Morning Prayer – Easter Sunday

Redeeming and resurrecting God –

This is a day that simply does not compute.

                A God so big, death’s sting is but a memory.

                                A grace so profound it reaches deep into the darkest crevices of every soul –

                                                Working its way to wholeness.

                A story so wild what else can we do, but extend our hearts in hope for our own resurrection?

But God – though today we gather to reclaim our “Alleluias” and proclaim your resurrection, when we leave this space, maybe even as we sit in these seats, we wonder – alongside those first witnesses –

                                How Can This Be?

For we know death’s sting –

                In our own pain, in our neighbors’ suffering, in the grief of hollow bodies.

                We know the power of death in our living as we look near and far and see

                                Famine

                                Slavery

                                Oppression

                                Violence

                                Abuse

                                                We see how we are entombed in our own living graves.

We know our need for grace – for second, third, fourth, seventh, seventy-seventh new chances. We are too often our own barriers to knowing – believing – realizing the grip of your grace.

May we – with your voice, your Spirit, your hands – offer a resounding NO to the powers of Imagedeath in our world.  May we move from hollowness to wholeness. May our lives be a continued practice of resurrection.

May we do things that simply do not compute.

We know faces of the crucifixion – we hear the news, we are tempted toward hatred, fear, prejudice, discrimination, despair.

Help us practice resurrection – may we live in the presence of Easter with every fiber of our being.  Help us practice the things that bring your power of resurrection and reconciliation ever clearer and deeper through loving our enemies – hatemongers, terrorists, opposing political parties, our own inner demons.  May we pray for them that we might realize our unity in your name.

May we not repay evil for evil, choosing instead the way – your way – of life, light, and love.

As we proclaim this day that “Love’s redeeming work is done,” guide us to be every day reminders that death – in all its forms – does not have the final word.  Move in us to live as citizens of your Kingdom, heralding your resurrection power.

We pray all this together, with the Risen Christ, who taught us to pray… Our Father…

Prayer for Maundy Thursday

God, on this night when you – in Jesus – ate and drank with you friends, when you cartwheeled over our notions of power by serving, washing others’ feet – be among us now.

Meet us in this place, in our own acts of service and remembrance.

Meet us in the Bread. As we tear apart the loaf, feel the crumbs fall from our fingers, and taste the wheat cared for by the earth, the sun, the rain, may we be mindful of theMaundy-Thursday-20131 meal shared so many years ago.

Meet us in the Cup. As we saturate our bread in the richness of our juice, may we be mindful of the mystery of your grace, which immerses us to the depths of our being.

Meet us in this meal as we taste and see that you are good.

Meet us in the Hands that serve.  In our taking, breaking, blessing and giving of these things to one another, show forth your Spirit ever-clearer this night.

Meet us in the basin as it holds water. May it remind us of the way you hold us, and the power you give to start anew.

Meet us in the towel – in the simple swathe of cloth by which you put aside your divine power, and humbled yourself to serve us. You take care to cleanse us even unto places we didn’t know needed washing.

Maundy-Thursday-Washing-FeetMeet us in the water. As you demonstrated to your disciples, wash away our notions of greatness and power. Claim us in the vulnerability of the water.

Meet us in the feet of our neighbors – in our touch may we honor the miles they have walked, their leaping for joy, and their kneeling in sorrow.  May we bless the weight their ankles, calves, toes support, the weight of worry, and hope.  May we wash off the dirt and skin, and in being made clean, may we feel anew the waters of your grace.

Meet us in the hands, feet, mouths, and bodies of one another.  As you, in Jesus, walked this earth, ate with us, drank with us, served alongside us, may we meet you in the bodies of one another.

We pray all this together, in the name of Christ who taught us to pray.

Amen.

Morning Prayer, Palm Sunday

What a strange thin space to be in, O God, this space between our cries of “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!”. This day, of all days, reminds us that both joy and sorrow are ours.

Joy is ours, O God, in the newness of Spring. We welcome with gladness longer days and Imagewe hold onto hope for warmer temperatures. Joy is ours in the squeals of delight from children discovering your world anew.

Sorrow is ours, O God, as we recognize how we have failed to care for your world. We see death and destruction and fear for the well-being of farmland and disappointing harvest.

Joy is ours, O God, in the relationships we have that bring us light and life. We celebrate finding community and care in our families, and in friends who are like family.

Sorrow is ours, O God, as many of us are haunted by persistent grief. Sometimes the absence of those we love is so profound it is deafening. The ache for memories and moments pierces us to our core.

Joy is ours, O God, as we celebrate successes both large and small. We know that every good and perfect gift is from you, and we rejoice in all the goodness you give.

Sorrow is ours, O God, as we know intimately and clearly the pain of disappointment and doubt. When we are unsure of our futures, our security, or even our own self-worth, we feel this as deep sadness.

Joy is ours, O God, in the cries of Hosanna and the adoration of the Palms. In calling you our king, and in hopefulness for eternal reconciliation in you, we offer up our deep joy.

Sorrow is ours, O God, as we look among the angry crowds, and find ourselves doubting, shouting, denying, fleeing.  We offer up our deep sorrow in our own brokenness and denial.

Joy is ours, O God, as we know you continue to walk with us, lead us, care for us, re-create us.

As we look to the end of this week, with fear and trembling, we hear the words of the hymn, and know that in these days both sorrow and love will mingle down in ways we know and in ways beyond our comprehension.

We give our joys and our sorrows to you this day. We trust that you rejoice with us and you grieve with us. Because you loved us enough to dwell among us, you are present in all the joy, sorrow, and mundane moments in between. You know us and love us in the best and worst of our humanity.

We pray all this in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.

What is truth? – Sermon, March 17, 2013

“What is Truth?”
John 18.28-38
FBC Lawrence – Lent V

We’re getting closer aren’t we?  We are inching closer to the cross, and today’s story almost gets us there – in fact, the cross permeates the story.  We can’t tell today’s story – or fully answer the question posed today – and ignore the cross.  You know the children’s book, featuring Grover, There’s a Monster at the End of this Book? Well it’s a little like that: there’s a cross at the end of this story.  And there’s a resurrection at the end of that story.

But first…

A few verses above where I began reading a moment ago, Jesus is first interrogated by the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas.  After Jesus fails to answer them to their satisfaction, their anger magnifies and they are clearly done with him. They move to turn him over to the political authorities, escorting him to Pilate.

Pilate greets them outside. His question to the priests, “What accusation do you bring against him?,” doesn’t receive much of an answer at all. Pilate then tries to send Jesus back, clearly annoyed with these priests. He knows this is not a political matter, and attempts to recuse himself. However, the high priests will not be deterred. They know what they want; they want to see Jesus put to death. However, according to religious law, they cannot kill him. To keep their hands clean of his blood, their best bet is to provoke his execution at the hands of political authorities. And they are doing all they can to leave him to a certain fate under Pontius Pilate’s Roman authority.

After they abandon Jesus to Pilate, Pilate calls Jesus inside and proceeds with his questioning.  Pilate and Jesus then enter into a delicate dance. Pilate tries to give Jesus plenty of opportunity to evade the political consequences. Though Jesus seems not to answer directly he also will not lie. When Pilate asks: “What have you done?,” Jesus responds with an answer that seems somewhat out of place: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

A-ha!

Pilate thinks he may have caught him here. This may be where the questioning will end. To challenge Roman political authority, to claim anyone else is king besides Caesar, let alone to claim kingship for one’s own self? Well, this is a clear expression of treason, and a threat to the prevailing political reality. Surely, then, Jesus claiming a kingdom for himself would be enough. Yet, Jesus refuses to accept any of the institutional labels defined by Caesar. In the crux of their conversation, Jesus defines the sum of his purpose: “I have come to bear witness to the truth.”

To which Pilate responds, “What is truth?”

Was Pilate interested in a thorough exploration of rational understandings of truth and knowledge?

“What is truth?”

Does Pilate intend this as a rhetorical question? Is this an expression of exasperation at the whole situation? Or does he actually expect an answer? (He certainly doesn’t wait for one, if that’s the case.)

Does he ask, “What is truth?” as a way of dismissing Jesus and this entire interaction? It is clear that for Pilate, this whole exercise seemed a grand waste of time – from his first question through what comes later.

“What is truth?”

How do we begin to answer this question? In preparation for this sermon, I consulted an expert. Our very own Philosopher-in-Residence, Brandon Gillette, attempted to shed some light on the question for me.

Brandon expertly identified and explained several theories of truth (and for that I am grateful). Some involve propositions, states of affairs, where truth is defined by fulfilling, quantifiably, concrete criteria.  We can delineate between truth being made up of distinguishable facts – something is true if it is correct – and a truth that is known to us in other, more subjective ways.  You know, maybe Jesus needed Brandon standing next to him to help entertain Pilate’s question.  But I am not so sure that any of that is what Pilate was after in posing the question.

“What is truth?”

It’s not insignificant that John’s Gospel highlights the idea of truth in this exchange between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate, who represents the civil and political authority, at whose hands Jesus ultimately suffers torture and death, challenges Jesus’ own articulation of his identity.  When pressed, Jesus expresses his purpose as testifying to the truth – to bear witness to the truth. Pilate’s response is one of ignorance – perhaps even willful ignorance – and outright dismissal. Even if his question were a serious one, even if he had stood there, hoping, waiting for Jesus’ answer, chances are it would not have been an answer Pilate would have accepted.

In the context of John’s Gospel, we don’t need to wait for Jesus’ answer either.  We don’t need definitions and proofs and theories to respond to Pilate’s question. The answer has been standing in front of Pilate all along. It is as though, through his version of the dialogue, John is winking at us. We already understand something Pilate could not grasp through his institutional inquiry. Throughout his Gospel, John aligns Jesus – as person, and as divinity – with deep and eternal understandings of truth. For John, the truth is wrapped up in the person of Jesus, and his life, his ministry, even his death and resurrection (to which this story points) offers us an embodied articulation of the truth. Truth is Jesus.

What does it mean for truth to be a person? For divine truth to be embodied in fully human frame?

This is a theme pervasive throughout John’s account of Jesus’s life. In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus declares, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” ImageWhat is this truth, though, and how will we know it?

Later, when Jesus claims, in the fourteenth chapter of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he is answering this question by making a wholly countercultural claim.  Truth is not discovered in a rational system, or calculation.  Rather, truth is wrapped up in a person – in this person, in the Christ, and it is found in The Way.

Truth is not found in facts and figures, but in the call of Jesus to come and follow and live as he lives.

The words of the verse from chapter eight are etched in bold letters across the Main Building – the Tower – on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Presumably, these words were chosen as a testament to the centrality of knowledge, learning, information, education.  (And you know I am not one to ever begrudge these things.) But this is not at all what Jesus means. In the Greek, the word used for ‘know’ when Jesus says we “will know the truth,” indicates not knowledge or objective observation, but rather understanding, the kind that relies on every mode of our comprehension – seeing, hearing, investigation and experience: “Those who know [in this way] participate in the eternal.”[1] Therefore, Jesus isn’t saying you will know the kind of truth that is quantifiable or scientifically verifiable.  Rather, we will know this truth to the very core of our being – with all that we are.  We will know the truth, because we see who Jesus is, we see how he calls us to live, we see his Way. And it is in knowing truth in this way, that we are set free.

We return, still, to the question, “What is truth?” and we want rationality, we want certainty, we want information.  The reality is, though, that any truth that is wrapped up in Jesus is not a system. It’s not a definition. It is not even, at first – or maybe even at all – rational. Theologian Andrew Purves says this: “the truth of Christian faith…is not located in a…title – in “Christ”… The truth for Christian faith is located in the personal particularity of Jesus, who in the flesh of his humanity is both Christ and God.”[2]

In John’s nativity story, he writes that Jesus is the Word. He is eternal, and he came into the world to dwell among us full of grace and truth. What is this truth? For John it is about light breaking through the darkness. Though darkness threaten our world, though it encroaches, the light and hope of Christ will break through and shine even in the darkest places – it is already doing so.

We have been tracing this light since Advent.  We lit candles, one each week, waiting for the Christ light of Christmas Day. We watched for and followed alongside the magi the Epiphany star. We continue to light the Christ Candle, acknowledging that even in the quiet darkness of Lent, in the dimness of our waiting, his light shines still. Yet the truth pervasive in John’s Gospel is this truth: the light of Christ opens up a way for us to experience grace even in the midst of our continued imperfection.  Even in our own darkness, Christ’s truth is a light that shines brighter.

Pilate’s question persists: “What is truth?”

John tells us all we need to know: Jesus himself is the Truth. We do not know truth because we memorize a system; we know truth because we live it.

We do not know truth because we understand and articulate theories; we know truth because we have seen it embodied in Jesus.  God created us for and pursues us to be in relationship; we know the truth through relationship with God in Christ, and with one another. We cannot separate our seeking theological and spiritual truth apart from relationship. God’s own truth is wrapped up in Jesus, and we know it because we can and do encounter the living Christ – through him.

The living Christ came to challenge our assumptions in his life and teaching

To say that truth is found in a person is at once thoroughly unsettling, countercultural, and irrational. And look at the person we call truth: What kind of truth refuses to defend itself in the face of political adversity? Jesus, though, refuses to abide by Pilate’s definitions.

My Kingdom is not of this world.

Pilate’s kingdom holds that power oppresses, power controls, and power restrains. But Jesus’ way calls us to know a different truth: that “the most powerful person in all creation became powerless for our sake.”[3] His power was revealed in his vulnerability. He set us free from our old ways and calls us to live not for our own sake. In his death and resurrection he turned upside down our ideas about power and success.

Jesus tells us he is the truth and the way, and his way points to an eternal truth not about equations or rationalities.  It is the grace revealed in his final words: “Father Forgive,” and “It is Finished,” not in final blows of retribution or declarations of warfare and violence. It is the irrationality of the cross, and of the power found through Christ’s sacrifice of his power. Jesus turns on its head our expectation that our truth, power, and knowledge will fully satisfy our longings, pointing rather to a deeper truth: a truth found in a person, which can only be known by walking in his footsteps, by following his way.

God’s own truth is a wholly irrational truth. In the cross we witness divine grace that is demonstrated through sacrifice – in laying down his own life, his own pride, his own selfish will to survive, Jesus taught us a new way. In his ministry we see the truth of self-emptying love expressed through faithfulness and peace. These are certainly not rational things, but they are true things. I appreciate these words from Dylan Breuer on the countercultural irrationality of Christ’s truth, found ultimately in his death and resurrection. She writes, “there is peace and forgiveness, [in] the wounds that declared an end to anyone’s right to wound, the death that declared an end to anyone’s need to kill, the strength and courage and compassion to be naked before the powers of this world and to see in that the power of our suffering, dying and living to God.”[4]

And here too is God’s own truth – that the eternal God, the God who created the world – loves us enough to dwell among us, to walk alongside us, to suffer with us, even into death. But God’s truth doesn’t end there. God’s truth is the eternal truth that comes alive in resurrection, that creates and creates again, each of us, every day. God calls us Beloved, and we are resurrected alongside Christ, called to new life.  This is the truth of John 1, the light that outshines our darkness, and the truth that pervades through the Gospel, of life that continues to defeat death.

And here too is God’s own truth – that our salvation is wrapped up in this embodied truth – in the truth of the Incarnation. We call that truth by name – Jesus, who is our Christ –and to say that we are saved through that truth, means that we ought to know what we are called to do: to love God, love others, believe in God, care for the poor and hungry, be wary of riches.  When we eat and drink together, around the meal Jesus first celebrated out of the Passover tradition, we share in the embodied reality of this truth.

And here too is God’s own truth – Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free.  We are created anew. The grace of God, in Christ, makes all things new – makes us new, makes our definitions, ideas, our way new with each new day. In that we are set free. “We are free. Free to love, free to serve, freed from every system and every habit that made us. … We are free to claim the vision of a world made new, the immeasurable wideness of God’s mercy.”[5] If Jesus is truth embodied – in God made flesh – then he not only embodies truth about who God is and the way God intends, but he further embodies the truth about who we are as human beings, created in the image of God. As the fully authentic human being, Jesus is the truth about who God created us to be.

And here too is God’s own truth – Jesus tells us all we need to know about his Way: we are called to love God and to love others.  That’s it.  That’s the whole of the Gospel; that’s the essence of Christ’s way. We know that because that is how Jesus lived. Rachel Held Evans writes, “when God strapped on sandals and walked among us, God fed the hungry, wept with the mourning, touched the untouchable, turned water into wine, … defended the defenseless, bantered with children, forgave his enemies.”[6]

And here, too, is God’s own truth of the resurrection (if you will permit me to skip ahead): that Jesus continues to walk this way with us. We have not been left with a set of instructions left to our own devices to decode. The living Christ, through the Spirit, walks the way with us, and continues to teach and show us the way, as we continue to pursue truth through relationship with him.

And here too is God’s own truth – Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. That Kingdom is already dwelling in us, among us, both because of us and in spite of us. What would it take to take this on as our mantra? What would it take to claim it for ourselves – not just to say Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, but OUR Kingdom – yours and mine – is not of this world? This kingdom is powerful stuff – it relies not on any political party, or leader, or majority rule. It is a kingdom of love, grace, and inclusion, and that, my friends is real power.  That is God’s own truth.

Amen.


[1] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985. 119.

[2] Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord, IVP Books, 2010. 27.

[3] Sarah Dylan Breuer, “Christ our Passover,” http://www.sarahlaughed.net/sermons/2004/04/christ_our_pass.html, April 9, 2004.

[4] Sarah Dylan Breuer, Good Friday, Year B, http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2006/04/good_friday_yea.html, April 13, 2006.

[5] Sarah Dylan Breuer, 2004.

[6] Rachel Held Evans, “Ashamed,” rachelheldevans.com/blog/ashamed, March 7, 2013.

Morning Prayer, March 3, 2013

God of hospitality, you have set a feast before us. You have invited all the world to join you at your table.Image

In these Lenten days of preparation, when both springtime and Resurrection feel more like far off dreams than imminent reality, help us receive your provision.

Already this year we have been caught off guard by the distractions and inconveniences of this world. Of the latest newsworthy controversy and of political bickering that prevents us from seeing the world through your eyes – through bigger eyes.  We have been inconvenienced by weather, snowbound and frustrated perhaps by our agendas that have taken a pause. May we find the words of gratitude on behalf of the thirsty ground, and may we find rest and restoration even in the most inconvenient of pauses.

Already this year we have worried and wondered and questioned in the face of pain, suffering, sickness, even death.  It feels like too much for us to bear the weight of it all. The year has barely begun and already our resources seem worn too thin.  Give us the strength and the courage to rise and rise again to face each new day. May we meet your peace in the midst of grief, and steadfastness in the midst of gratitude.

We don’t have to look far to see the weariness that saturates this world. We hear and see the ravages and spoils of war. We lose our trust in leaders who fail to lead with compassion, humanity and a sense of common purpose. We often feel restless and without a home in a world that often looks so very different from the Kingdom you created.  May we not despair. Embolden us, awaken us to seek out and create your image in ourselves, in each other and in the world we live and work and play.

God you have invited us to your table, to your feast. We give thanks for the richness of this life you give; we celebrate new beginnings, healing, laughter and hope that breaks in and denies the darkness the last word. We offer our humble and inadequate thanks for the grace you give that makes all things new, that offers forgiveness in each moment. May we know that grace anew this day, as we join together at your table, as we share, chew, sip and swallow the feast you have prepared for us. With our entire being, may we taste and see that You are Good.

We ask for your patience, your guidance and your wisdom. May we have the patience to trust that you are already at work ahead of us, as you have guided us in the past, and guide us even unto this moment. In our thoughts, words and deeds, shape us in your wisdom to live with intention and compassion.

As we seek to understand and follow Jesus this day and every day, we pray all this in his name, Amen.