In the Gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus says, “I will never leave you orphaned.” What does this mean? Because, so many of us find ourselves in battles, and feeling as if we are on our own, or like we’ve been abandoned. I believe that Jesus says this because he knows that the world will do that. He knows that we will find disappointment and we’ll have moments of hurt and pain. And wondering who’s with us. And as Jesus says this, it’s because he knows how the world works. And he says, “I will not leave you abandoned, I will not leave you orphaned.” Just because he knows that so many other forces will. But when everything else is wrong, it might even feel empty, know that Jesus steps up. Even if everyone else seems to have left you, God never will. God will never leave you orphaned. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about roadblocks. About how, so many times, we can keep persisting and have this way we’re going on, and then we catch a roadblock, or it seems like we’re just about to fall off a cliff. And what I started to realize as I was thinking about Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the light,” when I started thinking about that, I realized that sometimes, if we’re coming up against these major roadblocks in our lives, maybe it’s because maybe we’re on our own way, and we’re not on God’s way. Because if God intends for something to happen, God is going to remove every barrier for it to happen. If God is taking you to a cliff, God is going to build a bridge over it. God is never going to stop until you are able to do what God intends for your life. So, if you find yourself in a place where you’re stumbling, you can’t find your way, maybe take a step back, and call on God’s help. And just know this: no matter where you are, you are one step away from THE way, God’s way. And all it takes is the intention, and God will bring you back. Even when you go astray. Even when you mess up. Even when it seems like you’re not worthy. It doesn’t matter. God is never going to leave you – and God never did. Amen.
I wanted to talk for a moment about “Sanctuary.” Here we are in one of the most incredibly beautiful sanctuaries in all of New York City. But yet, the nation right now is talking about Sanctuary. But what is Sanctuary? Basically, it’s based on the premise that the Holy One of Israel, the Ancient of Days, has already taken sides in the struggle of the oppressed. And yet, we wonder, why haven’t more people of faith taken that side, too? The “Sanctuary Movement” seeks to redress that. As we look at the oppression, we layer upon the people who come to this country, seeking jobs, seeking a place of employment, seeking a way to secure what their family needs for safety, security, and the ability to thrive – which of course is something that we all would want – and yet, and yet, we criminalize immigrants. And so, the Sanctuary Movement says that, as a way of life, we will extend that hospitality to every stranger, just as Jesus has called us to do; that we recognize that whatsoever we do to the least of these, that we also do to Jesus; and we have decided that, therefore, that we will not deport Jesus. So, the Sanctuary Movement says, let us find a way to incorporate immigrants in full thriving with dignity, love, and respect. That is what Sanctuary means. Amen.
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.