Adjust to the Light

John 20:1-18 I wonder how dark it was in the tomb. Not very dark, probably.  John tells us that when the first disciple arrives, he can see the linens lying there without going in.  Then Peter goes in and he can see not just the linens but also the napkin that had been on Jesus’ head.  If they can see all that, it’s probably not very dark in there. But for anyone who had followed Jesus, there was darkness nonetheless. Judas had betrayed him.  The crowd had arrested him.  The Jewish Council had condemned him.  Peter had denied him.  Pilate had washed his hands of him.  The people chose Barabbas over him.  The soldiers had tortured him.  And mocked him.  And crucified him. Mark tells us that the world went dark for three hours before Jesus was crucified (15:33).  I bet it was dark in his followers’ hearts, a dark mixture of shame and loss and hopelessness. — The darkest dark I ever saw was on a caving trip. I was in college and a part of this great outdoor club.  I saw some friends from the club on a Friday night.  “We’re going caving tomorrow!” they said.  “You should come!”  I had no experience caving, but they had plenty.  I wasn’t doing anything that Saturday.  Why not? We got up early and drove from Atlanta to somewhere in Kentucky, at one of the many entrances to Mammoth Cave.  Mammoth Cave is accurately named; it’s the longest cave in the world, but I didn’t know that at the time.  I was just along for the ride.  At noon we...

3/24/2016 Maundy Thursday Sermon

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 In the church we sometimes have the bad habit of using unusual words as though they’re perfectly usual, with the end result that we sound like some sort of insider club.  “Intinction.”  “Vestments.”  “Exegesis.”  “Eucharist.” And today there’s “Maundy.”  If you invited a friend to come to church for the first time on this Thursday night, their reaction was probably something like, “What is a ‘Maundy’”? And what is a Maundy?  If it sounds like Greek to you, you’re not far off; “maundy” has its roots in the Latin word “mandatum,” which means “commandment.”  Not coincidentally, there is a significant commandment that shows up in the Gospel lesson for today: “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Thanks to Jesus’ threefold repetition, it’s hard to miss the point:  Love one another… love one another… love one another.  This is a big part of what our “Maundy” Thursday is about, this new commandment from Jesus. “New” is a relative term; it implies a comparison, so we know there’s an “old” to go up against it.  And the old commandments come from Old Testament.  The original ten are laid out first in Exodus 20 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5.  Here’s a summary of those commands; as you read them, keep an eye out for Jesus’ new commandment. No other gods. No graven images. No taking the Lord’s name in vain. Keep the Sabbath. Honor your mom and...

3/20/2016 Sermon: Waiting Expectantly

Luke 23:50-56 On the Saturday before Easter… nothing happened. Okay, I’m over-exaggerating.  Something happened.  But in one sense, nothing happened, because the Saturday before Easter was the Sabbath.  Just in case we might not put two and two together on this point, Luke 23:56 reminds us:  “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”  And the commandment was this:  “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exod 20:8). Most Christians are aware of this second of the ten commandments, but few of us follow it as strictly as observant Jews do.  Let’s be real:  few of us Christians observe the Sabbath intentionally at all.  We might try to work a little less and rest a little more, but it’s often a low-commitment thing where if the laundry or the paperwork has piled up, hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. But there’s nothing you gotta do on the Sabbath if you’re an observant Jew.  A few years ago I read Joe Lieberman’s book on Sabbath, and I was amazed at what he doesn’t do on Saturday.  This is a former US Senator who – from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday – didn’t go to fundraisers, didn’t drive a car, didn’t work at all.  I’m far less important than a US Senator and I’ll confess to you, I too often give into the temptation to “work” on the Sabbath because it seems like something that just can’t wait. An observant Jew keeps the Sabbath holy.  In Exodus 31:14 the punishment for un-holying the Sabbath is death.  Although I’ve never met a Jew followed through on the letter...

3/16/2016 Lenten Sermon: The Truth

Rev. Mary delivered this sermon at St. William Catholic Church for their Wednesday Lenten services.  Thanks to our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ for the invitation, beautiful worship service, and lunch! John 8:31-42 I have a friend who is always speaking her mind.  Maybe you have a friend like this, too – one who is always saying out loud things that most people keep to themselves.  We went on a trip together a few years ago, and over the course of the week she said so many things that were so outrageously blunt that we gave her a nickname: “The Truth.” Today’s Scripture makes me think this ought to be Jesus’ nickname, too.  Actually, he says as much in John 14:6:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”  But here he’s talking back and forth with some Jews who believed in him, explaining some of the ramifications of his trueness. He starts off by telling them that if they continue in his word, then it follows that they will really be his disciples; and if they’re really his disciples, then they’ll know the truth; and if they really know the truth, the truth will set them free. Which of course makes me think of the X Files. You know, the TV show from the 90s that just got a revival in a six-episode mini-series.  This is the one that follows FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they investigate bizarre cases that often involve aliens or government conspiracy… or, sometimes, the government working with aliens in a conspiracy.  At the beginning of almost every episode an almost...

3/13/2016 Sermon: As Bad As It Gets

Matthew 27:45-50 A few years ago Stephen King wrote a novel called Under the Dome.  Based on the author, you can already guess that it’s a bit of a scary story.  More specifically, it’s about a small town in Maine that is suddenly trapped in a clear, impenetrable dome.  It doesn’t take long for resources become scarce and dangerous personalities to run wild.  As King tells his tale of increasing mayhem and decreasing humanity, he repeats one line over and over: This is not as bad as it gets. When the people of Chester’s Mill discover the dome – and their imprisonment – King warns:  This is not as bad as it gets. When the police chief dies and law turns to disorder:  This is not as bad as it gets. When a teenager with an undetected brain tumor starts going crazy… and turning to murder:  This is not as bad as it gets. On and on it goes, society devolving underneath this mysterious dome.  Reading the book there were many times when I hoped we were somewhere close to the turning point, the moment when the heroes would take control and bring back order to the little town.  But before I could get my hopes too high, there that line would come again: This is not as bad as it gets. — This Lent we’ve been studying the last 24 Hours of Jesus’ earthly life.  I read this Passion story each year during the course of one week – Holy Week, the seven days preceding Easter.  Reading it over the course of six weeks feels like going through...