Today.

John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

It’s Easter morning, we are here for many different reasons. I believe that one of those reasons is that we would like to think of this Easter, this day in 2021, brings promise of resurrection!  That just as Jesus overcame death, that we too have gone through a season of loss and are being resurrected into something new.   I’m not sure how history will judge this particular moment in time, but I do believe that we have been called and given a gift of this moment in time to be together, and to be reminded that Jesus carrying us and forgiving us in this race we call life. We come to hear the story once again that Jesus has risen and is rising up in us and in this crazy world we live in. 

This season of lament, we have had a lot of questions.  How could God allow this pandemic to happen? Is it punishment? Have we grown?  What about those who didn’t make it?  Beyond the pandemic, we have issues in our country and world and no one seems to be able to bring us together.  We are so divided.  

There are deeper questions as well, questions around even this day, what we celebrate at Easter.   How could God let his Son die on the cross, how could God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God the father do the dirty work instead of sending his son? 

Jesus did not go to the cross to appease a vengeful father. Jesus was nailed to a cross because he challenged a system that excluded many, while maintaining a status quo that kept some in places of servitude, while others seemingly prospered. Yet, both were trapped, enslaved to a way of being that dehumanizes us and reduces us to either consumers or producers, or both…and not as fully human…those on the top and those on the bottom were not living the full lives that God desired, that God created us for. Jesus came and demonstrated radical inclusiveness and called us into lives filled with freedom, love, purpose, and deep Presence with others and with God. Jesus invited us, and still does, to deeper lives that are good for us and for others. What does it mean to truly love everyone, including ourselves? Even if the way we are living isn’t working, it’s what we know. We live in fear and anxiety at times and that fear and anxiety can lead us into making harsh decisions and into the divided nature that we find ourselves.

Jesus’ death was more than physical pain, that moment on the cross, Jesus was lost…resurrection was not on his mind. He cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Many of us today have been disoriented by this pandemic. We have felt lost, wondering if God has forsaken us.  

Yet, if we believe that God and humanity are together in Jesus, then God has also gone through this time with us.  

We find ourselves here we are on Easter morning. What did we just share with each other? What phrase? Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ promise of a full life filled with purpose and presence could not be kept in a grave. 

Mary Magdalene, a true disciple and friend of Jesus…one of only two disciples that did not desert Jesus, goes and finds the tomb empty! She runs to tell the other disciples, they go to the tomb and find it as she said…and, I love this passage as a runner, John, who is credited with writing our gospel lesson this am, makes it clear that he’s faster than Peter!  

However, what do the other disciples do, they go home…the easter reality had not yet risen up to their consciousness, their awareness. They didn’t know what to do. 

But, Mary, she’s overcome by grief…she stays, she is weeping. And, then she sees this man…she thinks he’s the gardener, but he gently says her name once more, and she recognizes the voice of her friend! Then, the joy of Easter possibility, Easter imagination, Easter reality rises up within her! 

What happens next? Well, the story gets out, the new reality sets in, people begin to see Jesus and to experience new things. Life as we know it is never the same, and it becomes filled with imagination, new possibilities, strength, confidence in the face of incredible odds. Something begins to form in these early believers that moves them to change the world, starting with their own awareness. 

Friends, we are all here TODAY, on this unusual and historic Easter Sunday 2021, and are a part of this ongoing story of Easter. 

This Jesus is inviting us to join together as a more loving and radically inclusive community marked by our identity in Jesus to go the distance in the hard, but worthy and beautiful work, together, of loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God. 

Friends, John ran to an empty tomb, Mary didn’t know what to do…Jesus could not be found and his friends were a bit lost, disoriented, not knowing what was going to happen next…friends, some of the best runs that I’ve had is when I’m lost, exploring, curious, and excited to see what I will find around the corner. We may feel like we just ran through a lost season, but, what have we found out about ourselves?  I know that, as a church, we have been reminded that church is much larger than a building or being in the same room…that are connections and commitments to one another and to and from God are deeper than we could ever imagine, resurrecting new possibilities and imaginations with us.  Yes, we are running in the wilderness on trails that have no markers, but, we are not alone, may we trust where God is taking us, that the risen Christ is on this journey with us, and that this risen and universal Christ, is running with us, and ahead of us, and behind us as we live into God’s story that is rising up within us! 

Christ has risen! 

Cheer.

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Sermon:

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

PP

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

PP

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

PP

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

PP

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

PP

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Sermon:

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

PP

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

PP

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

PP

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

PP

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

PP

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

Endgame.

Jeremiah 31:33

\33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

John 12: 20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

My kids have an amazing memory.  Especially my son.  If I promise something to him, or even hint at a promise.  He doesn’t forget.  If something comes up and we have to possibly be flexible, Brennan will simply say, “but you promised” and that’s the end of that for him.

If you are a parent, you know that it’s not always easy to keep your promises to your kids, try as you might, you simply can’t always do it.  Grace then becomes a necessary gift to demonstrate and teach!

Promises made and kept though give us hope and confidence in relationships.  It also leads to a certain sense of discipline.  The more that this happens consistently, the hope gives way to a certain sense of confidence.  

Our Old Testament lesson is about promises and the discipline of loving relationship.  God has made promises to the people of Israel.  Promises of deliverance from Egypt, which God delivered on.  Now the Israelites find themselves in exile in Babylon.  God tells them that he has new promises for them.  Promises of abundance, of Presence, of blessing, of relationship.  In this passage, God uses the term husband.  Now, this is not meant to be patriarchal, but it was written a few thousand years ago, and the author is trying to convey something deeper than a masculine or feminine expression.  This is a word of deep relationship, of connection, of relationship.  The author is saying that God has made a commitment to Israel, to us, God is bound to us in relationship.

The passage goes on to say that God’s law will be put on our inward parts, on our hearts.  It will no longer be about following a set of rules written in stone, but they will be placed on our hearts, they will become a part of us and lived out.  

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is hard to hear, yet true.  When I was a kid, we lived on about 7 acres.  My uncle lived next door and had a few more acres of land.  We shared a large garden that was about 1/2 the size of a football field.  Every year, in the fall, the plants and veggies in the garden would die and go back into the ground.  He had a larger farm with cows.  In the spring, we would go to the cow field where we had a manure pile.  I hated this job, but we’d load up a bunch of smelly manure and spread it on our garden.  Before that we would have tilled the ground to loosen it up and to churn up all of the dead plants into the ground.  It was hard work, but when did that, planted the seeds, and then put the manure all over it, the nutrients that came from the smelly waste, would cause the ground to produce life.  In order to do some of the more more mundane chores, I would simply have to follow my dad and uncle’s lead, be disciplined, yet I benefited from great food and I learned a lot.  

Jesus is calling us to be his followers, to be his disciples.  The way of Jesus can be hard, it requires discipline, sometimes we have to spread some manure, till the ground.  Yet, seeds are constantly being planted in our lives and in the lives of others that produce beautiful things.

Friends, we may be going through some difficulties right now, we may be dealing with addictions, with broken relationships, or strained relationships out of this pandenic and the tumultuous years we’ve gone through, maybe we have experienced betrayal even.  We may have a physical set back or even death.  We have fears, anxieties.  Yet, I’m here to tell you that’s part of life, it smells, it’s hard.  God does not cause bad things to happen, but know that God is working to produce good things, to restore relationship, in all of it.  If we can trust God, then we may be able to see and to hear what God may want to pull out of the waste, out of death. 

That’s hard for some.  I know there are probably some folks in this room who are ready to give up on their life with God and maybe even giving up on church.  I’d love to tell you about a God who is giving you, and giving Fleming Road UCC new promises of life.  Our future with God is filled with God’s intimate presence with us as we practice disciplining ourselves through community with each other, through reading the scriptures with new eyes, through practices such as contemplation, lectio divina, listening, sabbath, and service.  God is calling us to live and love with radical inclusion in our communities and within ourselves.  There is grace, and there is discipline…both go towards growth.

The title of this sermon is “Endgame”.  Honestly, I watched the movie “Avengers:  Endgame” again this past week so it was on my mind.  (Which, by the way, I love the Marvel movies!)  My son and I have a tradition of watching them together when they come out.  

Jesus talks about the “endgame” in the gospel passage.  But, it’s not like the endgame in Avengers.  Jesus is not a super hero in the way that we imagine super heroes.  He is not crushing enemies.  He is following the way of humility, of emptying, of dying, which is much more powerful than any Avengers movie storyline.  It’s a storyline that has changed my life, your life, and the world.  

Jesus knew this, Jesus also knew that he had to die.  He died because of his challenge of a system that kept all of us enslaved to a way of life that was getting us nowhere…yet Jesus overcame that system, challenged that system, and invites us to love our neighbors as he did…Jesus even overcame death and is alive today, giving us hope that as he is lifted up, we are lifted up with him and are able to live full lives forever with him.

Let us be a church that lives out this radical call on our lives to follow Jesus.  That in knowing our identity in Christ, we don’t have to force our God on others, just love others well and allow God to be shown through us!  

Lament.

Luke 13:31-35

The Lament over Jerusalem

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[ you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

We’ve all experienced disappointment in our lives.  I know I have.  We can probably all think of times when we hoped for something, and then not have it happen.  This past year in so many ways, has been a series of disappointments as we live through such a period of change with the pandemic, political and social unrest, and our own personal struggles.  

It has been a season of lament.  Which is actually good and a part of a the process towards growth.

It’s especially important as we are in the middle of Lent…a time of questioning and stripping away…of dying even as we head to the cross and on to resurrection.  Jesus understood lament…he embraced it.  And, so should we if we want to grow.

As a church, we often don’t know what we want to see happen other than the church to survive, but maybe we have deeper hopes for it to thrive….yet, our definitions for thriving may be hard to articulate at times.  It’s safe to say that at our deepest hopes are with relationships.  We are wired for relationship with the world around us and with people.  It doesn’t matter if you are introvert or an extrovert, we all crave relationship and put hope into relationships.  

In the passage above, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when some sympathetic pharisees, or religious rulers warning him that Herod wants to kill him.  Jesus calls Herod a “fox”, which is interesting to note.  The biblical understanding of a fox in this text is not that Herod is cunning, but that Herod is a small animal that does not have power, is impotent.  Jesus says in affect, I’m casting out demons and have the relational power to overcome unseen forces.  Herod has no control over me.  Jesus then goes on to say that he must he has work today for the next couple of days and that it will be finished on the 3rd day.  This could be a reference to Jesus death and resurrection.  

Jesus certainly gives his hearers a reference that he cannot be killed outside of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the center of Jewish faith at that time, the city where the temple of God is.  Jewish folk believed that God’s Presence on earth dwelt there.  It is also the place where prophets are killed.  When prophets came with a message of lament, of a need for change, repentance, relational restoration…the established system, those in power, felt threatened, they would be killed.    

Even though persons in the religious establishment were not joyful, they still had control and did not want to give that control up.  They were in a place of broken relationship with each other, themselves, and with God.  They were what I’d call “resistors” and resistors have roadblocks that can often thwart their growth, their joy, and the growth and joy of others.

Jesus laments, deeply, with great emotion for Jerusalem.  Jesus understands the importance of “place”, that people are deeply rooted in a  community and that has potential for great things, but when not living up to it’s potential, when resistant to God’s desire for genuine relationship and community, a place can be destructive.

So, Jesus laments, describes a God who longs to take God’s people, all people, under God’s wings like a hen protecting her chicks.  A God who longs to be in loving relationship with God’s people, to protect them, to bless them beyond measure with friendship and Presence.  

Jerusalem not only signifies the center of religious life for Israel, it can also be descriptive of the church.  God longs for the church to be a place of deep relationship, not only for those inside the church, but for those outside.  Jesus represents all of humanity, and Jesus demonstrates that God is not limited to a building….Jesus goes to places outside of the temple, the synagogue, and continues today to go outside of the church walls.  Jesus says that the temple, the house, is abandoned by God, but God does not abandon God’s people.  

Jerusalem kills its prophets.  But, God keeps on sending those prophets.  There is a flow in and through God that cannot be stopped.

Friends, hear this the good news, lamenting can come out of being dark places in our lives, but lamenting leads us towards growth.  Jesus loves Jerusalem, and Jesus loves his church.  Jesus has promised, and demonstrated, that even though he aches for us, he also aches with us.  He is with us in all that we experience and is with us in the lamenting and in the darkness.  We also know that God, through Jesus, demonstrates that darkness doesn’t win and that we can grow and move towards the promise of blessing as Jesus comes to us.  Lamenting can produce faith.  Faith in and through God’s commitment to us even in the midst of life’s hard places.  

In this season of Lent, may we embrace all of life…even lamenting…and move toward’s the life that God intends for us…a life with the resurrected Jesus…a resurrected Jesus that also bore the scars of crucifixion…a Jesus who understands us and is with us…even in the lamenting that leads towards a deeper growth.  

Lift.

John 3:14-21

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

When our kids were little, we would take them rock climbing.  It was always a fun outing!  We would usually go to Yellow Springs, OH where they have some great cliffs for climbing (as well as good restaurants and Young’s Dairy for ice cream!).  Our kids loved to climb, and our son still does…but, back then, it often meant me or Debbie belaying them at the bottom and lifting them up the cliff wall…they were pretty light then, so fairly easy!  

John 3:14-21

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

When our kids were little, we would take them rock climbing.  It was always a fun outing!  We would usually go to Yellow Springs, OH where they have some great cliffs for climbing (as well as good restaurants and Young’s Dairy for ice cream!).  Our kids loved to climb, and our son still does…but, back then, it often meant me or Debbie belaying them at the bottom and lifting them up the cliff wall…they were pretty light then, so fairly easy!  

This morning we’re talking about being lifted up…no, we want to be lifted up in our everyday lives, out of the mundane, the ordinary, the routine.  We so often get caught up in days upon days of wondering, is this it?  Is this all there is to life?  We get caught in ruts where we possibly make decisions or begin to think in ways that are  not helpful.  Oftentimes, these decisions and thoughts, especially when made in isolation or without a sense of intentional and positive growth, change, or maturity could lead to destructive patterns.  

This is true in our own lives, as well as our life together as a community of faith.  It happened to Israel.  They were stuck in the desert, both physically and metaphorically.  They were losing faith and getting tired.  Which, I get, especially coming through this pandemic.  So many folks are tired, weary, ready to move on…and, in the midst of this, relationships have shifted.  Some, including many in this church, have grown.  Some not.  Isolation has become more apparent.  And, the mental and emotional toll is huge on a lot of folks. 

The Israelites decided to look for fulfillment in behaviors that led to destruction.  They also turned on each other.  Friends, we know that before the pandemic, our culture was divided, isolation has always been with us…and we know folks have turned to violence, destructive patterns, looking for ways to make sense of the changes, going after conspiracy theory after theory, and many have gone after other distractions, some not so bad, some that could lead towards something potentially destructive if not moderated.

A good question for us as a church universal, not just here at Fleming Road UCC but everywhere.  Have we gotten tired of waiting on God, of having faith?  Have we sought after other things such as consumer based church where we chase after program after program or worry about worship styles?  Have we chased after theologies and ideologies that are more closely related to cultural systems rather than radically challenging those systems?  Have we become more focused on ourselves and our way of doing things rather than practicing hospitality and reconciliation with our community?  I wonder what folks in this community, or the communities in which we live, think of Fleming Road UCC or the church universal? 

Within this tiredness or rut that the church finds itself in, and in the ruts of our every day that lead us to make personal decisions that may not be healthy, we get to the point where we finally realize and hope for something more.  We want to be lifted up.

God wants to lift us up, but it starts with us looking towards God for deliverance rather than the systems of this world or the unhealthy places we may find ourselves.

With Israel, God told Moses to put up a pole with a snake on it.  He did and folks were saved from death.  Now, I’m not sure of all the symbolism of a snake on a pole, but I do believe that the writer of this story was saying that Moses went to God and God gave Moses a sign.

Our gospel lessons finds the writer referring to this Old Testament lesson and saying that Jesus is being lifted up and we are called to look to him for deliverance, for justice, and for the way to to live.  

As Christ is lifted up, literally on a tree at calvary, but also lifted up daily in our lives, we find our salvation.  Friends, because Christ shares with us in our humanity and Christ is also eternal in Christ’s being, we find that our identity is wrapped up in Christ.  As Christ is lifted up, we are also lifted up.

Colossians 3:3 gives more evidence of this, “our lives are hid in God through Christ”.  WE are being lifted up with Christ.  We are given eternal life.  Now, we may be thinking, do I want to live forever if this life is a reflection of the life eternal?  Well, the folks listening to this reading in John had an understanding of eternal that we don’t have on the surface.  Eternal means the quality of life, not just quantity.  And, eternal tied in with Jesus means amazing quality that does last forever, but it starts now.

You see, Jesus is also lifted up as the one true human that we are all called to live in, just as Christ lives in us.  Now, we are not perfect, we mess up…hang out with me for a while, crawl into my head, and you may have some deep reservations about me!  Of course, the opposite is true, if I were to know your deepest thoughts and faults, I may be wanting to get out of here as well!  But, our lives are wrapped up in Christ and Christ redeems and saves all of us, our thoughts, our actions, and, well, everything.  Nothing is outside of God’s reach.

God also says that we can live in obedience with Christ and be lifted up.  WE are called to cultivate an understanding of ourselves, to find appropriate and safe places or communities to be vulnerable, and to grow.  Jesus got that.  In Jesus’ being he lived in community with the father and the Spirit.  Jesus also called a group of folks around him that were committed to him.  They weren’t perfect, they fell away and disappointed themselves by their infidelity.  Yet, God lifted them up and they changed the world.

Our text this morning talks about belief.  IN our culture, we seem to put a lot of emphasis on believing the right things.  However, I would say that this text is calling us towards something deeper, trust.  We are called to trust God and even to trust each other.  Which, can be hard and we need to make sure we are wise with some folks.  But, yes, we should grow towards building trusting relationships.  Sometimes, even with the best intentions, our trust can be broken.  Yet, as we see with God, God continues to put his trust in us.  Even after Jesus is crucified, Jesus comes to his disciples and shows them amazing trust.  

As we do this, as we become “lifted up” people, we will grow stronger as persons and we will grow stronger as a church.  We have potential to be agents of good, of change, of hospitality and deep friendships as we experience God lifting up Jesus, lifting up us, and lifting up the community around us.  We are the body of Christ, called to illuminate to the world the love of God.  T all of the community, not just those that are similar to us, but everyone…that’s good news…may we all do the lifting up of Christ in this community, following Christ’s example of radical hospitality, friendship, and inclusion and, in so doing, be lifted up.

This morning we’re talking about being lifted up…no, we want to be lifted up in our everyday lives, out of the mundane, the ordinary, the routine.  We so often get caught up in days upon days of wondering, is this it?  Is this all there is to life?  We get caught in ruts where we possibly make decisions or begin to think in ways that are  not helpful.  Oftentimes, these decisions and thoughts, especially when made in isolation or without a sense of intentional and positive growth, change, or maturity could lead to destructive patterns.  

This is true in our own lives, as well as our life together as a community of faith.  It happened to Israel.  They were stuck in the desert, both physically and metaphorically.  They were losing faith and getting tired.  Which, I get, especially coming through this pandemic.  So many folks are tired, weary, ready to move on…and, in the midst of this, relationships have shifted.  Some, including many in this church, have grown.  Some not.  Isolation has become more apparent.  And, the mental and emotional toll is huge on a lot of folks. 

The Israelites decided to look for fulfillment in behaviors that led to destruction.  They also turned on each other.  Friends, we know that before the pandemic, our culture was divided, isolation has always been with us…and we know folks have turned to violence, destructive patterns, looking for ways to make sense of the changes, going after conspiracy theory after theory, and many have gone after other distractions, some not so bad, some that could lead towards something potentially destructive if not moderated.

A good question for us as a church universal, not just here at Fleming Road UCC but everywhere.  Have we gotten tired of waiting on God, of having faith?  Have we sought after other things such as consumer based church where we chase after program after program or worry about worship styles?  Have we chased after theologies and ideologies that are more closely related to cultural systems rather than radically challenging those systems?  Have we become more focused on ourselves and our way of doing things rather than practicing hospitality and reconciliation with our community?  I wonder what folks in this community, or the communities in which we live, think of Fleming Road UCC or the church universal? 

Within this tiredness or rut that the church finds itself in, and in the ruts of our every day that lead us to make personal decisions that may not be healthy, we get to the point where we finally realize and hope for something more.  We want to be lifted up.

God wants to lift us up, but it starts with us looking towards God for deliverance rather than the systems of this world or the unhealthy places we may find ourselves.

With Israel, God told Moses to put up a pole with a snake on it.  He did and folks were saved from death.  Now, I’m not sure of all the symbolism of a snake on a pole, but I do believe that the writer of this story was saying that Moses went to God and God gave Moses a sign.

Our gospel lessons finds the writer referring to this Old Testament lesson and saying that Jesus is being lifted up and we are called to look to him for deliverance, for justice, and for the way to to live.  

As Christ is lifted up, literally on a tree at calvary, but also lifted up daily in our lives, we find our salvation.  Friends, because Christ shares with us in our humanity and Christ is also eternal in Christ’s being, we find that our identity is wrapped up in Christ.  As Christ is lifted up, we are also lifted up.

Colossians 3:3 gives more evidence of this, “our lives are hid in God through Christ”.  WE are being lifted up with Christ.  We are given eternal life.  Now, we may be thinking, do I want to live forever if this life is a reflection of the life eternal?  Well, the folks listening to this reading in John had an understanding of eternal that we don’t have on the surface.  Eternal means the quality of life, not just quantity.  And, eternal tied in with Jesus means amazing quality that does last forever, but it starts now.

You see, Jesus is also lifted up as the one true human that we are all called to live in, just as Christ lives in us.  Now, we are not perfect, we mess up…hang out with me for a while, crawl into my head, and you may have some deep reservations about me!  Of course, the opposite is true, if I were to know your deepest thoughts and faults, I may be wanting to get out of here as well!  But, our lives are wrapped up in Christ and Christ redeems and saves all of us, our thoughts, our actions, and, well, everything.  Nothing is outside of God’s reach.

God also says that we can live in obedience with Christ and be lifted up.  WE are called to cultivate an understanding of ourselves, to find appropriate and safe places or communities to be vulnerable, and to grow.  Jesus got that.  In Jesus’ being he lived in community with the father and the Spirit.  Jesus also called a group of folks around him that were committed to him.  They weren’t perfect, they fell away and disappointed themselves by their infidelity.  Yet, God lifted them up and they changed the world.

Our text this morning talks about belief.  IN our culture, we seem to put a lot of emphasis on believing the right things.  However, I would say that this text is calling us towards something deeper, trust.  We are called to trust God and even to trust each other.  Which, can be hard and we need to make sure we are wise with some folks.  But, yes, we should grow towards building trusting relationships.  Sometimes, even with the best intentions, our trust can be broken.  Yet, as we see with God, God continues to put his trust in us.  Even after Jesus is crucified, Jesus comes to his disciples and shows them amazing trust.  

As we do this, as we become “lifted up” people, we will grow stronger as persons and we will grow stronger as a church.  We have potential to be agents of good, of change, of hospitality and deep friendships as we experience God lifting up Jesus, lifting up us, and lifting up the community around us.  We are the body of Christ, called to illuminate to the world the love of God.  T all of the community, not just those that are similar to us, but everyone…that’s good news…may we all do the lifting up of Christ in this community, following Christ’s example of radical hospitality, friendship, and inclusion and, in so doing, be lifted up.