Category Archives: Uncategorized

“The Life of the Party” (The Wedding at Cana)

When Liz and I were first married, we went to a wedding where, as it happened, we had to schlep several cases of unopened wine back to the city the next morning.  

The bride and the groom weren’t drinkers. 

They’d done their math kind of on the fly – and, anyway, it was more of a beer crowd.  

The next day, they had unopened cases of wine left. 

I think they’d gotten supplies for one bottle per person, or something like that.

You can see how these things happen. 

If you’ve planned a wedding, you’ll remember that there are umpteen details to get into. 

Only some of them are fun.  

If you’re not a wine person, then what kind of wine and how much of it you’re supposed to have at your wedding aren’t among the fun things to decide, and they don’t stay on the radar very long.  

If you ask someone, they’ll give you some sort of blanket warning and leave it at that. 

“Reunite on ice isn’t really that nice,” or “chardonnay tastes like mango soap with butter in it.”

That’s it.  Apparently, you can take it from there.  

In any case, our friends were left with a lot of pretty good wine that they knew for a fact they’d never get around to drinking.  

I think we took a case.  

My in-laws took a case.   

Our friends brought the wine to every dinner party or housewarming they could schedule for months just to get it out of their hall closet.  

II.

So when I think about this morning’s Gospel, the story of the wedding feast at Cana where Our Lord performs his first miracle, I come to it wondering something I have never actually wondered before. 

I’m wondering what on earth they did with all that wine. 

That probably seems like a dumb question.  

But hear me out.  

You probably know the story.  

John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus attends a wedding in Cana. 

His public ministry has just begun.  

He has been baptized.  

The next day, he begins calling the disciples. 

This is the day after that.  

Unlike the wedding I was just talking about, this one runs out of wine, and you can see why. 

If Jesus arrives with twelve people nobody had invited, you can see how running out of things would be a problem.  

Aside from that, though, he seems inclined to keep a low profile, and he’s clearly nowhere near the bar, because it’s his mother who has to come and tell him that the wedding has run out of wine. 

That he should…well…do something about that.  Ahem. 

He doesn’t especially want to. 

Maybe it’s a weird occasion for a miracle.  You’re not supposed to upstage people at their own wedding.  

It’s also a weird place for one. 

He’s there way in the back at the banquet hall.

He’s far from the dance floor, in that no man’s land where the servers in their red tuxedo jackets are going back and forth through the swinging doors to the kitchen. 

Around him is a forest of those abandoned tray stands, with maybe a forlorn smoker or two, trying to do their thing, pop a breath mint and get right back to the party.  

This is exactly the kind of place where miracles don’t happen, whether it’s because they shouldn’t or just because they don’t. 

But, well, like all of us, Jesus knows your mom is your mom, so…. 

There are six enormous stone jars full of water standing there, each one the size of a garbage can, and just like at Creation, the hand of God moves over the face of the waters, and they are transformed.  

Jesus transforms the water into wine. 

And as John makes abundantly clear, it’s the good stuff

Technically, this is where the story ends.  

It’s a neat little starter miracle for Jesus that blesses a happy couple and all their guests.  

It anticipates so many other banquets yet to come, and points to the radical hospitality and joyful abundance of a life in God, which Jesus will make clear are central to his message.  

All true.  

But.  

What happens to all that wine?  

To all the good stuff?  

It’s already late in the evening.  

You have to figure that at this point, a lot of the people are just sort of waiting for them to cut the cake so they can go home.  

The wine’s not going to keep. 

Back then, showing up with a wineskin on the offhand chance of getting a roadie would have been like showing up today with Tupperware for somebody’s leftover filet. 

That’s not what guests do.  

So if you’re the host, standing there in the back of the hall with the caterer and the wedding planner, there’s only one option.  

You’ve got to think up a strategy for giving it all away. 

Wonderful as it is.  Delightful and surprising as it is.  Gift that it is.  

You’ve got to give it away.  

Because like manna in the wilderness, you can’t hold onto it. 

All you can do is find someone with whom you can share it. 

All you can do is let the blessing bless another person – an uninvited guest.  

You send all those waiters in their red tuxedos right out of the banquet hall and into the streets, throwing open the doors and turning the whole thing into a block party.  

You go out to the places where miracles really don’t happen and make it so that this one does.  

III.

This for me is where a story about Jesus can become a story that’s also about us.  

We may not be able to turn water into wine. 

But it is well within our power to bless somebody else. 

When it comes to the good stuff, there is so much to share, and there are so many ways to share it.  

So many places seem like unlikely places for a miracle, and so much that seems so small and scarcely necessary can turn out to be miraculous. 

That’s the point.  

The miracle in this story is about what God can transform into a blessing.  

And the answer is just about anything.  

Because just about anyone can be a blessing.  

The water of yet another day doing yet more of the same old stuff can be transformed. 

It can become fine wine.  

As good people fan out and bring lives of humor and hope, conscience and conviction to wherever they go, the hand of God extends out over the waters, jar by jar, and suddenly, one of those forgotten places can turn out to be a vineyard.  

It can become a place of peace and comfort, laughter, joy and life. 

There is good stuff in all of us that God is so eager to see on offer to a thirsty world.  

And there is so much that comes from sharing it. 

IV.

I like to think of that bride and groom in the weeks and months, even the years after their wedding. 

John never does share their names, but I feel like I know them, anyway—at least a little.  

I think of them doing all the “adulting” kinds of things that we grow into in married life: dropping off dry cleaning, taking something to Goodwill, swinging by Acme to pick up a box of Stove-Top stuffing, getting replacement rubber bands for a kid’s braces.  

All that stuff that is how we spend our days, whatever that was for them. 

But wherever they’d go…whatever they’d be doing…they’d see some stranger beaming at the sight of them.  

There would be this army of well-wishers all over town, flashing them a thumbs up or grabbing a door to hold it open as they pass through, and all because on some random night whenever it was, the doors of their wedding had opened, and the waiters had streamed out into the streets, giving anyone who wanted some the best wine they had ever tasted or would ever taste — wine so wonderful that even the memory of it would fill your heart with gratitude and love.  

This is the world that God invites us to build with Him.  

Wherever we go, may the memory of our passing through inspire such delight.  

Christmas Eve Sermon: “Tuning In”

Every December, our family spends a fair bit of time watching Christmas movies, gathering regularly in front of the t.v. in a way that we mostly don’t at other times of the year. 

It’s a lovely tradition we have – particularly because I fondly remember watching some of the same shows with my family when I was kid.  Rudolph. Frosty.  The Grinch.  A Christmas Carol.  It’s a Wonderful Life. 

It’s amazing how some things have stood the test of time. 

But some parts of the overall experience have changed.  

For example, it is hard to explain to my kids why having a remote control for the t.v. makes me worry that they’re spoiled. 

You see, I come from a time when, if you were a kid, the only remote control your family had was you.  

If the family was switching from one channel to another, that meant that the kid had to hop up and (MG: duh-duh-duh-duh) switch it. 

Now there were only about five and a half channels, but still. 

And it didn’t stop there, did it?  

I mean, just because you were switching didn’t mean you could just twist the dial and then plotz back on the couch.  

It also demanded participation in the precise and mysterious art of tuning in a t.v.  

Adjusting the rabbit ears.  

Do you remember? 

Do you remember how CBS could have one typical configuration, but NBC and ABC each had something entirely different?  

In New York City, getting WPIX/Channel 11 was a whole thing, but that was where you watched the Yankees, so if the game was important, you would be there fifteen minutes before, you’d be factoring in cloud cover and wind…it was like trying to land a plane at LaGuardia. 

Plus, there was the whole thing that if you touched the rabbit ears, your own actual body became part of the antenna. 

That made the picture better than it actually was, so to get it right…actually right…you had to touch-and stand back, touch-and stand back, going millimeter by millimeter, while everyone else in the room shouted at you about whether you had it or not.  Or they just made you stand there until the next commercial. 

Friends, in 1974, this was what “togetherness” looked like.  

The children do not understand.  

And yet, it really was something when you were standing there, breath held, eyes locked, fingers attentive like a safe cracker’s, and suddenly you’d find the one, the only, magic spot, and the picture would come in juuust right.  

One minute static and snow, static and snow, static and…then: there it was.  A window on a new world.  

And peace and gladness and harmony would reign at last.  

II.

In its own way, Christmas is something like that, too.  

Certainly, it’s a window on a new world.  

It seeks to cut through the static and the snow of life as we have come to know it.  

And it shows us what the world looks like when we remember that nothing is impossible with God.  

Because that’s what so many of them gathered around the manger had started to remember. 

That’s what the angel had told each one of them at some point along the way.  

Think of all the angel visits in this story. 

An angel greets Zechariah in the Temple and Mary in Nazareth, then Joseph, and so on, and so on, all the way to the shepherds watching their fields by night. 

These people come into the story already astonishingly faithful, but as it turns out, that isn’t really the point.  

Because plugged into their faith as they are, they’re still fiddling with their reception, too. 

As the gospel makes clear, whatever has gotten them where they are, nothing has prepared them – even them – for the sheer, life-giving, creative power of God. 

God seems almost to crash into their lives. 

And what becomes clear is that God is intent on life and liberation, and ready to upend every rule to make it so.

And so we get this story of impossible thing after impossible thing that somehow happens. 

The story of Christmas.  

Do you remember? 

Because that’s what this is.  

All these impossible things.  

An old man is struck dumb, and his barren wife conceives. 

Then her young cousin, a virgin, conceives.  

Scientists in silk robes set out to follow a star and come to kneel beneath it, with precious gifts to lay before a baby in a barnyard.  

Scraggly shepherds, each one looking like an unmade bed, come in from the cold and are welcomed. 

Meanwhile, back in his palace, the King of Judea in his monogrammed pjs quakes in fear, suspecting that at long last, his chickens have started coming home to roost.  

And in Rome, an oblivious Caesar thinks what he’s doing is imposing a new tax across his empire. 

In fact, what he is really doing is seeing to it that one of Israel’s ancient and most cherished prophecies comes true.  

What does it all mean?

It means that the powers and principalities of a broken world have just booked their first class tickets on the Titanic

Because now a very different vision of the world than theirs is about to come into view—the vision the Prophets had foretold.  

Everything was about to change. 

And it has.  

Because of that vision, even in the darkest times, there would always be a candle burning somewhere.  

Because of that vision, there would always be someone who could remember…someone made stronger by the power of hope…someone ennobled by the love of God…someone enabled to be a force for good…someone prepared to call God’s people to be the hands and feet of God, as God has asked us to be. 

That’s what suddenly came into view at Christmas.  

The snow and static disappeared, and the world was attuned to the purposes of God.  

So Christmas is a window on a new world.  

A world where even seemingly impossible things are happening…and all of them serving to make the point that when it comes lives transformed and our own call to sacred work discovered, nothing…nothing then and nothing now…is impossible with God.  

III.

If you ask me, this is what the world manages to find again at Christmas. 

During these weeks, we remember a lot that we seem to let ourselves forget.  

Not all of us are so forgetful, of course.  

Surely there are saints among us who live as more or less permanent residents of Christmas, and who embody everything it stands for. 

But most of us don’t rise to that level. 

The vast majority of us are works-in-progress.  

We’re not as joyful or as patient or generous as we’d like to be. 

We struggle to let go of old fears and to do the right thing. 

Maybe most of all, we can’t imagine a world that operates according to different rules than the ones we’ve come to know so well.  

And yet, at Christmas, for a little while, anyway, the static and snow vanish again, and that different world pops into view.

People are kinder and try harder. 

Some even seem to find a strength they may not have known they had….and do things they didn’t imagine they could do…to give in ways they didn’t know they could give. 

And somehow, between it being enough of us trying all at once and the season going on for long enough, we start to say “what if…”? 

What if this is how it could be? 

What if we were serious about a more loving and merciful world? 

What if this was what we focused on…making a world more like this, and for more people? 

Isn’t that what life is all about?  Wouldn’t that be a joy?

It’s not impossible, at all.  

It’s right here.   

God’s future has already started to arrive. 

Cutting through all the snow and static, in Jesus, we are tuned in to God’s vision for the world, and the silent night leads us to a glorious new day. 

Merry Christmas.  

Santa-con and the New Normal (Luke 2)

I know the world is eager to reclaim so much of what we have lost during COVID, but I was still sorry to see that SantaCon was back on in New York City. 

You know SantaCon, right? 

I don’t know much.  

Best I can tell, it’s a day when hundreds, maybe thousands of young men in their 20s and 30s descend on New York City and other unfortunate cities across the country, wearing Santa hats and sometimes not much else, and they roam around in packs, visiting as many bars in Manhattan in the shortest period of time they can.

That’s SantaCon.  

Other than the part about the hats, I’m not sure what it has to do with Christmas.  

It’s like Christmas organized by the DKE house, if, in fact, you want to call it “organized” at all. 

I don’t know why anyone would bother. 

Saint Nicholas would not feel remotely honored by it.  

I’ve spoken before about how the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was just an excuse for debauchery rather than a properly religious holiday celebrating the birth of our Savior, and I have to believe that in light of SantaCon, Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards are up in heaven with their arms folded, feeling pretty vindicated right now.  

But, in a world that’s trying to get back to normal in all the ways it can, this is part of normal, and, in any case, it’s back.  

For many reasons, it’s a particularly strange way to celebrate Christmas. 

Christmas is a day that stands for the transformation of the world. 

Much of the point is that it celebrates the beginning of something very different, and not just more of the same. 

If you think about it, Christmas is about the start of a new normal.  

I wonder if in any given year, some of those roving, feral Santas manage to find that out. 

I wonder if in any given year, for one or two of them, there they are in a bar full of other Santas, and maybe they need to make a quick pit-stop at some point, only to find upon their return that the great red tide of Santas has rolled on, and they’re standing there, alone – stared at by whoever is willing to be in a bar at midday in mid-town Manhattan on Santa-con – and suddenly it isn’t cute and festive but somehow desperate.  

Maybe that rogue Santa wanders out into the street, but doesn’t see the guys he came with, or maybe he walks east instead of west, and with everything a little hazy, he doesn’t see the kids until they’ve run right up to him, thrilled and delighted to see him, full of hope and expectation, wanting to hear him make promises that he knows are not properly his to make.  

It’s New York, so he can’t look to the natives for help, but a guy selling knock off purses on the corner takes pity on him, and hails him a cab, then slips the driver a twenty just to make it happen because…well…just because some people are like that.  

He decides he’d better have a big cup of coffee before he goes home and lies down, and he ducks into some place, and there he is, ordering a grande coffee in that ridiculous suit, with everyone staring, but the barista takes no notice, and it occurs to him that sometimes, not noticing can be the kindest form of noticing there is.

What if by the working of God’s Providence, this Santa doesn’t march all over the city like some sort of entitled prince, but finds himself a lonely pilgrim, and that on this day, it is the city that has marched straight into his heart? 

Then one good night’s sleep and a long shower later, it’s the next morning. 

The Santa suit is crumpled on the floor while he dresses for work, and he’s back to looking like one of those people in a magazine. 

It’s now when it either happens or it doesn’t. 

It’s now because, as he steps back out onto the street, he can either act like none of it ever happened, that he is back to being an entitled prince, that Santa-con came and went for the price of a couple of Advil. 

Or he can step out changed.  Step into a new normal.  Live into what he now sees…  Continue as a pilgrim who knows the truth has set him free. 

I mean, that kind of thing must happen, right? 

It’s not the most improbable thing that ever happened at a Christmas.  

II.

The thing about the way our Scriptures tell the story of Christmas is that they want us to understand how improbable it all is.  

Not in the sense that we shouldn’t believe it.  

Not in the sense that God was not working patiently from the beginning to make it happen. 

But improbable in the sense that Christmas pushes us to see something that isn’t obvious until you see it.  

And then it challenges us to go forward changed. To find our place in the new normal it comes to announce, as all the characters of the Christmas story must. 

This morning, it’s the story of Elizabeth, the very senior mother-to-be of John the Baptist, and then it’s the story of Mary, the very young mother-to-be of Jesus.  

The signs of a new normal are already in embryo in their respective ages. 

Elizabeth was probably 40, which is normal…or normal-ishfor us, although it wouldn’t have been for them. 

Conversely, Mary was perhaps as young as 14, which would be all-but unheard of for many of us, but for them, was not unusual.  

But the deeper point is that, in these two women, God’s new normal is poised to arrive.

The disruption to the familiar order of how birth happens is just a foretaste of disruption that John and Jesus will bring into the world.  

These two will ask us to see things through the eyes of God, starting with ourselves.  

But even before that, thirty years before anyone is standing by the banks of the Jordan, there is the pilgrimage of their mothers, who come to realize that all they have is God and each other.  

And it is enough.  

They appear so different, old and young, established and scandalous, maybe wise and naïve.  

But in God, they see that the differences fall away.  

Something else is taking hold.  A new normal.  

III.

What needs to happen for you and me to believe in it, too? 

Where does a vision of that sit for each of us?

With all the running around we do this time of year, maybe we aren’t as different from the staggering reveler-bros of Santa-con as we might like to think.  

We won’t wake up with the headaches they do. But we have headaches and heartaches of our own.  

Loving other people sometimes requires going through the motions in ways we don’t feel, but so that they will…or so that maybe they will. 

We carry that.   

I’m not sure my grandmother cared about putting up a Christmas tree after about 1960, but she did it for the grandchildren, and as far as it went, she liked that we expected it.  

It was something. 

She would have been the age of Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, around then.  

But life and loss taught her to play it safe, and she became the keeper of traditions, not because of everything they meant, but because they were what she had.  

Christmas wants so much more for us than that.   

There are times when we feel so helpless to change things that need changing.  

The list just seems so long and we’re not sure what to do…where to get started, what to try now, whether to see the inevitable for what it is.  

Bowing to the inevitable was where the smart money was way back in the Year Zero, when these two mothers-to-be came together and joined forces, and Mary sang the Magnificat for the first time, her wonderful poem about a world where it would all be different…a world in which the mighty would fall from their thrones.

Where something new would happen.

It’s not too late.    

Christmas sees so much more in us than we do.  

It invites us to become pilgrims. 

It promises us that Jesus offers a way to do things differently—a path toward a new normal for us and for the world.  

The peace it promises is not the peace of silence, but the peace of resolution.   It’s the peace of forgiveness.  The peace of healing and growth.  

It’s a path to a new, redeemed future, and it promises the courage we need to walk forward into that future with our heads held high. 

It hopes that we will step out changed, and finally ready to live into what it is to be free.  

Amen.  

Believing in Halloween

Dear Friends of Second Church,

I guess it’s a reflection of my age and of our times that, as Halloween comes, I’m less concerned about Dark Powers Roaming the Earth than I am about calories. 

We’ve defanged the whole thing.  

And I’m sorry we have.  

I don’t know if people actually stayed home on All Hallows Eve back in the day, afraid of crossing paths with an evil spirit, believing in the ancient Celtic understanding of Halloween as the night when the veil between earth and the afterlife was pulled back, and the spirits roamed free. 

Anyway, for us, it’s not about that. On the contrary, it’s a night to go out. To take the kids. Maybe the dogs if it seems like they’ll behave. Staying home is for Christmas Eve, not Halloween. 

Maybe that’s always been true.

Maybe the notion of fearful people barring the doors and windows and saying an extra prayer at bedtime is never how it actually was.  

But it’s interesting to ponder how our lives might be different if we came to see it as tradition seems once to have imagined it. 

These days, we get very worked up over how scary Halloween really ought to be. We argue over how to make it safer, or more an expression of “good clean fun.”  

Certainly, I’m not against safety or good, clean fun. 

But in the case of Halloween, those might be the wrong things to be asking about. 

It would be better to ask this question instead: if we believed in Halloween, what kind of people might it enable us to become? 

The Harry Potter books suggest a version of this question, with their joyful celebration of magic and of how magic defines a world for those blessed with the gift of being able to practice it. That world is a place of enchantment—so much so that among them, hilariously, magic has become a given, taking on much of the character of the everyday—a way to wash dishes or call AAA—and subject to all kinds of regulations, enforced by people who find work a drag as much as we do. 

The simple presence of magic doesn’t change very much.

With that said, what you actually use magic for turns out to be the defining question for every character in the books. 

And sadly, when it comes to that, wizards and witches prove to be as human as the rest of us.  

They’re no better at separating truth from lies or wisdom from folly than we are, and can all too easily end up using their powers selfishly, foolishly, or malevolently — just as we so often do.  

It turns out that being able to see the world in terms of its great moral questions, to understand the spirit of the times in which one lives, and to work for the good, are just as much a gift as being able to practice magic.  

This is where Halloween fits in.  

It’s not about the magic, dark or otherwise.  

In a much deeper way, it’s about spirits…and Spirit. 

And it’s that depth I hate to think we’re losing. 

With that in mind, I wonder if believing in Halloween would teach us to see more clearly the spirits of light and darkness contending in the rights and wrongs of our own lives. 

I wonder if it would help us to acknowledge more readily the many ways in which, if we are not careful, our lives can be haunted, tempted, and even possessed by the things that might diminish them the most. 

I wonder if it would remind us that the world is more than just the parts made with human hands.  

If Halloween is about those things, then rather than teaching us to live in fear, I wonder if it might actually teach us how to live with greater reverence.  

Maybe instead of preaching darkness, it’s pointing toward the light. 

See you in church,

Christos Anesti and the Rich Young Man

This morning, we are delighted to welcome M. and R. into the greater family of the Church of Jesus Christ. 

The ways in which the teachings of Jesus and the life of the church will really come to shape their lives is something that will emerge in the years to come. 

But we hope that they will feel convicted by justice and find a deep commitment to fairness that strengthens them to say things that may be hard to say, and that they learn to stand for things that matter, particularly in a culture that is too often determined to be trivial and to see our possessions as a valid form of self-expression. 

The Church disagrees with that diminished vision.  

The Church is uneasy with a monthly credit card statement as an acceptable form of autobiography. 

It sees judgment in that rather than joy in that, even though we might not be really be ready for it.  

In the imagination of the Church, what VISA or American Express provide are not so much bills, but rather a potentially painful revelation for us of what our deeper values and our momentary impulses actually are.  

And that’s not always easy to see. 

To be honest, in some ways, the Church hopes it won’t be – it hopes that opening our statements will make us think, and even pray.  

And yet alongside that, the Church wants so very much to affirm that there is more to us than all of that, and that it sees that, too.   

Or at least that there is supposed to be.  

If there isn’t, the Church sees something hellish in that. 

And so the Church hopes we are a little bit chastened, at least now and again, by how we use what is ours to command, and the Church hopes that we will learn to be more faithful in our living, which is to say: more faithful in our buying, more faithful in our supporting, more faithful in our using and demanding and in our enjoying.  

Actually, maybe that’s it. 

To be a Christian is to learn to positively enjoy life according to a very different standard than the world at large will use.   

Our claim is that life in Christ is about finding the delight in different things – that joy is not to be found simply with our credit cards, but in weird things that the world doesn’t always get very easily.  

For example, the Church believes in the notion that the young can love the old for reasons that don’t involve money or presents, and that is hard for some to imagine.  

It believes in the idea that the old can love the young when the young aren’t properly attired, properly combed, or properly adept at chatting in the surfacey ways most adults find easiest to manage. That is hard for some to imagine.  

The man who effectively served as my Godfather was a good and generous man.   He was  pillar of the church.  Patient and kind.  

And more than anything else, what he taught me was how to shake hands…with firm pressure and looking the other person in the eye, and while this has served me unbelieveably well over the years, it hasn’t meant one whit for the Church. 

The Church believes in something harder…something he never got to show me: in dignity over luxury, and in sharing over most self-indulgence. 

It pushes us.  

In ways the world finds incomprehensible, when things get hard, the Church teaches us to start by taking our situation, figuring out what is the most personally difficult way to approach it, and then grappling with the fact that this ss probably in the neighborhood of the right thing to do.

Then it tells us to find not only direction, but actual joy in that. 

And if you make people jump a little further than usual and you turn out to be right early enough, they call you a prophet.  

And if you do that and the timing takes too long, they call you their former pastor.  

That’s the gig. 

We say all this by way of welcome for M. and R. 

It’s not easy to try to be a Christian.  

But we also invoke all this  as a reminder of the life of faith as we listen to this morning’s Gospel. 

Because the young man who comes before Jesus in this morning’s story is, on the surface, trying to find his way into such a life.  

And the Gospel makes clear that he is a Sunday School attending, blue blazer wearing, firm handshake providing, Bible reading, even God fearing kind of person – a Chris Tate, a Shawn Garan, a Max Grant sort of favorite son for any faith community.  

Remember when we used to give out pins for kids in our Youth Choir for every stage they reached in learning music theory? 

If you stuck with it, by high school you had so many medals for your robe that you looked like an old Soviet general when you were standing there.  

This young man standing before Jesus would have had all those pins.  Every last one.  

We’re told that Jesus sees him and loves him.  

How could you not?

But on behalf of the Church…when it comes to that, Jesus doesn’t see him and just say yes…and he doesn’t say no. 

He sees this young man and says…hmmm. 

Because he imagines the minor moral document arriving each month to this young man’s mailbox from the good people at VISA or American Express.   

He imagines some of what this young man hasn’t had to see and wonders what he’s learned to see despite that relative insulation.  

It’s clear that faith has been one influence on his life.  

But what else has formed him along the way?  

William Sloane Coffin used to say that “values are often more caught than taught,” that we are powerfully formed by our relationships in ways that we may not quite realize.

And so the issue with this young man who comes and kneels at the feet of Jesus isn’t whether or not he’s loveable.  

It’s whether or not he’s dependable. 

Which is to say, how has he come to depend on God? 

How has God’s voice helped him to hear all the other voices properly? 

Because those voices are there, and those voices are loud. 

We know it, too. 

How does the Church compete with those voices?  

Our own Alexander has a cousin who is a Greek Orthodox priest in Jerusalem.  

And as you might imagine, at the height of tourist season in Jerusalem, there can be quite a line to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church that tradition says was built on the site of the tomb where Jesus lay.  

Ground Zero of the Easter miracle. 

And during tourist season, this line is apparently not for the faint of heart.  

There are those who try to speed things along, figuring that a little contribution in the right place might speed things along, but apparently, it is not so. 

Because the guy at the door is a Greek Orthodox priest, formed over years to be unmoved by that sort of thing, and so if you try, the line is the right.  

But if you go to the door and murmur the great affirmation of Easter, Christos anesti, “Christ is Risen”…you get let in immediately.  

It doesn’t hurt, saying it in Greek.  

But there’s such a thing as a pilgrim and there’s such a thing as a tourist, and it matters which you become.  

Coming to be someone who finds joy in patience, joy in forgiveness, joy in charity, joy in loving our enemies and sharing our abundance – all the things the Christian life entails – is not an easy road.  

Faith tells us that it’s the right road.  The only real choice.  

That’s what this young man who comes before Jesus is not prepared to affirm. 

That’s why instead of going joyfully forward, he goes sorrowfully away.  

Our prayer for these two young men, M. and R., and for ourselves is that together we will all learn how go joyfully forward. 

Our new Christian brothers have a lot to learn, and much to teach us. 

But Christos anesti!  The Lord is risen! 

May the light of that affirmation shine through our lives and illuminate a path for all people to rise up.  

Amen.  

Sermon: Seeking Union (Mark 10:1-16)

This morning, Jesus offers us stern words about divorce.

And so as we get to that, I’d like to reflect a little bit about marriage.  

I like marriage.  

I like it so much I’ve done it twice now.   

Now, yesterday morning on Facebook, I saw a post from a friend of mine who got engaged this summer. 

“I’m away for my first business trip since COVID,” he wrote, “and my boo found my suitcase and snuck in some chamomile tea, my favorite ginger candies, a sleep mask, aspirin – everything I could possibly need.”  


That’s sweet, right? 

As it happens, I went away overnight last week, myself, to do a wedding in Madison.  It was the first time in a while I’ve been away from the family.  I didn’t get that kind of send-off.  

“Good luck with the wedding,” said Liz.  “This time, don’t bring the car back smelling like a Happy Meal.”

This time.  

Doesn’t take long for the honey to dry up on that moon, does it? 

What they never tell you about marriage is how profoundly it will come to shape you.

Its realities are powerful.  

There is the constant example of the other person whom we see in such close proximity—the expressions they use that we find ourselves using, or the things they like that we end up liking, too.   

I read somewhere once that our personalities are significantly shaped by the five people with whom we spend the most time. 

I don’t know that it’s always true, but it often is, and particularly so when it comes to marriage.  

There is a kind of osmosis that goes on.  

I think we’re also shaped by the ways in which we see ourselves reflected back in their eyes. 

Marriage is a mirror unlike almost any other. 

Reflected in their eyes, something that didn’t seem selfish when you decided to ask for it seems to land differently than you expected. 

You think you’re making a joke, but what they hear loud and clear is the barb underneath it—and suddenly, you see it, too. 

There is also the grace of those moments when you feel just awful about something, and they shrug or laugh, seeing it as no big deal.  

Or those times when you tell them about something that happened, and they actually get more mad than you were and commend you on your Job like patience and forbearance.  

Those moments show us ourselves in a new, revealing light.  

But in a good marriage, they become familiar. 

If we are well-matched, marriage quickly shatters our fantasies of being irresistible or perfect just as we are. 

Instead, it offers us something far better: the possibility that for all the ways in which we are profoundly imperfect, we are still loveable.  

I’m not saying that all marriages are like that – and I’ve been in one of those. 

And I’m not saying marriage is the only way to encounter that truth; it’s not. 

But it is one place where that truth may be encountered.  

Imperfect as we are, we are still loveable. 

It’s very theological if you think about it. 

When we step off the stage of performing our public selves, the person waiting in the wings who knows our vulnerabilities is glad to be there.  

…As long as the car doesn’t smell like a Happy Meal…. 

So with all that in mind, what are we supposed to make of this morning’s Scripture, with its stern words about divorce?  

To be honest, most sermons on this passage are god-awful. 

Sad to say, through the years, the church has been more on the side of Marriage with a capital M than on the side of good marriages, which are Spirit-filled and deeply holy, but they’re also their own little ecosystems and kind of elude big pronouncements about what shall be and what shall not. 

Most sermons don’t want to get into that.  

In fairness, maybe they can’t.  

The question in a marriage is almost always how

How are we going to do this?  

How are we going to make it through this next season of our lives? 

How are we supposed to afford braces? 

Jesus talks about how in marriage, we become one flesh, but with my bad hip and your bad eyes, who is going to drive to the grocery store? 

At every stage: how do we know we still see each other when there are so many days when, for all the reasons, we’re like ships passing in the night? 

It doesn’t take much to see that Jesus thinks divorce is bad.  

The deeper point is what he sees in marriage that is good.

So much in our lives seems to strain against the bonds that hold us safe and sure.  

To use Mark’s words, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Whether it’s man or whether it’s just life, what puts us asunder – what pulls us apart – is not what God hopes for us.  

God’s hope…God’s purpose is in the things that make us strong and better equipped to face those other things…those sundering things.  

God’s hope is in the promise that sin and sadness cannot have the final word, that the work of love is slow but sure, that what we see now as through a glass darkly, one day we shall behold face to face.  

At the end of our Scripture for today, we see the disciples trying to shoo away children who seem to have crept into the living room while Jesus has been speaking, and Jesus chastises them. 

He won’t have them sent away – relegated to the kiddie table or what have you.  

He’s been talking about marriage, but now again, here’s someone else he won’t have put asunder.  

There is no separate but equal in the Kingdom of God.  Not for kids or anyone else. 

I think that’s very important. 

God’s vision is union.  

Communion.  

Communion between spouses, between friends, between enemies, between the living and the dead, and between all Creation and its Creator. 

In the face of all that would pull us asunder, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of chaos, whispering God’s reminder that one day, partnered or unpartnered, we shall all be one. 

Amen.  

Sermon: “Breaking the Rules” (Exodus 2:1-11)

(NB: This sermon owes a tremendous debt to Kelley Nikondeha’s remarkable book, “Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom.” Run, don’t walk, to read the book.)

It’s been on t.v. for ages now, but when it first began there was nothing like the t.v. show, “Survivor.” 

Most people have seen it at least once. 

You may or may not like the show.  You may not entirely like that you like the show.  But many, many of us have at least seen the show.  

“Survivor” is, of course, part reality t.v. and part game show, with a group of people from all kinds of walks of life get marooned somewhere beautiful but marginally deadly….a place with lush green foliage and enormous, hungry reptiles.  Waters the color of lapis lazuli…and the most ferocious sharks known to science.  

They arrive without food, fire or shelter and have to, well, survive

They can only do this through a combination of working together and looking out for #1, and the whole thing has a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” kind of twist that is never far off, because at the end of each episode, your collaborators have to vote one of you off the island for good.  

The early rounds just pick off the ones who drag down the group—the hapless Gilligan kind of people who let the fire go out by accident, or lose some sort of contest by falling out of a boat or dropping the tiki torch at the crucial moment.  

One by one they go. 

The last one standing wins a million dollars. 

“Survival,” at least at the show depicts it, turns out to be a combination of physical prowess, outdoor skill, and political acumen – and as each season unfolds, it is clear that over time, it’s the political acumen that is the single most important thing keeping you in the game. 

That said, in the years I watched “Survivor,” there were times I wondered why the contestants agreed to play by the rules. 

Why was it that they accepted the terms of winner take all, and all others take none?  

If they wanted to, couldn’t they take working together to the next level, and come up with a totally different outcome – one in which didn’t show up for the little side games that were designed to turn them against one another? 

Why did they buy into the rules they were handed? 

Why not just split the money?  

With a little imagination and an openness to unorthodox collaboration, a very different world was surely possible.  

II.

This morning’s Scripture from the Book of Exodus, and it describes the rescue of the infant Moses. 

What happens in the story is anything but a game, although it is certainly true that Moses was nothing if not a survivor.  

He was born at a moment of tremendous injustice and oppression.

In fact, the Hebrew people may have taken their name from this moment: “Habiru” is a word that may point to an Egyptian word for “foreigner.” 

And if you hear in that something that sounds like a new sense of “us” and “them” into what had been a warm and life-giving collaboration—a kind of unity—well, that’s probably on target.  

In this story, Egypt is ruled by a wicked Pharoah, consumed with fear of strangers, foreigners he worries that he won’t be able to control.  

Accordingly, he takes strong measures, and commands that all the newly born males of the Hebrew people should be thrown into the Nile. 

In Egypt, Pharoah is the one who makes the rules, and so Pharoah’s fears and Pharoah’s agenda are the only game in town. 

Or so it seems. 

Because Scripture’s point is that in the deep darkness of such a terrible hour, a ray of light emerges.  

Something different begins. 

Redemption is at work.  

In the improbable survival of this particular infant, Moses, God is at work to secure the survival of so many others—God is at work to let God’s people go.  

But what we may not notice quite so readily is how much saving Moses is the result of an unorthodox collaboration, as a group of women decides that they will not buy into the rules they have been handed. 

Somehow, without conferring or plotting, this group decides to work for a very different outcome for this one child, not realizing that he is a figure of destiny. 

Or maybe the point is that any child has a destiny that ought to claim our loyalty, no matter who the child is or what that destiny might be…because it’s not about saving our own flesh and blood, so much as it is about making a way so that all God’s children can make theirs.  

I don’t know. 

But something happens there along the banks of the Nile. 

Moses’ mother has risked everything by keeping him alive up to now, which she had decided to do entirely on her own. 

But now he’s just too big for that to continue. 

Those cries at night are getting too loud.   You can’t hide a crib in a one room shack in the middle of a shantytown set up in Pharoah’s brick yard. 

It’s not like women were excused from daily work, themselves.   

And so, with all that being the case, it looks like Pharoah’s rules are going to win, after all.  

Moses’ mother makes him a basket out of papyrus and seals the cracks with bitumen and pitch they had all around them for making Pharoah’s bricks.

Is it hope that prompts her to make the baby a little boat to float away in? 

Or is it just a final act of tenderness? 

The story never says.  

In the early morning, while the sun is still just coming up, and the neighborhood has not started stirring, she carries the little basket down to the river to let the child go. 

But you see, she’s not the only one out there. 

Pharoah’s moves are designed to convince us otherwise.  They’re all about trying to keep us lonely and afraid and convinced that we must be the only one.  

But there’s somebody else out there by the river on this particular morning.  

Pharoah’s own daughter with her entourage has gone down by the river to bathe.  

And when this Hebrew lady wades in on the other side of the river and goes out to where the current runs strongest, lets go of some basket and watches it slowly drift away, it turns out there is someone just a little further downstream who’s there to catch it.  

And when this fancy Pharoah’s daughter sees that basket in the reeds and hears a cry come from it, she would have known what her father expected her to do. 

She would have known the dangerous game she was getting herself into.  

Even in a palace, it’s not so easy to muffle a cry, or hide a crib, or explain the presence of a toddler.  

But somehow in that moment, by the grace of God, Pharoah’s daughter sees that her father has them all locked in an even more dangerous game—a game of loneliness and fear and injustice and violence.  

She decides she will not simply go along and play that game as he would have her do along with everyone else, as she has up to now. 

She decides that she isn’t going to buy the rules that she’s been handed, and will, instead, work for a very different outcome for this one child.  

And God being God, wouldn’t you know it that right at that moment, a young Hebrew girl appears, and helpfully says she might just know a lady who could be a wet nurse for the baby, “assuming that you’re keeping it, your highness.”  

And the princess pauses maybe just a moment and says yes.  

III.

So a group of women…a mother, an adoptive mother, and a sister…collaborate for the saving of this one child…this child who turns out to be the instrument of God’s liberation.  

And isn’t that such a reminder of God’s dream? 

Doesn’t our God just hope that we will unlock the power of salvation, and act in ways that let God pour the power of redemption into the things we do? 

So much of our lives get wasted playing games that turn out to be rigged, run by rules that make us all losers in the end. 

So often, it’s the game that’s playing us.  

But something else is possible. 

The power of a God who stands always on the side of dignity and flourishing and hope is at work in the world.  

We see it in the bravery of these women, making a way out of no way, saying yes to each moment that shows up like a message in a bottle or a baby in a basket. 

The story teaches us to say yes to those moments when they appear in our lives, and to hear God’s invitation to midwife a better world into being. 

We may have to rewrite a lot of the rules to make that happen. 

We may have to collaborate in some unorthodox ways. 

It’s not easy to see one another when your eyes have been trained to look elsewhere for so long.  

But there’s more to life than just surviving, and it’s in our capacity to love and serve and see one another that we begin to find it. 

This morning, the women show us how, and remind us why.  

All those with ears to hear, let them hear.  Amen.

Sermon: Marooned (Acts 8:26-following)

This morning’s Gospel circles back to one of Scripture’s most powerful preoccupations: the power of tribe.  

…Of which, Scripture understands, there can be any number of versions – good ones, bad ones, and many more for which it isn’t so clear what word…what proper descriptor…you’re supposed to supply. 

Those are the ones that probably come closest to most of the tribes we know.  

In our context, “tribalism” is a way of talking about insularity, and when we talk about tribes, we are almost always being metaphorical. 

In other contexts and other periods of history, people talking about tribe tend to mean it far more directly.

But the metaphor is no less powerful for all that. 

Because belonging and not belonging are so close to the bone for us.  

We were not made to be independent operators and can’t really function as such for very long,…or anyway, most of us can’t.    

Maybe you read this week about the man who’s been the hermit caretaker of a small island off of Sardinia since 1984, supervising the safety of a beautiful place that nobody is apparently supposed to go but which somebody owns, anyway, and cares about…sort of.  

It’s not entirely clear how it all originally came together, but apparently the hermit had started out from Sardinia in a little boat back in 1984, with a plan to sail solo around the world.  

But it didn’t turn out to be much of a plan, I guess, because he didn’t get that far and hadn’t planned for a lot of contingencies, which I would think would be an important part of sailing around the world, but there you go…

So he had some sort of boat issue a couple of days out and made it to this island, which is where he had stayed.  

And the original owner hadn’t apparently thought about the liability of having people wash up on his island, so he decided to let this guy stay in order to make sure anyone else who might turn up would beat it.  

This has suited the hermit just fine. 

Any aspirations he might have had to seeing the world apparently evaporated as soon as he arrived on the island.  

Except that now the island has been sold, and the new owner has apparently decided that the hermit is getting a little long in the tooth, which from the hermit’s point of view was part of the point, but in any case…now the owner is working to evict him.  

The hermit was..is…prepared to be philosophical about this.  

But apparently, others are not.  

The Sardinian Internet has gone wild.  

There are Facebook groups.  

There are crazy comments sections at the tail of every story in the paper. 

There are those emails circulating where everyone over 40 hits “reply all,” and you know you shouldn’t, but you get sucked in anyway.  

It’s big news.  

People are seriously rooting for the hermit and his freedom to go do his own thing, whatever that is. 

Even a hermit can turn out to have a tribe.  

More poignantly, there are people who feel like hermits, I think, except without the beautiful island or any sort of decision to stay there.  

People who feel marooned where they are or marooned in who they are – people for whom any sense of family or tribe, any notion that others can know what they’re going through or care, just seems impossible to imagine. 

II.

It seems to me that the Ethopian eunuch in today’s Scripture might have been one of those.  

If you dig a little deeper into the story, it seems clear that he was a curious combination of insider and outsider.  

There were any number of tribes to which the eunuch seemed to sort of belong, but none in which they squarely did. 

That’s where the Gospel comes in.  

But just to get a sense of how the story sets this up, let’s start with this idea of an “Ethiopian eunuch.”

A lot of people hear that and go, “Ok, Ethopia…I know where that is” or maybe “I can look up where that is, again.”

Most people hear “eunuch” and are like, “Ok, I know what that is…”

But it turns out that back in the day, these were more general terms.  

“Ethiopia” often meant any number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  

And a “eunuch” could mean something as simple as an unmarried adult man, someone not attracted to women, or what have you. 

It was a social and cultural category even more than it was a physiological descriptor.  

In any case, what we are told is that this eunuch has done well – they serve as the Treasurer for Queen Candace.  

And yet, even with that high position in the court and all that comes with it, the Eunuch is outside.  

Somehow, they have understood themselves to be Jewish, which most everyone around them at the court would not have been.  

And I hear in that a kind of longing.  

I hear in that a way of finding solace in a God who isn’t from where you’re from, perhaps because for all your success, you don’t consider yourself to be quite from where you are from, either.    

The biggest office in the world…the most bespoke tailoring in the world…having Elon Musk on speed dial…whatever that might have looked like for the Eunuch…it wasn’t really all that much.  

The Eunuch felt marooned.  

And so imagine what it would have meant to have decided to step into a chariot and travel to the Temple.  

To pack up your suitcase and call Citibank to make sure it doesn’t decline a whole series of out of town purchases.  To tell the charioteer to plan the route.  

To go to the queen…the queen…and tell her, “Your majesty, I’m sorry, but there is just this thing I have to do.”

What is that thing, exactly? 

In the Jewish tradition, the final toast of the Passover table is to say “Next year in Jerusalem!”  

It is a dream of return.

And the Eunuch seems to know something of that dream. 

A dream of belonging.  

The ancient hymn book of Israel, the Book of Psalms, has particular songs to sing as you travel upwards toward Jerusalem – some of the most joyous of the psalms, known as the “songs of ascent.”

And you can just imagine the Eunuch’s heart soaring as the chariot ascended toward this place of which they had dreamed, toward which they had prayed for so long.  

Except that there was one thing that the Eunuch seems not to have known. 

Because eunuchs were not permitted in the Jerusalem Temple.  

It didn’t matter to have come all that way. 

It didn’t matter to have newly minted money to spread around, to grease the wheels.  

It didn’t matter to have wanted it…to have needed it so much

It didn’t even matter to be one of the faithful. 

There was not room in the tribe for someone like that.   

And so our Scripture takes up the story when the Eunuch is sadly rolling home..sadly looking for consolation in a Bible that seems suddenly unable to speak to them much at all.  

What seemed so clear turns out to be not so.     

But, you know, this is the moment when God acts. 

This is the moment when God’s hand comes down. 

The stories of when Jesus was baptized describe a moment when the heavens opened, and a voice was heard, and a dove – the symbol of healing and wholeness and peace – the symbol of God’s shalom, descends.  

For me, that’s what happens for the Eunuch when Philip appears and runs alongside the chariot and manages, somehow, to talk his way right up onto the platform.

God’s hand comes down.  Shalom descends.

Somewhere in this conversation with Philip, the Eunuch hears that voice that Jesus heard—that voice that says, “You are my beloved child.  In you, I am well pleased.”  

And the Eunuch knows that they didn’t find their tribe.  

No.  

It’s that, at last, after all this time…after all this journey…at the wit’s end of their longing, finally, finally…their tribe has found them.     

Their God has found them.  

III.

Church, we all know what it is to be lost.  

To feel lost. 

To feel marooned.  

Maybe even to be a hermit against our will. 

But the voice of the Gospel is that voice that tells us that somewhere out there, God is looking for us.  

Somewhere out there, the tribe of God’s people is looking for us.  

For all the ways that people tell us we don’t fit, or the ways in which we know in our hearts that where we are is not where we belong, there is the Spirit that says, “I’ve got you. You’re mine. You belong with me.  And our people are on the way.”  

“Just hang in.”  

“Just hang on.”

“We’re coming.” 

Because in the world that Jesus teaches us to look for, even a hermit can have a tribe…even a sinner can have a savior. 

Everything the Eunuch had gone out hoping and searching for came to be found, though in the most unexpected and wonderful of ways. 

Because in God’s world, there’s no sheep so lost that they can’t be found.

God is out on the roads, and God’s people are out on the roads, looking…  

…Making it so that everyone knows they are a beloved child of God, with a claim on God’s attention and a place in God’s heart.  

…Making sure everyone knows they have place in God’s world… 

This is the good news that we are called by that same God to hear for ourselves, as a message to us.  

And as we move out along the road in the days after Easter, as God’s people, it is the good news that we are called to share with a world waiting to be found. 

Amen.  

Easter Sermon (Mark 16:1-8)

Last year, we had such big plans for Easter. 

Lockdown was new, and although it was challenging in every way, we thought it would be short-lived, and so our plan was to hold just a nice, hopeful service online for “Easter proper.” 

Then we thought we would go all out for that first Sunday back. 

The church would be full. 

The spirit of resurrection would need no explanation.  

Our singing would raise the roof.  

It was going to be “Second Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday” – we hadn’t settled on the name just yet.  

I told Alexander to start looking for a contralto or at least a couple of coloratura sopranos in blingy gowns, like opening night at the Met.  (He talked me down from that.)

Of course, none of that happened.  

Now it’s a year later, and we’re still not quite there, although this morning is a very good start. 

But safe to say, if you’d told us just how much was going to happen in the coming year, we would have been amazed.  

In so many ways, everything to come was almost unthinkable.

II.

Each Gospel offers its own account of what happened on the first Easter.  

They differ slightly, just as the stories of Christmas do, and when it comes to Easter, we tend to blend the different versions into a composite, much as we do for Christmas. 

Mark’s version is the shortest and the most unsettled. 

It describes Easter as an encounter between Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, only to discover when they arrive that the stone has been rolled back, the body is gone, and the only one there is a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, who tells them to tell Peter and the others that Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee and will see them there. 

The other Gospels linger over the dawning recognition of the resurrection.

You may remember how in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb and starts talking to someone she believes to be the gardener, only to realize that she is encountering the risen Christ.  

It is a story of joyful reunion.  

That’s not how Mark describes Easter. 

What he describes is the “oh no!” moment without any subsequent “a ha!”  

When the young man dressed in white speaks to the women, Mark says that “fear and amazement seized them” (16:8) and the women run for it.  

That’s it.  

That’s his story.  

Mark’s word for “amazed” is the Greek word “ekstasis,” which is where we get words like “ecstasy” and “ecstatic,” but Mark is using it a little differently.  

For Mark, what the women are feeling is not joyful or even transcendent.  

It’s certainly not ecstasy.  

It’s something more akin to that moment just before an accident – that moment when you see the car that’s running the red light or the coffee cup on the desk falling onto the keyboard. 

It’s one of those moments when everything suddenly seems as if it’s in slow-motion. 

You know what that’s like? 

…You’re trying to stop something from happening but you can’t move fast enough…can’t call out a warning…can’t form the words properly…almost as if you’re under water, although you know that you are not. 

The minute the women walk into that garden and see that stone rolled back and the tomb open, they’re in that sort of state. 

That’s what their “amazement” is like.  

Maybe they don’t respond to the young man dressed in white because they never really hear his words at all.  

They’re under the waves of the moment.  

III.

We know moments like that, don’t we? 

A friend of mine never goes to the doctor without a wingman because he knows that if there is anything he needs to hear, he won’t be able to hear it.  If there’s a question to be asked, he won’t ask it.  

We know what it’s like to be under the waves, sure enough.  

But we don’t associate that with Easter.  

Easter is all about good news.

So if you’re Mark, why tell the story that way – especially this story?

Why offer an “oh no!” without an “a ha”? 

We can’t say for sure.  

However, I wonder if the “a ha” that interests him isn’t theirs, but ours.  

Mark also tells us that the women run away and don’t tell a soul what they have seen, which is something that makes sense for the purpose of the story’s dramatic effect, but which can’t be true, strictly speaking. 

If it were true, we’d never have the story in the first place.  

We’d never know about the resurrection.  

So let’s remember that Mark is telling the story in a certain kind of way, and that there are things he chooses to tell us and others he chooses not to tell us. 

When it comes to the resurrection, what he chooses to do is to draw the curtain just here, in this moment of amazement, stopping somewhere short of the ultimate realization.  

Why?

For Mark, Easter isn’t a set of facts to be memorized so much as an experience to be understood.  

It’s a truth they encounter.   

It is a truth for us to encounter. 

And the point of that isn’t to make Easter more remote, but to bring it closer.  

Because Mark is saying that in life’s most bewildering moments, the risen Christ is present, just waiting to be revealed.  

When tragedy strikes, when emptiness looms, when exhaustion seeps in, when duplicity snaps the trap, the risen Christ is present, just waiting to be revealed.   

Mark is serious about the challenge of life at its hardest, reminding us not just what it looks or sounds like, but how it feels, because he is so sure that the grace of God, the power of God’s transforming love, is right with us in those moments.  

The only other time in his Gospel when uses the Greek word ekstasis, amazement, is near the beginning, when he describes how Jesus heals of a little girl who has been sick. 

Mark tells us that getting to her takes a while. The crowds keep stopping Jesus with their own needs, their own struggles. 

He’s trying to get somewhere, but there they are, pressing in, even grabbing at his clothes as he passes by.  

The Bible even says that he can feel some of the power flowing out of him.  

This slows him down, and the trip takes long enough that the girl dies before Jesus can get to her.  

He goes anyway.  

He arrives to another crowd waiting and wailing outside the house.  

He tells them to take a step back and goes right into the house of misery.

“Why do you make a tumult and weep?” Jesus asks those closest to her. “The child is not dead but sleeping.” 

I’ve always wondered if the tumult he mentions is referring more to the people outside than the parents inside.  

I’ve always pictured them as more numb than anything else.  

Lost in their grief, when Jesus arrives, the little girl’s parents probably don’t hear a word he’s saying. 

Talk to her? Fine. Sit with her? Fine.  Pray by the bed? Sure, if you want.  

For the little girl’s parents, it’s all so unreal. 

Jesus calls to the girl and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and Mark reports that: “immediately, the girl got up and walked. And immediately, they were overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:39-43). 

She’s standing there.  Restored to life.   No tomb for her today.   

Mark reports that they are “amazed” – that word he will come back to later when the women encounter the empty tomb.  

Amazed? I’m sure they were.  Switching gears from devastation to jubilation takes a minute. 

From the numbness of grief to being in the presence of a power beyond all hope.  

If you’d been there…if someone had asked you what just happened, what would you have said?  

IV.

For Mark, what the story shows so clearly is that the transforming, healing love of God in Jesus Christ is with us in the darkness, right there next to us, even in the house of misery.  

In the deepest of our losses, the love of God is making a way forward, moving toward a new beginning, a new chapter, a renewed Creation, even in the face of death itself.  

This is who God is. 

This is what God does.  

Mark’s Easter is a story about what happened to the women: what they encountered, and how they responded.  

But it’s just as much a story about what we see—what we come to know—and how we will seek to respond. 

It’s about the risen Christ who is still present, and it’s about the work and witness of the community that still gathers to seek and to do His will.

Their testimony is also ours.   

Where is the presence of a resurrected, resurrecting God at work in our lives?

Isn’t that where we most clearly see the power of a God whom even death could not contain?   

Like the women at the empty tomb, we know what it is to be bewildered with fear—to see everything happening in slow-motion…to feel a sense of powerlessness in every muscle.  

We know how it feels when instinct kicks in, and it seems unthinkable to imagine a deeper purpose at work, or a deeper truth that abides.  

But if a tomb could not contain Jesus, then neither can our hesitations and confusions.  

Our dependencies and delusions and our wounds are no match for him.

That deeper purpose is at work in us and in the world.  

And in those moments when we hear his voice, we find within ourselves the power not to give in to the powers that would diminish us.  

In him, we begin to see how things might be and find the strength to reach for it.  

Because the meaning of Easter is that, in Christ, fear has been dethroned.  

Hatred has been dethroned.

Violence and selfishness and ignorance and death have been dethroned.  

They don’t have the final word.  

God’s word is the final word, and the story of God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting.  

Wherever people look down into an empty tomb and lift their eyes in hope, a new day dawns, and Easter comes again.  

May it be so for us today, and every day.  

Alleluia.       

Sermon: Good Friday 2021

Today the entire Western Church gathers to remember the death of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we understand as the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one.  

Hard as it is to imagine, he died in a way that was entirely legal, as a convicted criminal, guilty of something like inciting rebellion against Rome, although, to be truthful, the specifics were probably not particularly important to anyone.  

His case, if you bothered to call it that, was really little more than a verdict in search of some charges, and everyone knew it. 

The Romans were willing to oblige, although as the story makes quite clear, there were any number of people, far more than just the Romans, who wanted Jesus gone.  

His message of peace and forgiveness, justice and love was more controversial than it might first appear.  

Because Jesus’ commitment to healing in body, mind and spirit, and his clear belief in the dignity of every person were transformational. 

Lived into fully, it promised to change not only individual lives, but even the course of history. 

Some understood that this was good news, but those who mostly liked the way things were did not see it that way.  

In a world not unlike our own…a world that made a point of drawing a bright line between insiders and outsiders, those worthy of notice and those unworthy of notice, the way of Jesus was a stern challenge to the status quo. 

It wasn’t just about quietly learning to live our best lives or to find transcendence in or peace with the everyday.   

His questions went further.  

The consequences of hoping in God were much greater. 

It taught people to be dissatisfied with sin, as God was.  

Like the prophets of old, Jesus taught that it was how things stood where life hurt the most that was the most faithful reflection of a society’s commitment to God.

He refused to be distracted.

As soon as his public ministry began, when Jesus looked around, he saw the sick and the grieving. 

He saw the lonely and the exhausted. 

He saw the hopeless and the hurting and those who bore the brunt of human injustice. 

These were his people.  This was his tribe.  

He was their champion.  Their Joseph. Their David.  

Then on the cross, Jesus goes the last part of the journey and becomes one of them completely. 

On the cross, now he is, himself, vilified and victimized, agonized and anguished and abandoned.  

And as he looks down from the cross, he sees as the vilified do…as they have always seen…taking in so much of the ugliness that so many know so well.  

He sees people there to enjoy another’s suffering. 

He sees those grown so hardened that committing injustice was all in a day’s work.

He sees the grief and powerlessness of a mother, watching her son die, and hears the sarcasm of an unrepentant thief who is dying beside him.

He sees the limits of the loyalty his friends have sworn, as they don’t intervene, but merely watch from a distance, saying nothing. 

He feels the slow strangulation of this particular manner of death, in which breathing gets harder and harder and shallower and shallower, until he can’t breathe at all.

He goes through all this.  

Yet to the end, Jesus loves and forgives, until the only spirit he can commend into the hands of God is his own.  

On Good Friday, the Prince of Peace becomes another sacrificial lamb. 

It shows us what it looks like when it seems as if sin triumphs yet again, and the world reverts to its own devices and desires. 

And yet, of course, the whole point is that God has never been willing to leave the world to its own devices and desires. 

God has offered relationship since the beginning…and law since Sinai…and ultimately, Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, to embody the love and healing that God has always wanted for us.   

To teach us to see.

Even on Good Friday, we can see it.  

That is part of the point.  

If we can see God’s commitment to love and heal on this day, then it is within our grasp to see it on the other days of the year—and especially among the faces Jesus would have noticed but that our world may not.  

Brokenness takes so many forms and touches so many lives.

The work of transforming our world into a place of peace, joy, and hope is ongoing, and all around us are those who want to convince us that nothing is wrong. 

Saddest of all is the possibility that they might even believe it.  

So we come to the cross, the place where the brokenness of the world and the love of God meet decisively.

It’s where what we are willing to do to God, and what God is willing to do for us are joined.  

For faithful people, coming to the cross may provoke questions instead of offering answers.  

Hope moves so slowly.  

The world says it’s foolish to believe in it, and sometimes, it feels like it is.  

But we find power in the cross.  

In remembering a God who would not abandon us, we become people who will not abandon God.  

We place our hope in resurrection.  

As Christ looks down today, may he see us taking up the work, taking up the cry, taking up his yoke, until all the brokenness in the world is taken up, and the peace and love of God descend like the dove at Jesus’ baptism, announcing the presence of the Son in whom the Creator is well pleased, and all the world shall say: 

Amen.