Proper 9A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

12 score and 2 years ago our ancestors brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. “All men,” of course, referred narrowly only to people of that same gender, who were white, who had lived on American soil for at least two years, and could prove they were of good moral character. We have expanded the circle of inclusion ever since, striving for that, ever elusive, more perfect union.
Abraham Lincoln said it at Gettysburg, ‘It is for us the living to be dedicated to the unfinished work our American ancestors in each generation have so nobly advanced.’ “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 11/19/63)

We all have a stake in this freedom franchise. Whether our ancestors immigrated here in the 19th century like mine or were brought and bought here in bondage against their will, or, whether they walked here during the last ice age, we all have a role in this American experiment in democracy. This strange, COVID-afflicted, safe-distanced anniversary of our nation’s independence, when the meaning of what it is to be American is debated in our national politics, it’s worth remembering this. It is necessary to reassert this so that a new birth of freedom may also be born in our own time.

As luck would have the proper use of our God-given freedom is a question addressed in our readings appointed for today. It is, perhaps, the central question of the great bible narratives of creation, Exodus, Christ and the cross. I would like to think the American dream of human equality is rooted in the witness of scripture and the persistent council of grace in human consciousness that all people are children of God.

Human beings living under every permutation of governance ever devised or bumbled into have asked themselves what am I to do with the miracle of my life?
Chapters 5-8 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome from which today’s second lesson was taken is a majestic statement of some of Paul’s greatest themes: The love of God embodied in Jesus’ death; the hope, even during suffering, enjoyed by God’s people; Christian freedom from sin, the law and death itself; and the life-giving leading of the Spirit. Countless Christians, in times of great struggle found strength and joy in Paul’s closing words: “Neither height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) (N.T. Wright, Commentary on Romans)

Many today are misled in believing that, if you are lucky or strong or bold or beautiful and powerful enough, freedom is about living without any obligations, any commitments, any requirements whatsoever. By contrast, Paul invited the Christians in Rome and each of us, to consider the choice we face is not between obedience or freedom, but rather a decision about what we will be freely obedient and dedicated to.

So, it makes perfect sense. That’s why Jesus’ answer to the problem of the proper use of our freedom is this—an animal yoke. What? Yes. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In fact, what Jesus seems to have in mind in a double yoke like this one. (that I hope you can see now.) Stick your head in this, join with me, Jesus says, and you can’t go far wrong.

It seems counterintuitive to find rest and greater freedom in taking upon us a yoke—even the yoke of Jesus. For most of us, I’d wager, a yoke connotes bondage and servitude, a diminishment of freedom and choice. Indeed, Jesus was relentless in his criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees for making the yoke of religion too heavy. They made religion into something used merely to weigh people down with the artificial demands of righteousness.

Jesus’ yoke is different from the one religious Zealots want to lay on you. Instead, here is wisdom written deep within creation: being kind is not a chore, but a natural and gracious response to the God-given dignity in every other. In this yoke we find our own humanity. In this yoke we find purpose for our freedom. In this yoke we find the inalienable human right of all people to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Human dignity increases as we join ourselves to God’s purpose. In this way we find greater freedom and power. But Jesus’ invitation doesn’t sidestep the fact that a yoke is still a yoke. Faith requires a commitment. Faith assumes there is a load to pull, and that it must be pulled.

People are confused about the purpose of their freedom today. We have an adolescent view of happiness. The yoke of Jesus is humility and concern for the despised. The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke of servitude, or of bondage but of connection, partnership, and sharing our burdens with one another and with Christ who labors alongside us. There will be a new birth of freedom among us in our time when we realize in Christ, we are yoked to those suffering now. We are yoked, so none of can be free when one of us can’t breathe.

We remember the dying words of George Floyd and Eric Garner. “I can’t breathe.” Their deaths sparked national outrage but there were many others you didn’t hear about. Over the past decade, The New York Times found, at least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody after saying the same words — “I can’t breathe.”
The dead ranged in age from 19 to 65. The majority of them had been stopped or held over nonviolent infractions, 911 calls about suspicious behavior, or concerns about their mental health. More than half were black. (I Can’t Breath, NYT, Mike Baker, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Manny Fernandez and Michael LaForgia, June 29, 2020)

As we face these challenging times, we need wisdom, wisdom born of grace. We need individual wisdom—yes—but perhaps even more, we need our public institutions to have greater wisdom. It is time once again for a new birth of freedom. Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth but have a new beginning. Jesus’ yoke is easy. Take on the yoke of Jesus. Let him show us the way. Yoked to Christ, we can’t go far wrong. Our life’s journey is made easier when we have a companion along the way with whom we can share our worries who is stronger than we are. Let Jesus lift the crushing burdens impossible for us to lift. See, even our griefs and sorrows are transformed into something like love and understanding when we share our burdens with one another in Christ. See greater meaning and purpose for our lives is at hand. Let freedom ring.

Can we be thankful?

Proper 8A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Put ourselves in Abraham’s sandals. God said, “Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.” God said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, the one I promised you, the one you waited nearly your whole life for, the son whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’(Genesis 22:1)

What do you think would happen if any one of us were to walk a child three days into the wilderness, place them on a pile of wood, and raise a knife intending to kill them? Right. Yet here it is in Genesis 22. In fact, this shocking story about Abraham is so central to scripture it is one of twelve readings appointed for the Easter Vigil every year. You know we read only seven. Yet, I don’t remember the last time we chose this one—if ever.

As children we learned to call this the testing of Abraham—and to shift attention away from the traumatizing violence and betrayal of Isaac. I wonder, did Isaac ever trust his father the same way again? Why would he carry on in the faith? Perhaps in confirmation we learned this story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows God’s willing sacrifice of his only Son Jesus on the cross. Yet is the God we worship really capable of ordering a hit on both Isaac and Jesus? Or was it the religious leaders whose authority he questioned who wanted him dead? Wasn’t the demand to crucify him rooted in the human rejection of grace common to us all? Isn’t is we, not God, who deny Christ Jesus again and again? But then, if God didn’t demand that Jesus’ die, who told Abraham to head to Moriah with wood and a knife? (Hold that thought a minute.)

Perhaps what we have here is simply conclusive evidence we’ve changed. In the four thousand years since this story was first told we’ve grown up. We instinctively value the life of every child. We preserve, protect, and celebrate all lives equally. Human sacrifice is a thing of the past. Right? Well…except of course, for some people, born in remote parts of the world who provide cheap labor for our factories, or others whom we regard with suspicion. I wonder what George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin would say? And on this Pride Weekend, I wonder what trans men and women would have to say about how our economy, our political system, and our society continue to value the lives of the rich and powerful over those of the poor and marginalized?

Last month former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie urged the U.S. to push ahead reopening the economy despite the pandemic because “there are going to be deaths no matter what.” He compared it to the loss of lives during the two World Wars. We sacrificed those lives “knowing that many of them would not come home alive…We decided to make that sacrifice because what we were standing up for was the American way of life,” he said. “In the very same way now, we have to stand up for the American way of life.” (Chris Christy, CNN interview with Dana Bash, 5/04/20)

Later that same week, Whoopi Goldberg asked Christie when he appeared on “The View,” to name which of his own family members should die. “So, I’m asking, since you’re suggesting that I sacrifice, who are you sacrificing? Who are you going to give up in your family?”

We no longer sacrifice children and marginalized people for the sake of religious ritual, but we seem perfectly comfortable doing so for the economy, for wall street, or so we don’t have to wear a mask. The Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign remarks, “People in power are too comfortable with other people’s deaths.”
To hear the gospel in today’s Old Testament story we must first climb down from our high horse and acknowledge that human sacrifice remains an ugly part of our world too. We must stop ignoring this story in our bible. We must push past the false theology and pious window dressing that’s been erected over the years to shield us from facing into it. Like every passage in scripture, the answer begins with the question, what was the plain meaning of this story? What did it mean to those who first heard? We are so fortunate to live in a time when archeologists, philologists, and historians can help us better answer this question.

One of these scholars writes, “What we must try to see in the story of Abraham’s non-sacrifice of Isaac is that Abraham’s faith consisted, not of almost doing what he didn’t do, but of not doing what he almost did, and not doing it in fidelity to the God in whose name his contemporaries thought it should be done” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads,1996, p. 140). It is immensely helpful to know that child sacrifice was actually common in Abraham’s time and place. Our horror at thinking about ritually killing a child was no shock at all in Abraham’s world. In the text, Abraham hears the Lord, Elohim, call him to Moriah, but the voice of God, Yahweh, tells him to stop and provides the stag caught in the bush.

Abraham passed the test of faith not by listening to the voice of the false gods of sacred violence at the story’s opening, but by listening to the voice of Yahweh, “the LORD,” at the story’s close. Abraham heard the voice of the true God telling him to stop, don’t kill. And now almost two thousand years after the voice of our risen Savior forgiving us for our numerous slaughters, and our neglect of the innate dignity of all human lives are we ready to pass the test, too? Are we ready to stop the killing? What could happen in our world if four billion Christians, Jews, and Muslims who claim Abraham as their father could finally recognize what this test of faith is really all about?” (Paul J. Nuechterlein, Prince of Peace Lutheran, Portage, MI, June 26, 2011)

Abraham learned what Christ Jesus proclaims. For Abraham the unveiling of sacred violence meant the unveiling of our false gods and an end to the glorification of all violence among people. In Jesus and Christ together, the God is made known who is both deeply personal and cosmically universal, who has counted even all the hairs on your head. Whose greatest reward is reserved not for the keynote speaker, the celebrity prophet, or the charismatic star at the microphone but goes to the person who serves. It goes to the one who hears the doorbell and opens the door. It goes to the one who hangs up the coats, washes the feet, pours the cool drinks, and sets and clears the table. “The small gesture and the invisible kindness are what please God, who sees everything we do in secret… Why? Because it is in the offering of such simple, essential gifts that Jesus’s kingdom announces itself. Jesus came to bring abundant life, and that life begins with the most elemental of gestures. “Even a cup of cold water?” Yes, even that.” (Debi Thomas, Welcome the Prophet, Journey with Jesus,6/21/20) And for the truth made real in our lives and in our society that Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter because every life is precious to God.

Proper 6A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) The Greek word for “compassion,” splagchnizomai, has the connotation of having one’s entrails being stirred up. In other words, Jesus had a visceral response upon seeing the crowds and immediately, sent disciples in mission. Visceral compassion generates urgent action.
Splagchnizomai, or visceral compassion, is what has provoked so many in witnessing the murder of George Floyd. It is not yet three weeks and already there have been demonstrations in at least 1,600 places so far, large and small, across all 50 states—and more around the world. Why now, we ask? Why this time and not all the times before? What finally sparked this splagchnizomai? Why did the churn in our belly—our sadness, our empathy, our quiet tears finally set us in motion, move us into the streets, and compel us to demand change? I don’t know. But at least now we know what to call it—splagchnizomai—a Christ-like visceral compassion combined with an urgency to act.

We’ve all heard stories of people in the grips of this visceral compassion who perform heroic deeds and exhibit strength they could not believe they possessed. One of those people has a birthday coming up this week. Next Saturday, June 13th, Patrisse Cullors will be 37.
Ms. Cullors is a multi-media performance artist with undergraduate degrees in philosophy and religion from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is an activist. She is a freedom fighter. She is Black and Queer. Patrisse Cullors is one of three woman who started Black Lives Matter, back in 2013, out of their frustration following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Today Black Lives Matter is an international human rights movement which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people.

From the very beginning Black Lives Matter recognized the need to include the leadership of women and queer and trans people. “To maximize our movement muscle, and to be intentional about not replicating harmful practices that excluded so many in past movements for liberation,” they said, “we made a commitment to placing those at the margins closer to the center” (Black Lives Matter.com, “Herstory”). Yes! We might call this splagchnizomai—a Christ-like visceral compassion and urgency to act for those most in need.

Ms. Cullors was raised with three other siblings by her great-grandmother, Jenny, while her mother worked three jobs to get food on the table. Grandma Jenny was Choctaw, Blackfoot, and African American. She grew up in Oklahoma. Great-Grandma Jenny’s father was a medicine man. Cullors remembers she told lots of stories about the KKK, lots of stories of her father defending their family against the KKK, and about her eventual move to Los Angeles. Ms. Cullors reflects, “I believe if I didn’t have my great grandmother, who deeply believed in me and my siblings, I would not actually be who I am today.” (“The Spiritual Work of Black Lives Matter,” On Being with Krista Tippet, Public Radio, 2/18/16)

Cullors asks, “What is the impact of not being valued? “How do you measure the loss of what a human being does not receive?” Through Black Lives Matter, Cullors says, “You see the light that comes inside of people to other communities that are like, ‘I’m going to stand on the side of black lives.’ You see people literally transforming. And that’s a different type of work. And for me, that is a spiritual work. It’s a healing work. And human to human, if you take a moment to be with somebody, to understand the pains they’re going through, you get to transform yourself.” (On Being)

Jesus’ mission and that of his followers is to bring healing, peace, wholeness—all the elements of true Shalom. Fueled with visceral compassion Jesus sent the disciples to those who were lost and hurting. He sent them to be shepherds to people who were like sheep without a shepherd. He sent them knowing full well that they, themselves, were but simple sheep. He sent them, not as conquering heroes, but “like sheep into the midst of wolves.” He instructed them to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Their objective was not to dominate but to serve. For the sake of compassion, they wielded nothing but compassion.

This is what discipleship looks like. It means dealing with wolves by addressing them in their sheepilness. It means transforming wolves through forgiveness. Discipleship looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply provoked by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you.
Today, we are witnessing the results of centuries of unresolved racial violence in our collective body. We cannot address the pain of this without unleashing the wolves within and among us. Discipleship “means deciding, as grateful followers of a brown man who died at the hands of brutal law enforcement two thousand years ago, that we will not tolerate the demon of racism in our midst for one more generation.” (Debie Thomas, I Am Sending You, Journey with Jesus, 6/7/20)

Jesus, our Great Shepherd, creates in us a shepherd’s heart. He calls us to what we were created for. “Jesus knows the cure for our brokenness, our malaise, our boredom, our angst. He knows that when we go out into the world in his name, healing what is diseased, resurrecting what is dead, and casting out what is evil, we participate in the transformation of our own souls. What we’re hearing in these days is the very heart of God within us, deep calling to deep, the Spirit of crying out on behalf of a world desperate for justice and mercy.” (Thomas) It’s a call to action that we call splagchnizomai.

Pentecost Sunday
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Violent wind, tongues of fire, and rivers of living water—these things inspire both fascination and dread. Yet each is a reflection of God’s presence and power in scripture. With the sound of a rushing wind, the wild and mysterious Spirit of God seeks a home in us. Or, put another way, with tongues of burning fire the powerful unpredictable Spirit beacons us to return home in God. Like the prodigal son, or the lost sheep, you are treasure bought with a price.

The arrival of Pentecost startled the first disciples and stirred them to action. Pentecost rang like an alarm clock. Pentecost call us now to awaken to what Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth century Christian mystic said most simply but most radically, that we are not only made by God, we are made of God (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, 1998, p. 129).

In a language spoken by elemental powers Pentecost calls us back into relationship with the sacredness of the earth. Wind, fire, and water counsel that the earth’s well-being is essential to our own well-being. Everything and every creature are inseparable and inter-connected.

Water must flow or become stagnant. Air must move or become stale. Fire must feed or fade. All three are fluid and dynamic. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

We need the Spirit and power of Pentecost. After all, it’s been an especially terrible week for our country. So, let me begin with a story. One of the earliest fond memories I have of my dad is running beside him in an open field behind our home in Upstate New York. We were trying, and failing, to fly a kite. There was plenty of wind, but after every launch the kite spun and plunged to the ground. It refused to take to the air even with a running start. It just crashed and dragged along behind us.

Defeated, we went home for dinner. That was when I learned another lesson about cockle-burrs. They stuck all over my socks—but I digress. We tried again the next day, only this time, my dad had an idea. We found a ribbon and made a tail. Sure enough, the kite took to the air. It climbed higher and higher until it reached the end of our string.

We can take a lesson about the power of Pentecost to renew and restore us from that kite. God’s grace occurs naturally, like the wind. It’s available anywhere and everywhere. And like wind, grace beacons us come and soar. First, every kite needs a string. Without an anchor we tumble and blow aimlessly like loose sheets of paper without direction. Grace buoys us up on wings like an eagle through the cord of faith in Christ who is our connection to God. Second, every kite must have a proper tail. Without the shared wisdom of our community, the church, our tradition, and each other, we lack the necessary counterweight to keep us pointed up not down. There are other kites, other communities, other religions, but the great discovery of our faith is that Christ Jesus has revealed the face and character of the awesome God who gives life to us all.

This great discovery gave hope to restore the strength of the first disciples. They did not have to create it. They could not create it. They learned from Jesus they could ride it. As the Psalmist sings, “How manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so, you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104: 24, 30)

Did I mention it’s been a terrible week? 40 million people are unemployed. 100,000 Americans died from the coronavirus—more than in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined. And once again we have seen the unsavory reality of systematic racism captured and played back to us from the clear eye of cell phone videos. These are selfies of the American soul. We cannot deny that systemic racial animus courses through our society channeling hatred and violence in every corner of our nation, even were we might not have expected it. George Floyd didn’t expect it in Minneapolis. That’s why he moved there from Houston. He hoped for a better life for him and his family. We have reached a crisis of unemployment, pandemic, and systemic racism. All three overlap to disproportionally impact the lives of Black families and people of color.

On Monday—Memorial Day—the same day George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by policeman another cell phone video was taken in New York City’s Central Park. A Black man, Christian Cooper confronted a white woman for allowing her dog to run unleashed despite a City ordinance requiring it. She was wrong, yet immediately and almost instinctively, she knew the tables could be turned if she threatened to call the police. She knew it was her prerogative as a white person to police non-white people, not the other way around. ‘I will tell them a Black man is threatening my life,’ she said—and then she actually did it. She was willing to send him to jail rather than put a leash on her dog. Her plan back-fired. That’s the only thing about this story that is surprising. Sure, we need accountability and training for police. The proposed Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (or GAPA) ordinance is supported by Alderman Osterman and Mayor Lightfoot does just that. But if we are honest, the problem runs deeper than that. The crisis compounding the pandemic, driving unemployment, and sparking violence throughout our nation today is the systemic racism hiding in us all.

We need the power of Pentecost to stir us to action. Pentecost rings like an alarm clock. The God of grace beacons us take flight from the narrow individual perspectives that lock us in our fear to see that we are all children of God. We are all George Floyd. Let the power of Pentecost fill our hearts with the fire and passion for justice. Let the Spirit fill our eyes with tears of compassion. “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7: 37-38).

The message of Pentecost is that faithfulness begets fruitfulness. The Greek word for church is ecclesia –it means literally “the called out.” We are called out and set apart from the world to be sent out for the sake of the world. Jesus, our Lord, is in the world and all things were made through him. The Divine calls from deep within come home. Join hands. Open your heart. Together with all my creatures and all creation take flight, rise on the winds of grace and let the fires of my justice burn.

Easter 7A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men [mortals]; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men [all people].” With these words the historian Thucydides honored those who fought and died in the Peloponnesian Wars 2,400 years ago.

Today, this Memorial Day weekend marks the end of school and the beginning of summer. Count me among the guilty who too often forget what this holiday is really about. We trace the first Memorial Day to Arlington National Cemetery three years after the Civil War. Major General John A. Logan declared May 30th as a day to honor the dead. He said, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Perhaps we are accustomed to honorific slogans for those who died in war. Yet these words of Thucydides and Major General Logan are remarkable because they acknowledge the heroism of those who fought on both sides—Spartans and Athenians, Union and Confederate soldiers. For them the terrors of war became a strange witness of the kinship that unites soldiers of every nation who declare from the grave that they are one—one race, one tribe, one people, one family of God. In fact, today, Civil War soldiers from the north and south are laid side by side in Arlington National Cemetery.

The war dead speak to us of the unity for which Jesus prayed. I wonder, could any of their deaths have been prevented if our ancestors had held Jesus closer to their hearts? What future tragedies might be averted if we were to do so now?

In the last moments before his arrest, Jesus looked up to heaven and poured out his heart’s deepest desires to God. Jesus prayed that we would love one another across our differences. He prayed we would be willing to preserve and cherish our God-ordained oneness. He told us we don’t have to make this unity happen–it already just is. We just have to get out of the way, stop denying, judging, and dividing for that unity to be revealed. Jesus prayed that we might awaken to the unity we already have, entrust ourselves to it, live into it—so humanity can avoid tragedies like war.

Jesus still prays for us now. Jesus prays we be one with God and each other because that is precisely how the world will finally see, taste, touch, hear, and find Jesus now. The bible offers many metaphors for faithful union with God. Our name being just one of them, Immanuel, God is with us. St. Paul famously said we have become living parts of one body. The gospel of John said each of us are like branches grafted into and growing from a single true vine. Another biblical image is less familiar but powerfully intimate in which the unity between humanity and God is as close and mutually interdependent as the unborn infant child is to its mother.

The singular form of the Hebrew word for compassion, meaning ‘womb,’ is often used of God in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. (Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 48). To say God is compassionate is to say that God is womblike. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us and all things. As a mother loves her children and feels for them, so God loves and feels for all creation. As we soon will sing Christ has sung for us, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me. I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine” (ELW # 581).

Jesus’ prayer issued in a new heaven and a new earth which, even after two thousand years, we have barely begun to comprehend. Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic presents humankind with an opportunity to pause, step back from routines, step closer to the God of true Oneness, and gain perspective on the false gods that preside over Us-vs-Them.

Somehow, despite Jesus’ prayer, we managed to manipulate his message into one that eternally divides humanity into two— believers and unbelievers, the saved and the damned, those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. We have separated God from creation, cut off the baptized from the natural world. We’ve sliced the world into sacred and secular, body and soul, matter and consciousness, human and dead.

Instead of seeing in the Crucified Christ a gracious God who is launching a renewal of creation, we fashioned an idol for ourselves of a wrathful God who sacrifices his Son only to satisfy himself and save a few believing souls for heaven—miraculously, somehow this always includes us, our family, and our friends while excluding everyone else. Yet, while only the few remain Godly while others are ungodly, if some of God’s creatures are merely stuff to be used and not revered, then it should not surprise anyone that we are doomed to repeat endless wars and that the earth continue to die by our own hand.

The setting for Jesus’ prayer was the upper room on Maundy Thursday, and the mood in that room as Jesus spoke to God was heavy and poignant. “He has just said goodbye to his disciples, and every word, deed, and gesture he has offered them is weighted with grief. He has washed their feet, fed them bread and wine, promised them the Holy Spirit, and commanded them to love one another. He has spoken to them with both tenderness and urgency, as if time is running out. Because it is” (Debie Thomas, That They May Be One, Journey with Jesus, 5/17/20).

Yet, just like Memorial Day, many of us lose track of what Jesus’ prayer is actually about. Jesus prayed that heaven be brought down to earth, as the Lord’s other Prayer proclaims, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The great 14th century English saint, mystic, and abbes, Julian of Norwich said of God: “I am the one who makes you to love; I am the one who makes you to long; I am the one, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” Strain for this glory for even if it eludes our grasp the mere pursuit fills our hearts and illumines our lives. We live the good life by living as Jesus lived—the life for which he prayed. Life eternal and abundant, the life of the Father to the Son, the life of the Spirit of our ascended Savior, life in God, now and forever. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18). Jesus’ declaration of love and commitment was hardly reassuring to the disciples on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion. He was throwing them a lifeline before they knew they were drowning. In less than twenty-four hours they were faced with carrying on without him. They were in hiding. Some set out for home. They wouldn’t remember his promise that although he was gone, yet somehow, he would also always remain with them.

You can hear the frustration and bewilderment in Thomas’ voice just moments before when he blurts out with the words “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?!” (John 14:5) Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts once said, “Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, ‘Is life a multiple choice test, or is it a true or false test?’…Then a voice comes to me out of the dark and says, ‘We hate to tell you this but life is a thousand word essay.'”

The disciples were feeling abandoned, confused, afraid, and it wasn’t funny. Feelings of abandonment are especially intense. Memories spring to my mind quickly even after many years. I remember feeling abandoned as a preschooler waking up alone in the back seat of the family car. I remember feeling lost and panicked searching for my dad and sisters in a Kmart store. I can still instantly remember when I lost Sam for about 30 minutes at the Taste of Chicago when he was five. In the face of such intense feelings Jesus’ promise of real presence became just words shouted into the wind of their terror and fear. They did not yet realize he had thrown them a lifeline.

I will not abandon you, Jesus said. I will not leave whether in sickness or in health whatever may come. If that sounds familiar, maybe, it’s because this is the vow we make in marriage. Once, we were not related, but now we are family. God declares in baptism we are all children of God. Everyone, each person on the face of the earth is family. Love for family is worth sacrificing for. Defending the wellbeing of family is even worth dying for. God’s gift of love pulls us into loving. Receiving the lifeline of grace makes us more human.

Into our troubled hearts and heart-wrenching questions; into abandonment and loss; into despair and grief; comes the advocate, the Holy Spirit, the comforter to walk alongside us. One contemporary translator of the bible put it this way, Jesus said, “In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive” (John 14:19, Eugene Peterson, The Message, NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).

If ever there was a time when we needed to hear Jesus’ promise to be present, it would be now. Some of you feel listless. Some of you feel harried. Some of you feel cut off and alone. Some I’ve spoken to in nursing homes can’t listen in on worship today. They feel abandoned by the world as the virus closes in. Many are worried about their jobs. Take heart and take hold. Jesus has thrown us a lifeline.

Modern readers of John’s gospel are troubled by that word, “if.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (John 14:15-16). This does not mean Jesus withholds the rope while we drown until we confess our love- –rather John means to say the lifeline is there, right beside you. Take hold. Like the first disciples, we just need faith to take a breath, open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, like Jake Bland.

Jake is an essential worker. He’s a garbage man in Louisville, Kentucky. On his route, recently, he noticed that, one of his customers, an elderly single woman, hadn’t put out any trash for two weeks. Something wasn’t right. His dispatcher, Bernice Arthur, called the 91-year-old customer and was relieved that she answered the phone but heartbroken when she found out why she hadn’t taken out her trash. She didn’t have any. For more than two weeks, because her caregiver quit over pandemic fears, she had no way to get food or even leave the house. “She has no family, nobody,” she said, to which Jake replied, well, ‘You do have a family now.’ With the woman’s help he made out grocery list, filled her cupboards, and continues to check in. (Kentucky Garbage Man, Tevye, Dailykos, 5/16/20)

When you go to count your blessings and the cupboard is bare. When life is reduced to dust on an empty shelf, or hunger of an empty stomach, or pain of a broken heart, take hold. We find the way out of the prison of our despair by following the cord of God’s grace that binds us to each other.
If anyone learned to find abundance in adversity in the name of Christ, it would be Paul. Four hundred years after Socrates was summoned before the authorities to defend himself against the charge of corrupting the youth of Athens, the apostle Paul was called to stand on the same spot to explain the Christian gospel. Just like Socrates, his words could bring the penalty of death.

The stakes were very high. Before arriving in Athens, Paul had already logged a few thousand miles journeying to cities around the Mediterranean. He spoke in the marketplaces and in the synagogues (Acts 17:7) with anyone and everyone. He was an experienced public preacher, yet, some of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers who first heard him, ridiculed Paul as a “babbler” who advocated “foreign gods.”

Life may be a thousand-word essay, but Paul’s defense of Christianity needed only 280 words. According to scripture, most who heard Paul’s message scoffed at it. But others, including Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, along with some others, joined Paul and became believers (Acts 17:34). God is not far from each of us, Paul said, for “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Take hold.

Once we were not related, but now we are family. Once we were orphaned and alone but, now, we have Christ to walk alongside. The Advocate is God’s own Spirit, God’s own heart, living within us. ‘You in me, and I in you,’ Jesus said. Take hold of grace as one who is drowning clutches a lifeline. More than salvation, here we find strength and courage to face adversity. “This is our movement, our rhythm, our dance. Over and over again. This is where we begin and end and begin again…The love we are commanded to share is the love we are endlessly given.” (Debie Thomas, Love and Obedience, Journey with Jesus, 05/10/20)
Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Jesus said, “I AM the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7). “I AM the good shepherd” (John 10:11). These are not throwaway lines in the gospel of John. They are like an open door. We are meant to step to the threshold and walk into newness of life with God. Seven times Jesus uses the phrase ego eimi, “I AM.” He connects his identity with the great I AM—Yahweh—whom Moses encountered in the burning bush. Moses took off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. It was the beginning of a great adventure.

I AM the gate, Jesus said. Step up and walk through. I AM the Good Shepherd. I lead you to a new land. You might think Jesus mixed his metaphors. How can he be both a gate and a shepherd? It helps to understand an ancient sheepfold was like a pen without a gate. Once the sheep were safely inside the shepherd laid down in the opening. His body literally became the gate to the enclosure to protect the sheep from harm. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus said (v. 11b).

What’s more, sheep belonging to different shepherds could be mixed together in one sheepfold. You’d think that would create a problem when it came time to leave. Yet upon hearing the voice of their shepherd, the sheep sorted themselves out and followed, because they had trust in the care and compassion of their particular shepherd.

In life many things can bring us to the threshold between old and new. Whether by tragedy, or by accident, or by choice, there are times we all find ourselves betwixt and between, confused, disillusioned, or uncertain. It’s no surprise we don’t particularly enjoy this in-between space. Yet, truth be told, this is among those times when we are most open to learning, most humble, most hungry for grace, most open to searching and looking behind an open door.
Moses turned to look and see the burning bush he had only just glimpsed from the corner of his eye. He was ready for change. If there is a silver lining to these pandemic days it is that we are all standing on a threshold. Once again Jesus is an open gate. May grace abound.

Clinical therapy, twelve-step groups, and everyday spiritual practices like praying, meditating, singing, walking, reading and retreats are aimed at getting people into this in-between space and keeping them there long enough to learn something essential and new. St. Francis, Julian of Norwich (whose feast day is this Friday), Dorothy Day, and Mohandas Gandhi tried to live their entire lives on this threshold, on the edge, or periphery of the dominant culture. “This in-between place is free of illusions and false payoffs. It invites us to discover and live from broader perspectives and with much deeper seeing.” (Richard Rohr, “Between Two Worlds,” Daily Meditations, 4/26/20)

American author and poet Wendell Berry (born 1934) affirms this wisdom in a poem he entitled, “The Real Work.” He writes,

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

As these weeks and days of staying at home string out and blur together, we may be tempted to close our borders and lock our gates—let false shepherds and thieves come offering versions of security that have nothing to do with the abundant life of Jesus.

Media marketers know how keenly we seek fulfillment and purpose and how much we’re willing to sacrifice to acquire it. High-concept advertising campaigns promise to sell you what today’s gospel offers for free. How often will we play out the same fairy tale to discover we’ve traded treasure for magic beans? We paid good money to acquire the abundant life and all we got was pair of sneakers, coffee in a paper cup, or a phone that’s out of date the day we bought it?
Jesus said, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. Standing on the threshold between our pre-covid and post-covid life, we realize again our old ways have brought us further and further into death. Essential workers keep the wheels of commerce turning while exposing themselves and their families to the virus without access to healthcare which, in turn, effects families staying at home. The poor are poorer. The rich are richer. The oceans rise. The planet warms. Entire species disappear. Are we tired of being cheated yet?

Jesus has opened the gate. ‘Look not through human eyes but through God’s eyes’ (Kahlil Gibran). Look through your shepherd’s eyes. Venture out by way of the Jesus gate to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. “For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Jesus the gate opens to abundant life. “Abundant living is a matter of walking through the right doors.” Standing on the threshold between what was and an unknown future is a time filled with grace, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. Yet this feeling of vulnerability and openness is what allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words.

Abundant life passes through the grace of God. Jesus is the gate that protects me. He is the door that opens beside still waters. Jesus the good shepherd unlocks my heart and frees my captive mind. He leads me into green pastures. He restores my soul. Let not your hearts be troubled. Set your sight on Jesus. Turn your eyes aside to see as Moses did. Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground. Let this be the beginning. Jesus the gate stands open. Jesus the Good Shepherd is ready to go.

Easter 3A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

I have to say the Road to Emmaus is one of my favorite bible stories. It happens on Easter Sunday. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!) The women discovered the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. They ran to tell everything. Angels dressed in dazzling clothes told them Jesus is risen. ‘But these words had seemed to the disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe.’ (Luke 24:11)
“On the very day we pack our churches, flower our crosses, and sing our “Alleluias,” the road to Emmaus stretches out ahead of us, offering defeat, disillusionment, and misrecognition. Which is to say, sometimes resurrection takes longer than three days. Sometimes new life comes in fits and starts. Sometimes, seeing and recognizing the risen Christ is hard.” (Debi Thomas, But We Had Hoped, Journey with Jesus, 4/19/20).

This is a recurring theme in scripture and in life: what we think we know blinds us from seeing what we come to know later with the benefit of hindsight. “The crucifixion of Jesus was … the complete and final devastation of their hope.” They all knew what the book of Deuteronomy said. A crucified person is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So, for them, Christ on a cross, had a perfectly clear theological and political meaning: It meant that the exile was still continuing, that God had not forgiven Israel’s sins, and that pagans were still ruling the world.” (NT Wright)
And so, on Easter, the disciples headed home. They gave up. Their dreams ended in violence and shame. They are shuffling from Jerusalem to Emmaus in grief and despair—when Jesus came walking beside them!

That first Easter on the Emmaus road seems a little like our Easter this year. We too are in exile from everything we thought was normal. We have experienced so many losses –baseball games, live theater, restaurants, biking on the lakefront—so many things we love about living in Chicago. We’ve lost our schools, our place of worship, time with friends and family. Many have lost income, jobs, or relationships. Tragically, thousands of families across America have lost a loved one to the virus.

On New Year’s Eve, I remember feeling hopeful about a new decade for 2020. Like Cleopas and the other disciple, I had hoped this would be a better year. I had no idea what we would all be experiencing today. The disciple’s great discovery opens out of our COVID-inspired gloom. They felt their hearts burn while Jesus walked with them recounting scripture. Their eyes were opened as he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, the disciples knew Christ was alive and that he had been with them all day long.

Then they did the most amazing thing. They turned around. Although the sun had set, they turned from their terror, their tears, their grief, their suffering, their fear of death, the soreness in their feet and in their hearts; their need for rest and their fear of the open road at night. The resurrection shattered the illusion of what they thought they knew and opened their minds to new way of understanding what life is, with new goals and direction. Because Christ is alive and lives in us, we can turn too.

Even in these bewildering days we draw strength knowing there is no place outside the circle of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the living sanctuary of hope and grace in which we dwell even while we must remain apart. This fundamental truth gives inspiration to our mission at Immanuel. Dwelling in the shelter of God, our fears can turn to hope, our anxieties can become compassion, our suffering can become seed sewn in us bearing wisdom. As Peter proclaimed in the Book of Acts, ‘this promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him’ (Acts 2:39).
So, what are we to do? We for whom Easter takes longer than three days? We for whom the meaning of Easter is still unfolding? Let’s not just wait for everything to go back to normal. Let’s turn toward a new normal. As the disciples set out for Jerusalem, they sped along the unseeable road into an unknowable story they would continue to travel for the rest of their lives. They did do so with joy because now they could see Christ with them at table in all their meals, Christ with them in every person they encountered, Christ with them in the privacy of their innermost thoughts, Christ before them to shine a light upon their path. Because Christ is in, with, and under everything, they let go of what they thought they knew and focused on the next right step, and then the next one and the next one.

That’s right, I commend to you the wisdom of Pabbie the Troll King, a character in Disney’s latest blockbuster. We’ve been watching a whole lot of movies at our place during the lock down. This week, Leah and I finally sat down for Frozen 2. King Pabbie’s advice to Princess Anna is theme running throughout the movie. He wisely says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

“O God, you call your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown” (Evening Prayer, ELW, p. 317) In other words, we just do the next right thing, guided by Christ to love one another a little better, to connect and help shoulder each another’s pain, to learn from these days and not forget the disparities we see, the heroism we see in the helpers and essential workers, the need we have for real human connection in this social media flooded world. Let’s remember what fresh air smells and looks like so we can hand it down to our children. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so we may entertain angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2).

Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!) Brothers and sisters, it’s time to walk, step out on the Emmaus road. The path from self-important ignorance to humble wisdom is a quiet and gentle process of transformation that begins on the road with Jesus, in the midst of our life’s journey. God is with us –God is with you.

On the Emmaus road, we learn how much we didn’t know about God. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have let Jesus walk right on by without acknowledging him, or how often you pretended you didn’t know him. Jesus is ready to walk with you now. Let your heavy heart be filled with Easter Joy and your cup filled to overflowing.

Easter Sunday A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

That first Easter, the women went before dawn prompted by grief, and returned from the tomb quickly, propelled by fear and great joy with good news for the disciples. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen, indeed.)

Let all things living rejoice. In our gospel all things living includes everything that there is. The line between animate and inanimate is broken. Stars swoon at Jesus’ birth, rocks split at his crucifixion, and earthquakes and angels announce Jesus’ resurrection. Matthew signals Christ’s death and resurrection makes a difference to the natural world, to history, and the whole cosmos.

The earth is alive and proclaims God’s glory. While we have been closed in Springtime is going full tilt. The dead and frozen earth is giving way to new life. Lovely yellow Daffodils now decorate the lawn in front of church. (You’ll have to take my word on that. We posted pictures on Facebook.) Trees and shrubs have started to bud. Am I imagining it—or is the sky noticeably brighter and bluer? Staying at home is giving the air a chance to breathe. It’s one small hopeful sign of a future without internal combustion engines.

Our ancestors have proclaimed the cross and resurrection are the pivot point upon which all history turns, the fulcrum by which God leverages our destiny, the epiphany in which God’s loving character is revealed, and the light which illumines our path into the fullness of life. But resurrection doesn’t come easily for most of us. Our death is transformed in Christ, not avoided. The way of Christ is death and resurrection, loss and renewal. If we are being honest, this comes as a disappointment to most of us, because we want one without the other, transformation without cost or surrender, blue skies without economic sacrifice. We shout hosanna on Palm Sunday and alleluia at Easter while each day, the planet dies a little more by our hands. Violence tears gaping holes in the fabric of our community. Brazenly unrepentant human greed still wants more despite having taken the profits of the last 40 years for itself. Easter dawn breaks again this year in a Good Friday world with its message of hope.

Into your hands, your body, your spirit Christ sows good seed meant for the salvation of the whole world. Let the natural world teach you about the power of death and resurrection and about kind of life we are given in baptism. “Very truly,” Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

The early twentieth century Catholic artist and writer Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) wrote that as “Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life…the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls.” It was the death of death.
“The core of the mystery is transformation. Not a magical replacement of the old with something new, but an innovating change from deep within, of that which is rising toward fulfillment and completion. Suffering and death is somehow integral to the process.” This Holy Week—in song, word, ancient rites, and prayer—we have entered into the mystery that lays at the heart of the universe. The new rises through the old. Our sins, our mistakes, our frail bodies, our histories, events, relationships, tragedies, senses, memories, intellects, and imaginations are brought to fulfillment when they are buried in grace. (Suzanne Guthrie, At the Edge of the Enclosure)

As the angel said to the two Mary’s at the tomb, “Do not be afraid.” Have you ever noticed how often Good News in the bible is preceded by the little sentence: “Don’t be afraid?” “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.” “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” “Don’t be afraid, shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.” “Don’t be afraid, Joseph, to take Mary as your wife. Her baby is from the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus; he’s going to save all people from their sins.” “Don’t be afraid,” the angels say before they deliver the good news, you are a child of God.
Resurrection pointed the first Christians to a new vision of nature and its possibilities. Death and resurrection lead us to embrace a larger vision of God’s work in the world. Resurrection is not a violation of the cause and effect laws of nature, but a revelation of the deeper realities of life. (Bruce Epperly)
Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.) So, what now are we to do about it? The poet Mary Oliver instructs us on living life this way: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it. The poet Wendell Berry famously advised, “So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
[humankind] has not encountered he has not destroyed.” (Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front)

We are called to practice resurrection. Practice resurrection so all things living—all thing—rejoice. Practice resurrection with new ears and eyes. Practice resurrection and give thanks to God. For today we are called to be resurrection partners, to roll away the stone, and to open new pathways for the thriving of all creation. We are called to be God’s celebratory companions—to rejoice in birth and rebirth and say “yes” to life in all its mystery and beauty. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.)

Palm Sunday A-20
Immanuel, Chicago

I’ve had this old cross more than twenty years now. It has cracks, saw marks, dents, and worm holes. It is so time-worn and irregular it appears it was fashioned by nature rather than by human hands. Every angle tells a story.

It’s just two pieces of wood—three if you count the base—notched together and nailed into place. It is surprisingly sturdy, heavy, and solid. This old cross speaks to me of former lives lived—of poverty, of hardship—of lives made strong by faith and made beautiful by grace.

As I child I saw the cross in my church as a reminder only of Jesus’ suffering and my guilt. The cross of Christ said, look what you did to me! Look at the pain you inflicted, the violence you harbor in your heart, the energy and ingenuity you invest in hating your enemies and in rejecting the love of God.

The cross speaks all these truths of course. Yet it became the central Christian logo and sign of the good news because it also stands for more than judgment for sin. The cross is the tree of life with leaves meant for the healing of the nations. The cross is a door. Knock and it will be opened to you. It is the gate of the good shepherd that swings wide to lead out into green pasture. It is the gate of the sheepfold that closes to give shelter from thieves and bandits. The cross is a trail marker on the way. It is a compass that points to truth and the life.

The cross was what people remembered. The cross is the root from which all four gospels sprang. The end is the beginning. Everything told about Jesus before the passion grew from the scandal, mystery, and glory of the cross.

Perhaps this pandemic brings us a little closer to uncovering its mystery and meaning. These strange chaotic, overwhelming, lonely, and difficult days might open our fisted minds to the gospel. Afterall, the cross reveals that pain and suffering are among life’s most profound teachers. Powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom. This life is not about you, but you are about life.

St. Paul quotes an early Christian hymn and creedal statement in his letter to the church in Philippi. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus emptied himself in riding into Jerusalem on a humble colt as people shouted hosanna! He is going to die. Joyous happy people surround him including his disciples who do not yet understand what he’s doing. I confess I have lived through many an Easter this way. I take solace knowing that Jesus went to the cross for them anyway. He goes there for me. Jesus went to the cross for all those happy, clueless, soon to be fair-weather-friends. He did it for those who betrayed him. He did it for those who despised and hated him. He did it for the whole God-hating world. He did it to show us all the way to eternal life that leads through death.
This Thursday is the feast day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed in a Nazi prison camp just days before it was liberated by Allied forces. Bonhoeffer reflects on the meaning of the cross this way. “Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman… To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world… It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, and that is what makes a human and a Christian. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison)

Walking the way of the cross will make us more human. Wouldn’t that be a great result of this paschal season? This holy week, I encourage you to take out your cross. Do you have one on the wall, standing on a shelf somewhere, or hanging around your neck? Perhaps there is an image of the cross that speaks to you from the internet? I’m particularly drawn to those photos of the cross taken by Ansel Adams, or paintings of the cross by Georgia O’keefe. As we Stay-at-Home to save lives remember God is with you and we are joined together in spirit. We are gathered to Christ at the cross. No matter the burden, no matter the hardship we, like this old rugged cross, are made strong again by faith, and made beautiful by grace. Let the people shout Hosanna! Our help is near. Amen.