Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vacation and Post-Easter

Our first Holy Week and Easter in our churches were great,but after all that, a vacation was in order! First we joined up Beau's sister and family in DC and explored things like Arlington National Cemetery and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Arlington was just lovely, and way bigger than I had imagined. And we saw all kinds of cool spacey things at the Smithsonian. We also walked the National Mall and saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the outside of the Capitol building. There is just way too much there to see!

After that, we traveled to Virginia Beach. Our hotel room was right on the ocean, as  you can see, overlooking the boardwalk. It as a bit chilly, but the view was not to be beat. And we ate lots of yummy fresh fish. We also stopped at Norfolk Navy Base and Jamestown Settlement, and the Local Starbucks. :) It was especially nice because there were no crowds. 

Now we're back to our regularly scheduled programming, already preparing for things like first communion, Mother's Day, VBS, and other upcoming events. It just never stops, does it? :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Easter Sunrise Sermon in the Memorial Garden

What are you bringing to the tomb of Jesus? The women - the two Marys and Salome - were bringing spices to the tomb, in order to anoint the body of Jesus. They were coming back to conclude the rituals they started on Good Friday, but could not complete because of the Sabbath. So here they are, bright and early the morning after the Sabbath, expecting to finish the job. Along with their spices, they also brought their sadness. These women had witnessed firsthand Jesus’ death and burial. The reality of Jesus’ death must have been starting to sink in. The tears of shock and disbelieve might have been dried, and the task of mourning would have begun. They also brought with them their concern about the stone that covered the tomb. They had seen it days ago – it was heavy. How were they possible going to perform their last goodbyes for Jesus? They were just doing what they had always done for the dead. They certainly were not expecting resurrection.

What are you bringing to the tomb this morning? (Pause) Are you worried about the declining health of a family member? Are you concerned about the future of your career in this troubled economy? Are you fearful of a doctor’s diagnosis or of facing yet another day with chronic pain?  What other things are on your heart and mind that you have brought with you here today?

We all have brought something with us here to the tomb. And there is plenty to be worried about and fearful of in this world. Each of us has seen firsthand the harsh nature of life. Innocent people get hurt. Good people die. Our stories don’t turn out the way we want them to.

What are we expecting as we gather at the tomb today? The women bringing spices were expecting to do what they had always done. When someone you care for dies, you lovingly prepare them for burial, as your sign of respect. But Jesus was more than just someone they had come to love – these women had followed Jesus during his ministry in Galilee. They listened to him and provided for him. He was supposed to give them hope in the midst of their oppressed lives under the Roman thumb. Instead, they had watched as he was crucified, and buried in a borrowed tomb.

Then they looked up from their heavy sorrow and BEHOLD! The stone was rolled away! How strange! And even stranger, there was a man dressed in white there to meet them. And the most strange and terrifying thing of all was the message that he told them.
“You were looking for Jesus, and rightly so, for you saw him die and be buried. But don’t be afraid, for see, he is not here!”

And sure enough, when they looked in, the place was empty. They had looked for him in a place of death, but he was no longer there.

But he was not just gone, disappeared, vanished. He had gone ahead of them, done back to Galilee, and would meet them there. They were assured that they would see him again! O frightening and wondrous good news!

I like to think that these women, when they fled the scene after this announcement, left their spices at the entrance of the tomb. In their terror and amazement, they were dropped and forgotten. Because they didn’t need them any longer. They were useless, for there was no body to be anointed! The dead body of Jesus was not there!

But we have had the good news handed on to us, all the way back, from these initially frightened and silent women. And it is in wonder and amazement that we too can put down our burdens at the entrance to the empty tomb. We drop our burdens, though, out of joy and not fear. We drop them because they can no longer hold on to us anymore. We can still hang on to them, if we want, but they are not who we are. But we can leave them here, at the empty tomb, because Jesus showed us that God’s reality is stronger than the finality of death.

In a world where death and brokenness have become the norm, Jesus left a message for us at the entrance to an empty tomb. He said, “You’re not going to find me here among the dead, because I am alive!”

On the Friday that we call Good, evil thought that it had won. But Death did not have the last word. Death could not hold him down. With Paul, we can ask, no, shout even, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”

It’s gone. It’s finished. It’s been swallowed up, just as the tomb burst open in that early morning hour.

Death is the same-old, same-old, but life, now that’s the surprise. Surprising enough for some women to drop their spices and run away in fear. Surprising enough for the faithful to get up extra early on a special morning to celebrate. Surprising enough that we trust that Jesus has gone ahead of us to, and that we will see him as he has promised.  Because the story is not over. It has just begun. AMEN. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon

Mark 14: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Who doesn’t love having a good time? And who doesn’t love being invited to a wedding? Even if you are “just” a guest, there are some many things to do before you arrive at the ceremony or reception. Make sure you can get time off work. Get directions. Book a flight and a hotel room if you’re from out of town. Look on the registry and find a gift. And the most important thing: figure out what you’re going to WEAR!

And if you are IN the wedding as one of the wedding party, your list of preparations just got about four times longer. I’m in a wedding this summer for two good friends from college.  I’ve already ordered a dress (in a blue called “horizon”) and made an appointment with alterations, but I still have to book a flight so that I will arrive in time for the rehearsal, reserve a room at the hotel, and most important of all, find a pair of shoes.

And if you’re the bride (or groom), expand that list of preparations by about twelve. Dress, shoes, jewelry, undergarments, makeup, hair, nails, veil, something borrowed, something blue, and on and on… and that’s not counting all the preparations that happened before the wedding day itself.  We just want every little thing to be perfect, and this takes a lot of work and preparation, sometimes for months beforehand.

The woman who stars in our story today was not getting ready for a wedding. She was getting ready for a burial.

And while the chief priests were getting ready for the celebration of the Passover, they were also getting ready for a murder.

And Judas, one of the twelve disciples, was getting ready for a betrayal.

Welcome to Holy Week, where up is down, and down is up. Where a crowd shouts “Hosanna” one minute and “Crucify him!” the next. Where bread becomes body and wine becomes blood. Where a king is killed for not being the “right” kind of king. Where Jesus is abandoned by everyone, while at the same time drawing everyone to himself.

But here is where it starts, at the home of Simon the Leper. How typical – Jesus is always hanging out with people with one thing or another wrong with them. And now he is eating at the house of a man who is known for having a terrible disfiguring skin disease.  A woman enters the room with a jar full of nard, an expensive perfume made from a plant that is native to the mountains in China. And she had a whole jar full, in a lovely alabaster container. We don’t know this woman’s background, but we are told that the jar she carried contained the equivalent of nearly a year’s worth of wages for a typical day laborer. In today’s cash, that’s some fifteen thousand dollar perfume she’s got there.

She doesn’t just crack it open a bit and dribble some on Jesus’ brow. No, she busts it open and upends the whole thing on Jesus’ head. The crowd at this gathering was understandably shocked to see this. Not “flour thrown on Kim Kardashian” shocked, but rather, “Oprah just gave her entire audience an iPad 3 and a brand-new Preus” kind of shocked.

No, these guests were more than shocked. They were indignant. I can guess that they might have felt this way for two reasons. First, this was a lot of money to have spent on a luxury item, and second, that it was used for one person when it could have helped dozens or even hundreds of people. Think of how many mosquito nets fifteen thousand dollars this could have purchased for the Malaria Initiative. Think about how many cows or chickens could be bought from Good Gifts.

And perhaps the household of Simon the Leper was particularly sensitive to the plight of the poor and needy, having experienced first-hand what it would have been like to be on the outside looking in. And they were right – this woman COULD have done all kinds wonderful things with the money from the perfume. But in their anger they all completely overlooked what she did do. She anointed Jesus.

When someone is anointed in this manner, it usually meant one of two things. When a king is crowned, he is also anointed. Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek mean anointed one. So this story makes sense, right? Since a few weeks ago we heard Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. And just a few minutes ago we heard the crowds welcome Jesus into town in a parade, shouting their excitement that the return of the reign of KING David was at hand. A reign that will right the wrongs of the Roman oppression they have suffered. But Jesus’ followers seem to forgotten that he never claimed to be that kind of king.

There is another use for this kind of anointing oil. It is used on the body after death to prepare it for burial. Jesus was not being anointed for his coming glory, as his ancestor David had been. For Jesus there was not coronation ceremony. Just a woman at a meal, and a jar of perfume, and a group of people completely missing the significance of what she had done for him.

There was no way she could have known that after this, Jesus would be betrayed and handed over by one of his own followers, denied by another, abandoned by the rest, falsely accused, tried in the middle of the night, given a convenient death sentence, denied justice, beaten, mocked, and finally killed as a common criminal, in public, as a deterrent. That day in Simon’s house was the last bit of human kindness Jesus received before the cross. This woman will be remembered forever, Jesus says. But we don’t even know her name.

Up is down. Down is up. A king is anointed for burial. A criminal walks and an innocent man dies. Jesus’ followers flee, and a former enemy will provide him with a proper burial. Peter denies and a Roman solder confesses. And through it all, some more women, whose testimony did not even count in a court of law, were witness to the most life-changing event in human history.

This is it. We’re here. This week is what the forty days of Lent have been leading up to. This is why we’ve draped ourselves out in purple, the color of royalty. We are about to enter a week where time is more than just seconds ticking by on a clock. Where an instrument of torture and intimidation becomes the means through which we are saved. Where we, too, enter into the story.

We don’t just have front row seats. Believe it or not, we are there in the story already. Some days we are in the crowd, shouting “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify him!” the next. Some days we hide in fear or even pretend we don’t know Jesus. And some days, we are like the guests as Simon’s party, one of those who sees amazing things happen and miss them completely. Some days we watch like the women, crying in despair, and other days, we ourselves roll the stone to cover the tomb.

Welcome to Holy Week. Let me show you to your seat. It’s here, at the foot of the cross.