatever that might look like. There’s something different going on in the text than imagining Pap playing Pinochle at the card tables of heaven.

But there too is a danger in mirroring the Kingdom of God with the world as it is. Too often in American Christianity, we imagine a world with the same boundaries, the same designations of who is in and who is out, that exist in this world. In fact, so often we justify those boundaries in this world between those we consider “us” and those we consider to be “them” supposedly match what where we think God puts those boundaries. Too often American Christianity wants to claim that certain people are not loved by God (or are not worthy of God’s love) and thus don’t have a place in the resurrection. American Christianity treats resurrection as something we can do, that we can work toward, and conversely, the new life found in the resurrection is something that we can be excluded from because of “sin.” I hear too often that our LGBTQIA+ folks are “out”, that they’ve placed themselves out of the boundaries of God’s love because of their so-called life-style choices. We use the boundaries of this world to imagine the boundaries on God’s love and on what the resurrection looks like (the reality is that those boundaries are ours, not God’s).

Too often in American Christianity, we imagine a world in which those with power sill have power, and the ones in poverty are still in poverty. The Prosperity Gospel espoused by so many of the most prominent American Pastors, from Paula White to Joel Osteen, says that your status in life reflects your standing with God. If only you had enough faith, if only you trusted enough in God, God would reward you with health, wealth, and happiness. For people on the outside, as a society, we tend to imagine that what binds one in this world will bind them in the resurrection. This is the danger that the Sadducees found themselves in. Their idea of resurrection, looks like the same old boundaries and oppressions found in this world repeated in the Kingdom of God.

In focusing on the hypotheticals of what resurrection looks like, who is in and who is out, they (and perhaps we too in our own way) neglect what resurrection means and how it impacts the present. Whatever life after this one “looks like,” I think Jesus points us to a deeper truth of what resurrection means. I’d translate Jesus’ response like this: “for they are not able to die again, for they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection… Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him, all are alive.” Resurrection brings us into relationship with the one who is the God of life. And through that God all are made alive.

Resurrection and resurrected life is so radically different from what we’ve come to expect from this world. It is, as so often heard in the Gospel of Luke, this world turned on its head. It is a gift, freely given, not because of who we are or what we do but because of who Christ is and because of what Christ does for us. Resurrection is about Christ’s conquering of death and evil on Easter Sunday. It is about Christ’s redemption not just for us but for all people. Resurrection is about how Christ is continuing to be active in this world, bringing about life where we might expect to find death. The ways of the world that are death dealing, the boundaries that divide us, our sin that pushes us to participate in the harmful ways of the world, the voices that try to claim that some are less worthy of God’s love than others – none of these any longer can claim the last word. In speaking about Christ’s resurrection, Pastor Cindy Gregorson writes, “Resurrection is unpredictable. We think we know how the story ends. When people are killed and buried, they are dead. That is the end. The political power and show of the day, the Roman Empire had triumphed. The Jewish leaders had protected their understanding of faith and God. But God, in the act of resurrecting Jesus was proclaiming, ‘I am not done!’ There is more, and this more will change everything you think and understand about life and how the world works.”

By Christ’s death and resurrection, it is God’s love and God’s life that have the final word. In Christ, something new is breaking into this world – a new creation, a resurrected creation that seeks to break down every wall and barrier bringing about new life not just for me, not just for my Pap, but for all people – especially the ones on the margins, the ones most harmed by the ways of this world. Everything is about to change. Resurrection isn’t a mirror of this world; it is a transformed world. A transformed world by the life found in Jesus.

In our baptisms, we’ve been united with Christ not just in his life, not just in his death, but also in his resurrection. We get to live lives marked by the promises of resurrection. We are already children of the resurrection. We trust that Christ works through us as we work for the Kingdom of God in this world. We get to be Christ for the sake of the world, breaking down boundaries between us and our neighbor, proclaiming and naming the love that God has for all of God’s beloved children – from our neighbors who are impoverished, to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, to our immigrant and refugee neighbor. We get to be part of the new life that God intends for the world. My friend and colleague, Josh Evans puts it this way,

“This is what it means to practice resurrection and be children of the resurrection: In our baptismal covenant, we promise to strive toward the peace, justice, and wholeness of all creation, to actively seek to heal the brokenness of the world, to be open to the new things God is doing in our midst… If God is a God of the living and we are made in God’s image, then we are a people of the living, called to serve and to love the living. We are God’s beloved children…children of the resurrection. So for God’s sake, and for the sake of this weary world, let’s live like it.”

So for God’s sake, and for the sake of this weary world, let’s live like it.

Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - October 20, 2019

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
October 20, 2019
Genesis 32:22-31

Our first reading from this morning contains, for me, one of the most powerful images in scripture. Jacob had been avoiding his brother Esau after stealing a blessing and the birthright from their father, a few chapters earlier in the narrative. Esau vows to kill Jacob, once their father dies, so their mother, Rebecca, urges Jacob to flee to a distant land so that he might live. Jacob and Esau are about to meet after something like twenty years apart, as Jacob is returning home. Jacob is “greatly afraid and distressed,” fearing that Esau was going to finally make good on that earlier vow. 

Then, we get this text from Genesis. It is a bizarre story: an unknown assailant and Jacob wrestle throughout the night. There was no warning. No description of the man. All the text tells us is that a man wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. In this wrestling match Jacob senses that this man is something more than a man – and demands a blessing, refusing to let the man go before he gets it. Jacob – whose name meant “heal-grabber” a permanent reminder of his deceitfulness and his desire to take what wasn’t his own – is renamed Israel – “God wrestler,” “for he had striven with God and humans and have prevailed.” He receives a blessing and the being goes away, but Jacob – now called Israel - is left with a permanent limp. As often happens with texts, there are a multitude of angles and interpretations to take with the text. The text is *just* open enough to yield a number of interpretive possibilities. Yet this text – and the image of wresting with God - has become so formational and foundational for me as I encounter faith, how I encounter Scripture, and how I encounter our God – to the point that my blog is called “Wrestling with the Word.”

Throughout my life in various ways and in various places, I’ve heard this myth. Faith is about certainty. A strong faith doesn’t ask questions. A strong faith is a passive life – one that just trusts in God and lets, as the saying and the country song go – Jesus take the wheel. My first encounter with biblical studies – as an academic pursuit – was in my second semester of undergrad. It was in a class with my soon-to-be academic advisor, Dr. Frank Eakin, around Jewish/ Christian dialogue. To talk about Jewish/ Christian dialogue, we had to talk about Scripture – and the ways it had been used and interpreted by Jews and by Christians. I don’t remember much of the content of the class anymore, but I certainly remember the struggles of the class. It was a first-year seminar, a class with students ranging from theologically conservative “Bible-believing” Christians to politically and socially liberal atheists – and everyone in between. 

Dr. Eakin encouraged wrestling with the material. We dug into texts; we asked questions of texts; we learned what we could about the contexts around texts. From some of the Christians in the class, there was frequently push-back. If the Bible says X, then it says x, no questions asked. Questions were an indication that faith was just not strong enough. I frequently found myself frustrated because I was confronted, in almost every class, with a God that I didn’t recognize. A God that was distant. A God that was all-demanding. A God that was easily offended by the easiest of questions. A God that was easily angered and threatened to turn one’s back with one wrong move. A God that couldn’t handle my questions. I saw a Christian interpretation of God that was so foreign to me. Throughout my life, I’ve always had a lot of questions. About everything. I was “that kid” in school that had just one more question, after everyone else was ready to move on. And questions are what drew me to the Bible and Biblical studies in the first place (and the questions still draw me there). Questions woo me into relationship with God. A God that couldn’t handle them was so foreign to me. Perhaps that interpretation of God isn’t foreign to you (and that’s okay); it is a common view on God – especially in American Christianity. American Christianity, in general, I think, is uncomfortable with the wrestling because wrestling has the potential to upend the status quo or to push us outside of our comfort zones. 

In our text today, as Jacob wrestles with this divine being, scripture provides a different framework and image for what faith looks like, for what engaging with God and Word looks like. Here, we meet a God that is close, that is not only willing to wrestle, but that wrestling brings that God closer. Next to God’s incarnation in Jesus, Jacob’s wrestling with the divine at the Jabbok is one of the clearest examples of God’s closeness to God’s beloved humanity. This is not a God that turns away – even from the seemingly most undeserving of people – but this is a God that chases down Jacob, confronts him, and brings him into this wrestling match, transforming him, leaving him with a blessing. God doesn’t just invite wrestling, but God sometimes demands it. Debie Thomas puts it this way, 

“Stories like Jacob's excite and inspire me now, because they point to a God who is infinitely more interesting than the one I feared in childhood. A God who wants to engage? A God I can come at with the whole weight of my thoughts, questions, ideas, and feelings? A God who invites my rigor, my persistence, my intensity? That's a God worth pursuing. That's a God I won't let go of. Wrestling, as it turns out, is not a bad or even a scary thing, because it's the opposite of apathy, the opposite of resignation. It's even the opposite of loneliness. To fight is to stay close, to keep my arms wrapped tight around my opponent. Fighting means I haven't walked away--I still have skin in the game.”[1] 

To take it one step further, a God that is willing to wrestle is a God that keeps God’s arms wrapped tight around us. A God that refuses to walk away. A God that has skin in the game. And that gives me intense comfort. In the best and in especially in the worst moments of life, before God, I am not “too much” to handle. I’m not “too intense.” I’m not “too persistent.” I’m not a burden. No, this is a God a God that refuses to remain distant and comes close. This is a God that has skin in the game and is committed to the wrestling match. This is a God that pursues us and is committed to doing whatever it takes to bring us into relationship with Godself – even if it means wrestling, even if it means going to the cross. This is a God that can hold whatever I bring before the divine, and this is a God that can hold me – fully and completely for who I am. This is a God that can hold whatever you bring before the divine, and this is a God that can hold you – fully and completely for who you are. If God, in Christ, is willing to even go to the cross, if God, in Christ can handle death, God can hold us and all we bring – our questions, our doubts, our wresting, our wounds. We are free to be ourselves before this God. And God frees us to have an active, persistent faith that refuses to let go. 

This week, I read an article, entitled “Bruised and Blessed by Scripture” in the Christian Century by the Rev. Emmy Kegler – an ELCA pastor in Minneapolis.[2]  In the article, she describes her way of encountering and wrestling with Scripture as reading “the hermeneutic of the hip.” I love that phrase. Hermeneutic is a fancy word that refers to the lens or the method for interpreting literature. Most Pastors and Biblical scholars are familiar with a “hermeneutic of suspicion” – approaching a text with the expectation that there’s more to it than what the text actually says. An obvious example: as the Israelites enter the land of Cana, God seems to actually endorse genocide – with the extermination of all the original inhabitants of the land. A hermeneutic of suspicion says: that doesn’t sound like God, so what’s going on here? So the lens that Pastor Kegler takes – the hermeneutic of the hip – goes further than that hermeneutic of suspicion. She is seeing the Scripture through the lens of the hip. The lens of the hip recognizes that – in wrestling with God and with Scripture – we bring with us the pains of life, the pains of the text being used in ways that harm us or the ones we love, the pains of being pushed to places of discomfort and growth, and the pains of the wrestling with Scripture or God in and of itself. It acknowledges the scars and the limps that we all carry. We come before God – as we are – with our wounds and our trauma. Yet the lens of the hip trusts that in the wrestling with Scripture, in the wrestling with God, in coming face to face with the Divine, God meets us in suffering and sends us away blessed. 

Encountering God face to face, we walk away changed. Jacob’s struggle with God results in a new, transformed identity. He’s no longer the trickster, the heel grabber. He’s one who strives with God. In our encounters with the divine, we find a new, transformed identity. While we experience encounters with God in our own ways and in our own places, God promises to encounter us in water and in bread and wine. In water, we are named and claimed as God’s beloved children. In bread and wine, we are called forgiven. In the Sacraments, we go from being called sinner to being called saint. And we are promised that nothing – not our wrestling, not our scars, not our limps – can separate us from the love of God we’ve found in Jesus; we have a God that won’t let go. We’re freed to wrestle, to be pushed outside of our comfort zones, to upend the status quo to demand God’s blessing, not just for us, but for all people – especially those on the margins – in this world here and now. 

Amen. 

[1] Debie Thomas, "Fighting God (Genesis 32:22-31)," in The Christian Centuryhttps://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2016-10/fighting-god-genesis-3222-31

[2] Emmy Kegler, "Bruised and Blessed by Scripture," in The Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/first-person/bruised-and-blessed-scripture
 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - October 6, 2019




Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
October 6, 2019
Luke 17:5-10

Evangelist miniature of Luke; part of an eighth-century Irish pocket Gospelbook. [Public Domain]
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our Faith!’” The apostles’ request is reasonable and understandable. For the last few weeks, we’ve been reading through the section of Gospel of Luke’s that recounts Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem - from Galilee to the cross. This section of Luke’s gospel is filled with tough words from Jesus, from “hating” our parents and our own lives to warnings about the role reversals of the Kingdom of God. We’ve heard texts that challenge us on our use and relationship with wealth. Jesus has time and time again told us that following him is not easy. It requires forsaking those who are closest to us, vulnerability, identification with the lost and those who society makes invisible. It points to glory, not in power and riches, but in servanthood. It requires subverting the typical boundaries that separate us: money, race/ ethnicity, religion. It leads to the cross, which in the narrative is creeping closer and closer. After hearing these teachings and these parables, it is easy to understand why the apostles would request more faith because, quite frankly, it seems like an impossible task, particularly if we feel that our faith isn’t quite up to par. It is easy to see why the apostles would wonder if the faith that they have is sufficient for the road ahead.

We may not quite use the same words, but the sentiment is familiar to us. As we read this passage, I would guess that we can identify with the apostles. There are times in our lives when we desperately want Jesus to increase our faith, whether we are daunted by the callings of our faith or whether we are going through our own periods of doubt. We might say, “If only I had a little more faith, I could do what you ask of me,”  “If only I had a little more faith I could be a better Christian, a better disciple,” “my faith isn’t strong enough for that,” “if my faith was stronger I wouldn’t be in the valley of the shadow of doubt” or  “if my faith was stronger and I prayed more, I would not be suffering right now.” We go through times in our lives when we feel like our doubts are the size of a boulder. We may believe that with a greater amount of faith, we could somehow crush these doubts and avoid the troubles of the world and live a happy, fulfilled life, or we may believe that a greater faith leads to greater wisdom, or we may believe that a greater faith would better equip us to live out our Christian calling, or we may believe that our standing with God depends on how much faith we have, as if faith is something quantifiable that we can measure. Like the commodities of this world, more of it is good, less of it is bad.

Jesus’ response, at first, seems odd and a bit condescending. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” It sounds like we’re being scolded for not having enough faith. It sounds like Jesus is saying something like “If only you had the faith the size of a mustard seed,” implying that we don’t have even that much faith and therefore we have failed. We hear Jesus’ response as condemnation, as punitive. This is the assumed tone of the passage. We place our own guilt or insecurities about the amount or strength of our faith onto Jesus and onto this message. We see other people who seem to have “great amounts of faith” (whatever that might look like - a person that we think of as having a “faith that can move mountains”), and we feel that we don’t quite live up to that example. Read this way, the passage is a call to more faith because we are certainly lacking. Is Jesus’ response to our desire to have our faith increased, really a condemning, “Yeah, you don’t have enough, and by now, you should have more”? If that’s his answer, how will we ever have enough? How will we ever be able to live out the Christian faith, in vulnerability, in servitude, in love for the neighbor?

If we read this text this way, I fear that we miss the point. This passage becomes about Law and not Gospel. It condemns us rather than frees us - sometimes texts do condemn rather than free, but is that how this text is intended to function? It makes faith a “work” rather than a gift given freely by God. It pushes us to try to climb a ladder up toward God, rather than trusting that God comes down to us, dwelling with us in our joys and in our sufferings. If we read the text this way, we also run the risk of the prosperity gospel or being Christians of glory, instead of Christians of the cross, servanthood, and vulnerability. In other words, if our faith is strong enough, God will provide happiness, health, and wealth. In this way of looking at the gospel, we earn good things in this life by the measure of our faith.

But that isn’t how it works, is it? That certainly isn’t my experience of God or of the Gospel. In reality, the life of a Christian contains both joy and sorrow, times of both sickness and health, both good and evil, both faith and doubt, one of being both saint and sinner. Our faith doesn’t eliminate those realities.

So I wonder… What if we read the text a different way? How does it change the text if we hear a different Jesus speaking with a different tone? Instead of hearing it as “if only you had the faith the size of a mustard seed,” we might hear, “if even you had the size the faith of a mustard seed.” Or to say it a bit clearer, “even the faith the size of a mustard seed is enough.” A little bit of faith, just the size of a mustard seed, can do extraordinary things. If the faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to force a mulberry tree to be uprooted and thrown into the sea - an extraordinary thing to be sure but not exactly useful - what can the faith that we already have do, even if it seems tiny? A small amount of faith - even smaller than a mustard seed - is enough to do the “ordinary” callings of our faith - the things that really matter - loving God and loving neighbor. Because faith is a gift from God, the faith we have already been given is enough.

If we read these words in this way, Jesus’ response becomes liberating, freeing. We no longer need to be concerned with the amount of or the strength our faith - because like the love of God, faith is immeasurable. And we have already been given enough. Therefore, we are freed to live with doubts and with questions. As Ann Lamott once said, “The opposite of faith isn't doubt. It's certainty."  That may sound odd, but her point is that if we are certain, what is the point of faith? Faith is trusting in the promises of God even amid uncertainty, doubt, questions, and sorrows. We trust that we are loved by God, forgiven by God, reconciled to God and that God, incarnate in Christ, dwells with us even and especially in the darkness and in the suffering of our lives and of our world.

 And we are freed to use, to live out the faith we have. It is not about working our way up a spiritual ladder to God, but rather about living in response to the God, incarnate in Christ, who comes down to us, giving us the gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love freely, without us doing a thing to earn it. Living out that faith or trust is living our lives in response to the promises of God. We live out that faith not in extraordinary actions - like ordering a mulberry tree to throw itself into the ocean - but in the seemingly ordinary actions of forgiveness, reconciliation, and servanthood. And I would argue that those actions are truly the extraordinary actions of faith - it isn’t about miracles. Those actions are the actions that actually participate in the breaking in of the Kingdom of God, breaking down the barriers that divide us, building and restoring relationships, lifting up the poor, the neighbor, and the stranger, and working for peace and justice here and now.

As we look at our lives and at the world around us, we can see that this is a large task, as Jesus hasbeen saying over the last few weeks. However, Jesus gives us gifts to increase our faith, to ground our faith. We’re given the gift of faith in the waters of baptism, which joins us with Christ in his death and resurrection. We are fed and nourished in our faith each week, as we celebrate Communion. In the Body and Blood of Christ, yet again we receive these gifts of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation, and are strengthened for service in the world. And we are assured that we already have been given the faith necessary to live out our faith in response to the Gospel and to what Christ has already done for us.

Amen

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) - September 29, 2019

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
September 29, 2019
Luke 16:19-31

This week Jesus hits us again with another hard parable. Unlike last week, this one isn’t a puzzle tofigure out. It is almost “too clear.” To give the broader context, Jesus tells this parable in the same sermon in which Jesus tells the story of the Lost Sheep and the Lost coin. In this gathering are “tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and scribes.” Jesus, in addressing this group, goes from talking about searching for the one lost sheep to this imagined scene, that is quite frankly disturbing. This is not a comfortable text. It is one thing to hear about the reversals of the Kingdom of God and the justice found in God’s kingdom – in general. I love hearing the Magnificat; “he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). As many of you all know, my favorite hymn, the Canticle of the Turning, is based on these verses. The Magnificat and (thus the Canticle of the Turning) are about Justice – not human justice, but God’s justice. And it is a beautiful vision of the justice that is coming into the world.

This justice in the Gospel of Luke is not “getting one’s ‘fair share’ or getting what one ‘deserves’” No, justice for the Gospel of Luke is the balancing of scales. The powerful are brought down and the lowly are lifted up. Both the Magnificat and the Canticle of the turning are… well… general enough that it doesn’t push me too far. There’s distance in the general. But here, today, we get a parable from Jesus in which this role reversal and in which God’s justice, which was present from the very beginning of this gospel comes close, in the particularities of two people – the rich man and Lazarus. When we get into the particularities and the specifics, when we imagine how God’s justice plays out for two characters, things get much more… uncomfortable. The distance allowed by keeping things general is erased, and suddenly we have these two people, these two characters in front of us. It is intentionally uncomfortable – from the detail in which Jesus’ describes Lazarus’ pain and affliction to the detail of the rich man’s torment after death. We’re not supposed to get to the end of the story, thinking that it was such a “nice” story. A powerful story. A provoking story. A clear story. But not a nice and comforting story, as it is directed at the Rich Men (those scribes, Pharisees, and tax collectors) not the Lazaruses.

As we continue to wrestle with some of Jesus’ toughest parables, I keep in the back of my head the purpose of Jesus’ parables. These stories are supposed to help shape us for living kingdom building lives – not in the next world – but in this one. In other words, the question of today’s text isn’t “what does this text say about what will happen to me?” Instead, the questions are “what does this story reveal about our current reality?” and “what does this story reveal to us about living out our faith and living out the Kingdom of God?”

On internship, we had a Tuesday afternoon pericope study, in which either Pastor Neal, my supervisor, or I would lead a bible study on whatever passage we were (at least at that point in the week) likely using as our focus for preaching. This week’s gospel happened to fall on my supervisor’s turn to preach. I don’t remember the angle that he eventually took in his sermon. But I hand wrote some notes in the margins of my bible from that pericope study. Intern Pastor Alex had enough sense to write some things down where I could find them once Pastor Alex had to preach this text. (I’m super thankful for my past wisdom this week). I have these notes above the passage: “To serve the vulnerable is to serve God.”

The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation
[Public domain]
In life, Lazarus was invisible to the rich man. The chasm between them wasn’t created in this imagined afterlife. It was created in life. Maybe the rich man saw him every day to the point where he became numb to Lazarus’ pain. Maybe the rich man blamed Lazarus for his situation – he didn’t work hard enough, he made his lot in life with the choices he made, he never pulled himself out, never changing his ways to make a better life for himself. Maybe the rich man just didn’t see him; his wealth and purple clothing may have blinded him to the real suffering just outside his own gate.  Whatever kept the Rich Man from seeing Lazarus, the rich man did not do something to help the person in front of him who needed compassion, who was hungry and needed food. At the end of the day, the “why” Lazarus ended up there isn’t the focus; he was just a person in front of him who was in need. The only ones in the parable to show Lazarus compassion in life were the dogs that would lick his sores. In life, Lazarus was a nobody. And the Rich Man never looked down from his place of wealth and privilege to see him, really see him and his suffering – and so he didn’t act.

The Rich Man, presumably speaking, was someone of the Jewish faith. He heard texts his whole life that called him to look down, to see the other, to serve the neighbor, to welcome the stranger. The last few weeks we’ve heard some of those texts in our worship from the Prophet Amos. This week, too, we hear it in our appointed Psalm text. “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” (Psalm 146:5-9). There are few things that the Hebrew Bible – especially the prophets – talk about more than care for the needy, food for the hungry, welcome for the foreigner/ migrant. The heart of God, or as our text says today, the bosom of Abraham belongs to these. He had the words of the prophets, the words of the Psalmists, the Word of God, yet he wasn’t convinced enough by them to act for God’s justice in this world.

The Good News is: We have a God who sees. The first person in the Bible to name God was Hagar – the mother of Ishmael and slave of Sarah and Abraham. She named God “El-roi” – the God who sees. The God who sees her suffering, her affliction. This is a God who sees the suffering of the Hebrew people and who acts to bring them out of slavery. This is a God who sees the people that God so loves mess up again and again, yet continues to reach out to God’s beloved humanity to offer grace, love, and forgiveness. This is a God who sees that acts to bring God’s people out of Exile and back to their home. He knows these stories. His brothers know these stories. His faith in the God who sees should affect how he interacts with the world around him. His faith in the God who sees should push him to work for God’s justice in the world. Yet he is so ensnared by the trappings of this world – his own wealth and purple clothes, that he misses that he can use what he has to seek justice for Lazarus in this life. To serve the vulnerable is to serve God. Martin Luther puts it this way, “You can’t feed every beggar in the world, but you can feed the beggar at your gate.”

This is a God who sees the pain of humanity and acts. And even more, in Jesus, we have a God who feels. We have a God that comes down, was born to an unwed mother. Our God was a child migrant, fleeing for his life. Our God makes Godself known in suffering and in dying on a cross. Suffering is real to our God, made known in Christ. Jesus – the one who was beaten, left with sores, the one who died the death of a dangerous political dissident – the one who rises from the dead – knows intimately the sufferings of Lazarus and those like him. We have a God made known in suffering. We have a God that shows us God’s own wounds. In Jesus, God sees our pain and the pain of those around us. We have a God that looks down, that notices, that sees, that experiences suffering, poverty, and has experienced the worst of what the world as it is can offer. 

By the Grace of God, we know that we have been saved. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of our God who sees and who knows us more than we can know ourselves. Not our mistakes, not our choices in life, not our pain, not our sin. Nothing can separate us from the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. In other words, we have a God that looks down into the best and worst of what it means to be human – and brings us to Godself. God doesn’t give us what we deserve. Despite our own failings, God gives us grace, love, and mercy. 

Here’s where we get to my last note. “Christ will look like Lazarus. If Lazarus is invisible, so will Christ.” How can we see and experience God’s presence – the presence of the God who sees and feels - if we cannot see the suffering of others? To see Christ is to see the vulnerable. We too have a call to look down, to see the Lazaruses in our midst. We find all sorts of excuses to look away, to not see. “He’s an alcoholic.” “She has made the same mistakes over and over.” “They should just find a job and pull themselves up. Why is it my responsibility?” “He made his choices and now he has to live with them.” We find ways to blame and shame people for their suffering – to allow ourselves not to see the brokenness all around us. But at the end of the day, we have the vulnerable in front of us, Lazarus at our gate. In the Gospel of Luke, however, we get this repeated call to live out our faith – our faith in the one who has already seen us and saved us – by seeing and serving those who God sees, those who are close to Abraham’s heart. How will our faith in the God who sees, who feels, who looks down, who comes down, shape how we interact with the world around us? How will this God push us to see those most vulnerable? Will we be convinced to act for justice for the vulnerable around us by the one who was raised from the dead?

Amen