Monday, April 27, 2009

So What?

Sermon on the Third Sunday in Easter, 2009

Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

…so what?

I think our gospel this morning asks us that question: So what? Christ is indeed risen, yes. So what does that mean?

We have many accounts of the risen Jesus meeting his disciples, and they respond in a markedly different way than a resounding, “Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” They don’t seem to know what to do. Jesus comes and says, as always, “Peace be with you.” He brings them peace…and they’re afraid.

Hmm. Christ is indeed risen…? So what?

The disciples respond in such a way that’s natural. They’re afraid of the peace Jesus brings. They live in a world of fear of violence and peace is simply not something they know. It’s not their language. The disciples knew only fear and violence under an oppressive regime, Rome. Let’s put another modern spin on it – they knew fear and violence because they lived as people without rights in a land not their own, a land that was occupied.

Fear and violence was their language. They could understand how Jesus, who was wildly popular and also quite controversial, could upset the authorities – both religious and secular, both Judean and Roman – and, like any of the other radicals, experience Rome’s capital punishment: death by crucifixion. They could understand fear and violence winning out.

But they just could not understand how Jesus could defeat these powers, this death and fear and violence, so ingrained in their collective minds, and be raised from the dead. They couldn’t understand that peace could win. It didn’t register with them. They meet together in the wake of Jesus’ execution, speaking in the same terms they were raised on – fear of those who had come after Jesus, so, it seemed, they just as likely would come after them; and violence, both the violence they had experienced, and the violence maybe some of them thought about inflicting on somebody, anybody, in return.

And the disciples just could not understand how Jesus could come back and proclaim peace. How is this possible? And so they respond with fear, and trembling.

Christ is indeed risen… So what?

The risen Christ comes to proclaim peace in a world of fear and violence. Jesus appears before his disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus appears before his disciples and says, “The power of fear and violence is nothing in the face of the power of peace.”

This radical proclamation comes from the risen Christ, and it has so much more of an impact because of the fearful and violent world in which Jesus lived and died and was raised from the dead. Jesus the Christ was fearfully rejected by those he loved (including the disciples, his very own inner circle), and violently betrayed, taken, beaten, whipped, spit on, mocked, made fun of, and put to death. And yet he responded – only and always – with peace. Peace and love.

This proclamation of peace is so much more amazing because of these circumstances. You might imagine someone who had gone through all this violence and betrayal, and then appears before those responsible for abandoning him when he needed him most, might say something more like, “Hey guys…I’m baaaaack! Remember me?”

That might be more understandable. To continue in the ways of fear and violence. Yet the risen Christ comes back after all of that, and says, “Peace be with you.”

Wow! Christ is indeed risen. And so what? What does that peace look like?

Does it look like the girl who was the first to integrate the school in Little Rock, AR? Everyday she walked into the school amidst taunts, sneering, jeers, spitting, and much worse – the face of pure hatred. Years later, a journalist looked at video of her walking, and noticed the girl muttering something under her breath. In an interview, the woman said that she was saying the same thing, every day: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Does it look like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem? When I was there, worshipping with a community of Palestinian Christians who live under occupation – a wall stretches around the city of Jesus’ birth, to keep the inhabitants in, suffocating in extreme poverty and violence – and who were crying out to God. They weren’t crying for revenge, or retribution; they were crying for peace.

We know the disciples, maybe a little too well, don’t we? We live in a world just as driven and ruled by fear and violence as they did. And so when Jesus appears to us this Easter, saying, “Peace be with you,” we often respond with that same fear and trembling. Peace just isn’t the language we’re used to.

Yet, in the midst of wars raging around the world, and people who live in constant fear for their lives, Jesus appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Alongside the 30,000 people who die every single day because of starvation and preventable diseases, such as the common cold, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Along with those who live under occupation, behind walls, with no rights, in the West Bank and Gaza, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

In the midst of those in this country who are victims of domestic abuse, who cannot find peace even in their own home, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Next to those of us who are depressed, who suffer from addictions, who have scars in our lives, who are told by our society that we need more stuff to fill the void in our lives, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Whispering in the ear of those of us in this sanctuary, this Upper Room in which we are gathered, who don’t know exactly why we have come here today, but know that, in some way, we may feel fear, emptiness, or that we aren’t good enough, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Christ is indeed risen. And so what?

Jesus appears to us today and answers that question: “Peace be with you.” This Easter season, let us hear those words anew. Let us live as agents of peace, as the “peacemakers” whom Jesus calls “blessed.” In a world of fear and violence, let us stand and say that Christ is indeed risen, for us and for our broken world that continues to say that violence is the answer, that violence somehow brings peace. And Christ repeats, repeats, repeats, “Peace be with you.”

Fear and violence don’t bring peace. Christ brings peace. Christ is our answer. And the power of peace wins out. Christ is indeed risen.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Holy, holy, holy

We had waited for a long time for this, and it was finally here. Holy Week. For those who still think that all pastors really do is show up on Sunday, preach, and then go home, this week affords the opportunity to show up at the church on other days of the week, and see that – surprise, surprise – the pastors are still there!

The week before, I had finished my sermon series on “Rediscovering the Liturgy,” which, in my free-flowing vernacular, quickly became renamed, “Worship MEANS Something.” I wanted to encourage all of us in mainstream, liturgical Christianity, to understand that what we do when we gather is more than just stand up, say a few words, sit down, then stand up again, later. We are deeply interwoven with something greater than us, a great flowing river of words, actions, and rituals – spoken, sung, and celebrated, in one way or another – for the better part of 2,000 years. What we do together means something. It’s not just done to be done. In short, I wanted all of us at my internship church to be unabashedly, unashamedly Lutheran.

Then we entered Holy Week. I had never been so busy in my entire life, and yet, I had an opportunity to really be, to be a part of the body of Christ, to take part in this holy and ancient ritual. I walked the labyrinth. I fasted. I sat in our sanctuary, the late afternoon sun piercing the darkened space, stopping for a moment to enter through a stained glass window, then continuing on in a kaleidoscope shower of browns, yellows, and oranges.

I was washed in this light, thinking about all the things I had done, and things I had yet to do. Thinking about the real, complicated, broken, and beautiful body of Christ in this church in Central Florida. Considering how God loves us so desperately and unabashedly it’s almost embarrassing. God as my supervisor’s Jack Russell terrier who lays in my lap, licking my cheek, making me blush.

Then came worship. One of the many things I have learned this year is that it’s hard to worship AND lead worship at the same time – but there are always those moments, for this worship-loving boy, when I forget where I am or what I’m doing, and I’m just speechless. Those moments were everywhere during the Maundy Thursday services, as the haunting words of Psalm 22 echoed in the silence, blanketing the child of God as she slowly and methodically stripped the altar. Jesus being taken by the Roman authorities, violence seeming to win over peace.

The Easter Vigil service also poured out those moments for me, drenching me in this grace that comes from the One who created us, who continues to love us, who invites us to co-create this world of ours. Listening to the stories of our ancestors in the faith, I was amazed at how these stories wait there for us, rarely being read in their entirety, enticing us to listen with new ears, to hear how God saves God’s people.

Holy Week is past, and I’m still so exhausted I am daydreaming about my pillow as I type. And last week, two years ago, my Mom died. Easter had come and gone for a few weeks then, but now it’s still in the air. When we call out to a God who says that not even death itself can separate us, I remember Mom.

And I hope that, now, Mom can finally remember me, too.