Easter is the holiest and most exciting day of the year. We celebrate because this is the day in which we remember that Jesus Christ, who did die, came back. And that he has risen, and that is such good news. That is essentially the essence of good news. And the good news of the Gospels is that even if death happens, life always follows. Now, it can be for many of us that we want to jump straight to the resurrection, and we forget the despair and the anguish that Jesus’ followers felt just before they found out the good news. But I want us to remember that, too. We hear the story of Mary Magdalene, who went to the tomb expecting one thing, and seeing the stone rolled away, and she didn’t know. She thought that they have taken her Lord. And through her tears she wept. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And maybe we would hear that story and think that we’re not supposed to weep at death. Maybe someone has told us before that we need to have enough faith and trust in God enough and trust in the the resurrection and we don’t have to weep. But the reason the angels asked Mary why she was weeping wasn’t because they thought she shouldn’t, but it was because they were waiting for this answer: that they had taken her Lord. Her Lord. One who hadn’t met the expectations of Messiah, but the one who rose. She thought that they have taken her Lord, and even though all these other people abandoned him, he was still her Lord. And it was only through her tears that she saw Jesus. Those tears that we cry can give us the clarity to see God in ways we never could. And so, weep. But Know that God meets you in your tears. Weep, and see even more clearly than perhaps ever before, that sometimes when our hearts crack open, it lets the light in. Know that light now. Amen.
This week marks the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year. And today we gathered on Palm Sunday to hear the story of Jesus’ Passion, and here’s what I’d like you to know about that. Jesus’ Passion is not just a story of yesteryear, of an ancient time for people who died and have long gone. Jesus’ Passion is for you. Jesus cares about you. Jesus walked a road – the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross) – so that you would not have to carry such a heavy burden. And so know that, wherever you’ve been, Jesus has been there, too, even to the sunken place. But, that no matter what the story is, there is good news. And there’s good news for you, and even out of the sunken place you can rise with Jesus. By the grace of God, you do. Amen.
I just want to offer one thought for you – it’s important to know this. A lot of us think that everything happens for a reason. But the truth is that everything does not happen for a reason. Sometimes random things happen. Now, I can understand why people think that everything happens for a reason, because people of faith will so often be trained to be able to see what God is capable of doing. And what you should know is that no matter what happens – even something random, something horrible – that God can take a terrible situation and turn it into something amazing, and something beautiful. God can transform the very worst of things. And offer a lily that grows, a new blade of grass, a new opportunity for grace. So know this: you don’t have to look into a terrible situation and try to figure out what God is trying to get you to get out of it. I don’t believe that’s how God works. How I believe God works is that if you’re in despair, if something bad has happened – just as the Bible says in John chapter 11, “Jesus wept” – Jesus weeps with you when you weep. You don’t need to feel like God is saying “Feel bad so I can teach you something.” Know that God feels bad right with you. But grace and beauty and mercy are available to us no matter what. In Jesus’ name, amen.
I’ve been thinking recently about how difficult it is to shake off the effects of slavery. And as I’ve been reading the story of The Exodus, I look at what we call the “murmuring stories” of the people who had just fled slavery, and God’s chosen people were walking into the wilderness, at God’s command. The wilderness is a dry desert and, of course, they were murmuring and wondering, “Where’s our food, where‘s our water, we need it, God, we need it, Moses.” And these people, what you see in their experiences, that they were having such a hard time shifting to a place where they could trust God. Because back in Egypt, they have lived with overseers and people who had made them feel a sense of dependence and fear was that lodged all over their bodies, all over their psyche. And in the wilderness of that desert they didn’t know how not to live in fear. I think about The Exodus now, especially as I think about how my people and all the people who have inherited the legacy of slavery have such a hard time shaking the fear that overseers and owners would put into us. Who would make us think that violence was a solution, because that was their solution for controlling us. And now in this day and age, in 2017, I wonder how do we now shake the effects of slavery? And how do we keep the people who want to be our owners again from feeling like cheap labor, free labor is an option? We need to be considering this as Christians, as people of faith, as Americans. Amen.
I’d like to talk about a faith that revels in darkness. In Revelation, the book of Revelation, written by John of Patmos, one of the things that he talks about is what he calls a Nicolaitan Christian. Now what is a Nicolaitan Christian? It goes back to Nicodemus, who we hear about in John, the Gospel of John, chapter 3. Many of you may know this passage, because John 3:16 is really important, it’s one that everyone talks about. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Lots of people talk about that passage and when they only focus on that, and they start to figure out ways to deny God’s love to people who perhaps don’t believe in Jesus Christ, then they’re operating in a faith that lives in darkness. Because they’re not paying attention to all the words of Jesus. If you take a text out of its context, then you can lose the point – which is a faith that wants to focus in on something narrow so that very few people make it through, instead of being expansive. Because then Jesus says, “For God sent me not to condemn the world,” but because God loves the world so deeply. So, when Jesus was talking about this, he was talking to a man named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus not in the bold daylight, but hid his faith and came at night. And it took Jesus dying on the cross before Nicodemus would actually stand up for his faith more publicly. And so I ask, do we need Jesus to die again before we’re willing to live in the light? Is that the kind of faith we want? Or will we step into the light and take risks, and notice God, and trusting God to protect us? That is a key question for this time and this age. Amen.
This week we’re looking at the text from the Transfiguration, which comes from, in this case, Matthew chapter 17, verses 1-9. And one of the things that I find fascinating about this text, in which Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountaintop. And as they head up there, they get there, and Jesus withdraws from them. And all of a sudden, he’s transfigured, or he’s changed before them. And the clouds open up, and out of nowhere come Elijah and Moses, these prophets from ages of old. And everyone is stunned and even scared. And Peter sees them, and he has an idea. He tries to interrupt this amazing moment and he says, “Oh ok, I got this God, I got this! I have an idea. I am going to build y’all some houses right here on the mountain so you can always be here.” And he tried to interrupt God, and God had no patience for Peter’s plan.
Now remember, Peter is the rock of the church and even he got this wrong. And it can often be that there will be a beautiful vision God is trying to give us. And we try to interrupt it like, “Oh, I got this God!” No. God will then interrupt us back. Who are we to interrupt God? So here’s what I would like to suggest to you. God is giving you a vision for the purpose on your life. There are three things that I would suggest. First of all: if you’re wondering if you’re trying to interrupt God’s vision, know this: you are. This is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Second of all: know that you don’t have to pull everything off at once. It’s OK. Just give yourself some space and some grace because God does too. And third of all, and this one’s really important: tell God you’re ready. You’re ready to stop interrupting so that you can hear what God has to say for you today. In Jesus name, amen.
Yesterday, someone made the mistake of treating me inappropriately. And I say that this was a mistake, because it didn’t go well for him. However, today is the day after, right? And I am still filled with rage over this incident.
What would God want me to do about this? Jesus said something like, we have to leave our anger behind us. And I wonder about this, because had I not gotten angry, then I wouldn’t have stopped the behavior in the way that I did. That was important. But at the same time, I have to decide what I’m gonna do with the anger next. And I need my prop for this.
How heavy is this bottle? Part of that depends on how long you’ve been carrying it. And anger can be this way. If you carry this for a whole heap of time, if I tried to carry my anger for weeks, imagine how heavy this would feel. That’s what happens with resentment. I think that Jesus told us to leave our anger before we try to approach the alter, because if we don’t, it takes over. And then we can’t see God anymore. It’s very important that we not carry things forever. We take a drink. And then we worship God. Amen.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” And as I think about light, I think about matches. And matches are kind of fickle, right? They don’t always work, and sometimes, the striking surface can get a little worn down. I worry about whether or not your striking surface has gotten worn down. Because light is really important to protect, and the things that ignite us are really important to be deliberate about. Because sometimes, we can get lit up about things that are not of God. Sometimes, things can take all of our energy so that we become depleted. On top of that, there will be forces that will try to burn out our light. They will tell us that we’re not supposed to have light. They’ll try to tell us that we should shine in the way they want us to instead of the way God wants us to. They will tell us that we don’t have any right to light. Know that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” which means that you are light when you shine God’s brightness within you. And nothing can ever take away your access to that. But you need to kindle your light. And when you can’t, remember this: light is stronger when it joins the other kindled light, and when we join with other people, we shine so much brighter. So, find people who will shine with you. Find the light of Christ in others, because, when we join our forces together, we are an inferno that will change this world. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anger. In part, because I find myself getting angry more and more, and it feels as if we’re in a world of growing anger. Regardless of whether or not we’re more angry than we used to be, I think church needs to help people to figure out what we do most effectively with that anger. Is anger bad? Is it something that God calls on us not to feel? I would say no. I would say that there are numbers and numbers of examples throughout the Bible where even God gets mad. And so, when we get angry, I think the question becomes, what does God want us to do with it? There is a place for people of faith to feel righteous indignation. There’s certainly a place to notice something is wrong and to feel wrong about it. To feel as if it needs to change. And that anger that might spark us to say a holy no to something that is wrong is very, very important. Because it’s only when we start to notice the places where we say no, or where we need to say no, that change can come from. The problem is when our anger starts to brew within us like “a hot burning coal,” I read one writer write, that becomes uncontrollable and it burns and it harms us. And so we ask. We have to think of ways to channel that anger most effectively. And how do we know if we’re using our anger right? When good things come from it. When it turns from anger into action that is loving and compassionate. That’s the thing that God is always calling us to do. We have to love. And when we find ourselves acting out of anger that is not loving, that is when we’re not following Jesus. So, get angry. Feel the burn of change coming within you. And then effectively channel it somewhere. But when your anger harms someone, or when your anger turns into trolling on the Internet. We spoke out last week in support of Muslims, and I was shocked at how angry that made people feel. That reminded me by the way that I probably need to talk more about it. So do many of us. But figure out what to do with your anger. Respect that anger and turn it into love. That is how we follow Jesus. Amen.
I’m going to get straight to the point. I am joined by a number of religious leaders who are completely appalled by the Muslim ban and the ban on refugees that has just come from the current administration. Why are we appalled? You see, if we ever want to follow Jesus, then we’re going to realize that we have to take care of the least of these, which includes people who are coming to us in crisis, when their lives are on the line, and that includes refugees. If we want to follow Jesus, then we have to remember that he, too, was a refugee, several times, not even just once. So, if we want to turn away a refugee then we need to go ahead and realize that we’re turning away Jesus – because every person bears the image of Christ. And this is not the country I’ve known. So, if you have a minister who defends a policy in which we turn away refugees, realize that they’re in a moment of crisis right now where they’re not following Jesus. There is no possible way to follow Jesus and say no to a refugee. So, let’s be clear. You can do what Jesus says and encourage them to repent. I have had to repent several times. They need to repent now. Amen.